Creativity and Inspiration with iPads in Kindergarten

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.-Brad Henry

I would love to say today’s post is about an awesome lesson I taught, or an amazing activity I had my kids do. The most credit I can claim is allowing voice and choice in the classroom and giving my students time and opportunities to create.

Today, during their free time, two girls were playing school. They were pretending to teach each other. One was teaching math, the other, phonics. I was working with some small groups of children and did not see the “work” they had given each other to do until later. The one teaching phonics, had her “student” use the Feltboard app and Pic Collage to create this:

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The phonics teacher had the student create the C page in Feltboard app, save to the camera roll, import into Pic Collage and label the items. The one playing the math teacher had her “student” create this:

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She had her student use Feltboard app to demonstrate how many ways she could make 10. Hmm…why didn’t I think of that?

Our students love learning. They love creating their own learning and they love teaching each other. The truth is, they come up with some pretty amazing things on their own when we give them the opportunity. When we schedule every minute of their day, there is no room for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, making, doing, or being. Giving our students time to think, collaborate, and create allows them room to grow and room to be.

Another child chose to spend her free time writing today. Here is what she wrote:

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Do you set your classroom and students up for success? Do you open up parts of their day to create, to have voice and choice in what they do and how they do it? Do you enable and environment of curiosity rather than compliance? When we do these things, richness flows as even the youngest of students demonstrate they are quite capable of doing some pretty amazing things.

Are you the great teacher that inspires hope, ignites hope and instills a love for learning?

Today we will do great things. Let’s get started!

Building Vocabulary with iPads

One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.-Evelyn Waugh

In working with young children all day, I find that my vocabulary sometimes is lacking when having adult conversation.  I’ve caught myself saying “Put on your listening ears” in regular conversation. My “cool factor” is definitely a big zero at times.  Interacting with 5 year olds most of every day definitely requires me to work at maintaining my end in an adult conversation.  I work crossword puzzles, play the ubiquitous Words With Friends, and I read.  If don’t work on it, then “criss-cross applesauce” is likely to spring forth the next time I sit with a friend for some coffee.

FullSizeRender 2Our students are no different.  Vocabulary development is an on-going skill that needs practice.  Young children are building vocabularies each day.  Misconceptions are prevalent.  As a child, I thought a “chest of drawers” was “chester drawers”.  One former student called her “backpack” a “pack-pack”.  Listening to my students stretch and grow in their vocabulary development is interesting to say the least.  One child said he loved “arts and craps”.  Yes, friends, it is something we work on every day.

 

A recent activity with the book Snowmen at Night was particularly good for vocabulary work for my students.  First, we live in an area that has almost no snow in the winter.  Sledding, snowball fights, ice skating are all things my students read about, but don’t usually get to participate in.  After discussing the story, we thought of things a snowman could do at night.  We used the app ChatterPix to let our snowmen tell about themselves.  Here is a short one.

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We also used the story during our Writing Workshop time to write about what a snowman might do at night.  Here is one sample:

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Vocabulary knowledge aids in activating and building background knowledge to make connections to text, and having vocabulary knowledge can increase reading comprehension and fluency while reading. Using word walls, mentor texts, non-fiction texts across all subjects, and especially creation apps on the iPad give students many opportunities to interact with new vocabulary.

We have used Pic Collage, Explain Everything and Drawing Pad in other vocabulary activities.  Consider using creation apps on the iPad to help develop student vocabulary.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

 

 

Using iPads to Plan in Kindergarten

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. -Paul J. Meyer

Happy New Year! After 2 weeks and 3 weekends, we are back in school.  It was evident we had a little “brain drain” over the holidays.  Hopefully we can catch up and get moving by the end of the week.  After winter break is when we pick up speed and move full steam ahead.

One of the things I truly believe is that student engagement is dependent on their voice and choice in both the planning and execution of learning.  When we include even the youngest of children in the process, we get so much more concentrated effort from them.  This concept is the same for adults.  Aren’t we usually voicing concern as educators how our  voice needs to be heard in the decisions made on behalf of our students? When we are excluded from the process of decision making, we are less likely to buy into whatever it is we are being asked to do.  We are also less likely to implement changes with fidelity.

My students have quite a bit of choice in this classroom the first part of the year but after Christmas, they are included in the planning of their day.  Now, just as I would never open a closet door to a 3 year old and have them choose what to wear from an entire wardrobe of clothes, I would never just let go of the reins completely of the classroom.  I utilize a gradual release of responsibility and have some controlled choice in the beginning.  Giving students a few choices  all throughout the day, from the beginning of the year,  builds their confidence in their own abilities to make bigger choices later.

As my students walk in each morning from now on, they will have 5 must-do activities.  They may choose which order these items are completed.  They will open their notes app on their iPads and write out their plan for the day.  They then refer back to that note all throughout the day to see what they chose to do next.  The SmartBoard looks like this when they are making their plan:

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In the reading center, I want them to read  2 books on their reading level and then they may choose other books as well as book on their iPads to read. For writing,  they will work on their Writer’s Workshop.  A few of my students still need scaffolding and support with their writing so I have a specific conferencing time with those children. Today, I chose the app Pic Collage for them to illustrate and write a sentence but soon, they will have their own choice of creation apps in which to demonstrate understanding of unit-related vocabulary words. This work is saved and uploaded to Showbie for their work flow. Math includes small group activities and word work currently is involving word families.  Students use the ABC Magnet Board app to make 6 words of their choice in a given word family.  Today’s word work from one of my students looked like this:

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The student takes a screen shot of this work so that it is saved in the camera roll.  I can have them upload it to Showbie if I need them to or it can just stay in the camera roll as a work sample.  This particular app is great because it says the letter sounds as they manipulate them and once the word is created, it reads the word to them so they get immediate feedback.  Word Wizard is another great app for this kind of activity for the same reason.

So at the end of the 5 must-do activities, once all work is completed and checked, the student has free choice of any activity in the classroom.  This helps encourage timely work completion and on-task behavior, but in general, those things aren’t really a problem.  Their engagement is much higher as they have been a part of the planning process.

As students gain more independence and confidence in their abilities to make choices and move forward on their own initiative, this allows for other possibilities such as 20% time, Genius Hour, Makerspaces, etc…Again, this goes back to gradual release of responsibility, front-loading procedures, and giving students opportunities to develop those decision-making “muscles”.

As you start 2015, consider ways you can give your students more choice in the planning and demonstration of their learning.

What’s the plan??

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

App Smashing in Math

Math is like going to the gym for your brain. It sharpens your mind.-Danica McKellar

After a full day of teaching kindergarten, my mind could use a little sharpening.  It often feels like mush and I have to work hard to have adult conversation when I get home.  Surely that doesn’t mean I need to do more math…My students like math and they are enjoying working in our math journals that I’ve written about here.

We were working in our Geoboard app today making shapes. It is a free app that allows students to work with virtual geoboards without the hassle of rubber bands being snapped and popped all over the place. We made all kinds of shapes and talked about why we couldn’t make a circle.  We then learned how to do a screen shot of our work.

IMG_1036They had fun creating their shapes and making the screen shots.  My plan was to then have them upload the image into Showbie but a few students asked if we could put them in our Book Creator math journals first.  So, without delay, we immediately opened our math journals and uploaded our screen shots into the math journal created in Book Creator.  Then, I asked them what we should do with it now that the screen shot has been uploaded.  *Crickets* and blank stares.  Finally, someone said, “Aren’t you going to tell us what to do?”  I told them I wanted them to figure out what needed to be done and that they didn’t need me to tell them.  A bit more silence ensued and finally it was decided by a majority that they needed to label their picture.  Here is one that was completed today:

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Most didn’t finish but a few did.  The child used environmental print to write the shape words and then used the Pen tool in Book Creator to draw the arrows to each shape.  Some have decided they will use the recording function tomorrow to record themselves telling about the shapes.

By using Geoboard app and Book Creator, our math app smash was a fun and engaging way to work on this skill.  Don’t underestimate a 5 year old’s ability to handle multiple apps.  They not only understand, they come up with creative ways to do so.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Reading Fluency with Explain Everything

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading. -Maurice Sendak

8435321969_8c5a154a0a_zWe are 35 days into this school year and several of my students are reading.  They are excited when they find words and phrases they know in books and in environmental print.  They love to share with anyone who will listen words or books they can read.  Even at age 5, my students see the treasure that is unlocked when one can read.  The fire has been lit and my fervent hope is nothing and no one comes along and puts that fire out.

We are a classroom immersed in literacy all day long.  Our iPads have certainly facilitated my ability to deliver personalized literacy instruction through the “Just Right Books” I create for my students as well as various apps that we use that adapt to students’ responses. My students also have the choice to read regular books in the book center or books on their iPads.  I want them to love reading and to be able to get lost in a story, so that when the story is over, they will wish it wasn’t.  There are books I have read and when finished, I missed the characters and I thought about them long afterward.

Part of building strong readers includes assessing students, listening to them read, working on fluency, and well…just reading, reading, reading. Having 23 students makes it difficult for me to listen to every child read every day.  The iPads definitely help. I had the students in one of the reading groups open the app Explain Everything and take pictures of each page of a leveled book they wanted to read.  They then used the laser pointer to track the print.  They saved the movie to their camera roll and then uploaded it to Showbie. I am able to then listen to the child read at any time.  I can use it as documentation for running records assessment, see where the child is having trouble and then go back work directly with that child if needed.  I can also email to parents.  This also allows the child to also re-visit the recording, listen and practice along for fluency.  By saving a few of these, you can show growth (or not) at a parent conference.  Here is one example:

Explain Everything is truly a versatile app.  It is definitely one of my go-to apps in all subjects.  Consider trying it for reading.  It engages students of all reading levels and that’s never a bad thing!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

 

Book photo credit: Creative Commons

Getting Dotty With It!

Immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leave your mark behind.-Brandon Lee

Today is International Dot Day!  After reading The Dot by Peter Reynolds, we have worked on a variety of Dot Day activities.  We have cut and colored dots, painted dots, made dots on our iPads and then compiled them all into a class Dot book.  We wore our dots. We have written about dots, sung about dots and well, frankly, we’re all a bit dotty at this point!

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The best part of today was Skyping with some other kindergarten classes internationally.  A group of Apple Distinguished Educators gathered at a global institute this past July to work together.  At this institute, several kindergarten teachers formed a cohort and came up with a global iTunes U course designed to connect our classes through various activities all throughout this school year.  The course is Connecting Classrooms Across Continents.  The enroll code is https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/enroll/KJK-647-TDB if you’d like to join and follow along.  Currently, the course involves kindergarten classes in SC, Maine, Kansas, Italy, Ireland and the UK.  During our Skype today with Marc Falder’s class in the UK, we shared our dots, our writing, and how we plan to “make our mark”.  The kids loved talking with each other and discussing the differences  in our dress (they wear uniforms and we don’t), in time (it’s 5 hours later there) and in speech.  (southern US vs British English).  We found them on the globe and talked about how to get there from here.

 

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The children were fascinated by our global friends and are anxious to talk to them again soon!  Our iTunes U course will give us many opportunities to go beyond the walls of our own classrooms and connect internationally.  We will see that while we are all the same, we are all different.  Cultural diversity at its best!

We love The Dot and the lessons it provides.  We know that all we have to do is “Make our mark…and see where it takes us.”

How will you make your mark?

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

 

End of Year Wrap Up


“When the story of these times gets written, we want it to say that we did all we could, and it was more than anyone could have imagined.”-Bono

 

Well, as always, the end of the school year brings a great deal of things that need to be wrapped up.  My classroom is barren…void of all of the student work that has adorned the walls for the year. Classroom centers, games and manipulatives have all been stored away. My iPad cart has been rolled down the hall to it’s summer resting place.  All that’s left is last bits of paperwork, passing out report cards and saying goodbyes.

2605673301_0e757008d8_bAs I go through the end of year rituals for the 25th time, and as I prepare to say goodbye to this sweet group of children, I can’t help but flash back to some great highlights from this year.  Our focus was creating a true, student centered classroom. Students were leaders in their own learning, and exercised voice and choice.  We participated in the Hour of Code. This lead to further creativity and exploration throughout the year…well beyond the initial Hour of Code.  We explored Augmented Reality. This expanded into using Chromville app to enhanced our writing activities.  We skyped with Jen at Blokify and my students were blown away with this app.  The 3D printed samples that Jen sent us led to such enthusiasm, our school purchased a 3D printer.  Toward the end of the year, we focused heavily on reading and research.  We used our iPads to research and write about a topic of our choosing. This created a seemingly insatiable desire to read and learn more on a variety of subjects.  “Can I please look up more on ocean animals?” “Can I research more on sloths and write a book?”  Daily, I’ve been asked for permission to read and research more on a topic that is meaningful to a particular child.  Without being a requirement, these children took their findings and always turned them into a Book Creator book or a drawing with notes and information.  One of our last activities was writing about and rating our favorite apps.  This activity resulted in future conversations about how a certain movie was rated or even their own writings!

While this list is certainly not all we worked on, it is a good recap of our highlights.  Keeping my students at the center of the learning, engaging them in decision making, and providing a literacy rich environment for curiosity and exploration has paid off.  Once again, all of my students are going to first grade reading above grade level.  They are prolific readers and writers.  They think deeply, question, read and respond, experiment, fail and try again, problem solve and persist in the face of difficulty.  They are now 6 years old and ready to boldly step forth into first grade.  While this is not the ending of their story, it’s where my story with them ends.  I will watch them as they grow and succeed.  I will celebrate their future accomplishments and know, that in some small measure, I was there in the beginning.

Happy Summer!

Today we will do exciting new things!  Let’s get to it!

5 Stars and Two Thumbs Up!

One is rated by others as he rates himself.-French Proverb

Ratings…an important part of our culture… They tell us what movie to see, which books to read, what car to buy, and what restaurants to eat in.  Making informed choices is part of being a responsible adult.  The more an item costs, the more likely we are to pay attention to reviews and ratings.

We had a lengthy discussion one day about the merits of some of our apps.  They liked this app because it did certain things or didn’t like that app because it didn’t do other things.  They expressed their ideas about what they would change or add to apps and we talked about how some apps are free and some are not.  I showed them a screen shot from the app store and they asked me about the stars and what they meant. We talked about how people gave the stars as ratings for how much they liked or didn’t like an app.  Then we looked at Amazon.com and looked at some children’s books they knew.  We saw they had stars also.  Of course, they wanted to channel their own Siskel and Ebert and rate their favorite apps.

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So there you have it.  Kids really do have their own opinions about what they like and don’t like.  They know why also.  Part of giving kids voice and choice is really giving them the “voice” part.  Learning how to articulate what they want, what they like, what they don’t want or like is an important skill.  We have had to work hard to move away from liking something simply because it’s “cool”.  In giving voice to a writing piece, they are also expanding vocabulary and ideas.  Writing for a variety of purposes is  an important skill.  There’s no time like the present to begin!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

 

More on Augmented Reality in Kindergarten

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.  -John Lennon

One thing young children are not lacking in is imagination.  They have no trouble pretending, playing make believe and suspending reality.  We’ve recently crossed over into the augmented reality arena. Augmented Reality (AR) allows for a digitally enhanced view of the real world. It allows the user to open or create layers of digital information on top of the physical world that can be viewed through a mobile device.  I’ve talked about our first foray in AR with Aurasma app here.  Aurasma is a great tool, and now my student’s are using the Chromville app to create in their own Augmented Reality worlds.

Chromville is a free app in the app store.  To use Chromville, you must first go to their website and decide which village you want to use.  There are 6 to choose from.  After you download and print the pages for your students, they then color the pages. NOTE: be careful that they don’t color over the village name in the corner of the page or else the AR part won’t work.  Once it has been colored, the student opens the Chromville app, selects which village he/she has colored and holds the iPad over the colored sheet.  The entire scene suddenly come to life in 3D and begin to move around.  There is a camera icon to take a screen shot also.  My students began playing around and inserting objects into the  view of the camera such as their hand or their foot and it became part of the scene.  After we took a screen shot, we uploaded the image into another app and wrote about our picture.  Here are a couple of examples.  You can see the items on the paper are in 3D.  On the iPad, these items are moving.

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The great thing about the screen shot is that they appear to be in 3D also which makes it fun for the kids to write about it.  It’s a pretty good day when kids are excited about writing.    Students learn not just by reading and writing. Their learning is enhanced when they create and interact with their environment.

AR is not new.  Remember the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  It’s gaining new momentum now with the mobile technology available and with the gamification of educational concepts. There are many different Augmented Reality apps available for all different age and ability levels.  You can search in your browser for AR apps and you will have a nice list to look through.

Obviously, there are more advanced uses for AR in older grades, but don’t tell that to my kindergarten students.  They are already exploring, creating and interacting with augmented reality and they get it! They have already given me a few lessons!

Give it a try!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

 

Using Mentor Texts for Powerful Writing

I think if you really want to write in a powerful way, you’ve got to read powerful stuff…Ralph Fletcher

I have served as a mentor for new teachers over the years and while I want each of them to grow into the best they can be, I want them to find their own methods and their own voice as they grow as an educator.  I provide a framework,  a model for good teaching, and hopefully, inspiration.  Good mentors can shape who we are and who we will one day become.

In the same manner, mentor texts are an important part of my literacy instruction.  I want my students to read and write powerfully and mentor texts serve as a conduit for both.  Mentor texts are necessary to teach our students to think deeply about their own writing.  Students often need to see someone doing something in order for them to do it themselves.  Watching another’s craft gives inspiration, direction and courage to try. Mentor texts inspires us to read and learn more.

Teaching very young children to write requires a lot of modeling, mentoring and a wee bit of rocket science.  Getting students to add detail to their emergent writing is a daily mini lesson in itself.  Recently, we read Lois Ehlert’s Pie in the Sky.  It has a lot of simple sentences describing what the narrator sees in the illustration, but more importantly, it is simply descriptive.  Using this as a mentor text has been tremendously helpful to my students. My students even refer to the book by saying they wrote, “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Here are a couple of examples of student work on the iPad.  They used their camera to take a picture of something in the room and then they wrote what they saw.

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Some of my students were sharing their work with their friends and I overheard a few offering suggestions about making their sentences more like “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Peer editing…in kindergarten.

Mentor texts give our young writers not just a framework or reference, they give them a dose of courage to try writing like the author…not using the author’s words, but courage to find their own words.  They can be road maps for powerful writing.  They show students what good writing looks like.

Here is a Writing Workshop sample from one of my students recently:

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Creating good readers and writers is a critical part of teaching.  Mentor texts provide powerful examples for our students.  Regardless of what grade you teach, your students need your guidance while they learn to write, take risks and stretch their literary wings.

Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!