Making Global Connections

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” -Albert Einstein

Don’t you love when people say to you, “Must be nice to have your whole summer off!” I don’t know many educators who have the summer “off”.  Most of us are involved in professional activities and learning during the summer.  In fact, if you think about it, professional athletes continue to train in the off-season to maintain their athletic skills. So too, do we need to continue to hone our skills…to fill our own buckets and re-charge our batteries.

IMG_3340I had the privilege of being chosen to attend the Apple Distinguished Educator Global Institute in San Diego.  Last week,  global educators from 30 different countries came together to focus on bringing learning to life with the iPad.  We became citizen scientists in a variety of off-site excursions.  We explored many different topics relevant to sustaining life on Earth from the eyes of a student. We utilized a variety of apps to test water samples, track a forest-destroying beetle, examine plankton, and adopt a tree.  We used our iPads to record sounds, images, and create videos to document our weeklong journey.  We reflected on our own classrooms and how we can bring science curriculum to life in a real, hands-on way.

While these off-site excursions were amazing and illuminating, one of the most lasting legacies of this institute for me will be the global connections I made with brilliant educators.  A few of us who teach young students formed a lasting group and immediately began conversations  around a global project involving our students.  We combined resources to create a book in iBooks Author of our experiences as citizen scientists at Rancho Cuyamaca.  We also developed an iTunes U Course where our students will come together as global peers and work together throughout this next school year.  We will join together with kindergarten students in the UK, Italy and Ireland as well as students from Kansas and Maine.  There will be language learning opportunities and cultural exchanges.  The possibilities are endless!

 

ADEsItalo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I encourage you to create or re-connect with your PLN on Twitter, Facebook or other social media.  Have conversations, share ideas, create, and re-charge.  Summer is nearing an end and we will be hearing the school bell ring before you know it!  And…when your non-educator friends quip that it’s nice to have the summer off, thank them for the good laugh! “Whatever, man…”

 

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

Back to Blokify

Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. – Roger Lewin

So, Blokify has turned out to be quite the hit in our room.  I wrote about using the app last time. It has been amazing what has transpired in just one week! We Skyped with Jennifer at Blokify last Friday.  The kids wrote out their questions ahead of time for her.  They had very thoughtful questions and she spoke to them in a way they understood.  She was printing out one of the structures in her office on the 3D printer and she sent us a couple of samples.

Blokify structuresThese arrived in the mail today at school and you would have thought it was Christmas with all of the excitement.  The kids made observations on the objects.  One is heavier, one is with color blocks, and one has more details on it.  They speculated about what the material looked like before the objects were printed and some even drew sketches of the objects on their Drawing Pad app so they could use them in writing.  In the math center, some took wooden unit blocks and tried to re-create the structures.

One of the best things that has happened as a result of using this app is the collaboration between the kids working together to problem solve to build the structures in the app.  One student grabbed some drawing paper, drew squares to represent the blocks and gave it to a friend.  “Here’s your blueprint” he said. That friend then worked in Blokify to try and build what the friend drew for him while the other child made it with unit blocks.

unit blocksIn a recent Kinderchat about Math on Twitter, several of us lamented how math was hard for us in school and that we struggled with it.  We realized that through those experiences, we work harder to make sure our students don’t have those some experiences.  Whether it’s hands-on or virtual activities or a combination of both,  we are working to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills with our students.

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Tucker is trying to recreate the pirate ship in Blokify from the 3D model.

Listening to their conversations, I find even I am impressed…”I need to do more research on how the 3D printer works.” “I can help you make that.  You have to see it in your mind first.”  “I will take a screen shot of my structure and then you can try to make it look like mine.”  “I can’t draw in 3D on paper but I can create in 3D on my iPad.” “Ask (Child’s Name)…he is an expert!

When another colleague found Blokify and suggested we download it, I had no idea the depth of thinking, problem solving and conversation that would take place.  This is definitely not a flash-in-the-pan app for us.  I see my kids sticking with it, building, problem solving and thinking critically for some time.

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

Using Blokify

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.  -Albert Einstein

Minecraft1The room is currently a beehive of activity.  There is some serious problem solving going on here.  Teamwork, collaboration, super-focused engagement, and high-level conversation are also taking place.  Here is a comment I overheard, “We need to strategize where to put the portal!”  What could cause such excitement that it filled our entire indoor recess time?

Blokify is our newest discovery.  It is similar to Minecraft, but it is free. Blokify lets builders create block based models free-form or through a guided building experience. Once the model is complete it can be 3D printed to take the fun from virtual to physical play.  So, no…we don’t have a 3D printer but the kids are beyond engaged in this activity.  Blokify is easy enough for my young students but sophisticated enough to create more complicated designs.  There is a free build mode and a challenge mode.

There is a greater conversation out there about gamification in education and you can find a number of opinions on either side of the issue.  I think I fall in the middle somewhere…I believe in balance.  However, what can’t be ignored is the engagement, conversations and collaboration going on today.  There is also a lot to be said about the spatial relation skills  needed for this activity.  It is also interesting to note that all of my students, both boys and girls were equally as engaged and had sustained attention to problem solving.

minecraft4When the app downloaded today, I told them it was similar to Minecraft and they immediately went to work.  A couple of them asked me some questions when they got stuck and when I explained I didn’t know how to play and I had never even played Minecraft, they were stupefied.  I am clearly a loser.  Another student took the puzzled ones under his wing and shared his expert knowledge after only engaging with the app for less than 5 minutes.

I count this app a success.  We definitely need to strengthen problem solving skills.  These young children will be in charge one day!  I overheard one of my students say he was going to write about it during Writer’s Workshop today.  It just doesn’t get much better than that!

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

1:1 iPads and Student Centered Classrooms

And no, we don’t know where it will lead.  We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here. -Steve Jobs

It never gets old.  Even after 3 years of 1:1 iPads, the magic and wonder of my students’ engagement and learning excites and motivates me daily.  Having a student-centered classroom makes my job so much more interesting and meaningful.

Trent's photosynthesisWe have been learning about fall and fall leaves this week. Living by the ocean in the south, we have about 2 weeks of fall.  The leaves are green, then they are a little yellow, then brown and on the ground.  We don’t get to enjoy the rich colors of our northern neighbors.

Today,  I was reading a non-fiction book about leaves and it briefly touched on photosynthesis.  Knowing this concept was a bit advanced, I kept reading, and didn’t stop to discuss photosynthesis.  However, just like our recess snail episode, the children were fascinated with this large word and had many questions.  We started a wonder chart on this concept.  How does the tree live through the winter if there aren’t leaves on it to make food?  Is the sugar that the leaf makes during photosynthesis the same as the sugar we eat?  We looked at other books and found pictures on the internet.  We talked and wondered, wondered, and talked.  During their free choice time today in centers, several drew pictures about this concept.  Some chose drawing paper, some our Drawing Pad app. (See drawing at the top of this post.) Some even put their drawing into Explain Everything and talked about it there.  Here is one of those examples:

The only planned part of this day was the reading of that initial book.  The rest was courtesy of my curious children.  By being in tune with my students, I was able to go with their flow (which, by the way, was far better and more meaningful than anything I would have had them do.) As I look back on our fall unit in previous years, before iPads, the learning wasn’t nearly as rich or in-depth.  Of course, the iPads alone didn’t do anything.  They have served as a conduit of change for ME.  Over the last 3 years, I’ve changed and in turn, my teaching has been transformed.  It’s not about the iPad, but it is about a shift in the way my classroom works.  The learning environment is completely different and it continues to evolve.

Just like Steve Jobs, I have no idea where this will all lead.  I just know there is something bigger than all of us here…and THAT is exciting!

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

 

The Choice is Yours!

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand. -Chinese Proverb

Would you want to work in a place that gave you no voice? Would you want to teach in a school that allowed you no autonomy in how you teach? What if your every day was prescribed as to what you would do, what you would say and how you would say it…

medium_2699584043As professionals, we become offended when the “higher ups” in education make decisions that affect us without including us in the decision making.  Even professional development is terribly ineffective when we just “sit and get” without any input.  Would an artist paint very often or very well if the subject of the painting was always assigned? Of course not. So why are we so reluctant to give our students choice in how they learn?

Choice.  It’s meaning is clear: an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities. Choice.  It’s not just for adults.  Alfie Kohn writes a good article here about choices for children in learning.

To be clear, there is a difference between choice and free reign.  Without some control and teacher facilitation, it can be pure anarchy. Setting up the learning environment to allow for student choice is critical.  You would never open a closet to a 3 year old and ask them what they want to wear.  You would ask, “Do you want to wear this or this?”  In my room, we begin with simple choices and through a gradual release of responsibility, students eventually have multiple choices all throughout the day.

Last week we were working on the pumpkin life cycle.  By Friday, everyone was ready to show me what they had learned.  They were given 2 choices.  They could show me in Pic Collage or in Explain Everything.  Later, they will have other choices, but for now, 2 is all they need.

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Instructions were on the Smartboard and everyone was hard at work!

photoThis is one of the examples from Pic Collage.

This is one of the examples from Explain Everything.

When given choices, students engage and take ownership.  By learning how to make choices and make decisions at a young age, they are better equipped at these skills as they get older.  When children learn to think for themselves, they are also less likely to be easily led by others whose choices may not be as desirable.

We want our students to love the content…to love learning.  By giving choices we lessen the chance of burnout (for both students and teachers), and we increase the chances of engaged, independent thinkers.  None of us like to be told, “You have no choice in the matter.” Instead, let’s work toward, “The choice is yours!”

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

One Way Sign Photo Credit:  Creative Commons

 

Engaging Students with Explain Everything

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. -Albert Einstein

The blank stare…You know, the one that either says, “I have no earthly idea what you are talking about.” or “Why are you telling me this? I already know it.” I suppose there is one other possibility. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?… Utter and complete boredom. Misconceptions and lack of engagement can both derail the learning process.

IMG_2265One of the apps we use really gets to the heart of both of those concerns.  I’ve written about Explain Everything before. It really is a robust app.  The best part is that it is easy enough for my 5 year olds, yet just as relevant and engaging for older students.  I’ve even seen a few adults having a great time creating a screen cast in this app. We used this app weekly last spring.  This past week was the first time we used it this school year. We’ve been learning about Spiders in science.  My students all drew a detailed spider picture in our Drawing Pad app and saved it to the camera roll. Then they uploaded it to Explain Everything.  We’ve been working on labeling like a scientist in our Writing Workshop so they labeled their drawings and then they recorded themselves telling about their work.  As I was showing this app to a small group, their eyes widened and they were immediately interested in doing their own.  They were very excited and had great conversations amongst themselves as they discussed the length/width of the arrows used to point to their objects.  Should it point this way or that? What if they moved this over there? Noticeably absent were questions directed at ME.  Even though this was their first time using this app, they were busy figuring things out themselves and working through ideas, thoughts and questions with their peers.

This first time with Explain Everything was very successful.  After completing their assignment, they uploaded it to Showbie where I could then see and listen to each one.  As the year progresses, Explain Everything will always be one of their go-to apps to share with me what they have learned.  As we work on unpacking standards and demonstrating learning, my students have voice and choice in how they want to document what they know.

While iPads are often thought of as a consumptive device, through the use of creation apps, students are able to create their own content.  Explain Everything allows students to create both simple and complex presentations in an engaging way in any subject. Our first product this week is more simple but they will become more complex as the year goes on.  This is Caitlyn’s Explain Everything:

Want to lose the blank stares? Engage students, get to the heart of what they know and don’t know, and stimulate their minds and their conversations.   Any takers?  Anyone?  Anyone?

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

Using iPads to Transform Teaching and Learning

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.-John Dewey

ThomasOne of the great things I’ve noticed in the last 2 years is how my teaching has evolved with the use of the iPads.  It’s been a gradual shift, but the way I am using them now is different than the first pilot year in 2011.

In the beginning, I was focused on integrating the iPads into our day and was very much “app” oriented.  We had a lot of success that first year and my class data reflected that.

A subtle shift began last year when my students started taking charge of their own learning.  It wasn’t exactly planned, but the environment was supportive and I was open to their ideas.  Soon, they were creating content and not just interacting with apps.  They were blogging, writing, and reading on the iPad. I was thrilled with the student-centered learning environment.

This year, I’ve learned from my students, we’ve raised the bar, and kids continue to create their own content.  They are teaching other students in other classes and other grade levels, and they are articulating their learning in a variety of ways.  They are choosing how they want to demonstrate their learning and I am facilitating their choices.  I indicate what skills we are working on and they decide how they want to learn it and how they want to demonstrate their learning.  Their choices are far more involved and detailed than anything I would’ve imagined.  They are integrating multiple apps to create a finished product.  They can articulate what they are learning and how to demonstrate their learning.

Here is an example from Explain Everything.  This child was demonstrating plant parts.

I have no idea what next school year will bring (and goodness knows, I am looking forward to enjoying my summer break!), but the outlook is bright.  I am excited about learning from the other Apple Distinguished Educators this summer at the institute and bringing that knowledge back to my classroom.

Wherever you are in your classroom journey, it’s important to reflect on where you are and where you’ve been.  It’s important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small, and then be willing to move forward and try new things.  Daring to imagine the possibilities and being willing to change is not just transforming to your own teaching, it will transform your classroom in ways you never thought were possible.

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

Technology Infused Classrooms

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Luc landformsWhat does a technology-infused classroom look like?  If it’s done correctly, the technology becomes invisible.  It is seamless.  The teacher scaffolds and creates a curriculum-based lesson, then steps back and allows the students to make the magic.

In my classroom, I’ve  intentionally modeled procedures and through the gradual release of responsibility, my students are independent during their work time.  I’m not interrupted while teaching guided reading groups as students incorporate peer collaboration into their skill sets.  Once my students have learned how to use their apps, they are able to then demonstrate their learning in a creative way they choose.

It is not uncommon to see students in the reading center reading eBooks on their iPads asElla making a book well as regular paper books.  At the writing center, there will be children making books in Book Creator as well as writing out long hand on paper.  Ella, pictured at right, chose to skip her free choice centers today to go write a book on her iPad.  On Monday, she chose to write about her weekend news during Writer’s Workshop.  She wrote 6 pages on lined paper.  Her method of delivery differs but she is demonstrating the skills

With a technology infused classroom, students can make their own decisions.  They are engaged and motivated.  In kindergarten, the infusion is slow and deliberate.  It becomes a natural part of our every day routine so that we don’t have to work at it.  We don’t have “iPad time”.  It an extension of our learning. We don’t just add technology and stir.  We use the technology for information, research, collaboration and creation of products.

By being deliberate, having a plan, and empowering your students, creating a technology infused classroom is easy.

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

Hope Explains Everything on iPad

Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Have you ever listened to a 5 year old tell about their work? Try listening to 25 of them.  Daily.  They have so much they want to tell and explain that I don’t have enough ears to listen to it all.  Their work is so detailed and there are like 40 bajillion things they absolutely must tell, and if you interrupt them even once, they must.  start.  over.

Hope

Hope

Thank goodness I have Explain Everything.  It is the perfect app for my kids to demonstrate their workflow, show me what they have learned and talk, talk, talk to their hearts content.  If they mess up, they just erase and start over.  My kids are learning about labeling and annotating their work.  Scientists label and good readers annotate for meaning.  When I showed them the app, someone said, “You mean I can just tell my iPad everything I want it to know?”  Yes…within 13.8 GB of reason.  So with full permission to illustrate, write, label, annotate AND talk, this lesson was a home run. There is an example from Hope, one of my students at the end of this post.

Ok…so a small caveat.  I have a slight obsession with neat and orderly and it’s hard for me to do messy.  (Yes, I realize I teach kindergarten.  Somehow it all works.)  This activity can get messy.  I had to get over my urge to tidy it up and put it all in a bento box and say that’s, that. You can’t have kids recording all over the classroom while other kids are talking and recording at the same time.  So, as kids finished their illustrations, labeling and annotations, I allowed 4 at a time to go out in the hall, spread themselves out, and tell their story.  I actually had to tell them it was ok to speak up so they could be heard by the recorder.

We will be using this approach with demonstrating mastery of math standards as well in the coming weeks.  Explain Everything is not free…There are other apps, like Show Me that does similar things that is free.

As my kids are working on many different kinds of fluencies, stretching their cognitive wings and needing to share what they’ve learned, having the iPad allows my kids to create, produce, redefine and transform all in one place.

Please allow Hope to Explain Everything:

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Workflow and iPads

Don’t mistake activity for achievement.-John Wooden

boys workingIn a recent post, I wrote about moving beyond apps and concentrating your focus on content. What are your students learning, why are they learning it and how will they know they’ve learned it? As I unpack the common core standards with my students, I am focusing heavily on these questions…not so that I can answer them, but so that they can answer them.  With these questions in place and iPads in hand, we need to look beyond apps and instead focus on workflow fluency.

If you look up the definition of workflow, you find:

  1. The flow or progress of work done by a company, industry, department, or person.
  2. The rate at which such flow or progress takes place.

The flow of progress…how can my students demonstrate the flow of progress?  Just because they are interacting with an app does not mean they are learning.  iPad activity should be purposeful and connected.  It should also be personalized to what that particular child needs.  

Workflow and iPads allow students to redefine their work.  The technology allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable.  It is transformative.  After our recent thematic unit on penguins, my students created their own books in Book Creator. workflowThis started with their own illustrations in Doodle Buddy which were imported into their book in Book Creator.  The students wrote sentences to go with their own illustrations.  Taking this a little further, students took some of their individual illustrations and labeled them using Explain Everything. They were able to record themselves explaining their work.  While the apps I used in this are great, there are others that do similar things.  Some of them are free.  Pic Collage is another way to demonstrate workflow and it’s free. The take away here is that students are able to use the iPad to demonstrate what they’ve learned and can use apps to explain in their own words what they’ve learned.

As we are striving to make learning more personal, we should teach our students about workflow fluency. By using the iPad to demonstrate workflow, our students are engaged, thinking critically, and are using skills of a 21st century learner.  Even the youngest among us can do it.

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