Using the Backchannel in Kindergarten

When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power. -Mark Zuckerberg

Have you ever had the pleasure of listening to a young child tell you a story or tell you about an event? It is usually fairly entertaining and fairly lengthy. They have definite opinions about everything and don’t mind sharing them, even when not solicited.

We work on giving our children choice in all aspects of their learning. Giving small choices early allows them to have greater voice in activities as the year goes on.  Today, we used a backchannel called Today’s Meet. Today’s Meet is a great for all students. It is also a way for older students to ask questions during instruction or share thoughts and extend the conversation in a blended environment. A first grade teacher in my school uses it to activate prior knowledge with her students. Her question posted on Today’s Meet was “What do you know about bats?” Her students all responded with bat facts. Our first time using Today’s Meet this school year involved answering a yes-no question. We are working on a Monsters unit this week.

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Today’s Meet produces a QR code for your students to scan to join the class discussion. Students simply type their name to join the conversation and then type their answer to the question. Their responses show up in real time and the students enjoyed looking at the other answers.

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Class discussions often result in some students either not answering, or not having a chance to answer due to lack of time and large class sizes. The backchannel gives everyone a chance to have their voice heard. Sometimes, it isn’t appropriate to interrupt a speaker. The backchannel allows a student to share conversation or questions without the bother of an interruption.

We will build on this activity and eventually move beyond yes-no questions as students become better writers. As the lead learners in the classroom, it is our responsibility to see that each student is given the power of their own voice.

Share your story…do epic stuff!

September Wrap-Up

We must be deliberate in September-Debbie Miller

We are halfway through our first quarter of school, and at times, it feels like we haven’t accomplished much. But then I am reminded of the wise words of Debbie Miller about being deliberate in September. It is so crucial to go slow now so we can speed up later. Each small step we take now, is a building block for the future. We are front loading procedures, modeling appropriate ways to use our iPads, and learning about workflow.

Sometimes these small steps are difficult, especially when we are inundated with baseline assessments and other requirements. It is easy to overlook the importance of the small details…the procedures that seem like second nature, the instructions we feel we have said 100 times. However, skipping or short-changing these small early steps, often results in frustration for both you and the student.

Here are a few things we have been working on the last two weeks:

We participated in International Dot Day. We read Peter Reynolds’ The Dot and made dots on our iPads in Drawing Pad app. I collected all of the dots through Showbie and created a class Dot Book. We also Skyped with a kindergarten class in the UK, sharing our dots. Here is one of our dots.

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We also spent a week doing an author study of Eric Litwin. He is the author of the Pete the Cat books. We chose our favorite story and drew a picture of it in Drawing Pad. The class loved Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. Here are a couple of examples:

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This week, we have been reading the Mrs. Wishy Washy series. After spending a couple of weeks drawing in Drawing Pad, we drew our favorite character in Mrs. Wishy Washy, saved it to our camera roll, uploaded it into Pic Collage and worked on a sight word sentence. This was our first app smash!

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The last one is Mrs. Wishy Washy flipping upside down as she slips and falls in the tub from the story Wishy Washy Day.  We made an anchor chart the day before with all of the characters in the story. This way, students used our word wall for the sight words and the anchor chart to write their favorite character. The environmental print in the classroom assisted greatly in this activity. If it seems too overwhelming to draw the picture, upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence, break it up over a couple of days. Draw the picture and save it one day and the next upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence.

Remember, focusing on those all important procedures, taking it slow, being repetitive, and modeling for students, greatly facilitates your ability to have independent student work later.

Let’s be deliberate in September!

Share your story…do epic stuff!



Building Early Literacy Skills With iPads

Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting -Edmund Burke

I am on spring break this week. It has been such a luxury to linger over coffee and the newspaper in the mornings. That has been about all of the luxury I’ve been able to enjoy because even though I’m on spring break from my job, I am not on spring break from doctoral classes. I have been immersed in scholarly articles on early literacy. So, while this is all fresh on my mind, I am going to share a few work samples from some of our recent literacy activities on iPads.

We have been using the Feltboard App for word work quite a bit lately. Here are a few samples:

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While we don’t usually work with /ow/ and /ou/ in kindergarten, it was a conversation in one of my reading groups and one of my students created this:

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My kids love speech bubbles! This was in response to a class read aloud.

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This is a 4 square writing organizer on Feltboard App. Students can transfer ideas from this to an organized short paragraphs.

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Using the app to recreate scenes from a story can help students have deeper conversations about a read aloud activity.


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This was created in Drawing Pad app during our insect unit.

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Literacy extension activities are important in building emergent literacy skills. When we read a book together, we often do some kind of literacy response. The iPad is perfectly suited for these extension activities with creation apps that allow students to show what they know by making their thinking visible, extend their thinking and  reflect on learning. We read for a variety of purposes. Sometimes I read to my class simply for pleasure, other times, after I read, we focus on building decontextualized language skills. We move beyond the concrete and talk about intangible aspects of the text. This allows me to help take their language skills to the next level. When we use the iPads to enhance literacy skills, we are synthesizing both tangible and intangible language. It encourages children to use more complex language forms. Simple activities such as rhyming words scaffold learning for more advanced literacy skills.

Immersing young children in literacy activities all throughout the day builds a strong foundation upon which future skills are built. These activities, along with reflection,  help students “digest” what they read and makes them better readers.


Today we will do exciting new things. Lets get to it!

Mid-March Madness with iPads in Kindergarten

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind. ~Martin H. Fischer

We are only 7 days away from our spring break. I love my job, but am ready for a breather. The kids are ready too. You can say we have our own brand of mid-March madness! Today’s post is a bit of a hodgepodge of things. It is pretty reflective of my mind these days…all hither and dither. I wanted to show you some of the work going on in class and since the samples are from different subjects, I’m offering a bit of a Pu Pu Platter today. You know, a little appetizer from which you can pick and choose.

In writing, we are using mentor texts like crazy! We are working on adding details, expanding our writing and using various means to write. Sometimes the kids choose paper, sometimes iPad. Here are few samples.  The first one is a graphic organizer for writing about the pond. The student used Pic Collage to create the organizer.

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In this sample, the student used the app Paper Desk Pro as a Reading Response journal after hearing the story In the Tall, Tall, Grass by Denise Fleming.

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This last writing sample is one child’s Writer’s Workshop for the day. She chose this piece to be published from her writing folder.




In math, we’ve been working on addition, subtraction, and 3-D shapes.  Here are a few pages from one child’s math journal created in Book Creator app. This image and the next are from the app Number Pieces.

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This app is Number Rack. They are like rekenreks.

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This is a screen shot from the math journal created in Book Creator. Students took photographs of 3-D objects in our room and labeled them.

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In addition to these samples, the students are working on their own books in Book Creator and projects in Explain Everything. They are planning their own day, choosing apps for demonstrating their learning, reading constantly and using inquiry skills across the curriculum. This is such a fun time of the year with kindergarten. With only 49 days remaining in this school year, I’m soaking it all up and enjoying my time with them. They need me for so little now and I enjoy just sitting and being part of their world.

Giving kids of all ages voice and choice in their learning provides deeper learning opportunities and long-term connections to the world around them.

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

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:


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:


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:



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!

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:


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!

2-Page Spreads in iBooks Author

Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching. -author unknown

Recently, I was presenting on iBooks Author from the Early Childhood perspective along with 2 other Apple Distinguished Educators presenting from the middle school perspective.  I was so excited about their work and was inspired to try my hand at creating a 2-page spread activity in iBooks Author.

The idea behind the 2-page spread is that you don’t have to create an entire book…you can create an interactive experience across 2 pages.  My ADE friend, Sean Junkins has created a short, step-by-step guide for this process.  You can download his book here.

With Thanksgiving coming up, my 2-page spread is about the first Thanksgiving.  I started with creating a panoramic picture in Keynote.

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Then, following Sean’s directions, I created the 2-page spread in iBooks Author.  Once this was complete, I added the pop over widgets and the Keynote widget to deliver content.

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This is page one of the 2-page spread.  The small Pilgrim hats are pop-over widgets that contain information.  See the example below:

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The other pop over widget tells what food was actually served at the first Thanksgiving.  This allowed for good discussion and comparison with Thanksgiving today.  (This also meets our Social Studies standard for kindergarten in comparing lives now and long ago.)

The second page of the 2-page spread has a Keynote widget that when played, shows Pilgrim dress and Wampanoag Indian dress for the feast.  The small hat is the link to the Keynote.

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This is the first page of the Keynote.  The 2-slide Keynote link is below

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As the week progresses, I can add other content to this 2-page spread to engage my students in key facts about the first Thanksgiving.

If creating a book in iBooks Author is too daunting, try creating a 2-page spread or a virtual field trip as mentioned in Sean’s book.  His idea is not just create a book, but to create an experience.

I am excited to try other 2-page spreads to go with our upcoming units.  Remember, as life-long learners, we have to stay thirsty for knowledge.  In this case, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

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

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 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 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!