Using iPads to Work and Learn Together

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. -Henry Ford

Ah yes….working together….I can’t help but be reminded of the the preschool song “the more we get together the happier we’ll be”.  Working together, planning together, and achieving goals together is a beautiful thing.  It is not, however, something that is always done easily and it does require planning and effort.

We have been diligently working and planning together in our class.  Besides working on instructional goals, we are also working on our soft skills.  It is never too soon to work with children on their “EQ”…emotional intelligence quotient.  These are the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.  They complement hard skills.  Learning these skills now help transition them into adolescence and adulthood. In today’s world,  soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.

That being said, it takes time and planning to build community in a classroom full of egocentric 5 year olds.  We have been working on planning our day, working together on activities and projects as well as sharing with each other our completed work and work in progress.  This involves listening to each other, offering praise and helpful suggestions (helpful being the operative word).  This takes modeling and practice!

This week, we shifted from writing the plan for our day on a PDF on our iPads to actually typing it in the Notes app.  This has been very efficient and the kids feel “grown up” making a real list by typing.  They have their 5 “must do’s” listed on the Smart Board and they choose the order in which they want to complete them.  Currently, I am assigning the apps, but soon they will be choosing which apps to use to complete the assignment.  smartboard captureThe picture cues to the right assist them if they forget as they move through the day.  Kids are working individually, in pairs, or small groups by their own choice all throughout the day.

Here is a sample of the word work created on this particular day in the Magnetic Alphabet app.  The kids take a screen shot when finished and upload to Showbie for me to check later.

magetic abc workHere are 2 Pic Collage examples from a different day using the vocabulary words “mitten” and “cold”.

cold pic collage

Mitten pic collageOnce the students draw their pictures in Drawing Pad app, they save to their camera roll and upload into Pic Collage.  They then type the sentence using the vocabulary words for each picture.  They save it and upload to Showbie.

This schedule allows for a lot of collaborative time with each other and with me.  I am able to conference with children, assess, work with small groups and facilitate all throughout the day.  Because students have many opportunities to work collaboratively and interact with each other, we can practice modeling those soft skills we are learning about each day.

By setting up the classroom environment to reflect the values of learning through choice and collaboration, students are able to learn valuable skills that will carry them into the future.

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

What’s the Plan?

A goal without a plan is just a wish. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In my last post, I mentioned we are in transition.  We are continuing to shift from our choice board system into a more student-controlled system.  One of the first things needed is a way for them to record their daily plan.  I’m sure there are many ways to do this, but we are using a planning sheet that I scanned into Showbie.  The students will download and write their day in Good Notes, which is a PDF annotator.  This saves me from having to use paper to copy every day.  The planning sheet is very simple.  planning sheet

The students have 5 things they must do today.  These are listed on the Smart Board and students have the choice as to which order they wish to complete them.  Here are the choices from yesterday:

1.  Pic Collage with 2 bear facts

2. Read 3 “Just Right Books”

3. Math center

4. Writing Workshop

5.  Poetry notebook

Students choose the order they want to complete these activities and write them on their planning sheet.  They then have either me or my assistant approve their plan and they get started.  While students are working independently, my assistant and I pull small reading groups.  We are able to see all 5 reading groups between the two of us in the hour and a half block of time.   Students also have some activities to choose from if they finish early.  We call these “May Do’s”  The 5 items above are “Must Do’s”.

In the afternoon after recess, we have another hour block of time before Special Area.  This time is spent with students either continuing to finish their “must do” list or if they finish, they have “choice” center time.  All of the centers in the room become available for this choice time.  This block allows me and my assistant to conference and work with individual students in any area that needs focused attention.  We did this schedule last school year for the first time and it worked great! Their content creation was amazing and it allowed all students to learn time management, work individually or in small groups, and it allowed them to work on their own levels.

Here are a couple of samples of their Bear Facts.  Illustrations drawn in Drawing Pad app and uploaded into Pic Collage where they wrote their sentences:

bears2

bears1

The kids are excited about having the ability to make their own schedules and plans.  We will continue to work on this schedule over the coming few weeks.  The must-do’s change daily.

By incorporating student voice into daily learning, we are planning for success!

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

Building Vocabulary with iPads

Vocabulary is a matter of word-building as well as word-using. -David Crystal

We are in transition…in the process of moving from our choice board centers to more content creation centers.  This will take us a couple of weeks to migrate over to that system.  I will write more about this as we go, but for now, we are  adding various components daily that will be a part of our day.

How do you know when it’s time to change?  Every class is different and some can handle this change sooner than others.  I have a few signs I look for.  I look to see if the students are able to work more independently on iPad activities involving creation apps (such as Pic Collage and Explain Everything).  I also look to see if they are mostly able to upload their work to our digital portfolio app, Showbie independently.  But the real indication that really spurs me to move to the next phase in centers is they are driving me freaking crazy in the ones we currently have.  Even with frequent changing of manipulatives, activities and games, they suddenly stop using them purposefully.  Unifix cubes are no longer being used to pattern.  They are becoming light sabres and swords, or guns that attack others. And I am on the verge of yelling, “C’Mon Man!”  When you begin to feel the crazy creeping up and you want to retreat into the bathroom for an hour of sanity, it’s definitely time…and  I’m apparently the grown up and something has to give.   :)

So to get ready to transition, we start working on vocabulary.  This will be one center the students will have once we move away from the choice board.   This week we are reading The Snowy Day (appropriate and all polar vortex-y).  This is our mentor text while we talk about onomatopoeia.  We talked a lot about the words “crunch” and “plop”.  These words in the story relate to snow, but we don’t get snow here.  We thought of other things that can crunch and plop.  The next few days we will work on just 2 words but we will eventually move to 4 vocabulary words each week. These words are usually unit related.

The students took these 2 words, crunch and plop, and drew a picture for each.  It was saved to the camera roll, then uploaded into Pic Collage.  The students then wrote a sentence to go with their pictures using the vocabulary word in the sentence.  The finished Pic Collage was saved to the camera roll and uploaded to Showbie.

Here are a few examples:

Vocab Pic Collage 1

Vocab Pic Collage 4Vocab Pic Collage 2

Working with onomatopoeia is fun and a good way to start introducing vocabulary to young students.  As students become more proficient in their learning and in their ability to handle more responsibility, moving into more robust content creation is a logical next step.  And don’t we all have those really bright students for whom we just can’t dig deep enough for their requirements?  This type of activity allows them the freedom to move and groove on their own.

The best part of student-centered classrooms is giving them the ability to soar when they are ready.  We are always moving toward more student voice and choice.  I mean, no one wants to listen to my big talky head all day.

Stay tuned.  We are on the move!

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

New Year Resolutions

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s been said that what you do on the first day of the new year will influence what you do the rest of the year.  Hmm…I will make sure I am not cooking or cleaning on January 1 if that’s the case!

IMG_0703Since most of us are still enjoying a few more days of vacation, it is a good time to look ahead to 2014.  It has always been difficult for me to think of a “year” as anything  other than a school year-which for me, runs August to June, then summer vacation, and then a new year begins.  I’ve never done anything other than be a student or a teacher.  January to January is tricky for me.  That being said, we have been in school nearly 4 months and the winter break gives us time to refresh, restore, and refocus.

Someone asked me a while back what I like to do.  It seemed like a simple question but I found I had a little trouble answering it.  Of course, spending time with my family and friends made the list, but when pressed further, “What lights you up?” I fell silent.  This troubled me.  Why couldn’t I name anything? It occurred to me that I liked the idea of writing but never pursued it because I didn’t see myself as a writer.  A friend gently encouraged me and this blog was born.  I found I could quickly tap passion when it involved my students and their learning with the iPads.

I recently bought a “big girl” camera and have started pursuing a long hidden interest in photography.  I’m a true beginner in this endeavor, but am loving going on photo walks and discovering life behind the lens of a camera.  (I started a new photo blog here.)  What I am learning is you don’t have to be a professional to make art.

What does all of this mean for you?  I encourage you to explore some unexplored interests.  Step out and try something new.  Incorporating iPads in to my classroom has completely transformed the way I teach.  I don’t just think outside the box, I live there! Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey.  They don’t need to, it’s not for them.

Let 2014 be the year you step out, take some risks.  Resolve to hone your craft.  Create a classroom where you would want to be a student. Ditch old teaching methods, PowerPoints, and worksheets.  Examine who you are and what you like. Pursue some of your interests and you will be a more passionate teacher because of it.

What lights you up?

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

Kodable in Kindergarten

When people think about computer sciece, they imagine  people with pocket protectors and thick glasses who code all night.-Marissa Mayer

This week is the “Hour of Code” week.  Students from kindergarten through 12th grade are learning computer code through online tutorials.  This campaign is a push by President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates in an effort to create interest in computer science in students in the U.S.

Not one to miss out on all the fun, we found a great app for coding in kindergarten called Kodable.  Kodable is designed for children ages 5-7, but I will say that I know a few grown-ups who have spent an hour or three on it. There is a free version of the app and the Pro version is .99 in the App Store.  Here is a screenshot of Kodable Pro:

KodableappThe object is to program the fuzzy ball to move through the maze to eat the coins by putting the arrows in the correct sequence.  My students were immediately engaged.  Their conversations were analytical and full of strategy.  They worked on this app for 45 minutes and were upset when they had to stop.  What surprised me was how quickly some gave up and how others persevered.  Actually, I should say I was surprised at who gave up and who persevered.  It was not at all as I thought it would be.

Why code?  Well, why not?  It’s always been widely accepted that it is easier for children to learn a foreign language when they are young.   Using these devices is as natural as speaking to our students. Why not let them learn a computer language?

After my students worked diligently on Kodable yesterday, today we took it a step further.  They created a code that needed to be solved by a friend.  They drew the track for the fuzzy ball and had a friend sequence the arrows to correctly move the ball.  First they designed the track, then they added the coins to be obtained, and finally, they drew the number of boxes at the top for each arrow to be placed in sequence.  This means the student had to go back and count for themselves how many turns were needed in order to know how many boxes to draw.  Here are a couple of samples:

coding1

coding2Once it was created, they passed it to a friend who then drew the arrows in the boxes provided to show the correct order.  The friend also had to count the number of coins earned and write the number on the sheet.  They loved this!  Seeing their enthusiasm, I printed out some pre-made track and put it in the math center.  This way they could cut and build their own if they wanted without having to draw.  Here is one a student made at the math center:

coding3

The track was the length of a sheet of paper.  They could cut and edit how ever they chose.  This one had 10 gold coins.

Kodable was a great find.  I am sure we will be working on coding for much longer than this week dedicated for it.  My young inquiring minds are eager to continue and there’s not a pocket protector anywhere to be seen!

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

Word Work and iPads

Teaching reading IS rocket science! -Louisa Moats

I’ve probably used this quote before…but it certainly bears repeating.  We are immersed in literacy activities all day long in our classroom and it is starting to bear some fruit.  Nearly all students are reading and we are 75 days into our school year.

Since we follow the Reading and Writing Workshop Models daily, we spend a lot of time doing word work activities.  We have been working diligently on word families and rhyming words.  We have used our iPads quite a bit to do this word work. The Magnetic ABC app has worked well in making words together in small groups.  We have also done a little app smashing with Drawing Pad and Pic Collage.  Here are a few samples from that:

photo 3photo 2-2

photo

At the risk of being Captain Obvious, we were working on the -an word family.  They were able to choose 2 words in that family to illustrate in Drawing Pad.  They saved those drawings to the camera roll then uploaded them into Pic Collage where they typed a sentence with each word.  After saving the Pic Collage, they uploaded it to Showbie for their portfolio.

This relatively quick activity ( 30 minutes start to finish) will be a building block for when the children move into planning their own day and they have vocabulary words for their word work.  These 2 frames will eventually become 4 in Pic Collage.

What are the challenging parts right now?  We are still working on using the space bar between words when typing.  Back spacing and starting again provides an almost miraculous cure to that!  A few still need guidance in saving their Pic Collages to their camera roll.  Other than that, they are rock stars!

Word work is an important part of early skill building in literacy.  We play many quick games daily both on the iPad and in small skill groups.  Word Work helps them become better readers and writers.  If you are unfamiliar with the components of the workshop approach, I encourage you to read Lucy Calkins’ books.  These are easily found online and are great resources for the Reading and Writing Workshop models.

The difficulty of teaching reading has been greatly underestimated.  It is a complex process and requires a repertoire of strategies.  The iPads are providing me with another tool in my toolbox to reach all of my young readers!

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

Braving Technology in the Classroom

Do one thing every day that scares you -Eleanor Roosevelt

spiral stair caseWhat scares you? I’ve recently decided I’m afraid of open heights…you know, high places with very little barrier, or steep steps with open spaces in between where I can look waaay down…I usually make my husband go in front of me and I hold on to his shoulder, or else I get stuck right there!

This wasn’t always the case.  It has developed only recently but it’s still a strong fear.   I feel ridiculous talking about it because it seems so silly but my heart races and I feel all panicky when faced with a situation involving high open spaces.

In the classroom, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about being brave and what that means.  It could mean trying something new, speaking up when we aren’t sure of the answer, facing a bully, or doing something by yourself.  All of these can be daunting when you are 5 years old.  I’d venture to say some of these are daunting to adults as well.  My students are beginning to ride their bikes without training wheels these days and many come in reporting about their bravery in this feat.  Their pride is quite evident when it seems they’ve conquered something new.

Of all the scary things in their big, wide worlds, technology isn’t one of them.  A recent visitor went to one of my students and asked him about how he learned to do all of the things he was doing on the iPad.  He looked at her quizzically and said, “I didn’t learn it, I just do it.”  So Nike’s theme aside, “just doing it” seems to be how they all think about using this device.  It’s no big thing.  So why are the adults all standing on their heads about teaching kids how to use the device?  Possibly because we see the device in a different way than they do.  Obviously, we need to teach responsible use and digital citizenship, but I do not teach my class as a whole group how to use apps.  I work with a few students in a small group and they usually end up working with each other and helping each other.

illusionMany of you have seen this illusion  where you have to determine if it is an old woman or a young woman.  Some people have difficulty seeing the image as 2 different images.  I found that I saw the old woman first and then saw the young woman later.  I also found that once I saw the young woman, I had difficulty seeing it the other way without really concentrating on that.  As educators in connected classrooms, we have to be able to adjust our vision and see as our students do.  If we only see the “old woman” in the photo, we are missing out on the possibilities of the “young woman”.  We can’t be credible to our students if we are singularly minded.

Change is scary.  By keeping our eyes forward, not looking down or back, and letting go of the handrail, we can navigate that big open staircase.  It also doesn’t hurt if there is someone in front of you to hold on to…

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

Starting a Student-Centered Classroom

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. -Rabindranath Tagore

medium_8536426262I recently wrote about incorporating a more personalized approach to learning in my classroom here and how that meant building the plane while I fly it.  I’ve always believed in student-centered classrooms and in many ways, my classroom already had many aspects of voice and choice.  So perhaps I wasn’t starting the plane from scratch after all.

It can be intimidating and sometimes, downright paralyzing, to consider changing an entire classroom management system.  At the core of it all, you have to decide what you truly believe about teaching and learning before making any kind of shift.  Once you have made the decision to make meaningful change, start small.  Look at what you are already doing and see if anything resonates with student choice.  One of the biggest concerns of many educators is what to do with the other students while you are working with small groups.  These choice boards for centers were already in place in my room:

photo 1

photo 2

These center boards for morning and afternoon help me begin choice in kindergarten.  Students are in center teams and they are assigned these centers during 3 rotations in the morning while my assistant and I teach small reading groups and during 3 rotations in the afternoon while we work with small groups of writers. The rotations last 20 minutes each. Even though they are assigned their centers on these boards, once they get to those centers, they have multiple choices of activities to work with.  At the ABC center, they have 8 hands-on activities and one cubby has 2 iPad passes that allow the students who choose them to work on their iPads on ABC/phonics activities.  The math and games center works similarly.  They have 8 math manipulatives and fine motor activities to choose from as well as 2 math iPad passes that allow those students to work on math apps.  Here are photos of those 2 centers:

ABC center

ABC center

Math and Games

Math and Games

So in a given day, each team would rotate through these centers: ABC, writing, math, reading, and 2 rotations of choice.  Choice centers are housekeeping, blocks, legos, science, art, and painting. (I’m not a huge fan of the paint so they often have markers or chalk here.)  This controlled-choice helps students learn through a gradual release of responsibility.  It’s not chaotic and the kids start learning how to handle multiple choices in a structured way.

As we get a few weeks of school under our belts, and expectations, routines and procedures are more established, I start adding some choice into other areas of the day.  Students may choose books in the book center, or iPads for reading.  They may also choose writing on paper in the writing center or on the iPad.  (Note: with my kindergarten students, we still use paper and pencil for Writer’s Workshop all year.  I want them to develop those writing skills.)

By early January, we are able to move away from those choice boards and move into students planning their day and making their own schedules.  I will write more about this a little later.

Standing on the edge and trying to wrap your head around change is a little scary but I also find it a bit exhilarating.  When I saw my students embracing choice in the classroom, I found I was eager to incorporate their voice and choice in other ways.  It made it a lot easier for me to push forward and try new things.

Don’t stand back and look at the water…stick your big toe in and wade around a bit.  Come on in…the water’s fine!

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

Initial photo credit: Creative Commons

 

Let There Be Light

Technology is anything invented after you were born. -Alan Kay

At this moment, I’m in the airport in Portland, Maine waiting to fly home.  I have been at the Leveraging Learning in Primary Grades Institute as a presenter and keynote speaker for their annual conference in Auburn. This institute is all about customizing learning in the early grades with the use of iPads. As a presenter, it is often difficult to find time to get into another session to hear someone else speak but I was very fortunate to be able to sit in on the final keynote today given by one of Apple’s employees, who serves as Director of Learning.

As the speaker was talking, he showed this graphic on screen by Dr. Eric Mazur:

Brain Activity

This graphic represents a 24 hour period of EEG’s taken on the brains of students.  It is to be noted that their brains are more active during sleep than during class.  This is because learning is passive during lecture.  You will notice a similar wave pattern (or non-wave, as the case may be) during the time the student was watching television.  Learning simply must be more than the transfer of information.  We must focus on creation, curation and collaboration in our classrooms.  The richer the experience a student has, the more likely he/she is to learn.  The speaker emphatically pointed out that the last thing we need is a monoculture in schools that produces the exact same product.  Content without context and community is not an efficient way of learning.

As the opening quote by Alan Kay states, technology is anything invented after you were born.  Think about what technologies have been invented since you were born.  Many of our students have grown up with some kind of computer technology in their homes.  For them, turning on those devices and using them are as natural as using the switch to turn on the lights.  Think about it…few of us would think of “lights” as technology at this point.  Back in the day, you would see signs such as this posted: Edison-Electric-Light-Sign

 So what do we do now? We know that “the way we’ve always done education” is as outdated as that sign.  It was encouraging to see the faces of the educators at the conference in Maine…to see their determination to move beyond using the iPad as a substitution for paper and pencil or as a gaming device.  As advocates for our students, we must speak up about creating real change.  It starts with each one of us.  Plant a seed, watch it grow, change the world. Let there be light!

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!