Endings and Beginnings

“This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change.” -Taylor Swift

IMG_2070I’ve been away from my blog for a couple of weeks…in fact, I’ve been away from almost everything.  My father passed away this past week after an extended battle with cancer and I was soaking up every minute with him that I could.  Bits of reality intruded as we started back to school last week with professional development days.  I went to some, not all.  Some things are just more important.

This past summer has been a time of both personal and professional metamorphosis for me.  Maybe you’ve noticed a shift in my blog posts.  I’ve spent a lot of time questioning what I really believe about teaching and learning.  I’ve spent time reflecting on what true leadership is.  I’ve read excellent blog posts from fellow educators and had conversations with colleagues.  I’ve made decisions and I’ve made some changes. There are endings and beginnings.

As I pursue a student-centered classroom this year, I will be building on some of the things put in place last year. There will also be an ending to some things that have previously been part of my class.  Missing from my classroom this year, will be a formal calendar time, formal homework , a stoplight behavior management system, and stated classroom rules. The links provided explain why beautifully.  My students and I will create together and deploy a shared classroom vision.  From that, we will build our classroom Code of Cooperation.  I will be sharing these with you as we build them.  We are also going to build behavior rubrics so that students can rate themselves on how they felt they did that day.

I worked a lot last year on building in student voice and choice by having my students choose which app they wanted to demonstrate learning.  I will be continuing that this year and my students will be building digital portfolios using the Showbie app. I am excited that one of our favorite apps, Book Creator, is able to be uploaded to Showbie and easily shared with parents. The iPad and the creation apps we use, have been essential to creating a student-centered classroom.

medium_143860670My work and reflection this summer, in addition to spending an amazing week with my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, were the threads to the chrysalis spun around me the past 9 weeks.  Woven in, were many quality moments with my ailing father.  As I begin to emerge from this cocoon this week and meet my new students, I bring with me the collective wisdom of many wise people.  I am certain of my path and am excited about new possibilities.  I’m also aware of just how very short this life is and it is too short to waste time using outdated, inefficient methods for educating children simply because change is too hard.  The butterfly is a great reminder of the beauty of change.  We should be more afraid of the effects of not changing!

My students arrive this Wednesday.  A new journey begins…

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

My How You’ve Grown!

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.-Benjamin Franklin

growing kidRecently, I saw a former student from my kindergarten class 20 years ago.  Talk about feeling old…she was very sweet and told me I hadn’t changed a bit and that I looked exactly the same.  I’m not sure if you can count some wrinkles, gray hair and a few extra pounds exactly the same but I’ll take it.  However, even if I look the same on the outside, I’m definitely different on the inside.

The way I look at teaching and learning has changed.  Obviously over a career span of 24 years, change is expected.  But some of the most significant change has come in the last 2 years as I moved into the role of a facilitator and my students began taking charge of their learning. Through the systematic implementation of the reading and writing workshop approach and by infusing the classroom with the technology from the iPad, my students learn from each other and from a range of collaborative experiences.

This year, I’ve focused on students creating content through a variety of apps and personalizing their learning by giving them choice in these apps.  What this has done has given my students freedom in  demonstrating what they know.  In addition, because they have freedom of choice, they are more engaged and they are retaining more information. Re-teaching skills has been replaced with students collaborating with each other and learning to problem solve together.

Life is messy and not all problems are solved with a “one correct answer” response.  Part of my change and growth has come in allowing my students to grapple with problems on their own or in a group and having them see that not all problems are solved all at once. Working collaboratively helps develop interpersonal skills.  Having choice in their activities, students are working on self-direction. By having students use iPads to create content, they are constructing new knowledge.

21st century learners need to be able to solve problems, and think critically, creatively, and systematically. 21st century educators have to be able to provide their students with the opportunities to put these skills into practice.  In order to do that, we have to be willing to grow and change with our students.  The following You Tube movie makes me laugh out loud at its ridiculousness…however, don’t we all know someone without a lick of common sense?  This video points out the need for teaching our students how to solve real-world problems…not just ones where the answer is in the back of the book.

How have you grown this year?

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

Being an Agent of Change

Any growth requires a temporary loss of security.-Madeline Hunter

IMG_1578I’m on spring break and the most productive thing I plan to do today, besides write this post, is to drink my coffee.  Don’t judge…this coffee isn’t going to drink itself.

I’ve been crazy busy the last few weeks and this week off will provide some much needed rest.  I spoke at an education conference in NC, had an Apple site visit and am preparing to speak to some future educators later this week. Oh, and I was teaching too.  Busy, but a good kind of busy.

As I prepare to speak to these future teachers later in the week, I realize they are preparing to enter into student teaching soon.  They will be going into schools with an excitement about teaching and learning.  In many cases, they will have an arsenal of technological tools, including iPads, at the ready.  What a dynamic time to be entering the education field.

I started thinking about what happens when these young people enter a classroom with a supervising teacher who is less than enthusiastic about the use of iPads…or any technology for that matter.  This can be a tenuous situation. How do you tackle a situation where you are expected to be the “teacher” in the classroom but you aren’t really in charge? How does the veteran teacher step into a role as mentor to this young educator when the younger person has far more technological background?

I was approached by a veteran educator after my presentation last week in NC.  She was excited by the possibilities of iPads from my presentation, but was very anxious about the actual implementation. The big picture looks heavenly, but the devil is in the details.IMG_1537

Whether you are a student intern treading softly in a classroom that isn’t your own, or a veteran teacher feeling like an alien in a world that has previously always felt comfortable, change and growth always require some discomfort.  Baby steps and true reflective practice will ease the transition.  For veteran teachers, you are still necessary and relevant…more so now than ever.  You have invaluable experience and wisdom.  By implementing iPads along with your wisdom and experience, your teaching will be transformed.  For the upcoming educators and new teachers, you are still necessary and relevant…more so now than ever.  Your cutting edge technology skills will serve as role models for your students and fellow colleagues.  You will be leading a technological revolution in your schools.

So, with all of our collective bravery, let’s go forth and be the change we seek.  Y’all go on ahead…I will catch up after I finish my coffee.

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

Technology for Today and Tomorrow

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow. -John Dewey

new technologyMy husband decided he needed an iPad for work.  This decision seems fairly innocuous considering the prevalence of this tool in the modern workplace.  What makes this decision remarkable to me, is that he is a reluctant technology adopter.  He doesn’t have an ATM card, he only recently got a smart phone and he isn’t overly interested in trying new technological things.  He has never used an Apple product nor has he used any touch screen device.  And he is just fine with that.  He leaves those things to me.  I was thrilled with his decision and we immediately went to the Apple store and bought him an iPad.

After it was all set up, I was ready to spend the afternoon with him showing him all of the amazing things the iPad can do.  He puttered with it for about 15 minutes and said he was done for the day.  WHAT?  We barely go past turning it on and off, navigating a few apps and he was done.  Baby steps.

Unlike our students, many adults tread cautiously into the world of technology.  My 5 year old kindergarten students watch me demonstrate (just once) a complex set of instructions requiring multiple apps to complete an assignment and they are on it.  Solo.  To my tiny digital natives, I am speaking their language.  To many digital immigrants, I may as well be orbiting Jupiter and speaking Juptonion.

Could this be part of the reluctance of many adults who are in charge of making technology decisions for schools?  A friend of mine posits that perhaps the simplicity is confusing.  Unless we see the value of technology in our own daily lives, it is difficult to find value in it for our students.  “Why do we need to spend all of that money on iPads?”  We have to move beyond being just fine with the way things were.   We speak about 21st century skills and 21st century classrooms as if they are something out of the Jetsons.  We are 13 years into the 21st century people.  If not now, when will be the right time?

By establishing our classrooms as a global learning communities, students and teachers learn together from each other and from a world of other learners.  Teachers no longer need to have all of the answers.  This revelation frees us up and takes the pressure off…we can explore and learn from our students.  I learn from my kindergarten students almost daily. We don’t need to employ the “no pain, no gain” axiom in teaching and learning.

Here is a video compiled by a colleague showcasing some great things at my school…no adults were harmed in the creation of this video…. :)

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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Cooperative Learning and iPads

The things that make me different are the things that make me.- A. A. Milne

collaboration 3When it comes to tattling, I have the “blood, fire, vomit” rule.  You know, don’t come tell me unless there is blood, fire or vomit.  This generally works very well.  They’ve learned what is important to tell me and what is small stuff.  Cooperative learning isn’t always smooth sailing.  5 year olds have a casual relationship with sharing and taking turns.  There are many times group activities have the potential to turn into a major disruption unless the activity is set up just right.

With iPads, cooperative learning is a breeze.  My kids look forward to working with others.  They love sharing, watching what their friends are doing and they love being “an expert” and showing others how to do things.  Each child has something unique to bring to the group. Because they feel confident, they all participate.  Today, we paired with another kindergarten class and my students worked with those students to teach them how to make books.  This is the second time in 2 weeks 50 kids have come together in one classroom to learn from each other.  There was plenty of conversation but there was no whining, tattling, or complaining.  One hour of no tattling in a class of 50 kindergarten students is nothing short of a miracle.  collaboration 2

As we begin to personalize learning and students are excited about what they are learning, it seems natural that many negative behaviors will go by the wayside.  As learners actively participate in the design of their learning and have a voice in what they learn, they take ownership.  They build a network of peers, teachers, and others to guide and support their learning.  Think back to the last professional development training you had that really engaged you and spoke to you…you were focused and energized, and hopefully excited about the possibilities of what you learned.  In contrast, think back to the last training you had that was not so engaging.  Did you stay focused or were you more inclined to check Facebook on your phone or talk to those around you?  Our students are no different.

As we here in the US move through our winter doldrums, let’s find ways to connect with the passions of our students.  It all starts with them.  The more we give them a choice and voice in their own learning, the less we have to use the “blood, fire and vomit” rule.  I, for one, am ALL for that!

group collaborationI’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

Flash Mob Writing Groups?

No matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it.-Carroll Bryant

book writingMy lesson plans said something completely different.  It was unscheduled, unplanned, and… undeniably better than anything I had on today’s agenda.  You’ve heard of a Flash Mob?  A Flash Mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment or artistic expression.  Well, That.  Just.  Happened.  No dancing or singing…this was definitely in the realm of artistic expression.  My students were working on their iPads when a group suddenly gathered in the middle of the room and started writing books.  This group (pictured above) was fully engrossed in their work.  They were discussing book topic, titles, text placement, and content. They stopped briefly, only to ask me to put on some “creative music”.   Once they started, they didn’t stop until they were finished.  Most had written a 4 page book.  Once they finished, they dispersed and went back to what they were doing before.

Flexibility is critical in a student centered classroom.  Kids need to feel comfortable making decisions about their learning…even at age 5.  Shutting down that activity because it wasn’t what I had planned for today, would have killed the creativity and spontaneity of that moment.  (Ok, that hour.)  If we are about the business of creating readers and writers, we have to give them time to read and to write.  I can’t always write on command; however, there are times when an idea strikes me and I can hardly wait to write.  It’s hard to stifle that feeling when you are inspired.

Setting up your classroom so that children can move in and out of small groups and make choices about their learning environment, helps foster a real sense of ownership. Allowing them the freedom to grab that iPad and jot down ideas, research a topic, read a book, or create their own book is what 21st century learning is all about. I will welcome a flash mob like that any day!

Here is Kaylee’s book commemorating the 100th day of school:

I Love 100! by Kaylee

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What’s Your Story?

I think it’s imperative to follow your heart and choose a profession you’re passionate about.-Steve Kerr

success1What’s your story?  We all have one.  Mine is chronicled here on this blog and while it may seem like a love note to Apple and iPads most of the time, it is more about the changes in my classroom as a result of innovation.

Teachers are innovators.  We have to be.  We are often short on time, money, and resources, but we are not short on passion, creativity, and a desire to make a difference.  It is easy to walk down the hall everyday to your classroom, close the door, and go about the business of educating each day.  It is easy to start believing that what you do doesn’t matter and even easier to drift into autopilot.  It becomes easy to reject new ideas and technologies because that brings change and change brings uncertainty and uncertainty brings…well, it brings a degree of discomfort.  And who has time for that?

There is a bigger story here.  It’s your story. How do you innovate?   What if you tried one thing differently today?  What if you said no to “what we’ve always done” and said yes to something you’ve always wanted to do?

Ok, enough about you, let’s talk about me…I’ve said before iPads have been a game changer in my teaching career.  I’ve always believed in my calling to teach.  It is who I am, but that doesn’t mean I am impervious to ruts, routines, and rigor mortis.  Jumping into this project with a “what if” mindset opened more doors than I even imagined.  Stretching, embracing the change, and learning to live in the uncertain was my personal lesson plan.  It was not (and still isn’t) without setbacks, do overs, and what-in-the-world-was-I-thinking moments.  Innovation does not come without your personal investment.  Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean setting the world on fire…I’d settle for setting my students on fire for learning.

Make a promise to yourself that you will try one new thing.  Stir your creative juices and stretch.  Your skin may feel a little tight; but in the end, you will find your story.  You will re-discover what it is that brought you to this profession and you will be better for it-both personally and professionally.

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Choosing Brilliance

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

sparkling new yearJanuary is a good time for simplicity.  After all of the necessary messiness and decorations of the holidays, I like the simplicity of January.  January is a good time for reflection and renewal.  Beyond the usual “Get Healthy” resolutions, I find myself wanting to get to what matters.   Where does my professional passion lie? What makes me come alive in the classroom?

I will admit, getting up early this morning after 2 weeks off, I had trouble finding motivation.  Purpose.  Coffee.  But after arriving at school and having my students hug me and bubble over with excitement about being back in school, I realized they have no trouble connecting with their passion.  They said they missed their friends, they missed me, they missed their iPads.  They said they missed learning. I said it was time for Writing Workshop.  They cheered.  Their unabashed love for school, engagement, learning, possibilities, new things, and opportunities seem endless.  They show up everyday with wonder and brilliance.  When was the last time you showed up somewhere, anywhere,  with wonder and excitement at the possibilities?

As educators, our passion, our brilliance,  is easily lost amidst meetings, paperwork, lesson plans, less than supportive parents, criticism, behavioral problems, etc…I can choose to get bogged down in that or I can rise above.  I can choose to show up everyday with wonder… Wonder at what my brilliant 5 year old students can teach me about themselves and about myself.  I can choose to simplify my approach to teaching…to discard things that no longer work or bring my students alive.  I can come to work each day and be thankful for having a fully stocked classroom with supplies, an amazingly supportive administrator, and a district that believes in personalized learning and iPads.  I can connect with my own passion for literacy and learning and magnify what I am doing through this blog.  In the bleak mid-winter, I can choose to shine brightly. Let’s be brilliant together!

Where do you find yourself in this first chapter of 2013?

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