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!

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!

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!

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.



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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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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Kids Teaching Kids with Book Creator

collageKnowledge exists to be imparted.-Ralph Waldo Emerson

For a short time, I considered that it was highly possible I had lost my mind.  I was going to teach my kids how to use Book Creator on a Friday. Not only that, they were going to teach another kindergarten class how to use it later in the day.  Simmer down…my sanity is still intact.  I worried needlessly.  My iPad proficient five year olds created a 4 page book on Penguins in less than an hour.  They illustrated their pictures in Doodle Buddy, saved them to the camera roll, imported them into Book Creator, typed their text and exported the book to their iBooks app in the morning.  I demonstrated how to do this on the SmartBoard prior to their starting on their own.

In the afternoon, we hosted another kindergarten class to come learn from us.  At one penguin bookspoint, there were 50 kids in my classroom.  They were in groups of 2 or 4, working together.  By the end of our session, the other class had at least the book cover completed and some had their first page finished.  My children loved, loved, loved teaching them.  The engagement was instant.  Their conversations were instructive, relevant, and meaningful.  There were conversations about word choice and details in illustrations.  We even discussed getting back together and sharing our finished books with each other.

My students, in the end, wanted to know if they could show another class how to create their own books.  What a great way for all of my students to have an opportunity to be a leader.  Even the quiet and reserved students, who may otherwise be reluctant to share in front of the group, took a leadership role in the small groups.  While the finished products are going to look great, the process in getting there was priceless.  Not to be forgotten, the science facts they acquired as they wrote about penguins, their life cycle, and their habitats.  Combine that with the literacy aspect and the cooperative learning on the iPads, and I’d say today was a complete success.

Here is a screen shot of one of the book covers:

book cover

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iPads and the Common Core Standards

You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.
― Galileo

common core 6One of the big questions I am repeatedly asked is about using iPads and implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  When you study the standards and the purpose behind them, and you understand personalized learning, you can see how the two fit nicely together.

Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to meet the needs of the individual student.  Typically technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.  The CCSS are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our students need for success in college and careers. In Language Arts, the CCSS focus on students learning to read and write complex texts independently at high levels of proficiency and at a rapid rate to be effective.  The focus is on proficiency and complexity, yes, but also on independence.  We want our students to be able to do quick, on-the-run research when needed, to express their thinking verbally and in writing, and to summarize, analyze, and design without needing teachers to insert the key questions along the way or to walk them through step by step.  iPads are an ideal learning tool for these goals.  Having constant access to information, students are able to research when needed.  They are able to to write, compose, and create with various applications…all without having to wait their turn on a classroom computer.  The CCSS emphasize that every student needs to be given access to the thinking curriculum that is at the heart of the standards.

The Common Core standards is, above all, a call for accelerating students’ literacy development.  We must lift the level of student achievement.  This is not achieved by simply transferring a worksheet from paper to the iPad.  The CCSS call for true reform.  Reform needs to revolve around creating systems of continuous improvement that result in teaching toward higher expectations, personalizing learning for students-which in turn, increases rigor as well as student engagement. One way we can use iPads to implement the standards is iBooks Author.  iBooks Author allows us to create our own texts to move students up levels of complexity by providing them with many just-right, high-interest texts.

As educators, we have to enable our students to become strong and proficient readers and writers.  Using iPads, we are able to fortify our own teaching, our students’ learning and meet the high standards of the Common Core.

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Creating Writers

In creating, the only hard thing is to begin; a grass-blade’s no easier to make than an oak. -James Russell Lowell

writersAs a writer, sitting in front of a blank screen with a blinking cursor mocking the emptiness of the page, Lowell’s quote hits home.  I often have no idea where my writing is going until I begin.  Often, it goes in directions surprising even to me.  That “aha” moment…the one when you have clarity, direction, and purpose is utterly inspiring.

My students are working on making a book using the Scribble Press App.  This is our first attempt at book making with this app.  They love all of the choices of tools this app provides.  Even though it is January, my students need me to model the process.  I model the think-aloud process of deciding what to write about and I even model being stuck.  I sit in front of the blank iPad screen and think….and think some more.  I model starting out with writing about one topic and then deciding to discard that idea and go in a different direction.  I model not finishing in one sitting.  They need to see this process and learn how to work through the “not knowing”.  We are all about instant gratification…we have to learn to process, think, and wait.

Their books are a work in progress.  I am hoping they will finish by the end of this week.  The end product, however, is not the important part.  It is what is learned in the getting there.  They are fussing over fonts, color and illustrations.  They are grappling with word choice, sounding out those words, and very emergent keyboarding skills on their iPads.  The Common Core standards emphasize three anchor standards for writing:  argument, informational, and narrative.  Human beings grow up on narratives, on stories.  We live our lives hearing stories and telling them.  We plan and daydream and work and worry in narrative.  How important then, is it to spend valuable time in this genre?

As tempting as it is at times, to rush through to get something done, allowing our students to sit and stew, think, plan, erase and start again is critical to growth in writing.  We have to set the stage, model and allow time-protected time-for genius to develop.

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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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