Listen to Your Brain!

I thought about it in my brain, my brain gave me the answer and I liked the answer my brain gave me.-Isabelle, Age 6

If you ever need good quotes, just step into a kindergarten class.  I’m repeatedly told I need to write a book of their sayings.  It’s never a dull moment around here!

My students have choices about demonstrating their learning.  We recently finished a pond life unit and the work they had done during the unit was pretty extensive.  I felt pretty confident in what they knew and what they had learned.  As we were wrapping it up, a student asked why they hadn’t done any projects to show me what they had learned.  I explained that they had done several projects over the last 2 weeks and they had done a really good job on those.  Their puzzled faces indicated that they didn’t realize they had demonstrated their learning.  I pulled out some of their work samples they had uploaded to Showbie.  I put them on the Smart Board and we talked about several of them.

PicCollage

We talked about this example and what animals were chosen and how they were chosen.  I asked what else they learned and was told, “We learned how to find pictures on the web in Pic Collage without going into Safari and we learned how to cut around them.”  popplet

We looked at this work sample created in Popplet Lite and we talked about how they didn’t know about water striders and how they walked on top of the water.  (Living where we live, it is not unusual for alligators to live in ponds.)  I asked what else we learned in this work sample and someone said they learned they wanted to go to that child’s house to see the alligator!

I reminded them that both of these projects show me what they know and what they have learned.  Someone piped up that he didn’t know that he was learning AND having fun at the same time.  (Ah yes…my work here is done!)

So, how did we get to this place…this place where learning and fun co-habitate, where children don’t even realize they are “doing work”?  It started back on day 1 in August.  It starts with children having voice and choice in their activities and moving on when they are ready… not when a worksheet, a basal reader, or a workbook page, or even a teacher tells them they are.  The work samples above were taken on the same day.  One student chose Pic Collage, another chose Popplet and yet another chose Book Creator.

It also means including the students in the information gathering process.  We made this anchor chart together and refer to it often when we are working on new learning.

photo

 

My students know that “an expert” can be an adult or another student in our classroom.  They know to ask for help when looking on the internet for answers and they also know where to find resource books in our classroom to reference.  We work hard all year to instill confidence in our students’ abilities to think for themselves….to “listen to their brains” and think about what their brain is “telling them.”

It is an ongoing process that gets refined all year long.  I want my students to go to first grade ready…ready to learn, ready to think and reason, and ready to have fun!

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

Back to Blokify

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

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

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

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

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

recreating

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

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

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

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

The “Art” of the Matter

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. -Oscar Wilde
As a classroom teacher, I see many personalities and temperaments daily.  As we work together, it is impossible not to know a child’s likes or dislikes, their interests and what turns them off.  All of my students want to shine.  Some shine more brilliantly than others, in a way that no one can miss.  Others shine more softly and feathery, like the moonlight.   The key is to weave these differences together into a tapestry that works and thrives together in a classroom.
photo-15One thing they all have in common is the love of art.  They love going to art class for special area and they love cutting, gluing, pasting, coloring and painting in class.  Most of them create excitedly and without hesitation, but a few of them have been bitten by the “not good enough” bug and are afraid to draw a bold line and get started for fear of doing it wrong.  When my students are creating, their engagement is nearly unbreakable.  So, why do we put art off until “after you finish your work?”  In our class, when we are creating content,  art is a necessary part of the process.
As adults, sometimes we see art as frivolous and something one does in one’s free time.  (And really, how much of THAT do we have?)  When we remove creativity and creation from our classrooms, we are teaching our children that it doesn’t have value…their creative selves are to be kept separate from their thinking selves.  Art is so much more than drawing and coloring.  Art is photography, music, poetry, writing, film making, and more.  How can these not play an important role in learning?  When students are able to use their talents, or develop and explore talents they didn’t know they had, they are learning how to be diverse individuals who have something unique to contribute.
I’ve always been interested in photography, but never really pursued it for many reasons, all mostly just excuses.  I finally made room in my life for it and can’t believe what I have missed out on for so long in not pursuing it.  I can’t imagine my life now, without it!
photo-4
As I watch my students work individually and collaboratively on projects, it is gratifying to see them encouraging each other as they work on creating content.  The creation apps on our iPads such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Pic Collage, Strip Designer, Popplet and iMovie all contribute to the wealth of workflow in our curriculum.  Each piece of work is as different and unique as the child that created it.  And THAT is exactly why I teach…to celebrate and develop the uniqueness of each child.
I encourage and challenge you to look for the art in your classroom.  Is it put on the shelf for when work is finished or is it integrated into the workflow of the day as a regular part of learning?
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!

Creativity and the iPad

Children see magic because they look for it. -Christopher Moore

“Stop acting like a child.”  How many times have you heard that or said it?  The implication is negative, the behavior undesirable.  Why is it that society has deemed being child-like as a bad thing?  Certainly, some childish behaviors are less than desirable but children have unique vision that adults seem to lose as we age.

IMG_0722Part of that ability to have imagination comes from not being afraid to be wrong.  Creativity and imagination spur innovation.  What if we could organize and prepare like an adult but think and create like a child?

We just finished a fiction unit on Monsters.  We had fun reading several fiction stories such as Go Away Big Green Monster  and Glad Monster, Sad Monster. The children’s conversations in centers and in various activities were filled with imaginative scenarios involving monsters all week. This was also a great time to incorporate feeling words and describing words into our mini-lessons.  As we made anchor charts with some of these words, the children could refer to them all week in their reading and their writing.

Children are so adept at pretending.  They are missing those filters of self-IMG_0724consciousness that adults have so firmly in place.  Adults often feel they “aren’t creative” because they have become so adept at avoiding being wrong. I love listening furtively to the conversations that go on in our housekeeping center.  The social skills developed in this center are invaluable.

As we worked on our monsters all week, we created our own “feeling monsters” in Drawing Pad, then uploaded them into Pic Collage. Some even went a step further and uploaded their Pic Collage into Explain Everything. (We have finally started our App Smashing!)  The iPads allowed us to create and innovate as we added some voice to our writing all week.  IMG_0725

All of us, adults and children alike, have the ability to use our imaginations. We tell others, you can do anything you set your mind to…but do we believe it about ourselves?  Imagination isn’t just thinking outside of the box.  It is acting on those “what if’s”.

In educational times of increased non-fiction requirements, we enjoyed taking a break and delving into monsters.  Instead of writing them off as not-real, my students embraced the opportunity to pretend, create, write, and explore “monstrous” possibilities.

We love using our iPads as creation tools.  The only limitation is our imaginations.  My students found theirs to be of “monstrous” proportions!

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

A World of Wonder

Wisdom begins in wonder. -Socrates

I_WonderWe are doing an author study on Eric Litwin this week.  He is the author of the Pete the Cat books.  My students love Pete the Cat…and with this study, we’ve started a “wonder” chart.  “Why is Pete the Cat blue?” “Who taught him to play the guitar” “Does he have other shoes since he got his new white shoes wet?”  These are all questions my students wondered this week.

If you Google image search “wonder”, you will find an alarming number of strange people dressed like Wonder Woman… but wonder is an innate part of the human experience, and somewhere along the way, we lose it.  We have to deliberately foster it, nurture it and encourage it in young children.  When children wonder, they grow bolder in their questioning.  They think beyond the surface.

photo-14I encouraged my students to draw about their “wonderings” today in Doodle Buddy on their iPad.  There was good conversation among the groups of students and even though it is early in the school year, they are starting to understand and enjoy the opportunities to work in small groups and talk about their work.  Wondering encourages original thinking, thinking outside the box, and creativity.  When many adults look at a new piece of technology, such as an iPad, they think, “How do I use this?”  Kids look at the same piece of technology and think, “What can I do with this?”  They are curious and creative by nature.  As an aside, you will be interested to know that the above drawing was done by one of my students.  She said, “Mrs. Meeuwse, that is you with Pete the Cat.  Pete is rocking his school shoes and your lip gloss is poppin’ and I’m wondering where your shoes are.”  Hmm…I’m wondering where my shoes are as well.  And about that lip gloss….”poppin”?

There is no doubt there was some creative thinking going on there.  I love how the iPad allows us to explore many ideas and “wonderings”.  Yes…they could have just as easily drawn their picture on a piece of paper.  But then we wouldn’t be able to import their drawings into another app and “Explain Everything” in the near future.  One step builds on another.  We will start App Smashing very soon.

Look for ways to bring wonder in to your classroom.  Pete the Cat is a good place to start!

As Pete the Cat says:
“No matter what you step in,
keep walking along and
singing your song. Because it’s all good.”

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

Procedures and iPads

“It is greater work to educate a child, in the true and larger sense of the world, than to rule a state” -William Ellery Channing

Well, if this quote isn’t the very truth, I don’t know what is.  As we have exited our honeymoon phase in our class, the real work has begun.  We are making good progress in many areas, and needing to back up and start over in some others.  Veteran educators know these first 6 weeks are procedures, procedures, procedures.  The mistake is when you cut this time short thinking everyone has it.  And. They. Don’t.  Oops…

IMG_0005We worked really hard the first 10 days on our Code of Cooperation.  We still review it daily.  We have talked extensively about what the expectations look like.  My students used our White Board app on their iPads to illustrate some of the expectations. As they made their illustrations, they shared with their groups which expectation they chose and what their drawing represented.  It was gratifying to hear them incorporating the language we used in creating the code in their discussions.  Note all of the happy faces in their illustrations…wouldn’t it be awesome if we were always so smiley??

IMG_0003

Through our continued discussions on our code (and by continued, I mean my 15,624 references to it daily), we have discovered that we omitted some things.  In our morning meeting, someone said, “We left iPads off of our Code of Cooperation.”  We discussed what we should do about that and what we should add.  Many ideas were thrown out there, but my personal favorite was the one who suggested we add, “Do not pick your nose and then touch your iPad, because that is totally gross and disgusting.”  Can I get an amen, sister?  But of course, we went with the more politically correct, ” Use clean hands on your iPad.”  The others, while less exciting, were no less important:  carry with 2 hands and be gentle.

So, as we forge on through these first 6 weeks and instill routines and procedures, don’t cut them short, no matter how tempting.  It makes life a lot easier in the long run and allows your students to really take charge of their learning environment once all expectations are understood and owned by everyone.  We are adding iPads to our centers this week, which increases student voice and choice in their learning.  We will be adding some new procedures as we do this.  Remember, teaching IS rocket science.  It can be difficult, messy and exhausting…but with proper attention to procedures in the beginning, the rest of the year will be a real blast!

PS…If you care to check it out, I am featured on the Apple Education website!

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

It’s Personal!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…Dr. Seuss

Who doesn’t love some Dr. Seuss? I believe his book Oh! The Places You’ll Go! could almost be a manifesto for Personalized Learning!

IMG_2012In my last postI mentioned that I was building that Personalized Learning plane while I fly it.  I have been working on setting up data notebooks for my students and thinking a lot about how to approach it.  Each child is different and unique, therefore personalized practice is necessary for personalized learning.  Student ownership and use of their data is essential to maximize learning. With student-maintained data folders for academic and behavioral goal setting, we can have a shared monitoring of progress through conferencing. Since data drives my instruction, there will be ongoing personalization of instruction to help meet student goals.  For each skill, students will determine their goal and will maintain their goal sheets after each assessment.  These folders will be accessible to students all the time so they will always have access to their progress. The folders will originally contain the usual assessments we give in the beginning of kindergarten…letter identification, naming letter sounds, beginning sight words, number recognition, rote counting, and shapes.  As students master these early skills, we will move on to the next set of skills.  Each one moves on as he/she is ready.

I was already doing this the last few years with high frequency words.  As students demonstrated mastery of one list, we added to the list.  We continued to add words as their abilities increased.  The last 3 years, all of my students completed 100 kindergarten sight words.  Most finished first and second grade sight words and even a few more finished third grade words.  I stopped at 3rd grade because comprehension begins to break down at that point.

But wait…I teach kindergarten.  How in the world will these young children be able to handle keeping track of data folders?  It is all in the way you organize your environment for learning and the expectations you set.  By working with each student, they will learn to take ownership in their learning.  By shared monitoring, they will learn how to make adjustments in their goals and articulate what they are learning.  You see, the key concept here is that they will learn.  As my students learn to create content with their iPads and create digital portfolios of their workflow, they will grow in their ability to discuss concepts and ideas. 

Part of my job as the lead learner in the classroom is to teach them how to be a stakeholder in their learning process.  And yes…even 5 year olds can handle it! After all, “Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you!”

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

Packing for the Journey

Packing is my pet hate. -Seal

medium_5016464980Packing a suitcase…an activity that elicits a variety of reactions.  Under the right circumstances, it can actually be quite exciting and full of anticipation.  I tend to pack light, but always struggle over which shoes to bring.  Sometimes, it’s even hard to know where to begin because you want to pack all the right things and are worried about leaving something crucial behind.

A week from today, I will be flying to Austin, Texas for the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute. I will spend the week in extensive professional development and work with other ADE’s to create and share content.  I’ve been thinking about this since February 19th-the day I was chosen as an ADE.  I’m filled with excitement and anticipation over this opportunity.

Packing for the unknown can be a little unsettling.  I know the “big picture” schedule of activities while in Austin, but not the details.  Aside from the obvious packing of clothes, I am hoping that all of the tools and experience I bring with me will be enough.

Whether you are a teaching veteran or a rookie, I’m sure we can all relate to hoping that all that we bring to a situation, a classroom or activity will be enough.  That our suitcases will have all of the necessary things. Facing changing educational times and increased responsibility and accountability, it is easy to question what you bring to the party.

I think it is important to remember that while the “big picture”schedule can often be scary, we have others on this journey to help us along the way.  The items others have packed in their bags, in combination with our own, can be combined and shared to bring about change and success.

As I look at some of my “go-to” apps:  Explain Everything, Book Creator, Pic Collage, iMovie etc…I know that I will meet people next week who are using these in different ways than I am.  As we meet and collaborate, we will be able to share and learn from each other.  I also look forward to learning about different apps that perhaps I’m not using or haven’t heard about. I’m prepared to have my mind blown!

Take a look at your own suitcase.  What items are outdated and need to be thrown out?  Can you make room for new things acquired along the way?  These are questions I’m asking myself and I encourage you to think about as well.  I’m sure I will have a bag full of goodies to share with you when I return!

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

photo credit: Creative Commons

Daring To Ask “What If”

When the time came to leap in faith, whether you had your eyes open or closed or screamed all the way down or not, made no practical difference.- Lois McMaster Bujold

what ifWhat if?  At times, it is a question posed with wonder and inquiry.  Others, with anxiety and trepidation.  When asked in the hearts of  5 year olds,  it is often met with unconditional enthusiasm and willingness to try.  How do you feel about the “What ifs” in your life?

This has been a challenging year for me both personally and professionally.  In August, I was asked to consider applying for Apple Distinguished Educator.  My first thought was, “What if I don’t make it?”  Then, I allowed myself to think of “What if I do?”  Upon being chosen in February, my professional life changed almost instantly.  I have felt like a meteor hurtling through space…but in a good way. I have been brought into a whole new world of learning, collegiality, and absolute wonder.

I have watched my students daily ask themselves, “What if…” in their learning.  5 year olds are curious no doubt, even without an iPad.  The iPads have allowed us to explore that curiosity, touch it, read about it, talk about it, and create.  Having access to this seemingly simple tool has expanded their classroom beyond our four walls into a global classroom.  The ability to have choice in how they demonstrate learning has awakened even the least confident child and brought him into full flower.  Allowing my students to work at their own level with different sight word lists and reading levels has allowed them to go further in the last 180 days than they ever would have previously.collaboration 2

When I received the opportunity in January, 2011 to utilize 1:1 iPads in my classroom, I dared to ask, “What if?” Over the next few months and into the school year 2011-12, my “what ifs” grew and my students started asking their own ‘what ifs”.  What if I taught my students how to blog?  What if I moved away from the drill and practice apps and allowed my kids to create their own content?  What if I had different sight words lists and allowed them to move on when they were ready? What if I gave them the ability to plan their day and have some choice?

Who knew that just 2 1/2 years ago, when starting with iPads, I would have transformed my teaching to this extent and my students learning as well?  It amazes me even now.

I am wheeling my iPads down to storage in just a few hours as we close the final chapter of the 2012-13 school year today.  I am excited about the awesome staff development opportunities I have with my Apple Distinguished Educators this summer.  I can’t wait to see what new “What ifs” develop in August…well, after a summer vacation, that is…

Whether you are starting a new school term on the other side of the world, or ending this one, I dare you to ask “What if?”  Like the quote above says, whether you take a leap of faith or go screaming all the way, it makes no difference.  The difference comes in daring to try.

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