iTunes U and You

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. -Martin Luther King

itunes uThinking critically and intensively is not reserved for older students. We work diligently to create learning experiences in kindergarten that allow our young students to think deeply about various topics. Having iPads allows us to enrich learning experiences in a way that wasn’t possible before. One of the iPad tools that is often overlooked is iTunes U. Why iTunes U?

  • It is a free repository of classes and educational content
  • Students have access to content anytime and anywhere
  • Content is easily updated and changed
  • Discussion feature allows rich conversation between students

While there are a large number of free classes available on iTunes U, perhaps you should consider creating your own. With the end of the school year only a few weeks away, it seems odd to be thinking of adding new things to your teaching bag of tricks, but this is the perfect time to do so. You can use some of your summer to create your own courses. It is easy to do. Simply log into the iTunes U course manager using your Apple ID and add your content. What are the benefits to creating your own course?

  • Content is more meaningful to students
  • Content can be customized
  • Easy to create, easy to update
  • All resources are in one place: books, documents, videos, images, web links and apps

Here is the link to a Spiders course I created for my kindergarten students as well as one for teachers on Personalized Learning and another course created by a 4th grade colleague about my school and how we innovate instruction using iPads.

iTunes U allows you to customize the learning experience for your students, even the youngest ones. It is also a great way to create a learning portfolio for students. Up to 5 people can collaborate on a course so you and your colleagues can work together and share the wealth. If you aren’t comfortable creating a full course initially, create a chapter and keep adding. It is easy to update any time.

If you aren’t already using iTunes U, consider giving it a try. It will open a whole new world to your students for learning and engaging in content.

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

Teacher Created Texts in Book Creator

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.-Benjamin Franklin

 Writer…this is not an adjective I would use to describe myself, but is something I sure am doing a lot of these days. Aside from this blog, my doctoral classes provide an endless source of writing “opportunities”. Writing and reading go hand in hand in literacy development; and as we are encouraging our students to read and to write, modeling is an appropriate strategy to use. We model reading daily for our students, but how can we model writing in such a way that our students have continued access to these writing samples?

I’ve written here about using iBooks Author to create leveled texts for my students. You can also see my story here.  I still use iBooks Author to create books for my students and I also use Book Creator to create books as well. We are studying the rainforest currently and I’ve made a few books pertaining to the rainforest for my student’s iPads. Here are a couple of sample pages:

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This book on sloths is one of their favorites. I used the drawing tool to create an arrow pointing to the 3 toes.

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The book on leaf cutter ants has vocabulary words underlined and the book on jaguars has my voice over if students need it. These books took 5 minutes to create. You can get many images from Creative Commons free. When I finish these books, I upload them to Showbie which allows my students to download them on their iPads. Another colleague on my team has created some rainforest books also. This way, we can share with each other and double our resources.

By creating your own books, you are able to control your own text complexity and content. I have also created some fiction books based on student interests such as dirt bikes, super heroes, baby animals, and princesses. These books are pretty simple but the kids love them. The side benefit is the children are able to see you as a writer and have your books to use as a guide as they are writing.

Teacher created texts provide you the flexibility to control text, vocabulary and content as well as provide your students anytime books, personalized content, and a model for writing. It is a small investment of your time that pays big dividends!

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

 

 

Mid-March Madness with iPads in Kindergarten

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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This app is Number Rack. They are like rekenreks.

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

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

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

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

Finding Your Passion for Teaching

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.-Nelson Mandela

I am in the third week of my doctoral program and the words I am currently using to describe it are “wonderfully awful”. It is exciting and challenging and….no surprise, a lot of work.  A. Lot. I have spent the last 3 weeks teaching school all day and studying all afternoon and evening…and all day Saturdays and Sundays. At times I look and feel like a zombie.  I am thrilled to have this brief opportunity to turn away from “scholarly writing” to writing in my own voice in this blog post.  It’s a sweet breath of relief. So if it is so wonderfully awful, why then, am I subjecting myself (and those around me) to this significant life change? Why, when I have only four years remaining before I retire from teaching, am I putting myself through this? Don’t think that I haven’t asked myself those same questions more than a few times over the last three weeks. After much reflection, it simply comes down to passion…passion for the art of teaching, passion for helping and empowering others to be more and learn more, passion for lifelong learning, and passion for the meaningful integration of technology into teaching and learning.

Everyone one of you has a journey. Each of you have a passion for what you are doing. Educators have to have passion in order to do what they do. It isn’t an easy calling.  It isn’t an easy art. It is easy to lose your passion, however. How do you keep your passion alive? How do you feed those creative energies that fuel you each day? I am not suggesting that you need to join a doctoral cohort in order to rekindle your passion. This is my journey, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Reading professional texts, visiting other educators, finding a PLN (professional learning network)…all of these things can renew your passions.  One of the texts I highly recommend is Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills-And What We Can Do About It. It is thought provoking and will definitely get you fired up.

IMG_0336As for visiting other classrooms, this can be a truly rewarding experience.  I recently was visited by some wonderful educators in Atlanta. They spent the day observing in my classroom.  Their observations and conversations helped them reflect and plan strategies for moving forward. Sometimes, simply seeing something in person is all you need to spark creative ideas. Educators need to take more time to collaborate and engage in meaningful dialogue with other educators. On the occasions I have visited other classrooms, I have always come away with something that may have seemed very simple, but impacted in big ways. It is worth the effort to get release time from school to engage in personal professional development.

So, where are you at this point in the school year? Are you weary? Are you on autopilot? Do you even know where you are? It’s ok. Our profession is not always equipped to provide us with what we need to be effective, passionate, educators. What steps can you take today to ignite that passion that brought you into this profession? I can’t stress enough how important it is to shake things up at times, to step out of your comfort zone, to stretch, to grow.

You can do it. Let’s change the world.

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

Using iPads to Plan in Kindergarten

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. -Paul J. Meyer

Happy New Year! After 2 weeks and 3 weekends, we are back in school.  It was evident we had a little “brain drain” over the holidays.  Hopefully we can catch up and get moving by the end of the week.  After winter break is when we pick up speed and move full steam ahead.

One of the things I truly believe is that student engagement is dependent on their voice and choice in both the planning and execution of learning.  When we include even the youngest of children in the process, we get so much more concentrated effort from them.  This concept is the same for adults.  Aren’t we usually voicing concern as educators how our  voice needs to be heard in the decisions made on behalf of our students? When we are excluded from the process of decision making, we are less likely to buy into whatever it is we are being asked to do.  We are also less likely to implement changes with fidelity.

My students have quite a bit of choice in this classroom the first part of the year but after Christmas, they are included in the planning of their day.  Now, just as I would never open a closet door to a 3 year old and have them choose what to wear from an entire wardrobe of clothes, I would never just let go of the reins completely of the classroom.  I utilize a gradual release of responsibility and have some controlled choice in the beginning.  Giving students a few choices  all throughout the day, from the beginning of the year,  builds their confidence in their own abilities to make bigger choices later.

As my students walk in each morning from now on, they will have 5 must-do activities.  They may choose which order these items are completed.  They will open their notes app on their iPads and write out their plan for the day.  They then refer back to that note all throughout the day to see what they chose to do next.  The SmartBoard looks like this when they are making their plan:

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In the reading center, I want them to read  2 books on their reading level and then they may choose other books as well as book on their iPads to read. For writing,  they will work on their Writer’s Workshop.  A few of my students still need scaffolding and support with their writing so I have a specific conferencing time with those children. Today, I chose the app Pic Collage for them to illustrate and write a sentence but soon, they will have their own choice of creation apps in which to demonstrate understanding of unit-related vocabulary words. This work is saved and uploaded to Showbie for their work flow. Math includes small group activities and word work currently is involving word families.  Students use the ABC Magnet Board app to make 6 words of their choice in a given word family.  Today’s word work from one of my students looked like this:

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The student takes a screen shot of this work so that it is saved in the camera roll.  I can have them upload it to Showbie if I need them to or it can just stay in the camera roll as a work sample.  This particular app is great because it says the letter sounds as they manipulate them and once the word is created, it reads the word to them so they get immediate feedback.  Word Wizard is another great app for this kind of activity for the same reason.

So at the end of the 5 must-do activities, once all work is completed and checked, the student has free choice of any activity in the classroom.  This helps encourage timely work completion and on-task behavior, but in general, those things aren’t really a problem.  Their engagement is much higher as they have been a part of the planning process.

As students gain more independence and confidence in their abilities to make choices and move forward on their own initiative, this allows for other possibilities such as 20% time, Genius Hour, Makerspaces, etc…Again, this goes back to gradual release of responsibility, front-loading procedures, and giving students opportunities to develop those decision-making “muscles”.

As you start 2015, consider ways you can give your students more choice in the planning and demonstration of their learning.

What’s the plan??

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

Finding Your Inner Teaching Ninja

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free. -Jim Morrison

The number one rule in our kindergarten classroom is to Be Brave.  This covers so many areas of life that it is an appropriate rule, and truly the only one we need.  It is hard to be brave sometimes.  It’s hard to speak up, step out, or stand alone.

A reader of this blog messaged me not long ago asking if it gets easier letting go and letting young students make choices in their learning.  As a long time educator (like me), she shared concerns about letting children have that voice and choice in demonstrating their learning.  I get it.  Before iPads, I was afraid to let go.  I mean…where is the control in that?   I thought I needed to be in charge.  Of Everything.  After all, that was how I was taught and how I was taught to teach.  iPads changed that.  How can a technological device make such a dramatic change in philosophy?  Perhaps I would be more accurate to say my students using iPads  changed my thinking.  Watching them use the iPad for creation, on their own, awakened me to new possibilities in learning.  Yes, it was scary but what a difference it made.

5258698926_9059e7bfe6_zSomeone once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room.”  How has your teaching changed in the last 4 years?  If  it hasn’t, why?  Is it because it’s easier to do what you’ve always done?  Is it because, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  Is it because you just don’t have time/support/resources to make any changes?  Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is a popular approach to changing professional development to be engaging and interactive.  It helps you kickstart your own creativity and make your classroom experience rich and engaging.  He has a book on Amazon…worth the read!  Another organization dedicated to ongoing learning for educators is Teach Like a Feral Pig.  Their mission is for all educators to continually grow their “edutusks”.  I still want one of their t-shirts!  I often compare teaching to being a ninja.  This site emphasizes several key traits that tie teaching and ninja behavior together (particularly the one about not ever going to the bathroom)…The ninja one is tongue in cheek (slightly) but the point is…stop making excuses and make changes!  If you are stagnant, get a new PLN.  Find a Twitter chat…if you are nervous, lurk and take in the conversation.

Start the new school year with inspiration, the willingness to make some changes, and be a pirate, a feral pig, a ninja…whatever!  Just BE BRAVE!

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

Photo credit:  Creative Commons

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!
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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:

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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:

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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!