Keep It Simple

Simplicity will stand out, while complexity will get lost in the crowd. -Kevin Barnett

American Thanksgiving has just passed and we are on the bullet train to Christmas! How are things where you are…busier than ever I am guessing? With all of the “must-do’s” that come with teaching, it is easy to let content design take a back seat to “getting it all in”. Lesson planning can become rote and robotic if we aren’t careful. Put your quarters in the machine and make your selection…

I have just returned from BarcelonaFullSizeRender 18, Spain. What an amazing experience! I went to work with the early childhood teachers at the American School in utilizing iPads in the classroom. The wonderful staff there was particularly interested in making the best use out of a few iPads per classroom. I taught math and reading lessons in their classrooms and watched the thrill of the young children interacting with their iPads. It can certainly seem challenging without a class set of the devices. My advice to them, as it has been on this blog all along, is to start small and take those baby steps. When starting something new, it is easy to get caught up and get overwhelmed. There is initial excitement but then real-life sets in and it just seems like too much work. Be realistic, but keep moving forward.

The truth is, designing good lessons is work. We are “content architects”. We must look at all of our students and provide experiences that reach each and every one of them. Whether you use the iPad or not in your classroom, content design is work. This work can be easier if we leverage the technology in such a way that students are engaged in student-centered learning. In Spain, we worked with the teacher iPad to demonstrate some new concepts to thIMG_2315e whole class and then worked on ways students could partner up to practice the new learning. We also talked about using the iPad in small group centers and small group instruction. My message to those fine teachers was you do not have to hang the moon simply because you are using technology. Short and simple lessons delivered in an engaging manner are just as effective.

Here is one brief example of an activity we did in Barcelona:

Using the Feltboard app, the 4-year-old students used the 4 Square sorting mat background. They pulled over shapes from the shape menu and sorted them by color and shape. Ideally, the teachers would give the children time to explore the app first without instructions. Then, using the teacher iPad projected up front, the teacher could demonstrate a mini lesson on sorting. The follow up would involve the students working in partners to complete the activity. Using the camera option in this app, students can take a screen shot of their work. Ultimately, this could be uploaded to a math journal created in Book Creator. When sharing iPads, my suggestion for this is to create a separate journal for each skill. This way, each child creates a page in the journal. When sorting is finished and you move on to the next skill, a new journal is created. This works for two reasons: 1. It is difficult for young students to create their own books when sharing iPads and 2: As each skill is finished and a new journal is created, it can be saved to the iBook shelf and students can look at all of their classmates’ work and continually review skills that have already been covered.

IMG_2288So, I encourage you to reflect on your own content design. Can it be refreshed and updated? How can you make small changes that might make big impact?

Share your story…do epic stuff!


Using the Backchannel in Kindergarten

When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power. -Mark Zuckerberg

Have you ever had the pleasure of listening to a young child tell you a story or tell you about an event? It is usually fairly entertaining and fairly lengthy. They have definite opinions about everything and don’t mind sharing them, even when not solicited.

We work on giving our children choice in all aspects of their learning. Giving small choices early allows them to have greater voice in activities as the year goes on.  Today, we used a backchannel called Today’s Meet. Today’s Meet is a great for all students. It is also a way for older students to ask questions during instruction or share thoughts and extend the conversation in a blended environment. A first grade teacher in my school uses it to activate prior knowledge with her students. Her question posted on Today’s Meet was “What do you know about bats?” Her students all responded with bat facts. Our first time using Today’s Meet this school year involved answering a yes-no question. We are working on a Monsters unit this week.

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Today’s Meet produces a QR code for your students to scan to join the class discussion. Students simply type their name to join the conversation and then type their answer to the question. Their responses show up in real time and the students enjoyed looking at the other answers.

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Class discussions often result in some students either not answering, or not having a chance to answer due to lack of time and large class sizes. The backchannel gives everyone a chance to have their voice heard. Sometimes, it isn’t appropriate to interrupt a speaker. The backchannel allows a student to share conversation or questions without the bother of an interruption.

We will build on this activity and eventually move beyond yes-no questions as students become better writers. As the lead learners in the classroom, it is our responsibility to see that each student is given the power of their own voice.

Share your story…do epic stuff!

Phonics Strategies for Young Learners Using the iPad

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.-Kate DiCamillo

I am sorry for my low profile lately…for the last 10 weeks, I have been taking statistics for my doctoral program and it has owned me! There are only 2 weeks remaining so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My school year thus far, has been one of the most challenging ones in recent memory. New district required assessments have consumed an inordinate amount of time and their results have generated different progress monitoring assessments for my lowest performing students.

Fortunately, I have iPads to assist in meeting the needs of all students, regardless of their skill level. Never has this challenge been more real than this year. Today’s post is to share some strategies I use with my most challenged learners in their endeavor to meet grade level goals in early literacy.

The majority of my struggling students are younger five year olds, with late birthdays. Their delays are mostly due to lack of exposure to literacy activities prior to starting school. This lack of exposure requires many, many repetitions to create some fluency in those critical phonics skills.

One of the interventions I use is the Wilson’s Fundations alphabet cards. These are cards that with daily repetitions, assist children in learning letters and sounds. We go through the cards each day several times. We say the letter, the picture name and the sound. For example: Bb, bat, /b/. Additionally, I have created a book in Book Creator by photographing each card and adding my voice over on each page saying the letter, picture, and sound. This way, students have the ability to practice throughout the day independently.Wilson's ABC

In addition to working with these cards and interacting with the e-book, we use the Word Wizard app. In our small group time, students open the app, I alternate calling out the letter, the word, or the sound and students find that letter and move it up to the grid. This app reinforces the child’s choice by giving the student the sound when the letter is selected.

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For reinforcement of letter sounds, we also use Starfall ABC’s app. This gives students multiple opportunities to see the letter, hear the sound, and practice interacting with initial sound activities.

Beyond phonics, I create “Just Right Books” for students that are on their independent reading level. These books are created in Book Creator and in iBooks Author. For non-readers, the text is read to the child with supporting picture cues. I have a free book in the iBook Store explaining the process here and blog posts about it here and here.

There are many apps and books available for purchase, but creating simple activities with much repetition is what our struggling students need most.

Share your story…do epic stuff!

Here We Go Again

How do you restart something that had never been turned off? -Veronica Rossi, Under the Never Sky

It doesn’t matter how long I have taught, I always have trouble adjusting expectations with a new class. Of course I know these young children are new and are not at the same level as the class from the year before…it’s just…well, that class leaves when we are in such a good groove and it is hard for me to adjust a few months later. Summer vacation doesn’t seem to turn off the “old class” switch and turn on the “new class” switch.

No worries, it’s a short learning curve. It doesn’t take long to remind me of the need to start small and slow so that I can speed up later. We just finished our 10th day of school and we are currently using our iPads to enhance phonics instruction in small groups with Pocket Chart Pro, Starfall ABC’s and Magnetic ABC apps. We are also using them in centers as a choice in the math center and the ABC center. We’ve used Drawing Pad to draw a picture of something we like to do. Here is an example. She drew a picture of playing at school.

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In math, we have used Connecting Cubes to count objects.

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As well as experiment with counting and ten frames:

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We have also learned how to take a screen shot so we can upload our work! By experimenting with different apps in the early days, the students have an opportunity to explore and free-play while we are learning the proper way to use the device.

So how do you restart something that had never turned off? In my world, at least, I have to hit the reset button and remind myself to start small. The first few weeks of kindergarten are all about exploring our environment, getting to know each other, and taking things one step at a time!

Here’s to a great new year y’all!


Share your story…do epic stuff!


Finding Your Story

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.-Maya Angelou

Well, I’ve been a little busy since my last post. Summer is almost over and I’ve been busily plugging away at my doctoral classes and have recently returned from the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Miami. These institutes provide me with inspiration and refill my creative cup to begin a new school year.

once-upon-a-time-719174_640Our institutes often focus on the power of story. We all have one. As a kindergarten teacher working in Charleston, SC, I wasn’t convinced I had a story…and if I did, who would want to hear it? As educators, we neglect our story and we downplay it. We use the word “just” in apologetic tones as if to say, “I’m JUST a teacher”. I found great inspiration in one of our keynote speakers in Miami.  Jason Hall, founder of Slow Roll Detroit, reminded me no story is too small. You can see his story here. My two take aways from his story is “leave no one behind” and “sometimes the journey redefines the destination”.

So, back to the idea of story. Adults aren’t the only ones with a story. My youngest students, even at age 5, have a story. Our job is to nurture that story and help them see their stories matter. Often, we relegate young children to the side because they are “too little ” and they can’t possibly have anything worthwhile to offer. How many times have you said “Yes, uh, huh” absent-mindedly as a child is talking? I’m not pointing fingers here…I’m just as guilty. We are busy people. But, when we do that often enough, we reinforce to that child their story isn’t  worth telling. They become less willing to flex their creative muscles because they don’t feel capable, they don’t have anything to say.

Jason Hall

Jason Hall

Maybe you aren’t comfortable with you whole story yet. Maybe you are working on a verse or two. Here is my current verse. I’m excited to continue to build my story one verse at a time. With a new school year 3 weeks away for me, I’m vowing to lean in more. I’m committing to nurturing the story in my students. I’m committing to nurturing my own story and the stories of others. Jason Hall has it right…roll slow, leave no one behind, and embrace the idea that the journey can redefine the destination. His story started small and as he shared it, it became epic.


In other news, I wanted to quickly share a few websites that are great for royalty free, attribution free images.



Photosforclass:  This is student safe and all images come with automatic attribution.

In the spirit of story and my new-found inspiration, my new closing line will be…

Share your story…do epic stuff.


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.

The Power of the iPad in Kindergarten

Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who don’t teach with technology will be replaced. -unknown

Last week, our school iPads were replaced.  We were very excited to exchange our iPad 2’s for the new iPad Air.  Our old iPads served us well but were suffering from frequent app crashes. The replacement took about a week…no small feat when you are talking about over 800 iPads. The excitement over the idea of new iPads was suddenly replaced with the knowledge that we would be without iPads for a few days. My kids quickly realized this and asked, “Um, how will we do our work with no iPads?”  I responded, “I’m not sure…maybe we will do some worksheets.” Puzzled, the kids responded with, “What are worksheets?” You see, they had never completed one before.

It was definitely like going back in time and I’m certain I don’t ever want to teach again without having those devices. My students were used to having choices about their day and about demonstrating their learning. I was used to personalizing their learning and serving as a facilitator while they directed themselves. Student-centered and student-directed learning is one of the keys to educational change.

So, now we have our beautiful new devices and the kids immediately went to work. Their work. We have been working on number stories in their math journals. Even though I’m providing the number stories, there is still choice. For example, Sam had 7 buttons.  Some were blue and some were yellow.  How many of each were there?

Here are a couple of samples from my kids:IMG_0004









One was being a wise-guy, but still got the right number of buttons. By making these number stories open-ended, students have the ability to use multiple pathways to get to the answer. Another student and a partner, worked together to create what we call an “incredible equation”. One of the students was stronger in math (clearly, as he is able to multiply and divide at age 5) and the other was working on grade level. Together they made this:


By letting my students work where they are, and not where a worksheet forces them to be, the sky is the limit. The iPads give my students the freedom to move on, to move up, and to be in charge of their learning.

So, yes, I am thrilled to have our iPads back. We saw first hand the power of the iPad in our classroom. Even though we have only 22 school days remaining, we are going strong to the end!

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:









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








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!



What Should We Be Doing? Using iPads to Personalize Learning

The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do -Lil Wayne.

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? We live our lives shouldering the burden of “shoulds”. Social media bombards us with images of what the perfect size is, what the perfect cupcake should look like, what the perfect home should look like and what the perfect wedding should look like. We are watching the “highlights” of people’s lives and comparing them to our “behind the scenes”. As professionals, we are held to some standard that determines what a perfect teacher or classroom should be, that often doesn’t come close to resembling the real world. It is enough to crack the sanity of even the most self-confident adults. So, how much more burdensome are these “shoulds” on our students…these little people who carry seeds of hope, creativity, innocence and wonder?

Students are so worried about what their work should look like, they miss the whole point of the activity. They don’t want to be wrong because they should know the answer. They want all of the parameters spelled out so they can produce.  This isn’t learning.  It is a recipe. As a doctoral student, I find myself looking for exact parameters on some of my assignments and find it very disconcerting when the assignment seems vague or broad. I am conditioned to want the recipe so I can produce what it is my professors want. The recipe is comforting because it lays out exactly what I should do. After all, isn’t that the whole point of the assignment?

Actually, no. The point is to problem solve, think critically, collaborate, research, think some more, write, hypothesize, write some more, and come out on the other side with a deeper understanding of the concept than before I started. Our students yearn to achieve but it is up to us to discard that recipe. It is up to us to teach and model divergent thinking, to allow students to struggle a bit, to learn to persevere when their first attempt isn’t successful and to allow for variations on a theme.

In our iPad math journals, students aren’t given a closed ended question that has one answer. Open format questions create greater potential for deeper reasoning. Students have the ability to think in flexible ways and not just provide the answer they should give. An example is: Ben has 6 buttons.  Some are green and some are purple.  How many of each?  Another is the example below. Students come up with their own addition problems.

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Giving students voice and choice to demonstrate their understanding of concepts frees them from following a recipe to produce a standardized product. Whether it is open ended activities in math journals or writing about their favorite super hero, we need to remove the “shoulds” from their vocabulary and ours… and shift toward “could”.  What could  be the answer here? What could you write about today? What could you be doing right now? Should somehow implies wrongdoing or shame but could allows room for thought and possibility.

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By using our iPads to personalize learning, give students voice and choice, and shifting our use of the word should to could, we open up possibilities, change mindsets, and give students freedom to be themselves. Heck, if adults did the same thing for ourselves, we might have a lot less anxiety and little more peace of mind!

That being said, the comic below shows my constant doctoral mindset:

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Ok…so, I have a little work to do on myself…

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

Building Early Literacy Skills With iPads

Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting -Edmund Burke

I am on spring break this week. It has been such a luxury to linger over coffee and the newspaper in the mornings. That has been about all of the luxury I’ve been able to enjoy because even though I’m on spring break from my job, I am not on spring break from doctoral classes. I have been immersed in scholarly articles on early literacy. So, while this is all fresh on my mind, I am going to share a few work samples from some of our recent literacy activities on iPads.

We have been using the Feltboard App for word work quite a bit lately. Here are a few samples:

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While we don’t usually work with /ow/ and /ou/ in kindergarten, it was a conversation in one of my reading groups and one of my students created this:

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My kids love speech bubbles! This was in response to a class read aloud.

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This is a 4 square writing organizer on Feltboard App. Students can transfer ideas from this to an organized short paragraphs.

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Using the app to recreate scenes from a story can help students have deeper conversations about a read aloud activity.


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This was created in Drawing Pad app during our insect unit.

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Literacy extension activities are important in building emergent literacy skills. When we read a book together, we often do some kind of literacy response. The iPad is perfectly suited for these extension activities with creation apps that allow students to show what they know by making their thinking visible, extend their thinking and  reflect on learning. We read for a variety of purposes. Sometimes I read to my class simply for pleasure, other times, after I read, we focus on building decontextualized language skills. We move beyond the concrete and talk about intangible aspects of the text. This allows me to help take their language skills to the next level. When we use the iPads to enhance literacy skills, we are synthesizing both tangible and intangible language. It encourages children to use more complex language forms. Simple activities such as rhyming words scaffold learning for more advanced literacy skills.

Immersing young children in literacy activities all throughout the day builds a strong foundation upon which future skills are built. These activities, along with reflection,  help students “digest” what they read and makes them better readers.


Today we will do exciting new things. Lets get to it!