A New Year Takes Flight

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

My intention was to write this post a few days ago.  Last week was our first week of school and somehow, between teaching all day and enduring 100 degree heat each day, I came home completely exhausted.  The first week is always tough…getting back into the routine.

Usually, on our first day of school, I am asked multiple times, “When can we play?”  “When is recess?”  I was completely expecting that when someone raised his hand and started with “When can we…”   what I was not expecting was the end of that sentence.  “have our iPads?” So we had to have a little  talk about how we needed a few days to get used to our new classroom and routines before we started using iPads.  The kids did a great job of adjusting the first 3 days so on day 4, I started with iPads in small groups.  photo 3-2

I took their picture and saved it as the lock screen and the wallpaper.  That allows me (and the children) to quickly see to whom the iPad belongs. We worked on turning the device on, navigating screens, identifying the folders I’ve created that hold their apps, and opening an app.  After working a few minutes in one app, we closed it and moved to a different folder to try a different app.  Then we learned how to put the iPad to sleep and put it back in the iPad storage cabinet.  These small groups lasted 15-20 minutes.  Each child had an opportunity to get hands on time with the device.  On Friday, we reviewed the procedures from Thursday and worked on a couple of different apps before putting them away.  Some of the children have iPads at home and were quick to point out they already knew how to “work the iPad.”  I reminded them that they use the iPads at home one way and we use them at school in a different way.  We will spend another few days front loading procedures in small groups and then I will bring them into a whole group math lesson.  Starting out in small bite-sized lessons really allows me to scaffold the procedures and set everyone up for success.  By going slow now, I can speed up later.

What was great to see in these brief introductory lessons was the immediate tendency of the children to be collaborative. They didn’t zone in to the iPad and tune everything else out.   They were helpful to each other and they were having good conversations about what they were doing in the app. This collaborative behavior is at the very heart of how we work and play in our classroom.

Starting school is exciting and a little stressful for both the teacher and students.  I am grateful our first week went smoothly and am looking forward to the exciting things these children will do this year.

School year 2014-15 is wheels-up and has taken flight!

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

Making Global Connections

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” -Albert Einstein

Don’t you love when people say to you, “Must be nice to have your whole summer off!” I don’t know many educators who have the summer “off”.  Most of us are involved in professional activities and learning during the summer.  In fact, if you think about it, professional athletes continue to train in the off-season to maintain their athletic skills. So too, do we need to continue to hone our skills…to fill our own buckets and re-charge our batteries.

IMG_3340I had the privilege of being chosen to attend the Apple Distinguished Educator Global Institute in San Diego.  Last week,  global educators from 30 different countries came together to focus on bringing learning to life with the iPad.  We became citizen scientists in a variety of off-site excursions.  We explored many different topics relevant to sustaining life on Earth from the eyes of a student. We utilized a variety of apps to test water samples, track a forest-destroying beetle, examine plankton, and adopt a tree.  We used our iPads to record sounds, images, and create videos to document our weeklong journey.  We reflected on our own classrooms and how we can bring science curriculum to life in a real, hands-on way.

While these off-site excursions were amazing and illuminating, one of the most lasting legacies of this institute for me will be the global connections I made with brilliant educators.  A few of us who teach young students formed a lasting group and immediately began conversations  around a global project involving our students.  We combined resources to create a book in iBooks Author of our experiences as citizen scientists at Rancho Cuyamaca.  We also developed an iTunes U Course where our students will come together as global peers and work together throughout this next school year.  We will join together with kindergarten students in the UK, Italy and Ireland as well as students from Kansas and Maine.  There will be language learning opportunities and cultural exchanges.  The possibilities are endless!

 

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So, I encourage you to create or re-connect with your PLN on Twitter, Facebook or other social media.  Have conversations, share ideas, create, and re-charge.  Summer is nearing an end and we will be hearing the school bell ring before you know it!  And…when your non-educator friends quip that it’s nice to have the summer off, thank them for the good laugh! “Whatever, man…”

 

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

Finding Your Bravery

Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.- Franklin P. Jones

I was thinking that once school was out for the summer, things would settle down a bit…but with 7 presentations and a keynote speech to deliver the first week I was out, it has been anything but quiet.

I was honored to be asked by Jenny Grabiec to give the keynote speech to The Fletcher School in Charlotte and spend a day there with their wonderful educators.  It was a great experience and I met some really dedicated folks there.  The second half of the week, I was also honored to be asked by Margaret Gunter to speak at the iSummit conference in Atlanta.  I gave 6 presentations there on various topics using iPads in the classroom and also met great people.  I found I had a small fan club camped out in the back of my room for the 2 days I was there.  I even managed to slip into a couple of sessions given by others that were inspiring and informative.  The keynote speaker in Atlanta was Angela Maiers and she hit a home run with her Be Brave keynote.

After that week of presenting, I found myself trying to really make sense of all I had experienced. I had done most of the talking for those 5 days, but the conversations with those educators in both cities combined with the sessions I had managed to sit in on, left my head spinning.

My take away from that week was that even though I was the one doing the presenting, the participants were the ones who inspired me.  They are at the heart of the Be Brave rule.  Many are stepping into a classroom in the fall and for the first time will have iPads.  I remember that feeling of excitement at having the devices, but also the fear of what to do with them, AND doing it well.

443429594_872751b5a3_bBravery isn’t something we are born with.  It is something you acquire over time with life experiences.  You can practice being brave by challenging yourself with new experiences.  Life is full of risk and we fear failure.  We carry the weight of our classrooms on our shoulders and struggle under the burden of always being right or successful in our teaching.  But…fear can paralyze us and keep us from trying new things.  It stagnates us and lulls us into ruts and routines.  It also infects our students who learn safety rather than bravery.

One of the blogs I read is by Matt B. Gomez and he wrote about bravery here.  His rule for his students is to Be Brave.  I love this rule and incorporated into my own classroom last year.  But… what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.  We too, have to be brave and step out of our comfort zone.  This is how we grow.  Since I’ve become an Apple Distinguished Educator, I’ve had to dig deep for bravery at times when speaking to a very large group.

The teachers I’ve been with so far this summer are demonstrating bravery. The first step is just showing up!  What do you say?  Is this the summer you sow some brave seeds of change?

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

photo credit:  Creative Commons

End of Year Wrap Up


“When the story of these times gets written, we want it to say that we did all we could, and it was more than anyone could have imagined.”-Bono

 

Well, as always, the end of the school year brings a great deal of things that need to be wrapped up.  My classroom is barren…void of all of the student work that has adorned the walls for the year. Classroom centers, games and manipulatives have all been stored away. My iPad cart has been rolled down the hall to it’s summer resting place.  All that’s left is last bits of paperwork, passing out report cards and saying goodbyes.

2605673301_0e757008d8_bAs I go through the end of year rituals for the 25th time, and as I prepare to say goodbye to this sweet group of children, I can’t help but flash back to some great highlights from this year.  Our focus was creating a true, student centered classroom. Students were leaders in their own learning, and exercised voice and choice.  We participated in the Hour of Code. This lead to further creativity and exploration throughout the year…well beyond the initial Hour of Code.  We explored Augmented Reality. This expanded into using Chromville app to enhanced our writing activities.  We skyped with Jen at Blokify and my students were blown away with this app.  The 3D printed samples that Jen sent us led to such enthusiasm, our school purchased a 3D printer.  Toward the end of the year, we focused heavily on reading and research.  We used our iPads to research and write about a topic of our choosing. This created a seemingly insatiable desire to read and learn more on a variety of subjects.  “Can I please look up more on ocean animals?” “Can I research more on sloths and write a book?”  Daily, I’ve been asked for permission to read and research more on a topic that is meaningful to a particular child.  Without being a requirement, these children took their findings and always turned them into a Book Creator book or a drawing with notes and information.  One of our last activities was writing about and rating our favorite apps.  This activity resulted in future conversations about how a certain movie was rated or even their own writings!

While this list is certainly not all we worked on, it is a good recap of our highlights.  Keeping my students at the center of the learning, engaging them in decision making, and providing a literacy rich environment for curiosity and exploration has paid off.  Once again, all of my students are going to first grade reading above grade level.  They are prolific readers and writers.  They think deeply, question, read and respond, experiment, fail and try again, problem solve and persist in the face of difficulty.  They are now 6 years old and ready to boldly step forth into first grade.  While this is not the ending of their story, it’s where my story with them ends.  I will watch them as they grow and succeed.  I will celebrate their future accomplishments and know, that in some small measure, I was there in the beginning.

Happy Summer!

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

5 Stars and Two Thumbs Up!

One is rated by others as he rates himself.-French Proverb

Ratings…an important part of our culture… They tell us what movie to see, which books to read, what car to buy, and what restaurants to eat in.  Making informed choices is part of being a responsible adult.  The more an item costs, the more likely we are to pay attention to reviews and ratings.

We had a lengthy discussion one day about the merits of some of our apps.  They liked this app because it did certain things or didn’t like that app because it didn’t do other things.  They expressed their ideas about what they would change or add to apps and we talked about how some apps are free and some are not.  I showed them a screen shot from the app store and they asked me about the stars and what they meant. We talked about how people gave the stars as ratings for how much they liked or didn’t like an app.  Then we looked at Amazon.com and looked at some children’s books they knew.  We saw they had stars also.  Of course, they wanted to channel their own Siskel and Ebert and rate their favorite apps.

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So there you have it.  Kids really do have their own opinions about what they like and don’t like.  They know why also.  Part of giving kids voice and choice is really giving them the “voice” part.  Learning how to articulate what they want, what they like, what they don’t want or like is an important skill.  We have had to work hard to move away from liking something simply because it’s “cool”.  In giving voice to a writing piece, they are also expanding vocabulary and ideas.  Writing for a variety of purposes is  an important skill.  There’s no time like the present to begin!

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

 

Using Mentor Texts for Powerful Writing

I think if you really want to write in a powerful way, you’ve got to read powerful stuff…Ralph Fletcher

I have served as a mentor for new teachers over the years and while I want each of them to grow into the best they can be, I want them to find their own methods and their own voice as they grow as an educator.  I provide a framework,  a model for good teaching, and hopefully, inspiration.  Good mentors can shape who we are and who we will one day become.

In the same manner, mentor texts are an important part of my literacy instruction.  I want my students to read and write powerfully and mentor texts serve as a conduit for both.  Mentor texts are necessary to teach our students to think deeply about their own writing.  Students often need to see someone doing something in order for them to do it themselves.  Watching another’s craft gives inspiration, direction and courage to try. Mentor texts inspires us to read and learn more.

Teaching very young children to write requires a lot of modeling, mentoring and a wee bit of rocket science.  Getting students to add detail to their emergent writing is a daily mini lesson in itself.  Recently, we read Lois Ehlert’s Pie in the Sky.  It has a lot of simple sentences describing what the narrator sees in the illustration, but more importantly, it is simply descriptive.  Using this as a mentor text has been tremendously helpful to my students. My students even refer to the book by saying they wrote, “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Here are a couple of examples of student work on the iPad.  They used their camera to take a picture of something in the room and then they wrote what they saw.

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Some of my students were sharing their work with their friends and I overheard a few offering suggestions about making their sentences more like “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Peer editing…in kindergarten.

Mentor texts give our young writers not just a framework or reference, they give them a dose of courage to try writing like the author…not using the author’s words, but courage to find their own words.  They can be road maps for powerful writing.  They show students what good writing looks like.

Here is a Writing Workshop sample from one of my students recently:

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Creating good readers and writers is a critical part of teaching.  Mentor texts provide powerful examples for our students.  Regardless of what grade you teach, your students need your guidance while they learn to write, take risks and stretch their literary wings.

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

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!

Digital Storytelling in Kindergarten

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. -Confucius

I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate more photography in my classroom.  It is a recent passion of mine and I think there is a lot of value in incorporating pictures into student work and writing… not my pictures, but their own.  After all, young children have a unique perspective on the world.  Their pint sized view lets them see things from different angles than adults.

Their iPads have cameras and they love using them to photograph everything from a spider in the room to their left nostril.  We have used the iPad cameras to document their work and their learning. For a change, we used my Olloclip on my iPhone.  You can check out the Olloclip here and here.  I’ve been using it to take several macro shots of foliage, but the fisheye lens was very intriguing to my students when I showed it to them.  After a few days being cooped up inside with rain, we took to the outdoors to try out a few shots.  I put their pictures in Showbie and they downloaded them into their PaperDesk Pro app.  This is a great app for journaling.  Once their photos were downloaded into their notebook, they wrote about what they saw.  Here are a couple of samples:

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Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 12.53.03 PMThis takes a little while so we are doing a few each day until everyone gets a turn.  Because it was different from our usual writing workshop, the kids were excited to write about their picture.  They wanted to take more pictures and write about them.  Because we offer choice in our classroom, some children are taking screen shots of their creations in Blokify and are importing them into Paper Desk Pro and writing about them.

While some young writers struggle with traditional literacy, using digital storytelling engages students and encourages them to employ different kinds of literacies to complete their final product.  The PaperDesk Pro app allows you to add voice notes so students who have difficulty writing can dictate their story, or students who want to read what they have written may record themselves doing so.  Simply generating text can be daunting to a child.  Incorporating images, speech, or even music enables students to create in a way that they couldn’t otherwise.  The technology allows us to redefine the way we learn.

As we move into the final 45 days of school, I want my students stretching and exploring, learning and creating.  We will be app-smashing, building, photographing, experimenting, and continually redefining what it means to be literate in today’s digital world.

Today we will do 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!

Using Blokify

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.  -Albert Einstein

Minecraft1The room is currently a beehive of activity.  There is some serious problem solving going on here.  Teamwork, collaboration, super-focused engagement, and high-level conversation are also taking place.  Here is a comment I overheard, “We need to strategize where to put the portal!”  What could cause such excitement that it filled our entire indoor recess time?

Blokify is our newest discovery.  It is similar to Minecraft, but it is free. Blokify lets builders create block based models free-form or through a guided building experience. Once the model is complete it can be 3D printed to take the fun from virtual to physical play.  So, no…we don’t have a 3D printer but the kids are beyond engaged in this activity.  Blokify is easy enough for my young students but sophisticated enough to create more complicated designs.  There is a free build mode and a challenge mode.

There is a greater conversation out there about gamification in education and you can find a number of opinions on either side of the issue.  I think I fall in the middle somewhere…I believe in balance.  However, what can’t be ignored is the engagement, conversations and collaboration going on today.  There is also a lot to be said about the spatial relation skills  needed for this activity.  It is also interesting to note that all of my students, both boys and girls were equally as engaged and had sustained attention to problem solving.

minecraft4When the app downloaded today, I told them it was similar to Minecraft and they immediately went to work.  A couple of them asked me some questions when they got stuck and when I explained I didn’t know how to play and I had never even played Minecraft, they were stupefied.  I am clearly a loser.  Another student took the puzzled ones under his wing and shared his expert knowledge after only engaging with the app for less than 5 minutes.

I count this app a success.  We definitely need to strengthen problem solving skills.  These young children will be in charge one day!  I overheard one of my students say he was going to write about it during Writer’s Workshop today.  It just doesn’t get much better than that!

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