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 Vocabulary with iPads

One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.-Evelyn Waugh

In working with young children all day, I find that my vocabulary sometimes is lacking when having adult conversation.  I’ve caught myself saying “Put on your listening ears” in regular conversation. My “cool factor” is definitely a big zero at times.  Interacting with 5 year olds most of every day definitely requires me to work at maintaining my end in an adult conversation.  I work crossword puzzles, play the ubiquitous Words With Friends, and I read.  If don’t work on it, then “criss-cross applesauce” is likely to spring forth the next time I sit with a friend for some coffee.

FullSizeRender 2Our students are no different.  Vocabulary development is an on-going skill that needs practice.  Young children are building vocabularies each day.  Misconceptions are prevalent.  As a child, I thought a “chest of drawers” was “chester drawers”.  One former student called her “backpack” a “pack-pack”.  Listening to my students stretch and grow in their vocabulary development is interesting to say the least.  One child said he loved “arts and craps”.  Yes, friends, it is something we work on every day.

 

A recent activity with the book Snowmen at Night was particularly good for vocabulary work for my students.  First, we live in an area that has almost no snow in the winter.  Sledding, snowball fights, ice skating are all things my students read about, but don’t usually get to participate in.  After discussing the story, we thought of things a snowman could do at night.  We used the app ChatterPix to let our snowmen tell about themselves.  Here is a short one.

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We also used the story during our Writing Workshop time to write about what a snowman might do at night.  Here is one sample:

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Vocabulary knowledge aids in activating and building background knowledge to make connections to text, and having vocabulary knowledge can increase reading comprehension and fluency while reading. Using word walls, mentor texts, non-fiction texts across all subjects, and especially creation apps on the iPad give students many opportunities to interact with new vocabulary.

We have used Pic Collage, Explain Everything and Drawing Pad in other vocabulary activities.  Consider using creation apps on the iPad to help develop student vocabulary.

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

 

 

Visionary Leadership and iPads

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”-Helen Keller

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

I’ve spent the last 24 hours with Apple and the schools chosen for the ConnectEd initiative.  It was inspiring to watch these very deserving educators receive Apple technology and professional development at this kickoff event.  There was a great deal of discussion about vision and the importance of vision in implementing a full scale technology initiative such as this one.  So many layers of support were evident to ensure these schools are successful.

I was honored to be asked to speak at this event and share what is possible in early childhood education when students are given the ability to create their own learning.  While I was asked to share my experiences, I think I was the one who gained the most.  I saw educational leaders excited about providing their students the very best possible advantages with 1:1 iPads.  They made lists, their minds full of next steps…they started creating a common vision.

Innovation is what distinguishes a leader from a follower.  Leadership requires vision…to think ahead to what our students will need in the future, not just what they need right now.  While we don’t know the future, we do know that technology will definitely be a part of it.  True visionary leadership doesn’t say, “Yes, but…” it embraces the “Yes, and…”  Lack of financial resources will always be an issue with schools. It is here, where we have to look forward and ask ourselves what is the right thing to do for children?  Do we allow the “yes, buts…” to settle for the technology that is “good enough”? Do you really want your own child receiving an education that is “good enough”?  Of course not.  We want our own children to receive the best of what is available.

When I look at what the 1:1  iPad deployment has meant for my kindergarten students, I watch them using the power of this device to maximize their learning.  They are creating content.  They are using applications that are unique to this device to amplify their thinking…to go where they couldn’t go without the device.  They are using the accessibility features that are unique to this device to share their learning when they are unable to write independently.  As your vision for your students is created, you must ask yourself what it is you want to achieve with the technology.  If your needs are internet capability and word processing, there are plenty of devices that do that.  If you want a complete educational ecosystem, a comprehensive learning environment, then iPads are the only answer.

As a teacher, I am able to use applications unique to the iPad to personalize and target their learning.  I am able to reach each child where he/she is and create a learning environment specifically for that child.  As a parent, are you content with your child sitting in a cookie-cutter classroom where everyone receives the same assignment, regardless of ability? I would venture to say no.  Everyone has their own brand of genius.  I can tell a fish to climb a tree and it will spend the rest of its life thinking it is a failure. iPads allow each child to find his/her own genius.

The very definition of visionary is:  Thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom.  When we are short-sighted it limits the potential of students not just now, but in the future.  Let’s find a way to provide our students with a complete education and not settle for “good enough”. Let’s not allow lack of funding to be the stumbling block.  Where your priorities are, your money generally follows.

I mean, after all, isn’t he worth it?

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Aren’t they ALL worth it?

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

iPads and Science in Kindergarten

“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.” -Chad Sugg

IMG_5602Fall is my favorite season, but living on the coast of South Carolina, we see very little evidence of the season.  We experience fall for about a week and a half in late November or early December.  The leaves are green, turn brown, then fall to the ground in that length of time.  So, I was excited to find a few  leaves on the school grounds that were living it up early! Party on…fall!

Talking about fall with my students is almost as difficult as talking about snow.  I say almost, because we do experience a bit of fall, butIMG_5601 we haven’t had significant snow fall here in 10 years.  It’s hard to even talk about the change in weather that fall brings when the high temperature today is 80 degrees. I know, I know…my friends in the north have no sympathy as they’ve already had their first snow fall.  But people, the struggle is real.  So today, in our short sleeves, we left our air conditioned class room to go look for fall leaves.  We discussed why there are so few leaves and the characteristics of the leaves we were able to find.  We made a chart of describing words and then, we grabbed our iPads.

They had a variety of leaves on their tables and they chose 2 or 3.  They opened Pic Collage and used the camera function in Pic Collage to photograph the leaves they chose.  After they added their pictures, they use the text function in Pic Collage to write about the leaves.  Here are a a couple of samples:

 

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Soon, my students will have the choice of which app to use to demonstrate their work.  We use Book Creator for math journals, but it is a great app for science journals, reading response journals etc…For this particular activity, we used Pic Collage, but we can add this Pic Collage image to our science journals in Book Creator. There are so many wonderful creation apps that allow students to create their own content and demonstrate their learning.  The hands-on portion of this activity created a great deal of rich conversation and enabled us to make the anchor chart.

A big part of early childhood education is experiential learning.  Giving children a variety of experiences and enhancing those experiences with the iPads creates long-lasting connections with learning.  The technology extends the learning experience and enriches it.  We spend a lot of time as educators preparing the path for the child, when we need to be preparing the child for the path.

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

 

 

App Smashing in Math

Math is like going to the gym for your brain. It sharpens your mind.-Danica McKellar

After a full day of teaching kindergarten, my mind could use a little sharpening.  It often feels like mush and I have to work hard to have adult conversation when I get home.  Surely that doesn’t mean I need to do more math…My students like math and they are enjoying working in our math journals that I’ve written about here.

We were working in our Geoboard app today making shapes. It is a free app that allows students to work with virtual geoboards without the hassle of rubber bands being snapped and popped all over the place. We made all kinds of shapes and talked about why we couldn’t make a circle.  We then learned how to do a screen shot of our work.

IMG_1036They had fun creating their shapes and making the screen shots.  My plan was to then have them upload the image into Showbie but a few students asked if we could put them in our Book Creator math journals first.  So, without delay, we immediately opened our math journals and uploaded our screen shots into the math journal created in Book Creator.  Then, I asked them what we should do with it now that the screen shot has been uploaded.  *Crickets* and blank stares.  Finally, someone said, “Aren’t you going to tell us what to do?”  I told them I wanted them to figure out what needed to be done and that they didn’t need me to tell them.  A bit more silence ensued and finally it was decided by a majority that they needed to label their picture.  Here is one that was completed today:

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Most didn’t finish but a few did.  The child used environmental print to write the shape words and then used the Pen tool in Book Creator to draw the arrows to each shape.  Some have decided they will use the recording function tomorrow to record themselves telling about the shapes.

By using Geoboard app and Book Creator, our math app smash was a fun and engaging way to work on this skill.  Don’t underestimate a 5 year old’s ability to handle multiple apps.  They not only understand, they come up with creative ways to do so.

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

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!

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!