Endings and Beginnings

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

IMG_2070I’ve been away from my blog for a couple of weeks…in fact, I’ve been away from almost everything.  My father passed away this past week after an extended battle with cancer and I was soaking up every minute with him that I could.  Bits of reality intruded as we started back to school last week with professional development days.  I went to some, not all.  Some things are just more important.

This past summer has been a time of both personal and professional metamorphosis for me.  Maybe you’ve noticed a shift in my blog posts.  I’ve spent a lot of time questioning what I really believe about teaching and learning.  I’ve spent time reflecting on what true leadership is.  I’ve read excellent blog posts from fellow educators and had conversations with colleagues.  I’ve made decisions and I’ve made some changes. There are endings and beginnings.

As I pursue a student-centered classroom this year, I will be building on some of the things put in place last year. There will also be an ending to some things that have previously been part of my class.  Missing from my classroom this year, will be a formal calendar time, formal homework , a stoplight behavior management system, and stated classroom rules. The links provided explain why beautifully.  My students and I will create together and deploy a shared classroom vision.  From that, we will build our classroom Code of Cooperation.  I will be sharing these with you as we build them.  We are also going to build behavior rubrics so that students can rate themselves on how they felt they did that day.

I worked a lot last year on building in student voice and choice by having my students choose which app they wanted to demonstrate learning.  I will be continuing that this year and my students will be building digital portfolios using the Showbie app. I am excited that one of our favorite apps, Book Creator, is able to be uploaded to Showbie and easily shared with parents. The iPad and the creation apps we use, have been essential to creating a student-centered classroom.

medium_143860670My work and reflection this summer, in addition to spending an amazing week with my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, were the threads to the chrysalis spun around me the past 9 weeks.  Woven in, were many quality moments with my ailing father.  As I begin to emerge from this cocoon this week and meet my new students, I bring with me the collective wisdom of many wise people.  I am certain of my path and am excited about new possibilities.  I’m also aware of just how very short this life is and it is too short to waste time using outdated, inefficient methods for educating children simply because change is too hard.  The butterfly is a great reminder of the beauty of change.  We should be more afraid of the effects of not changing!

My students arrive this Wednesday.  A new journey begins…

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

Kids Teaching Kids with Book Creator

collageKnowledge exists to be imparted.-Ralph Waldo Emerson

For a short time, I considered that it was highly possible I had lost my mind.  I was going to teach my kids how to use Book Creator on a Friday. Not only that, they were going to teach another kindergarten class how to use it later in the day.  Simmer down…my sanity is still intact.  I worried needlessly.  My iPad proficient five year olds created a 4 page book on Penguins in less than an hour.  They illustrated their pictures in Doodle Buddy, saved them to the camera roll, imported them into Book Creator, typed their text and exported the book to their iBooks app in the morning.  I demonstrated how to do this on the SmartBoard prior to their starting on their own.

In the afternoon, we hosted another kindergarten class to come learn from us.  At one penguin bookspoint, there were 50 kids in my classroom.  They were in groups of 2 or 4, working together.  By the end of our session, the other class had at least the book cover completed and some had their first page finished.  My children loved, loved, loved teaching them.  The engagement was instant.  Their conversations were instructive, relevant, and meaningful.  There were conversations about word choice and details in illustrations.  We even discussed getting back together and sharing our finished books with each other.

My students, in the end, wanted to know if they could show another class how to create their own books.  What a great way for all of my students to have an opportunity to be a leader.  Even the quiet and reserved students, who may otherwise be reluctant to share in front of the group, took a leadership role in the small groups.  While the finished products are going to look great, the process in getting there was priceless.  Not to be forgotten, the science facts they acquired as they wrote about penguins, their life cycle, and their habitats.  Combine that with the literacy aspect and the cooperative learning on the iPads, and I’d say today was a complete success.

Here is a screen shot of one of the book covers:

book cover

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Increasing Rigor with iPads

It is no longer OK to provide the vast majority of America’s children with a fill-in-the-blank, answer-the-questions, read-the-paragraph curriculum that equips them to take their place on the assembly line.-Lucy Calkins, Pathways to the Common Core

ipad and booksI was recently asked to observe in a 4th grade classroom at my school.  She was implementing some new literacy strategies and wanted some feedback.  It was affirming to see the rigor and engagement of her students. It was also a good reminder of the vertical articulation that needs to occur between grade levels.  As a kindergarten teacher, I seldom get to see my students in action after they leave my classroom.

Our literacy activities involve small group work.  In my class, students read and write for a variety of purposes on their level.  These activities include reading on the iPad as well as word work in various apps and some writing on the iPad.  In the class I observed, students were using iPads to research information for a news article.  They were seeking credible sources and the author of the article.  They were jotting down important facts and comparing information.  Later in the school year, my kindergarten students will be using iPads to research information on various topics.  They will be finding facts to incorporate into their writing. I am building up to that now with iPad activities of increasing complexity with my students.

As we work diligently in our own classroom worlds to prepare our students to move up, it is important to keep a broader view.  We lay a foundation in each grade level that is built upon by the next.  It was good for me to step out of my kindergarten world into the world of “big kids”.  What I do each day is important and relevant.  I think we all need a reminder of that from time to time.

Our students face a different world of challenges than we did.  They will approach problem solving differently.  The implementation of the Common Core State Standards emphasize much higher-level comprehension skills than previous standards.  Readers of today are asked to integrate information from several texts, to explain the relationships between ideas and author’s craft.  Previous literacy efforts defined literacy in terms of basal reading programs with emphasis on seatwork.  The Common Core standards convey that “intellectual growth occurs through time, across years, and across disciplines.” While iPads alone can’t meet these standards, having a powerful, technological tool combined with strong teaching, we can meet and exceed these standards.

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We’re Swinging…NOT

Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. -Marilyn vos Savant

I don’t usually post on Fridays because, well, no one generally reads it.  Today, begged for a post and as usual, one of my students delivered one right in my lap.  This student desperately wants to swing on the playground.  We have those belt swings (see photo to left) and the children have a lot of difficulty getting into the swings by themselves.  This child has trouble getting in,  plus she also hasn’t mastered the whole leg-pumping part once I put her into the swing.  I show her what to do and give her directions.  I model and demonstrate, but I won’t push her.  She won’t try if I do.  Her face shows determination, extreme concentration and if possible, she would swing on sheer will alone.  But there are roadblocks…”Mrs. Meeuwse, I am trying to put my butt back where it belongs.” she says.  (And haven’t we all had that problem before?)

I continue to encourage and model and direct her in this important endeavor.    “Isn’t there an app that will teach me to swing on the iPad?”  she asked today.  I assured her she didn’t need the iPad to learn to swing…and frankly, I was a little nervous about searching for a “swinging app.”  “But I’m learning to read and do math on the iPad.  Why can’t I learn to swing too?”  I explained that there are just some things we learn by doing over and over and by not giving up.

While there are so many things my students can learn on the iPads, there are just some things we learn the old fashioned way….by putting our butts back where they belong… and trying.  (Hmm…wonder if this applies to writing Friday blog posts?)

Happy Friday!

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Teamwork

A single leaf working alone provides no shade. -Chuck Page

Even with a full time teaching assistant in my classroom, there are times when I could use a few extra hands.  25 kindergarten students often makes me feel like an octopus with arms going in all different directions at once.  We are 14 days into the school year, nearly 3 weeks.  I have some students who immediately fell into our class routines and procedures.  By now, most know what to do…however, there are a small handful who still need guidance. They are easily confused and have that deer-in-the-headlights look when I give directions. This is not uncommon and in time, all falls into place.  Fortunately, I have a few “Mother Hens” in my classroom who know just what to do and they assist those who need a little extra help.

Using the iPads is no different.  I have many students who are already pretty iPad savvy and a few who are still working on it.  Without me asking, the students are quick to help each other and show them how to find something or do something.  As one student helps another, the peer coaching aspect strengthens both students. Students are already learning to ask a friend before asking me.

One app we have used in partner activities is ABC Magnetic Board.  It is $4.99, but with the Apple Volume Purchase Program you can get it for almost half.  The app has upper and lower case letters in 4 languages, numbers, shapes, diacritics, signs and symbols, 5 sets of toys: summer, party, night, snowy winter and Christmas, and more than 15 backgrounds.  The pictures created can be saved to the camera roll also.  We have students partner up and spell names, sight words, match upper and lower case letters, and beginning sounds using the pictures in the app.  There is a free version, but it is pretty limited.  At this point in the year with a wide range of abilities in my room, this app allows differentiation for students on different skill levels.  It also allows cooperative learning.  This app is better than the classic version of refrigerator magnets because each letter can be used multiple times (and pieces don’t get lost!)

As my students work to become “experts” on a variety of tasks and skills, knowing there is a helping hand nearby encourages children to try new things and step out of their comfort zone.  It is part of our classroom culture to work together as a family.  Family members help each other.  Watching my students work together this early in the school year, I know there will be many great things to come.

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Learning Phonics with iPad Apps

Practice is the best of all instructors. -Publilius Syrus

The beginning of every school year brings a variety of ability levels to kindergarten.  I have children who are already reading and some who struggle with just naming upper and lower case letters and sounds.  I’ve stated that the best part of having 1:1 iPads in the classroom is the ability to differentiate for student need.  There are a series of apps by Good Neighbor Press we use a lot in the beginning of the year.

The first app I use is the Upper and Lower Case Letter Matching Pocket Chart.  This has students matching upper and lower case letters.  It takes about 3-5 minutes to complete the cycle.  This is particularly good for my young learners who are still working with this skill.  It is easy to use and engaging as the students are earning stars for correct answers.  It also helps with the ever-confusing lower case b and d identification.  This app is .99

Beyond matching, another app in the series is Matching Beginning Sounds.  Again, this is a 3-5 minutes cycle that is highly engaging and keeps students moving through the app.
Other apps in the series include matching rhyming words, ending sounds, consonant blends and digraphs, word families, compound words, and long and short vowels.

Math apps are also available from this publisher.  There are apps for shape matching, position words, counting 1-20, number and number words matching, fractions and single digit addition and subtraction.  Each of these apps can be purchased individually, or for $4.99, you can purchase Pocket Charts Pro and receive all 20 games in one app!

One of the reasons I like this app is because pocket charts are common in many classrooms.  These apps are recognizable activities that don’t require a lot of front loading to use.  It also give you a quick sense of an individual child’s abilities.  While I may have 1 or 2 pocket charts available during centers for students to interact with, having a variety of pocket charts apps in their iPads means no one has to wait their turn.  Instant access!  Because there is a variety of skill levels within the app series, there is virtually something for everyone.  When you can deliver just-in-time-practice to each individual student, you are increasing engagement as well as allowing the child to move at his/her own pace.  Students who are ready to move on aren’t held back by those needing extra practice.  Those needing extra practice aren’t being rushed on by those who are ready to move on.

As I’m finishing the 10th day of school today and finishing up all of my initial assessments, I see I have a wide variety of student abilities.  By using apps such as those in the Pocket Chart series, I know my students are getting practice right where they need it!

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New Beginnings

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning. – Joseph Priestly

After several busy days of meetings, professional development, and working in my classroom, the big day is finally here.  Today is the first day of the new school year.  Very shortly, I will have 25 excited, anxious, sad, and maybe even scared kindergarten students.  My own feelings are very similar to those of my new students.  I’m sad about the loss of the familiar students from last year and excited about the new students and possibilities this school year holds.  While it is disparate to feel both sad and excited at the same time, it’s a familiar feeling for me as I begin my 24th First Day of School.

My new students have already come in, met me and seen our classroom.  Their first questions were not the same as those I’ve had in the past…”When is recess or lunch” or “When can we play at centers”…their first questions, almost unanimously, were “When do we get to use our iPads?” Hmmm…good news travels fast! Their parents are also interested in the apps we use so they can get them on their iPads and iPhones at home.  Having both students and parents excited before we even begin is a good place to start.

As excited as they are to begin, I have a lot of front loading of procedures that needs to take place.  I can’t allow both their excitement and my impatience to begin to short cut those very important steps.

As I plan for my first iPad implementation with my students,  I’m excited to think of all the great things we will do this year.  Last year’s students amazed me at their iPad ideas.  I know this year’s class will create their own fresh start, their own special magic!

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Going for Gold

Be firm on principle but flexible on method. -Zig Ziglar

Watching the Olympics the past 2 weeks, I’ve marveled at the flexibility of the athletes, particularly the gymnasts.  They can put their bodies into positions that seem almost super-human to me.  I can’t even bend over and touch my toes.  Their abilities come from intentional practice, training and coaching.

Flexibility isn’t restricted to range of movement with our joints and muscles.  It is also about being willing or disposed to yield.  I’ve been teaching for, well, forever it seems.  It is super easy for me to reach into my file cabinet, pull out a unit of study and go on autopilot…teaching the same lessons, using the same examples, smoothing out the same, wrinkled and faded artifacts and expecting the same answers from my students.  It is literally, a no-brainer.

The longer we teach, the easier it is to develop tunnel vision.  A few years ago, I found myself going through the motions of teaching.  I wasn’t happy but couldn’t figure out why.  My rigidity was more like rigor mortis. When I started using the iPads, I found a new spark of excitement that energized my teaching.  I found the joy of student-led learning and being open to the moment.  When I became present, I discovered how my students became more engaged.  I realized that being on autopilot is a death knell to the classroom.

To be sure, iPads required a new flexibility for me.  I still had an overarching goal but I learned to be not just accepting of student-led learning, I became expectant of it.  The beauty of this shift in my teaching was that my students exceeded even my usually high expectations.  My mantra to teachers in other grades who seem reluctant to incorporate iPads is “If my 5 year old kindergartners can do it, surely your students can also.” Just like those Olympic athletes, our own teaching flexibility requires intentional practice, training and coaching.  It starts from the top in administration.  When administrators create a culture of flexibility, team-work, and open-mindedness, then teachers feel empowered to try new things, reach beyond what they think is possible, and “Go for Gold!”

Are there parts of your life/career that are on autopilot?  Try to find one thing that you can change and allow yourself to feel energized by it.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious!

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eBooks in the Classroom

Teaching reading IS rocket science.- Louisa Moats

Have you seen the size of textbooks lately?  Measurements go from about an inch to 3 inches.  Forget portability.  Carrying a load of them will surely result in a trip to the chiropractor.  Enter eBooks.  They are rapidly growing into a popular option with all of the electronic reading devices available.

Don’t get me wrong…I still love reading to my students with a physical book. We get cozy and listen.  We drift off to fun and faraway lands.  We laugh at the antics of our favorite characters and we learn to love reading.  Many students don’t have someone cuddle up with them, to read favorite stories and drift off to sleep to the cadence of familiar words from an oft-read story.  eBooks simply offer options for my readers.  Many ebooks have interactive features and vocabulary support that physical books don’t have.  eBooks are easily updated as information changes.  Our iPads hold many eBooks and enhance the “learning on the go” concept. You can take a virtual library with you.  No trees were cut down to make an eBook.  Another consideration is that many eBooks have accessibility features for English Language Learners.  Some students may find reading on an iPad more engaging than an actual book.  While many arguments may be held over traditional books versus eBooks, I simply want my children to READ and to love reading.  eBooks give us the ability to differentiate.

The Common Core State Standards stress readying students for college and career.  Growing good readers requires a large variety of reading resources. I have spent some time recently with Sylvan-Dell publishers.  They have 70 titles in English and Spanish available in eBook format.  The picture books that they publish are usually, fictional stories that relate to animals, nature, the environment, science, and math. Each book has a “For Creative Minds” section to reinforce the educational component of the book itself. This section will have a craft and/or game as well as “fun facts” to be shared by the parent, teacher, or other adult.  The illustrations are realistic and engaging. The books are great for school purchase or for parents to have at home on their iPads for their children. The books are leveled in a variety of ways to meet the needs of different reading programs.  There is a 30 day free trial with no obligation available.

I am all about engaging minds and growing life-long readers.  Having an arsenal of resources both physical and electronic only strengthens my teaching.  In this day and time, teachers need all the help we can get!

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iPads and Field Trips

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. -St. Augustine

Summer is a great time for travel.  Last summer, I was able to travel to Europe for the first time.  We visited the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.  It was truly the trip of a lifetime and I would love to go back!  Travel opens our minds to different cultures, experiences and people…and amazing food!  This trip allowed me to see things and experience things I would never be able to experience in my little corner of the world.  In fact, it made me wish I had paid more attention in my World History class in college.  Walking through the poppy fields of Flanders takes you straight to 1918 and World War 1.  Standing on the battle site of Waterloo puts you in the bloody final campaign of Napoleon in 1815.  I soaked up the history and beauty of these historic gems.

Our students need to experience the larger world beyond their own little corners as well. Class field trips enable educators to broaden students and enhance their educational experiences.  With iPads in the classroom we can re-think how field trips are done.

Taking iPads on a field trip would allow students to capture what they are seeing, reflect on what they are learning, and create meaningful artifacts of the experience.  The information collected on the trip could be put into an iMovie or Keynote to share with others and for assessment.  Using the information gained on the trip and transforming it into an iMovie uses the higher order thinking skills we desire for our students.  To protect the iPads, students could place them in their school book bags.  That would allow the students to be hands-free if needed, but have the iPads handy at the same time.  Having a class set of back packs just for field trips would be the ideal.  I saw one on Amazon.com for $19.99. It is made for tablets and is lightweight enough for younger children. Now I just need a wealthy benefactor to get them for me!

What about the trips that are too far away or are too expensive?  Because of bus costs, increased gas prices and the cost of some venues increasing, we have had to cut the number of trips we take during the year.  What if you want to visit a place that is in another country?  The iPad can take you there via virtual field trips.  On a virtual field trip, you and your students can go just about anywhere on Earth — or even into the solar system.  There are many websites that have virtual field trips already set up, such as this one to the Great Wall of China, or you can create your own.

Field trips can be great educational additions to any curriculum.  By incorporating iPads, our students have endless possibilities to explore their world and beyond!

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