Using iPads to Work and Learn Together

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. -Henry Ford

Ah yes….working together….I can’t help but be reminded of the the preschool song “the more we get together the happier we’ll be”.  Working together, planning together, and achieving goals together is a beautiful thing.  It is not, however, something that is always done easily and it does require planning and effort.

We have been diligently working and planning together in our class.  Besides working on instructional goals, we are also working on our soft skills.  It is never too soon to work with children on their “EQ”…emotional intelligence quotient.  These are the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.  They complement hard skills.  Learning these skills now help transition them into adolescence and adulthood. In today’s world,  soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.

That being said, it takes time and planning to build community in a classroom full of egocentric 5 year olds.  We have been working on planning our day, working together on activities and projects as well as sharing with each other our completed work and work in progress.  This involves listening to each other, offering praise and helpful suggestions (helpful being the operative word).  This takes modeling and practice!

This week, we shifted from writing the plan for our day on a PDF on our iPads to actually typing it in the Notes app.  This has been very efficient and the kids feel “grown up” making a real list by typing.  They have their 5 “must do’s” listed on the Smart Board and they choose the order in which they want to complete them.  Currently, I am assigning the apps, but soon they will be choosing which apps to use to complete the assignment.  smartboard captureThe picture cues to the right assist them if they forget as they move through the day.  Kids are working individually, in pairs, or small groups by their own choice all throughout the day.

Here is a sample of the word work created on this particular day in the Magnetic Alphabet app.  The kids take a screen shot when finished and upload to Showbie for me to check later.

magetic abc workHere are 2 Pic Collage examples from a different day using the vocabulary words “mitten” and “cold”.

cold pic collage

Mitten pic collageOnce the students draw their pictures in Drawing Pad app, they save to their camera roll and upload into Pic Collage.  They then type the sentence using the vocabulary words for each picture.  They save it and upload to Showbie.

This schedule allows for a lot of collaborative time with each other and with me.  I am able to conference with children, assess, work with small groups and facilitate all throughout the day.  Because students have many opportunities to work collaboratively and interact with each other, we can practice modeling those soft skills we are learning about each day.

By setting up the classroom environment to reflect the values of learning through choice and collaboration, students are able to learn valuable skills that will carry them into the future.

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

Building Vocabulary with iPads

Vocabulary is a matter of word-building as well as word-using. -David Crystal

We are in transition…in the process of moving from our choice board centers to more content creation centers.  This will take us a couple of weeks to migrate over to that system.  I will write more about this as we go, but for now, we are  adding various components daily that will be a part of our day.

How do you know when it’s time to change?  Every class is different and some can handle this change sooner than others.  I have a few signs I look for.  I look to see if the students are able to work more independently on iPad activities involving creation apps (such as Pic Collage and Explain Everything).  I also look to see if they are mostly able to upload their work to our digital portfolio app, Showbie independently.  But the real indication that really spurs me to move to the next phase in centers is they are driving me freaking crazy in the ones we currently have.  Even with frequent changing of manipulatives, activities and games, they suddenly stop using them purposefully.  Unifix cubes are no longer being used to pattern.  They are becoming light sabres and swords, or guns that attack others. And I am on the verge of yelling, “C’Mon Man!”  When you begin to feel the crazy creeping up and you want to retreat into the bathroom for an hour of sanity, it’s definitely time…and  I’m apparently the grown up and something has to give.   :)

So to get ready to transition, we start working on vocabulary.  This will be one center the students will have once we move away from the choice board.   This week we are reading The Snowy Day (appropriate and all polar vortex-y).  This is our mentor text while we talk about onomatopoeia.  We talked a lot about the words “crunch” and “plop”.  These words in the story relate to snow, but we don’t get snow here.  We thought of other things that can crunch and plop.  The next few days we will work on just 2 words but we will eventually move to 4 vocabulary words each week. These words are usually unit related.

The students took these 2 words, crunch and plop, and drew a picture for each.  It was saved to the camera roll, then uploaded into Pic Collage.  The students then wrote a sentence to go with their pictures using the vocabulary word in the sentence.  The finished Pic Collage was saved to the camera roll and uploaded to Showbie.

Here are a few examples:

Vocab Pic Collage 1

Vocab Pic Collage 4Vocab Pic Collage 2

Working with onomatopoeia is fun and a good way to start introducing vocabulary to young students.  As students become more proficient in their learning and in their ability to handle more responsibility, moving into more robust content creation is a logical next step.  And don’t we all have those really bright students for whom we just can’t dig deep enough for their requirements?  This type of activity allows them the freedom to move and groove on their own.

The best part of student-centered classrooms is giving them the ability to soar when they are ready.  We are always moving toward more student voice and choice.  I mean, no one wants to listen to my big talky head all day.

Stay tuned.  We are on the move!

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

Procedures and iPads

“It is greater work to educate a child, in the true and larger sense of the world, than to rule a state” -William Ellery Channing

Well, if this quote isn’t the very truth, I don’t know what is.  As we have exited our honeymoon phase in our class, the real work has begun.  We are making good progress in many areas, and needing to back up and start over in some others.  Veteran educators know these first 6 weeks are procedures, procedures, procedures.  The mistake is when you cut this time short thinking everyone has it.  And. They. Don’t.  Oops…

IMG_0005We worked really hard the first 10 days on our Code of Cooperation.  We still review it daily.  We have talked extensively about what the expectations look like.  My students used our White Board app on their iPads to illustrate some of the expectations. As they made their illustrations, they shared with their groups which expectation they chose and what their drawing represented.  It was gratifying to hear them incorporating the language we used in creating the code in their discussions.  Note all of the happy faces in their illustrations…wouldn’t it be awesome if we were always so smiley??

IMG_0003

Through our continued discussions on our code (and by continued, I mean my 15,624 references to it daily), we have discovered that we omitted some things.  In our morning meeting, someone said, “We left iPads off of our Code of Cooperation.”  We discussed what we should do about that and what we should add.  Many ideas were thrown out there, but my personal favorite was the one who suggested we add, “Do not pick your nose and then touch your iPad, because that is totally gross and disgusting.”  Can I get an amen, sister?  But of course, we went with the more politically correct, ” Use clean hands on your iPad.”  The others, while less exciting, were no less important:  carry with 2 hands and be gentle.

So, as we forge on through these first 6 weeks and instill routines and procedures, don’t cut them short, no matter how tempting.  It makes life a lot easier in the long run and allows your students to really take charge of their learning environment once all expectations are understood and owned by everyone.  We are adding iPads to our centers this week, which increases student voice and choice in their learning.  We will be adding some new procedures as we do this.  Remember, teaching IS rocket science.  It can be difficult, messy and exhausting…but with proper attention to procedures in the beginning, the rest of the year will be a real blast!

PS…If you care to check it out, I am featured on the Apple Education website!

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

Time To Call An Expert

In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn-Phil Collins

Under phylogenetic taxonomy, dinosaurs are usually defined as the group consisting of Triceratops, Neornithes [modern birds], their most recent common ancestor (MRCA), and all descendants.  It has also been suggested that Dinosauria be defined with respect to the MRCA of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon, because these were two of the three genera cited by Richard Owen when he recognized the Dinosauria.

IMG_0484Um…what?  I am no expert on dinosaurs. I know enough to get by, but I am completely unimpressive to Tre.  Tre is my in-class dino-phile.  He knows all, and I do mean all, about dinosaurs.  He has tried hard not to look at me condescendingly this week as we learn about these “terrible lizards”.  Tre has written about, talked about, read about, and drawn about dinosaurs this whole year.  You can imagine his bliss as we all focus on them this week.

IMG_0482While a lot of my students are knowledgeable about dinosaurs, there are a lot of misconceptions.  It is hard for them to comprehend that dinosaurs pre-existed humans. We are learning from our work and we are learning from each other.  As always, we have voice and choice in our learning.  Tre chose to write about dinosaurs (above) on paper.  Another student chose to make a Pic Collage (at right).  Others chose to make an Explain Everything.  (see bottom of page).

Dinosaurs are always a topic of great interest.  Using  surveys at the beginning of the school year is a good way to find out about your students’ areas of interest.  This makes them part of the curriculum planning process and part of the decision-making process in their learning.  In the learning community of this classroom, the students learn from me, I learn from them, and they learn from each other.  We all have expertise in something and by giving Tre the opportunity to shine this week, he is buoyed by the confidence of his classmates.  My students all know who to go to as the “Expert” of various things in our class.  This gives my students responsibility, buy-in, leadership and best of all…it forces them to work on solving their own problems rather than coming to me all the time.

I’ve said before that the Explain Everything app is awesome.  (Created by a fellow Apple Distinguished Educator). It really gives you a sense of what a child is thinking when they have to explain their thinking.  Here is Hope, explaining everything about dinosaurs. She is definitely one of my class experts on this app.

In what area(s) are you an expert?  Do your students know who the experts are in your classroom? Do student interests help drive your curriculum choices?  All of these are good questions to reflect on as many of us are ending the school year.

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

Flash Mob Writing Groups?

No matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it.-Carroll Bryant

book writingMy lesson plans said something completely different.  It was unscheduled, unplanned, and… undeniably better than anything I had on today’s agenda.  You’ve heard of a Flash Mob?  A Flash Mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment or artistic expression.  Well, That.  Just.  Happened.  No dancing or singing…this was definitely in the realm of artistic expression.  My students were working on their iPads when a group suddenly gathered in the middle of the room and started writing books.  This group (pictured above) was fully engrossed in their work.  They were discussing book topic, titles, text placement, and content. They stopped briefly, only to ask me to put on some “creative music”.   Once they started, they didn’t stop until they were finished.  Most had written a 4 page book.  Once they finished, they dispersed and went back to what they were doing before.

Flexibility is critical in a student centered classroom.  Kids need to feel comfortable making decisions about their learning…even at age 5.  Shutting down that activity because it wasn’t what I had planned for today, would have killed the creativity and spontaneity of that moment.  (Ok, that hour.)  If we are about the business of creating readers and writers, we have to give them time to read and to write.  I can’t always write on command; however, there are times when an idea strikes me and I can hardly wait to write.  It’s hard to stifle that feeling when you are inspired.

Setting up your classroom so that children can move in and out of small groups and make choices about their learning environment, helps foster a real sense of ownership. Allowing them the freedom to grab that iPad and jot down ideas, research a topic, read a book, or create their own book is what 21st century learning is all about. I will welcome a flash mob like that any day!

Here is Kaylee’s book commemorating the 100th day of school:

I Love 100! by Kaylee

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