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.

PicCollage

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!

Starting a Student-Centered Classroom

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. -Rabindranath Tagore

medium_8536426262I recently wrote about incorporating a more personalized approach to learning in my classroom here and how that meant building the plane while I fly it.  I’ve always believed in student-centered classrooms and in many ways, my classroom already had many aspects of voice and choice.  So perhaps I wasn’t starting the plane from scratch after all.

It can be intimidating and sometimes, downright paralyzing, to consider changing an entire classroom management system.  At the core of it all, you have to decide what you truly believe about teaching and learning before making any kind of shift.  Once you have made the decision to make meaningful change, start small.  Look at what you are already doing and see if anything resonates with student choice.  One of the biggest concerns of many educators is what to do with the other students while you are working with small groups.  These choice boards for centers were already in place in my room:

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These center boards for morning and afternoon help me begin choice in kindergarten.  Students are in center teams and they are assigned these centers during 3 rotations in the morning while my assistant and I teach small reading groups and during 3 rotations in the afternoon while we work with small groups of writers. The rotations last 20 minutes each. Even though they are assigned their centers on these boards, once they get to those centers, they have multiple choices of activities to work with.  At the ABC center, they have 8 hands-on activities and one cubby has 2 iPad passes that allow the students who choose them to work on their iPads on ABC/phonics activities.  The math and games center works similarly.  They have 8 math manipulatives and fine motor activities to choose from as well as 2 math iPad passes that allow those students to work on math apps.  Here are photos of those 2 centers:

ABC center

ABC center

Math and Games

Math and Games

So in a given day, each team would rotate through these centers: ABC, writing, math, reading, and 2 rotations of choice.  Choice centers are housekeeping, blocks, legos, science, art, and painting. (I’m not a huge fan of the paint so they often have markers or chalk here.)  This controlled-choice helps students learn through a gradual release of responsibility.  It’s not chaotic and the kids start learning how to handle multiple choices in a structured way.

As we get a few weeks of school under our belts, and expectations, routines and procedures are more established, I start adding some choice into other areas of the day.  Students may choose books in the book center, or iPads for reading.  They may also choose writing on paper in the writing center or on the iPad.  (Note: with my kindergarten students, we still use paper and pencil for Writer’s Workshop all year.  I want them to develop those writing skills.)

By early January, we are able to move away from those choice boards and move into students planning their day and making their own schedules.  I will write more about this a little later.

Standing on the edge and trying to wrap your head around change is a little scary but I also find it a bit exhilarating.  When I saw my students embracing choice in the classroom, I found I was eager to incorporate their voice and choice in other ways.  It made it a lot easier for me to push forward and try new things.

Don’t stand back and look at the water…stick your big toe in and wade around a bit.  Come on in…the water’s fine!

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

Initial photo credit: Creative Commons

 

Engaging Students with Explain Everything

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. -Albert Einstein

The blank stare…You know, the one that either says, “I have no earthly idea what you are talking about.” or “Why are you telling me this? I already know it.” I suppose there is one other possibility. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?… Utter and complete boredom. Misconceptions and lack of engagement can both derail the learning process.

IMG_2265One of the apps we use really gets to the heart of both of those concerns.  I’ve written about Explain Everything before. It really is a robust app.  The best part is that it is easy enough for my 5 year olds, yet just as relevant and engaging for older students.  I’ve even seen a few adults having a great time creating a screen cast in this app. We used this app weekly last spring.  This past week was the first time we used it this school year. We’ve been learning about Spiders in science.  My students all drew a detailed spider picture in our Drawing Pad app and saved it to the camera roll. Then they uploaded it to Explain Everything.  We’ve been working on labeling like a scientist in our Writing Workshop so they labeled their drawings and then they recorded themselves telling about their work.  As I was showing this app to a small group, their eyes widened and they were immediately interested in doing their own.  They were very excited and had great conversations amongst themselves as they discussed the length/width of the arrows used to point to their objects.  Should it point this way or that? What if they moved this over there? Noticeably absent were questions directed at ME.  Even though this was their first time using this app, they were busy figuring things out themselves and working through ideas, thoughts and questions with their peers.

This first time with Explain Everything was very successful.  After completing their assignment, they uploaded it to Showbie where I could then see and listen to each one.  As the year progresses, Explain Everything will always be one of their go-to apps to share with me what they have learned.  As we work on unpacking standards and demonstrating learning, my students have voice and choice in how they want to document what they know.

While iPads are often thought of as a consumptive device, through the use of creation apps, students are able to create their own content.  Explain Everything allows students to create both simple and complex presentations in an engaging way in any subject. Our first product this week is more simple but they will become more complex as the year goes on.  This is Caitlyn’s Explain Everything:

Want to lose the blank stares? Engage students, get to the heart of what they know and don’t know, and stimulate their minds and their conversations.   Any takers?  Anyone?  Anyone?

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

Creating a Code of Cooperation

“Can’t we all just get along?” -Rodney King

So we’ve just finished 8 days of the new school year and to my utter shock and disbelief, it took 7 of those days before it happened. I waited each day, bracing myself for it to occur. The. First. Tattle.

IMG_05797 whole school days. Shocking really, when you think about a class of 5 year olds. It came just in time. We finally finished our class Code of Cooperation. This code is created along with my students as an agreement of what we believe a good classroom looks like. The children brainstormed a chart full of ideas and each day we talked about those things, narrowed them down, combined like ideas and finally settled on four things. 1. Put things where they go. 2. Be nice to others an share. 3. Listen and do what you are asked to do. 5. Try your best. We discussed what each of these things look like and the students suggested pictures that would match the concept. We came up with 2 pictures of each. The students will add a few sticky notes next week as they come up with more refinements. They already decided we need to identify what it means to be nice. Someone said to use kind words. That will go on a sticky note as an addition.

I guess I actually misspoke above when I said we “finished” it. It is never really finished. We will make additions and changes throughout the year as we go. It is a “living, breathing” agreement. The children all showed their commitment by signing around the periphery of the poster. When students have voice in how they will interact in their learning environment, there is true ownership. They are able to monitor their own behavior and rate how they did. This also creates accountability. I am not the sole monitor of their behavior. We will talk about the code daily and review our commitment to it.

This week, we will use our iPads to draw pictures of what each of the expectations looks like. They will share their ideas with their groups and we will work on how we will address those who choose not to follow our code. We will also work on how using the iPads fit into our Code of Cooperation.

When students have voice and choice in their learning and their learning environment, they become stakeholders. Even 5 year olds understand what it means to choose and to have their choices heard. Aren’t we all a little more cooperative when we have had a say in a process? The pictures we have and the ones we will add also create a visual reminder of what we agreed upon.

As a class, our shared vision is that we will work and learn together. By breaking that down into its components, we now have a working agreement that will serve as a guide for this school year.

Hopefully, it will reduce some of the tattling too. :) One can always hope…

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

Lead On!

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. -John Maxwell

Before we proceed with this blog, you must watch this video on leadership. Go ahead…I will wait…

Ok. So my question to you is who are you?  Are you the Lone Nut? Or are you a First Follower or maybe the second?  I’ve watched this video several times and I must confess…I am a lone nut.  While I don’t get up and dance like this guy did in a public arena, I do like to step out into the unknown and take chances.  This very personality trait resulted in my story.

Many of you who read this blog probably find yourself in a leadership role of some kind.  Even if you aren’t a school or district leader, you are definitely the leader of your classroom.  By taking some risks and stepping forth, you become a part of a movement of change.  Take note…the lone nut isn’t always popular.  Change can be threatening and downright scary, especially to folks who are the ones who tend to linger in the back of the crowd and never really feel comfortable joining in the dance.  What I’ve learned over the last 3 years of working with iPads, is that it is ok to embrace that lone nut role. I have apologized for myself and sat back and kept my dancing feet still, but after experiencing the ADE Institute in Austin, and being with approximately 400 other lone nuts, (or at the very least First Followers), I am stepping out and dancing in front of all of you.  (For the record, unlike the dancing guy in the video, I am fully clothed.)

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At my age, I find it a lot easier to speak my mind about what I believe is right and what I don’t.  We can not be awash in the flood of “Yes, but we’ve always done it this way.” If you simply add technology to what you are already doing, you will not get very far. We need lone nuts and their followers to create a movement that authentically brings technology into our classrooms.  We can courageously follow and encourage others to follow as well.

My next lone nut step will be to jump all the way on the Personalized Learning plane.  Perhaps it will be more accurately stated that I am building that plane as I fly it…however, I have wonderful colleagues like Frannie and I’m certain that together we will not crash. I will be documenting that movement into personalized learning over this next school year.  I’ve already been trying some things but will be letting my freak flag fly in August.

So, I hope you will follow this lone nut into new adventures.  I go back to school in 11 days.  What do you say?  Wanna Dance?

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

 

We “Arrr” Taking Charge Of Our Own Learning, Mateys!

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.-Robert Frost

Seriously, could the end of a school year be any busier?  Lists and lists of things to get done in the remaining 15 days.  As badly as I need to do those things, I still have the small matter (ahem) of teaching these kids who just keep showing up.  :)

pirateOne of the small joys of teaching little people is their seemingly endless curiosity.  We have extended our ocean unit into a week on Pirates.  They have tons of questions about them.  Living in a city rich with pirate history allows me to share some of the stories of Blackbeard and his time here in Charleston.

My students have loved looking at pictures of different Jolly Rogers and even creating their own.  One group worked on creating their own treasure map after researching different ones online.  They discussed the “necessary components” including the compass rose, the “X” that marks the spot, the need to put the treasure in a safe place and how to find their treasure by marking the “paces” on the map.  These mini mateys collaboratively researched and created their map.

We have a list of “must-do” activities each day and a list of “may-do” activities.  The children schedule their day with their planning sheets.  Part of their “may-do” was to create the treasure map.  There were no specific guidelines and it was their own decision to work together.

My role as facilitator has enabled me to watch them make their own pirate pic collagedecisions and problem solve both individually and together.  One student created a Pic Collage to demonstrate some pirate vocabulary words.  He drew the illustrations in Doodle Buddy and imported them into Pic Collage and then added his sentences.  During the time students are working on their individual plans for the day,  my assistant and I are able to work with small groups, have student conferences and assess if needed.

Watching my students planning their day, working together with others, solving problems and making decisions about their own learning, I know they are ready to sail to first grade.

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

Reaching Different Learning Styles With The iPad

We learn to do something by doing it.-John Holt

I’ve been teaching myself Spanish.  I’ve used a variety of methods, including Rosetta Stone.  All have taught me some good basic Spanish; however, nothing has helped me more than having actual conversation in Spanish.  Well, conversation may be a bit overstated…I’m ok as long as the other person speaks very slowly and we only use the present tense.  It’s definitely a process.

How do you learn best?  For me, it depends on what I am learning.  Sometimes I need to take notes, other times I need to think out loud.  Some things are easier to learn with another person while with other things, I need to be alone.  My guess is most of us have different styles for learning depending on what it is we are working on.

Our students are no different.  They all learn different things in different ways and at different rates.  Kids today learn from a variety of sources.  They learn from television, peers, computers, video games, and social media.  Technology in our classrooms allow our students to explore different approaches to learning.

We have spent some time learning about the rainforest.  I recently blogged about how my students use planning sheets to map out their day and their learning experiences.  To share some of their knowledge gained about the rainforest, my kids chose which creation app to use and then demonstrated their knowledge through the iPad. Below are ways 2 different children chose to share with me what they have learned.

rainforest pic collage

popplet rainforest

One child chose to use Doodle Buddy and Pic Collage and the other chose to make a Popplet and import it into a Pages document. Other students in my class chose different ways.  A few chose Explain Everything, a few chose Book Creator and some chose to use drawing paper, crayons and pencils.  When students have choices they see themselves as participants and contributors to their own education.

My students, even in kindergarten, like the ability and the responsibility of making these choices about their school day.  Some of the choices given to them are “must-do’s” and some are “may-do’s”.  One child wrote about planning her day in Writer’s Workshop.

PL writingMotivating students to achieve can be difficult in this hyper-paced world.  Giving students choices to work and learn in the manner that best suits them makes them stake holders in their own education.  One of the best ways to learn something is by doing it.  Let’s go for it!

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