Educating Each Child

Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? ” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? ” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

IMG_0102(1)Grown ups do love their figures…it’s all about data.  We have to quantify something, measure it, analyze it and dissect it down to its very bones before we decide if something has meaning or value.  A recent article in our local newspaper ran in giant bold type the front page headline that the use of iPads in our district is not resulting in significant gains in scores.  If you are looking to sensationalize a hot-button topic, then the more negative the headline, the better.

The funny thing about data is that it doesn’t take into account many important factors.  Factors that can’t always be measured.  We have had our iPads for 3 years.  Some would say that’s enough time to show some major growth.  This would be true if iPads manufactured intelligence and poured it into the mouths of our students.  iPads are not a magic bullet or get smart quick scheme.  They are not integrated equally into every classroom, nor are they used in a cookie-cutter way in every lesson for every student.  Some teachers use them extensively for in-depth learning, and others…well, not so much.  Meaningful staff development is critical and my district has done a good job of working with teachers in best practices.

But what about each individual child?  Since the iPad is merely a tool, it must be used in a way that enhances individual student learning. Information is an essential key to learning.  Accessing information is a logical need.  How does a class of 30 plus students access information equitably in a classroom with 2 desktop computers (if that)? We don’t use card catalogs, hard bound encyclopedias, or phone books any more.  We rarely use paper maps (which is just as well, I can’t ever fold them correctly).  With the fading away of these sources of information, where are we to get information?

Wholesale dismissal of the use of iPads after 3 short years of implementation is short-sighted.  They provide necessary accommodations for disabled students, that have never before been available.  Vision impaired, speech impaired and autistic children have an open avenue of accessibility that is not just necessary, it’s their right.  Students who have learning disabilities or have learning delays can have learning experiences that are “just in time” for them.  Similarly, students who excel and are more advanced than their peers have the ability to work at that higher level with the iPad.  It is because of these abilities to personalize learning for my students that 100% of my students have gone to first grade reading above grade level for the past 3 years, that my school has earned the Apple Distinguished School award 2 years in a row, and earned an overall rating of excellent, scoring 99.3% on the Federal Report Card.  Our school rating went up to 5th in the school district from 8th in the 2011-12 school year.

Where is that headline?  That never made the newspaper.

My students learning experiences are richer, more in-depth and more rigorous because each of them have access to a powerful learning tool.  I can’t imagine teaching without them now.  Think of the many ways you access information today.  My guess is, you do it automatically without thinking of the technology necessary.  How inconvenient would it be if you lost access to that technology? How backward would it be to say, “I’m sorry, you aren’t making statistically significant progress in your work life so we are going to remove your access to information.” ?  Heck, if my SmartBoard goes down for a day or I don’t have internet access at school for a few hours I feel handicapped.

This is the world we live in and it will only become more wrapped up in the need for technological access.  Dissect that data all you want…but behind every number is a child.  Are you going to look at that child and say, “Sorry, but you aren’t worth the expense to adequately educate you for the future.”?  I know I can’t say it.  I’m grateful I work in a place that can’t say it either .

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

Augmented Reality with Aurasma

When you think of any aspect of life or work, augmented reality is completely going to change how we do it. -Ori Inbar

I’ve been reading a lot about augmented reality.  It is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. Wait, what? My inability to wrap my brain around that has kept me from exploring it until just recently… Think about the yellow first down line you see on TV when watching a football game. That’s augmented reality.  Why do I need that in my classroom and how does it work?  Enter Aurasma.

imagesAurasma is a free app that allows you to create auras.  The auras allow you to embed content, video, weblinks, or even 3D animation.  All you need are pictures to serve as the trigger and a device to read the aura such as an iPad.

So, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only teacher who gets repeatedly interrupted during small group instruction by students asking for directions (that you’ve already given) for an activity.  I’ve been looking for a way to use QR Codes to post directions for different activities, but haven’t been able to use them because You Tube is blocked.  So now, I just create an aura using an image as a trigger.  I record myself giving directions for the activity.  This is the overlay.  I save the aura to a channel and print out the trigger image.  My students open their Aurasma app, hold the iPad over the trigger image, and my video plays automatically.  This allows them to get the directions as often as they need.

Other uses could include student-created auras demonstrating learning, sharing stories, solving math problems, or scavenger hunts. Individual students could have instruction tailored to their needs by simply scanning an aura.  I talked with my PE teacher today about having students in PE create auras for a circuit training activity.  The uses are truly endless.

So, as you are reading this and thinking you aren’t sure you get it, just as I did, don’t despair.  I created a PDF giving you step by step directions on how to create an aura as well as how to set up student iPads so they can read the auras in the classroom. Click here for those directions:  Aurasma Directions

I’m excited about exploring different uses for this great app.  My kindergarten students were excited to use it and have already asked if they can make their own! That will be our next step.  This takes personalizing learning to a whole new level.

Give it a try! I’d love to hear how you use it in your classroom!

Today we will do 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

 

Let There Be Light

Technology is anything invented after you were born. -Alan Kay

At this moment, I’m in the airport in Portland, Maine waiting to fly home.  I have been at the Leveraging Learning in Primary Grades Institute as a presenter and keynote speaker for their annual conference in Auburn. This institute is all about customizing learning in the early grades with the use of iPads. As a presenter, it is often difficult to find time to get into another session to hear someone else speak but I was very fortunate to be able to sit in on the final keynote today given by one of Apple’s employees, who serves as Director of Learning.

As the speaker was talking, he showed this graphic on screen by Dr. Eric Mazur:

Brain Activity

This graphic represents a 24 hour period of EEG’s taken on the brains of students.  It is to be noted that their brains are more active during sleep than during class.  This is because learning is passive during lecture.  You will notice a similar wave pattern (or non-wave, as the case may be) during the time the student was watching television.  Learning simply must be more than the transfer of information.  We must focus on creation, curation and collaboration in our classrooms.  The richer the experience a student has, the more likely he/she is to learn.  The speaker emphatically pointed out that the last thing we need is a monoculture in schools that produces the exact same product.  Content without context and community is not an efficient way of learning.

As the opening quote by Alan Kay states, technology is anything invented after you were born.  Think about what technologies have been invented since you were born.  Many of our students have grown up with some kind of computer technology in their homes.  For them, turning on those devices and using them are as natural as using the switch to turn on the lights.  Think about it…few of us would think of “lights” as technology at this point.  Back in the day, you would see signs such as this posted: Edison-Electric-Light-Sign

 So what do we do now? We know that “the way we’ve always done education” is as outdated as that sign.  It was encouraging to see the faces of the educators at the conference in Maine…to see their determination to move beyond using the iPad as a substitution for paper and pencil or as a gaming device.  As advocates for our students, we must speak up about creating real change.  It starts with each one of us.  Plant a seed, watch it grow, change the world. Let there be light!

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

1:1 iPads and Student Centered Classrooms

And no, we don’t know where it will lead.  We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here. -Steve Jobs

It never gets old.  Even after 3 years of 1:1 iPads, the magic and wonder of my students’ engagement and learning excites and motivates me daily.  Having a student-centered classroom makes my job so much more interesting and meaningful.

Trent's photosynthesisWe have been learning about fall and fall leaves this week. Living by the ocean in the south, we have about 2 weeks of fall.  The leaves are green, then they are a little yellow, then brown and on the ground.  We don’t get to enjoy the rich colors of our northern neighbors.

Today,  I was reading a non-fiction book about leaves and it briefly touched on photosynthesis.  Knowing this concept was a bit advanced, I kept reading, and didn’t stop to discuss photosynthesis.  However, just like our recess snail episode, the children were fascinated with this large word and had many questions.  We started a wonder chart on this concept.  How does the tree live through the winter if there aren’t leaves on it to make food?  Is the sugar that the leaf makes during photosynthesis the same as the sugar we eat?  We looked at other books and found pictures on the internet.  We talked and wondered, wondered, and talked.  During their free choice time today in centers, several drew pictures about this concept.  Some chose drawing paper, some our Drawing Pad app. (See drawing at the top of this post.) Some even put their drawing into Explain Everything and talked about it there.  Here is one of those examples:

The only planned part of this day was the reading of that initial book.  The rest was courtesy of my curious children.  By being in tune with my students, I was able to go with their flow (which, by the way, was far better and more meaningful than anything I would have had them do.) As I look back on our fall unit in previous years, before iPads, the learning wasn’t nearly as rich or in-depth.  Of course, the iPads alone didn’t do anything.  They have served as a conduit of change for ME.  Over the last 3 years, I’ve changed and in turn, my teaching has been transformed.  It’s not about the iPad, but it is about a shift in the way my classroom works.  The learning environment is completely different and it continues to evolve.

Just like Steve Jobs, I have no idea where this will all lead.  I just know there is something bigger than all of us here…and THAT is exciting!

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

 

Creativity and the iPad

Children see magic because they look for it. -Christopher Moore

“Stop acting like a child.”  How many times have you heard that or said it?  The implication is negative, the behavior undesirable.  Why is it that society has deemed being child-like as a bad thing?  Certainly, some childish behaviors are less than desirable but children have unique vision that adults seem to lose as we age.

IMG_0722Part of that ability to have imagination comes from not being afraid to be wrong.  Creativity and imagination spur innovation.  What if we could organize and prepare like an adult but think and create like a child?

We just finished a fiction unit on Monsters.  We had fun reading several fiction stories such as Go Away Big Green Monster  and Glad Monster, Sad Monster. The children’s conversations in centers and in various activities were filled with imaginative scenarios involving monsters all week. This was also a great time to incorporate feeling words and describing words into our mini-lessons.  As we made anchor charts with some of these words, the children could refer to them all week in their reading and their writing.

Children are so adept at pretending.  They are missing those filters of self-IMG_0724consciousness that adults have so firmly in place.  Adults often feel they “aren’t creative” because they have become so adept at avoiding being wrong. I love listening furtively to the conversations that go on in our housekeeping center.  The social skills developed in this center are invaluable.

As we worked on our monsters all week, we created our own “feeling monsters” in Drawing Pad, then uploaded them into Pic Collage. Some even went a step further and uploaded their Pic Collage into Explain Everything. (We have finally started our App Smashing!)  The iPads allowed us to create and innovate as we added some voice to our writing all week.  IMG_0725

All of us, adults and children alike, have the ability to use our imaginations. We tell others, you can do anything you set your mind to…but do we believe it about ourselves?  Imagination isn’t just thinking outside of the box.  It is acting on those “what if’s”.

In educational times of increased non-fiction requirements, we enjoyed taking a break and delving into monsters.  Instead of writing them off as not-real, my students embraced the opportunity to pretend, create, write, and explore “monstrous” possibilities.

We love using our iPads as creation tools.  The only limitation is our imaginations.  My students found theirs to be of “monstrous” proportions!

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

Using iPads to Supplement Reading

We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. -B.F. Skinner
“Seriously!  Do I have to do ALL the work around here?” This is a quote from a child in my housekeeping center recently that made me laugh.  She was definitely channeling another adult in her life…but it is a sentiment I’m sure we have all thought, expressed, or hollered at some point in both our personal and professional lives.  Wouldn’t it be great if the great Work Fairy came down and waved her magic wand?  Wait…wouldn’t it be great if there WAS a great Work Fairy???
C0010258 StudyingAs educators, our  “In-Basket” tends to overflow with things we want to do, have to do, and need to do.  It is hard to find time to do it all.  With reading and literacy as a huge focus in early childhood classrooms, it can be difficult to meet the needs of each child.  We use the Fountas and Pinnell guided reading approach but I supplement with extension activities on our iPads.  This helps me reach all of the needs of my students.
My students are homogeneously grouped for reading.  These groups are small (4-6 students) and are flexible.  They change with the particular skill we are working on.  With my struggling children, we use games, manipulatives, flash cards and apps to immerse them in phonics skills.  Some of the apps I’ve been using that have been helpful are Starfall ABC’s, Starfall Learn to Read, Word Wizard and Montessori Crosswords.  These apps provide strong emphasis on phonics skills.
My middle group and top groups are working on sight words, blending sounds to read words, and integrating strategies to read unfamiliar words.  They are reading on Level A at this time.  I have several level A readers in my room, but I’ve created some to go on their iPads in Book Creator so they have them at their fingertips when they have a few minutes to read or when they go to the Reading Center.  Here is one using sight words
This is a PDF version since not all of my readers have Book Creator.  Some of the books I’ve made include me reading the text.  Students can touch the speaker icon on the page and hear me read the story to them.  The I Can See Book does not have that feature.
By using the iPads to supplement skills in reading, I’m able to work with students on various levels and let them move on when they are ready.  This actually reduces my work load considerably and frees me up to have conferences with individual students and work with individual students in a more meaningful way.  Work Fairy or not, less teacher work and more time with students is a beautiful thing!
Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!
photo credit: Creative Commons

Creating Digital Portfolios

All I really need to know… I learned in kindergarten. -Robert Fulghum

We started our digital portfolios today.  We knew by the end of last year that we really needed a systematic way of curating student work.  It was important that we be able to share it with parents but it was of utmost importance that it be simple enough for everyone…especially our kindergarten students.  I mean, let’s get real…if I have to touch every iPad to save student work, it just isn’t happening.

Showbie-238x300We went with Showbie.  Showbie allows you to set up your classroom and create assignments for students. When students submit their work, it is organized by assignment.  You can see which child has submitted work and which one hasn’t.  You can even add annotations, voice notes or written notes on the assignment and send it back.  It is very easy to use and individual student work can be emailed to share with parents.

Today, I added our first assignment.  It sends a brief alert to the individual iPad so students can see there is a new assignment.  This is great for older students. My students used Pic Collage and they were asked to choose a number between 2-9.  They added a text box and typed in their number.  Then they added the number of stickers that corresponded with their number.  After the stickers, they added another text box so they could type their names.  Lastly, they learned how to save their work to their photo roll on the iPad.

Library PhotoThey did very well with this activity.  The next step involved going into their Showbie app.  We did this together.  I used Reflector to demonstrate step-by-step on the Smart Board.  When the students opened Showbie, they simply clicked the “+” symbol, then chose their camera roll and then their Pic Collage work sample.  As easy as that, it was uploaded.  The entire activity from start to finish took 25 minutes.  I was then able to email the work samples to parents to share with the their first work sample in the digital portfolio.

The digital portfolios will certainly help us keep things organized and use a lot less paper.  Just as an aside, my school saved over $21,000 in paper, copies, and ink cartridges last school year.  By using digital portfolios, student work is preserved over longer periods of time.

I’m excited about the creation of these digital portfolios.  It will be a great way to organize, view and share student progress.  As we progress through the year, it will also be a great way for students to use their own voice and choice to showcase their work.  I will provide the stimulus.  They will choose the means in which they demonstrate their learning.

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!

 

End of the Year Wrap Up

Waiting makes me restless. When I’m ready, I’m ready.-Reba McEntire

monster“Mrs. Meeuwse, my brain and my butt feel all jiggly.”…  And can’t we all relate to that? We have 7 days of school remaining and these kids are ready.  In fact, I’m not sure if the dinosaur drawing to the left is really a dinosaur or a portrait of me the last few days.  I may or may not be a little cranky…

To be sure, we are continuing our daily routine as much as possible for as long as possible.  We are busy readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmaticin’ daily.  The problem is these brilliant kindergartners are-Caps Lock- DONE,  ready to move on, needin’ to bounce, DONE.

So, in order to preserve my sanity, I came up with the idea that we needed to work on a project.  An end-of-the-year-what-have-I-learned project.  The idea was well received and they quickly wenthope and ella to work sketching out their plan.  They still like to make their plans on paper.  They have the choice of how to present their project.  Some are choosing Explain Everything, some, iMovie, some Book Creator and some Pic Collage.  I needed to intervene only once…a loud chorus of “None of your business!” rang out from a group of girls working together when a rogue boy intruder came by to see what they were doing.

Waiting makes me restless.  It definitely makes 5 and 6 year olds restless. When they are ready, they are ready. What better way to wrap up the year, than to have students share what they have learned?  Some are still working on their projects and it may go on through the week.  Here is one group that made an iMovie. They planned out their script and did it all themselves.  They are already talking about what they want to add to it. They said this is their “rough draft”.

We will have a sharing time so that all groups can show their work.  Some chose to work by themselves on the project and that’s ok too. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.  What matters, is that even up to the end, we are working together and students have the ability to choose. When teachers find ways to nurture these inner motivational resources, they adopt an autonomy-supportive motivating style.

All of that to say…the count down is on.  The natives are restless and we need to stay busy.  An end of the year project is just what we need to get us through the crazy.

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