The “Art” of the Matter

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. -Oscar Wilde
As a classroom teacher, I see many personalities and temperaments daily.  As we work together, it is impossible not to know a child’s likes or dislikes, their interests and what turns them off.  All of my students want to shine.  Some shine more brilliantly than others, in a way that no one can miss.  Others shine more softly and feathery, like the moonlight.   The key is to weave these differences together into a tapestry that works and thrives together in a classroom.
photo-15One thing they all have in common is the love of art.  They love going to art class for special area and they love cutting, gluing, pasting, coloring and painting in class.  Most of them create excitedly and without hesitation, but a few of them have been bitten by the “not good enough” bug and are afraid to draw a bold line and get started for fear of doing it wrong.  When my students are creating, their engagement is nearly unbreakable.  So, why do we put art off until “after you finish your work?”  In our class, when we are creating content,  art is a necessary part of the process.
As adults, sometimes we see art as frivolous and something one does in one’s free time.  (And really, how much of THAT do we have?)  When we remove creativity and creation from our classrooms, we are teaching our children that it doesn’t have value…their creative selves are to be kept separate from their thinking selves.  Art is so much more than drawing and coloring.  Art is photography, music, poetry, writing, film making, and more.  How can these not play an important role in learning?  When students are able to use their talents, or develop and explore talents they didn’t know they had, they are learning how to be diverse individuals who have something unique to contribute.
I’ve always been interested in photography, but never really pursued it for many reasons, all mostly just excuses.  I finally made room in my life for it and can’t believe what I have missed out on for so long in not pursuing it.  I can’t imagine my life now, without it!
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As I watch my students work individually and collaboratively on projects, it is gratifying to see them encouraging each other as they work on creating content.  The creation apps on our iPads such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Pic Collage, Strip Designer, Popplet and iMovie all contribute to the wealth of workflow in our curriculum.  Each piece of work is as different and unique as the child that created it.  And THAT is exactly why I teach…to celebrate and develop the uniqueness of each child.
I encourage and challenge you to look for the art in your classroom.  Is it put on the shelf for when work is finished or is it integrated into the workflow of the day as a regular part of learning?
Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

Cultivating a Love for Reading

My mother was my world and she brought reading into it. -Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer

I was fortunate that I came from a family of readers.  Everyone read and the love of it was instilled in me very early.  I wish the same could be said for all of my students, and because it isn’t a priority in every home, I make sure to make it is a priority for the 7 hours they are with me Monday through Friday.

We talk about books and immerse ourselves in literacy building activities all day long.  We compare books and authors.  We compare writing styles and illustrations.  We do author studies and we use mentor texts in our Writer’s Workshop time.  I create books for my students in iBooks Author and in Book Creator.  I put them on their iPads and they have “just right” books at their fingertips all the time.  So, it isn’t surprising to me that my students are eager to make their own books.

Our favorite app for student-created books is Book Creator.  I’ve written about my ongoing love affair with the Book Creator app many times,  and now, you have the ability to draw within the app itself.  After introducing my students to this versatile app, I was immediately asked if they could make a book.  Many work on them during their free choice time.  At this point, they are fairly short books.  Here are a few screen shots from one of the first books a student created.

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IMG_0861Because he recorded his voice reading the book, I can’t upload the file.  This book was 5 pages, including the ever popular “The End” page.  He worked every free chance he had over a couple of days to complete it.  Because we use Showbie, I can upload his book to the shared folder and all of the other students can download his book and have it on their bookshelves.  This is a great way for students to share their work with their peers.

Another student started a Space book in Pic Collage.  It is not finished but her intention is to create several pages, save to her camera roll and upload into Book Creator.  Here is one of the first pages of her book:

IMG_0859I love the enthusiasm and creativity of these children.  I love how their excitement over creating a book is so genuine.  I love how their eyes widened and they bubbled over with excitement when they saw the Book Creator app and what it could do.

Giving children choice in how they demonstrate their learning is a mainstay in our classroom.  My students take charge of their learning through the use of these creation apps.  They think nothing of using  multiple apps to create a final product.  They create and combine on their own with confidence.  They are able to upload their final work to Showbie independently.  They are proud of their work and are eager to share.

As a parent and as a teacher, I want my children and my students to feel the joy of being a reader.  By bringing my own love of reading to the classroom, my students are discovering they are able to create their own books, make their own art, and share the joy with others as well.

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

 

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!

What’s the Plan?

A goal without a plan is just a wish. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In my last post, I mentioned we are in transition.  We are continuing to shift from our choice board system into a more student-controlled system.  One of the first things needed is a way for them to record their daily plan.  I’m sure there are many ways to do this, but we are using a planning sheet that I scanned into Showbie.  The students will download and write their day in Good Notes, which is a PDF annotator.  This saves me from having to use paper to copy every day.  The planning sheet is very simple.  planning sheet

The students have 5 things they must do today.  These are listed on the Smart Board and students have the choice as to which order they wish to complete them.  Here are the choices from yesterday:

1.  Pic Collage with 2 bear facts

2. Read 3 “Just Right Books”

3. Math center

4. Writing Workshop

5.  Poetry notebook

Students choose the order they want to complete these activities and write them on their planning sheet.  They then have either me or my assistant approve their plan and they get started.  While students are working independently, my assistant and I pull small reading groups.  We are able to see all 5 reading groups between the two of us in the hour and a half block of time.   Students also have some activities to choose from if they finish early.  We call these “May Do’s”  The 5 items above are “Must Do’s”.

In the afternoon after recess, we have another hour block of time before Special Area.  This time is spent with students either continuing to finish their “must do” list or if they finish, they have “choice” center time.  All of the centers in the room become available for this choice time.  This block allows me and my assistant to conference and work with individual students in any area that needs focused attention.  We did this schedule last school year for the first time and it worked great! Their content creation was amazing and it allowed all students to learn time management, work individually or in small groups, and it allowed them to work on their own levels.

Here are a couple of samples of their Bear Facts.  Illustrations drawn in Drawing Pad app and uploaded into Pic Collage where they wrote their sentences:

bears2

bears1

The kids are excited about having the ability to make their own schedules and plans.  We will continue to work on this schedule over the coming few weeks.  The must-do’s change daily.

By incorporating student voice into daily learning, we are planning for success!

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!

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

 

The Choice is Yours!

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand. -Chinese Proverb

Would you want to work in a place that gave you no voice? Would you want to teach in a school that allowed you no autonomy in how you teach? What if your every day was prescribed as to what you would do, what you would say and how you would say it…

medium_2699584043As professionals, we become offended when the “higher ups” in education make decisions that affect us without including us in the decision making.  Even professional development is terribly ineffective when we just “sit and get” without any input.  Would an artist paint very often or very well if the subject of the painting was always assigned? Of course not. So why are we so reluctant to give our students choice in how they learn?

Choice.  It’s meaning is clear: an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities. Choice.  It’s not just for adults.  Alfie Kohn writes a good article here about choices for children in learning.

To be clear, there is a difference between choice and free reign.  Without some control and teacher facilitation, it can be pure anarchy. Setting up the learning environment to allow for student choice is critical.  You would never open a closet to a 3 year old and ask them what they want to wear.  You would ask, “Do you want to wear this or this?”  In my room, we begin with simple choices and through a gradual release of responsibility, students eventually have multiple choices all throughout the day.

Last week we were working on the pumpkin life cycle.  By Friday, everyone was ready to show me what they had learned.  They were given 2 choices.  They could show me in Pic Collage or in Explain Everything.  Later, they will have other choices, but for now, 2 is all they need.

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Instructions were on the Smartboard and everyone was hard at work!

photoThis is one of the examples from Pic Collage.

This is one of the examples from Explain Everything.

When given choices, students engage and take ownership.  By learning how to make choices and make decisions at a young age, they are better equipped at these skills as they get older.  When children learn to think for themselves, they are also less likely to be easily led by others whose choices may not be as desirable.

We want our students to love the content…to love learning.  By giving choices we lessen the chance of burnout (for both students and teachers), and we increase the chances of engaged, independent thinkers.  None of us like to be told, “You have no choice in the matter.” Instead, let’s work toward, “The choice is yours!”

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

One Way Sign Photo Credit:  Creative Commons

 

Making the Most of Small Moments

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. -Rose Kennedy
snailI don’t do critters…creepy crawly, slimy, or slithery.  So when my students found this guy at recess yesterday, of course, they were fascinated.  I had to admit, he was pretty spectacular in a disgustingly slimy way.
Their intrigue, however, brought about some pretty awesome conversation and some creativity later.  They immediately asked questions like, “Is it a snail or a slug?”  “What does it eat?”  “Does it keep its shell or outgrow it?” “Is it helpful or a pest?”   Then came this little gem from a child…”I wish we had an iPad out here to take its picture for the science center.” Silence for a moment.  In that moment of silence, I’m thinking, “Me too…it would make a great picture.”  Suddenly, a child says, “Mrs. Meeuwse has an iPhone (awesome brand identification for a 5 year old).  She can take a picture of it and print it out!”  Huh?  Oh yeah…I DO have a phone! I quickly snapped a photograph and then many started asking if I could send it to their iPads with Showbie…And then I was asked if I could “text the picture” to their parents.  Several wanted them to see it.  In our quick 25 minutes of recess, about 20 was spent with this snail.
During all of the activity, I was preoccupied with their questions and getting a good picture, making sure the creature wasn’t injured or touched, etc…but afterward, I reflected back on that moment and was struck by my students’ thinking.  The immediate thought of including technology…using my phone to take a picture, putting it on their iPads with Showbie, texting the image to their parents…technology was at the forefront of their thoughts.  It was not an afterthought.  It was how these 5 year olds solved their questions and problem-solved in the moment.
Later in the afternoon, many chose to draw the snail in art and write about him in the writing center.  Here is one example from the iPad:
snail drawing padThe child used Drawing Pad and saved it to his camera roll.  I used Simple Transfer to get it off his iPad on to my laptop.
Our thematic unit this week is Pumpkins and how they grow…but  yesterday, we took a detour and talked about snails.  The questions, vocabulary, and engagement were just too good to shut down at the end of recess.
I don’t necessarily recommend taking a detour every time the opportunity appears, but by being open to small moments in your day and allowing students to lead the way in their wonder and discovery, we begin to create students who think deeply.  I am always amazed at the complexity of a child’s mind and yesterday was no exception.  I was reminded just how naturally they incorporate technology into their lives and how curious they are about living creatures.  By being present in that very small moment, I’m certain I learned more than they did yesterday!
Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Collaborative Work Spaces

Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved. -Mattie Stepanek

medium_4264216476So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaborative spaces and their importance and relevance in learning.  Early childhood classrooms are collaborative by nature and the furniture provided in these classrooms allow for students to be in small groups.  But what about other grades?  Why is this important?

Think about your recent professional development experiences.  Were they in a classroom somewhere with desks in rows or were you at tables where you could easily see your table mates?  By their very nature, desks in rows inhibit conversation, eye contact, and community.  Plus, they are not very comfortable.  I start squirming after a short time in these seats.  The times I’ve been in PD at tables, it is immediately possible to engage in conversation, share, and build relationships.  It just feels better and more personal.

Our students are no different.  They need the ability to learn from their peers, to question, to share, to feel safe in a group and not feel isolated.  When we use collaborative groupings with tables, we are saying we are a community.  We learn from each other and I, as the teacher, am not the sole disseminator of knowledge.  The room arrangement instantly, and silently, shares your values as an educator.

As we use iPads, students are immediately collaborative.  They want to share what they’ve done, and in doing so, their peers are able to participate in the collective wisdom of the group.  Collective wisdom…so important for students and adults.  The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” applies to many aspects of growing children.  No where in that saying does it say “the village” has to all be adults.

As an adult, when I have to learn in isolation, I find myself sometimes feeling anxious.  Especially if the concept is complicated.  I may even feel like I just don’t get it…what’s wrong with me?  Everyone else seems to get it.  In collaborative learning, I might find that others don’t understand either.  This immediately relieves anxiety knowing I’m not alone.  As a team, we figure it out together.   All students, from the smallest to the tallest, need to feel safe and supported in learning new content.  By having the ability to work collaboratively, in a space that supports collaboration, students are more likely to take risks.

IMG_2156My classroom has many collaborative spaces.  There are tables that seat 4 and 6.  I’ve pushed 2 rectangular tables together for a larger collaborative space.  There are rugs and pillows on the floor that allow students to spread out and be comfortable.  As I stated earlier, early childhood classrooms are equipped for collaboration.  I recently saw this video on Edutopia showing how a middle school teacher used what was already in his classroom to make the space more collaborative for his 35 students.

Take a good look at your classroom design and see what it says about what you value as an educator.  Student input is also valuable.  What changes can you make to increase collaboration and student engagement?IMG_2176

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

student desks photo credit: Creative Commons

A World of Wonder

Wisdom begins in wonder. -Socrates

I_WonderWe are doing an author study on Eric Litwin this week.  He is the author of the Pete the Cat books.  My students love Pete the Cat…and with this study, we’ve started a “wonder” chart.  “Why is Pete the Cat blue?” “Who taught him to play the guitar” “Does he have other shoes since he got his new white shoes wet?”  These are all questions my students wondered this week.

If you Google image search “wonder”, you will find an alarming number of strange people dressed like Wonder Woman… but wonder is an innate part of the human experience, and somewhere along the way, we lose it.  We have to deliberately foster it, nurture it and encourage it in young children.  When children wonder, they grow bolder in their questioning.  They think beyond the surface.

photo-14I encouraged my students to draw about their “wonderings” today in Doodle Buddy on their iPad.  There was good conversation among the groups of students and even though it is early in the school year, they are starting to understand and enjoy the opportunities to work in small groups and talk about their work.  Wondering encourages original thinking, thinking outside the box, and creativity.  When many adults look at a new piece of technology, such as an iPad, they think, “How do I use this?”  Kids look at the same piece of technology and think, “What can I do with this?”  They are curious and creative by nature.  As an aside, you will be interested to know that the above drawing was done by one of my students.  She said, “Mrs. Meeuwse, that is you with Pete the Cat.  Pete is rocking his school shoes and your lip gloss is poppin’ and I’m wondering where your shoes are.”  Hmm…I’m wondering where my shoes are as well.  And about that lip gloss….”poppin”?

There is no doubt there was some creative thinking going on there.  I love how the iPad allows us to explore many ideas and “wonderings”.  Yes…they could have just as easily drawn their picture on a piece of paper.  But then we wouldn’t be able to import their drawings into another app and “Explain Everything” in the near future.  One step builds on another.  We will start App Smashing very soon.

Look for ways to bring wonder in to your classroom.  Pete the Cat is a good place to start!

As Pete the Cat says:
“No matter what you step in,
keep walking along and
singing your song. Because it’s all good.”

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