What Should We Be Doing? Using iPads to Personalize Learning

The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do -Lil Wayne.

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? We live our lives shouldering the burden of “shoulds”. Social media bombards us with images of what the perfect size is, what the perfect cupcake should look like, what the perfect home should look like and what the perfect wedding should look like. We are watching the “highlights” of people’s lives and comparing them to our “behind the scenes”. As professionals, we are held to some standard that determines what a perfect teacher or classroom should be, that often doesn’t come close to resembling the real world. It is enough to crack the sanity of even the most self-confident adults. So, how much more burdensome are these “shoulds” on our students…these little people who carry seeds of hope, creativity, innocence and wonder?

Students are so worried about what their work should look like, they miss the whole point of the activity. They don’t want to be wrong because they should know the answer. They want all of the parameters spelled out so they can produce.  This isn’t learning.  It is a recipe. As a doctoral student, I find myself looking for exact parameters on some of my assignments and find it very disconcerting when the assignment seems vague or broad. I am conditioned to want the recipe so I can produce what it is my professors want. The recipe is comforting because it lays out exactly what I should do. After all, isn’t that the whole point of the assignment?

Actually, no. The point is to problem solve, think critically, collaborate, research, think some more, write, hypothesize, write some more, and come out on the other side with a deeper understanding of the concept than before I started. Our students yearn to achieve but it is up to us to discard that recipe. It is up to us to teach and model divergent thinking, to allow students to struggle a bit, to learn to persevere when their first attempt isn’t successful and to allow for variations on a theme.

In our iPad math journals, students aren’t given a closed ended question that has one answer. Open format questions create greater potential for deeper reasoning. Students have the ability to think in flexible ways and not just provide the answer they should give. An example is: Ben has 6 buttons.  Some are green and some are purple.  How many of each?  Another is the example below. Students come up with their own addition problems.

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Giving students voice and choice to demonstrate their understanding of concepts frees them from following a recipe to produce a standardized product. Whether it is open ended activities in math journals or writing about their favorite super hero, we need to remove the “shoulds” from their vocabulary and ours… and shift toward “could”.  What could  be the answer here? What could you write about today? What could you be doing right now? Should somehow implies wrongdoing or shame but could allows room for thought and possibility.

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By using our iPads to personalize learning, give students voice and choice, and shifting our use of the word should to could, we open up possibilities, change mindsets, and give students freedom to be themselves. Heck, if adults did the same thing for ourselves, we might have a lot less anxiety and little more peace of mind!

That being said, the comic below shows my constant doctoral mindset:

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Ok…so, I have a little work to do on myself…

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

Building Early Literacy Skills With iPads

Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting -Edmund Burke

I am on spring break this week. It has been such a luxury to linger over coffee and the newspaper in the mornings. That has been about all of the luxury I’ve been able to enjoy because even though I’m on spring break from my job, I am not on spring break from doctoral classes. I have been immersed in scholarly articles on early literacy. So, while this is all fresh on my mind, I am going to share a few work samples from some of our recent literacy activities on iPads.

We have been using the Feltboard App for word work quite a bit lately. Here are a few samples:

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While we don’t usually work with /ow/ and /ou/ in kindergarten, it was a conversation in one of my reading groups and one of my students created this:

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My kids love speech bubbles! This was in response to a class read aloud.

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This is a 4 square writing organizer on Feltboard App. Students can transfer ideas from this to an organized short paragraphs.

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Using the app to recreate scenes from a story can help students have deeper conversations about a read aloud activity.

 

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This was created in Drawing Pad app during our insect unit.

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Literacy extension activities are important in building emergent literacy skills. When we read a book together, we often do some kind of literacy response. The iPad is perfectly suited for these extension activities with creation apps that allow students to show what they know by making their thinking visible, extend their thinking and  reflect on learning. We read for a variety of purposes. Sometimes I read to my class simply for pleasure, other times, after I read, we focus on building decontextualized language skills. We move beyond the concrete and talk about intangible aspects of the text. This allows me to help take their language skills to the next level. When we use the iPads to enhance literacy skills, we are synthesizing both tangible and intangible language. It encourages children to use more complex language forms. Simple activities such as rhyming words scaffold learning for more advanced literacy skills.

Immersing young children in literacy activities all throughout the day builds a strong foundation upon which future skills are built. These activities, along with reflection,  help students “digest” what they read and makes them better readers.

 

Today we will do exciting new things. Lets get to it!

Mid-March Madness with iPads in Kindergarten

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind. ~Martin H. Fischer

We are only 7 days away from our spring break. I love my job, but am ready for a breather. The kids are ready too. You can say we have our own brand of mid-March madness! Today’s post is a bit of a hodgepodge of things. It is pretty reflective of my mind these days…all hither and dither. I wanted to show you some of the work going on in class and since the samples are from different subjects, I’m offering a bit of a Pu Pu Platter today. You know, a little appetizer from which you can pick and choose.

In writing, we are using mentor texts like crazy! We are working on adding details, expanding our writing and using various means to write. Sometimes the kids choose paper, sometimes iPad. Here are few samples.  The first one is a graphic organizer for writing about the pond. The student used Pic Collage to create the organizer.

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In this sample, the student used the app Paper Desk Pro as a Reading Response journal after hearing the story In the Tall, Tall, Grass by Denise Fleming.

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This last writing sample is one child’s Writer’s Workshop for the day. She chose this piece to be published from her writing folder.

 

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In math, we’ve been working on addition, subtraction, and 3-D shapes.  Here are a few pages from one child’s math journal created in Book Creator app. This image and the next are from the app Number Pieces.

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This app is Number Rack. They are like rekenreks.

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This is a screen shot from the math journal created in Book Creator. Students took photographs of 3-D objects in our room and labeled them.

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In addition to these samples, the students are working on their own books in Book Creator and projects in Explain Everything. They are planning their own day, choosing apps for demonstrating their learning, reading constantly and using inquiry skills across the curriculum. This is such a fun time of the year with kindergarten. With only 49 days remaining in this school year, I’m soaking it all up and enjoying my time with them. They need me for so little now and I enjoy just sitting and being part of their world.

Giving kids of all ages voice and choice in their learning provides deeper learning opportunities and long-term connections to the world around them.

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

The Hour of Code in Kindergarten


All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.- Martin Fischer

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in over 180 countries.  It is designed to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics.  Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science.  It helps nurture problem solving skills, logic and creativity.  By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st century career path.

IMG_0024Our class has been working with the free Kodable app to learn coding.  It is a perfect way to offer a kid-friendly introduction to programming concepts and problem solving.  With Kodable, kids can learn to code before they even learn to read. In the short time we have been using Kodable, I already see computational and critical thinking, collaboration and perseverance. Some students are working with others, while some want to figure it out on their own.  I also love that they won’t ask me to help them.  Rather than come to me, they are going to others or sticking with it until they figure it out themselves.  This is how problem solving skills are developed and strengthened.  It is also interesting to see that some need to run their finger along the maze for each step to know which arrow to choose, while others can do it quickly in their heads.

 

Here is what one of the Kodable screens looks like:

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The goal is to get the fuzzy ball from one side to the other, while obtaining as many coins as possible. The students have to work on left and right, up and down, but they also have to use the color squares in the coding if they want the fuzzy ball to grab those coins in the middle.

The interest and engagement in this app has spilled over into other areas of the classroom.  The students are building their own mazes and having their friends figure out the code to move across the maze.

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Watching my students analyze and problem-solve, either solo or cooperatively, gives me a good indicator of where they are in the development of these important skills. The kids are completely engaged and their conversations are rich with logic and reason.

If you are thinking about the Hour of Code, give Kodable a try!

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

2-Page Spreads in iBooks Author

Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching. -author unknown

Recently, I was presenting on iBooks Author from the Early Childhood perspective along with 2 other Apple Distinguished Educators presenting from the middle school perspective.  I was so excited about their work and was inspired to try my hand at creating a 2-page spread activity in iBooks Author.

The idea behind the 2-page spread is that you don’t have to create an entire book…you can create an interactive experience across 2 pages.  My ADE friend, Sean Junkins has created a short, step-by-step guide for this process.  You can download his book here.

With Thanksgiving coming up, my 2-page spread is about the first Thanksgiving.  I started with creating a panoramic picture in Keynote.

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Then, following Sean’s directions, I created the 2-page spread in iBooks Author.  Once this was complete, I added the pop over widgets and the Keynote widget to deliver content.

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This is page one of the 2-page spread.  The small Pilgrim hats are pop-over widgets that contain information.  See the example below:

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The other pop over widget tells what food was actually served at the first Thanksgiving.  This allowed for good discussion and comparison with Thanksgiving today.  (This also meets our Social Studies standard for kindergarten in comparing lives now and long ago.)

The second page of the 2-page spread has a Keynote widget that when played, shows Pilgrim dress and Wampanoag Indian dress for the feast.  The small hat is the link to the Keynote.

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This is the first page of the Keynote.  The 2-slide Keynote link is below

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As the week progresses, I can add other content to this 2-page spread to engage my students in key facts about the first Thanksgiving.

If creating a book in iBooks Author is too daunting, try creating a 2-page spread or a virtual field trip as mentioned in Sean’s book.  His idea is not just create a book, but to create an experience.

I am excited to try other 2-page spreads to go with our upcoming units.  Remember, as life-long learners, we have to stay thirsty for knowledge.  In this case, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

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

Reading Fluency with Explain Everything

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading. -Maurice Sendak

8435321969_8c5a154a0a_zWe are 35 days into this school year and several of my students are reading.  They are excited when they find words and phrases they know in books and in environmental print.  They love to share with anyone who will listen words or books they can read.  Even at age 5, my students see the treasure that is unlocked when one can read.  The fire has been lit and my fervent hope is nothing and no one comes along and puts that fire out.

We are a classroom immersed in literacy all day long.  Our iPads have certainly facilitated my ability to deliver personalized literacy instruction through the “Just Right Books” I create for my students as well as various apps that we use that adapt to students’ responses. My students also have the choice to read regular books in the book center or books on their iPads.  I want them to love reading and to be able to get lost in a story, so that when the story is over, they will wish it wasn’t.  There are books I have read and when finished, I missed the characters and I thought about them long afterward.

Part of building strong readers includes assessing students, listening to them read, working on fluency, and well…just reading, reading, reading. Having 23 students makes it difficult for me to listen to every child read every day.  The iPads definitely help. I had the students in one of the reading groups open the app Explain Everything and take pictures of each page of a leveled book they wanted to read.  They then used the laser pointer to track the print.  They saved the movie to their camera roll and then uploaded it to Showbie. I am able to then listen to the child read at any time.  I can use it as documentation for running records assessment, see where the child is having trouble and then go back work directly with that child if needed.  I can also email to parents.  This also allows the child to also re-visit the recording, listen and practice along for fluency.  By saving a few of these, you can show growth (or not) at a parent conference.  Here is one example:

Explain Everything is truly a versatile app.  It is definitely one of my go-to apps in all subjects.  Consider trying it for reading.  It engages students of all reading levels and that’s never a bad thing!

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

 

Book photo credit: Creative Commons

Getting Dotty With It!

Immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leave your mark behind.-Brandon Lee

Today is International Dot Day!  After reading The Dot by Peter Reynolds, we have worked on a variety of Dot Day activities.  We have cut and colored dots, painted dots, made dots on our iPads and then compiled them all into a class Dot book.  We wore our dots. We have written about dots, sung about dots and well, frankly, we’re all a bit dotty at this point!

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The best part of today was Skyping with some other kindergarten classes internationally.  A group of Apple Distinguished Educators gathered at a global institute this past July to work together.  At this institute, several kindergarten teachers formed a cohort and came up with a global iTunes U course designed to connect our classes through various activities all throughout this school year.  The course is Connecting Classrooms Across Continents.  The enroll code is https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/enroll/KJK-647-TDB if you’d like to join and follow along.  Currently, the course involves kindergarten classes in SC, Maine, Kansas, Italy, Ireland and the UK.  During our Skype today with Marc Falder’s class in the UK, we shared our dots, our writing, and how we plan to “make our mark”.  The kids loved talking with each other and discussing the differences  in our dress (they wear uniforms and we don’t), in time (it’s 5 hours later there) and in speech.  (southern US vs British English).  We found them on the globe and talked about how to get there from here.

 

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The children were fascinated by our global friends and are anxious to talk to them again soon!  Our iTunes U course will give us many opportunities to go beyond the walls of our own classrooms and connect internationally.  We will see that while we are all the same, we are all different.  Cultural diversity at its best!

We love The Dot and the lessons it provides.  We know that all we have to do is “Make our mark…and see where it takes us.”

How will you make your mark?

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

 

Finding Your Inner Teaching Ninja

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free. -Jim Morrison

The number one rule in our kindergarten classroom is to Be Brave.  This covers so many areas of life that it is an appropriate rule, and truly the only one we need.  It is hard to be brave sometimes.  It’s hard to speak up, step out, or stand alone.

A reader of this blog messaged me not long ago asking if it gets easier letting go and letting young students make choices in their learning.  As a long time educator (like me), she shared concerns about letting children have that voice and choice in demonstrating their learning.  I get it.  Before iPads, I was afraid to let go.  I mean…where is the control in that?   I thought I needed to be in charge.  Of Everything.  After all, that was how I was taught and how I was taught to teach.  iPads changed that.  How can a technological device make such a dramatic change in philosophy?  Perhaps I would be more accurate to say my students using iPads  changed my thinking.  Watching them use the iPad for creation, on their own, awakened me to new possibilities in learning.  Yes, it was scary but what a difference it made.

5258698926_9059e7bfe6_zSomeone once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room.”  How has your teaching changed in the last 4 years?  If  it hasn’t, why?  Is it because it’s easier to do what you’ve always done?  Is it because, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  Is it because you just don’t have time/support/resources to make any changes?  Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is a popular approach to changing professional development to be engaging and interactive.  It helps you kickstart your own creativity and make your classroom experience rich and engaging.  He has a book on Amazon…worth the read!  Another organization dedicated to ongoing learning for educators is Teach Like a Feral Pig.  Their mission is for all educators to continually grow their “edutusks”.  I still want one of their t-shirts!  I often compare teaching to being a ninja.  This site emphasizes several key traits that tie teaching and ninja behavior together (particularly the one about not ever going to the bathroom)…The ninja one is tongue in cheek (slightly) but the point is…stop making excuses and make changes!  If you are stagnant, get a new PLN.  Find a Twitter chat…if you are nervous, lurk and take in the conversation.

Start the new school year with inspiration, the willingness to make some changes, and be a pirate, a feral pig, a ninja…whatever!  Just BE BRAVE!

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

Photo credit:  Creative Commons

A New Year Takes Flight

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

My intention was to write this post a few days ago.  Last week was our first week of school and somehow, between teaching all day and enduring 100 degree heat each day, I came home completely exhausted.  The first week is always tough…getting back into the routine.

Usually, on our first day of school, I am asked multiple times, “When can we play?”  “When is recess?”  I was completely expecting that when someone raised his hand and started with “When can we…”   what I was not expecting was the end of that sentence.  “have our iPads?” So we had to have a little  talk about how we needed a few days to get used to our new classroom and routines before we started using iPads.  The kids did a great job of adjusting the first 3 days so on day 4, I started with iPads in small groups.  photo 3-2

I took their picture and saved it as the lock screen and the wallpaper.  That allows me (and the children) to quickly see to whom the iPad belongs. We worked on turning the device on, navigating screens, identifying the folders I’ve created that hold their apps, and opening an app.  After working a few minutes in one app, we closed it and moved to a different folder to try a different app.  Then we learned how to put the iPad to sleep and put it back in the iPad storage cabinet.  These small groups lasted 15-20 minutes.  Each child had an opportunity to get hands on time with the device.  On Friday, we reviewed the procedures from Thursday and worked on a couple of different apps before putting them away.  Some of the children have iPads at home and were quick to point out they already knew how to “work the iPad.”  I reminded them that they use the iPads at home one way and we use them at school in a different way.  We will spend another few days front loading procedures in small groups and then I will bring them into a whole group math lesson.  Starting out in small bite-sized lessons really allows me to scaffold the procedures and set everyone up for success.  By going slow now, I can speed up later.

What was great to see in these brief introductory lessons was the immediate tendency of the children to be collaborative. They didn’t zone in to the iPad and tune everything else out.   They were helpful to each other and they were having good conversations about what they were doing in the app. This collaborative behavior is at the very heart of how we work and play in our classroom.

Starting school is exciting and a little stressful for both the teacher and students.  I am grateful our first week went smoothly and am looking forward to the exciting things these children will do this year.

School year 2014-15 is wheels-up and has taken flight!

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

Making Global Connections

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” -Albert Einstein

Don’t you love when people say to you, “Must be nice to have your whole summer off!” I don’t know many educators who have the summer “off”.  Most of us are involved in professional activities and learning during the summer.  In fact, if you think about it, professional athletes continue to train in the off-season to maintain their athletic skills. So too, do we need to continue to hone our skills…to fill our own buckets and re-charge our batteries.

IMG_3340I had the privilege of being chosen to attend the Apple Distinguished Educator Global Institute in San Diego.  Last week,  global educators from 30 different countries came together to focus on bringing learning to life with the iPad.  We became citizen scientists in a variety of off-site excursions.  We explored many different topics relevant to sustaining life on Earth from the eyes of a student. We utilized a variety of apps to test water samples, track a forest-destroying beetle, examine plankton, and adopt a tree.  We used our iPads to record sounds, images, and create videos to document our weeklong journey.  We reflected on our own classrooms and how we can bring science curriculum to life in a real, hands-on way.

While these off-site excursions were amazing and illuminating, one of the most lasting legacies of this institute for me will be the global connections I made with brilliant educators.  A few of us who teach young students formed a lasting group and immediately began conversations  around a global project involving our students.  We combined resources to create a book in iBooks Author of our experiences as citizen scientists at Rancho Cuyamaca.  We also developed an iTunes U Course where our students will come together as global peers and work together throughout this next school year.  We will join together with kindergarten students in the UK, Italy and Ireland as well as students from Kansas and Maine.  There will be language learning opportunities and cultural exchanges.  The possibilities are endless!

 

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So, I encourage you to create or re-connect with your PLN on Twitter, Facebook or other social media.  Have conversations, share ideas, create, and re-charge.  Summer is nearing an end and we will be hearing the school bell ring before you know it!  And…when your non-educator friends quip that it’s nice to have the summer off, thank them for the good laugh! “Whatever, man…”

 

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