Focus on the Learning, Not the Tool

The real power of interactive technologies is that they let us learn in ways that aren’t otherwise possible or practical. – David Lassner

Wow…where did the school year go? We have only 24 days remaining! At school, we have been busy going about the business of learning, and in the evenings, I have been busy going about the business of dissertation writing. The end for both is in sight!

I was recently asked for some lesson plan examples from someone looking for ideas to integrate the iPad into instruction. I felt badly, as I had none to send. I love sharing with others (thus, the purpose of this blog), but I don’t write lesson plans around the use of our iPad devices. My lesson plans reflect the content and the standards, but not the tools. My students have the choice to use the iPad or other tools in our classroom to demonstrate their learning, including paper and pencil. I don’t write lesson plans around the pencil, so I don’t write them around the iPad either.

That being said, the quote above concerning interactive technologies is spot on. Using and combining apps to synthesize concepts is only possible with the use of interactive technology. The best part is we don’t have to wait until children are older to utilize these technologies for learning. In my classroom, students choose apps to demonstrate their learning. Here are a few examples where students used the Drawing Pad app to illustrate and then used the Skitch app to annotate.

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As my students use labeling like scientists, they are learning that labeling gives more information about a picture. From here, the kids went on to write about their learning.


Using a variety of creation apps, students have the ability to create and express themselves in a digital way that they otherwise can’t in an analog way. By focusing on the content, the importance is placed on the learning and not the tool.

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

Using the iPad for Writing in Kindergarten

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say. -F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve always believed we learn to write by writing. My students have a lot to say, but often have difficulty finding topics to write about. We have anchor charts around the room with writing ideas. See a couple below:

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However, no matter how many words we have in the room, some of my students still have trouble coming up with ideas for writing. They tend to write the same things over and over…I went to the park, I play video games, etc… We continually encourage them to stretch as writers and encourage them to think of new ideas.  For those those that have difficulty finding inspiration, we utilize the camera app on the iPad.

A colleague suggested taking a picture of the child during the day and have them write about the picture. This has been an extremely helpful suggestion. Here are a couple of samples of student work using this technique:



With one of the children, I found him building something in the block center and on his own, he went to get his iPad to take a picture so he could write about it later. He said he would forget his “details” without the picture.

Supporting students where they are is so important in developing strong readers and writers. Student-centered classrooms provide motivation and autonomy. When we have internal motivation we are more likely to persist and attempt new things rather than when we act out of compliance.

I am so glad I have the iPad as a learning tool to extend and enhance learning…and more importantly, my students are seeing it as a tool, and not just “fun”.

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

Poetry Notebooks with Book Creator

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. -Plutarch

Each Friday, we take a break from our Writing Workshop activities and work in our poetry notebooks. Young children love poems and songs. Every week, we have a designated poem that goes with our unit. I have made a poster out of it and attached a plastic coat hanger to the back. The poem hangs on a hook in the classroom for the week. Each child has a black and white sewn composition book and we glue in a copy of the poem for the week. The children illustrate it and have the ability to go back and read poems from previous weeks. They love going back to some of their favorites and singing them or re-reading them.

Recently, I noticed their joy each Friday as they work in their poetry notebooks, and it saddened me that I don’t have space in the classroom to leave the poems out and let them accumulate. Then, it hit me…Book Creator! So I created a poetry book in Book Creator app that has their poems and I left a blank page beside each poem so the students could go in and illustrate them if they choose. Additionally, I recorded my voice reading each poem to help those who may not be able to read the whole thing themselves. When I finished poems up to where we are currently, I put it in Showbie and the children downloaded it to their iPad. They saved it to Book Creator and this allows me to add more poems as we go through the rest of the year. I will put the new poem in Showbie and they will download it and add it their poetry notebook.




I am undecided about next year…whether I will eliminate the hard copy and just do electronic. The kids do love using crayons and illustrating the notebook. The best part is, either way, they have poems at their fingertips to read, re-read, illustrate and enjoy!

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

Digital Reading Resources for Early Literacy

There is an art of reading, as well as an art of thinking, and an art of writing-Isaac D’Israeli

As a kindergarten teacher, my day is spent immersing my students in literacy activities. Regardless of the subject we are learning, literacy is a big part of it. We use Book Creator for our math journals.  I also use Book Creator app and iBooks Author for teacher-created texts for my students’ emergent reading levels. Through continuous literacy activities, we can build fluency. Having 1:1 iPads, my students have many digital books at their fingertips. Research shows digital texts engage even the most reluctant readers and increase reading achievement (see attached references: Research on Using Digital Texts to Enhance Literacy Instruction)

In addition to the items listed above, we use RAZ Kids to track student reading. With parents having access, students can also practice reading at home using leveled texts. RAZ kids allows me to set student reading levels as well as assign assessments such as running records.

My students also have a link on their iPad screens to Unite for Literacy. This website has numerous non-fiction text with audio support and are available in a variety of languages. With diverse images, children are able to relate to their world.

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Our iBook Shelves are filled with teacher-created texts and phonics readers from Hubbard’s Cupboard. There are free e-book downloads on word families and phonics. We have RAZ kids leveled texts and the Unite for Literacy collection. Of course we have a classroom library of a variety of paper books for students as well. The benefit of the digital books are the multi-touch and accessibility features, as well as the durability of them.

There are many online resources for early literacy, but these are some of my favorites. I encourage you to look into some of these to help build your own classroom collection. Here are a few more links to investigate:



Story Time For Me

Making Learning Fun

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Using the Backchannel in Kindergarten

When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power. -Mark Zuckerberg

Have you ever had the pleasure of listening to a young child tell you a story or tell you about an event? It is usually fairly entertaining and fairly lengthy. They have definite opinions about everything and don’t mind sharing them, even when not solicited.

We work on giving our children choice in all aspects of their learning. Giving small choices early allows them to have greater voice in activities as the year goes on.  Today, we used a backchannel called Today’s Meet. Today’s Meet is a great for all students. It is also a way for older students to ask questions during instruction or share thoughts and extend the conversation in a blended environment. A first grade teacher in my school uses it to activate prior knowledge with her students. Her question posted on Today’s Meet was “What do you know about bats?” Her students all responded with bat facts. Our first time using Today’s Meet this school year involved answering a yes-no question. We are working on a Monsters unit this week.

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Today’s Meet produces a QR code for your students to scan to join the class discussion. Students simply type their name to join the conversation and then type their answer to the question. Their responses show up in real time and the students enjoyed looking at the other answers.

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Class discussions often result in some students either not answering, or not having a chance to answer due to lack of time and large class sizes. The backchannel gives everyone a chance to have their voice heard. Sometimes, it isn’t appropriate to interrupt a speaker. The backchannel allows a student to share conversation or questions without the bother of an interruption.

We will build on this activity and eventually move beyond yes-no questions as students become better writers. As the lead learners in the classroom, it is our responsibility to see that each student is given the power of their own voice.

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Phonics Strategies for Young Learners Using the iPad

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.-Kate DiCamillo

I am sorry for my low profile lately…for the last 10 weeks, I have been taking statistics for my doctoral program and it has owned me! There are only 2 weeks remaining so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My school year thus far, has been one of the most challenging ones in recent memory. New district required assessments have consumed an inordinate amount of time and their results have generated different progress monitoring assessments for my lowest performing students.

Fortunately, I have iPads to assist in meeting the needs of all students, regardless of their skill level. Never has this challenge been more real than this year. Today’s post is to share some strategies I use with my most challenged learners in their endeavor to meet grade level goals in early literacy.

The majority of my struggling students are younger five year olds, with late birthdays. Their delays are mostly due to lack of exposure to literacy activities prior to starting school. This lack of exposure requires many, many repetitions to create some fluency in those critical phonics skills.

One of the interventions I use is the Wilson’s Fundations alphabet cards. These are cards that with daily repetitions, assist children in learning letters and sounds. We go through the cards each day several times. We say the letter, the picture name and the sound. For example: Bb, bat, /b/. Additionally, I have created a book in Book Creator by photographing each card and adding my voice over on each page saying the letter, picture, and sound. This way, students have the ability to practice throughout the day independently.Wilson's ABC

In addition to working with these cards and interacting with the e-book, we use the Word Wizard app. In our small group time, students open the app, I alternate calling out the letter, the word, or the sound and students find that letter and move it up to the grid. This app reinforces the child’s choice by giving the student the sound when the letter is selected.

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For reinforcement of letter sounds, we also use Starfall ABC’s app. This gives students multiple opportunities to see the letter, hear the sound, and practice interacting with initial sound activities.

Beyond phonics, I create “Just Right Books” for students that are on their independent reading level. These books are created in Book Creator and in iBooks Author. For non-readers, the text is read to the child with supporting picture cues. I have a free book in the iBook Store explaining the process here and blog posts about it here and here.

There are many apps and books available for purchase, but creating simple activities with much repetition is what our struggling students need most.

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September Wrap-Up

We must be deliberate in September-Debbie Miller

We are halfway through our first quarter of school, and at times, it feels like we haven’t accomplished much. But then I am reminded of the wise words of Debbie Miller about being deliberate in September. It is so crucial to go slow now so we can speed up later. Each small step we take now, is a building block for the future. We are front loading procedures, modeling appropriate ways to use our iPads, and learning about workflow.

Sometimes these small steps are difficult, especially when we are inundated with baseline assessments and other requirements. It is easy to overlook the importance of the small details…the procedures that seem like second nature, the instructions we feel we have said 100 times. However, skipping or short-changing these small early steps, often results in frustration for both you and the student.

Here are a few things we have been working on the last two weeks:

We participated in International Dot Day. We read Peter Reynolds’ The Dot and made dots on our iPads in Drawing Pad app. I collected all of the dots through Showbie and created a class Dot Book. We also Skyped with a kindergarten class in the UK, sharing our dots. Here is one of our dots.

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We also spent a week doing an author study of Eric Litwin. He is the author of the Pete the Cat books. We chose our favorite story and drew a picture of it in Drawing Pad. The class loved Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. Here are a couple of examples:

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This week, we have been reading the Mrs. Wishy Washy series. After spending a couple of weeks drawing in Drawing Pad, we drew our favorite character in Mrs. Wishy Washy, saved it to our camera roll, uploaded it into Pic Collage and worked on a sight word sentence. This was our first app smash!

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The last one is Mrs. Wishy Washy flipping upside down as she slips and falls in the tub from the story Wishy Washy Day.  We made an anchor chart the day before with all of the characters in the story. This way, students used our word wall for the sight words and the anchor chart to write their favorite character. The environmental print in the classroom assisted greatly in this activity. If it seems too overwhelming to draw the picture, upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence, break it up over a couple of days. Draw the picture and save it one day and the next upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence.

Remember, focusing on those all important procedures, taking it slow, being repetitive, and modeling for students, greatly facilitates your ability to have independent student work later.

Let’s be deliberate in September!

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iTunes U and You

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. -Martin Luther King

itunes uThinking critically and intensively is not reserved for older students. We work diligently to create learning experiences in kindergarten that allow our young students to think deeply about various topics. Having iPads allows us to enrich learning experiences in a way that wasn’t possible before. One of the iPad tools that is often overlooked is iTunes U. Why iTunes U?

  • It is a free repository of classes and educational content
  • Students have access to content anytime and anywhere
  • Content is easily updated and changed
  • Discussion feature allows rich conversation between students

While there are a large number of free classes available on iTunes U, perhaps you should consider creating your own. With the end of the school year only a few weeks away, it seems odd to be thinking of adding new things to your teaching bag of tricks, but this is the perfect time to do so. You can use some of your summer to create your own courses. It is easy to do. Simply log into the iTunes U course manager using your Apple ID and add your content. What are the benefits to creating your own course?

  • Content is more meaningful to students
  • Content can be customized
  • Easy to create, easy to update
  • All resources are in one place: books, documents, videos, images, web links and apps

Here is the link to a Spiders course I created for my kindergarten students as well as one for teachers on Personalized Learning and another course created by a 4th grade colleague about my school and how we innovate instruction using iPads.

iTunes U allows you to customize the learning experience for your students, even the youngest ones. It is also a great way to create a learning portfolio for students. Up to 5 people can collaborate on a course so you and your colleagues can work together and share the wealth. If you aren’t comfortable creating a full course initially, create a chapter and keep adding. It is easy to update any time.

If you aren’t already using iTunes U, consider giving it a try. It will open a whole new world to your students for learning and engaging in content.

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

Teacher Created Texts in Book Creator

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.-Benjamin Franklin

 Writer…this is not an adjective I would use to describe myself, but is something I sure am doing a lot of these days. Aside from this blog, my doctoral classes provide an endless source of writing “opportunities”. Writing and reading go hand in hand in literacy development; and as we are encouraging our students to read and to write, modeling is an appropriate strategy to use. We model reading daily for our students, but how can we model writing in such a way that our students have continued access to these writing samples?

I’ve written here about using iBooks Author to create leveled texts for my students. You can also see my story here.  I still use iBooks Author to create books for my students and I also use Book Creator to create books as well. We are studying the rainforest currently and I’ve made a few books pertaining to the rainforest for my student’s iPads. Here are a couple of sample pages:









This book on sloths is one of their favorites. I used the drawing tool to create an arrow pointing to the 3 toes.








The book on leaf cutter ants has vocabulary words underlined and the book on jaguars has my voice over if students need it. These books took 5 minutes to create. You can get many images from Creative Commons free. When I finish these books, I upload them to Showbie which allows my students to download them on their iPads. Another colleague on my team has created some rainforest books also. This way, we can share with each other and double our resources.

By creating your own books, you are able to control your own text complexity and content. I have also created some fiction books based on student interests such as dirt bikes, super heroes, baby animals, and princesses. These books are pretty simple but the kids love them. The side benefit is the children are able to see you as a writer and have your books to use as a guide as they are writing.

Teacher created texts provide you the flexibility to control text, vocabulary and content as well as provide your students anytime books, personalized content, and a model for writing. It is a small investment of your time that pays big dividends!

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



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!