From Sea to Shining Sea…Connecting Classes Across Continents

I don’t usually have guest bloggers, but Marc Faulder and I, along with some other early childhood teachers have engaged in regular collaboration with our classes since 2014. Marc, an early years teacher in the UK wrote this blog post sharing our experiences.

Connecting Classes Across Continents is a collaboration I began with Apple Distinguished Educators who teach in the early years. We met in San Diego in July 2014 and began planning how we could use FaceTime and social media to build a personal learning network for our young learners, In the beginning we had classes connecting between South Carolina, Maine, Ireland and my class in England. The process is simple, we looked at what we taught throughout the year and found topics which overlapped or linked so that our classes could exchange knowledge over a video call.

Over the last two years my classes have made short video calls to these classes to talk about their place in the world, ask questions about the different places and share stories or festivals from their home country. We have shared Bonfire Night, Thanksgiving, Christmas food similarities and differences and Chinese New Year. Connecting with real children celebrating these festivals made the learning so much more real as we could have genuine discussions with real people involved in these celebrations.Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 6.38.44 PM
The project has grown since then and we now have connected classes in Sweden, Australia and New York. This has added to the wealth of knowledge exchange, giving opportunities to explore languages through song and traditional tales from our different countries. With our Connected Class in Sweden we sang traditional nursery rhymes to each other in our first languages. With our Connected Class in Ireland we have shared traditional food from our countries. With our Connected Class in Maine we have shared in school rules, in a recent call we got to observe The Pledge of Allegiance and compared this to our own Respect Code of Conduct. All of these experiences over FaceTime have given my class a real insight in to life outside of England.
For some of our projects our classes have made work for each other. Between the teachers involved in Connected Classes Across Continents we have shared digital books that our classes have made on their iPads. My class have sent multi-modal books about Bonfire Night and compared this to a book about Thanksgiving from our Connected Class in South Carolina. With our Connected Class in New York, South Carolina and Maine we shared books about our local area. All of these book exchanges have resulted in follow up FaceTime calls to ask further questions about each other’s place in the world. With our Connected Class in New York it was great to compare their playground and ours, as they have a playground on the top of their building in the city!
We have even posted real story books to share in ‘What are you Reading’ FaceTime calls. This kind of connecting takes me back to the days of pen-pals and enhances these kinds of relationships through a more personal and immediate form.

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The impact on my class this year has been huge. In a recent project we made calls to Sweden, Ireland, South Carolina and Maine in one day. We went on a global hunt for lost teeth and our connected classes gave us clues that would help our mission. The project concluded the next day with a video message from our connected class in Australia. When we reflected on the knowledge exchange between all of these places my class could talk about the movement of the sun and time zone differences. This understanding of the world exceeds my expectation of what early years children can comprehend of their place in the world. You can hear their responses here.
When interviewing my class on their time in Foundation with me and reflecting on their learning year in preparation for their transition to Year 1, I asked them who their teachers are. You can hear their responses here.
To my surprise they included teachers from our connected classes. One child even listed Mrs Meeuwse, Mr Milner and Shonette above his actual teachers in our unit! This proves to me that connecting classes across continents builds a Personal Learning Network for early years children. By explaining how they learn and what they learn from these other teachers in their life they clearly appreciate the knowledge exchange beyond our classroom walls.
This year, the second year of Connected Classes Across Continents, wraps up with a special visit from Jason Milner. Jason is travelling Europe before the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute 2016. He will visit our school and work with my class. In the days leading up to his arrival we tracked his flight online. Flying from Sydney has been an exciting two days for my class with them watching his journey take place in real time over two days. The discussions around travel, time zone and connecting places has been incredible to listen to and the children are very excited to meet their first Connected Class Teacher!
 A great place for you to start is by participating in International Dot Day. Find out more about this festival here. It takes place on September 15th every year and is a Foundation friendly text about making your mark on the world. You can connect with a local school, find a friend who you can make a call to on the day. Even if it is another school in your city, the children will make their first connection in learning beyond their classroom.
For your first call talk about your school uniform, school rules, your art work or hobbies. You can show photographs of your school and even share a song together. After the first call you could even find out what each other are working on then report back your findings in a follow up call.
It would be very easy to read this post and see these connections as difficult to achieve, but the links are simple to make. Not every class will get the opportunity to meet a Connected Class Teacher and it might not happen again for a long time at my school. However, these FaceTime calls and knowledge exchanges have proved so valuable to our understanding of the world and they will continue each year!
You can read more from Marc Faulder and see his work in the UK on his blog here.

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:

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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.

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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!

Keep It Simple

Simplicity will stand out, while complexity will get lost in the crowd. -Kevin Barnett

American Thanksgiving has just passed and we are on the bullet train to Christmas! How are things where you are…busier than ever I am guessing? With all of the “must-do’s” that come with teaching, it is easy to let content design take a back seat to “getting it all in”. Lesson planning can become rote and robotic if we aren’t careful. Put your quarters in the machine and make your selection…

I have just returned from BarcelonaFullSizeRender 18, Spain. What an amazing experience! I went to work with the early childhood teachers at the American School in utilizing iPads in the classroom. The wonderful staff there was particularly interested in making the best use out of a few iPads per classroom. I taught math and reading lessons in their classrooms and watched the thrill of the young children interacting with their iPads. It can certainly seem challenging without a class set of the devices. My advice to them, as it has been on this blog all along, is to start small and take those baby steps. When starting something new, it is easy to get caught up and get overwhelmed. There is initial excitement but then real-life sets in and it just seems like too much work. Be realistic, but keep moving forward.

The truth is, designing good lessons is work. We are “content architects”. We must look at all of our students and provide experiences that reach each and every one of them. Whether you use the iPad or not in your classroom, content design is work. This work can be easier if we leverage the technology in such a way that students are engaged in student-centered learning. In Spain, we worked with the teacher iPad to demonstrate some new concepts to thIMG_2315e whole class and then worked on ways students could partner up to practice the new learning. We also talked about using the iPad in small group centers and small group instruction. My message to those fine teachers was you do not have to hang the moon simply because you are using technology. Short and simple lessons delivered in an engaging manner are just as effective.

Here is one brief example of an activity we did in Barcelona:

Using the Feltboard app, the 4-year-old students used the 4 Square sorting mat background. They pulled over shapes from the shape menu and sorted them by color and shape. Ideally, the teachers would give the children time to explore the app first without instructions. Then, using the teacher iPad projected up front, the teacher could demonstrate a mini lesson on sorting. The follow up would involve the students working in partners to complete the activity. Using the camera option in this app, students can take a screen shot of their work. Ultimately, this could be uploaded to a math journal created in Book Creator. When sharing iPads, my suggestion for this is to create a separate journal for each skill. This way, each child creates a page in the journal. When sorting is finished and you move on to the next skill, a new journal is created. This works for two reasons: 1. It is difficult for young students to create their own books when sharing iPads and 2: As each skill is finished and a new journal is created, it can be saved to the iBook shelf and students can look at all of their classmates’ work and continually review skills that have already been covered.

IMG_2288So, I encourage you to reflect on your own content design. Can it be refreshed and updated? How can you make small changes that might make big impact?

Share your story…do epic stuff!

 

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!

Share your story…do epic stuff!

 

 

Finding Your Story

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.-Maya Angelou

Well, I’ve been a little busy since my last post. Summer is almost over and I’ve been busily plugging away at my doctoral classes and have recently returned from the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Miami. These institutes provide me with inspiration and refill my creative cup to begin a new school year.

once-upon-a-time-719174_640Our institutes often focus on the power of story. We all have one. As a kindergarten teacher working in Charleston, SC, I wasn’t convinced I had a story…and if I did, who would want to hear it? As educators, we neglect our story and we downplay it. We use the word “just” in apologetic tones as if to say, “I’m JUST a teacher”. I found great inspiration in one of our keynote speakers in Miami.  Jason Hall, founder of Slow Roll Detroit, reminded me no story is too small. You can see his story here. My two take aways from his story is “leave no one behind” and “sometimes the journey redefines the destination”.

So, back to the idea of story. Adults aren’t the only ones with a story. My youngest students, even at age 5, have a story. Our job is to nurture that story and help them see their stories matter. Often, we relegate young children to the side because they are “too little ” and they can’t possibly have anything worthwhile to offer. How many times have you said “Yes, uh, huh” absent-mindedly as a child is talking? I’m not pointing fingers here…I’m just as guilty. We are busy people. But, when we do that often enough, we reinforce to that child their story isn’t  worth telling. They become less willing to flex their creative muscles because they don’t feel capable, they don’t have anything to say.

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Jason Hall

Maybe you aren’t comfortable with you whole story yet. Maybe you are working on a verse or two. Here is my current verse. I’m excited to continue to build my story one verse at a time. With a new school year 3 weeks away for me, I’m vowing to lean in more. I’m committing to nurturing the story in my students. I’m committing to nurturing my own story and the stories of others. Jason Hall has it right…roll slow, leave no one behind, and embrace the idea that the journey can redefine the destination. His story started small and as he shared it, it became epic.

 

In other news, I wanted to quickly share a few websites that are great for royalty free, attribution free images.

Pixabay

Morguefile

Photosforclass:  This is student safe and all images come with automatic attribution.

In the spirit of story and my new-found inspiration, my new closing line will be…

Share your story…do epic stuff.

 

Finding Your Passion for Teaching

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.-Nelson Mandela

I am in the third week of my doctoral program and the words I am currently using to describe it are “wonderfully awful”. It is exciting and challenging and….no surprise, a lot of work.  A. Lot. I have spent the last 3 weeks teaching school all day and studying all afternoon and evening…and all day Saturdays and Sundays. At times I look and feel like a zombie.  I am thrilled to have this brief opportunity to turn away from “scholarly writing” to writing in my own voice in this blog post.  It’s a sweet breath of relief. So if it is so wonderfully awful, why then, am I subjecting myself (and those around me) to this significant life change? Why, when I have only four years remaining before I retire from teaching, am I putting myself through this? Don’t think that I haven’t asked myself those same questions more than a few times over the last three weeks. After much reflection, it simply comes down to passion…passion for the art of teaching, passion for helping and empowering others to be more and learn more, passion for lifelong learning, and passion for the meaningful integration of technology into teaching and learning.

Everyone one of you has a journey. Each of you have a passion for what you are doing. Educators have to have passion in order to do what they do. It isn’t an easy calling.  It isn’t an easy art. It is easy to lose your passion, however. How do you keep your passion alive? How do you feed those creative energies that fuel you each day? I am not suggesting that you need to join a doctoral cohort in order to rekindle your passion. This is my journey, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Reading professional texts, visiting other educators, finding a PLN (professional learning network)…all of these things can renew your passions.  One of the texts I highly recommend is Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills-And What We Can Do About It. It is thought provoking and will definitely get you fired up.

IMG_0336As for visiting other classrooms, this can be a truly rewarding experience.  I recently was visited by some wonderful educators in Atlanta. They spent the day observing in my classroom.  Their observations and conversations helped them reflect and plan strategies for moving forward. Sometimes, simply seeing something in person is all you need to spark creative ideas. Educators need to take more time to collaborate and engage in meaningful dialogue with other educators. On the occasions I have visited other classrooms, I have always come away with something that may have seemed very simple, but impacted in big ways. It is worth the effort to get release time from school to engage in personal professional development.

So, where are you at this point in the school year? Are you weary? Are you on autopilot? Do you even know where you are? It’s ok. Our profession is not always equipped to provide us with what we need to be effective, passionate, educators. What steps can you take today to ignite that passion that brought you into this profession? I can’t stress enough how important it is to shake things up at times, to step out of your comfort zone, to stretch, to grow.

You can do it. Let’s change the world.

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

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!

Finding Your Bravery

Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.- Franklin P. Jones

I was thinking that once school was out for the summer, things would settle down a bit…but with 7 presentations and a keynote speech to deliver the first week I was out, it has been anything but quiet.

I was honored to be asked by Jenny Grabiec to give the keynote speech to The Fletcher School in Charlotte and spend a day there with their wonderful educators.  It was a great experience and I met some really dedicated folks there.  The second half of the week, I was also honored to be asked by Margaret Gunter to speak at the iSummit conference in Atlanta.  I gave 6 presentations there on various topics using iPads in the classroom and also met great people.  I found I had a small fan club camped out in the back of my room for the 2 days I was there.  I even managed to slip into a couple of sessions given by others that were inspiring and informative.  The keynote speaker in Atlanta was Angela Maiers and she hit a home run with her Be Brave keynote.

After that week of presenting, I found myself trying to really make sense of all I had experienced. I had done most of the talking for those 5 days, but the conversations with those educators in both cities combined with the sessions I had managed to sit in on, left my head spinning.

My take away from that week was that even though I was the one doing the presenting, the participants were the ones who inspired me.  They are at the heart of the Be Brave rule.  Many are stepping into a classroom in the fall and for the first time will have iPads.  I remember that feeling of excitement at having the devices, but also the fear of what to do with them, AND doing it well.

443429594_872751b5a3_bBravery isn’t something we are born with.  It is something you acquire over time with life experiences.  You can practice being brave by challenging yourself with new experiences.  Life is full of risk and we fear failure.  We carry the weight of our classrooms on our shoulders and struggle under the burden of always being right or successful in our teaching.  But…fear can paralyze us and keep us from trying new things.  It stagnates us and lulls us into ruts and routines.  It also infects our students who learn safety rather than bravery.

One of the blogs I read is by Matt B. Gomez and he wrote about bravery here.  His rule for his students is to Be Brave.  I love this rule and incorporated into my own classroom last year.  But… what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.  We too, have to be brave and step out of our comfort zone.  This is how we grow.  Since I’ve become an Apple Distinguished Educator, I’ve had to dig deep for bravery at times when speaking to a very large group.

The teachers I’ve been with so far this summer are demonstrating bravery. The first step is just showing up!  What do you say?  Is this the summer you sow some brave seeds of change?

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

photo credit:  Creative Commons