Creativity and the iPad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Time To Call An Expert

In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn-Phil Collins

Under phylogenetic taxonomy, dinosaurs are usually defined as the group consisting of Triceratops, Neornithes [modern birds], their most recent common ancestor (MRCA), and all descendants.  It has also been suggested that Dinosauria be defined with respect to the MRCA of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon, because these were two of the three genera cited by Richard Owen when he recognized the Dinosauria.

IMG_0484Um…what?  I am no expert on dinosaurs. I know enough to get by, but I am completely unimpressive to Tre.  Tre is my in-class dino-phile.  He knows all, and I do mean all, about dinosaurs.  He has tried hard not to look at me condescendingly this week as we learn about these “terrible lizards”.  Tre has written about, talked about, read about, and drawn about dinosaurs this whole year.  You can imagine his bliss as we all focus on them this week.

IMG_0482While a lot of my students are knowledgeable about dinosaurs, there are a lot of misconceptions.  It is hard for them to comprehend that dinosaurs pre-existed humans. We are learning from our work and we are learning from each other.  As always, we have voice and choice in our learning.  Tre chose to write about dinosaurs (above) on paper.  Another student chose to make a Pic Collage (at right).  Others chose to make an Explain Everything.  (see bottom of page).

Dinosaurs are always a topic of great interest.  Using  surveys at the beginning of the school year is a good way to find out about your students’ areas of interest.  This makes them part of the curriculum planning process and part of the decision-making process in their learning.  In the learning community of this classroom, the students learn from me, I learn from them, and they learn from each other.  We all have expertise in something and by giving Tre the opportunity to shine this week, he is buoyed by the confidence of his classmates.  My students all know who to go to as the “Expert” of various things in our class.  This gives my students responsibility, buy-in, leadership and best of all…it forces them to work on solving their own problems rather than coming to me all the time.

I’ve said before that the Explain Everything app is awesome.  (Created by a fellow Apple Distinguished Educator). It really gives you a sense of what a child is thinking when they have to explain their thinking.  Here is Hope, explaining everything about dinosaurs. She is definitely one of my class experts on this app.

In what area(s) are you an expert?  Do your students know who the experts are in your classroom? Do student interests help drive your curriculum choices?  All of these are good questions to reflect on as many of us are ending the school year.

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

We “Arrr” Taking Charge Of Our Own Learning, Mateys!

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.-Robert Frost

Seriously, could the end of a school year be any busier?  Lists and lists of things to get done in the remaining 15 days.  As badly as I need to do those things, I still have the small matter (ahem) of teaching these kids who just keep showing up.  🙂

pirateOne of the small joys of teaching little people is their seemingly endless curiosity.  We have extended our ocean unit into a week on Pirates.  They have tons of questions about them.  Living in a city rich with pirate history allows me to share some of the stories of Blackbeard and his time here in Charleston.

My students have loved looking at pictures of different Jolly Rogers and even creating their own.  One group worked on creating their own treasure map after researching different ones online.  They discussed the “necessary components” including the compass rose, the “X” that marks the spot, the need to put the treasure in a safe place and how to find their treasure by marking the “paces” on the map.  These mini mateys collaboratively researched and created their map.

We have a list of “must-do” activities each day and a list of “may-do” activities.  The children schedule their day with their planning sheets.  Part of their “may-do” was to create the treasure map.  There were no specific guidelines and it was their own decision to work together.

My role as facilitator has enabled me to watch them make their own pirate pic collagedecisions and problem solve both individually and together.  One student created a Pic Collage to demonstrate some pirate vocabulary words.  He drew the illustrations in Doodle Buddy and imported them into Pic Collage and then added his sentences.  During the time students are working on their individual plans for the day,  my assistant and I are able to work with small groups, have student conferences and assess if needed.

Watching my students planning their day, working together with others, solving problems and making decisions about their own learning, I know they are ready to sail to first grade.

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

Reaching Different Learning Styles With The iPad

We learn to do something by doing it.-John Holt

I’ve been teaching myself Spanish.  I’ve used a variety of methods, including Rosetta Stone.  All have taught me some good basic Spanish; however, nothing has helped me more than having actual conversation in Spanish.  Well, conversation may be a bit overstated…I’m ok as long as the other person speaks very slowly and we only use the present tense.  It’s definitely a process.

How do you learn best?  For me, it depends on what I am learning.  Sometimes I need to take notes, other times I need to think out loud.  Some things are easier to learn with another person while with other things, I need to be alone.  My guess is most of us have different styles for learning depending on what it is we are working on.

Our students are no different.  They all learn different things in different ways and at different rates.  Kids today learn from a variety of sources.  They learn from television, peers, computers, video games, and social media.  Technology in our classrooms allow our students to explore different approaches to learning.

We have spent some time learning about the rainforest.  I recently blogged about how my students use planning sheets to map out their day and their learning experiences.  To share some of their knowledge gained about the rainforest, my kids chose which creation app to use and then demonstrated their knowledge through the iPad. Below are ways 2 different children chose to share with me what they have learned.

rainforest pic collage

popplet rainforest

One child chose to use Doodle Buddy and Pic Collage and the other chose to make a Popplet and import it into a Pages document. Other students in my class chose different ways.  A few chose Explain Everything, a few chose Book Creator and some chose to use drawing paper, crayons and pencils.  When students have choices they see themselves as participants and contributors to their own education.

My students, even in kindergarten, like the ability and the responsibility of making these choices about their school day.  Some of the choices given to them are “must-do’s” and some are “may-do’s”.  One child wrote about planning her day in Writer’s Workshop.

PL writingMotivating students to achieve can be difficult in this hyper-paced world.  Giving students choices to work and learn in the manner that best suits them makes them stake holders in their own education.  One of the best ways to learn something is by doing it.  Let’s go for it!

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

Organizing for Writing on the iPad

Why do anything unless it is going to be great? -Peter Block

We have been learning about the rainforest and my students are excited and engaged in learning all about the animals in the various layers.  Recently, the students wanted to write about the rainforest and they seemed to be having trouble narrowing their focus.  Someone said, “My brain is all busy with so many animals.”

poppletAs adults, it can often be overwhelming as we try to process large chunks of information.  I have to make lists or use sticky notes to keep it all straight.  We all have different strategies for managing the information and processing it.  Young children need to be taught how to organize themselves and their thoughts for writing.

One of the apps we use as a visual organizer is Popplet LiteIt is a free mapping app that allows you to brainstorm and capture your thoughts quickly.  The full version of Popplet is $4.99 and offers many other options, including online collaboration, however, the lite version is just fine for our uses.  The popplet above, was created by a student to help her organize her thoughts on writing about the rainforest.  She saved that to her camera roll and then imported it into Pages to write.  pages and popplet

This is her first page of writing.  She wants to add a new page for each of the animals shown in her Popplet.  By adding the Popplet to her Pages document, she now has a visual reminder of what she wants to write about. She can just continue to refer back to it.

Each child had a choice in how they wanted to share their knowledge.  Some choose Book Creator, some chose Pic Collage and some chose Pages.  They all went on Safari and found the images they wanted and saved them to their camera roll.  They also had a choice to organize their pre-writing thoughts in Popplet or on paper.

Because they have choice in this activity, they are very engaged and excited to share with each other what they’ve learned.  The finished products will be reflective of their creative energies and knowledge gained.  It will be far superior work than if I had dictated how and what they would do…after all, when they have choice, they take ownership.

If we are going to ask our students to demonstrate what they know, it should be in meaningful ways so that in the very act of demonstration, they are extending their learning.  Getting organized is a great place to start!

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

Dear Diary

For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading-May Sarton

dear-diaryI always liked the idea of a journal.  I say the idea of a journal because, despite my best intentions, I can’t seem to keep at it.  I always start with great enthusiasm but then it fades and I put it aside. I think it’s because my hand gets tired of writing and my writing is pretty messy.  I love paper and pens and beautiful blank books with endless lines just waiting for my life stories to be recorded.  A friend of mine gave me a beautiful leather bound journal that I love to hold and look at and imagine all of the things I will probably never write in there.   This blog is the closest I will come to a real journal, I’m afraid.

My students journal daily as part of their center time.  They have a choice of writing on paper or writing on their iPads.  We use an app called iDiary for Kids.  iDiary is a journaling platform where students can write personal journal entries, draw pictures or upload images from the camera roll.  Stickers are also available to enhance the page.  The kids can personalize their journal by choosing cover color and an animal icon for the front.  They can even choose font and font size. They like that there is a password (which I set the same for all.)

Journal writing is a great way for students to record the events of their day and use sequencing skills to do so.  Students who are reluctant writers are motivated to write in the app.  Students have voice and choice in their writing by choosing paper or iPad.  They also have choices in topics, pictures, look and style. Some of my students enjoy writing about whatever theme we are discussing in class, others write about family events, favorite activities or what they’ve done during the school day.  wells idiaryJournal writing is a chance for a child to explore his/her mind.  It develops communication skills and strengthens the reading-writing connection.  By having kids write every day in their journal, we are building stamina for writing longer pieces. In November, my students were writing 1-2 sentences over 15 minutes and they thought that was looong.  Now, they sit for 20 minutes to an hour writing and writing and writing.  Because their keyboarding skills are so emergent, they type far less than they will write on paper.  It isn’t unusual at all for my kids to get up and get a second or third sheet of paper when writing.

Developing strong writers and readers is critical to life long learning.  iPads give my children choices in their learning.  When children can take charge of their own learning, they are automatically engaged.

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

Help Wanted

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.-Ronald Reagan



I recently found myself in a situation where I didn’t know how to do something with one of our new apps.  I could have probably figured it out if I devoted all of my attention and time to it but knew there was someone who already knew just how to do it.  So rather than spend precious time trying to figure it out, I just went to Ella. Ella is an expert at figuring things out on the iPad.  She never lets me down and if she doesn’t know the answer right away, she persists and comes back to me, usually 10.4 seconds later with the answer.  We all need an Ella…she is like a real-life Siri, only way cuter.

Working together as a community of learners benefits everyone.  Today, my class partnered with a second grade class to demonstrate how to use an app.  The second grade class had just gotten Explain K and 2 largeEverything which is an app my kids are already familiar with. It was a great activity watching 5 year olds teaching 7 and 8 year olds.  My kids were very nonchalant about the whole thing…like it is no big deal to teach older kids, because to them it’s not.  Even better, was the second graders didn’t seem to mind being taught by the younger children.  Once again, there were 50 kids in my classroom and all were engaged and on task.

How do we create an environment where teachers learn from students and students learn from each other, regardless of their age?  We allow the experts to share what they know.  The students in my class know which child in my class can help them with a variety of needs.  Everyone has their own area of expertise.  Students are engaged in a way that provokes conversation.  Students are invested in their learning because they are able to make choices about how they learn.  The adults don’t have to always be in charge and they recognize that students have a lot to offer, even if they are 5 years old.  The learner knows it is ok to make mistakes and the teacher gives the children the opportunity to create…surprise me!

My kindergarten students have many years before they enter college and then the job market.  They have much to learn in the coming years.  They also need to learn how to work with people both younger and older than themselves.  Working cooperatively with peers, and eventually co-workers is a critical life skill.  Today’s teacher doesn’t have to have all the answers.  We just need to be able to ask an expert…even if that expert still needs a booster seat 🙂

Hope helps 2nd grade

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

Technology Infused Classrooms

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Luc landformsWhat does a technology-infused classroom look like?  If it’s done correctly, the technology becomes invisible.  It is seamless.  The teacher scaffolds and creates a curriculum-based lesson, then steps back and allows the students to make the magic.

In my classroom, I’ve  intentionally modeled procedures and through the gradual release of responsibility, my students are independent during their work time.  I’m not interrupted while teaching guided reading groups as students incorporate peer collaboration into their skill sets.  Once my students have learned how to use their apps, they are able to then demonstrate their learning in a creative way they choose.

It is not uncommon to see students in the reading center reading eBooks on their iPads asElla making a book well as regular paper books.  At the writing center, there will be children making books in Book Creator as well as writing out long hand on paper.  Ella, pictured at right, chose to skip her free choice centers today to go write a book on her iPad.  On Monday, she chose to write about her weekend news during Writer’s Workshop.  She wrote 6 pages on lined paper.  Her method of delivery differs but she is demonstrating the skills

With a technology infused classroom, students can make their own decisions.  They are engaged and motivated.  In kindergarten, the infusion is slow and deliberate.  It becomes a natural part of our every day routine so that we don’t have to work at it.  We don’t have “iPad time”.  It an extension of our learning. We don’t just add technology and stir.  We use the technology for information, research, collaboration and creation of products.

By being deliberate, having a plan, and empowering your students, creating a technology infused classroom is easy.

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

Hope Explains More

hom·o·phone : a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, as heir  and air.

kids laughingIf you want a sure-fire way to make a class of kindergarten students laugh you need only say “underwear”, “poop” or “naked”.  This will result in uncontrolled, hysterical whooping and laughing.  We recently added the sight word “but” to our list and that immediately created some wide eyes and giggling.  I had added a “bad word” to our list.  What was I thinking?

We immediately launched into a lesson on homophones. This is a complicated concept for my students because they don’t realize words can sound the same but be spelled differently and mean different things.  We came up with a few together on an anchor chart to help them visualize this.  We will add to this as we come across other words, hopefully not as scandalous as “but” and “butt”.

These class conversations combined with the anchor charts help them make concrete connections to otherwise nebulous concepts.  My students are not experts on homophones now, but they have been exposed to the concept and hopefully, with the creation of the anchor chart, it will cause them to stop and think when confronted with another word that is confusing.

In a recent post, I extolled the virtues of our Explain Everything app. One of my students, Hope, was very articulate in her explanation of her annotated illustration.  Hope was vexed by the whole “but” “butt” issue and wanted to Explain Everything about these words that was creating such consternation in our classroom.  Please allow Hope to explain more:

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For the Love of Words…

The limits of my language are the limits of my universe-Goethe

Kaylee vocabWe are at the point in the school year where my students are able to read most of their sight words and are able to decode many others.  As we flex our thinking muscles, we are working on increasing vocabulary words.

Students learn vocabulary words informally when they are immersed in a word rich environment. Anchor charts with rich words and lists of synonyms can be used to create a word rich environment. Students learn new words through rich conversations, personal reading and daily experiences with read aloud texts.

We are working to increase our Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary during literacy centers.  Students are given 4 vocabulary words that go along with our thematic unit.  In the example above, the words were love, heart, friend and valentine.  The children had to write a sentence in Pic Collage to show they understood the word and then they illustrated their sentence in Doodle Buddy and imported it into the Pic Collage.  They will also be allowed to look for pictures on Safari to demonstrate words soon.  (I was a little hesitant to have them look up images for valentines words…) After they created their Pic Collage, they shared it with their team and read the sentences of the other children.  A colleague of mine uses Strip Designer with her first graders to demonstrate their vocabulary words.  Either of these apps work great.  You can save the work to the photo library or upload to PaperPort to demonstrate workflow.

To teach vocabulary, we must use rich and robust instruction through multiple exposures. Children who acquire a substantial vocabulary are often able to think more deeply, express themselves better, and learn new things more quickly. They are also very likely to be successful not only learning to read, but also in reading at or above grade level throughout their school years.

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