Using iPads to Work and Learn Together

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. -Henry Ford

Ah yes….working together….I can’t help but be reminded of the the preschool song “the more we get together the happier we’ll be”.  Working together, planning together, and achieving goals together is a beautiful thing.  It is not, however, something that is always done easily and it does require planning and effort.

We have been diligently working and planning together in our class.  Besides working on instructional goals, we are also working on our soft skills.  It is never too soon to work with children on their “EQ”…emotional intelligence quotient.  These are the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.  They complement hard skills.  Learning these skills now help transition them into adolescence and adulthood. In today’s world,  soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.

That being said, it takes time and planning to build community in a classroom full of egocentric 5 year olds.  We have been working on planning our day, working together on activities and projects as well as sharing with each other our completed work and work in progress.  This involves listening to each other, offering praise and helpful suggestions (helpful being the operative word).  This takes modeling and practice!

This week, we shifted from writing the plan for our day on a PDF on our iPads to actually typing it in the Notes app.  This has been very efficient and the kids feel “grown up” making a real list by typing.  They have their 5 “must do’s” listed on the Smart Board and they choose the order in which they want to complete them.  Currently, I am assigning the apps, but soon they will be choosing which apps to use to complete the assignment.  smartboard captureThe picture cues to the right assist them if they forget as they move through the day.  Kids are working individually, in pairs, or small groups by their own choice all throughout the day.

Here is a sample of the word work created on this particular day in the Magnetic Alphabet app.  The kids take a screen shot when finished and upload to Showbie for me to check later.

magetic abc workHere are 2 Pic Collage examples from a different day using the vocabulary words “mitten” and “cold”.

cold pic collage

Mitten pic collageOnce the students draw their pictures in Drawing Pad app, they save to their camera roll and upload into Pic Collage.  They then type the sentence using the vocabulary words for each picture.  They save it and upload to Showbie.

This schedule allows for a lot of collaborative time with each other and with me.  I am able to conference with children, assess, work with small groups and facilitate all throughout the day.  Because students have many opportunities to work collaboratively and interact with each other, we can practice modeling those soft skills we are learning about each day.

By setting up the classroom environment to reflect the values of learning through choice and collaboration, students are able to learn valuable skills that will carry them into the future.

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

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Cooperative Learning and iPads

The things that make me different are the things that make me.- A. A. Milne

collaboration 3When it comes to tattling, I have the “blood, fire, vomit” rule.  You know, don’t come tell me unless there is blood, fire or vomit.  This generally works very well.  They’ve learned what is important to tell me and what is small stuff.  Cooperative learning isn’t always smooth sailing.  5 year olds have a casual relationship with sharing and taking turns.  There are many times group activities have the potential to turn into a major disruption unless the activity is set up just right.

With iPads, cooperative learning is a breeze.  My kids look forward to working with others.  They love sharing, watching what their friends are doing and they love being “an expert” and showing others how to do things.  Each child has something unique to bring to the group. Because they feel confident, they all participate.  Today, we paired with another kindergarten class and my students worked with those students to teach them how to make books.  This is the second time in 2 weeks 50 kids have come together in one classroom to learn from each other.  There was plenty of conversation but there was no whining, tattling, or complaining.  One hour of no tattling in a class of 50 kindergarten students is nothing short of a miracle.  collaboration 2

As we begin to personalize learning and students are excited about what they are learning, it seems natural that many negative behaviors will go by the wayside.  As learners actively participate in the design of their learning and have a voice in what they learn, they take ownership.  They build a network of peers, teachers, and others to guide and support their learning.  Think back to the last professional development training you had that really engaged you and spoke to you…you were focused and energized, and hopefully excited about the possibilities of what you learned.  In contrast, think back to the last training you had that was not so engaging.  Did you stay focused or were you more inclined to check Facebook on your phone or talk to those around you?  Our students are no different.

As we here in the US move through our winter doldrums, let’s find ways to connect with the passions of our students.  It all starts with them.  The more we give them a choice and voice in their own learning, the less we have to use the “blood, fire and vomit” rule.  I, for one, am ALL for that!

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Teamwork

A single leaf working alone provides no shade. -Chuck Page

Even with a full time teaching assistant in my classroom, there are times when I could use a few extra hands.  25 kindergarten students often makes me feel like an octopus with arms going in all different directions at once.  We are 14 days into the school year, nearly 3 weeks.  I have some students who immediately fell into our class routines and procedures.  By now, most know what to do…however, there are a small handful who still need guidance. They are easily confused and have that deer-in-the-headlights look when I give directions. This is not uncommon and in time, all falls into place.  Fortunately, I have a few “Mother Hens” in my classroom who know just what to do and they assist those who need a little extra help.

Using the iPads is no different.  I have many students who are already pretty iPad savvy and a few who are still working on it.  Without me asking, the students are quick to help each other and show them how to find something or do something.  As one student helps another, the peer coaching aspect strengthens both students. Students are already learning to ask a friend before asking me.

One app we have used in partner activities is ABC Magnetic Board.  It is $4.99, but with the Apple Volume Purchase Program you can get it for almost half.  The app has upper and lower case letters in 4 languages, numbers, shapes, diacritics, signs and symbols, 5 sets of toys: summer, party, night, snowy winter and Christmas, and more than 15 backgrounds.  The pictures created can be saved to the camera roll also.  We have students partner up and spell names, sight words, match upper and lower case letters, and beginning sounds using the pictures in the app.  There is a free version, but it is pretty limited.  At this point in the year with a wide range of abilities in my room, this app allows differentiation for students on different skill levels.  It also allows cooperative learning.  This app is better than the classic version of refrigerator magnets because each letter can be used multiple times (and pieces don’t get lost!)

As my students work to become “experts” on a variety of tasks and skills, knowing there is a helping hand nearby encourages children to try new things and step out of their comfort zone.  It is part of our classroom culture to work together as a family.  Family members help each other.  Watching my students work together this early in the school year, I know there will be many great things to come.

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I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Have you ever had a divine, glorious, light-coming- down- from -the- heavens moment? One that says, “YES!  They finally get it!”  A recent student conversation was music to my ears:

Tahra: “Mrs. Meeuwse, I think I need help spelling the word ‘children’.”

Ansley (before I could respond to Tahra): “I saw that word in a book I was reading today.  I can get it and show it to you.” Ansley goes directly to the book and brings it back. Opens it right to the page and points out the word “children”.

Tahra: “Thanks, Ansley.  That was helpful.” Such nice manners!

What!?  This conversation was awesome on many levels but  I was truly delighted they worked together and solved a problem without me!

Cooperative learning creates an environment of active, involved, exploratory learning. It also develops social skills and higher order thinking skills.  Creating an environment where cooperative learning takes place all throughout the day is important.  It builds student confidence knowing they aren’t alone.  Using iPads, students are constantly teaching each other (and me!) how to do something.  This sharing of information and exploration is seamless as we move throughout the day.

Tahra and Ansley reversed roles a little later.  Ansley thought of some ideas for her blog posts and wanted to write them down.  Tahra showed her how to make a list in the Notes app on her iPad.  The children enjoy  helping each other.  Problem solving skills are also being reinforced, not to mention my name is called a few times less each day.  They are learning to “ask the experts” in the classroom.

John Lennon was right. We all need some help from our friends. I know I do and I have 26 little friends who are there when needed!