Mirror, Mirror, Reflecting on the School Year

I had chosen to use my work as a reflection of my values.
-Sidney Poitier

School is finally out! I have a 10 week summer stretching long before me.  Since this isn’t my first go-round with summer vacation, I know how quickly it vanishes.  I used to make a long list of things I wanted to accomplish both at home and for school.  I would find myself frustrated at the end of summer having accomplished less than half of that list.  Instead, I’ve learned to enjoy the time of no deadlines, no paperwork, no alarm clock and no schedule.  I’ve learned…to reflect.

Teaching, for me, is a calling.  It is rewarding and draining all at the same time.  By the end of the school year, I need to recharge and reconnect with me. Reflection of the year happens slowly over the summer.  At first, I just need to decompress.  I also congratulate myself on the things that went well.  We all need to do that.  Later, I begin to think of things that I could have done differently or that I want to change.  Sometimes, it is just a matter of tweaking something and other times it is more drastic.  Reflection helps us to stand back, out of the fray, and look at things a bit more objectively.

Using iPads the last year and a half has been a major source of my change.  It has definitely been a “learn-as-you-go” operation.  So much of what we have done has gone well and so it is easy to rest on that.  Test scores are up, student achievement is up and parent approval is high.  Those are all things to celebrate, especially in such a short amount of time since implementation.  Still, there is always room for improvement.

I’ve been using iBooks Author to write some leveled texts for my students.  I’ve also written a few books for content areas such as Social Studies, Science and Math.  I wrote many of those toward the end of this year and was unable to utilize them much with my class.  I want to write more books this summer and have them ready to go for student iPads in the fall.  I also want to do more personalization of the books with the students to increase their interest.  My goal is to write a short “All About” book for each student in the fall.

In addition to the iBooks Author, I want to incorporate iMovie and create short videos for students and parents.  I just purchased Roxio Toast 11 so I can burn DVD’s from iMovie.  The new MacBook Pro doesn’t have iDVD. So many skills and some good content can be incorporated when students make their own iMovie.  This also puts their engagement through the roof.

Wow…I’ve been out of school 3 days and I have quite a list.  I’m sure I will work on this and tweak it over the coming weeks.  I can’t wait to see how it will all turn out!

How does reflection work for  you?

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iPads in the Classroom: A Parent’s Perspective

School is officially out for summer. Today’s post was written by Angie Mizzell. Her son Dillon was in my class this year.

“Mom, how many trees are in the world?” my son asked a few weeks ago, as we were driving to school down a two-lane, tree-lined road.

“That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Billions? Trillions? A lot.” And then I remembered a blog post Kristi had written. “I wonder if there’s a way to find out?”

He responded quickly, as if he’d come to the conclusion on his own. “I could type on my iPad, ‘How many trees are there.'”

When my son started school last August, he was still learning letter sounds. Today, as an official kindergarten grad, he’s reading on a first grade level and doing Google searches to find out how many trees exist in the world. (Turns out I’m a good guesser.)

Did the iPad contribute to that? That’s a question for people who collect data. I’m a mom, and I tend to operate under this philosophy: Seeing is believing. And what I’ve seen is a teacher who uses iPads to meet her students where they are and take them as far as they can go.

I visited the classroom earlier in the year, and it felt familiar to me—a mix of what I recall about kindergarten and first grade combined: Students writing on primary ruled paper, breaking up into smaller, focused reading groups and playing in centers (think blocks and housekeeping). And of course, the children were oozing with cuteness.

I watched a child at the SMART Board, building words by dragging letters from the bottom of the screen. I was intrigued by how engaged my son appeared while working on his iPad.

It’s the natural evolution of things. Today, when my child walks around with a notebook and a pencil (his journal, he says) recording thoughts, I realize the “old” and the “new” can coexist.

My son represents the future, and I’m encouraged by what I see.

Change and Relevance

Make sure that our methodology is not simply packaging old wine in new bottles. Teaching today requires a whole new vineyard.-Robert Meehan

Are you someone who embraces change?  Perhaps it depends on the circumstances.  Regardless of the situation, change happens. Sometimes it happens slowly…giving us time to adapt and accept.  Sometimes, it happens in a split second, leaving us to wonder what in the world just happened.

Recently I was discussing maps with my students.  It is a state standard in Social Studies.  We were doing a pirate themed unit and I couldn’t think of a better way to talk about maps than in the context of digging up a buried treasure. During the discussion and the showing of this awesome pirate treasure map (courtesy of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World), I noticed my students seemed a bit puzzled, maybe even skeptical.  I stopped and asked what was the problem.  One of them said, “Why didn’t the pirate just use a GPS?”  Someone else said, ” The Maps App on my iPad would show them where to go too.”  Hmmm….are maps (the old school kind that I can never fold correctly) becoming obsolete?

Technology makes our lives easier and faster in many ways. Technological advancements in medicine and business have changed the world.  So why are so many reluctant to change the way we educate children?  Money, or lack of it, is always one response.  What if you went to work and found your computers and telephones were suddenly gone.  Sorry…we just can’t afford those fancy things.  How would you do business? Could you still get the work accomplished? Perhaps…with paper and pencil, snail mail and couriers. Technology makes our work more efficient.  It also makes my teaching more efficient.  It makes their learning more engaging and accessible.

As we seek to educate children and prepare them for a successful life as an adult, we cannot pretend that technology doesn’t matter.  One at risk high school in my district that uses iPads, recovered over 700 days of instruction in just the second semester this school year that were previously lost due to discipline issues.

Today, I locked up my class iPads for the summer.  I wheeled them down the hall to be stored for the summer.  We have only 2 half days of school remaining.  I’m already making a list of things I want to do next year.  I want to do more with iMovie and iBooks Author.  Part of staying relevant means growing a new vineyard.  My teaching practices have changed as my students needs change.  Next year will bring new challenges.  I will hopefully be ready….after a nice 10 week summer vacation, of course.

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Write This Way

I am a writer. – Jayde, age 6

I’m not a writer. I didn’t go to journalism school and I have no proper credentials that certify me as a writer.  I haven’t immersed myself in the study or practice of writing.  So how can I expect my students to view themselves as a writer if I don’t even view myself as one?

Maybe the problem lies in how one defines “writer”.  I think my perception in the past has been that writers are trained and paid for their work.  Since I’ve been using the Writer’s Workshop approach to writing, I’ve learned that we are all writers.  Writers write every day. Writers share their ideas.  Writers write on a variety of topics and writers are good readers.   As educators, we have to remember that our attitudes are conveyed to our students.  I want my students to be excited about writing.  When I start Writer’s Workshop each day, I call my “writers” to the carpet and I ask them in conferences to share with me what they are learning about themselves as a writer.  In turn, I model writing for them.  I think aloud about writing ideas.  I model what I do when I get “stuck”.  I model writing on a chart tablet and on my iPad.  If I think of a writing idea in the middle of math, I jot it down on a sticky note or in my Notes app.  I tell them to do the same.  I blog here and I blog with them on KidBlog.  We talk about what good writers do and we use mentor texts as examples.

My modeling has been fruitful.  My students write every day.  They write about a variety of topics and for a variety of purposes. They write fiction and non-fiction.  They write stories on paper and on their iPads.  They make lists.  They make books in eBook Magic and on Pages.  They write personal narratives and one even wrote a song. They blog with each other.  They fill one page and ask for another.  And another.

They have no doubt they are writers.  It never occurs to them to think they aren’t. They write and they share. They encourage one another.  They have all the necessary tools.  They have training.  All they need now is to get paid!

Hey wait!  Can I get in on that too?

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Reflecting on Student Growth and Achievement

I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.-Marie Curie

Recently, I was looking at photographs taken of my students on the first day of school. They looked so little and baby-faced.  It was amazing to see them then and to see how much they have grown this year.  They are taller and their faces have changed.  Because I am with them all day, every day, the change wasn’t as evident.

The same goes for their work.  They work hard all year and little bit, by little bit, progress is seen.  Several years ago, I started keeping a writing portfolio of student work.  I save a writing sample from each child, each month.  At the end of the year, I put them all together in a portfolio to send home to parents.  It is so wonderful to look through the pages and see the growth that occurred throughout the year.  We start on the first day of school:

Students write their names and draw a picture of themselves.  If they are able to, many will write on or label their pictures.  Each month, growth is evident.  By the end, it will look something like this:

What a difference 9 months makes!  It looks so easy, yet a lot of hard work went into this progress. Many times I ask myself, “Are we there yet?” It takes looking at the beginning to appreciate the end product.

How do iPads fit into this? The iPads were used as a companion in both the Reading and Writing Workshop.  Students used them for reference, for reading, and even some writing.  The apps provided them with practice in reading and spelling, which in turn, helped them in their writing.  Their writing on the iPad has been incorporated into their blogging experience, in their creation of books in eBook Magic and in Pages.  While they tend to write more prolifically on paper, they do enjoy writing on their iPads.  It has also given them some beginning keyboarding skills.

They have had a variety of experiences in using iPads, reading books, class discussions, writing stories, using anchor charts, partner work, and various other literacy-building activities.  The key words here are “variety of experiences”.  When you immerse students in a literacy-rich environment, incorporate a systematic approach to reading and writing, and differentiate instruction with iPad technology, students can’t help but succeed!

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PaperPort Anywhere

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. -A. A. Milne

One of the few challenges we have faced in implementing iPads has been the inability to get work off of the iPad.   Our district network is not set up to allow student email at this time, although I hear it is in the works.  Teachers are able to send email but students are not.  Dropbox is also not available as an option through our network. There are times when I have photographed student work with my iPad camera so that it is on my iPad.  We have also set up class wikis so that we can upload items to the wiki for a variety of uses.

On PaperPort, I have created a variety of folders.  Each child has a folder and I have a folder for images as well as iBooks that I have created on iBooks Author. The original account is created online at the PaperPort website. The PaperPort App is free and is downloaded on each student iPad.  As students create work or books to be saved, they choose to open the document in PaperPort and upload it to their folder.  It’s very simple and my kindergarten students can all do it themselves.  They are also able to go into the PaperPort app and download books that I’ve uploaded into their own iBooks libraries.

From Paperport, I am able share documents with parents or administrators as needed.  The iBooks I have created, I have shared with my grade-level team through PaperPort.  They simply go to the folder and download it to their student iPads.  This app makes it easy to scan, organize and share documents.

With a classroom full of busy children, we all need a little easy!

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Just the Facts: Student Data and Achievement

Decisions should be based on facts, objectively considered. -Marvin Bower

I posted here recently my students’ reading scores.  Obviously, we are excited about them.  Student achievement and closing the achievement gap is our top priority.  School-wide, our MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) scores are up.  What other positive things are we seeing school-wide?  Most striking is our copy paper expenses dropped $15,000 from last year.  Our number of  copies dropped from 400,000 to just at 100,000.  Teachers are able to reduce paper and copying by using the iPads.  Many are uploading activities as a PDF to a class wiki.  Students access the wiki with iPads, complete the activity in a  PDF annotating app and then either upload to PaperPort or to the district WebDav.  School discipline referrals went from around 400 last year to around 100 this year.   The 3 high schools in our district that are using iPads also see decreases in paper usage, copying, and discipline referrals.  Obviously, something good is going on.

Clearly the iPads are making an impact at my school.  There will always be people who feel the iPads are not worth the investment, or who question the validity of them in the classroom.  I read articles and blogs daily that dismiss iPads in the classroom as a flash in the pan.  Technology changes so rapidly and it is necessary to keep up in today’s global society.  Will iPads be around in 5 years?  I have no idea.  Will there be a better technology out there for the classroom in that time?  Maybe…but if we wait until the “newest, better version” comes out, we won’t ever buy anything.  The laptop I’m typing this blog post on will be discontinued, outdated, replaced or obsolete in less than 5 years.  I guess the way I look at it is whatever the technology is it needs to be engaging and relevant to learning.  In the Stone Age, a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used in the manufacture of implements with a sharp edge, or a point, that was some serious technology!  That age lasted about 2.5 million years.  The creation of the wheel, the combustion engine and the first main frame computer were all significant technology advances.  We have to be willing to change with the times.

I have no way of knowing what the long term impact of iPads will be on education.  What I do know right now is that our school data is showing early trends of iPad success.  Behind every number in that data pool is a student with an iPad and that student has a name.  I’m not sure who would be willing to look that child in the face and tell them he or she isn’t worth the investment.  Good teaching is good teaching.  Our data is indicative that iPads in our classrooms is good teaching…on steroids!

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The Experts Speak

Everyone’s an expert. -Seth Godin

My very seasoned kindergartners are total iPad experts.  They know all the tricks.  They are able to put apps in folders, search for apps quickly using the search screen, save images from the internet, import images into a Pages document, save the document on PaperPort, take a screen shot, use the camera, save a document as  PDF, and if I would let them, they could probably order a pizza from Pizza Hut or a movie from Netflix.  As with all experts, they love to share what they know with others.  In their own words, they are sharing their advice for using iPads with next year’s kindergarten students and with you.

Always carry the iPad with two hands for safetyness.-Jason age 6

Never pick your nose and touch the iPad screen. That is gross. -Hagan age 6

Keep the volume on low or the teacher takes it away. -Parker Jane age 6

It is never ok to stomp on the iPad or throw it. -Kade age 6

There are lots of cool apps and you can learn very lots.-Amantay age 6

You will like the iPad so much you will want one for Christmas, but your parents will say no.  -Ella age 5

Don’t share your ear buds with anyone because your earwax is disgusting. -Jacob age 6

There were more, but these are the highlights.  They also had good things to say about how they can read a lot on the iPad, write stories, use it for learning new things, work on projects with other students, learn math and science, and blog with others.  Can you imagine being a 5 or 6 year old, and already know how to do the things these children can do? Next year in first grade, they will continue to grow in their skills and knowledge.

With all of this wonderful technology, comes responsibility.  Just as we aren’t gaining all of our adult knowledge from our smart phones, laptops and mobile devices, our students also need to learn from multiple sources.  Social skills, responsible behavior, courtesy, manners, and interpersonal relationships aren’t learned on the iPad.  Teachers and parents are role models for our children.  We still need to take our children outside and show them nature, curl up and read real books together, play board games together, ask children what they think and why they think that, model appropriate electronic device manners (put it away when you are at dinner or having a personal conversation), and model how and when it is appropriate to use technology.  While my students are very knowledgeable on the workings of the iPad and they are gaining 21st century skills in kindergarten, my role is more important than ever.

Being an expert often means someone who knows a lot about the past.  Moving into the future, means we all learn together.  Technology changes by the millisecond.  I have no doubt that my students will be on top of every advancement.  I just hope I can keep up!

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Developing Strong Readers

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King

My students are readers.  They read everything they see. They read books in the reading center, they read books in guided reading, they read anchor charts all over our classroom, they read books in the science center, and they read on their iPads. I model writing each day during Writing Workshop on a chart tablet.  When I fill the tablet, I put it in the reading center for them to read.  It is fair to say, they read in some way all day long.

One of the free apps we enjoy by GrasshopperApps.com is I Like Books.  This is a collection of 37 picture books that cover a variety of topics on things children like, such as, animals, drawing, music, planes, snow, trains, pets, trucks, etc…You can add your own voice by recording the entire story.  There are word highlights, and 3 play-back modes-read to me, read by myself, and auto-play.

The I Like Books App is just one of the reading options we have on our iPads.  In addition to the books I’ve written in iBooks Author that have been uploaded to their iBooks libraries, they have LAZ leveled books, plus other individual books of interest such as Toy Story, Dr. Seuss books, some books by Story Chimes, Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer, and books by Learn to Read. The children have created a few books of their own through eBook Magic that are also available in their iBooks library.

When we immerse young children in literacy-rich classrooms, the foundation of basic early literacy concepts, skills and positive attitudes are developed.  This concept of literacy immersion centers on the idea that children need to exist in a literature-friendly environment. Reading and writing are critical modes of communication in all areas of life.  When we incorporate inter-disciplinary connections to literacy, we increase student success.

Setting up the classroom for literacy immersion is  deliberate and carefully planned.  Children observe the teacher modeling reading and writing, they participate with the teacher in shared reading and writing and they participate in independent reading and writing activities all throughout the day.

As children develop and strengthen their early literacy skills, they are also expanding vocabulary and writing skills, developing longer attention spans, enhancing creative thinking skills, and enhancing their memory skills.

My children would just say they are having fun.

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Knowledge is Power: Students Taking Charge of Their Own Learning

Research is creating new knowledge.-Neil Armstrong

We have been studying the rainforest.  Kids love animals and the plethora of exotic animals in the rainforest creates instant interest and curiosity.  One day the wonderment and inquiry had reached fever pitch.  “Does the poison arrow frog have any predators?” ” How big is a giant anteater anyway?” “Are howler monkeys nocturnal or diurnal?” And my personal favorite question that was asked, “How does chocolate come from the rainforest?” I started writing down all of our questions so that we could figure out how we would solve them.  Before I finished, someone said, “I think we should look on Safari on our iPads.” Someone else immediately asked if they could “research” rainforest to find some answers.  Do you see the rich vocabulary here?  These questions and statements are not being paraphrased.  This is what happens when children feel empowered to take charge of their own learning. I barely had nodded yes to the research question when my room looked like the start line at the Boston Marathon.  Someone found a website on Safari that had several rainforest animals.  Peer sharing began immediately.  The students started finding images and information about animals that interested them.  They helped each other and they were engaged, focused and excited.  Without me giving any directions…on their own they started saving images and importing them into Pages.  They debated font size, picture size and word choice.  I facilitated, checked-in with groups, answered a few questions and mostly just let them have at it.  Their conversation was rich with the language of inquiry. They worked on this for over an hour before we had to stop. After lunch they came back to it and worked until they finished.  Here is one student’s work that is finished. Keep in mind these children are 5 years old and have no keyboarding skills other than “hunt and peck”.

This lesson was completely student-driven.  It all started with me reading a non-fiction book on the rainforest.  My plan was to go in a different direction but once the questions started, I knew my plan was out the window and we were headed down a different path.  But…isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?  Inquiry-based learning teaches problem solving and critical thinking skills. It develops student ownership of their learning and builds student interest in the subject matter.  Inquiry allows students to create their own knowledge. The iPads give the accessibility needed for each student to do the research.  With only 4 computers in our class just 2 years ago, this would have never been possible.

I’ve been asked what happens when the children become bored with the iPads.  They say, “Oh, it’s a source of fascination now, but what happens when it no longer is?”  My answer to that is two fold.  First, if it is being used as a toy and not a learning tool, then it will gather dust on a shelf somewhere.  However, if it is integrated into the curriculum properly, it will be as valuable to students as our own laptops, smartphones, and computers are to us as adults.   When was the last time you used a phone book to look up a phone number or address?

My friends, knowledge is power.  Our students are overflowing with wonder and an urgency to learn.  We need to equip them with all the tools necessary to be successful.

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