We’ve Only Just Begun

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” -Walt Disney

Just beginningOne of the best gifts I received this holiday season was the notification from Apple that my school, Drayton Hall Elementary,  met all of the criteria for Apple Distinguished School.  The application was rigorous as was the competition.  We were thrilled to be awarded the distinction.  While many see awards like this as the culmination of hard work, I see it as just the beginning.

I’m pretty good at pushing boundaries.  When I was given the iPads back in January, 2011 as one of 3 pilot teachers for the entire school district, I really had no rules or expectations.  My only limitations were those created by my very own self.  Since I was given a class set of iPads, (thank goodness the district’s Ed Tech staff believed in kindergarten having 30 iPads!) I took full advantage of the opportunity and  looked beyond the “broadcast nature” of the iPad.  More than a presentation tool, my students fully interacted with the iPads.  In small groups, we found individual support opportunities that bolstered those students who were in the bottom tier.  As student engagement was instant, I looked for ways to incorporate the iPad into every aspect of our instructional day.  As the pilot moved beyond the 3 original classes, the staff at my school embraced the technology and zeroed in on the potential these devices hold.

While I know many schools are just getting iPads and perhaps aren’t able to fund them 1:1 at this time, I hope the teachers will continue to voice their desire for them.  The iPad is designed to be a one-user device.  The true power comes when each student holds his/her own iPad and is able to interact with it, work with materials on the child’s own level, and create and save on it.  Sharing, while perhaps necessary for a time, isn’t  ideal.  You can’t expect to see the results we are seeing at my school without a 1:1 implementation.  If you are unable to fund a whole school, find your early adopters on staff and let them have at it.  These people make things happen!

While my holidays are coming to a close next week, I’m excited about what the remaining 5 months of school hold.  With a new year beginning, let’s follow Walt Disney’s advice:  Quit talking and begin doing!  I’m proud of my school for earning the Apple Distinguished School honor.  This isn’t the end,  we’ve only just begun!

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More on Anchor Charts

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -Benjamin Franklin

One of the first things we do in kindergarten (besides learning where the bathroom is) is to create an anchor chart together.  Anchor charts are charts that are created with the students to help them “anchor” their learning.  We make one for every letter of the alphabet, we make one with our classmates names, we make one for how to listen, we make one for colors, one for numbers, and any other skill I would like them to use on a regular basis.  We use them daily in our Reading and Writing Workshop activities.

My students love them and refer to them all throughout the day. They are engaged in the process of creating them so they take ownership in them.  After a while, they know more of what is on the charts than I do.  Space is a concern…and do I really need to leave a chart on Halloween words up all school year? Those questions are answered with the iPads.  I find that I leave the alphabet charts up all year; however, seasonal charts, or special charts made for a specific activity do not have to stay up and take up valuable wall space.  By photographing all of the anchor charts and syncing them out to the children’s iPads, they have the charts with them all year long regardless of whether they are on the wall or not.

A recent writing activity included writing about our families.  After making the Family Words chart, they were able to refer to it all week as we discussed our families.  We also wrote about foods we liked.  By having the anchor chart, students were able to write about these foods.  In a week or so, I can add these to their iPads and they will have access to these words even if I take these charts down.

Another advantage of having these charts on the iPads is that students don’t have to walk across the room to see them if they are writing something and need a word.  The charts are also available if students are reading on their iPads and would like to read the charts.  It is like Read the Room, only it is done in their seats.

If you aren’t using anchor charts, I highly recommend them.  They are quick and easy but they pack a powerful punch.  Parents can even make them at home and post on the refrigerator or in the child’s room.

By involving the child in the learning, they create connections that are critical for mastery of skills.

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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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Sweet 16: Countdown to Summer Vacation

Always desire to learn something useful.-Sophocles

16 days of school are remaining. While I am looking forward to summer vacation, part of me is wistful at seeing this class go. They are busy, talkative, and loud. (I won’t miss the loud part.) They are also inquisitive, bright, and eager to learn. They haven’t shut down for the impending summer vacation. They continue to go full steam ahead wanting to learn. This morning during her free time, Tahra was researching sharks on her iPad. After looking online, she thought of something she had seen in a book in the reading center on sharks. She went and got the book, found what she was looking for, and proceeded to blog about some shark facts.

Tahra knew how to access information she needed. More importantly, she had access to the information she needed. These are essential components to learning. It was gratifying to me to see her use both her iPad and the non-fiction text. Seamless learning. She was reading, researching, blogging…she was also highly engaged. At this point in our school year, I can smile knowing my work with these children is almost complete. They are equipped and ready to go to first grade (and beyond) with the skills necessary to be successful.

When asked how my students became so independent and engaged in their own learning, I answer with these words: intentional planning and constant modeling and monitoring. We must be intentional about our instruction both with and without iPads. Apps are carefully considered before purchasing. Student use of iPads and any other activity in which they will have some freedom is carefully modeled daily, if needed. I subscribe to “I do, we do, you do” philosophy. This is that important gradual release of responsibility.

As we count down the final days of this year, my students’ love for learning is evident. I watch my students stand on the edge of their own greatness. They aren’t looking down in fear…but looking forward with great anticipation. So am I, my little friends. So am I.

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