Collaborative Dot Day Book with Pages

Merriam Webster defines “create” as  to produce through imaginative skill.  What struck me is the word “skill”.  Creative acts are a means of self-expression, but I hadn’t really thought of it before as a skill. After reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize creativity is a skill that can be developed through experimentation, exploring, and synthesizing information. In a previous post, I’ve indicated that while everyone is naturally creative, young children especially, have a creative core that often seems to flow more easily than older students and adults. Creativity as a skill, with appropriate attention and practice, can deepen student learning and develop key problem solving skills.

With creativity in mind, Peter Reynold’s International Dot Day is fast approaching! I’ve written about Dot Day before and this year’s International Dot Day is a chance to encourage young students to “make their mark”.  My friend Marc Faulder has created a template in Pages so you can make your own collaborative Dot Day book. You can access the template here.

Once you open the document in iCloud, click “File” then “duplicate” and you will have your own copy.

Recent updates to Pages now include tools to create your own books that can be exported to EPUB files. Creating and publishing books is easy enough for students of all ages. Here is a brief Clips video, created by Marc Faulder, showing how young children can be authors in Pages.

Too often, when we hear the word “creativity” we think only of drawing. Our students are capable of so much more, especially if we work on developing the skill in meaningful ways. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Young Children Can Create series  that Marc and I have co-written, you can access them here:

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Photography

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Music Making (also co-written with Jason Milner)

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Drawing

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Video

So get out there and “make your mark”!

 

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Listen to Your Brain!

I thought about it in my brain, my brain gave me the answer and I liked the answer my brain gave me.-Isabelle, Age 6

If you ever need good quotes, just step into a kindergarten class.  I’m repeatedly told I need to write a book of their sayings.  It’s never a dull moment around here!

My students have choices about demonstrating their learning.  We recently finished a pond life unit and the work they had done during the unit was pretty extensive.  I felt pretty confident in what they knew and what they had learned.  As we were wrapping it up, a student asked why they hadn’t done any projects to show me what they had learned.  I explained that they had done several projects over the last 2 weeks and they had done a really good job on those.  Their puzzled faces indicated that they didn’t realize they had demonstrated their learning.  I pulled out some of their work samples they had uploaded to Showbie.  I put them on the Smart Board and we talked about several of them.

PicCollage

We talked about this example and what animals were chosen and how they were chosen.  I asked what else they learned and was told, “We learned how to find pictures on the web in Pic Collage without going into Safari and we learned how to cut around them.”  popplet

We looked at this work sample created in Popplet Lite and we talked about how they didn’t know about water striders and how they walked on top of the water.  (Living where we live, it is not unusual for alligators to live in ponds.)  I asked what else we learned in this work sample and someone said they learned they wanted to go to that child’s house to see the alligator!

I reminded them that both of these projects show me what they know and what they have learned.  Someone piped up that he didn’t know that he was learning AND having fun at the same time.  (Ah yes…my work here is done!)

So, how did we get to this place…this place where learning and fun co-habitate, where children don’t even realize they are “doing work”?  It started back on day 1 in August.  It starts with children having voice and choice in their activities and moving on when they are ready… not when a worksheet, a basal reader, or a workbook page, or even a teacher tells them they are.  The work samples above were taken on the same day.  One student chose Pic Collage, another chose Popplet and yet another chose Book Creator.

It also means including the students in the information gathering process.  We made this anchor chart together and refer to it often when we are working on new learning.

photo

 

My students know that “an expert” can be an adult or another student in our classroom.  They know to ask for help when looking on the internet for answers and they also know where to find resource books in our classroom to reference.  We work hard all year to instill confidence in our students’ abilities to think for themselves….to “listen to their brains” and think about what their brain is “telling them.”

It is an ongoing process that gets refined all year long.  I want my students to go to first grade ready…ready to learn, ready to think and reason, and ready to have fun!

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

Braving Technology in the Classroom

Do one thing every day that scares you -Eleanor Roosevelt

spiral stair caseWhat scares you? I’ve recently decided I’m afraid of open heights…you know, high places with very little barrier, or steep steps with open spaces in between where I can look waaay down…I usually make my husband go in front of me and I hold on to his shoulder, or else I get stuck right there!

This wasn’t always the case.  It has developed only recently but it’s still a strong fear.   I feel ridiculous talking about it because it seems so silly but my heart races and I feel all panicky when faced with a situation involving high open spaces.

In the classroom, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about being brave and what that means.  It could mean trying something new, speaking up when we aren’t sure of the answer, facing a bully, or doing something by yourself.  All of these can be daunting when you are 5 years old.  I’d venture to say some of these are daunting to adults as well.  My students are beginning to ride their bikes without training wheels these days and many come in reporting about their bravery in this feat.  Their pride is quite evident when it seems they’ve conquered something new.

Of all the scary things in their big, wide worlds, technology isn’t one of them.  A recent visitor went to one of my students and asked him about how he learned to do all of the things he was doing on the iPad.  He looked at her quizzically and said, “I didn’t learn it, I just do it.”  So Nike’s theme aside, “just doing it” seems to be how they all think about using this device.  It’s no big thing.  So why are the adults all standing on their heads about teaching kids how to use the device?  Possibly because we see the device in a different way than they do.  Obviously, we need to teach responsible use and digital citizenship, but I do not teach my class as a whole group how to use apps.  I work with a few students in a small group and they usually end up working with each other and helping each other.

illusionMany of you have seen this illusion  where you have to determine if it is an old woman or a young woman.  Some people have difficulty seeing the image as 2 different images.  I found that I saw the old woman first and then saw the young woman later.  I also found that once I saw the young woman, I had difficulty seeing it the other way without really concentrating on that.  As educators in connected classrooms, we have to be able to adjust our vision and see as our students do.  If we only see the “old woman” in the photo, we are missing out on the possibilities of the “young woman”.  We can’t be credible to our students if we are singularly minded.

Change is scary.  By keeping our eyes forward, not looking down or back, and letting go of the handrail, we can navigate that big open staircase.  It also doesn’t hurt if there is someone in front of you to hold on to…

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

Engaging Students with Explain Everything

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. -Albert Einstein

The blank stare…You know, the one that either says, “I have no earthly idea what you are talking about.” or “Why are you telling me this? I already know it.” I suppose there is one other possibility. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?… Utter and complete boredom. Misconceptions and lack of engagement can both derail the learning process.

IMG_2265One of the apps we use really gets to the heart of both of those concerns.  I’ve written about Explain Everything before. It really is a robust app.  The best part is that it is easy enough for my 5 year olds, yet just as relevant and engaging for older students.  I’ve even seen a few adults having a great time creating a screen cast in this app. We used this app weekly last spring.  This past week was the first time we used it this school year. We’ve been learning about Spiders in science.  My students all drew a detailed spider picture in our Drawing Pad app and saved it to the camera roll. Then they uploaded it to Explain Everything.  We’ve been working on labeling like a scientist in our Writing Workshop so they labeled their drawings and then they recorded themselves telling about their work.  As I was showing this app to a small group, their eyes widened and they were immediately interested in doing their own.  They were very excited and had great conversations amongst themselves as they discussed the length/width of the arrows used to point to their objects.  Should it point this way or that? What if they moved this over there? Noticeably absent were questions directed at ME.  Even though this was their first time using this app, they were busy figuring things out themselves and working through ideas, thoughts and questions with their peers.

This first time with Explain Everything was very successful.  After completing their assignment, they uploaded it to Showbie where I could then see and listen to each one.  As the year progresses, Explain Everything will always be one of their go-to apps to share with me what they have learned.  As we work on unpacking standards and demonstrating learning, my students have voice and choice in how they want to document what they know.

While iPads are often thought of as a consumptive device, through the use of creation apps, students are able to create their own content.  Explain Everything allows students to create both simple and complex presentations in an engaging way in any subject. Our first product this week is more simple but they will become more complex as the year goes on.  This is Caitlyn’s Explain Everything:

Want to lose the blank stares? Engage students, get to the heart of what they know and don’t know, and stimulate their minds and their conversations.   Any takers?  Anyone?  Anyone?

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

iPads and the Common Core Standards

You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.
― Galileo

common core 6One of the big questions I am repeatedly asked is about using iPads and implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  When you study the standards and the purpose behind them, and you understand personalized learning, you can see how the two fit nicely together.

Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to meet the needs of the individual student.  Typically technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.  The CCSS are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our students need for success in college and careers. In Language Arts, the CCSS focus on students learning to read and write complex texts independently at high levels of proficiency and at a rapid rate to be effective.  The focus is on proficiency and complexity, yes, but also on independence.  We want our students to be able to do quick, on-the-run research when needed, to express their thinking verbally and in writing, and to summarize, analyze, and design without needing teachers to insert the key questions along the way or to walk them through step by step.  iPads are an ideal learning tool for these goals.  Having constant access to information, students are able to research when needed.  They are able to to write, compose, and create with various applications…all without having to wait their turn on a classroom computer.  The CCSS emphasize that every student needs to be given access to the thinking curriculum that is at the heart of the standards.

The Common Core standards is, above all, a call for accelerating students’ literacy development.  We must lift the level of student achievement.  This is not achieved by simply transferring a worksheet from paper to the iPad.  The CCSS call for true reform.  Reform needs to revolve around creating systems of continuous improvement that result in teaching toward higher expectations, personalizing learning for students-which in turn, increases rigor as well as student engagement. One way we can use iPads to implement the standards is iBooks Author.  iBooks Author allows us to create our own texts to move students up levels of complexity by providing them with many just-right, high-interest texts.

As educators, we have to enable our students to become strong and proficient readers and writers.  Using iPads, we are able to fortify our own teaching, our students’ learning and meet the high standards of the Common Core.

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Let’s Play!

“Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein

When you ask my students what they did at school on any given day, they will answer, “I played.”  For those unfamiliar with how young children learn, that answer can be unsettling.  Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. Play, by its very nature, is educational. It saddens me to see kindergarten classrooms doing away with centers. Fortunately, my principal sees the value of play in young learners.

My students have a variety of centers to “play” in each day.  These centers are carefully planned to enhance learning.  We have a reading center, a poetry center, a writing center, a math center, a science center, and an ABC center.  We have centers for blocks, legos, housekeeping, and art.  We use a rotation system in the morning while I teach guided reading groups and in the afternoon while small group guided writing occurs.  While students are at the ABC or at the math center, they may also choose iPads.  I have 2 iPad cards (or passes) in each of those centers.  2 students may work on iPads while at ABC and 2 at Math.  My apps are in folders and students at ABC may only work in the ABC folder while those at math may only work on apps in the math folder.  They must have the “pass” in order to use the iPads during that time.

I don’t start the “pass system” until a few weeks into school. I print them on card stock and laminate them. (See photo at left and click here to print your own.)

I need to make sure the children know where the folders are on the iPad and that they know how to properly use the iPads on their own.  They also know that if they are not in the appropriate folder, they will lose their iPads for the afternoon.  While I do monitor the students, my monitoring is nothing compared to the eagerness of my students to monitor (tattle on) each other.  By giving them these “controlled” opportunities to use iPads on their own, I am building up to having them use iPads in the reading center and other times as they deem they are needed in their learning.

Children need the freedom and the time to play.  When the fun goes out of play, most often so does the learning.  My students are engaged in a variety of structured play activities throughout the day. We include iPads as a part of those activities.  In play, children learn how to learn.  iPads give us the opportunity to extend and differentiate learning.

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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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