I Do Not Like Them, Sam I Am!

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It’s not Green Eggs and Ham that I have trouble with, nope.  It’s QR codes.  In kindergarten!  Really?  I didn’t want them here, or there.  I did not want them anywhere.  Or so I thought.  Until I began wrestling with the question, “How can I enable my kindergarten students to do their own research?”  Research is a pretty big idea when you are talking about 5 yeGreen Eggs and Hamar olds.

Then I remembered hearing about a 1st grade teacher who used QR codes to enable her students to access online information that she had created.  She called it research.  She was using QR codes here, and there, and everywhere.

So I took a tiny step.  I made one QR code so my students could access a video about penquins.  The video I chose  was about 3 minutes long.  I added a bit of clipart, and a title beside the QR code so we would remember what we were researching.  I laminated a few codes, and put them on the student tablesso they could use their own QR readers with their iPads.

It was magic.  The room fell silent.  The children watched and listened to the video, and laughed.  And I changed my mind.  I did like QR codes.  I liked them here, and there.  I think I like them everywhere!

My students needed to learn how to become researchers because we are implementing project based learning at my school.   Recently, I asked my students,  “What do kindergarten students need in order to become researchers?”  I must tell you their answers made me glow!  They said:

  • we need to talk to experts
  • we need to visit places
  • we need to read books
  • we need write about what we know
  • we need to draw and label what we know
  • we need to observe things
  • we need to talk together
  • we need our iPads so we can use QR codes

Our iPads have now become our window to the world.  And we would use them in a box, and with a fox, and in a train, and in the rain….(you get the idea)

Thank you, Sam I Am.

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iPlay

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I think school should be fun. I really believe in the theory, “play is a child’s work.”  Do you?  So, if play is work, then teachers should be allowed to incorporate play, don’t you think?

This week we used our iPads to play.  I created a game I called “Secret Sounds.”  I took the simple CVC words the children were supposed to be learning this week, printed the flashcards for them (they were included in my teacher’s resources manual for my district curriculum) and then we played.

My students worked in pairs (since I only have enough iPads for 1/2 of my students), one child was the “teacher”, and the other was the “student.”  The “student” got the iPad.  The “teacher” got the CVC flashcards.  The “teacher” provided the secret sounds of the flashcard word, one letter at a time.  The “student” would record the sounds he/she heard on the iPad using the Drawing Pad app, ( I could also have used the Magnetic Alphabet app).  The “teacher” would check the work by comparing the flashcard to the writing on the iPad.  If corrections were necessary, the student made them.  Once they finished the sound spelling of the CVC words, they switched jobs.  I handed out new CVC words, printed in a different color so I could quickly tell who had moved on, and who was still having a hard time with the first word list. I was able to “float” around my room, observing, coaching, cheerleading.  I was happy.  They were happy.  And they were all on task.

It would probably help you to know that I modeled this first as a whole class lesson using my document camera.  And I modeled what to do if a student didn’t know the sounds.    And I modeled what to do if they wrote the wrong word, or provided the wrong sound.  And I modeled what to do if they finished early.

I later provided the same CVC words for student homework. And next week, when we play “Secret Sounds” with our new CVC words, the students will cheer!  And I will smile.

Play.  It’s a powerful learning tool.

So take out your toolbelt, and play a little.

iPlay, do you?

Jumping Off A Cliff

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If I told you I was going to jump off of a cliff, you would probably tell me to stop.  (At least I hope you would.)  But if I did jump, I would expect that it would be scary, I would feel out of control, I wouldn’t know the consequences (although I could probably guess), and at some point I just might feel absolutely free.

Now, don’t worry.  I don’t intend to jump off of anything, especially a cliff.  But I do think there is a correlation between a teacher trying to implement something new and jumping off a cliff.   In the beginning there may be clear purpose, and some unknowns, maybe a bit of fear, but there is also the possibility of elation, and freedom.

Now relate that to you, in your classroom.  With 30 kids, and iPads.

What if I try to teach my students how to use iPhoto tomorrow and they take strange photos?  What if they “cut the heads off” of their classmates when they take pictures?  What if the pictures are blurry? Or inappropriate?  What if I don’t know what to do with the pictures after we take them?  It might feel a bit like I’ve jumped off a cliff.  But there is also the possibility of elation, and freedom.

So what if I learn with them?  So what if I have to reteach the lesson on iPhoto?  So what if they cut the heads off in their photos?  Once I jump off the mountain I might feel free.  Elated.  They will know how to take pictures, and I will have one more skill in my tool belt to use with my students. Maybe next time we’ll try moving those photos into Pic Collage.

Learning new things, is a lot like jumping off a cliff.

I’m going to jump.

“App”titude

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I used to frantically search for new apps.  I didn’t want to “miss” anything.  Then one day I realized I really wasn’t missing anything.  Sure new apps are great, it’s like getting an unexpected check in the mail.  But what is even better, is an app that the kids can dive into, and learn more each time they use it.  I guess it’s much like the difference between fast food, and real food.  The real food is so much better in the long run.  If you have a few apps that your students truly master, you may be providing more benefits than you think.

Drawing Pad is one of my favorites.  Students can use it for word work, sight word practice, nonsense words, sentence building, for response to literature, for math story problems, for math patterning, for number writing, should I continue?

Another of my favorites is Art Maker.  This adorable little app is the perfect place to begin teaching digital storytelling.  I can ask students to use specific vocabulary words, or create story problems, and they don’t have to write, instead they can voice record the story content.  I know you want your students to write in kindergarten, but sometimes they get so caught up in holding their pencils and trying to make the letters correctly, that they loose their way and the magic of their story is lost to the conventions of writing.  Art Maker controls the length of their story because of the recording time, and it easily saves their stories to an easy to access bookshelf.  Art Maker stories don’t take a long time, they are perfect for quick responses that are easy to share. And, after a few short lessons, children can create stories independantly. Oh yeah, I love that word “independantly.”   Creativity blooms!  Critical thinking abounds!  Laughter erupts!  And school is fun!  (Oops, did I really say that? Is fun still allowed?)

Another personal favorite, though not for the students, is Apps Gone Free.  Are you kidding me? Free?  I don’t have to spend hours trying to find free apps myself.   Every day it tells me about new apps that I don’t have to pay for.  Really.  Free.

This is how I found the beautiful illustrated ebook, “Miss Spider’s Tea Party.”  Is there room on my iPads for digital books?  You bet!  I believe the more students read, and are read to, the greater their education will be. Vocabulary is a predictor of academic success. But then, that’s another story altogether.

What about you?  What’s your “app”titude?

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Classrooms are as different as teachers. Some are good, some are better, and some are the best.   We have the same curriculum, but different students.  The same goals, but different methods of reaching the finish line.  The same vision, but different support and tools for getting the job done.

If you go to school with a smile on your face, and a clear sense of purpose, you are a good teacher.  If you can help students be better today than they were yesterday, you are a good teacher.  And if you know at the end of the day that you have done your best, you are a good teacher.

But what if you want to be a better teacher?  If you have made the decision to “hitch your wagon to a star”, if you have found a mentor who will push you just a little bit, if you have added one new teaching strategy to your classroom, or if you have set a personal goal for yourself as a teacher, I applaude you.  You are better.

But when you are able to draw others alongside, and creatively collaborate, you are different.  If you can critically think about what students need, and provide it for them, you are not ordinary.  When you not only teach, but inspire, you are more than a good teacher. You are the best.

Teachers need to embrace the truth that we need to move education from good to better, and from better to best.  We need to choose the best for our students, not just the good.

In the beginning of iPad implementation, it is not unusual to see students working on apps that resemble gaming for practice and skill review.  Apps for practice and skill building are good.   But what if you could only have 5 apps on your iPads?  What would you choose? You most likely would not just choose games.   You would choose the best apps available.  Implementing iPads is not just about loading lots of apps, it’s about curating those that are the best, and doing the best with what you have.

iPads are more than tools for practicing skills and review.  There is a bigger picture.  It is the better picture.  iPads enable children, young children, to share their stories.

iPads are changing the way a child can communicate with the world.  Digital stories,  work samples or videos can now be sent to anyone anywhere.  Think about that.  With a click, one child may share something that has the potential to inspire the whole world.  You don’t believe me?  Think about how often you  have watched a YouTube video, and then have talked about it’s content with family, friends, coworkers, and even people you didn’t know because they had already seen it. In fact, in talking to others, it seemed like the whole world had seen the video.   By using iPads, students can share their ideas, their thinking  and their learning with the world, the whole world.

When choosing apps, choose those that reflect your unique teaching style, your methods, your vision.  You can always find the lastest list of  “the best apps for education”, but that list is not your list.

So, make your list, your best list.

You know what’s best.

(Check out the way this child has communicated with the whole world, it’s worth watching.)

Check out Kid President (SoulPancake)

Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?

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Image I think every time I have read that fable of the tortoise and the hare, I have believed I was the tortoise.  The tortoise is the winner right?  Slow, steady, boring.  Sometimes I secretly wished I was the hare, dashing, daring, extravagant, high energy and enthusiastic. The hare looks like the fun one, the one who has it all.  And that tortoise, well, he’s just not as cool.   What about you?  Are you a tortoise or a hare?

When it comes to implementing  iPads in the classroom you may feel like you are racing against rabbits, and you may think the rabbits are winning. Rabbits are those teachers who are already “experts”, and their students are creating amazing digital stories, animations, and photo collages.   Are they winning?   Maybe they are, but it doesn’t mean you are not in the race, and it doesn’t mean you won’t finish as a winner.

 In the beginning, the most important thing you can do when adding iPads to your classroom is teach your students the basic operations of iPad use in a slow,  steady, and strategic manner.   So what does that mean?  It means taking the time to teach the little things in the beginning that will bring success later.  It means having classroom procedures in place so that the use of iPads can be maximized.  Students need to know stuff like:

  • Where will you keep the iPads during the day?  
  • Can students carry them around the room?  Can they use them on the floor?  Or at centers?  Or in a hallway or library space?
  • Are they sharing?  Or using them for partner work?  Have you taught them how to take turns when using apps?
  • Where are the headphones stored?  How do they connect them?  What should they do if the headphones are not working?
  • How do they adjust the volume?  Or should they?
  • What are they supposed to do if an app isn’t working?  What is your backup plan?
  • Who can they go to for iPad help if the teacher is busy?  Or what should they do if an iPad “isn’t working”?
  • How will they keep them clean?  (this really means they should make sure their hands are clean and dry before using them, and keep them away from food and beverages)

By taking the time in the beginning to establish clear routines, you will be able to “race like a rabbit” later.  Really.  Once you have laid a strong, and steady foundation for care and procedures, you will be able to run the race and win.

I know this isn’t the exciting part of the race, but it will matter in the end.  Remember the story?  The turtle wins.

There’s No Place Like Home

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Really?  Is home really the place we should stay?  What would life have been like for Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, if she had never left her home?   She would never have met those adorable munchkins.   And the Tin Man, and Scarecrow, and Lion who became her confidants and friends. What would have happened if she would have refused to walk down that yellow brick road?  Would she have ever known the magic of a great pair of shoes? (Just kidding about the shoes. Not really. A great pair of shoes can really make my day.)

I think the best thing that ever happened to Dorothy, and her little dog, was that crazy tornado.  It lifted her out of her comfort zone, and gave her a new perspective.

iPads lift teachers out of their comfort zones. I know it’s one more thing to do in an already crazy busy day.  One more thing to manage.  One more thing to supervise.  One more thing that requires additional teacher training meetings.  One more thing that might not work.  One more thing to make you uncomfortable.

But what if that “one more thing” could transport your students to “Oz”.  You remember the movie, the place where the horse turned colors?  Oz was full of the unexpected.  So what if having iPads in your classroom transported your students to a place where learning was a magical as Oz?  Oh, and you get to be the Wizard!

As the Wizard, you can choose. Not all apps are magical, some are dumb, and bland, and limited.   But a great app, just one,  can transform your teaching moments from ordinary, to extraordinary.

I have been using the app  Drawing Pad on a fairly regular basis.  If I could only have one app, Drawing Pad would be it.  We can use it for writing, word work,  for math, for response to literature, for science, and social studies.  It engages my students,  it sparks their creativity, and it keeps me curious.

Dorothy started her walk down the yellow brick road with one step and her arms linked to her friends.  They really had no idea where they were going, or what would happen once they got there, they just knew they were on a great adventure.

So get on that great pair of shoes.  Link elbows with a friend.  And take one step out of your comfort zone.  Learn one app.  That’s it, one.  And you will be on your way to the land of “ah’s.”