Using the iPad as a Daily Tool

Well, it’s been a while. I’m still here and I’m still teaching with iPads in kindergarten. I just haven’t been very good about sharing what we are up to. My intentions have been good…I mean, we will be working on something and I think, “Oh! I should blog about this!” and then I get busy doing other things.

In an effort to catch up a bit, I’ll give a brief overview of how we use the iPad devices as a daily tool rather than highlight a specific activity. If you’ve read the posts from 2022, you know I retired from the local school district and am now teaching kindergarten in a small church school. I have only 9 students with an assistant, and yes, it’s heaven (pun intended). Each of my students have an iPad and we use them daily After our calendar time, we have a station rotation time. My assistant and I have reading groups while some kids are doing a writing center activity and some are on the iPad doing a word work activity. During Word Work, we use a few different apps. We use ABC Magnetic Alphabet app, Felt Board app, and Drawing Pad app most of the time. I use Drawing Pad to ease the kids into using the iPad for Word Work early in the school year. I put a sentence on the board using Classroom Screen and the kids copy the sentence and illustrate it. This really helps get them used to the keyboarding aspect.

During our reading group time, we use the iPad to read some days. We have RAZ Kids and the kids enjoy reading stories on their devices. I also use the Whiteboard App to do some phonics activities. Early in the year, we use PopIts to tap out sounds in CVC words and then we use the Whiteboard App to write the words we’ve just sounded out. Then we move away from the PopIts and the kids just write the short 3 letter and then a bit later 4 letter words. Then we move on to short sentences. This really helps with their writing during our Writing Workshop time. The writing sample below was in mid-January. I credit this daily phonics work we do for the successful writing these kids are able to do.

After our morning rotations and special area time, we have math. While I don’t use the iPad every day for math, we do use them a few days each week. We use the Number Frames app and Linking Cubes app the most. I reflect my iPad on the interactive white board while the kids have theirs to work with.

So that’s how we are using iPads on a daily basis. I truly can’t imagine teaching without these tools. My students are thriving and continue to all move on to first grade reading and writing above grade level. I hope this breakdown of our daily use is helpful to you in some way. I’d love to hear how you are using these devices in teaching and learning!

iPads in Kindergarten ELA

One of the ways I like to incorporate the iPad into ELA in kindergarten is the use of our Drawing Pad app. I type a short sentence using some high frequency words in the Classroom Screen website. The kids type in the sentence (a great way to learn the keyboard) and then they illustrate the sentence. We started this in early October, and it is helping them learn high frequency words as well as become familiarized with the keyboard. They’ve already discovered they can push the spacebar twice to get a period at the end of their sentence. Their illustrations are becoming more creative, and they’ve learned how to save them to SeeSaw. In the examples below, we discussed the sentence and they brainstormed different things they could climb. One of my students even observed that the “b” is silent in climb. One is climbing a ladder and the other a rock wall.

Now let me share a little about Classroom Screen…this is a free website with a paid version available. The paid version is $29.00 per year. There are 19 widgets that lets you create name lists where you can draw random names, create a QR code, has a sound level monitor, create text boxes, draw, work symbols, traffic light, timer, clock, calendar, dice, group maker, stopwatch, webcam, and few more. These are all in the free version. You can also change your background. The main differences between the paid and free version are that you can save the screen you created, you can have up to 100 name lists and you can upload custom backgrounds. I have the paid version and it’s nice not to have to re-create the screen each day. 

What are some ways you use the iPad in ELA? I’d love to see some of your ideas!

Using the iPad to Expand Learning

Recently, one of my reading groups read Robert Kalan’s book Rain. The book is illustrated by Donald Crews. The children loved how Crews used the word “rain” over and over to create the illusion of rain falling. As we were discussing this, one of the girls asked if they could create their own illustration, but using the word snow instead. They drew snowy pictures in their Drawing Pad app and started typing the word snow all in the picture. Since they aren’t terribly familiar with the keyboard and where the letters all are, it took them a while to type “snow” the first time. They spent a lot of time discussing how to turn the word so that it looked like snow falling and what size the word should be. After going through this a few times, they realized that it would take them a really long time to type the word snow as many times as would be needed to create the same illusion as in the book Rain. Here are a couple of examples:

The great thing about this activity was it was totally child-driven. There was rich conversation about how and where to put the words, at what angle, and what size would be appropriate. They also asked if there were other books by Donald Crews so we will investigate Ten Black Dots and see what that inspires!

One of the things I have learned while teaching and learning with iPads is we have to be open to letting our students (no matter how young) take ownership of their learning and allow them time to explore their ideas. This activity was not in my lesson plans, but what they discussed, thought about, and created was far better than what I had planned.

How have your students taken ownership and expanded their learning?

Enhancing Early Literacy with iPads

Sitting in the quiet of the early morning on day 10 of Christmas break, I realize I’ve successfully avoided thinking about school up until this point, but my mind keeps getting little tugs reminding me that vacation will soon be over. I hope you have had a restful break…one that I know every teacher this year has needed desperately.

As we get ready to close out 2021, I wanted to share a few things we worked on this fall.

In late October, we completed our class set of iPads and we started working on enhancing our literacy activities using various apps. We upload all of our work to SeeSaw. Here are a few samples:

We also used the Drawing Pad app to show some fall leaves, the life cycle of pumpkins and to illustrate the gingerbread man.

In Book Creator, our first book was I See. The kids incorporated their sight words as well as some environmental print to write and illustrate a three page book. To create the environmental print, I make an anchor chart for each letter of the alphabet with the kids supplying the words. We hang these charts all around the room and the kids use them all throughout the year. Since they supplied the words, there is so much ownership in the charts. Here are some screenshots of the charts and a couple of pages from one of the books:

The kids love working in Book Creator so we will definitely be creating more books in the new year. I want to start keeping math and science journals as well. Maybe these will be my New Year’s resolutions since dieting and exercise never seem to stick!

What are you up to in your classrooms? I would love to hear from you!

Happy New Year!

Back to the Beginning

Well it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted on here. Things got a little crazy and well, I’m back. In a nutshell, I retired from my project director job with the local school district and took a kindergarten teaching job at a local church school. It’s really heaven on earth to be sure. I have 10 little friends with an assistant, a class set of iPads, and pretty much the freedom to teach what and how I want. No standardized testing, freedom to create my own content, and amazing administrative and parent support.

Backing up just a bit, the school didn’t already have iPads, but was super excited about the work I have done in the past with them. The initial purchase was 4 iPads that arrived in mid September. The parents then chipped in and purchased the remaining six, which arrived in early October. I’m using Apple School Manager and Mosyle for device management and it has been so easy. Because we didn’t have 1:1 until just recently, we are a bit slow in getting started with doing all of the things I like to do with them, but that’s ok. We have plenty of time ahead of us to create.

Getting started, we worked a lot with Starfall ABC app and the Magnetic ABC app. Recently, I downloaded a free whiteboard app which is perfect for a variety of uses. We use it in reading groups and in math. We also have my other favorite apps Book Creator, the Duck Duck Moose apps, Drawing Pad, and a few others. We’ve been spending time exploring the uses of these apps in preparation for more focused creation activities.

Using Magnetic ABC app to sound out CVC words.

Working with Starfall ABC app

We are just getting started over here so check back for updates! The kids are very excited to learn new things.

A New Adventure Begins…

A lot has happened in the last few months. After 32 years in the Charleston County School District, a new opportunity presented itself and it was too good to pass up. So, I retired from the school district and will be teaching kindergarten in the sweetest little preschool at Second Presbyterian Church here in Charleston, SC. I will have 9 five year olds and the freedom to teach just for the joy of teaching and learning. Y’all, I’ve died and gone to teaching heaven!

The preschool purchased 4 iPads for my classroom and I’m in the process of setting them up and working out the best way to use them. In my previous teaching life, I had one to one iPads for my 26 students and from that, developed this blog. Now, it will basically be 2-1 but there will be a lot of exciting things we can do. I’m in the process now of setting them up and pushing apps with Apple School Manager and Mosyle. Next, I will move the apps into folders. I will have an ABC folder for ELA apps, a Math folder, and a Create folder. I will put all of my creation apps (Sketches School, Book Creator, Drawing Pad, Clips, iMovie, Felt Board, Popplet Lite, Chatterpix) in that folder. I will also use SeeSaw for student work. I will use them in centers as well as in small group reading and math activities. One of our first big activities will be International Dot Day in September.

If you have fewer than 1:1 devices in your classroom, I would love to hear how you use them in your centers and for individual work

Cheers to new beginnings!

Try a Little Kindness

February is designated as the Month of Kindness and couldn’t we all use just a little more kindness these days?

Young children have a natural inclination to be helpful and with guidance and modeling, they can develop a greater sense of their role in the larger world. By bringing a child’s awareness to someone’s greater need, we teach kindness, empathy, responsibility, and sympathy. The ability to empathize has been shown to start as early as a year old. Children use “social referencing” by looking to caregivers for information and how to respond. Modeling kindness, helpfulness, and empathy early provides important cues to a child. However, teaching empathy involves more than just having a good role model. Also required is involving them in opportunities to help other people, foster a love for outdoor spaces, and care for their environment. This develops prosocial behavior that grows and becomes an integral part of a child’s mindset. Some suggested activities include donating gently used toys, finding appropriate volunteer opportunities to serve those less fortunate, joining clean up and recycling events, and even taking regular nature walks to notice and appreciate trees, birds, and insects while being mindful of litter and discussing its effects on the environment.

Because young children make sense of their world through hands-on activities, keeping a journal can help them be mindful and create connections with their actions. I’ve created a short journal in Keynote you can download here. This can be added to student iPads and it provides some prompts and activities for young children to engage in and record their thoughts. You can also add other pages if needed.

I would love to hear how you are using it and see your students’ work!

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”-Aesop

Student Agency and ePortfolios for Young Children

What would be a key word you would use to describe teaching and learning in 2020? Depending on your experiences, you might say frustrating, exhausting, roller-coaster ride, and stressful. Or you might be of the mindset that it has been challenging, a time for growth, and an opportunity to try new things. I would say both mindsets would be accurate and valid. One thing is certain, teaching and learning are different than before and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Traditionally, many have seen teaching in terms of controlling what students learn, how they learn, and how learning is measured. The focus is on the teaching rather than on the learners themselves and the learning process. Research shows learning affects students’ cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. So what if we focused on how we as educators impact the learning environment and how we see learners? One of the toughest philosophical shifts for educators is accepting that the learner needs to be given more control over their learning process. When we have a learner-centered focus, learning is enjoyable and productive. However, when we focus more on process and outcomes, learning can entail frustration, shame, pressure, and anxiety.

Voice and choice are not new concepts, yet our educational systems still tend to focus heavily on conformity and standardization. Because of the pandemic, we are building the plane as we fly it, so to speak. What if we took this opportunity to look at new ways to measure learning? I think of a “science fair” concept when looking at assessment. Providing students a number of assessment choices is more learner-centered. My students loved being able to choose how to demonstrate what they learned. The use of ePortfolios comes to mind, yet it is more prevalent in upper grades and less so in elementary and early childhood. There are many ways ePortfolios can be implemented and various digital platforms are available. I have used both SeeSaw and Showbie in my kindergarten classes and love them both. Throughout this post, I have added some student work from their ePortfolios created on their iPad devices.

Why ePortfolios? Besides the obvious strengthening of relationships between teachers and parents in ways that benefit the children, they provide parents an in-depth look at what is going on in the classroom and a deeper involvement in student work. There are a few other reasons to consider using them in the early childhood classroom. First, they create a culture of intrinsic motivation. Student ownership is so valuable in advancing learning. The child becomes and active contributor to their own learning. They also give the teacher and student the opportunity to revisit previous learning, allowing for expansion of new learning. Videos of the child reading, explaining a math concept, or sharing a new understanding in science can be re-visited to show growth, scaffold new learning, review a skill, or highlight a misconception.

As you battle the waves of this school year and chart your classroom course, consider how you might increase student agency with a new mindset. How can you (or how do you already) provide voice and choice for your young learners? 2020 might be the best time to try!

Helping Young Children Make Sense of Racial and Ethnic Differences

Young children live in a social world. And while many believe they do not have awareness of racial and ethnic differences, research is showing otherwise. Studies show that as early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice racial differences and by the age of 4, young children have learned to evaluate people based on race; thus affecting their choices with whom they play and befriend. They learn bias from an early age from their first teachers- their parents. The language we use to talk about racial and ethnic differences is a major influence in how children perceive those who are “different”. The classroom environment also influences how children perceive race and ethnic differences; and as educators, we must be vigilant in our observing and in our actions . Take a close look around the classroom environment? Do classroom books represent a diverse cross-section of cultures? Are puzzles, dolls, and classroom images multi-cultural? Are children segregating themselves within group activities? Are we providing meaningful cultural opportunities that allow children to develop cultural literacy?

It’s important that we model how we want children to respond to others who are different from them. We also must acknowledge that racial bias exists and examine our own biases. Educators and parents should actively teach students to be respectful and kind when discussing racial differences. Use positive language when young children point out differences or ask questions. Rebut or re-state comments calmly if the child states something that is negative or troubling. “Her skin is funny looking” is rebutted as “Her skin is a different color than yours, It’s not funny looking. People are different colors.”

Most early childhood classes explore an “All About Me” unit of study early in the school year. This is the perfect time to highlight how everyone is unique and special just as they are and that differences are good things, not bad. To that end, my friend Marc Faulder, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and I co-authored a book called A Rainbow of Friends. It is uploaded into the Apple Bookstore and can be downloaded here. It’s a short book with activities to help children explore cultural similarities and differences in a positive manner. 

Here is the Table of Contents. There are creative opportunities in drawing, photography, and music using the iPad.

Now is the time to be a part of the movement…to make a positive impact in changing our young students’ perspectives toward racial equity.


Making Photo Characters with iPad and Pages

Are you a someone who likes to doodle? Do you see animal shapes in clouds, or faces in wood grain?  During our COVID shut down, I have had a lot of opportunity to take walks and look at the ordinary in new ways. It’s easy to become a bit stagnant when sitting at home all the time!

Many years ago, I had a kindergarten student who loved a particular Disney princess. She drew that princess every time she had crayons and paper. In fact, when given an activity page, she would transform whatever was on that page into the princess. The one that stands out most in my memory is when we were working on the letter Ww . There was a walrus on the paper and she added big puffy hair, a tiara, and a princess dress to the walrus. While singularly focused on the one character, she certainly demonstrated a lot of creativity in transforming regular objects into the princess.

Young children have the unique ability to imagine, pretend, and create. They can make trucks and trains out of boxes, pencils, and blocks. They can transform their imaginary world without much guidance or even encouragement. However, we can channel this creativity to enhance their learning in a variety of ways with tools readily available. Through using the camera on the iPad, students can take ordinary photos and transform them into characters using the Markup tool in the photo editor.

If you need a little help getting started, I created an interactive, downloadable Pages template here. For more photo character activities, my good friend and colleague Marc Faulder, created the book Raindrop, in which ordinary raindrop photos are transformed into characters. Students can create speech bubbles and a comic using their raindrop characters.

I would love to see what characters your students (or your own children) are creating!