Problem Solving and Math Apps

Before beginning a hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.-Winnie the Pooh

Problem solving is a critical skill and a large part of the foundation for early learning.   Opportunities for problem solving exist in everyday life.  By exploring their environment, manipulating objects, thinking critically, and building on existing learning, students can strengthen problem-solving  skills.

We have been using our iPads to create story problems in our Whiteboard App.  Students draw the story problem then type the number sentence to represent the picture.  We have even had a story problem exchange.  Students create the picture to represent either an addition or subtraction problem.  Then they pass their iPad to a friend who looks at the picture and figures out the appropriate number sentence.

Another activity my students have enjoyed is taking objects in our classroom such as unifix cubes or pattern blocks and creating a pattern.  They use their camera on their iPad to take a photograph and trade iPads with another student.  That student identifies the pattern and re-creates the pattern using Pop Beads app.

Using these manipulatives, students can make visual representations and I can model for students.  The iPads create another opportunity for practice and integration.  It can serve as a calculator, a notepad, an information resource, and flashcards.  It keeps score, tracks progress, and many apps monitor and adjust content.  iPads allow me to also integrate content.  The word problem in the above picture was created by a student after we studied seeds and plants.  She typed a science journal entry in Pages and then created her story problem.  The iPad allows for seamless integration of subjects that makes sense to students and increases their understanding of new concepts.

Other apps my students enjoy using in math are Math Bingo, Park Math, Monkey Math, and Flash to Pass.

By providing sustained opportunities for students to solve problems in a variety of contexts, they begin taking responsibility for their own learning.

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Write On!

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

One way we’ve been making connections with our reading is to use our Pages App as a Reading Response journal.  Students write about what they are reading.  It’s a way to share thoughts, feelings, and questions.  The story we read was Denise Fleming’s In the Tall, Tall, Grass. Students wrote their thoughts about the story.  Some shared connections they made with the story.  Reading Response journals enable the children to think more about the story.  My students often have difficulty thinking beyond the text.  If asked “Why do you think” kinds of questions, they are reluctant to answer because they are afraid they will get it wrong.  At 5 years old, they are already conditioned to give the “right” answer.  I want them to think beyond what is written in the story and explore the possible feelings and/or thoughts of the characters.  This opens discussions up for making inferences and predictions.  I model this by stopping during shared reading and thinking aloud, discussing things I wonder and make predictions about what is about to happen next in the story.

Another good way to use the Pages App is to have the students do writing extensions beyond the text after reading. For this activity, we took our iPads outside and took photographs of the tall grass near our room.

The students wrote what they might see (or have seen) in the tall, tall grass.  They imported their photo into Pages and shared with the group their innovations on the story.

Using Pages is a great app for journal writing. Whether Reading Response or Science, it’s a great way for students to quickly get their thoughts down.  Having the camera option is a terrific means of incorporating their observations.  These activities had my students completely engaged and asking when they could write some more.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Y-E-L-L Everybody Spell!

“It’s a poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.-Andrew Jackson

Um, did I mention these children are 5 years old?  Clearly our little ones are heavily influenced by our text-rich world.

In kindergarten, we place emphasis on invented spelling. Invented spelling is the practice of young children using their best judgement when writing words.  This opens the children to using more of a variety of words than if they only write the words they know how to spell correctly.  Students write what they hear.  When students use invented spelling, they seem to develop word recognition and phonics skills sooner.  The more they write, the more confidence they have in their writing.  The process of getting it out of their head and onto the paper is the key rather than have them get bogged down in spelling words correctly.  My students are easily able to write several sentences on a given topic on their own.  We have environmental print in the room on the anchor charts, plus they use invented spelling.

Using the iPads, I am able to give the students opportunities to practice spelling high frequency words and word family words.  We use the app Spelling 1-2.  This allows students to work on their own list of words.  In the beginning of the year, I put their words in the app, but later they can put their own words in themselves.  They practice all week on their given list of words on the app and they are assessed weekly.  This ability to differentiate instruction allows my higher students to move on to more difficult words and my struggling students to practice what they need.  At one point this year, I had 4 different lists going on the iPads.  Now I’m down to 2.  With a class of 26 students, I am able to meet the needs of each of my students where they are. We  use a few other spelling apps for fun.  Two of the apps we like are Montessori Crosswords and Word Wizard.

As we allow students to express themselves in a safe, encouragement environment, we see the possibilities and their creativity flourish.

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The Play’s the Thing!

Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. -Carl Jung

Play is an essential part of Early Childhood Education.  It stimulates cognitive, motor, and social skills.  Children are playful by nature and interact with their environment through play.  It reduces stress and promotes well-being.  Even now, in this time of high expectations and educational rigor, we still play.  Our class has learning centers for literacy, math, science, art, blocks, reading, Legos, housekeeping and iPads.  The children spend time in each of the centers every day. The structure of our day lends itself to creativity and self-directed learning; yet, it is still structured and the learning environment is carefully planned.  If you ask the children what they did all day, they will say, “I played.”
In the mornings, we have Reading Workshop, guided reading and literacy center rotations.  After lunch and recess, we have a whole group time where we have our shared reading, our read aloud and our word-work.  We also have discussion on whatever thematic unit we are on before going into Writing Workshop and more center rotations. Throughout the day, students are rotating in and out of small group instruction and center time.  The iPads serve as a tool in our classroom to facilitate  differentiation of instruction.  Even as Parker Jane and Dontay played in the housekeeping center (see picture above), they decided they needed to make a grocery list on their iPads.  They collaborated together to create a list in the Notes app.  I didn’t have to suggest that…they came up with the idea and moved to a table with an iPad to create a list of about 8 or so items, then they pretended to go shopping. One read the grocery list, while the other shopped.  As they are creating their own learning, they are problem solving, analyzing and synthesizing new information.
Play is all about exploring possibilities. In our world today,  exploring possibilities is a valuable skill.
Our classroom is a busy hub all day as students collaborate, learn, share, explore, inquire, and yes…play.

Making a grocery list for housekeeping center

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Gettin’ Buggy With It…Using iPads for Literacy and Science

“Do not limit children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.”  Chinese Proverb

One of the most exciting aspects of using the iPad is integrating it with the content I am covering in class.  We’ve been discussing insects, and what 5 year old isn’t fascinated by bugs?  Today, my students used the Pages app as a science journal to write about insects and then created illustrations in their Whiteboard app.  Afterward, they imported their picture into the Pages document and re-sized it to fit on the page.  Throughout the process, they were buzzing (no pun intended) with each other about their insect facts, helping one another with importing their illustrations, and proudly sharing their masterpieces.  In addition, as children shared their work, they were reading and developing fluency.

Many years ago, when I was in kindergarten, I was given a fat, black, eraser-less pencil and primary-lined paper to write on. I am left handed and as I wrote, my hand smeared my words.  Unable to erase, I would get frustrated and not want to write.  Even in the early 80’s when I was in college, I had no computers available or even typewriters to type my papers.  As our students move into the digital future, they will learn by doing.  I am preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist yet!  It is crucial that content be engaging and relevant and that the rigor in our classrooms promote those higher order thinking skills.  If you break down this iPad exercise into steps, this is what they had to do:

1.  Open the Pages app and change the font size.

2. Type the title and their content. (which is no small feat since they don’t have keyboarding skills, plus they are sounding out their words at the same time)

3.  Open Whiteboard app, create illustration and save it

4.  Go back to Pages and import illustration and re-size.

5.  Read and share

On the revised Blooms Taxonomy, these students were creating, evaluating, analyzing and applying.

This isn’t old school kindergarten.  We are cutting-edge, 21st century learners!

Listen to Gracie read her insect story from her iPad…

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Closing the Achievement Gap: Data and Test Scores

Where’s the Beef?  Show me the money! What’s the bottom line?

In today’s results-oriented, data-driven mentality in education, we all fall under the large accountability umbrella of test scores.  Certainly, there are skeptics who question putting iPads in the hands of young children.  It is asked, “How can we justify the cost of this technology when school budgets and programs are being cut and teachers are being furloughed?”  I too, asked those questions at the beginning of this pilot.  After all, my pay has been decreased from furloughs and no step-increases for experience or cost of living.  My answers came directly from the very people for whom I work…my students.

Let me say that I teach children, not tests.  I want my students to find a love for learning that sustains them for a lifetime.  In a previous post, I described what kind of reader I am.  I want my students to be filled with wonder and inquiry and to find joy in reading and learning.  A commentary written in USA Today states that the goal of education should be to prepare students to be competent and original in their thinking and that focusing on test scores hurts innovation.  When we start focusing on scores, we often stop focusing on innovative teaching methods and divergent thinking. Don’t get me wrong…teaching involves assessment and assessment drives instruction.  The problem comes when we stay focused on the one-dimensional scores and not look at the whole child.  William Arthur Ward states “Wise are those who learn that the bottom line doesn’t always have to be their top priority” Sermon over.

All of that being said, I do understand that the purchase of the iPads was intended to close the achievement gap and raise scores.  So far, they’ve delivered on that.  I’ve been using the iPads for 13 months.  Last school year, we began implementation in late January.  My class results are here.  ipad-data pdf  We were thrilled!  Systematic teaching in Reading and Writing Workshop, along with differentiated instruction with the iPads allowed all 30 of my students to end the school year reading on or above grade level.  This year, with 12 weeks of school remaining, 92% of my students read on a first grade level or higher and the remaining 8% are on grade level. Interesting to note, the 8% are students who came to my class after Christmas from other schools.  They have moved from being non-readers to reading on-grade level in 3 months.

While I don’t solely focus on test scores, I can’t deny the results I am seeing.  These are results that can’t be overlooked.  If good teaching, and iPads as educational tools, result in higher achievement, then how can we argue that our children aren’t worth the investment?

The Force is With Us…

In Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace Darth Maul said, “At last we shall reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we shall have revenge.” Well, that didn’t quite work out, did it? At least not then, and certainly not because of the tattooed Sith Lord. Sure, Maul killed the preachy Qui-Gon Jinn, but he in turn got cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Huh?  I’m clearly out of my element.  I introduced a new book in our reading center today. It is an encyclopedia of Lego Star Wars characters.  Saying it was a huge hit is an understatement.  The above discussion, or something like it, was taking place today between Hagan and Caleb.  They are my Star Wars experts.  The excitement over this new book was not unexpected.  Interest inventories taken on my students clearly showed the need for this new addition.  However, what happened next was unexpected. In the midst of all of the Star Wars techno-babble, the boys decided it would be great to go to the iPad and write about it.  They planned out what they wanted to each write and how they would illustrate it. The discussion  was amazing.  Their engagement was priceless.

I am passionate about my students’ writing.  We have several author studies throughout the year and I use mentor texts to inspire their writing. It is essential in teaching creative writing to provide opportunities  to link writing topics to who the children are familiar with and to what excites them.  Conferring with the students, having them look at their own writing and sharing their writing helps them make connections with good reading and writing skills.  The use of iPads, in conjunction with systematic teaching in Reading and Writing Workshop,  is producing the most advanced reading and writing that I’ve seen in the 23 years I’ve taught. The data is compelling.

Hagan and Caleb-Star Wars aficionados

Whether the students are writing on iPads, blogging, creating eBooks, or writing with pencil on paper, they are immersed in rich language all day long.

So, whether you side with Darth Maul or Obi-Wan Kenobi, I believe “The Force” is strong in kindergarten!

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I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Have you ever had a divine, glorious, light-coming- down- from -the- heavens moment? One that says, “YES!  They finally get it!”  A recent student conversation was music to my ears:

Tahra: “Mrs. Meeuwse, I think I need help spelling the word ‘children’.”

Ansley (before I could respond to Tahra): “I saw that word in a book I was reading today.  I can get it and show it to you.” Ansley goes directly to the book and brings it back. Opens it right to the page and points out the word “children”.

Tahra: “Thanks, Ansley.  That was helpful.” Such nice manners!

What!?  This conversation was awesome on many levels but  I was truly delighted they worked together and solved a problem without me!

Cooperative learning creates an environment of active, involved, exploratory learning. It also develops social skills and higher order thinking skills.  Creating an environment where cooperative learning takes place all throughout the day is important.  It builds student confidence knowing they aren’t alone.  Using iPads, students are constantly teaching each other (and me!) how to do something.  This sharing of information and exploration is seamless as we move throughout the day.

Tahra and Ansley reversed roles a little later.  Ansley thought of some ideas for her blog posts and wanted to write them down.  Tahra showed her how to make a list in the Notes app on her iPad.  The children enjoy  helping each other.  Problem solving skills are also being reinforced, not to mention my name is called a few times less each day.  They are learning to “ask the experts” in the classroom.

John Lennon was right. We all need some help from our friends. I know I do and I have 26 little friends who are there when needed!

Jayde Talks Blogging

Jayde takes a break from her writing to pose for our picture.

Last week, I posted about my students using their iPads to blog using Kid Blog and I shared a  writing sample from Jayde.  She shared that she wanted to write a new blog for girls.  She included a few topics that she would like to blog about.  What strikes me about this young writer (besides the fact that she is 6 years old) is that she already has a basic understanding of her niche.  Pro blogger states that many writers ask what to blog about rather than how.It further states that niche blogging appeals to readers.

I interviewed Jayde about her blogging ideas.  Here is an excerpt of that interview:

Me: “Jayde, tell me what you like about blogging.”

Jayde: ” I like writing about things I like and I like to read what other people write. ”

Me: “What made you want to write a blog for girls?”

Jayde: “I like dolls and rainbows and I like cheerleading.  I have friends who like those things too. I think other girls like them too.”

Me: “How do you decide what to write about?”

Jayde: “I just think of things I like and what my friends like.  It’s easy.”

Jayde at work.

There it is folks…Jayde knows what it’s all about. French-Cuban author Anais Nin says, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.” It inspires me to know that Jayde and the other students in my class are busy 5 and 6 year olds living and writing what they know.

What inspires you?




It’s Just How We (Blog)Roll…

“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”-Willa Cather

This week, I stepped into the world of blogging on the iPads with my kindergartners.  Through KidBlog students can blog in a safe and secure way. The website states “Kidblog’s simple, yet powerful tools allow students to publish posts and participate in discussions within a secure classroom blogging community. Teachers maintain complete control over student blogs. ”

What could kindergarten students possibly have to say in a blog?  Seriously?  Have you been in a kindergarten classroom?  They ALWAYS have something to share.  This forum allows them to share as much and as often as they like.  Blogging supports writing and reading skills as well as digital literacy.

I showed my students this blog and then talked with them about what they might want to share on their own.  We brainstormed different ideas and then off they went making lists on their iPads of possible blogging topics.  I posted to the class and then had them read and respond to my post first.  Then I had them write their own posts. Next, I had them choose some of their classmates posts to read and respond.  This all happened in one day!  Since then, each day, they are asking me if they can please write in their blogs.  My next step is to connect with a first grade class in our building and become Blogging Buddies.

Obviously, I am monitoring all posts and comments.  I am also posting on the blog site and responding to their blogs.  This modeling is important.  The students get excited when they see I have responded to their blog.

One student's thoughts about blogging

Blogging is allowing my students to bring their own voice alive in the classroom and construct their own learning.  It gives them an important sense of being a writer.  After all, we are what we think we are.