Introducing iPads to Kindergartners

From small beginnings come great things. -Proverb

Today was the day. After a nice restful weekend and a bottle of Extra Strength Excedrin tucked away in my school bag, I was ready to seize the day.  I was ready to take the big step.  Today was the day to introduce iPads.  It was our 4th day of school and my students were itching to get their hands on them.  I had been asked repeatedly over the first 3 days, “When can we use the iPads?”   I kept telling them, “soon”.  As a child I hated that response from an adult.  Soon was never soon enough.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to use the iPads, I just wanted to skip over the “here’s how to use them” part.  You know, the boring stuff.  The oh-so-important-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200-do-not-rip-off-this-tag-under-penalty-of-law important kind of boring stuff.  5 year olds have a casual relationship with the “fine print”.

As soon as I said iPads today, there was instant silence, then instant cheers.  Uncontainable excitement.  I rolled them out in small groups.  5 at a time, keeping the basics short and sweet.  I took each child’s picture on his/her individual iPad and made it the home screen and the wallpaper.  This makes it instantly recognizable when opened by all.  We went over turning it on, navigating screens, choosing an app, closing the app, and putting the iPad to sleep.  We went over how to hold it, how to carry it and where to put it when finished.  Wide eyed and smiling, their joy was apparent. Their engagement was instant. Then, oh so quickly, their time with the iPads was finished and we had to put them away.  One by one, they returned them to the charging cart so I could lock them away for the day.  One child leaned over and said softly to his iPad, “Goodnight iPad. We can play again tomorrow.”

As for the rules and procedures, we get to do it all over again tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Modeling and reinforcing the “fine print” ensures that our  small beginnings will soon produce great things!

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New Beginnings

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning. – Joseph Priestly

After several busy days of meetings, professional development, and working in my classroom, the big day is finally here.  Today is the first day of the new school year.  Very shortly, I will have 25 excited, anxious, sad, and maybe even scared kindergarten students.  My own feelings are very similar to those of my new students.  I’m sad about the loss of the familiar students from last year and excited about the new students and possibilities this school year holds.  While it is disparate to feel both sad and excited at the same time, it’s a familiar feeling for me as I begin my 24th First Day of School.

My new students have already come in, met me and seen our classroom.  Their first questions were not the same as those I’ve had in the past…”When is recess or lunch” or “When can we play at centers”…their first questions, almost unanimously, were “When do we get to use our iPads?” Hmmm…good news travels fast! Their parents are also interested in the apps we use so they can get them on their iPads and iPhones at home.  Having both students and parents excited before we even begin is a good place to start.

As excited as they are to begin, I have a lot of front loading of procedures that needs to take place.  I can’t allow both their excitement and my impatience to begin to short cut those very important steps.

As I plan for my first iPad implementation with my students,  I’m excited to think of all the great things we will do this year.  Last year’s students amazed me at their iPad ideas.  I know this year’s class will create their own fresh start, their own special magic!

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Going for Gold

Be firm on principle but flexible on method. -Zig Ziglar

Watching the Olympics the past 2 weeks, I’ve marveled at the flexibility of the athletes, particularly the gymnasts.  They can put their bodies into positions that seem almost super-human to me.  I can’t even bend over and touch my toes.  Their abilities come from intentional practice, training and coaching.

Flexibility isn’t restricted to range of movement with our joints and muscles.  It is also about being willing or disposed to yield.  I’ve been teaching for, well, forever it seems.  It is super easy for me to reach into my file cabinet, pull out a unit of study and go on autopilot…teaching the same lessons, using the same examples, smoothing out the same, wrinkled and faded artifacts and expecting the same answers from my students.  It is literally, a no-brainer.

The longer we teach, the easier it is to develop tunnel vision.  A few years ago, I found myself going through the motions of teaching.  I wasn’t happy but couldn’t figure out why.  My rigidity was more like rigor mortis. When I started using the iPads, I found a new spark of excitement that energized my teaching.  I found the joy of student-led learning and being open to the moment.  When I became present, I discovered how my students became more engaged.  I realized that being on autopilot is a death knell to the classroom.

To be sure, iPads required a new flexibility for me.  I still had an overarching goal but I learned to be not just accepting of student-led learning, I became expectant of it.  The beauty of this shift in my teaching was that my students exceeded even my usually high expectations.  My mantra to teachers in other grades who seem reluctant to incorporate iPads is “If my 5 year old kindergartners can do it, surely your students can also.” Just like those Olympic athletes, our own teaching flexibility requires intentional practice, training and coaching.  It starts from the top in administration.  When administrators create a culture of flexibility, team-work, and open-mindedness, then teachers feel empowered to try new things, reach beyond what they think is possible, and “Go for Gold!”

Are there parts of your life/career that are on autopilot?  Try to find one thing that you can change and allow yourself to feel energized by it.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious!

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Comfort Zone-Exit Stage Right

I’m continually trying to make choices that put me against my own comfort zone. As long as you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re growing. -Ashton Kutcher

I return to school in 7 days.  Recently, I was asked to mentor a new teacher hired on my grade level.  My plan was to meet her at school and go over the important things she would need to know to get started.  I went to school the day before our meeting and moved my furniture and set up my classroom.  There was no way I was going to be able to sit in the chaos of jumbled furniture and plan with her.  I guess you can say I have high organizational needs.  My brain functions better when my environment is in order.

While we have different ways we approach things, whether it’s our classrooms, our homes, a new task, we all have a comfort zone in which we operate.  Our students are no different.  As I prepare for a new class of spunky 5 year olds, I am looking forward to watching them learn and grow.  As educators, we have to stretch ourselves and step outside of our comfort zones in order to innovate. In order to make a little magic.   There is tremendous enthusiasm for iPads and other technologies in education and it’s definitely part of learning’s future.  The opportunity to share information, collaborate around the world, to consume endless amounts of content and get access to information anywhere, anytime, anyplace, is a game changer that fundamentally will have a huge role in the future of the way learning takes place.

Ironically, using iPads is not out of the comfort zone of our students.  They come in ready and excited to get started.  Part of good teaching is staying a little ahead of the game.  Having a plan for implementation, and yet, allowing students to have the freedom to stretch and create is necessary for true success.  Teachers are good at planning….but not all are comfortable letting go and giving kids time to figure things out themselves.  For some, it’s threatening when students know more than they do.  The new Common Core State Standards stress the importance of student engagement in the whole brain activity of creative problem solving.

As we prepare for a brand new year, I’m thinking about how I can stretch myself and step out of my comfort zone a little. I’m looking to make a little magic.  With the iPads, the possibilities are endless.  Are you willing to stretch with me?

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