As Easy as ABC…Magnetic ABC App

To succeed, you will soon learn, as I did, the importance of a solid foundation in the basics of education – literacy, both verbal and numerical, and communication skills -Alan Greenspan

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching is trying to meet all of your students’ needs.  In a room of 25 children, I have students who are reading and those who have just started learning letters of the alphabet, plus all other levels in between.  The iPads facilitate my ability to differentiate learning for all of my students.

With my children that are still struggling with naming letters and sounds, we have been working with our Magnetic ABC appThis $1.99 app has upper and lower case letters and numbers.  It also has themes and objects available for use.  As an ABC practice activity, I call out an upper case letter and they choose it and put it on their board.  We scroll to the lower case letters and have them find the matching partner letter.  Sometimes I call out a letter sound and they have to find the letter that makes that sound.  Students who know their letter sounds practice with this app also. They can choose one of the objects and then match it’s beginning sound.   I can give them a CVC word and we stretch it out.  As they hear those sounds, they choose the corresponding letter. We can create word family words also.  The ability to use letters more than one time is a bonus.   More advanced students can make sentences dictated to them by either me or a partner.

The app also has numbers and objects.  Students can practice their numeracy skills, 1:1 correspondence, addition and subtraction, making sets less than, greater than or equal to, and patterning.  My students seem to enjoy the iPad version of this so much more than the real magnet letters on the cookie sheet that I put out in centers.  It’s also a lot easier to clean up!

Having a multipurpose app that meets a variety of student needs help me build a strong foundation in all students.  We can’t assume that students know these most basic of skills or short change their practice.  Apps that grow with students are efficient and effective.  Students are engaged and learning is underway. While these activities seem so…well, so basic, they are.   It just goes to show you that it doesn’t have to be fancy to be functional and fun!

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Press the Reset Button

Definition of Reset: 1:to set again or anew  2: to change the reading of, often to zero- Miriam-Webster Dictionary

Starting a new school year with young children requires starting anew with our kindergarten curriculum.  It means ending the previous year with children reading and writing and taking charge of their own learning then starting completely over again with children who not only don’t know classmates’ names but some still don’t know MY name.

After 23 days of school, it is easy to think we are in a groove.  Most know routines and procedures and most are figuring this whole school-thing out.  But the key word here is most. It is key because by definition, most is not all.  Yes, I still have some who are still trying to make sense of our day.  I still have some who don’t know where some things go or where to find other things.  As an adult, it is easy to think that after 23 days of school, these children should have it all together.  They should know how to turn the volume down on their iPads, how to find the math folder on the iPad, how to put it to sleep and put it away quickly.  Right?

Ah…time to hit the Reset Button.  They really don’t know how to do those things yet.  It can take up to 70 repetitions for young children to fully make a concept permanent.  It is difficult, at times, for me to reset.  Ending the previous year on such an instructional “roll” and then starting back over from zero is part of the kindergarten teacher territory, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It helps that those children in the class who do know how to do many things are more than willing to help their friends who can’t.

As we start a new week, it is important to remember it is only our 5th full week of school.  We are 5 years old and while we learn most things very quickly, most is not all. By slowing down and making sure all are ready with these basic skills in all areas, we can then speed up with minimal disruption.  Am I preaching to myself?  Most definitely.  But I’m pretty sure there are others out there who, like me, need to push the reset button and start today, Monday, with a fresh set of expectations.

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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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More on Anchor Charts

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -Benjamin Franklin

One of the first things we do in kindergarten (besides learning where the bathroom is) is to create an anchor chart together.  Anchor charts are charts that are created with the students to help them “anchor” their learning.  We make one for every letter of the alphabet, we make one with our classmates names, we make one for how to listen, we make one for colors, one for numbers, and any other skill I would like them to use on a regular basis.  We use them daily in our Reading and Writing Workshop activities.

My students love them and refer to them all throughout the day. They are engaged in the process of creating them so they take ownership in them.  After a while, they know more of what is on the charts than I do.  Space is a concern…and do I really need to leave a chart on Halloween words up all school year? Those questions are answered with the iPads.  I find that I leave the alphabet charts up all year; however, seasonal charts, or special charts made for a specific activity do not have to stay up and take up valuable wall space.  By photographing all of the anchor charts and syncing them out to the children’s iPads, they have the charts with them all year long regardless of whether they are on the wall or not.

A recent writing activity included writing about our families.  After making the Family Words chart, they were able to refer to it all week as we discussed our families.  We also wrote about foods we liked.  By having the anchor chart, students were able to write about these foods.  In a week or so, I can add these to their iPads and they will have access to these words even if I take these charts down.

Another advantage of having these charts on the iPads is that students don’t have to walk across the room to see them if they are writing something and need a word.  The charts are also available if students are reading on their iPads and would like to read the charts.  It is like Read the Room, only it is done in their seats.

If you aren’t using anchor charts, I highly recommend them.  They are quick and easy but they pack a powerful punch.  Parents can even make them at home and post on the refrigerator or in the child’s room.

By involving the child in the learning, they create connections that are critical for mastery of skills.

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We’re Swinging…NOT

Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. -Marilyn vos Savant

I don’t usually post on Fridays because, well, no one generally reads it.  Today, begged for a post and as usual, one of my students delivered one right in my lap.  This student desperately wants to swing on the playground.  We have those belt swings (see photo to left) and the children have a lot of difficulty getting into the swings by themselves.  This child has trouble getting in,  plus she also hasn’t mastered the whole leg-pumping part once I put her into the swing.  I show her what to do and give her directions.  I model and demonstrate, but I won’t push her.  She won’t try if I do.  Her face shows determination, extreme concentration and if possible, she would swing on sheer will alone.  But there are roadblocks…”Mrs. Meeuwse, I am trying to put my butt back where it belongs.” she says.  (And haven’t we all had that problem before?)

I continue to encourage and model and direct her in this important endeavor.    “Isn’t there an app that will teach me to swing on the iPad?”  she asked today.  I assured her she didn’t need the iPad to learn to swing…and frankly, I was a little nervous about searching for a “swinging app.”  “But I’m learning to read and do math on the iPad.  Why can’t I learn to swing too?”  I explained that there are just some things we learn by doing over and over and by not giving up.

While there are so many things my students can learn on the iPads, there are just some things we learn the old fashioned way….by putting our butts back where they belong… and trying.  (Hmm…wonder if this applies to writing Friday blog posts?)

Happy Friday!

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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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Learning Phonics with iPad Apps

Practice is the best of all instructors. -Publilius Syrus

The beginning of every school year brings a variety of ability levels to kindergarten.  I have children who are already reading and some who struggle with just naming upper and lower case letters and sounds.  I’ve stated that the best part of having 1:1 iPads in the classroom is the ability to differentiate for student need.  There are a series of apps by Good Neighbor Press we use a lot in the beginning of the year.

The first app I use is the Upper and Lower Case Letter Matching Pocket Chart.  This has students matching upper and lower case letters.  It takes about 3-5 minutes to complete the cycle.  This is particularly good for my young learners who are still working with this skill.  It is easy to use and engaging as the students are earning stars for correct answers.  It also helps with the ever-confusing lower case b and d identification.  This app is .99

Beyond matching, another app in the series is Matching Beginning Sounds.  Again, this is a 3-5 minutes cycle that is highly engaging and keeps students moving through the app.
Other apps in the series include matching rhyming words, ending sounds, consonant blends and digraphs, word families, compound words, and long and short vowels.

Math apps are also available from this publisher.  There are apps for shape matching, position words, counting 1-20, number and number words matching, fractions and single digit addition and subtraction.  Each of these apps can be purchased individually, or for $4.99, you can purchase Pocket Charts Pro and receive all 20 games in one app!

One of the reasons I like this app is because pocket charts are common in many classrooms.  These apps are recognizable activities that don’t require a lot of front loading to use.  It also give you a quick sense of an individual child’s abilities.  While I may have 1 or 2 pocket charts available during centers for students to interact with, having a variety of pocket charts apps in their iPads means no one has to wait their turn.  Instant access!  Because there is a variety of skill levels within the app series, there is virtually something for everyone.  When you can deliver just-in-time-practice to each individual student, you are increasing engagement as well as allowing the child to move at his/her own pace.  Students who are ready to move on aren’t held back by those needing extra practice.  Those needing extra practice aren’t being rushed on by those who are ready to move on.

As I’m finishing the 10th day of school today and finishing up all of my initial assessments, I see I have a wide variety of student abilities.  By using apps such as those in the Pocket Chart series, I know my students are getting practice right where they need it!

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The First Week of School

Excitement in education and student productivity, the ability to get a result that you want from students, go together and cannot be separated. -Major Owens

“Mrs. Meeuwse, this iPad has it all!  I can write and read and do math on it!” After 5 days of using iPads in the classroom, my kindergarten students are excited.  Did you notice that the child’s exclamation did not include the word play? That surprised me a bit.  They are so “play” oriented.   So far, no one as asked if they can “play” with their iPads.  They have asked if they can “work on them” or “get on them”.  Perhaps they are mirroring my own language in using them.  I am careful to use instructive language and modeling as we implement them slowly into our curriculum.  We have used them only in small group activities during guided reading  at this point.  My assistant and I both are showing them how to use key apps that we use frequently.

As we enter the second full week of school, I have completed my initial assessments and I have a better sense of what these small guided reading groups need to work on.  Since we use the Reading Workshop model, I have placed the children in small, flexible groups to work on specific skills.  One group is ready to read Level A books.  We have the LAZ level A readers on the iPads and this will give the children an opportunity to have just right books in their hands.  My students who need extra help in learning letters and sounds will have hands on time in centers with various manipulatives but they will also be working on a few specific apps to reinforce these skills.  One of these is the Starfall app.  Having a carefully mapped out plan creates comfort for you as the teacher, but also for the students as they know exactly what your expectations are.

The best part of having 1:1 iPads is all 25 of my students have access to apps that meet their individual needs. As we continue to work slowly and methodically through class routines and procedures both with and without the iPads, I’m reminded of Debbie Miller’s quote in Reading with Meaning: “We must be deliberate in September.”  Being explicit and deliberate about the smallest of details is important.  As our children become more confident in their abilities and activities in the classroom, their engagement soars, their inquiry shines and their excitement is unmeasurable.  We need to slow down to speed up!

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