Making Your Mark With iPads

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

medium_4176075327Well, we missed it.  International Dot Day was September 15th.  Better to be late than not go at all, we celebrated making our creative mark this past week.  It came at a good time.  I’ve been hearing a lot of “I can’ts”  lately.  If you are unfamiliar with the story of The Dot by Peter Reynolds and International Dot Day, you can check it out here.  In the story, Vashti is an uninspired student who feels as if she can’t draw.  Her teacher encourages her to be brave enough to “make her mark”.

Leaving our mark is a lot easier than we think.  We make it hard.  We resist and tell ourselves we aren’t smart enough, creative enough, talented enough, rich enough…but what if we took a page from Vashti’s playbook and just tried?  As educators, we make lasting marks with every child we teach.

As we started using iPads in our classroom in 2011, there was no real path to follow.  We trail blazed our own.  There were a few bumps along the way, but we believed in what we were doing.  We started with our own “dot” and it has transformed the way we do everything. It has transformed the way we think about everything.

So back to our dot project…after reading the book, we used our iPads to create our own dots in our Drawing Pad app.  (We usually use Doodle Buddy, but they have not updated the app lately and it doesn’t work very well with the new iOS 7 update.) The kids uploaded their dots to Showbie and I then downloaded them all on my iPad and put them into Book Creator.  As you may know, my love  for Book Creator is epic.

Our finished product is here:

The Dot

The great thing about Showbie is there are “shared folders” with each assignment.  After I created the class book in Book Creator, I uploaded it back to the shared folder in Showbie.  This made the book available to each student and all they had to do was download it into their iBooks.  Now each student has a copy of our class book in their iBooks shelf.  They have loved looking at each other’s work and are definitely proud of their own.

You know, a lot has changed for me since I said, “yes” to iPads 2 1/2 years ago.  I never dreamed I would be doing the things I am.   I chose to try and make my mark by creating a student centered classroom infused with technology.

How are you making your mark?

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Dot photo credit 

Parents and iPads

Let’s give them something to talk about. -Bonnie Raitt

medium_3610488258Have you ever been consumed with something?  You know, a project or idea that dominates your thoughts, dreams, conversations, lesson plans…When we are so immersed in something, we know every facet, every detail, every scintilla of it.  We assume that because we know all about it, that others should as well and we are a little nonplussed when they don’t.

I’m referring to our school wide use of iPads.  We have had iPads in a 1:1 setting since January 2011 in 3 classrooms and school wide since the 2011-12 school year.  We incorporate them into our daily activities.  We use them all throughout the day.  Our kids are engaged and excited.  We’ve had a technology night to showcase for parents what some of our classes are doing.  Surely, there is no question of HOW we use these amazing devices.  Except, there are.

An independent consulting firm issued parent surveys to gauge the level of support.  This survey asked what parents liked best about the use of iPads in the classroom and if there is anything that could be improved on.  Several surveys, more than should have, came back with parents saying they aren’t really sure how the iPads are being used.  They didn’t know enough about it to comment.

Well, ouch.  That hurt.  Our first reaction was, “Of course they know! How can they not??” Then with a little time and objectivity, we decided that we needed to do a better job of letting our little light shine.  We needed to be more intentional about including parents in the conversation.  We needed to give them something to talk about!  It was decided that we will have a monthly newsletter highlighting what’s happening with iPads at each grade level.  Here is our first:

ipads at dhes September 2013_1

This will go home in each class newsletter, be featured on our school website, and printed out and made into posters for each of our main hallways.  Teachers will also be more focused on communicating not just the “what”  by the “why” so parents can see value and be more closely involved in the process.  Yes, this is all common sense but it is easy to assume we are all engaged in the same conversation when we really aren’t.

Involving all stakeholders in a large project like this is critical.  I realize that I could stand on my head and eat a bug but that doesn’t mean everyone will get the information.  We will always have people say, “I never knew…” but by being more intentional in the curating and sharing of the good news, we are partnering in the best possible way with our students’ very first teacher…their parents.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it.  

PS:  Big shout out to Lisa Bevans for creating this awesome first parent newsletter!

Flickr photo credit

Collaborative Work Spaces

Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved. -Mattie Stepanek

medium_4264216476So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaborative spaces and their importance and relevance in learning.  Early childhood classrooms are collaborative by nature and the furniture provided in these classrooms allow for students to be in small groups.  But what about other grades?  Why is this important?

Think about your recent professional development experiences.  Were they in a classroom somewhere with desks in rows or were you at tables where you could easily see your table mates?  By their very nature, desks in rows inhibit conversation, eye contact, and community.  Plus, they are not very comfortable.  I start squirming after a short time in these seats.  The times I’ve been in PD at tables, it is immediately possible to engage in conversation, share, and build relationships.  It just feels better and more personal.

Our students are no different.  They need the ability to learn from their peers, to question, to share, to feel safe in a group and not feel isolated.  When we use collaborative groupings with tables, we are saying we are a community.  We learn from each other and I, as the teacher, am not the sole disseminator of knowledge.  The room arrangement instantly, and silently, shares your values as an educator.

As we use iPads, students are immediately collaborative.  They want to share what they’ve done, and in doing so, their peers are able to participate in the collective wisdom of the group.  Collective wisdom…so important for students and adults.  The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” applies to many aspects of growing children.  No where in that saying does it say “the village” has to all be adults.

As an adult, when I have to learn in isolation, I find myself sometimes feeling anxious.  Especially if the concept is complicated.  I may even feel like I just don’t get it…what’s wrong with me?  Everyone else seems to get it.  In collaborative learning, I might find that others don’t understand either.  This immediately relieves anxiety knowing I’m not alone.  As a team, we figure it out together.   All students, from the smallest to the tallest, need to feel safe and supported in learning new content.  By having the ability to work collaboratively, in a space that supports collaboration, students are more likely to take risks.

IMG_2156My classroom has many collaborative spaces.  There are tables that seat 4 and 6.  I’ve pushed 2 rectangular tables together for a larger collaborative space.  There are rugs and pillows on the floor that allow students to spread out and be comfortable.  As I stated earlier, early childhood classrooms are equipped for collaboration.  I recently saw this video on Edutopia showing how a middle school teacher used what was already in his classroom to make the space more collaborative for his 35 students.

Take a good look at your classroom design and see what it says about what you value as an educator.  Student input is also valuable.  What changes can you make to increase collaboration and student engagement?IMG_2176

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

student desks photo credit: Creative Commons

A World of Wonder

Wisdom begins in wonder. -Socrates

I_WonderWe are doing an author study on Eric Litwin this week.  He is the author of the Pete the Cat books.  My students love Pete the Cat…and with this study, we’ve started a “wonder” chart.  “Why is Pete the Cat blue?” “Who taught him to play the guitar” “Does he have other shoes since he got his new white shoes wet?”  These are all questions my students wondered this week.

If you Google image search “wonder”, you will find an alarming number of strange people dressed like Wonder Woman… but wonder is an innate part of the human experience, and somewhere along the way, we lose it.  We have to deliberately foster it, nurture it and encourage it in young children.  When children wonder, they grow bolder in their questioning.  They think beyond the surface.

photo-14I encouraged my students to draw about their “wonderings” today in Doodle Buddy on their iPad.  There was good conversation among the groups of students and even though it is early in the school year, they are starting to understand and enjoy the opportunities to work in small groups and talk about their work.  Wondering encourages original thinking, thinking outside the box, and creativity.  When many adults look at a new piece of technology, such as an iPad, they think, “How do I use this?”  Kids look at the same piece of technology and think, “What can I do with this?”  They are curious and creative by nature.  As an aside, you will be interested to know that the above drawing was done by one of my students.  She said, “Mrs. Meeuwse, that is you with Pete the Cat.  Pete is rocking his school shoes and your lip gloss is poppin’ and I’m wondering where your shoes are.”  Hmm…I’m wondering where my shoes are as well.  And about that lip gloss….”poppin”?

There is no doubt there was some creative thinking going on there.  I love how the iPad allows us to explore many ideas and “wonderings”.  Yes…they could have just as easily drawn their picture on a piece of paper.  But then we wouldn’t be able to import their drawings into another app and “Explain Everything” in the near future.  One step builds on another.  We will start App Smashing very soon.

Look for ways to bring wonder in to your classroom.  Pete the Cat is a good place to start!

As Pete the Cat says:
“No matter what you step in,
keep walking along and
singing your song. Because it’s all good.”

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Creating Digital Portfolios

All I really need to know… I learned in kindergarten. -Robert Fulghum

We started our digital portfolios today.  We knew by the end of last year that we really needed a systematic way of curating student work.  It was important that we be able to share it with parents but it was of utmost importance that it be simple enough for everyone…especially our kindergarten students.  I mean, let’s get real…if I have to touch every iPad to save student work, it just isn’t happening.

Showbie-238x300We went with Showbie.  Showbie allows you to set up your classroom and create assignments for students. When students submit their work, it is organized by assignment.  You can see which child has submitted work and which one hasn’t.  You can even add annotations, voice notes or written notes on the assignment and send it back.  It is very easy to use and individual student work can be emailed to share with parents.

Today, I added our first assignment.  It sends a brief alert to the individual iPad so students can see there is a new assignment.  This is great for older students. My students used Pic Collage and they were asked to choose a number between 2-9.  They added a text box and typed in their number.  Then they added the number of stickers that corresponded with their number.  After the stickers, they added another text box so they could type their names.  Lastly, they learned how to save their work to their photo roll on the iPad.

Library PhotoThey did very well with this activity.  The next step involved going into their Showbie app.  We did this together.  I used Reflector to demonstrate step-by-step on the Smart Board.  When the students opened Showbie, they simply clicked the “+” symbol, then chose their camera roll and then their Pic Collage work sample.  As easy as that, it was uploaded.  The entire activity from start to finish took 25 minutes.  I was then able to email the work samples to parents to share with the their first work sample in the digital portfolio.

The digital portfolios will certainly help us keep things organized and use a lot less paper.  Just as an aside, my school saved over $21,000 in paper, copies, and ink cartridges last school year.  By using digital portfolios, student work is preserved over longer periods of time.

I’m excited about the creation of these digital portfolios.  It will be a great way to organize, view and share student progress.  As we progress through the year, it will also be a great way for students to use their own voice and choice to showcase their work.  I will provide the stimulus.  They will choose the means in which they demonstrate their learning.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Procedures and iPads

“It is greater work to educate a child, in the true and larger sense of the world, than to rule a state” -William Ellery Channing

Well, if this quote isn’t the very truth, I don’t know what is.  As we have exited our honeymoon phase in our class, the real work has begun.  We are making good progress in many areas, and needing to back up and start over in some others.  Veteran educators know these first 6 weeks are procedures, procedures, procedures.  The mistake is when you cut this time short thinking everyone has it.  And. They. Don’t.  Oops…

IMG_0005We worked really hard the first 10 days on our Code of Cooperation.  We still review it daily.  We have talked extensively about what the expectations look like.  My students used our White Board app on their iPads to illustrate some of the expectations. As they made their illustrations, they shared with their groups which expectation they chose and what their drawing represented.  It was gratifying to hear them incorporating the language we used in creating the code in their discussions.  Note all of the happy faces in their illustrations…wouldn’t it be awesome if we were always so smiley??


Through our continued discussions on our code (and by continued, I mean my 15,624 references to it daily), we have discovered that we omitted some things.  In our morning meeting, someone said, “We left iPads off of our Code of Cooperation.”  We discussed what we should do about that and what we should add.  Many ideas were thrown out there, but my personal favorite was the one who suggested we add, “Do not pick your nose and then touch your iPad, because that is totally gross and disgusting.”  Can I get an amen, sister?  But of course, we went with the more politically correct, ” Use clean hands on your iPad.”  The others, while less exciting, were no less important:  carry with 2 hands and be gentle.

So, as we forge on through these first 6 weeks and instill routines and procedures, don’t cut them short, no matter how tempting.  It makes life a lot easier in the long run and allows your students to really take charge of their learning environment once all expectations are understood and owned by everyone.  We are adding iPads to our centers this week, which increases student voice and choice in their learning.  We will be adding some new procedures as we do this.  Remember, teaching IS rocket science.  It can be difficult, messy and exhausting…but with proper attention to procedures in the beginning, the rest of the year will be a real blast!

PS…If you care to check it out, I am featured on the Apple Education website!

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

Creating a Code of Cooperation

“Can’t we all just get along?” -Rodney King

So we’ve just finished 8 days of the new school year and to my utter shock and disbelief, it took 7 of those days before it happened. I waited each day, bracing myself for it to occur. The. First. Tattle.

IMG_05797 whole school days. Shocking really, when you think about a class of 5 year olds. It came just in time. We finally finished our class Code of Cooperation. This code is created along with my students as an agreement of what we believe a good classroom looks like. The children brainstormed a chart full of ideas and each day we talked about those things, narrowed them down, combined like ideas and finally settled on four things. 1. Put things where they go. 2. Be nice to others an share. 3. Listen and do what you are asked to do. 5. Try your best. We discussed what each of these things look like and the students suggested pictures that would match the concept. We came up with 2 pictures of each. The students will add a few sticky notes next week as they come up with more refinements. They already decided we need to identify what it means to be nice. Someone said to use kind words. That will go on a sticky note as an addition.

I guess I actually misspoke above when I said we “finished” it. It is never really finished. We will make additions and changes throughout the year as we go. It is a “living, breathing” agreement. The children all showed their commitment by signing around the periphery of the poster. When students have voice in how they will interact in their learning environment, there is true ownership. They are able to monitor their own behavior and rate how they did. This also creates accountability. I am not the sole monitor of their behavior. We will talk about the code daily and review our commitment to it.

This week, we will use our iPads to draw pictures of what each of the expectations looks like. They will share their ideas with their groups and we will work on how we will address those who choose not to follow our code. We will also work on how using the iPads fit into our Code of Cooperation.

When students have voice and choice in their learning and their learning environment, they become stakeholders. Even 5 year olds understand what it means to choose and to have their choices heard. Aren’t we all a little more cooperative when we have had a say in a process? The pictures we have and the ones we will add also create a visual reminder of what we agreed upon.

As a class, our shared vision is that we will work and learn together. By breaking that down into its components, we now have a working agreement that will serve as a guide for this school year.

Hopefully, it will reduce some of the tattling too. 🙂 One can always hope…

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!