Making the Most of Small Moments

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. -Rose Kennedy
snailI don’t do critters…creepy crawly, slimy, or slithery.  So when my students found this guy at recess yesterday, of course, they were fascinated.  I had to admit, he was pretty spectacular in a disgustingly slimy way.
Their intrigue, however, brought about some pretty awesome conversation and some creativity later.  They immediately asked questions like, “Is it a snail or a slug?”  “What does it eat?”  “Does it keep its shell or outgrow it?” “Is it helpful or a pest?”   Then came this little gem from a child…”I wish we had an iPad out here to take its picture for the science center.” Silence for a moment.  In that moment of silence, I’m thinking, “Me too…it would make a great picture.”  Suddenly, a child says, “Mrs. Meeuwse has an iPhone (awesome brand identification for a 5 year old).  She can take a picture of it and print it out!”  Huh?  Oh yeah…I DO have a phone! I quickly snapped a photograph and then many started asking if I could send it to their iPads with Showbie…And then I was asked if I could “text the picture” to their parents.  Several wanted them to see it.  In our quick 25 minutes of recess, about 20 was spent with this snail.
During all of the activity, I was preoccupied with their questions and getting a good picture, making sure the creature wasn’t injured or touched, etc…but afterward, I reflected back on that moment and was struck by my students’ thinking.  The immediate thought of including technology…using my phone to take a picture, putting it on their iPads with Showbie, texting the image to their parents…technology was at the forefront of their thoughts.  It was not an afterthought.  It was how these 5 year olds solved their questions and problem-solved in the moment.
Later in the afternoon, many chose to draw the snail in art and write about him in the writing center.  Here is one example from the iPad:
snail drawing padThe child used Drawing Pad and saved it to his camera roll.  I used Simple Transfer to get it off his iPad on to my laptop.
Our thematic unit this week is Pumpkins and how they grow…but  yesterday, we took a detour and talked about snails.  The questions, vocabulary, and engagement were just too good to shut down at the end of recess.
I don’t necessarily recommend taking a detour every time the opportunity appears, but by being open to small moments in your day and allowing students to lead the way in their wonder and discovery, we begin to create students who think deeply.  I am always amazed at the complexity of a child’s mind and yesterday was no exception.  I was reminded just how naturally they incorporate technology into their lives and how curious they are about living creatures.  By being present in that very small moment, I’m certain I learned more than they did yesterday!
Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Creativity and the iPad

Children see magic because they look for it. -Christopher Moore

“Stop acting like a child.”  How many times have you heard that or said it?  The implication is negative, the behavior undesirable.  Why is it that society has deemed being child-like as a bad thing?  Certainly, some childish behaviors are less than desirable but children have unique vision that adults seem to lose as we age.

IMG_0722Part of that ability to have imagination comes from not being afraid to be wrong.  Creativity and imagination spur innovation.  What if we could organize and prepare like an adult but think and create like a child?

We just finished a fiction unit on Monsters.  We had fun reading several fiction stories such as Go Away Big Green Monster  and Glad Monster, Sad Monster. The children’s conversations in centers and in various activities were filled with imaginative scenarios involving monsters all week. This was also a great time to incorporate feeling words and describing words into our mini-lessons.  As we made anchor charts with some of these words, the children could refer to them all week in their reading and their writing.

Children are so adept at pretending.  They are missing those filters of self-IMG_0724consciousness that adults have so firmly in place.  Adults often feel they “aren’t creative” because they have become so adept at avoiding being wrong. I love listening furtively to the conversations that go on in our housekeeping center.  The social skills developed in this center are invaluable.

As we worked on our monsters all week, we created our own “feeling monsters” in Drawing Pad, then uploaded them into Pic Collage. Some even went a step further and uploaded their Pic Collage into Explain Everything. (We have finally started our App Smashing!)  The iPads allowed us to create and innovate as we added some voice to our writing all week.  IMG_0725

All of us, adults and children alike, have the ability to use our imaginations. We tell others, you can do anything you set your mind to…but do we believe it about ourselves?  Imagination isn’t just thinking outside of the box.  It is acting on those “what if’s”.

In educational times of increased non-fiction requirements, we enjoyed taking a break and delving into monsters.  Instead of writing them off as not-real, my students embraced the opportunity to pretend, create, write, and explore “monstrous” possibilities.

We love using our iPads as creation tools.  The only limitation is our imaginations.  My students found theirs to be of “monstrous” proportions!

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

Engaging Students with Explain Everything

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. -Albert Einstein

The blank stare…You know, the one that either says, “I have no earthly idea what you are talking about.” or “Why are you telling me this? I already know it.” I suppose there is one other possibility. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?… Utter and complete boredom. Misconceptions and lack of engagement can both derail the learning process.

IMG_2265One of the apps we use really gets to the heart of both of those concerns.  I’ve written about Explain Everything before. It really is a robust app.  The best part is that it is easy enough for my 5 year olds, yet just as relevant and engaging for older students.  I’ve even seen a few adults having a great time creating a screen cast in this app. We used this app weekly last spring.  This past week was the first time we used it this school year. We’ve been learning about Spiders in science.  My students all drew a detailed spider picture in our Drawing Pad app and saved it to the camera roll. Then they uploaded it to Explain Everything.  We’ve been working on labeling like a scientist in our Writing Workshop so they labeled their drawings and then they recorded themselves telling about their work.  As I was showing this app to a small group, their eyes widened and they were immediately interested in doing their own.  They were very excited and had great conversations amongst themselves as they discussed the length/width of the arrows used to point to their objects.  Should it point this way or that? What if they moved this over there? Noticeably absent were questions directed at ME.  Even though this was their first time using this app, they were busy figuring things out themselves and working through ideas, thoughts and questions with their peers.

This first time with Explain Everything was very successful.  After completing their assignment, they uploaded it to Showbie where I could then see and listen to each one.  As the year progresses, Explain Everything will always be one of their go-to apps to share with me what they have learned.  As we work on unpacking standards and demonstrating learning, my students have voice and choice in how they want to document what they know.

While iPads are often thought of as a consumptive device, through the use of creation apps, students are able to create their own content.  Explain Everything allows students to create both simple and complex presentations in an engaging way in any subject. Our first product this week is more simple but they will become more complex as the year goes on.  This is Caitlyn’s Explain Everything:

Want to lose the blank stares? Engage students, get to the heart of what they know and don’t know, and stimulate their minds and their conversations.   Any takers?  Anyone?  Anyone?

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

Using iPads to Supplement Reading

We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. -B.F. Skinner
“Seriously!  Do I have to do ALL the work around here?” This is a quote from a child in my housekeeping center recently that made me laugh.  She was definitely channeling another adult in her life…but it is a sentiment I’m sure we have all thought, expressed, or hollered at some point in both our personal and professional lives.  Wouldn’t it be great if the great Work Fairy came down and waved her magic wand?  Wait…wouldn’t it be great if there WAS a great Work Fairy???
C0010258 StudyingAs educators, our  “In-Basket” tends to overflow with things we want to do, have to do, and need to do.  It is hard to find time to do it all.  With reading and literacy as a huge focus in early childhood classrooms, it can be difficult to meet the needs of each child.  We use the Fountas and Pinnell guided reading approach but I supplement with extension activities on our iPads.  This helps me reach all of the needs of my students.
My students are homogeneously grouped for reading.  These groups are small (4-6 students) and are flexible.  They change with the particular skill we are working on.  With my struggling children, we use games, manipulatives, flash cards and apps to immerse them in phonics skills.  Some of the apps I’ve been using that have been helpful are Starfall ABC’s, Starfall Learn to Read, Word Wizard and Montessori Crosswords.  These apps provide strong emphasis on phonics skills.
My middle group and top groups are working on sight words, blending sounds to read words, and integrating strategies to read unfamiliar words.  They are reading on Level A at this time.  I have several level A readers in my room, but I’ve created some to go on their iPads in Book Creator so they have them at their fingertips when they have a few minutes to read or when they go to the Reading Center.  Here is one using sight words
This is a PDF version since not all of my readers have Book Creator.  Some of the books I’ve made include me reading the text.  Students can touch the speaker icon on the page and hear me read the story to them.  The I Can See Book does not have that feature.
By using the iPads to supplement skills in reading, I’m able to work with students on various levels and let them move on when they are ready.  This actually reduces my work load considerably and frees me up to have conferences with individual students and work with individual students in a more meaningful way.  Work Fairy or not, less teacher work and more time with students is a beautiful thing!
Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!
photo credit: Creative Commons

Show Me With Showbie

We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing. -Billy Graham

Sorry, but I just can’t get enough of Showbie.  It is our new app used school-wide for creating digital portfolios.  I recently wrote about Showbie and our using it to create digital portfolios.  Since then, I have discovered some other pretty awesome features.

First, let me say, we are not completely paperless.  We have, however, significantly reduced our paper usage and Showbie has facilitated that.  In kindergarten, there is still the need for paper/pencil skills.  School-wide, we saved over $21,000 in paper usage, copies, ink, and toner last year.  Showbie has several features that are helpful.  Here is a screen shot showing some features:


I have blurred out my students’ last names, but my class list is to the left.  The small paper icon to the right of each name shows which students have submitted an assignment.  You can also add student pictures beside their names if you want.  The shared folder allows me to upload resources, videos, voice instructions, PDF files, and ePubs to be used in that particular assignment.  Once the resources are loaded in the shared folder, it is available to all students.  It is in the shared folder that I added an ABC book that I created in Book Creator.  My students just went into the shared folder, downloaded the book in their iBooks and all students have the book on their bookshelf.

The area to the right has a drop-down box with choices for adding files. The camera option allows photographs or videos.  You can upload images from the photo library as well.  Using the Capture PDF option, you can scan in a document.  If you have a PDF file in your photo library, you can upload this also. In addition, you can add text notes to student work or voice notes.  These are all of the teacher options.  Students have the same options in their drop-down menu for putting work in the assignment folder.

Last week, I uploaded a PDF of primary lined paper for my students to demonstrate writing their numbers to 20.  They opened the assignment in Showbie and then used Good Notes (a PDF annotator) to write their numbers.  I was able to quickly email their parents this assignment.  Later in the week, I used the camera option to video tape students counting to 20.  This was a quick assessment that was also emailed to parents.

photoThe best part is that Showbie is so easy to use.  At this early point in the school year, my kindergarten students already know how to open the app and upload work on their own.  Parents also enjoy feeling like they are a part of the classroom through the email feature.

One last way we are using Showbie is to share student work with our principal.  Each grade level decided on student assignments for each nine weeks that would be used to demonstrate growth and demonstrate CCSS. My principal created a class for each grade level in Showbie.  These student provisos are uploaded for him to monitor.  We send a high, medium, and low work sample each nine weeks.  This allows him to check in on student work on a regular basis.  It also encourages meaningful use of the iPad in the learning environment.

We are very excited about the incorporation of this robust program into our classrooms.  There is a free version of Showbie if you would like to check it out. We liked it so much we purchased the school license.

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