A lot has happened in the last few months. After 32 years in the Charleston County School District, a new opportunity presented itself and it was too good to pass up. So, I retired from the school district and will be teaching kindergarten in the sweetest little preschool at Second Presbyterian Church here in Charleston, SC. I will have 9 five year olds and the freedom to teach just for the joy of teaching and learning. Y’all, I’ve died and gone to teaching heaven!
The preschool purchased 4 iPads for my classroom and I’m in the process of setting them up and working out the best way to use them. In my previous teaching life, I had one to one iPads for my 26 students and from that, developed this blog. Now, it will basically be 2-1 but there will be a lot of exciting things we can do. I’m in the process now of setting them up and pushing apps with Apple School Manager and Mosyle. Next, I will move the apps into folders. I will have an ABC folder for ELA apps, a Math folder, and a Create folder. I will put all of my creation apps (Sketches School, Book Creator, Drawing Pad, Clips, iMovie, Felt Board, Popplet Lite, Chatterpix) in that folder. I will also use SeeSaw for student work. I will use them in centers as well as in small group reading and math activities. One of our first big activities will be International Dot Day in September.
If you have fewer than 1:1 devices in your classroom, I would love to hear how you use them in your centers and for individual work
February is designated as the Month of Kindness and couldn’t we all use just a little more kindness these days?
Young children have a natural inclination to be helpful and with guidance and modeling, they can develop a greater sense of their role in the larger world. By bringing a child’s awareness to someone’s greater need, we teach kindness, empathy, responsibility, and sympathy. The ability to empathize has been shown to start as early as a year old. Children use “social referencing” by looking to caregivers for information and how to respond. Modeling kindness, helpfulness, and empathy early provides important cues to a child. However, teaching empathy involves more than just having a good role model. Also required is involving them in opportunities to help other people, foster a love for outdoor spaces, and care for their environment. This develops prosocial behavior that grows and becomes an integral part of a child’s mindset. Some suggested activities include donating gently used toys, finding appropriate volunteer opportunities to serve those less fortunate, joining clean up and recycling events, and even taking regular nature walks to notice and appreciate trees, birds, and insects while being mindful of litter and discussing its effects on the environment.
Because young children make sense of their world through hands-on activities, keeping a journal can help them be mindful and create connections with their actions. I’ve created a short journal in Keynote you can download here. This can be added to student iPads and it provides some prompts and activities for young children to engage in and record their thoughts. You can also add other pages if needed.
I would love to hear how you are using it and see your students’ work!
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”-Aesop
What would be a key word you would use to describe teaching and learning in 2020? Depending on your experiences, you might say frustrating, exhausting, roller-coaster ride, and stressful. Or you might be of the mindset that it has been challenging, a time for growth, and an opportunity to try new things. I would say both mindsets would be accurate and valid. One thing is certain, teaching and learning are different than before and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Traditionally, many have seen teaching in terms of controlling what students learn, how they learn, and how learning is measured. The focus is on the teaching rather than on the learners themselves and the learning process. Research shows learning affects students’ cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. So what if we focused on how we as educators impact the learning environment and how we see learners? One of the toughest philosophical shifts for educators is accepting that the learner needs to be given more control over their learning process. When we have a learner-centered focus, learning is enjoyable and productive. However, when we focus more on process and outcomes, learning can entail frustration, shame, pressure, and anxiety.
Voice and choice are not new concepts, yet our educational systems still tend to focus heavily on conformity and standardization. Because of the pandemic, we are building the plane as we fly it, so to speak. What if we took this opportunity to look at new ways to measure learning? I think of a “science fair” concept when looking at assessment. Providing students a number of assessment choices is more learner-centered. My students loved being able to choose how to demonstrate what they learned. The use of ePortfolios comes to mind, yet it is more prevalent in upper grades and less so in elementary and early childhood. There are many ways ePortfolios can be implemented and various digital platforms are available. I have used both SeeSaw and Showbie in my kindergarten classes and love them both. Throughout this post, I have added some student work from their ePortfolios created on their iPad devices.
Why ePortfolios? Besides the obvious strengthening of relationships between teachers and parents in ways that benefit the children, they provide parents an in-depth look at what is going on in the classroom and a deeper involvement in student work. There are a few other reasons to consider using them in the early childhood classroom. First, they create a culture of intrinsic motivation. Student ownership is so valuable in advancing learning. The child becomes and active contributor to their own learning. They also give the teacher and student the opportunity to revisit previous learning, allowing for expansion of new learning. Videos of the child reading, explaining a math concept, or sharing a new understanding in science can be re-visited to show growth, scaffold new learning, review a skill, or highlight a misconception.
As you battle the waves of this school year and chart your classroom course, consider how you might increase student agency with a new mindset. How can you (or how do you already) provide voice and choice for your young learners? 2020 might be the best time to try!
Young children live in a social world. And while many believe they do not have awareness of racial and ethnic differences, research is showing otherwise. Studies show that as early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice racial differences and by the age of 4, young children have learned to evaluate people based on race; thus affecting their choices with whom they play and befriend. They learn bias from an early age from their first teachers- their parents. The language we use to talk about racial and ethnic differences is a major influence in how children perceive those who are “different”. The classroom environment also influences how children perceive race and ethnic differences; and as educators, we must be vigilant in our observing and in our actions . Take a close look around the classroom environment? Do classroom books represent a diverse cross-section of cultures? Are puzzles, dolls, and classroom images multi-cultural? Are children segregating themselves within group activities? Are we providing meaningful cultural opportunities that allow children to develop cultural literacy?
It’s important that we model how we want children to respond to others who are different from them. We also must acknowledge that racial bias exists and examine our own biases. Educators and parents should actively teach students to be respectful and kind when discussing racial differences. Use positive language when young children point out differences or ask questions. Rebut or re-state comments calmly if the child states something that is negative or troubling. “Her skin is funny looking” is rebutted as “Her skin is a different color than yours, It’s not funny looking. People are different colors.”
Most early childhood classes explore an “All About Me” unit of study early in the school year. This is the perfect time to highlight how everyone is unique and special just as they are and that differences are good things, not bad. To that end, my friend Marc Faulder, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and I co-authored a book called A Rainbow of Friends. It is uploaded into the Apple Bookstore and can be downloaded here. It’s a short book with activities to help children explore cultural similarities and differences in a positive manner.
Here is the Table of Contents. There are creative opportunities in drawing, photography, and music using the iPad.
Now is the time to be a part of the movement…to make a positive impact in changing our young students’ perspectives toward racial equity.
Are you a someone who likes to doodle? Do you see animal shapes in clouds, or faces in wood grain? During our COVID shut down, I have had a lot of opportunity to take walks and look at the ordinary in new ways. It’s easy to become a bit stagnant when sitting at home all the time!
Many years ago, I had a kindergarten student who loved a particular Disney princess. She drew that princess every time she had crayons and paper. In fact, when given an activity page, she would transform whatever was on that page into the princess. The one that stands out most in my memory is when we were working on the letter Ww . There was a walrus on the paper and she added big puffy hair, a tiara, and a princess dress to the walrus. While singularly focused on the one character, she certainly demonstrated a lot of creativity in transforming regular objects into the princess.
Young children have the unique ability to imagine, pretend, and create. They can make trucks and trains out of boxes, pencils, and blocks. They can transform their imaginary world without much guidance or even encouragement. However, we can channel this creativity to enhance their learning in a variety of ways with tools readily available. Through using the camera on the iPad, students can take ordinary photos and transform them into characters using the Markup tool in the photo editor.
If you need a little help getting started, I created an interactive, downloadable Pages template here. For more photo character activities, my good friend and colleague Marc Faulder, created the book Raindrop,in which ordinary raindrop photos are transformed into characters. Students can create speech bubbles and a comic using their raindrop characters.
I would love to see what characters your students (or your own children) are creating!
Being at home during the COVID-19 shutdown has provided me a lot of time to get outside and walk the neighborhood. I am noticing things I haven’t seen before, seeing neighbors that I haven’t seen in a long time, and noticing things that have always been there but I haven’t taken the time to look at. The key words here are “taking the time”…
Young children always seem to notice everything don’t they? Maybe even things we wish they didn’t notice. They are keen observers and are full of natural curiosity so taking them on a walk is a good way to engage in rich conversation, get fresh air and exercise, as well as strengthen their vocabulary.
A good place to start is looking for shapes in their natural environment. Once you start looking, they will find shapes every where. You can start with two dimensional shapes and then progress to three dimensional shapes. Here are a few terms to use:
Equal (Are the sides equal?)
Vertices (Where the sides meet, the corners)
Side (The outside edge of the shape)
Three dimensional shape terms: sphere, cone, pyramid, rectangular prism, cylinder)
You can use your phone (or iPad) to take photos of these environmental items to create a shape book. I have created a Keynote slide deck called Shape Search and am sharing it with you here: Shape Search. If opened on an iPad, your child can use an Apple Pencil, stylus, or finger to trace the shapes in the photos, copy the shape words, and draw their own shapes inside the deck. You can even upload any photos you take on your own shape walk.
Despite the interruption in routines, the uncertainty of what is ahead, and school closures, one thing I have learned through this time is our focus becomes our reality. I have tried to find ways each day to try something new or do something I enjoy. I encourage you to get outside with your young children and look for the unexpected.
Recently, I was chatting with a colleague who teaches first grade. She indicated some of her students are reluctant to tap into their creative sides for fear of “not doing it right”. Too often, school can “teach” the creativity right out of our students by either consciously or unconsciously reinforcing the need to be “right”. I’m sure you’ve heard your students say, “I don’t like to draw” or even, “I can’t draw”. Often the root of this is the fear of not doing it correctly or the lack of opportunities to explore and try new things.
In an Edutopia interview titled Mo Willems on the Lost Art of Being Silly, the idea of helping children explore their own imaginative creativity is discussed. Mo Willems shares he intentionally designs his characters so that children can easily copy them. This gives the child a sense of accomplishment and a starting point for exploring creativity. Taking a well-known character and creating a new scenario for the character can be a “stepping stone” for the child. I do believe in nurturing children’s creative selves and encouraging them to create original works; however, some children need guidance and support to jumpstart their imaginations. When we tell a child not to “copy” the example, we can inadvertently stimulate that “fear of being wrong” mindset.
Research from the Big Ideas, Little Learners: Early Childhood Trendsreport showed that “99% of kindergarteners score as creative geniuses, while only 3% of people remain in that category by age 25…Torrance Creativity Scores decrease the most among kids in kindergarten to third grade” (2019, p 20). This was an eye-opening statistic for me.
So, taking the idea from the Edutopia interview, I sat with a class and had them tell me their favorite book characters. We then talked about ways these characters could engage in something either similar or quite different from the books they were in. We created an anchor chart and then the students used the iPad to sketch out an idea. Here are a few examples. Pete the Cat had a new adventure playing soccer and when he didn’t score a goal, did Pete cry? Goodness no! Naughty David finally did something that his teacher approved of and read a book; and lastly, the Pigeon gets a taco and didn’t want to share it. Next steps could involve the children using Book Creator to create their own short story with these characters, using Flipgrid or Explain Everything to tell about their stories, creating a Clips video using their drawings, or using GarageBand to add sound effects and/or voice over. This activity can also stand alone if desired. The idea is to get children to brainstorm and extend their ideas to ignite their creativity. (Just like I got the idea to have the children use familiar characters to innovate an idea…even adults need a jumpstart once in a while.)
Early Childhood educators are masters at creativity. I would love to see how some of you are innovating content and stimulating creativity in your classroom! If you need a resource, try the Everyone Can Create Teacher Guide for Early Learners. It provides sequenced activities for young children to practice, and learn new ways to creatively demonstrate learning on the iPad. As I wrote the activities for this guide, I used actual activities from my own days in the kindergarten classroom.
When I was in the classroom, my students kept a math journal on their iPad. It was made in Book Creator and I’ve written about it here and here. They loved the ability to capture their thinking and learning on the iPad and it was a great way to show cumulative growth over the school year. We also enjoyed sharing the journals with parents both in person and electronically.
Another great way to use Book Creator in the Early Childhood classroom is to create an alphabet book. With a page dedicated to each letter, students are able to curate images, create drawings, write or type text, and even dictate words on each page. Here is a sample of a page from one of our ABC books:
This book can start at the beginning of the year and students can add to it throughout the year, or once all letters of the alphabet have been explored, students can create a culminating project. The children enjoy having the ability to be diverse in how learning is demonstrated. One page may have all drawings, another page all photos, or a combination. One student created a short video of her holding a block and describing it. She uploaded the video to her “Bb” page in one of the boxes. While I love using Book Creator for its simplicity and great accessibility features, you could also use Pages, or another book creation app.
Research conducted by the National Reading Panel (NRP) found that skills in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension are essential to literacy development (NRP, 2001). Immersing young children in a literacy rich environment is a building block of reading success. Providing children opportunities to explore their environment and capture learning in creative ways allows for deeper and durable learning experiences.
The ePub of this book can be downloaded for free here.
Children are naturally inquisitive about animals and nature. When I was teaching kindergarten, my students would always be excited to tell me about a new pet, or a recent trip to the zoo or the aquarium. In fact, the first words of many children are dog, bunny, or cat. They have an innate desire to make sense of their world, especially when it comes to other living things.
Research shows that spending time with animals builds self-esteem in young children as well as empathy. They learn to nurture and care for another living thing. Some schools have therapy animals that come to school and children read aloud to them or sit quietly with them, providing a sense of security. Often, animals provide opportunities to demonstrate care and learn responsibility. Author Patty Selly states “Love for animals tends to generalize to other living things such as plants and nature”.
With this built-in curiosity, providing opportunities for children to investigate and create around the topic of animals is an easy way to engage students in meaningful ways. In my last blog post, I wrote about a 3 book series co-authored with my friend Marc Faulder. That post focused on working with young children in creating a sustainable environment and looked primarily at plants. This week, I will share the second book in the series Animals.
This book provides opportunities for children to explore animals with drawing, video creation, photography, and music on the iPad. These activities are appropriate for early childhood students, but can easily be scaled up through elementary grades. My students especially loved incorporating music activities. In this book, children can use GarageBand to create animal sound patterns in math, use the voice recorder to tell about an animal and its habitat, which helps with language and communication, as well as create their own soundtrack to represent an animal habitat.
Students also get an opportunity to combine drawing and recording skills for a culminating animal project in the book. All of their work is captured in their learning journal.
The iPad is a great tool to capture student creativity and extend learning opportunities, no matter what age. Tapping into the natural curiosity and attraction of animals and student creativity takes learning to a deeper level.
Tag us on Twitter and let us know what you think, or share some of your student work!
A greater focus has been placed on our environment in recent years. We hear the terms sustainability, climate crisis, global warming, carbon footprint, hazardous waste, greenhouse effect, and more…all aimed at raising awareness. Some of these topics can seem confusing even for adults; so, how do we teach young children about these concepts in a way that they can understand?
Sustainability is an abstract concept, but it is really just a collection of good practices. It is important to involve children in activities in nature to make caring for the environment a natural part of their lives, and at the same time, bring their impact to the forefront.
Incorporating a project approach in early childhood is an appropriate way to emphasize sustainability fundamentals. This method helps young children develop a personal connection to their own actions. Early Childhood Professor and researcher Lillian Katz found it most beneficial to nurture the intellectual development in young children, rather than focusing solely on academic development. Intellectual development focuses on reasoning, hypothesizing, predicting, and analyzing ideas. A project based approach encourages young children to make the best sense of their experiences and their environment. It allows them to see the purpose of their efforts (Katz, 2001).
With these tenets in mind, fellow Apple Distinguished Educator and Early Years teacher Marc Faulder and I co-wrote a 3 book Young Children Can Create series focused on increasing environmental awareness for young children. These are teacher guides with step-by-step directions for students.
The first book is Plants. Using an iPad, students work through a series of creative activities involving drawing, photography, video, and music across ELA, Math, Social Studies and Science. Student work for all three books is collected in a digital learning journal.
Book Cover Learning Journal Cover
Here is a sample page from the drawing section:
Students learn the importance of plants and the plant life cycle. The iPad activities allow for content creation and sharing. I will discuss the other two books in future posts. Take a look and see what you think!