Knowledge is Power: Students Taking Charge of Their Own Learning

Research is creating new knowledge.-Neil Armstrong

We have been studying the rainforest.  Kids love animals and the plethora of exotic animals in the rainforest creates instant interest and curiosity.  One day the wonderment and inquiry had reached fever pitch.  “Does the poison arrow frog have any predators?” ” How big is a giant anteater anyway?” “Are howler monkeys nocturnal or diurnal?” And my personal favorite question that was asked, “How does chocolate come from the rainforest?” I started writing down all of our questions so that we could figure out how we would solve them.  Before I finished, someone said, “I think we should look on Safari on our iPads.” Someone else immediately asked if they could “research” rainforest to find some answers.  Do you see the rich vocabulary here?  These questions and statements are not being paraphrased.  This is what happens when children feel empowered to take charge of their own learning. I barely had nodded yes to the research question when my room looked like the start line at the Boston Marathon.  Someone found a website on Safari that had several rainforest animals.  Peer sharing began immediately.  The students started finding images and information about animals that interested them.  They helped each other and they were engaged, focused and excited.  Without me giving any directions…on their own they started saving images and importing them into Pages.  They debated font size, picture size and word choice.  I facilitated, checked-in with groups, answered a few questions and mostly just let them have at it.  Their conversation was rich with the language of inquiry. They worked on this for over an hour before we had to stop. After lunch they came back to it and worked until they finished.  Here is one student’s work that is finished. Keep in mind these children are 5 years old and have no keyboarding skills other than “hunt and peck”.

This lesson was completely student-driven.  It all started with me reading a non-fiction book on the rainforest.  My plan was to go in a different direction but once the questions started, I knew my plan was out the window and we were headed down a different path.  But…isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?  Inquiry-based learning teaches problem solving and critical thinking skills. It develops student ownership of their learning and builds student interest in the subject matter.  Inquiry allows students to create their own knowledge. The iPads give the accessibility needed for each student to do the research.  With only 4 computers in our class just 2 years ago, this would have never been possible.

I’ve been asked what happens when the children become bored with the iPads.  They say, “Oh, it’s a source of fascination now, but what happens when it no longer is?”  My answer to that is two fold.  First, if it is being used as a toy and not a learning tool, then it will gather dust on a shelf somewhere.  However, if it is integrated into the curriculum properly, it will be as valuable to students as our own laptops, smartphones, and computers are to us as adults.   When was the last time you used a phone book to look up a phone number or address?

My friends, knowledge is power.  Our students are overflowing with wonder and an urgency to learn.  We need to equip them with all the tools necessary to be successful.

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On Safari

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand-Confucius

We did it.  We stepped out into the World. Wide. Web.  We have been talking about oviparous animals.  After a class read aloud of the book Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones, the children chose 4 animals that lay eggs. They Google searched the animals and found pictures of them.  Then they saved their images to the camera roll and imported them into their Pages App.  Once the images were imported in, the children wrote about them.  Finally, we shared our projects with each other.  This was our first time to go on Safari.  First, there is the issue of internet safety as children search the web. Second, there is the whole madness of 26 children learning how to search Google and choose an appropriate site and lastly, saving images to their camera photo roll.  This first time, we used Wikipedia for our animal images.

For instruction, I hooked my iPad to my Smart Board and was able to demonstrate step by step how to do things.  The children listened and followed directions beautifully.  As soon as they opened up their Wikipedia pages with images of the animals, the room was filled with Oooh’s and Ahhh’s.  A hush fell over the room and their eyes were huge with wonder. That beautiful Kodak moment was quickly replaced with tons of excited chatter and discussion.  By the second time I had demonstrated how to find the image and save it, the pros were done with me and moving at their own speed.  “Thanks, Mrs. Meeuwse, but we’ve GOT it.”  Teacher dismissed.

My original plan was to stretch this out over 2 days.  I thought on day 1 we would work on learning how to search the web and save our images. On day 2, we would import them in and type our facts.  The children had a different plan.  They were so engaged in this activity that when I suggested we wait and finish tomorrow, their faces fell and they said, “Why?” Why indeed, so we worked on.  They worked for an hour and a half before most all were finished and we shared.  After we shared, they asked, “Can we please do this again tomorrow?” “Tomorrow?” I asked.  “You want to learn tomorrow too?”

These crazy kids….

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Write On!

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

One way we’ve been making connections with our reading is to use our Pages App as a Reading Response journal.  Students write about what they are reading.  It’s a way to share thoughts, feelings, and questions.  The story we read was Denise Fleming’s In the Tall, Tall, Grass. Students wrote their thoughts about the story.  Some shared connections they made with the story.  Reading Response journals enable the children to think more about the story.  My students often have difficulty thinking beyond the text.  If asked “Why do you think” kinds of questions, they are reluctant to answer because they are afraid they will get it wrong.  At 5 years old, they are already conditioned to give the “right” answer.  I want them to think beyond what is written in the story and explore the possible feelings and/or thoughts of the characters.  This opens discussions up for making inferences and predictions.  I model this by stopping during shared reading and thinking aloud, discussing things I wonder and make predictions about what is about to happen next in the story.

Another good way to use the Pages App is to have the students do writing extensions beyond the text after reading. For this activity, we took our iPads outside and took photographs of the tall grass near our room.

The students wrote what they might see (or have seen) in the tall, tall grass.  They imported their photo into Pages and shared with the group their innovations on the story.

Using Pages is a great app for journal writing. Whether Reading Response or Science, it’s a great way for students to quickly get their thoughts down.  Having the camera option is a terrific means of incorporating their observations.  These activities had my students completely engaged and asking when they could write some more.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Gettin’ Buggy With It…Using iPads for Literacy and Science

“Do not limit children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.”  Chinese Proverb

One of the most exciting aspects of using the iPad is integrating it with the content I am covering in class.  We’ve been discussing insects, and what 5 year old isn’t fascinated by bugs?  Today, my students used the Pages app as a science journal to write about insects and then created illustrations in their Whiteboard app.  Afterward, they imported their picture into the Pages document and re-sized it to fit on the page.  Throughout the process, they were buzzing (no pun intended) with each other about their insect facts, helping one another with importing their illustrations, and proudly sharing their masterpieces.  In addition, as children shared their work, they were reading and developing fluency.

Many years ago, when I was in kindergarten, I was given a fat, black, eraser-less pencil and primary-lined paper to write on. I am left handed and as I wrote, my hand smeared my words.  Unable to erase, I would get frustrated and not want to write.  Even in the early 80’s when I was in college, I had no computers available or even typewriters to type my papers.  As our students move into the digital future, they will learn by doing.  I am preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist yet!  It is crucial that content be engaging and relevant and that the rigor in our classrooms promote those higher order thinking skills.  If you break down this iPad exercise into steps, this is what they had to do:

1.  Open the Pages app and change the font size.

2. Type the title and their content. (which is no small feat since they don’t have keyboarding skills, plus they are sounding out their words at the same time)

3.  Open Whiteboard app, create illustration and save it

4.  Go back to Pages and import illustration and re-size.

5.  Read and share

On the revised Blooms Taxonomy, these students were creating, evaluating, analyzing and applying.

This isn’t old school kindergarten.  We are cutting-edge, 21st century learners!

Listen to Gracie read her insect story from her iPad…

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