Choosing Brilliance

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

sparkling new yearJanuary is a good time for simplicity.  After all of the necessary messiness and decorations of the holidays, I like the simplicity of January.  January is a good time for reflection and renewal.  Beyond the usual “Get Healthy” resolutions, I find myself wanting to get to what matters.   Where does my professional passion lie? What makes me come alive in the classroom?

I will admit, getting up early this morning after 2 weeks off, I had trouble finding motivation.  Purpose.  Coffee.  But after arriving at school and having my students hug me and bubble over with excitement about being back in school, I realized they have no trouble connecting with their passion.  They said they missed their friends, they missed me, they missed their iPads.  They said they missed learning. I said it was time for Writing Workshop.  They cheered.  Their unabashed love for school, engagement, learning, possibilities, new things, and opportunities seem endless.  They show up everyday with wonder and brilliance.  When was the last time you showed up somewhere, anywhere,  with wonder and excitement at the possibilities?

As educators, our passion, our brilliance,  is easily lost amidst meetings, paperwork, lesson plans, less than supportive parents, criticism, behavioral problems, etc…I can choose to get bogged down in that or I can rise above.  I can choose to show up everyday with wonder… Wonder at what my brilliant 5 year old students can teach me about themselves and about myself.  I can choose to simplify my approach to teaching…to discard things that no longer work or bring my students alive.  I can come to work each day and be thankful for having a fully stocked classroom with supplies, an amazingly supportive administrator, and a district that believes in personalized learning and iPads.  I can connect with my own passion for literacy and learning and magnify what I am doing through this blog.  In the bleak mid-winter, I can choose to shine brightly. Let’s be brilliant together!

Where do you find yourself in this first chapter of 2013?

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We’ve Only Just Begun

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” -Walt Disney

Just beginningOne of the best gifts I received this holiday season was the notification from Apple that my school, Drayton Hall Elementary,  met all of the criteria for Apple Distinguished School.  The application was rigorous as was the competition.  We were thrilled to be awarded the distinction.  While many see awards like this as the culmination of hard work, I see it as just the beginning.

I’m pretty good at pushing boundaries.  When I was given the iPads back in January, 2011 as one of 3 pilot teachers for the entire school district, I really had no rules or expectations.  My only limitations were those created by my very own self.  Since I was given a class set of iPads, (thank goodness the district’s Ed Tech staff believed in kindergarten having 30 iPads!) I took full advantage of the opportunity and  looked beyond the “broadcast nature” of the iPad.  More than a presentation tool, my students fully interacted with the iPads.  In small groups, we found individual support opportunities that bolstered those students who were in the bottom tier.  As student engagement was instant, I looked for ways to incorporate the iPad into every aspect of our instructional day.  As the pilot moved beyond the 3 original classes, the staff at my school embraced the technology and zeroed in on the potential these devices hold.

While I know many schools are just getting iPads and perhaps aren’t able to fund them 1:1 at this time, I hope the teachers will continue to voice their desire for them.  The iPad is designed to be a one-user device.  The true power comes when each student holds his/her own iPad and is able to interact with it, work with materials on the child’s own level, and create and save on it.  Sharing, while perhaps necessary for a time, isn’t  ideal.  You can’t expect to see the results we are seeing at my school without a 1:1 implementation.  If you are unable to fund a whole school, find your early adopters on staff and let them have at it.  These people make things happen!

While my holidays are coming to a close next week, I’m excited about what the remaining 5 months of school hold.  With a new year beginning, let’s follow Walt Disney’s advice:  Quit talking and begin doing!  I’m proud of my school for earning the Apple Distinguished School honor.  This isn’t the end,  we’ve only just begun!

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Beyond Top Ten Lists

Instead of a national curriculum for education, what is really needed is an individual curriculum for every child.-Charles Handy

Top 10 winnerIt seems everywhere you turn, you find a “must have” app list or a “top ten apps for educators” list.  They list apps that are free or are the favorites of the author.  I used to look quite frequently at these lists when I first started with iPads.  I didn’t want to miss out on that one great app that might instantly transform my classroom.

Now, I rarely look at those lists.  I occasionally write about an app or two in my blog, but it is usually in the context of increasing rigor or advancing personalized learning.  I am often asked what are my “must have apps”.  I don’t mind sharing the ones I use, nor do I mind sharing my favorite ones at the time.  That list changes with what my students need.

Once I asked myself what is my goal of the iPad in the classroom, I found that I didn’t want it to be an “app machine”.  It can certainly be that, but I wanted it to be a tool for learning.  I had to define what that looked like for me first. I was in a meeting recently and someone raised a question and no one really knew the answer.  Within seconds, everyone was pulling out either their iPad or their smart phones to look up the answer.  We can memorize states and capitals, presidents, and other bits of trivia but we also need to teach our students how to solve problems and find information.  We also need to teach them how to find credible sources for that information.  We can’t do that with 2 desktop computers in the classroom, but we can do that with iPads.  By learning to think critically, analyzing information and its sources, we are doing so much more than any app can teach. As we move into personalized learning environments, we need to think beyond just apps.

Having said that, I do use apps daily and I have some apps that are very valuable in reinforcing certain skills.  There are many great apps out there and there are some that are junk.  We have to filter through them and discern the best way to incorporate them into instruction.  As we increase rigor with Common Core State Standards, we can use the iPads for so much more than just apps.  Students can create in writing, arts and music.  They can read and do research. They can explore and extend learning.  If you think your students can’t do it, then think again.  I watch my 5 year olds do it every day.

I encourage all of my iPad teacher friends out there to cut the cord that tethers them to apps.  Ask yourself what is your goal and think about what it looks like for you and for your students.  If you can’t envision it….then trust me, THEY can!

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Personalized Learning with iPads

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.-Dr. Seuss

How better to say it than this? One size that fits all doesn’t work for learners today. Personalized learning is the tailoring of  curriculum and learning environments to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners, often with extensive use of technology in the process. Personalization may differ from differentiation in that it affords the learner a degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned. This may not indicate unlimited choice, since learners will still have targets to be met. However, it may provide learners the opportunity to learn in ways that suit their individual learning styles and multiple intelligences.

Personalizing learning for each learner means they take ownership of their learning. Let’s take advantage of the iPad’s ability to challenge, engage and motivate different learners.  Students can often work on different levels within the same app.  As I look at what each student needs, based on assessments and observation, I am able to direct them to certain apps or certain activities within apps.  Teachers should be able to implement multiple paths to knowledge- having a variety of ways to help a diverse group of students learn rigorous standards.

Working in flexible, small groups for guided reading, I take notes as I see areas where students need practice.  One student may need help with word families and rhyming words, where another may need help with medial vowel sounds.  My top reading group may be ready to incorporate reading response journals using Pages as they read.  This would never be possible in a whole group instructional setting.  Having the technology of the iPads at our fingertips,  it is easier to differentiate instruction, find all opportunities for remediation to help struggling learners, and  provide enrichment to challenge the advanced student.

With iPads, we can create a Pandora Radio-like effect in education.  Each student can get a variety of educational experiences, engage in topics and activities of interest, and learners have the responsibility and ownership to choose how they learn, when they learn and where they learn.

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iPads in the Classroom: Start Small, End Big

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.-Chinese Proverb

As with all things new, starting small often helps lead to bigger things.  Many classes with iPads aren’t fortunate enough to have 1:1.  Looking at maximizing learning and use of the iPads is key.  In our early days of the pilot program, I originally was scheduled to have only 12 iPads for use in small groups/centers.  Within the first hour of using them, I knew we needed (and could do amazing things) with a class set.  By the end of that week, we had a class set.  But what of those first few days with 12 iPads?

My first priority was to get them in the children’s hands during guided reading.  That is where we established expectations, learned how to use them, and began the important work of setting up personal learning plans.  Since I had only 12 for such a short time, I didn’t have the issue of storing work on only 12 iPads. However, if we had remained at that number, I would have assigned children to specific iPads and would have had them upload their work to their individual folder in PaperPort.  Beyond guided reading groups, I wanted them to use the iPads for some writing activities and self-selected reading activities.  Kindergarten is never  “all or nothing” learning.  We do some writing with pencil and paper, and some on the iPad.  We read some books on the iPad and some regular books.  We do word work, math, and phonics at times on the iPad and at times with manipulatives.  By starting small, the children (and the teacher) gain confidence in guided use.  Starting small also gives teachers a good idea of which children need close monitoring and which ones can handle a little more freedom.

Even though I have a class set now, I still like small group work best.  I like being a close observer of what the children are experiencing. Where are their successes or their areas of struggle? Are they guessing at answers or do they know them?  With the new iOS6, there is a new feature called Guided Access.  It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. It lets you control what features are available during use.  Just go to Settings, then General, then Accessibility, and turn guided access on.

So, whether you have a class set or just a few iPads, keep it simple, start small.  As you find your children progressing, you will find limitless uses for the iPads.

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Building Reading Stamina with the iPad

Believe me, my children have more stamina than a power station.-Robbie Coltrane

Building stamina in young readers is definitely a challenge.  Their attention spans are short and their energy level is high.  It is important to know children well enough to link each of them to the texts that will sustain their interest, and won’t be so challenging they get discouraged.  Every good English language arts teacher knows that immersing students in reading is far more important than teaching test-taking strategies. Many are also familiar with some of the techniques for helping their students monitor their reading throughout a reading task. Some use specific lessons and strategies for helping students maintain focus and gain stamina as they read, but finding the best lessons and other resources for teaching such skills is often time-consuming and difficult, requiring more hours than teachers have for seeking out new material.

Using iPads has helped increase my students’ stamina even during the short 57 days we’ve been in school.  As students build confidence in reading short, leveled texts, they are more likely to venture into more difficult texts.  I use LAZ leveled reader apps and my own texts that I’ve created in iBooks Author to supplement the reading materials in class.  As students have a few minutes of free time, or they are in the book center, they have high interest texts to choose from on their iPads.  Having these books at their fingertips makes it easy for anytime reading.  Re-reading familiar texts also increases their fluency.

Another way to use iPads in building stamina is to celebrate progress. Without getting too caught up on the number of minutes spent reading, celebrate the time that is spent reading. Share your favorite parts of books read by reading out loud with a partner on the iPad.  Illustrate your favorite parts in the Pages app and share with your writing group.

Spending longer periods of time reading means fewer interruptions and more time reading what you love. iPads provide resources beyond your regular classroom materials to facilitate this.  As your students move into higher grades, having reading stamina will help them navigate the longer texts and assignments.

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FAQ’s about iPads in the Classroom

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. -Benjamin Franklin

We have had several visitors from other school districts over the past few months, interested in seeing iPads at work in the classroom.  From those visits and other questions posed on this blog, I am posting today some frequently asked questions. Hopefully it will help many of you as you navigate the early waters of incorporating iPads into your classroom.

  • How did you get the money to pay for the iPads?

My school district re-purposed funds that were originally designated for replacing computers in our classrooms.  These funds were for technology modernization and rather than purchase 2 computers per class, we piloted iPads.

  • iPads vs other hand-held tablets

Clearly, iPads is my answer.  They are game-changers. They are versatile, easy to use, backed by Apple and there are tons of educational apps available for use.  Having access to the internet is critical…these are more than just e-readers.

  • How often do you use the iPads each day?

All throughout the day for a variety of activities, small group, whole group, and individual. My main focus of use is to increase achievement in literacy.

  • What if the kids get tired of them or bored with them?

OK, seriously?  They are not toys.  They are learning tools that are essential to 21st century learning skills.  If teachers teach using best practices, kids will never be bored with them.

  • How do you get the work off of the iPads?

Legit question here…it’s not always been easy.  We are still unable to email from the iPads.  The best work around at this point for me is Simple Transfer app.  Anything that can be saved to the camera roll can be transferred off of the iPad.  My other option is PaperPort Anywhere.  My kids can save work to their folders on the PaperPort app.  I can access it, print, save or email work.  I’m excited that Pages now uploads to PaperPort!

  • How often do you have breakage or damage?

In 14 months of iPad usage with 3 different kindergarten classes: ZERO. They are very careful with them and I make sure we model and teach iPad procedures regularly.

  • What are your must-have apps?

Ah….these change as I come into new apps.  Currently, I love Montessori Crosswords (ELA), Park Math (Math), Pages, Book Creator, Simple Transfer, and Whiteboard. Oh…and Starfall.  Ok, making myself stop right there.

  • How often do you sync?

In the first few months of using them, A LOT.  I was constantly finding new apps and was a syncing mad woman.  Currently, not so much.  I will sync books or photos if I want them all to have them.  I use my class wiki to get work to student iPads and they then upload to PaperPort to get them back to me.

  • What do you like most about iPads in the classroom?

What’s not to love? I can’t imagine ever teaching without them.  They take learning to a whole new level with personalized instruction.  Being able to meet each student where they are instructionally is priceless.  With 25-30 students each year, I need all of the instructional support I can get.  iPads make it possible to differentiate instruction every day.

  • Are there any drawbacks?

As to the use of the iPads: absolutely none.  The only thing that could be a drawback is the cost of apps when you multiply it out over an entire class or school.  Get your PTA involved.  Hold fundraisers, donate blood (kidding, sort of) whatever it takes to bring in some extra money for those apps.

So there you are…hopefully this provided some insight into using iPads in a 1:1 classroom.  It can seem overwhelming, but it really is manageable.  My students, even at age 5, are quite capable with these devices.  The investment is worth the cost to reach every learner every day.

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Classroom Wikis and iPads

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it. -Margaret Fuller

Wikis are tools for taking student and teacher collaboration to the next level.  The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia created by users from around the globe. Wikis are also increasingly being used by the corporate world.   eBay recently added wikis to its auction site so members can coauthor articles about buying and selling. Not surprisingly, K-12 schools are also taking advantage of the opportunities for “collaborative construction” that wikis provide.

I have used Wikispaces to create a free class wiki for my students. Wikispaces is free for K-12 educators and is free of advertising.  It is also user friendly and a good place to start if you haven’t used wikis before.   I simply upload PDF documents to the wiki for my students.  They have a shortcut to the wiki on their iPads.  One touch takes them to the wiki and they are able to download the document into our DocAS app.  Any PDF annotating app can be used.  My students can complete an assignment,  math practice page, or a written assessment on the DocAS app and then I can either upload it to PaperPort for printing or emailing.  I can also save it to the camera roll and use the Simple Transfer app to retrieve their work.

Another benefit to using a wiki is I can upload PDF readers for my students.  I downloaded several word family books and sight word books at Hubbard’s Cupboard website. The children downloaded them from the wiki into their iBooks app.  Now, along with the books I have written for them in iBooks Author,  they also have PDF books on their bookshelf.  This gives them several books right at their fingertips they can read any time.

Using the wiki also reduces the amount of copies made in my classroom.  I can keep a copy of the student work from the iPad if I choose to.  Wikis are a convenient, efficient, and cost-effective way to provide learning materials to my students.  I have also created wikis for various committees on our staff.  This is an easy way for us to share meeting agendas, materials and other ideas.

I encourage you to try using wikis in your classroom.  Wikispaces makes all education pages private and can only be accessed by invitation only.  This is a secure means of encouraging collaboration and sharing knowledge.

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A Simple Way to Get Work Off of iPads

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify-Henry David Thoreau

One of my biggest challenges with the iPads is getting student work off of the iPad.  Our emailing ability has not come to fruition as I had hoped and many apps just don’t work with Paper Port.  I keep thinking it just shouldn’t be this difficult to get the work off of the iPad!

Enter my new favorite app…Simple Transfer. This $1.99 app is the easiest way of transferring your Photos and Videos to computer and other iOS devices via WiFi. No need for cable, iTunes or extra software.  Yesterday, I transferred a student video from the iPad to my laptop.  It took mere minutes.  Here are the highlights:

View all your photo albums and videos on your computer and download them as zip file via WiFi

★ Send multiple photos and videos from your computer to your device

★ Transfer any number of photos and videos between iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), select an album and tap on “Select All” to transfer all your photos/videos

★ Ability to create new albums and transfer to photos/videos to other albums

★ Photos are transferred with full resolution including metadata and videos transferred with the highest quality

★ No limit on the number or size of the photos/videos you transfer between devices or computers

★ Slideshow photo albums on your computer’s browser

★ Pay only once to install the app on all your iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch)

Ahh…for a Monday morning, I could use a little simplicity.  Couldn’t you?

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You Can’t Handle the Awesomeness!

Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I love my job.  Most days.  I work in a great school and have great kids and great parents.  Don’t get me wrong, there are days I could put a knot on every head.  (The kids that is, not the parents.  Maybe. ) The best part about teaching kindergarten is the never-ending enthusiasm of my students, as witnessed by this recent exclamation:  “Whoa! There’s a new app in the ABC folder! I can’t wait to play it! Oh man! This is so awesome!  I could do this every day it’s so awesome!  I  can’t handle all the awesomeness!” I’m not sure, but I think he liked it.  One of my students missed a day of school recently and during his absence, I added a new app.  I forgot to tell him about it but as soon as he opened his iPad and opened the ABC folder (I categorize my apps into folders), he immediately saw the new app.  What’s amazing to me is that there are 20 apps in that folder and he knew instantly there was a change.  Observant and enthusiastic!

When was the last time you were so excited at school that you couldn’t handle the awesomeness? As I’m typing this, I’m trying to think of the last time I was so excited about anything that I couldn’t handle the awesomeness…and I’m still thinking…anyway, the app that created the excitement is Starfall Learn to Read.  At last, all the content from’s Learn to Read index in an app!

I’m still pondering the unabashed love of learning.  Children innately love learning. They are curious and want to find out the what, where, how, and why of everything around them. Where does that curiosity and enthusiasm go?  Are we drilling and testing it out of them? Are we using best practices and showing our own enthusiasm as an adult learner?  I mean, if a $2.99 app generates more awesomeness than a child can handle and he enthusiastically exclaims he could play the app every day, it’s a worthy question.  Obviously, we can’t play apps all day long, just as we can’t sit at a desk and do worksheets all day either. iPads are definitely a game changer.  My kids think they are, well… awesome and I think they are pretty awesome my very own self.  I want them to be excited about learning and I don’t want them to lose that enthusiasm.   By examining ourselves as educators and taking a long hard look at what we are teaching, hopefully we can take a cue from my young student and channel our own inner awesome!

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