Reading Fluency with Explain Everything

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading. -Maurice Sendak

8435321969_8c5a154a0a_zWe are 35 days into this school year and several of my students are reading.  They are excited when they find words and phrases they know in books and in environmental print.  They love to share with anyone who will listen words or books they can read.  Even at age 5, my students see the treasure that is unlocked when one can read.  The fire has been lit and my fervent hope is nothing and no one comes along and puts that fire out.

We are a classroom immersed in literacy all day long.  Our iPads have certainly facilitated my ability to deliver personalized literacy instruction through the “Just Right Books” I create for my students as well as various apps that we use that adapt to students’ responses. My students also have the choice to read regular books in the book center or books on their iPads.  I want them to love reading and to be able to get lost in a story, so that when the story is over, they will wish it wasn’t.  There are books I have read and when finished, I missed the characters and I thought about them long afterward.

Part of building strong readers includes assessing students, listening to them read, working on fluency, and well…just reading, reading, reading. Having 23 students makes it difficult for me to listen to every child read every day.  The iPads definitely help. I had the students in one of the reading groups open the app Explain Everything and take pictures of each page of a leveled book they wanted to read.  They then used the laser pointer to track the print.  They saved the movie to their camera roll and then uploaded it to Showbie. I am able to then listen to the child read at any time.  I can use it as documentation for running records assessment, see where the child is having trouble and then go back work directly with that child if needed.  I can also email to parents.  This also allows the child to also re-visit the recording, listen and practice along for fluency.  By saving a few of these, you can show growth (or not) at a parent conference.  Here is one example:

Explain Everything is truly a versatile app.  It is definitely one of my go-to apps in all subjects.  Consider trying it for reading.  It engages students of all reading levels and that’s never a bad thing!

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


Book photo credit: Creative Commons

1:1 iPads and Student Centered Classrooms

And no, we don’t know where it will lead.  We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here. -Steve Jobs

It never gets old.  Even after 3 years of 1:1 iPads, the magic and wonder of my students’ engagement and learning excites and motivates me daily.  Having a student-centered classroom makes my job so much more interesting and meaningful.

Trent's photosynthesisWe have been learning about fall and fall leaves this week. Living by the ocean in the south, we have about 2 weeks of fall.  The leaves are green, then they are a little yellow, then brown and on the ground.  We don’t get to enjoy the rich colors of our northern neighbors.

Today,  I was reading a non-fiction book about leaves and it briefly touched on photosynthesis.  Knowing this concept was a bit advanced, I kept reading, and didn’t stop to discuss photosynthesis.  However, just like our recess snail episode, the children were fascinated with this large word and had many questions.  We started a wonder chart on this concept.  How does the tree live through the winter if there aren’t leaves on it to make food?  Is the sugar that the leaf makes during photosynthesis the same as the sugar we eat?  We looked at other books and found pictures on the internet.  We talked and wondered, wondered, and talked.  During their free choice time today in centers, several drew pictures about this concept.  Some chose drawing paper, some our Drawing Pad app. (See drawing at the top of this post.) Some even put their drawing into Explain Everything and talked about it there.  Here is one of those examples:

The only planned part of this day was the reading of that initial book.  The rest was courtesy of my curious children.  By being in tune with my students, I was able to go with their flow (which, by the way, was far better and more meaningful than anything I would have had them do.) As I look back on our fall unit in previous years, before iPads, the learning wasn’t nearly as rich or in-depth.  Of course, the iPads alone didn’t do anything.  They have served as a conduit of change for ME.  Over the last 3 years, I’ve changed and in turn, my teaching has been transformed.  It’s not about the iPad, but it is about a shift in the way my classroom works.  The learning environment is completely different and it continues to evolve.

Just like Steve Jobs, I have no idea where this will all lead.  I just know there is something bigger than all of us here…and THAT is exciting!

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!

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!

What’s Your Story?

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.-Maya Angelou

medium_4828439402Stories…we all have them, but have you ever thought about the power of story? As educators, we want to relate to our students and connect with them. Stories bring people along on your journey.  Stories move people to action.

We are built to remember stories much more than figures and data.  When we advocate for our ideas, we often use data and figures; however, our brains are wired to resonate with story.

A story is a connected set of events with a beginning, middle and an end. Stories persuade and they move people to action. Stories shape how others see you.  Stories are tools of power.  People slow down and listen when a story is being told. Listening matters.  Stories are the one way to invite people in, to have them not only know you but to get in touch with their own story as well.  Good stories ignite emotion.

So much of what we teach students evokes the “Who cares, so what?” response.  You know…the math problem that posits someone bought 60 cantaloupes and divided them into thirds.  How many did each person receive? Who cares?  More likely the question is, “What is wrong with this person that they have 60 cantaloupes?” Our students need to get to the “why” of what they are learning.  They need to resonate with the material and care about it.

When we take our students on an engaging journey, we can persuade them. Stories need to have goals. What do you want your audience to think, feel or do at the end of the story? My kindergarten students love stories.  They lean in and tune in when a story is being told.  They not only listen more attentively to me as I tell a story, but they also listen to classmates who are telling stories.

My students love telling stories on their iPads with Book Creator and Explain Everything.  These apps provide them with a platform to share and create.  Even students who may not seem overly creative, find a voice when they are sharing stories about themselves.

My story is documented here. I encourage you all to find your own story, but more importantly, think on the importance of story in your school environment and how it may be used to connect deeply with your students. How can you get your own students to tell stories?  We live life in narrative.  Story isn’t just a good idea….it’s necessary.

So, what’s your story?

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

images from Creative Commons

Reflection on the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute

Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words-Rumi

Words.  So plentiful and easy to use in most situations…but what about those events in life for which there are no adequate words?  Those events that color your world and leave you transformed in such a way that defy explanation…

IMG_1925As I sit on the plane returning home from Austin, Texas, I am reflecting on just such an event.  6 days ago, I arrived in Austin to attend the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute.  Over 400 select educators from the United States, Canada and Mexico came together for a week of professional development, deep conversations, reflective practice and authoring.  I know when I get home, I am going to have several people ask me about the experience and that’s where things get difficult.  The adjectives I use will be inadequate to describe the week.  Words like awesome, amazing, transformative, affirming, celebratory, and inspiring are the best I can do.

For educators, our world is filled with a lot of “Yes, but….”.  This week showed me the possibility and power of “Yes, and…”.  The simple substitution of one small word in that phrase changes everything.  We also learned to celebrate failure and not to fear it.  With failure, comes learning.

We were encouraged to take deep dives in thinking about pedagogy and not be afraid to be leaders in change.  Leaders do not spend time curating the status quo.  They dig down deep and become the change they seek.

While our individual levels of technological knowledge varied, everyone accepted and celebrated each other’s work and success.  There was no competition or jealousy.  We were all made to feel like Rock Stars and were supported no matter where we are in our journey.  Meal times revealed tables and tables of people intently listening and passionately sharing.

Staff development offerings gave us opportunities to learn new programs, apps and techniques as well as get advanced learning in programs we already use. We had brilliant speakers and we learned about the importance of story…how the story isn’t about us and we aren’t the hero.  We are more like Yoda…a mentor (only with better hair!)

We learned about the power of iTunes U for educators and we learned how to create our own courses.  We were given projects and formed PLN’s (professional learning networks) with like-minded people.

We met the developers of many of the great apps my students use daily.  It was so much fun meeting Reshan Richards (Explain Everything and a member of the ADE class of 2013) and Dan Amos (Book Creator).  Both are pure genius.

Reshan Richards

Reshan Richards

Dan Amos

Dan Amos

For 17 hours each day, I was drinking from a fire hose.  I soaked up every minute and made connections that will for sure be my life-long friends.  I was given a legacy to do more, dream more, learn more and become more than I ever thought possible.

I am forever changed…and eternally grateful!

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

Using iPads to Transform Teaching and Learning

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.-John Dewey

ThomasOne of the great things I’ve noticed in the last 2 years is how my teaching has evolved with the use of the iPads.  It’s been a gradual shift, but the way I am using them now is different than the first pilot year in 2011.

In the beginning, I was focused on integrating the iPads into our day and was very much “app” oriented.  We had a lot of success that first year and my class data reflected that.

A subtle shift began last year when my students started taking charge of their own learning.  It wasn’t exactly planned, but the environment was supportive and I was open to their ideas.  Soon, they were creating content and not just interacting with apps.  They were blogging, writing, and reading on the iPad. I was thrilled with the student-centered learning environment.

This year, I’ve learned from my students, we’ve raised the bar, and kids continue to create their own content.  They are teaching other students in other classes and other grade levels, and they are articulating their learning in a variety of ways.  They are choosing how they want to demonstrate their learning and I am facilitating their choices.  I indicate what skills we are working on and they decide how they want to learn it and how they want to demonstrate their learning.  Their choices are far more involved and detailed than anything I would’ve imagined.  They are integrating multiple apps to create a finished product.  They can articulate what they are learning and how to demonstrate their learning.

Here is an example from Explain Everything.  This child was demonstrating plant parts.

I have no idea what next school year will bring (and goodness knows, I am looking forward to enjoying my summer break!), but the outlook is bright.  I am excited about learning from the other Apple Distinguished Educators this summer at the institute and bringing that knowledge back to my classroom.

Wherever you are in your classroom journey, it’s important to reflect on where you are and where you’ve been.  It’s important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small, and then be willing to move forward and try new things.  Daring to imagine the possibilities and being willing to change is not just transforming to your own teaching, it will transform your classroom in ways you never thought were possible.

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

Help Wanted

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.-Ronald Reagan



I recently found myself in a situation where I didn’t know how to do something with one of our new apps.  I could have probably figured it out if I devoted all of my attention and time to it but knew there was someone who already knew just how to do it.  So rather than spend precious time trying to figure it out, I just went to Ella. Ella is an expert at figuring things out on the iPad.  She never lets me down and if she doesn’t know the answer right away, she persists and comes back to me, usually 10.4 seconds later with the answer.  We all need an Ella…she is like a real-life Siri, only way cuter.

Working together as a community of learners benefits everyone.  Today, my class partnered with a second grade class to demonstrate how to use an app.  The second grade class had just gotten Explain K and 2 largeEverything which is an app my kids are already familiar with. It was a great activity watching 5 year olds teaching 7 and 8 year olds.  My kids were very nonchalant about the whole thing…like it is no big deal to teach older kids, because to them it’s not.  Even better, was the second graders didn’t seem to mind being taught by the younger children.  Once again, there were 50 kids in my classroom and all were engaged and on task.

How do we create an environment where teachers learn from students and students learn from each other, regardless of their age?  We allow the experts to share what they know.  The students in my class know which child in my class can help them with a variety of needs.  Everyone has their own area of expertise.  Students are engaged in a way that provokes conversation.  Students are invested in their learning because they are able to make choices about how they learn.  The adults don’t have to always be in charge and they recognize that students have a lot to offer, even if they are 5 years old.  The learner knows it is ok to make mistakes and the teacher gives the children the opportunity to create…surprise me!

My kindergarten students have many years before they enter college and then the job market.  They have much to learn in the coming years.  They also need to learn how to work with people both younger and older than themselves.  Working cooperatively with peers, and eventually co-workers is a critical life skill.  Today’s teacher doesn’t have to have all the answers.  We just need to be able to ask an expert…even if that expert still needs a booster seat 🙂

Hope helps 2nd grade

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