Back to the Beginning

Well it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted on here. Things got a little crazy and well, I’m back. In a nutshell, I retired from my project director job with the local school district and took a kindergarten teaching job at a local church school. It’s really heaven on earth to be sure. I have 10 little friends with an assistant, a class set of iPads, and pretty much the freedom to teach what and how I want. No standardized testing, freedom to create my own content, and amazing administrative and parent support.

Backing up just a bit, the school didn’t already have iPads, but was super excited about the work I have done in the past with them. The initial purchase was 4 iPads that arrived in mid September. The parents then chipped in and purchased the remaining six, which arrived in early October. I’m using Apple School Manager and Mosyle for device management and it has been so easy. Because we didn’t have 1:1 until just recently, we are a bit slow in getting started with doing all of the things I like to do with them, but that’s ok. We have plenty of time ahead of us to create.

Getting started, we worked a lot with Starfall ABC app and the Magnetic ABC app. Recently, I downloaded a free whiteboard app which is perfect for a variety of uses. We use it in reading groups and in math. We also have my other favorite apps Book Creator, the Duck Duck Moose apps, Drawing Pad, and a few others. We’ve been spending time exploring the uses of these apps in preparation for more focused creation activities.

Using Magnetic ABC app to sound out CVC words.

Working with Starfall ABC app

We are just getting started over here so check back for updates! The kids are very excited to learn new things.

A New Adventure Begins…

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

Cheers to new beginnings!

Student Agency and ePortfolios for Young Children

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!

Collaborative Dot Day Book with Pages

Merriam Webster defines “create” as  to produce through imaginative skill.  What struck me is the word “skill”.  Creative acts are a means of self-expression, but I hadn’t really thought of it before as a skill. After reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize creativity is a skill that can be developed through experimentation, exploring, and synthesizing information. In a previous post, I’ve indicated that while everyone is naturally creative, young children especially, have a creative core that often seems to flow more easily than older students and adults. Creativity as a skill, with appropriate attention and practice, can deepen student learning and develop key problem solving skills.

With creativity in mind, Peter Reynold’s International Dot Day is fast approaching! I’ve written about Dot Day before and this year’s International Dot Day is a chance to encourage young students to “make their mark”.  My friend Marc Faulder has created a template in Pages so you can make your own collaborative Dot Day book. You can access the template here.

Once you open the document in iCloud, click “File” then “duplicate” and you will have your own copy.

Recent updates to Pages now include tools to create your own books that can be exported to EPUB files. Creating and publishing books is easy enough for students of all ages. Here is a brief Clips video, created by Marc Faulder, showing how young children can be authors in Pages.

Too often, when we hear the word “creativity” we think only of drawing. Our students are capable of so much more, especially if we work on developing the skill in meaningful ways. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Young Children Can Create series  that Marc and I have co-written, you can access them here:

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Photography

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Music Making (also co-written with Jason Milner)

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Drawing

The Rich Potential of Young Children’s Video

So get out there and “make your mark”!

 

Revive Your Creativity

When I was in elementary school, I played outside almost every day with my next door neighbor. We created elaborate play schemes, including an outdoor “kitchen”, complete with mud pies. We also had fun reenacting one of our favorite books, Harriet the Spy. It was always an adventure and we had no trouble at all tapping into our imaginations. We played outside until dark, when our mothers called us inside. Then….somewhere, in the pre-teen angst of middle school, it all stopped. I moved away, and being cool with my peers was of far greater importance than playing. Self-consciousness ruled the day and “let’s pretend” was no longer ok.

As a veteran kindergarten teacher, I have always loved how quickly my students slip into “let’s pretend”.  I loved their conversations in the housekeeping center (also quite revealing into their home lives), I loved watching them create elaborate structures with blocks or legos and hearing their rich conversations as they did so. It also saddens me how too often in education, we “teach” away their creativity. We push for conformity rather than creativity. We silence the multiple voices and ideas, seeking only the “correct” one.

But, what if we didn’t? What if, instead, we dug deep into our own memories of play, let’s pretend, and creation and experienced those feelings again? What if, we let our feelings of self-consciousness go? What if we grabbed a box of crayons and colored again…or drew our own pictures? What if we silenced the voices that say, “I can’t draw, sing, play a musical instrument, etc…” What if we did it anyway? We tell our students to say “I will try” instead of “I can’t”. Why aren’t we doing the same?

In my last post, I talked about encouraging young children to create. The truth is, they need very little encouragement. They simply need the opportunities.  This post is aimed at YOU…yes, you. When was the last time you created something? I know, I know…you don’t have time. Who does? Do it anyway. You can even create something your students can use so that you kill two birds, so to speak.  I shared the four student-creation books in my last post. In this post, I am sharing a free, multi-touch book I created in iBooks Author. It’s an emergent reader, called Spinning Spiders, in the iBook Store. It also has some teacher resources at the end of the book in case you want to create your own. (See what I did there???)

I’ve written other posts about creating “Just Right Books” for your students. You can see them here, here, and here.  Creating books for your students engages them as readers and allows you to meet them right where they are.

So, as you are gearing up for a new school year, remember, everyone can create-even YOU!

Our One Best Image

“Do your best” by everyone’s mom in the world.

Do your best! Give me your best effort! These are words spoken to children by parents and teachers alike. But, what is “best”?  If we define it by today’s beauty and fashion standards, we would all feel grossly overweight and substandard. Perhaps, we should stress the word your in those sentences…do your best. After all, everyone’s “best” looks different anyway. As educators, we work daily to help children see the best in themselves, to gain confidence in their learning and put forth their best effort to achieve.

With the fall season arriving so very late here, we recently took our iPads on a walk to capture our “one best image”. This meant talking about what that looks like and how we might achieve that goal. As we were walking, several were excited about this leaf or that leaf and took several pictures along the way. Yet, in the end, the decision of their one best image had to be made. Once images were captured and deemed their best, we created a class book in Book Creator. Here are a couple of pages as examples:

fullsizerender-3 fullsizerender-4 Their simple sentence is their rationale for why this leaf was the best of all the ones they saw. Unfortunately, our area is not rich with fall color and we mostly have yellows and browns, but discerning eyes can look beyond the color at the details…and this, we decided, is the most important part of choosing our best.

Having children closely examine, filter, and discern are all important skills. We hope to do another “One Best Image” in the spring!

Give it a try!

 

Using the iPad for Writing in Kindergarten

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say. -F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve always believed we learn to write by writing. My students have a lot to say, but often have difficulty finding topics to write about. We have anchor charts around the room with writing ideas. See a couple below:

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However, no matter how many words we have in the room, some of my students still have trouble coming up with ideas for writing. They tend to write the same things over and over…I went to the park, I play video games, etc… We continually encourage them to stretch as writers and encourage them to think of new ideas.  For those those that have difficulty finding inspiration, we utilize the camera app on the iPad.

A colleague suggested taking a picture of the child during the day and have them write about the picture. This has been an extremely helpful suggestion. Here are a couple of samples of student work using this technique:

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With one of the children, I found him building something in the block center and on his own, he went to get his iPad to take a picture so he could write about it later. He said he would forget his “details” without the picture.

Supporting students where they are is so important in developing strong readers and writers. Student-centered classrooms provide motivation and autonomy. When we have internal motivation we are more likely to persist and attempt new things rather than when we act out of compliance.

I am so glad I have the iPad as a learning tool to extend and enhance learning…and more importantly, my students are seeing it as a tool, and not just “fun”.

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

Finding Your Story

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

Well, I’ve been a little busy since my last post. Summer is almost over and I’ve been busily plugging away at my doctoral classes and have recently returned from the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Miami. These institutes provide me with inspiration and refill my creative cup to begin a new school year.

once-upon-a-time-719174_640Our institutes often focus on the power of story. We all have one. As a kindergarten teacher working in Charleston, SC, I wasn’t convinced I had a story…and if I did, who would want to hear it? As educators, we neglect our story and we downplay it. We use the word “just” in apologetic tones as if to say, “I’m JUST a teacher”. I found great inspiration in one of our keynote speakers in Miami.  Jason Hall, founder of Slow Roll Detroit, reminded me no story is too small. You can see his story here. My two take aways from his story is “leave no one behind” and “sometimes the journey redefines the destination”.

So, back to the idea of story. Adults aren’t the only ones with a story. My youngest students, even at age 5, have a story. Our job is to nurture that story and help them see their stories matter. Often, we relegate young children to the side because they are “too little ” and they can’t possibly have anything worthwhile to offer. How many times have you said “Yes, uh, huh” absent-mindedly as a child is talking? I’m not pointing fingers here…I’m just as guilty. We are busy people. But, when we do that often enough, we reinforce to that child their story isn’t  worth telling. They become less willing to flex their creative muscles because they don’t feel capable, they don’t have anything to say.

Jason Hall

Jason Hall

Maybe you aren’t comfortable with you whole story yet. Maybe you are working on a verse or two. Here is my current verse. I’m excited to continue to build my story one verse at a time. With a new school year 3 weeks away for me, I’m vowing to lean in more. I’m committing to nurturing the story in my students. I’m committing to nurturing my own story and the stories of others. Jason Hall has it right…roll slow, leave no one behind, and embrace the idea that the journey can redefine the destination. His story started small and as he shared it, it became epic.

 

In other news, I wanted to quickly share a few websites that are great for royalty free, attribution free images.

Pixabay

Morguefile

Photosforclass:  This is student safe and all images come with automatic attribution.

In the spirit of story and my new-found inspiration, my new closing line will be…

Share your story…do epic stuff.

 

What Should We Be Doing? Using iPads to Personalize Learning

The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do -Lil Wayne.

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? We live our lives shouldering the burden of “shoulds”. Social media bombards us with images of what the perfect size is, what the perfect cupcake should look like, what the perfect home should look like and what the perfect wedding should look like. We are watching the “highlights” of people’s lives and comparing them to our “behind the scenes”. As professionals, we are held to some standard that determines what a perfect teacher or classroom should be, that often doesn’t come close to resembling the real world. It is enough to crack the sanity of even the most self-confident adults. So, how much more burdensome are these “shoulds” on our students…these little people who carry seeds of hope, creativity, innocence and wonder?

Students are so worried about what their work should look like, they miss the whole point of the activity. They don’t want to be wrong because they should know the answer. They want all of the parameters spelled out so they can produce.  This isn’t learning.  It is a recipe. As a doctoral student, I find myself looking for exact parameters on some of my assignments and find it very disconcerting when the assignment seems vague or broad. I am conditioned to want the recipe so I can produce what it is my professors want. The recipe is comforting because it lays out exactly what I should do. After all, isn’t that the whole point of the assignment?

Actually, no. The point is to problem solve, think critically, collaborate, research, think some more, write, hypothesize, write some more, and come out on the other side with a deeper understanding of the concept than before I started. Our students yearn to achieve but it is up to us to discard that recipe. It is up to us to teach and model divergent thinking, to allow students to struggle a bit, to learn to persevere when their first attempt isn’t successful and to allow for variations on a theme.

In our iPad math journals, students aren’t given a closed ended question that has one answer. Open format questions create greater potential for deeper reasoning. Students have the ability to think in flexible ways and not just provide the answer they should give. An example is: Ben has 6 buttons.  Some are green and some are purple.  How many of each?  Another is the example below. Students come up with their own addition problems.

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Giving students voice and choice to demonstrate their understanding of concepts frees them from following a recipe to produce a standardized product. Whether it is open ended activities in math journals or writing about their favorite super hero, we need to remove the “shoulds” from their vocabulary and ours… and shift toward “could”.  What could  be the answer here? What could you write about today? What could you be doing right now? Should somehow implies wrongdoing or shame but could allows room for thought and possibility.

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By using our iPads to personalize learning, give students voice and choice, and shifting our use of the word should to could, we open up possibilities, change mindsets, and give students freedom to be themselves. Heck, if adults did the same thing for ourselves, we might have a lot less anxiety and little more peace of mind!

That being said, the comic below shows my constant doctoral mindset:

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Ok…so, I have a little work to do on myself…

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

Building Vocabulary with iPads

One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.-Evelyn Waugh

In working with young children all day, I find that my vocabulary sometimes is lacking when having adult conversation.  I’ve caught myself saying “Put on your listening ears” in regular conversation. My “cool factor” is definitely a big zero at times.  Interacting with 5 year olds most of every day definitely requires me to work at maintaining my end in an adult conversation.  I work crossword puzzles, play the ubiquitous Words With Friends, and I read.  If don’t work on it, then “criss-cross applesauce” is likely to spring forth the next time I sit with a friend for some coffee.

FullSizeRender 2Our students are no different.  Vocabulary development is an on-going skill that needs practice.  Young children are building vocabularies each day.  Misconceptions are prevalent.  As a child, I thought a “chest of drawers” was “chester drawers”.  One former student called her “backpack” a “pack-pack”.  Listening to my students stretch and grow in their vocabulary development is interesting to say the least.  One child said he loved “arts and craps”.  Yes, friends, it is something we work on every day.

 

A recent activity with the book Snowmen at Night was particularly good for vocabulary work for my students.  First, we live in an area that has almost no snow in the winter.  Sledding, snowball fights, ice skating are all things my students read about, but don’t usually get to participate in.  After discussing the story, we thought of things a snowman could do at night.  We used the app ChatterPix to let our snowmen tell about themselves.  Here is a short one.

 

We also used the story during our Writing Workshop time to write about what a snowman might do at night.  Here is one sample:

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Vocabulary knowledge aids in activating and building background knowledge to make connections to text, and having vocabulary knowledge can increase reading comprehension and fluency while reading. Using word walls, mentor texts, non-fiction texts across all subjects, and especially creation apps on the iPad give students many opportunities to interact with new vocabulary.

We have used Pic Collage, Explain Everything and Drawing Pad in other vocabulary activities.  Consider using creation apps on the iPad to help develop student vocabulary.

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