Making the Most of Small Moments

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. -Rose Kennedy
snailI don’t do critters…creepy crawly, slimy, or slithery.  So when my students found this guy at recess yesterday, of course, they were fascinated.  I had to admit, he was pretty spectacular in a disgustingly slimy way.
Their intrigue, however, brought about some pretty awesome conversation and some creativity later.  They immediately asked questions like, “Is it a snail or a slug?”  “What does it eat?”  “Does it keep its shell or outgrow it?” “Is it helpful or a pest?”   Then came this little gem from a child…”I wish we had an iPad out here to take its picture for the science center.” Silence for a moment.  In that moment of silence, I’m thinking, “Me too…it would make a great picture.”  Suddenly, a child says, “Mrs. Meeuwse has an iPhone (awesome brand identification for a 5 year old).  She can take a picture of it and print it out!”  Huh?  Oh yeah…I DO have a phone! I quickly snapped a photograph and then many started asking if I could send it to their iPads with Showbie…And then I was asked if I could “text the picture” to their parents.  Several wanted them to see it.  In our quick 25 minutes of recess, about 20 was spent with this snail.
During all of the activity, I was preoccupied with their questions and getting a good picture, making sure the creature wasn’t injured or touched, etc…but afterward, I reflected back on that moment and was struck by my students’ thinking.  The immediate thought of including technology…using my phone to take a picture, putting it on their iPads with Showbie, texting the image to their parents…technology was at the forefront of their thoughts.  It was not an afterthought.  It was how these 5 year olds solved their questions and problem-solved in the moment.
Later in the afternoon, many chose to draw the snail in art and write about him in the writing center.  Here is one example from the iPad:
snail drawing padThe child used Drawing Pad and saved it to his camera roll.  I used Simple Transfer to get it off his iPad on to my laptop.
Our thematic unit this week is Pumpkins and how they grow…but  yesterday, we took a detour and talked about snails.  The questions, vocabulary, and engagement were just too good to shut down at the end of recess.
I don’t necessarily recommend taking a detour every time the opportunity appears, but by being open to small moments in your day and allowing students to lead the way in their wonder and discovery, we begin to create students who think deeply.  I am always amazed at the complexity of a child’s mind and yesterday was no exception.  I was reminded just how naturally they incorporate technology into their lives and how curious they are about living creatures.  By being present in that very small moment, I’m certain I learned more than they did yesterday!
Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Collaborative Work Spaces

Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved. -Mattie Stepanek

medium_4264216476So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaborative spaces and their importance and relevance in learning.  Early childhood classrooms are collaborative by nature and the furniture provided in these classrooms allow for students to be in small groups.  But what about other grades?  Why is this important?

Think about your recent professional development experiences.  Were they in a classroom somewhere with desks in rows or were you at tables where you could easily see your table mates?  By their very nature, desks in rows inhibit conversation, eye contact, and community.  Plus, they are not very comfortable.  I start squirming after a short time in these seats.  The times I’ve been in PD at tables, it is immediately possible to engage in conversation, share, and build relationships.  It just feels better and more personal.

Our students are no different.  They need the ability to learn from their peers, to question, to share, to feel safe in a group and not feel isolated.  When we use collaborative groupings with tables, we are saying we are a community.  We learn from each other and I, as the teacher, am not the sole disseminator of knowledge.  The room arrangement instantly, and silently, shares your values as an educator.

As we use iPads, students are immediately collaborative.  They want to share what they’ve done, and in doing so, their peers are able to participate in the collective wisdom of the group.  Collective wisdom…so important for students and adults.  The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” applies to many aspects of growing children.  No where in that saying does it say “the village” has to all be adults.

As an adult, when I have to learn in isolation, I find myself sometimes feeling anxious.  Especially if the concept is complicated.  I may even feel like I just don’t get it…what’s wrong with me?  Everyone else seems to get it.  In collaborative learning, I might find that others don’t understand either.  This immediately relieves anxiety knowing I’m not alone.  As a team, we figure it out together.   All students, from the smallest to the tallest, need to feel safe and supported in learning new content.  By having the ability to work collaboratively, in a space that supports collaboration, students are more likely to take risks.

IMG_2156My classroom has many collaborative spaces.  There are tables that seat 4 and 6.  I’ve pushed 2 rectangular tables together for a larger collaborative space.  There are rugs and pillows on the floor that allow students to spread out and be comfortable.  As I stated earlier, early childhood classrooms are equipped for collaboration.  I recently saw this video on Edutopia showing how a middle school teacher used what was already in his classroom to make the space more collaborative for his 35 students.

Take a good look at your classroom design and see what it says about what you value as an educator.  Student input is also valuable.  What changes can you make to increase collaboration and student engagement?IMG_2176

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

student desks photo credit: Creative Commons

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!

Creating a Code of Cooperation

“Can’t we all just get along?” -Rodney King

So we’ve just finished 8 days of the new school year and to my utter shock and disbelief, it took 7 of those days before it happened. I waited each day, bracing myself for it to occur. The. First. Tattle.

IMG_05797 whole school days. Shocking really, when you think about a class of 5 year olds. It came just in time. We finally finished our class Code of Cooperation. This code is created along with my students as an agreement of what we believe a good classroom looks like. The children brainstormed a chart full of ideas and each day we talked about those things, narrowed them down, combined like ideas and finally settled on four things. 1. Put things where they go. 2. Be nice to others an share. 3. Listen and do what you are asked to do. 5. Try your best. We discussed what each of these things look like and the students suggested pictures that would match the concept. We came up with 2 pictures of each. The students will add a few sticky notes next week as they come up with more refinements. They already decided we need to identify what it means to be nice. Someone said to use kind words. That will go on a sticky note as an addition.

I guess I actually misspoke above when I said we “finished” it. It is never really finished. We will make additions and changes throughout the year as we go. It is a “living, breathing” agreement. The children all showed their commitment by signing around the periphery of the poster. When students have voice in how they will interact in their learning environment, there is true ownership. They are able to monitor their own behavior and rate how they did. This also creates accountability. I am not the sole monitor of their behavior. We will talk about the code daily and review our commitment to it.

This week, we will use our iPads to draw pictures of what each of the expectations looks like. They will share their ideas with their groups and we will work on how we will address those who choose not to follow our code. We will also work on how using the iPads fit into our Code of Cooperation.

When students have voice and choice in their learning and their learning environment, they become stakeholders. Even 5 year olds understand what it means to choose and to have their choices heard. Aren’t we all a little more cooperative when we have had a say in a process? The pictures we have and the ones we will add also create a visual reminder of what we agreed upon.

As a class, our shared vision is that we will work and learn together. By breaking that down into its components, we now have a working agreement that will serve as a guide for this school year.

Hopefully, it will reduce some of the tattling too. 🙂 One can always hope…

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

Endings and Beginnings

“This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change.” -Taylor Swift

IMG_2070I’ve been away from my blog for a couple of weeks…in fact, I’ve been away from almost everything.  My father passed away this past week after an extended battle with cancer and I was soaking up every minute with him that I could.  Bits of reality intruded as we started back to school last week with professional development days.  I went to some, not all.  Some things are just more important.

This past summer has been a time of both personal and professional metamorphosis for me.  Maybe you’ve noticed a shift in my blog posts.  I’ve spent a lot of time questioning what I really believe about teaching and learning.  I’ve spent time reflecting on what true leadership is.  I’ve read excellent blog posts from fellow educators and had conversations with colleagues.  I’ve made decisions and I’ve made some changes. There are endings and beginnings.

As I pursue a student-centered classroom this year, I will be building on some of the things put in place last year. There will also be an ending to some things that have previously been part of my class.  Missing from my classroom this year, will be a formal calendar time, formal homework , a stoplight behavior management system, and stated classroom rules. The links provided explain why beautifully.  My students and I will create together and deploy a shared classroom vision.  From that, we will build our classroom Code of Cooperation.  I will be sharing these with you as we build them.  We are also going to build behavior rubrics so that students can rate themselves on how they felt they did that day.

I worked a lot last year on building in student voice and choice by having my students choose which app they wanted to demonstrate learning.  I will be continuing that this year and my students will be building digital portfolios using the Showbie app. I am excited that one of our favorite apps, Book Creator, is able to be uploaded to Showbie and easily shared with parents. The iPad and the creation apps we use, have been essential to creating a student-centered classroom.

medium_143860670My work and reflection this summer, in addition to spending an amazing week with my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, were the threads to the chrysalis spun around me the past 9 weeks.  Woven in, were many quality moments with my ailing father.  As I begin to emerge from this cocoon this week and meet my new students, I bring with me the collective wisdom of many wise people.  I am certain of my path and am excited about new possibilities.  I’m also aware of just how very short this life is and it is too short to waste time using outdated, inefficient methods for educating children simply because change is too hard.  The butterfly is a great reminder of the beauty of change.  We should be more afraid of the effects of not changing!

My students arrive this Wednesday.  A new journey begins…

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

It’s Personal!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…Dr. Seuss

Who doesn’t love some Dr. Seuss? I believe his book Oh! The Places You’ll Go! could almost be a manifesto for Personalized Learning!

IMG_2012In my last postI mentioned that I was building that Personalized Learning plane while I fly it.  I have been working on setting up data notebooks for my students and thinking a lot about how to approach it.  Each child is different and unique, therefore personalized practice is necessary for personalized learning.  Student ownership and use of their data is essential to maximize learning. With student-maintained data folders for academic and behavioral goal setting, we can have a shared monitoring of progress through conferencing. Since data drives my instruction, there will be ongoing personalization of instruction to help meet student goals.  For each skill, students will determine their goal and will maintain their goal sheets after each assessment.  These folders will be accessible to students all the time so they will always have access to their progress. The folders will originally contain the usual assessments we give in the beginning of kindergarten…letter identification, naming letter sounds, beginning sight words, number recognition, rote counting, and shapes.  As students master these early skills, we will move on to the next set of skills.  Each one moves on as he/she is ready.

I was already doing this the last few years with high frequency words.  As students demonstrated mastery of one list, we added to the list.  We continued to add words as their abilities increased.  The last 3 years, all of my students completed 100 kindergarten sight words.  Most finished first and second grade sight words and even a few more finished third grade words.  I stopped at 3rd grade because comprehension begins to break down at that point.

But wait…I teach kindergarten.  How in the world will these young children be able to handle keeping track of data folders?  It is all in the way you organize your environment for learning and the expectations you set.  By working with each student, they will learn to take ownership in their learning.  By shared monitoring, they will learn how to make adjustments in their goals and articulate what they are learning.  You see, the key concept here is that they will learn.  As my students learn to create content with their iPads and create digital portfolios of their workflow, they will grow in their ability to discuss concepts and ideas. 

Part of my job as the lead learner in the classroom is to teach them how to be a stakeholder in their learning process.  And yes…even 5 year olds can handle it! After all, “Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you!”

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

Daring To Ask “What If”

When the time came to leap in faith, whether you had your eyes open or closed or screamed all the way down or not, made no practical difference.- Lois McMaster Bujold

what ifWhat if?  At times, it is a question posed with wonder and inquiry.  Others, with anxiety and trepidation.  When asked in the hearts of  5 year olds,  it is often met with unconditional enthusiasm and willingness to try.  How do you feel about the “What ifs” in your life?

This has been a challenging year for me both personally and professionally.  In August, I was asked to consider applying for Apple Distinguished Educator.  My first thought was, “What if I don’t make it?”  Then, I allowed myself to think of “What if I do?”  Upon being chosen in February, my professional life changed almost instantly.  I have felt like a meteor hurtling through space…but in a good way. I have been brought into a whole new world of learning, collegiality, and absolute wonder.

I have watched my students daily ask themselves, “What if…” in their learning.  5 year olds are curious no doubt, even without an iPad.  The iPads have allowed us to explore that curiosity, touch it, read about it, talk about it, and create.  Having access to this seemingly simple tool has expanded their classroom beyond our four walls into a global classroom.  The ability to have choice in how they demonstrate learning has awakened even the least confident child and brought him into full flower.  Allowing my students to work at their own level with different sight word lists and reading levels has allowed them to go further in the last 180 days than they ever would have previously.collaboration 2

When I received the opportunity in January, 2011 to utilize 1:1 iPads in my classroom, I dared to ask, “What if?” Over the next few months and into the school year 2011-12, my “what ifs” grew and my students started asking their own ‘what ifs”.  What if I taught my students how to blog?  What if I moved away from the drill and practice apps and allowed my kids to create their own content?  What if I had different sight words lists and allowed them to move on when they were ready? What if I gave them the ability to plan their day and have some choice?

Who knew that just 2 1/2 years ago, when starting with iPads, I would have transformed my teaching to this extent and my students learning as well?  It amazes me even now.

I am wheeling my iPads down to storage in just a few hours as we close the final chapter of the 2012-13 school year today.  I am excited about the awesome staff development opportunities I have with my Apple Distinguished Educators this summer.  I can’t wait to see what new “What ifs” develop in August…well, after a summer vacation, that is…

Whether you are starting a new school term on the other side of the world, or ending this one, I dare you to ask “What if?”  Like the quote above says, whether you take a leap of faith or go screaming all the way, it makes no difference.  The difference comes in daring to try.

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

Time To Call An Expert

In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn-Phil Collins

Under phylogenetic taxonomy, dinosaurs are usually defined as the group consisting of Triceratops, Neornithes [modern birds], their most recent common ancestor (MRCA), and all descendants.  It has also been suggested that Dinosauria be defined with respect to the MRCA of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon, because these were two of the three genera cited by Richard Owen when he recognized the Dinosauria.

IMG_0484Um…what?  I am no expert on dinosaurs. I know enough to get by, but I am completely unimpressive to Tre.  Tre is my in-class dino-phile.  He knows all, and I do mean all, about dinosaurs.  He has tried hard not to look at me condescendingly this week as we learn about these “terrible lizards”.  Tre has written about, talked about, read about, and drawn about dinosaurs this whole year.  You can imagine his bliss as we all focus on them this week.

IMG_0482While a lot of my students are knowledgeable about dinosaurs, there are a lot of misconceptions.  It is hard for them to comprehend that dinosaurs pre-existed humans. We are learning from our work and we are learning from each other.  As always, we have voice and choice in our learning.  Tre chose to write about dinosaurs (above) on paper.  Another student chose to make a Pic Collage (at right).  Others chose to make an Explain Everything.  (see bottom of page).

Dinosaurs are always a topic of great interest.  Using  surveys at the beginning of the school year is a good way to find out about your students’ areas of interest.  This makes them part of the curriculum planning process and part of the decision-making process in their learning.  In the learning community of this classroom, the students learn from me, I learn from them, and they learn from each other.  We all have expertise in something and by giving Tre the opportunity to shine this week, he is buoyed by the confidence of his classmates.  My students all know who to go to as the “Expert” of various things in our class.  This gives my students responsibility, buy-in, leadership and best of all…it forces them to work on solving their own problems rather than coming to me all the time.

I’ve said before that the Explain Everything app is awesome.  (Created by a fellow Apple Distinguished Educator). It really gives you a sense of what a child is thinking when they have to explain their thinking.  Here is Hope, explaining everything about dinosaurs. She is definitely one of my class experts on this app.

In what area(s) are you an expert?  Do your students know who the experts are in your classroom? Do student interests help drive your curriculum choices?  All of these are good questions to reflect on as many of us are ending the school year.

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

What is Your Super Power?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.-Aristotle

When wsuperheroas the last time you were an action figure Super Hero? I ask, because I am apparently one today. It is Teacher Appreciation Week and my room mom decorated my classroom door with pictures of my assistant and me dressed as The Incredibles. It was particularly exciting to my kids to see us on the door like that…and I must admit, I’m kind of digging the whole super- ripped, super hero body going on there.

I’m not a Super Hero in real life, nor do I play one on tv, but there are times when we must don our Super Hero apparel and create magic in a classroom full of young children. Engaging students today is no easy feat. There are many things that compete for their attention. Even with iPads, there are times when I look around my classroom and wonder what planet I just landed on because those children are NOT my students!

I find when I am using our creation apps (Explain Everything, Educreations, Pic Collage, Book Creator, iDiary, etc…) my students are far more engaged and tend to become mini-super heroes themselves. Their work is better, the content is deeper, their conversations are richer. These are not mindless apps that keep children occupied like a video game. They start with a blank canvas and end with a brand-new creation that wouldn’t have been possible without the technology. This blank slate-to-masterpiece approach, has transformed our classroom and how we learn. We are working on the habit of excellence.

Thomas2My kids love to learn and they love to create. Yes, Thomas is under the table working on his masterpiece. He likes it there because he can work undisturbed. Look at his face.  Is there any doubt he loves what he is doing?

Happy, engaged children make this Super Hero pretty happy. Creating the habit of excellence starts on day one in your classroom. Examine your classroom and see if you have created a habit of excellence.

What are your super powers?

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

My How You’ve Grown!

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.-Benjamin Franklin

growing kidRecently, I saw a former student from my kindergarten class 20 years ago.  Talk about feeling old…she was very sweet and told me I hadn’t changed a bit and that I looked exactly the same.  I’m not sure if you can count some wrinkles, gray hair and a few extra pounds exactly the same but I’ll take it.  However, even if I look the same on the outside, I’m definitely different on the inside.

The way I look at teaching and learning has changed.  Obviously over a career span of 24 years, change is expected.  But some of the most significant change has come in the last 2 years as I moved into the role of a facilitator and my students began taking charge of their learning. Through the systematic implementation of the reading and writing workshop approach and by infusing the classroom with the technology from the iPad, my students learn from each other and from a range of collaborative experiences.

This year, I’ve focused on students creating content through a variety of apps and personalizing their learning by giving them choice in these apps.  What this has done has given my students freedom in  demonstrating what they know.  In addition, because they have freedom of choice, they are more engaged and they are retaining more information. Re-teaching skills has been replaced with students collaborating with each other and learning to problem solve together.

Life is messy and not all problems are solved with a “one correct answer” response.  Part of my change and growth has come in allowing my students to grapple with problems on their own or in a group and having them see that not all problems are solved all at once. Working collaboratively helps develop interpersonal skills.  Having choice in their activities, students are working on self-direction. By having students use iPads to create content, they are constructing new knowledge.

21st century learners need to be able to solve problems, and think critically, creatively, and systematically. 21st century educators have to be able to provide their students with the opportunities to put these skills into practice.  In order to do that, we have to be willing to grow and change with our students.  The following You Tube movie makes me laugh out loud at its ridiculousness…however, don’t we all know someone without a lick of common sense?  This video points out the need for teaching our students how to solve real-world problems…not just ones where the answer is in the back of the book.

How have you grown this year?

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