Monday, May 28, 2012

Unexpected Things I've Learned from Using Screen Chomp and Show Me

Lately I/we (Ms. Will, my UBC teacher candiate and I)  have been using the apps ScreenChomp and ShowMe a lot more often.  While I only have one class iPad she and I have had access to a few more iPads because our district loaner set is in the school.  If you're not familiar with these two apps they are both FREE interactive white board apps.  What this means is that they allow students to draw and record their voices and create a little video playing back these two actions.  My students have used these apps to draw and tell math number stories, and to retell the life cycle of a frog.  Nothing too inspiring yet but a start.

As I've been uploading these student creations to our class blog I am noticing a few things about these apps that I never really thought about when I first added them to my class iPad.  Here are a few of them.

Seeing My Students' Personalities Away From My Watchful Eye

I  only have one iPad in my classroom at the moment, so when we do special projects like documenting our learning using an iPad app, we do it with a partner or two.  As I listen back to the creations my students have made I see a different side of them.  As they draw and record they are interacting with one another away from me.  And while I have a general view of what they are doing, I really have no idea what they are saying until I upload their creations. I have to admit  I love the innocence of their conversations, away from the teacher's ear.  I love the negotiations I hear between one another.  I love seeing who leads the conversation, and how they solve disagreements.  I love that I can see how they genuinely speak to one another, and not because I am encouraging them to be supportive or kind, but because they are supportive and kind.  I love this little secret window into their interactions.

Seeing What They Are Capable of Doing When Given Freedom to Create

I love how open ended these apps are and how each group of students have interpreted the directions in a way that works for them. If you look at their creations some have drawn then talked about their drawings, some of recorded as they drew, and others just created number sentences without actually drawing.  It so clearly reminds me that my students are all different and they learn and succeed in different ways.

Seeing How My Students Form Their Letters and Numbers

It was quite interesting for me to review some my students number stories and see that many of the are writing their numbers (and letters) incorrectly. While I don't spend a whole bunch of time working through a "printing" book, we have talked about how letters and numbers are formed.  I was a bit surprised to see so many of my students writing their letters and numbers incorrectly.  It was a good reminder to me to make sure we once again review how to make properly formed letters and numbers.

What have unexpected things have you noticed about using creative/open ended apps?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

An Exciting Couple of Weeks at My School

The past couple of weeks have brought a fair bit of excitement to my school, at least as far as I'm concerned.

First off, after waiting almost nine months, my school finally became an open wireless school.  Obviously in a school district as large as mine theses change overs take time and can't all be done at once.  I've also been lucky enough to have an airport in my classroom so while in my room I haven't had too many issues with connecting to the internet for my teaching and my students learning. But having open wireless allows my entire school to do the exact same thing.  The implications of this is huge.  In addition the speed of the internet is that much faster.   I totally  notice it when I try to upload our class videos to our YouTube channel. It's wonderful.

In addition my school has one of the two school district iPad loaner sets at the moment.  In the past months I have booked the iPod loaner set (twice) with hopes of inspiring my colleagues to jump further onto the technology band wagon.  While they were booked out I'm not sure many of the teachers  saw much value in them. It seemed like the same few teachers were booking them out.  But the iPads are different.  The iPads seem to have brought a lot more excitement into the school.  I keep being approached by students asking me where I got the iPads from and if we get to keep them.  They are keen to use them, and are loving them for learning.

Both myself and another teacher offered our students as experts to teach other classes how to use the iPads.  This has worked too.  We were able to get iPads into classrooms where the teachers were not initially interested in signing them out.  We helped make them more comfortable with the technology and allowed their students to be exposed to this amazing technology.

I'm also impressed with what my colleagues have been doing with them.  Some have asked to borrow an iPad over night so that they are ready to teach with them the next day. I figured most would just let their students "play" with them since they are in our school for such a short period of time. But that's not what's happening.  I've been requested to download apps for learning. They are exploring the open ended programs to have students demonstrate their learning in personalized ways.

Here are two blog posts from two of the teachers in my school using the iPads for the first time with their classes.

Mrs. Morrison's iPad Adventures in Kindergarten

Ms. Birdsall's Technology Adventures in Grade Four

For me it's really exciting to see these transformations with my staff.  Right now we have six teachers blogging with their students - whether a class blog, or both a class blog and individual student blogs.  These blogs are all new this year, and there are a couple of other teachers ready to get their blogs on line before the end of  the school year.  In addition we have eight teachers who are using either their personal iPads (or iPods) or the district issued iPads in their classrooms. So things are changing at my school and I'm happy to be a part of these changes.

But the biggest, most exciting thing that has happened at my school these past couple of weeks is that we were successful with our Innovative Learning Design (phase 2) grant proposal.  A few weeks back myself and four teaching colleagues from different grade levels got together to write a proposal for this project.  While we have a very strong group of educators on the proposal we weren't sure if we were going to be successful because of some circumstances surrounding our application.  But we pushed forward anyhow and are just thrilled that we were successful.  What this means is that we will have an infusion of $25,000 worth of technology into our school.  For a school that hovers the inner city school status line that is huge.

Being the most knowledgable when it comes to using technology to transform teaching and  learning I was in charge of putting the order together.  When the proposal was submitted it was decided that the money would be spent for the teachers on the proposal and their students.  We are five teachers teaching at five different teaching levels - K, 1, 4, 5, and 6/7.  We didn't want to just buy bulk technology we wanted to target our five classrooms so that we can explore, learn, and grow with the technology then share everything we are doing with our colleagues.  We want to be able to transform the way we teach and do things that would not be possible without access to technology.  For us it isn't about doing what we always have done, but with technology. It's about changing the way we teach and learn. Our goal is to be the lead teachers in our school.

After a lot of e-mails back and forth to people in my district that are knowledgable with technology and that I highly respect in the end each classroom teacher will have on demand access to an iPad for their teaching, a laptop, a projection device, and a document camera. While my school has about 18 reliable laptops,  and a fully functional 30 computer PC lab we have very little reliable technology in our classrooms.  This infusion of technology will be huge.  In addition the three intermediate teachers will share an Apple TV and the two primary teachers will share another Apple TV.  Each intermediate class will receive five classroom iPads each, but if they decided to combined their iPads the intermediate classes can go 1:2 iPad to student ratio.  The two primary classes will get 4.5 iPads each or a combined 9 for an almost 1:2 iPad to student ratio.

The rest of the staff would still like to see our laptop carts allow for 1:1 use in the intermediate grades and it is something we have to address.  Hopefully our PAC will have access to some money to help us with this.  We'd also love to have a class set of iPads at the intermediate level, and a class set of iPads at the primary level, but again this is for some time in the future.  A year ago I never would have thought that we would ever have this type of technology in our school, and some time this fall we will.  It's very very exciting.

It has been a couple of very exciting weeks at my school.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Finding Balance with Control

Control is something I've been thinking a lot about lately.  As a teacher, there are many times that I need to have control.  I also know that as an educator some of us need more control than others.  Sometimes that control manifests itself in the form of power.  Sometimes that power is used for a really positive purposes like organizing, supporting, encouraging, and inspiring others;  but at other times it can be used quite negatively.

This world of ours is made up of many different types of people who require different amounts of control.  And as much as we may complain about people that think or act differently than us, it is those same people that inspire us to be better at who we are.  What a boring place this world would be if we all acted and thought the same way.

I know for me I like control in many aspects of my life.  When I was deep into Ironman training I was the one who sent out the weekly e-mails with our ride or run routes preselected. Of course I took input/feedback from my training partners, but more often than not the final decision was mine.

In my classroom I like control too.  I like everything to have a place and I have many routines set up to help keep this order. I used to love a lot of control. Things had to be done my way because I thought I knew best.  But now a days my  control looks a lot different.  In my classroom I like organized chaos.  What that means to me is that I like many different things happening in my classroom at any one time.  I LOVE when different children are doing different things at the exact same time. But that doesn't not mean my class is out of control.  If fact it is quite the opposite, my class in in complete control and if you take the time to see what each of my students are doing you'll see them engaged, and learning, in ways that are meaningful to them.

But as educators can we have too much control?  I'm constantly trying to find what I think is the appropriate balance between control and too much control.  I want my students to be in charge of their learning, to be self motivated, to be inspired.  I don't want to be the teacher that dictates too much for them.  But I also don't want to be the teacher that runs a classroom so free that my students aren't working to their full potential.  Sometimes students need a push to take a challenge, they need to step out of their comfort zones.  Just like I feel we as educators, need too.  But where is the balance?

In my twenty years as a teacher I have worked with some very controlling and far less controlling people.  I know for me, a self motivated learner, I thrive best when I am not controlled and left to my own pursuits.  I strive best when I work with people that trust what I am doing and give me space to pursue my interests.  I thrive best when there is two way trust and when I feel supported.  In fact  the more someone tries to control my actions, the more I want to rebel.  But I wonder does the same apply to our students? Are we too controlling or not controlling enough with them?  Do some of our students need to have more direction/control while others are more self motivated and thrive best with little restrictions placed upon them.

Sometimes I wonder that as a self motivated learner, that I assume my students are that way too.  Obviously that would be my dream, but is it my reality?  I know that my colleagues are all different too, and just like my students some are self motivated, others less so.   Does that mean that if you're less self motivated that you need to be pushed (or controlled) a little more than someone that is more self motivated?  Or is it really irrelevant because no matter how positive the intention of the control is, the fact that one is controlling another negates any positive affect on learning.

What do you think? As teachers do we control our students too much or not enough? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Making the Most out of Technology in a PRIMARY Classroom

On Friday, May 4th, I presented a workshop on making the most out of technology in a primary classroom for our Surrey Teacher's Association.  I presented this workshop twice and hopefully along the way inspired some fellow primary teachers to look at new ways to integrate technology into their already wonderful programs. For those that were not able to attend, or for those that are interested in learning a little be more here are the slides to my presentation.  Enjoy.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Blogging in a Primary Classroom

On May 4, 2012 I presented at the Surrey Teacher's Convention.  Here is a copy of my presentation entitled, "Blogging in a Primary Classroom".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Power of an iPad App

If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that I received my class iPad back in December.  To no surprise not a day goes by that it isn't in use by someone or a small group of my students.  We use it as often as we can, all day long.  And if you know me at all, you'll know that I am constantly learning and reading about new apps to add to it.  Some apps stay for a little while, while others are here to stay for a long while.  I have apps to meet different students individual needs.

One of my absolute favourite apps is still Word Wizard.  The thing with Word Wizard is that it is not an app that can be used for creating or showing learning yet I still love it.  So why?

Word Wizard is a simple app really.  There are two parts to the app - movable alphabet and spelling quizzes.  While the spelling quiz side is good, I really love the movable alphabet side best.

First screen you see when you open the app.

The moveable alphabet side does something that no other app does - or at least no other app I've come across.  This app actually sounds out letters for kids, and then it blends letters together to help students read what they have written.

Movable alphabet side of the app. 
Instructions disappear as soon as you touch the screen.

This year I have a few students that are working extremely hard but are still struggling with letter and letter sounds.  Reading and writing is difficult for them to do independently because without letter/sound knowledge it's super challenging to decode words, or write words on paper.  But with the Word Wizard app they are finally able to be successful independently.

When they are doing word work they are able touch letters until they hear the sound that they are looking for. Then they drag that sound onto the mat. They continue to do that until they have found all the sounds they want.  The app will read their letter combinations even if the word isn't spelled correctly.  The app puts a white box around a word that is spelled correctly, and a red one around a word that isn't.  Obviously I haven't told my students about the white and red boxes because at the moment I am just so ecstatic that they can write words on their own.  They love it too, and the smiles I get from them when they are able to write independently are worth everything.

The app screen (you can change the background if you'd like)

My students who are still struggling with p/d/b/q reversals just tap those letters until they find the letter making the sound they need. Then they know which direction to make their letters.  You have to understand that this app is like a life line for these students.  It has opened up so much for them in terms of reading and writing.  Heck as I type this blog post I just realized that they could be using this app to help read words. They could put the letters in their books onto the app and the app could read the word back to them. 

Without my class iPad, and this app in particular these students would still be dependent on those around them.  And while we are all working with them to help then master these basic letter sounds, it's so nice to know that they have their own personal teachers just waiting to help them in this app.

Now my one wish would be to have more technology in my room so that everyone that needs it, could have access to an app like this.

What are your favourite iPad apps and why?