Monday, July 30, 2012

Using an iPad in a Grade One Classroom

Since November I've had the privledge of teaching with an iPad in my grade one class. Along the way I have discovered a lot of great ways to use it to help my students have their individual learning needs met.  Having just one iPad did bring about its own set of challenges but we were very lucky to have access to some additional iPads in the final term of school.  Next year we will have  iPads again thanks in part to my participation in my school's successful innovative learning grant application and another special project I'm involved with at the school district level.  Needless to say my head has been spinning all summer with ways I can integrate this technology into my classroom with out losing sight of the important non technology based teaching and learning my students need too.

So before I start the next school year I think it's important for me to review some of the apps we used this year and how we used them. To begin with here is a screen shot of my student's page on my iPad.  You'll notice that I have their apps neatly organized into folders which I find really helps when we are looking for a specific app or they are trying to decide on a specific type of app to use. Their folders include productivity, voice recording, story makers, show and tell, fine art, word work, phonics, spelling, abc work, science, math tools, math, books, board games, photography, movie making, and flash browsers. I have the Teach Me 1st grade app too but to perfectly honest we've barely used it.


This folder is a little more for me than for my students. At present it contains the Google, Dropbox, CloudOn, Evernote, Google Earth, Qrafter, and Google Drive apps.  While my students use Qrafter to scan into our class blog, and I'd like us to use Google Earth more to discover the places we are connecting with, the reality is most of the apps are in there for when I need to save or access their work.

Voice Recording

My voice recording folder contains the following apps: Audio boo, Say Hi, Active Voice, Dictation, and Audio Memos.  It used to also contained Talking Tom but for some reason it has been removed. Our most frequently used app here is AudioBoo.  We have used it to record reading.  Say Hi is a new app and it's great for my limited English speakers. If the app has their language on it then it will translate their first language (say Korean) into English - both in text and in sound.  Since I work in a high ELL school this app has been a lot of fun to use.  Dragon Dictation and Active Voice are two different speech to text apps which with our newly installed wireless work a lot better. I like to use those apps with my students that struggle with written output but have so much to say. Here is a sample of us using AudioBoo.

Story Makers

These apps were quite popular with my students and different students preferred to use different apps depending on the job required.  Having only one iPad most of the year did bring about its own set of challenges though as only one (or two) student(s) could create with it at a time. With an increase of iPads this became less of a problem. The apps that you can find in this folder include Scribble Press, My Story, Book Creator, Sock Puppets, Comic Life, Puppet Pals, Strip Design, Toontastic, Story Wheel, Story Dice, and Little Book Maker.  Here are some examples of my class using Sock Puppet,  Scribble Press and Puppet Pals.

Show and Tell

These apps are probably my most favourite because they allow my students to demonstrate their learning through pictures, and/or words. They are very open ended and can be used across a variety of content areas. For the most part they are great for any student k - 7. This folder contains Explain Everything, Screen Chomp, Show Me, DoodleCast, Draw and Tell, Idea Sketch, Popplet Lite, White Board (allows you to work on two iPads collaboratively), Skitch, Voice Thread, and Sonic Pics Lite.

Here are some samples of us using Screen Chomp, Show Me, Draw and Tell, Skitch, and Voice Thread.

Fine Arts

This folder contains the following apps: Draw Stars, Doodle Buddy, Virtuoso, Suess Band, Pottery HD Lite, iDraw HD, Sparkle Paint, Singing Fingers, Glow Colouring, Drums Light, Mini Piano, Peg Free Light, Mirror Paint, Read Fireworks.  These apps have been used to help my students practice their word wall words or for just plain creative purposes.  While I have taken photos of my students using these apps I only have one blog post that mentions one of them.  Here is a sample of Pottery HD Lite.

Word Work

This folder seems to be changing constantly as I discover new apps that help my students  either learn their word wall words or learn  some  sight words.  This folder contains Magnetic ABC, Word Wizard, Touch Write, Word Builder, Sight Word Bingo, PopWords, Bluster, Sight Word Touch, Little Speller Sight Words, Sight Words, Sentence Maker, Word Collage, Sight Word Hangman.  Unfortunately these apps were never talked about on this or my  class blog.


Phonics apps are also used during our word work time for those that require extra practice in this area.  This folder contains Pocket Phonics, Phonics Genius, Rhyming Bee, Phonics Awareness, Phonics Vowels, Tic Tac Toe Phonics, Phonics HD, and Rhyming.


I found later in the year my students loved to use the spelling apps during their word work time.  This folders contains Chicktionary,  Express, Rocket Speller, SpellBuzz, and Simplex Spell Lite.

ABC Work

My ABC work folder contains three apps LetterReflex, Movable Write, and Sound Sorting. I have several other go to ABC apps but they are not on my iPad at this time.  Sound sorting was particularly great for my new to Canada, never been to school before students.  The LetterReflex app is fantastic for those students with letter and number reversals. Here is a blog about my class using Letter ReFlex.



The science folder contains the following apps National Geographic Explorer, Colour Uncovered, National Geographic Weird But True, Science 360, Weird Facts, BrainPop, Plants HD, and ButterflyHD. Specific apps, such as Plant HD were used we were studying plants.  Many of the "reading" apps were used during "free read" time in my class.

Math Tools

The math tool folder contains the following apps Ten Frame, Hundreds Chart, Base Ten Blocks, Calculator, and Visual Timer HD.   I must admit that they weren't used too often for most of the year because with only one iPad there are a lot better tools to use than the digital ones. However when we had access to more we utilized the digital tens frame a lot.  I also know when we look at numbers and skip counting the 100s chart tool will come in a handy.  Here is a post about us using the Tens Frame app.


This folder is filled with a variety of different math practice concepts. I have tried to chose apps that are not strictly drill and practice apps.  I also find we do a lot more hands on math but I do have students that love to practice math facts on iPads.  This folder contains the following apps Monkey Math, QCount, Marble Math Jr, Math Drills Lite, Bugs and Button, FingerCountLite, Hungry Fish, Top It Addition, Subtraction Sardines, Squeeze, Adding Apples, Zoom, Caboose, Rocket Math, Math Bingo, PopMath, What's Next, KidCalc, and Find Sums.


To be perfectly honest as much as my students love interactive books, they are just as excited to read traditional paper books.  I have several iPad books not available on this iPad at this time as I find I tend to add and subtract books as needed. For example during our Fairy Tale study the iPad was filled with Fairy Tales.  At present my books folder contains Monster 1, Chocolate Attack, Bo's Bedtime Story, Slice of Bread, Morris, Cinderella, iRidz 4 Kids, Puss in Boots, I Like Books, The Snow Ball, Bizzy Builds, and a direct link to Tumble Books.

Board Games

When my students have free choice time they are free to chose what ever they would like to do. I like to keep this folder filled with games for them to use if they'd like. Right now this folder contains Blokus, Four in a Row, Game Centre, Checkers, Sudoku2, SimpleS, Scrabble, Jenga, Unblock Me, Fur and Feathers, and Water?.


My class didn't use these photography apps all that much as they relied heavily on the camera feature of the iPad.  I most definitely can see us using the Photo Booth app as we study feelings and emotions.  I tend to use the PhotoSync app as a way to get their photos off of the iPad and onto a computer.  Super Impose and Snapseed are the final two apps in this folder and I can see great potential with both of them but my class will need a big buddy to help with these.
Movie Making

The movie making app includes Videolicious, NFB Pixstop, iMotion HD, Action Movies, iMovie, and Splice. While I made most of our class iMovies this year on my personal laptop I feel quite confident that next year we will be able to utilize all of these apps.  Here is a link to the Videolicious video they created.

Flash Browsers 

Flash browsers are great when you are trying to use a web based site that relies on Flash since the iPad does not work with Flash.  These two apps help you use those websites. I must admit though I was more likely to sign out and bring in the school's set of macBooks then fiddle around with these Flash Browsers. It is nice to know when the macBooks aren't available I have additional technology I can rely on.

Already just by sharing what's on my iPad I can see so many uses for the apps that I have, and for the apps that I don't have here.  I also know that I need to be mindful of what I have on the iPads as space is limited.  In addition as always I need to remember that technology should not be used for everything that I do in grade one.

It's exciting to know that I will have more than one iPad in my room next year and I can't wait to see what we are going to discover as a class.

What iPad apps do you use that you feel are "must have" apps?  I can already think of many myself but I'd love to have your input too.

*Additional information -  I realized that I forgot to talk about the apps I have on the bottom shelf of my class iPad.  You can read about them here if you're curious. Added Aug 4, 2012*

#Kinderblog2012: Question numero cinq!

While I have been some what neglectful at writing blog posts for some of the #Kinderblog2012 challenge (I missed question 3 and 4), I figure it's never too late to jump right back into it.  So with that in mind here is this weeks challenge.

Choose 5 objects from around your home (NOT your classroom!) that tell us something about you: as a teacher or as a person. Take pictures of the objects and post them with captions. The real challenge here: the captions should be no longer than a regular tweet-- that is, 140 characters.

So with that challenge in mind, here is a little snapshot into my world.

My Siblings

Growing up the middle child of five I am who I am because of them.

The View From My Balcony
 I LOVE my city. It is beautiful, lush, and green.

My Bikes
These are my children and yes they all live with me in my little apartment.

My Ironman Finisher's Medals
Still know it's nuts I've done that race 5 times. I have many marathon medals too.

My Wine Collection

I love to go wine tasting but I need you to come over to share this with me.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Words that Warm My Heart

This afternoon I was direct messaging with one of the parents of one of my students from the class I taught while living in Australia in 2009.  Although I've been back in Canada for almost three years now I am still  in contact with several of the families I connected with that year.  For those who knew me back then, you know that my year in Australia was probably one of the most stressful teaching years of my life.  And no, it wasn't the Australian education system. It was that I was placed in a school that was under going a complete transformation. I went through three principals and three assistant principals in one year.  I was caught in a lot of disorganization and should never have been in that school for that one specific year.  It had NOTHING to do with the students, parents, or staff specifically.  It was a good community to be a part of.  However as teacher wanting to do only my very best  to fit into a system that was filled with constant, unpredictable changes, that I had little knowledge about, it was very stressful. Thankfully,  I made it through and now have a lot of stories I can share and chuckle about.

However, despite some of the craziness I went through I also made some amazing connections.  It's conversations like the one I had today that reminded me about  how special that year really was.

Here's what one of the parents shared with me today with reference to her son.  It has me smiling from deep down in my heart.

He misses you so much. I think you are the best teacher he has ever had. Truly.
You know that he thinks the world of you. You're a great inspiration to him and you always will be. Remember that.

Not bad for a Monday afternoon.

What makes you smile from deep down in your heart?

#KinderBlog2012 - Question 2

Tell us about one (or two, or a few) of the classrooms you have had over the years. Not the kids, the ROOMS. What have you  loved? What have you hated? How did you FEEL in the space? What did you DO with the space that, looking back, seems ridiculous? Or brilliant? We all spend so much time in our classrooms, we really do develop a relationship with the physical space. Tell us about that (those) relationship(s).

In my 20 years of teaching I have taught out of a box, in a hallway, at the back of a staffroom, in a room that was a path through to an adjoining room (twice), in a room with a removable wall, in a kindergarten room complete with bathroom and kitchen, and now in one of the biggest rooms in my school. Each space had its own unique  qualities.

Over the years here are some of the things I loved and hated about my teaching environment:

I loved....
  • being portable
  • teaching in a small, cozy space
  • teaching in an open unstructured space
  • having lots of cupboards/storage
  • having no carpet so I could determine where to put down my carpets
  • having all carpet
  • having visitors join in on our learning as they passed by
  • having a sink in my room
  • having a water fountain in my room
  • having SPACE
  • having windows
  • having bulletin board walls
  • having two doors one leading to the outside, and one leading inside
  • being close to great outside learning spaces

I hated....
  • being portable
  • teaching in a small  space
  • teaching in an open unstructured space
  • having limited storage space
  • having no carpet 
  • having all carpet
  • having visitors interrupt learning
  • having a sink that leaks
  • having little or no windows
  • being away from decent outside learning spaces
  • limited display space
  • having two doors but being allowed to only use one
The room I am in now is without a doubt my most favourite place to be.  I have added furniture, and I have removed furniture, and I have been super over crowed, and fair bit less crowded. My walls have been plastered with children's creations and they have been quite silent too. My room allows me to provide individual workspaces and small group work spaces in addition to a whole class meeting space.  Most of the spaces in my room are used for a variety of functions and the students know that they are free to use them as they see fit. My room is a happy place to be full of different things to discover at every turn.

If I were to make some changes one of the first things I'd like to change is the meeting area by purchasing a bright and "fun" carpet for us to meet on. So far I've been using donated carpets, which while they work, they aren't what I have envisioned for my own room.  But then again I'd prefer to spend my money on professional resources and books for my class library, then on a carpet for my classroom. Anyone have a fun bright carpet to donate?

I'd also love to change the location of some of electrical outlets.  I'm wondering whose bright idea it was to add an electrical outlet near a counter that often has water on it from the leaky sink.  Speaking of leaky sinks, I'd get rid of that too.

If I could the biggest change I would make would be to add  MORE windows.  I have one small window on my outside door, and one small window beside that and that's it.  What I would do for more natural light but that's the era of my school.  It was built in a time when windows were frequently broken and broken windows cost money to repair.  My school has very few windows. 

The one thing I'm most guilty of doing is over loading my room with "tools" for learning.   I have a really hard time getting rid of things, particularly when I see a purpose for them. I also accept most things donated to me because I can always see a use for things. This desire to keep everything has gotten me into a bit of trouble with having too much "stuff" in my room.  But I am getting better at recycling or donating my "stuff" to others.  Right now I have to say that I am really pleased with the way my room functions.  

For the first time in my career, I actually think I will make very little changes to the set up of my classroom this fall. I finally have found a way to make everything I own fit and I've kept my room functioning well too (I think). I've kept in mind that I can have up to 24 students so I've made sure I have desks for that many students.  What's funny though is in the spring I was talking to some administrators about how "perfect"  my room was feeling.  They were quick to say that now that it's "perfect" it might be time to move on to a new room. They might be right.

What is your classroom like? What changes would you make to it? I'd love to hear.

Presentation Links

I'm trying to add the links to my presentations permanently on the right hand side of this blog. I figure if I've put so much work into creating them, then they really should be shared with anyone interested in learning from them.  As you can tell by the first two I've added they are meant more as stand alone resources so please check out the links provided with in the presentations if you're curious.  Enjoy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Goals for the 2012/13 School Year

In one of my latest blog posts I wrote about all the things I've changed over the course of the 2011-2012 school year as a way to better my teaching practice. If you've read it you can see that it was quite a year for me and I have no doubt that this up coming school year will bring many exciting and new changes too.  However, as much as I like to learn (and I am certain I WILL learn a ton), I have set three specific goals for myself for the 2012/13 school year.  They are as follows.

  1. Better utilize mentor texts with my teaching.
  2. Be mindful and focus on the choice of words I use with my students.
  3. Instill a sense of wonder in my students.

You'll notice that not one of these goals is specifically technology driven.  I can assure you I am NOT dropping technology from my teaching practice.  With a year of twitter under my belt I  have a reputation as a lead teacher when it comes to integrating technology into a grade one classroom.  I'm honoured people see me this way and I really love exploring developmentally appropriate uses of technology.  I love helping others discover how amazing it is for teaching and learning. But, I am about so much more than just using technology. Ultimately I am about becoming the best educator I can be in all areas of my teaching and learning. Technology is one area I am keen to learn more about but it is only one of several areas I am trying to learn more about.  Twitter has been great. It has allowed me to get connected with so many truly passionate teachers in so many areas. I am very thankful for that. Here is a closer look at my three goals for the 2012/13 school year.

Better Utilize Mentor Texts With My Teaching

In the past I've shared some good literature with my students but lately I find that I'm missing many opportunities to be sharing it more frequently.  Literature is so key in the development of my students and I know that I can teach, share, and better motivate them by utilizing the books I have available to me.  In addition, I must admit that I love reading blog posts about good children's books. I love the conversations I've had with teachers such as Cathy Mere, Laura Komos, and Carrie Gelson as they so openly share their passion for books.  I want to be like that too - so passionate about something so important.  By setting the goal of better utilizing mentor texts I think I will re spark my love for good literature which in turn will inspire my students to have a similar passion.

To help achieve this goal I have created a wiki that I will add to and I hope others will add to as well. It will be a  list of mentor texts that are used by teachers and the WHY they are using them. I will also make sure that when my timetable is set in September time for literature sharing will be front and centre in my daily structures. I have arranged my cupboards as well to better store my mentor texts. I have so many books in my room that I often forget what I have. Having a section specifically for storing my mentor texts will help me better access them. I will also continue to utilize my school librarian and my amazing book loving friends near and far. Any other suggestions?

Be Mindful and Focus on the Choice of Words I Use with My Students

Last October I read a book called Choice Words by Peter Johnston. I actually felt pretty good as I read it because I believe I use a lot of the words/phrases that he recommends we use when we interact with our students.  It's a good book and one that I will be revisiting before this summer is over (along with his latest book Opening Minds).  However, as much as I connected with him and what he was writing I want to be even more mindful with the words I use with my students in all areas of my teaching/learning. 

This goal is partly inspired by Aviva Dunsiger.  Last school year  I read and watched as she documented her journey with descriptive feedback. I watched as her students began to provide similar feedback to one another. I didn't need to be sold on the powerful descriptive feedback  has on increasing student learning but she did make me more aware of the multitude of places I can use it, out side of the 1:1 conference time I have with my students.

I'm hoping to achieve this goal by (re)reading Peter Johnston's books. In addition this summer I've been reading books on conferencing with young writers, and reading more about working with young mathematicians.  They too talk about specific language to use when speaking with children. I am going to try my best to implement what I have been learning.  In addition, I expect with the projects that I'm involved with at the school district level that I will continue to have visitors in my classroom. I hope that they will be able observe the language I use with my students and provide me with important feedback.  I am also hoping to work closely with the early literacy and numeracy helping teachers and learn along side of them.  Of course I'll share my learning here on this blog too, which means I should be able to receive feedback from my wonderful personal learning network. And if I get brave enough (which since I've just put it here on my blog for the world to read I'll have to find that bravery) I will record myself while I'm teaching to see what I really sound like. I know Aviva did that a few times last year and it was so inspiring for me to read her reflections on the the experience. What other suggestions do you have for me to look into?

Instill a Sense of Wonder in My Students

In a nut shell, I want to work with and continue to support my students' curiousity. I want to look into doing some passion based learning with them.  I love what I saw Kathy Cassidy do with her  class. One class blog post that stands out is when she had a firefighter in her room and instead of the fire fighter teaching the children about his job, the children asked him questions about his job.  The students were learning exactly what they wanted to be learning and from what I can tell they had appropriate questions to fill his entire visit. How powerful is that?

To continue to instill/support/foster this sense of wonder I want to utilize the Wonderopolis blog on a daily basis.  If you aren't familiar with it I highly recommend you check it out.  I also want my students to walk into our classroom, see a picture, and wonder about it. I want them to talk and share their wonders. I want them to explore passion based learning particularly with socials and science curriculum although I'd be game to have it occur in other areas too.  I want to be their facilitator, helping guide them while allowing them to be at the centre of learning.  I want them to wonder all the time, to take the time to notice and be curious about what's around them. I want to find a way to make the concept of "Genius Hour" work with my grade one students.

In addition to utilizing Wonderopolis I am meeting and talking with other like minded teachers interested in passion/project based learning at the early primary level. I have also read The Passion Driven Classroom and hope to utilize what I learned from there too. What other suggestions do you have for me?

Perhaps these are not the three goals you figured such a tech inspired teacher would set for her grade one class? Don't worry, I still have ever intention of fully utilizing technology in my classroom.  With our successful Innovative Learning Grant (meaning some  iPads in my classroom) I look forward to utilizing technology to meet my students' literacy and numeracy needs as well as allow them more opportunity for creative expression and global collaboration.  I am still just as excited as ever to bring the world to my students and my students to the world.  Technology will be integrated into most things  we will be doing but it will not be the key to what I do with my students.  I have a lot of little ideas I want to implement and I've started recording some of them on my special  wikiTheir learning, not the technology, is my focus. Helping them become the best they can be is the WHY behind my teaching.

What are your goals for the 2012/13 school year?

Why do I blog?

I blog because it helps clear up the traffic jam of ideas inside of my head.  Why do you blog?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What a YEAR!

As I look back on my year I can't believe how much has changed for me.  Here is my attempt to recap the journey I have taken professionally in the 2011-2012 school year.

• joined Twitter in July 2011 and now follow over 750 people, have over 775 following me, and have tweeted over 5,500 times not including my direct messaging (tons!)
• started this professional blog as a way to document and share some of my learning
• took part in many twitter educational chats including but not limited to #1stchat, #kinderchat, #edchat, #elemchat #gtchat, #storyappchat, #D5chat
• set up a class blog which ended up with 199 posts, 253 comments, and over 22,000 hits
• set up individual blogs for my grade one students who have now written over 750 posts and received over 1,600 comments
• completely changed my writing program to allow my students more choice with their writing and in the process created genuinely motivated writers
• completely changed my reading program to allow my students more choice with their reading and in the process created genuinely motivated readers
• changed my word work program to all my students more choice with their word work and in the process created self motivated learners
• dropped my traditional "calendar" routines and replaced it with math chat
• used the Mind Up, Fun Friends, and Fin's Friends social emotional programs to better meet my students social emotional needs
• learned and used many web 2.0 tools
• utilized  technology to better meet the individual needs of my students,  and to connect my class with the world
• set up a class twitter, youtube, and closed class facebook account
• was selected to a part of a special district literacy learning lab utilizing technology with early primary students
• helped write a successful Innovative Learning Design grant application
• created many videos and slide shows
• had my class Skype and Face Time with students in Illinois, Ontario. and Saskatchewan
• Skyped, Google Hung Out, and Face Time'd with teachers in Hong Kong, Illinois, Ontario (several), Saskatchewan, and Florida
• had my class read and comment on class blogs from around the world
• read and commented on many professional blogs from around the world
• participated in three global projects - Quad Blogging, Flat Classroom : Building Bridges K-2 Pilot Project April-May, and Bean Wiki with my class
• attended EdCampDelta, EdCampSurrey, and EdCampKinder in Las Vegas
• visited three schools and had several teachers both from my district and another district visit my classroom to learn and share
• met and connected with several Surrey School District teachers, administrators, and school district leaders ( I am far more known around the district this year than I have in any other time in my career)
• presented professional development workshops for my staff and my school district
• asked to present professional development workshops at three more schools at the beginning of the new school year, as well as for the Surrey Primary Teachers association
• wrote posts on Twitter, Tablet Computer Apps, and Digital Literacy for the International Reading Association
• sparked the use of KidBlog as a blogging platform for students in my school district, and beyond
• participated in webinars
• attended two workshops at Apple Canada Institute
• attended Surrey's Digital Dinner series
• attended two BC Primary teacher's conventions
• attended workshops led by Alec Couros, George Couros, Adrienne Gear (Reading Power), Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (Cafe), and Lilian Katz (Reggio)
• have read (or in the middle of reading) Mind Set by Carol Dweck, Drive by Daniel Pink, No More "I'm Done!" by Jennifer Jacobson, Personal Learning Networks by Richardson and Mancabelli, Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller, Catching Reader's Before They Fall by Johnson and Keir,In Pictures and In Words by Ray, Writing Power by Adrienne Gear, Reading Power by Adrienne Gear, Reading Power Non Fiction by Adrienne Gear, Choice Words by Peter Johnston, The Daily 5 and The Cafe by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Lindsay and Davis, Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, Teaching with Tools Kids Really Use by Susan Brooks-Young, Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart and Church and Morrison, Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway, One to One The Art of Conferring with Young Writers by Calkins and Hartman and White, The Passion-Driven Classroom by Maiers and Sandvold, Play by Lisa Murphy and the list continues...
• successfully completed 20 years of teaching and still love it as much, if not more than ever before

A special thank you to my #1stchat, #kinderchat, #sd36learn, #bclearns, #bced, and #elemchat friends. Without you I wonder how much of this would ever have happened.  An extra special thank you to Elisa Carlson (Director of Instruction, Surrey School District) for believing in me. Elisa will never really know how powerful that has been for me and I can't thank her enough.  And yes, of course, I need to thank Tia Henriksen, mother of one of my grade one students this year, former vice principal of mine, and friend because it was she who coaxed me into giving twitter a try.

What a year it has been. What have you accomplished this year? I'd love to hear.

Next up, goals for the 2012-2013 school year.

Friday, July 13, 2012

#edcampkinder A Look Back

As I sit on the plane heading back to Vancouver I have time to reflect on my #edcampkinder experience.  First off, you’re right, I don’t teach Kindergarten. I have in the past but more than likely I won’t in the future – I have my eyes set on a potentially higher grade level at a later date.  So why on earth would I want to attend a kindergarten focused edcamp?

To begin with one of the things that happens when you’re active on twitter is that you notice links and hash tags (# in front of a string of meaningful letters). At some point over the past year while following the grade one #1stchat hash tag I noticed the #kinderchat hash tag.  I checked it out and liked what I was seeing – really keen, inspiring kindergarten teachers tweeting and blogging about great teaching practices.  I was hooked and quickly started to follow many of them. Over time I built up on-line relationships with several different kindergarten educators from around the world.

When I noticed tweets about #edcampkinder being held in Las Vegas, Nevada in early July my interest was peeked.  I asked a few questions and was told it would be fine for a grade one teacher to attend.  I still wasn’t sure though but my desire to meet people such as @matt_gomez (Matt), @happycampergirl (Amy), and @hechternacht (Heidi) face to face and have real in person conversations was something I couldn’t stop thinking about. 

While fence sitting in June I attended a tweet up in Surrey and met @MauiMickey (Michelle) face to face.  She and I had talked many times about #edcampkinder on twitter and she kept encouraging me to attend.  But it wasn’t until we met face to face in Surrey that I realized that I had to attend.  It was as if we had been friends for years. The on line connections were just as real face to face.

With the confidence that the rest of the crew was going to be just as cool at Michelle I booked my flights and arranged shared hotel accommodations with Heidi from New Jersey.

My journey to Las Vegas started off with a few hiccups as my plane was delayed close to four hours in Bellingham, WA.  With time on my side, and a free WiFi connection, I set up camp in the airport restaurant and started following the tweets.  At 4 pm the first official #edcampkinder session got under way with out me.  But that wasn't actually true.  There was a virtual component to the first session and I was FaceTime'd in by Michelle.

Being there virtually was a cool experience. I was passed around the table and got a chance to "virtually" meet everyone face to face.  I even had a chance to "chat" with someone who was also attending virtually.  It was a pretty cool experience and not a bad way to spend an unexpected delay. Eventually though the FaceTime fun ended and I was left waiting in Washington.

If you look closely I am in the iPad facing the other iPad.
Photo courtesy of @Matt_Gomez
Virtually meeting Heidi Face to Face

Michelle getting me involved virtually.
My perspective of what was going on in Las Vegas.
Those in Las Vegas continued their session by reviewing the kindergarten projects that they had taken part in over the year.  These projects included and were not limited to skype play and kindergarten around the world. I wish I had been in on this discussion though as I am very certain as a grade one teacher I can tweak these to meet the needs of my students. As a side note I have several similar but different collaborative projects I’m hoping to undertake this upcoming school year so if you’re reading this and interested in joining in please tell me so either here in the comments or on twitter.

I finally arrived at just after midnight and was greeted by @garrioch (Stacey), @MauiMickey (Michelle), and @hechternacht (Heidi) . It was the first time I was meeting Stacey and Heidi and it was great to meet them. So far I was three for three with great immediate face to face connections with my #kinderchat friends.

The next day I met @happycampergirl (Amy), @Havalah (Marya), @Matt_Gomez (Matt), @learningmurd (Mardelle), @Mr_Fines (Jon), @tashacowdy (Tasha) while sitting in the shade around the pool in zillion degree heat. As we got to know one another conversations happened easily as I learned about each one of them.  Prior to this day I had never interacted with Jon or Marya so it was great to get to know them as well.

As the four days progressed the professional conversations continued every where – at the pool, on the street, in the restaurants, and even outside the elevators. Here we had ten like-minded individuals together for four days with time to talk, reflect, and learn from/with one another.  And while we had a lot of “unofficial” conversations, we did have scheduled meetings from 4-6 pm each day that took place in different venues, my favourite being poolside.

For me what I liked best about the experience was the 1:1 conversations I had with everyone.  It really was like 24/7 professional development but not in a boring sort of way.  The conversations were spontaneous and real.  I didn’t always agree with what was being said but it was good to discuss, and see a different side of things.  It made me appreciate everyone’s unique needs and helped broaden my perspective on some topics.  As Kindergarten teachers they also made me think about what I do as a grade one teacher because the reality is my students aren’t all that much older than their students so even though the academic demands are greater in grade one, the reality is my students need most of what kindergarten students need – choice, free exploration, and play among many other things.

Another highlight of the weekend was meeting Lisa Murphy, the Ooey Gooey Lady.  Prior to her siting down beside me during our Tuesday night 4-6 session I had no clue who she was (heck I even turned to Marya and asked her who she was since everyone else in the group was so excited to meet her face to face).  Lisa is full of energy and really passionate about what she believes.  In her words (or the words of her book title)  PLAY [is] The Foundation that Supports the House of Higher Learning.  Her discussion and the enthusiasm the crew had for her had me wanting to learn more about her.  I was also curious to read her comment on the NAEYC's Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 position statement .  Needless to say when the session was over I immediately returned to my room googled her website, and did a bit more research.  I also purchased the above mentioned book.

But the BEST thing about the week in Vegas was the relationships that grew and fostered over the four days.  For me what started as a meeting of complete strangers, or slight "virtual" acquaintances ended with meaningful friendships and connections.

The Gang
Photo courtesy of @Mr_Fines, labels added by me.

A special thank you to Michelle, Stacey, and Mardelle from British Columbia, Amy from Alberta, Heidi from New Jersey, Matt from Texas, Jon from Montana, Marya from Massachusetts, and Tasha from Japan for making me feel so welcomed in the #kinderchat crew.  I am so glad I took the risk and crashed #edcampkinder. You're stuck with me now!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Never Let a "Label" Define A Student

I have been spending some time learning and sharing with the wonderful people over at #kinderchat.  While I don't teach kindergarten  I am constantly inspired by what they are doing with their little people. I love how they are keeping things developmentally appropriate for their students, yet they too are pushing the limits on what little people can do. I LOVE it.  Anyhow I love it so much that I have been following their blog and this summer they have created the Kinder Blog 2012 Challenge. Each week a topic will be posted and it is my job (and everyone else that's in the challenges job) to respond with a blog post.  Here is this week's topic.  
What did you learn this past (or, for our southern hemisphere friends, what ARE you learning this current) school year that you couldn’t have learned any other year, from any other students or colleagues or administrators or parents? What lessons did this particular year, this particular setting, these particular children bring into your life?
posted by @happycampergirl for #Kinderchat #Kinderblog2012 Challenge

So here goes...

I could say it was getting connected, or getting my students to blog but both of those had more to do with me learning through twitter, than actually learning from my students, or colleagues or administrators or parents. For me one big theme that stood out with this bunch of students is working towards a goal with out giving up, in other words perseverance.  I had several students with learning challenges yet not one of them ever complained about school being difficult.  And no I didn't make it "easy" for them.  The word "can't" was seen as a naughty word and was not used in our classroom.  Every one applied themselves  to the best of their ability day in and day out.  It was a little piece of heaven really because some of them really did have a lot to complain about.  But complaining didn't happen and instead they achieved so much.  

My student who struggled with letter sounds was keen to blog and share his story .  My highly anxious students were able to speak in front of the class. My limited English speakers took risks daily trying to improve their oral language skills.  They all wanted to be the best that they could be yet they wouldn't let their challenge get in their way.  But the one student that sticks out the most from this year, the one who stuck with it even though her challenge was so great,  was my selective mute.  She was a very special little girl.

For the sake of this blog post we'll call her Kayla (although that's not her real name).  Kayla suffers from pretty severe anxiety enough that she will not speak at school.  But Kayla came to school every day with a smile and always did her best.  Although Kayla never spoke she was a very popular member of our class.  She made her friends giggle, and would lend a helping hand when ever she could.  Kayla was, and is a very bright student.
But Kayla was afraid to write in her journal at school.  She kept a nightly home journal so we had writing to conference with.  She always took my suggestions to heart and her writing improved dramatically over the course of the school year.  Kayla was also an avid blogger.  Blogging truly gave her a voice when her anxiety kept it from her. Blogging allowed her to express herself freely for all the world to hear.  It also allowed her to communicate with her friends through the comments she left for them on their blogs.
But Kayla never let her anxiety stop her.  She knew  about our school's  Musical Theater program and  made sure that she was involved with it.  Did I mention that she was the only student in my class that got involved with it?  I'm very certain that she knew every word to the songs and that every night she practiced those songs until she could sing them perfectly.  And on the day of the performance Kayla was up on stage with the rest of the choir.  And she sang! (We'll no voice may have been heard but she moved her lips to the music which is HUGE for her).  
Kayla reminded me that I must never under estimate the desire of a child.  That even if there are obstacles along the way to achieving  goals,  goals can still be achieved.  Kayla had the strength to persevere and step out of her comfort level to get what she wanted.  She wanted to be on that stage singing her heart out, and she did.
Never let a "label" define a child.  Let the child define who they are.  My class this year, and particularly Kayla, reminded me of that over and over again.  I'm glad I listened.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What's My Story? Being Connected

The second blog post George Couros encouraged us (me) to write was to tell our (my) story. Specifically to tell what one thing we (I) have done differently this year that has changed us (me) as an educator. For me the answer is simple. I got connected.

So what do I mean by that? Before discovering twitter I thought I was connected. I spoke with teachers in my school, and other teachers in my district. I have many friends that are teachers and often our conversations would turn to things that we were doing in our classrooms.  I have taught in Canada and Australia so I have experienced two different systems. But, when I joined twitter my previous idea of being connected was literally blown out of the water.  While I was connected before I am now SO MUCH MORE connected as an educator.

Twitter has introduced me to educators all around the world.  I am now learning and sharing with some truly brilliant people.  They are pushing my thinking constantly and I am way more reflective because of it. Take something as simple as this blog. It has helped me document my learning over the course of this year. Just the other day I was reading some of my older posts and I am reminded by how far I have come this year.  And I've come this far because I have been connected.  I have learned along side with so many others and I am constantly learning new things.

Being connected has given me the strength to try new things - new things that I truly believe are best practice for my students.   My strength comes from that fact that even if I am  alone at my school or the only one in my school district doing what I'm doing, I am not alone. I have support from my personal learning network.  It was Jackie Nelson and Leanne Kolenberg who inspired me to start a class blog.  It was Kathy Cassidy that inspired me to get my grade one students blogging.  It was Aviva Dunsiger that made me look even closer at the feedback I was providing for my students.  Carrie Gelson has helped me look at mentor texts in a whole new way.  I love the way Valerie Ruckes and Laura Komos are so passionate about teaching reading and writing.   Kassia Omohundro Wedekind helped me relook at my numeracy instruction.  Christine Yarzabek, and Angie Harrison inspired me with technology. Vicki Davis and Theresa Allen have helped open my eyes to connecting globally.  Sarah Soltau-Heller , Marciel Martel, Kristine Wideen and Jill Kolb inspired me with using google hangout in our classes.  Celina Brennan makes me critically think about what I do and why.   And of course I have  been  inspired by the #1stchat and #kinderchat peeps over and over again. These people truly get what it's like to be an early primary teacher. They have inspired me in so many different ways.  What's even cooler is that each of these connections have lead to many, many other great connections.

I have also connected with app and website creators, and I've used those connections to suggest changes and improvements for their products.

I have also taken many of these connections off line and into the real world.  To begin with I now have genuine connections with the helping teachers in my district.  While in the past I knew who some of them were, I now feel as though I know them personally, and they know me a bit better too. I am very thankful for that.

I have attended workshops that have been put on by incredible educators such as Alec and George Couros, David Warlick, Adrienne Gear, and Joan and Gail - the two sisters behind the Daily Five.  I have skyped, google hung out, and face timed with many of these people too. I have met Gallit Zvi, Hugh McDonald, Robyn Thiessen, Lora Sarchet, Niki Leech,  Michelle Hiebert, Carrie Gelson and may others through district opportunties, edcamps, tweet ups, and just plain old coffee dates.

I want to meet more of my personal learning network (PLN) face to face this summer.   I am planning to attend #edcampkinder in Las Vegas to meet and interact with the incredible #kinderchat people.  I am hoping to meet up with some of #1stchat crew while I'm in New York.  I am also attending Unplug'd in Ontario later this summer and will have some truly authentic connections as we unplug from technology and share our stories with one another.

To all those I have connected with this year I thank you.  There are far too many of you to name individually but please know that you have made me a better educator just by taking the time to share your learning, and comment on mine.  I can't wait to see what else I am going to learn from you this year.

So that's my story. Being connectted has above any thing else I've done this year, changed me as an educator.  What's your story? I'd love to hear it.