Re-Learning the Curve

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It is fair to say that last year was a defining one in my teaching career. When I reflect on the 2012-2013 teaching year it is almost mind boggling to think of how much changed for me. Last year at this time I was trying to wrap my head around how I would integrate the use of iPads into my classroom. I couldn’t quite come to terms with how this could be used to drive forward student learning. I had no doubt they would be engaging, but I wanted to be certain that it would serve a real purpose. I trusted that our school board administration recognized their potential and so I jumped on board.

Okay. I didn’t quite jump. I very slowly moved on board. One. Foot. At. A. Time. With my door closed, so no one would notice if I was messing up. I was already following all of these amazing Ontario educators on twitter, and was feeling as if I was the only person NOT using tech seamlessly in the classroom. So, I began to pay closer attention to what they were saying. What worked. And what didn’t. What apps best support learning. How to introduce the tech so that it supported our culture of learning. I took many baby steps until one day I looked around me and realized that I had managed to integrate the use of technology into my classroom.

By the time June rolled around my grade 2 students were blogging, tweeting, collaborating on Edmodo and using a variety of apps to create projects. Students completed math tasks on Explain Everything, and then would link their completed work to anchor points in our room to create Auras through Aurasma. We had many challenges along the way and it wasn’t always easy, but we used these obstacles as opportunities to develop our problem solving skills.

At the end of the school year I was declared surplus staff. As disappointed as I was to be leaving, I was equally excited to be joining a great new staff closer to home. As the weeks passed, and September came closer I began to feel a little (okay more than a little) anxious when the reality began to sink in….I would no longer have access to an abundance of technology in my classroom. I wasn’t entirely sure I remembered how to teach without it.

September arrived and this year I found myself struggling with how to wrap my head around how to teach without access to as many iPads. Could I provide engaging learning experiences? How would we collaborate online? What about students that prefer to complete work digitally? Slowly, I began to accept that it would look very different than last year. And that was okay. What remained consistent was that I had the support of administration and my colleagues. That access, though different, was there. So, I began to relearn the curve.

Week two has just concluded and it has occurred to me that we are further ahead today than I was last year at this time. With one iPad in the room; we have created several Auras, a Sock Puppets video about our room (and a QR to scan to view it on our You Tube channel). We have used Plickers several times a week, and today we tweeted out questions about our math patterns. Google Classroom was reserved for when we had access to the cart of iPads, allowing us to share our Social Studies research.

It occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t the worst thing for me. It forced me to look outside of the apps and programs that were familiar to me and find ways to adapt to my new learning environment. I am really looking forward to continuing to grow with my new students, and can’t wait to see where we end up in June!

Finding Apps that Fit

Originally posted on Ms Kranenburg's Grade 2/3 Class :

One quick search of the App Store is all it takes to find that there is no shortage of educational apps available for your iPad. The trick, it seems is to find the one that best suits the needs of your classroom. Like any other piece of teaching material, it is important to have a purpose for using it. What is the intended outcome? Learn to not judge an app by its cover; ignore the bells and whistles and make sure that you’re only encouraging the use of apps that support your learning goals.

When considering the use of an app I use this criteria to determine if it will be a good fit for my class. 

1. Is it being used in place of something else?

For example is the student using the white board on Explain Everything to practice spelling their word wall words or to work out…

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Finding Apps that Fit

One quick search of the App Store is all it takes to find that there is no shortage of educational apps available for your iPad. The trick, it seems is to find the one that best suits the needs of your classroom. Like any other piece of teaching material, it is important to have a purpose for using it. What is the intended outcome? Learn to not judge an app by its cover; ignore the bells and whistles and make sure that you’re only encouraging the use of apps that support your learning goals.

When considering the use of an app I use this criteria to determine if it will be a good fit for my class. 

1. Is it being used in place of something else?

For example is the student using the white board on Explain Everything to practice spelling their word wall words or to work out a math problem. In this instance; the app is simply a replacement tool. In my classroom it is not uncommon to find students working side by side using iPads and whiteboards. The tool they select is based on their personal preference.

This student took a screenshot of both the word problem and the materials he used to solve the problem; and used the white board provide a number sentence and explain his thinking.

This student took a screenshot of both the word problem and the materials he used to solve the problem; and used the white board provide a number sentence and explain his thinking.

2. Is the app reinforcing a skill or concept that has already been taught? 

Sight Words and Math Slides are two great examples of programs that do just this. Both apps provide opportunities for independent or partner work. 

Math Slides allows students to review a variety of math concepts through games played individually, with a partner or in groups of 3-4.

Math Slides allows students to review a variety of math concepts through games played individually, with a partner or in groups of 3-4.

Concentration games using sight words.

Concentration games using sight words.

The microphone feature allows students to hear the word displayed.

The microphone feature allows students to hear the word displayed.

 3. Is the app providing opportunities for the task to be redesigned, or extended in ways that would otherwise not be possible? 

TwitterEdmodo and Kidblog have been powerful tools in my classroom. Using twitter to connect globally with other classrooms through the #brainybeans project and the global read aloud project. Having the opportunity to interact with students across the world and share our learning, while providing and receiving constructive criticism has been engaging, motivating and has extended the understanding of our world in ways that I never anticipated. Edmodo has provided a safe forum for students to engage in academic talk; sharing ideas, learning and having rich conversation.  Learning is no longer confined by the walls of our classroom nor defined by the ringing of the bell. 

Edmodo provides a place for students to engage in meaningful conversation during or outside of school hours.

Edmodo provides a place for students to engage in meaningful conversation during or outside of school hours.

 

Our #brainybeans Twitter feed allows collaboration with other classrooms.

Our #brainybeans Twitter feed allows collaboration with other classrooms.

 4. Is the app going to be used for the creation of something new?

For example; using  Book Creator,  Explain Everything or iMovies for students to create presentations. Allowing students the option to complete projects digitally allows them to develop projects that incorporate media (such as You Tube videos), pictures, audio and text. 

This student used Explain Everything to create an 8 page slide about a community around the world that they were interested in learning more about.

This student used Explain Everything to create an 8 page slide about a community around the world that they were interested in learning more about.

5. Is it going to be more work for you?

Of course, there will be a learning curve involved when you begin to integrate the use of technology into your classroom, but apps should be user friendly and require minimal work on your part. One of my favourite apps for making my life easier is Qrafter. I discovered this app after searching for solutions to constantly being interrupted during Guided Reading, to assist students with accessing sites online while working in the Listen to Read centre. By creating a document in Google Docs and linking it to a QR code I was able to provide students with a barcode to access the sites I wanted them to use. Since then we have begun to use them for a variety of purposes. 

 Listen to Read QRUsing QR

 6. Is it going to be used to present student work?

Aurasma and KidBlog are two ways to showcase student work in various ways. KidBlog can be used as an online portfolio, allowing students to post their work, give and receive feedback. It is a great way for parents to be able to see screenshots of work completed in class and to be able to look back and see progress over time. Aurasma allows our classroom walls to come alive!  By adding trigger points to the room to scan with the app we are able to link digital content. Student work can be displayed this way, as well as video of presentations, experiments and activities. With multiple access points in the room, students and visitors can cycle back to see work completed throughout the year, hear words displayed on the word wall and more. The possibilities here really are endless. 

Student work linked to the location on the map that was researched.

Student work linked to the location on the map that was researched.

Our classroom map

Our classroom map

I have had several fantastic apps recommended to me based on the success of other educators, but that doesn’t allows mean that they are right for my class at the time. By carefully considering the purpose of the app in the classroom I can ensure that our time on the iPads is being used in a way that will best support our learning. 

 

 

 

Teaching; Redefined

For months, I have been anxiously awaiting the launch of #GoogleClassroom. A platform that allows teachers to create, distribute and grade assignments with ease. It offered a solution to my biggest challenge as a primary teacher. This week, I felt like a kid at Christmas. And finally, it’s here and so far, has not disappointed.

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The 2013-2014 school year was a defining year in my teaching career. With the support and encouragement of my Principal I began to explore the use of iPads in the classroom. My students were incredibly patient and together we learned more than I would have ever anticipated. September began with us cautiously exploring Explain Everything in order to share Animal Reports. By June, my iPad experts had mastered the use of several apps and used theses with ease to create, collaborate and present their work. From QR codes, to Augmented Reality, KidBlog, Twitter and Book Creator; they had become confident, engaged learners and risk takers. They recognized that digital technology is one way to assist them in their learning journey.

These two girls are completing the same task, in the format they are most comfortable with. One using Educreations  and the other a chalk board.

These two girls are completing the same task, in the format they are most comfortable with. One using Educreations and the other a chalk board.

My biggest frustration all year was transferring student work from their device to mine. Edmodo and KidBlog were both useful to a point, but each had their limitations. I began to research possible solutions, and our school developed a Tech Troubleshooting Team. There just wasn’t one easy solution.

And then came Google Classroom. Finally. A place to assign tasks to all students, to collect work (even projects created in book Creator!) and to grade work. The answer to the problems that educators across the globe had encountered. And I couldn’t be more excited. I’m aware that there will still be a learning curve involved, but after seeing the growth and potential of my students last year I am confident that my new group will be able to navigate our Google Classroom with ease in no time at all.

Each year I am excited to begin the new school year; anticipating all that we will learn together and I must say, this year the excitement is compounded. Our classroom is no longer confined to the four walls in our building, and our learning is longer defined by the ringing of the school bell.

 

The SWST experience

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the SWST Provincial Symposium as a host teacher, with a team from my school board. The day centred around finding ourselves within the work, reflecting on our experiences and moving forward. It really made me stop and consider how the SWST experience has impacted me as an educator.

When our SWST approached me with the opportunity to be a part of the initiative last Fall I was more than happy to jump on board. But, I wasn’t really sure what this meant, what would be required of me? Of my students? Would I have time to participate and was I qualified? Despite all these questions, I was confident that whatever the process involved, it would ultimately enable me to continue to grow as an educator. So, I signed on.

I quickly discovered that this was an opportunity to work with our board SWST Tracy, in order to set specific goals for a group of target students. With the understanding that using strategies for these students should have positive impacts on all students. I was excited to tap into Tracy’s knowledge bank and deepen comprehension in my young learners.

I set out with the intention that IF I provide more engaging opportunities for students while reading, THEN they will deepen their comprehension and produce more meaningful written responses. I determined that I would focus on the use of academic student conversation, drama activities and technology to achieve this.

I anticipated that I would see results with my students. What I was not prepared for was the depth of thinking that evolved with my grade 2 students over the course of the year. I selected quality literature that supported our learning goals in Social Studies; tackling issues of child labour, war, poverty, racism and gender discrimination. I was prepared for the heavy conversations that would come from presenting these issues.

Then the magic happened.

I sat back and watched as my students fell in love with reading. They laughed along with books, they cried for the characters, they asked endless question and they came to me long after a book was completed to tell me they were still sad it was over. They were engaged. They immersed themselves in the books we read and they connected with the characters. The conversations and connections before, during and long after a book was completed became much richer, and their written responses improved significantly.

Yesterday was an opportunity to share our experiences and to reflect on our learning. To hear FNMI students share their experiences; learning to become researchers in order to bring about social change through the StAR initiative. To recognize the importance of listening to students in order to learn from them, and being responsive to what we discover. To provide rich, engaging learning opportunities in order to move students forward in their learning.

So where do we go from here? As an educator I am excited to begin a new year, at a new school using the action strategies I utilized this year. I am hopeful that teachers will be provided with the same types of engaging opportunities we present our students; opportunities for choice, at future PD sessions. Most importantly; I hope that the shift towards empowering students as active participants in their own learning will continue to enable them to grow as researchers, learners and empathic citizens so that they can make a difference in their world.

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iPads; Toy or Learning Tool?

I was recently asked if my students “played” on the iPads a lot. The question was intended to be offensive, but rather reflective of a misconception by some, around the integration of iPads into education. iPad use in my classroom is not an activity, but rather they are a tool; much like a pencil or a chalkboard. I am not alone here, there are many innovative educators that have adopted this technology and found engaging ways to incorporate it into their programs.

So here is the thing. Technology is sexy. It’s flashy. It’s engaging. What it is not, is education. An iPad on its own is as useful as a pencil that is not picked up. As facilitators, I think we are responsible for looking for ways to use this appeal to amp up our pedagogy. The burning questions seems to be, how do we do that?

I think the answer really depends on the educator. How comfortable they are using the technology, and what their purpose is. Whatever it looks like, it should be engaging and efficient. If it is creating more work, it isn’t effective!

So, what are my kids doing on the iPads, if they aren’t playing? In a nutshell; researching, documenting, collaborating, creating and sharing their work. They are blogging, tweeting and learning what it means to be a responsible digital citizens. And, more often than not….they are teaching me something new or cool that they discovered.

I came across a quote not long ago, and really wish I knew the author to give due credit. It said, “pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator”, and this pretty much sums up my philosophy.

So, next time you see a teacher wheeling a cart of iPads to their room, please remember it isn’t an overpriced toy box on wheels!

Some apps worth checking out:
Edmodo
KidBlog
Explain Everything
Write About This
Educreations

Student Authored Digital Portfolios

Originally posted on doug --- off the record:

Isn’t this a sign of the times?

That’s the bit of information that you’ll find attached to Kathy Cassidy’s newest iBook “Student Authored Portfolios: Archiving Learning with iPad“.

In the book, Kathy takes on the issues and technical side of things as she describes how Student Portfolios work in her classroom.

It’s a relatively short read (only 17 pages) but covers the topic in a way that makes it all reachable with technology.  While the title does make reference to the iPad, the techniques are certainly not restricted to that one piece of technology.

So often, there are blocks to successful implementation.  Kathy takes these on up front explaining how it works for her.

  • safety
  • tools
  • platform choice
  • photos
  • video
  • audio
  • drawing

They’re all nicely addressed within the various sections.

If you’re curious about using digital portfolios with your students, looking for ways to convince yourself and…

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