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Thursday, August 1, 2013

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After months of thought, I have simplified! When you are redirected, you will find the post you were looking for by searching the topic. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Confession to Kinderchat

I am joining the Kinderchat crew this summer for their blogging challenge. The first challenge is simply entitled 'confess'. I have thought about this for a few days and had a difficult time choosing my confession to share with such a wonderful group of educators. I decided on something that has been in my thoughts for several years, although I haven't really said it out loud to many people. My confession; I hate boxed curriculums.

First, I did use the word hate, and I do not use it often. Second, I am a kindergarten teacher and understand that my experiences with curriculum have only been at this one level. Having said that, I feel I can continue.

I spent the first eight years of my teaching career with boxed curriculums. What I discovered was that I focused too much on the curriculum and not enough of the learner. I focused on what I would teach each day rather than who I would be working with each day. I planned my week in advance, not taking into account the learners preferences, likes/dislikes, or level of comprehension of a subject. The curriculum scripted how a child should look at a problem or activity, providing specific directions on what to do and how to do it. In those years, the learners all did well, picking up on skills they needed to master. But they did not LOVE a topic. They did not feel passionate about the activities. They did not find an area that they would want to explore outside of school.

This is where inquiry based learning has come into play. I have slowly been restructuring the classroom to an open environment of exploration and curiosity. A place where a child can relate to a subject or topic how they see fit, or even choose the topic on their own. This has been a long process, taking years of adapting and learning, but it has been an amazing transformation.

Thanks, Kinderchat, for letting my confess. I know some folks do not appreciate my feelings on this subject, but I cannot ignore the differences I have seen in the classroom. I cannot wait to see what happens this year!  

Integrating Technology In Math

I am again joining up with I Teach 1 to1 and posting about technology integration. This week's focus is how we integrate technology into math. This is a great topic, as technology assists the class in math exploration daily in our classroom.

When I think about math, I do not think about curriculum or textbooks, especially in kindergarten. We use math to talk about what we see in the world and math also helps us understand what we see. Rather than repeating patterns in a book, we find patterns in the world and snap pictures of them with our iPads. Rather than just counting images and writing numbers in a workbook, we put together collections and edit them via Skitch, which allows us to annotate our pictures. We can also record our thoughts on math concepts to share on our blog or on Twitter. Technology supports the inquiry and project-based classroom and promotes real-world application of math concepts.

Our school has adopted Daily Five for reading. In efforts to keep things simple and routine for my kinders, I use the same format for small/independent groups in math. We practice five main areas (geometry, measurement, numbers, graph and sort, money and time) just as we do in reading. The children can move through activities in these five areas on their own as well as make up their own project that promotes the understanding of these concepts. The iPads have been a wonderful addition to this portion of our day. The children have numbered folders corresponding to the five areas of math. They can choose to work within these folders (which also include IXL), if they like. They can also choose manipulatives, games, or a project they have designed. Through all of this, we are using our math vocabulary and solving real-world problems. Technology has been a perfect addition to our math explorations as they promote understanding and documenting of our learning. I meet with learners individually or in small groups each day to talk about their learning and assist as needed.

I look forward to gaining insight from others this week. I hope to add more tools to our collection of resources.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Technology and Reading

I am joining the iTeach 1:1, Tune IntoTechnology Linky Party over the next few months to share and learn from others. I look forward to reading about the wonderful things going on in other classrooms. This week's post is regarding the use of technology in reading.

My goal is to help children learn and grow in a way that empowers. I want the learners to have control of their education and be able to make their own choices. This includes whether a learner utilizes an iPad, paper/pencil, or an art medium to demonstrate learning. This also includes the manner in which they practice reading skills.

We all have different moods, good days and bad days, and the right to push ourselves or take a day to relax. I want the children to recognize these moods and choose how to handle their feelings. If they are feeling a little tired or frustrated, they have every right to choose an application or activity that doesn't push them too hard. On the other hand, they can also take opportunities to try and push themselves on a harder application when they feel up to the challenge. I feel I am providing the children with power and life skills when I help them understand their moods and how their learning in the area of reading relates to their feelings.

We utilize a daily five setup in the classroom, as our school has adopted this management system. I wanted to continue an open, learner-centered environment during this time (as well as an inquiry-based system the rest of the day, but that is another story). The children are allowed to make their own choices within the daily five rotation (I do not assign their activities). They will choose the area to work, the skill they want to work on, and the tool that they want to utilize. They have the power, and I am there to support them in their learning.

I have folders numbered on their iPads from one to eighteen, for easy reference in kindergarten. Each folder also has a name. In the area of reading, there are folders labeled for many different skills; letters, sounds, grammar, quick words, etc. There are also folders for drawing, writing, creating ebooks, or presentations. With this setup, learners can choose any application within the folders to work on skills or create a project. We talk about choices they can make when an application is too easy or too hard, such as keep trying, ask a friend, or try something different.

In the specific area of listening to reading, we utilize some eBook applications such as MeeGenius, Storia, and TumbleBooks. I have also uploaded more than 100 books into our iTunes library from CD and the learners get quite good at finding the title of the book because they are in alphabetical order. I do not want to spend money on eBooks (at least not much) as there are so many free applications available in this area.

I look forward to seeing what others have posted this week. Thanks to all that have shared!  

Monday, June 3, 2013

What I Learned: A Year in Review

As I sat with my children the last week of school, I asked them to share things they had learned throughout the school year. Some children are very specific, pointing out small details that really stuck with them (caterpillars changing to butterflies, liquid changing to gas, animal characteristics). Others will share general statements about reading, math, social studies, or science. I had one child ask me what I had learned. Well, there is a lot I have learned. Teachers learn so much in one year both about themselves and how to be effective in the classroom. Here are a few things that I have learned this school year:

  1. When teachers put their energy into building relationships rather than building management systems, the rewards are huge! When you can better understand a child, their learning style, their background, their likes/dislikes, and the reasons they do the things they do, the classroom environment improves. 
  2. Teacher manuals do not make better teachers. Don't get me wrong, I love resources and ideas; the more ideas the better. However, if teachers only needed a manual you would not need a degree to be an educator. The ability to connect each student to the materials is something that cannot be found in a manual. We need to teach the learner and not the curriculum. 
  3. Teachers need to be flexible. When the teachable moments arise, we need to take advantage. Sure, we were talking about addition, but the snow outside is too amazing not to discuss. These moments will create learning that sticks with the child. We need to tap into the natural curiosity of the learner. 
  4. Inquiry-based learning is too underrated and underused. There are standards each learner must meet, however how they do this is open to interpretation. It is amazing how much a child will push themselves to learn when it is a something derived from their own questions. 
  5. Scripting a child's education does not create a stronger learner. What good is knowing how to add or subtract with flashcards or in a workbook if they cannot transfer that learning into a real-life situation? Workbooks and worksheets script how a child should look at a skill, not opening their minds to understanding the skill in their own way. 
  6. Class sizes matter. I have had classes of 25 as well as classes of 15. I have had time this school year to do all of the things I have listed above because of smaller class sizes. The children have reaped the rewards of this situation. With 25 learners, each day becomes about survival. Trying to meet the needs of every learner means I have to control the environment. This makes inquiry learning, building relationships, and giving the control of the classroom to the child much more difficult (possible, just very difficult). I will never take class sizes in the teens for granted, even though I feel it is every child's right. 
  7. Social media is a wonderful thing! I have been able to connect with many more families (and extended families) this school year with social media. You need to have a plan for those who do not utilize these tools, however for those that do, there is an improved relationship between home and school. 
  8. Sir Ken Robinson is a brilliant man with a lot of ideas. Standardized testing will not save our schools or our children, but there are plenty of things that will. Check out is TEDTalks for more information. 

I am thankful for the learners in the classroom, their families, my PLN on Twitter, and those I work with at school who have all helped me learn this school year. Each year, my ability to be effective in the classroom improves. I look forward to learning a lot more next year!