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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!

Monday, March 11, 2013

For My Daughter, Son, and Students: A Mother and Educator's Plea in a Wounded Education System

Being a parent and an educator require much of the same attributes; understanding, reliability, a sense of humor, love. What makes me a good parent in turn makes me a good educator. Don't get me wrong, I have made many mistakes that left me with feelings of failure. Recently, as I listened to my daughter cry and share that she felt stupid because she did not perform well on a test, I felt like a failure. However, I share this failure with an education system that is wounded.

We are wounded, but we are not broken. Our education system is failing some children and yet succeeding with others. There are schools that are seeing graduation rates soar while others are declining. Many classrooms are sparking a love of learning in their children that will stay with them for a lifetime, while others are crushing this love of learning and leaving children without a sense of self-worth. Yes, we are wounded, yet we are not broken. The problems we have can be solved, and I know there are many educators out there already getting started. I read about these fabulous people everyday on Twitter and watch them rejuvenate educators via TED Talks.

Children have access to a world's worth of information right at their fingertips. We no longer live in a time where the most efficient way to learn about history is to drive to the nearest library and dive into a stack of books. We do not live in a world where math problems are presented in story problem format and we must remember specific steps for solving the equation. These scripted moments of isolated practice do not prepare us for the problems we encounter in life. Living life and solving the problems we encounter will prepare our children for the future.

I hear many educators comment that many children do not know how to think. I agree, but that is not the fault of the child. We as educators strip this ability from our children by pushing them though a system that scripts how they should think. Regardless of learning style, past experiences, interests, or abilities, we push them forward. We give them every step in how to solve a math problem, give them the answers in the back of a text book, and correct their work based on a rubric. We tell them their solutions are wrong rather than having them find the errors themselves and learn from their mistake. We script a child's education, straining it of enthusiasm and opportunities for creativity.

Imagine working in an environment where there was only one judge of your job performance. One person who dictated whether you are a success or a failure. One person who labeled you with behavior charts, test scores, and leveled groups. Our children meet this challenge head-on each day, yet many adults tremble at the thought of one or two job evaluations a year. Some children succeed in this environment, while others do not. Some thrive in this environment while others are crushed. Educators often ask why a child does not want to learn or 'behave' as they should. Why would a child want to push forward when they feel deflated? Why would they have a love of learning when it is not in their control? A child cannot take control if the control they are given is only an illusion.

I feel that the values and skills we should be instilling in our children have nothing to do with a textbook, test, curriculum, tool, or worksheet. If we truly want children to know how to think and take control of their learning, let's provide them with the opportunity. As educators, let's stop being the road block that keeps appearing at the beginning and end of each learning unit. Instead, let us be that fountain of enthusiasm that cheers on each and every child from the sidelines. Let's help our learners find their value. Let's follow the children's interests and inquiries and provide them with real-life opportunities to grow. They do not need to memorize facts for the sake of passing a test. These facts will still be seconds away when they need or want to find them.

If I had to choose three things that my children would have at the conclusion of a school year, they would have nothing to do with scores or standards. They would leave with curiosity, confidence, and passion.

They would have a curiosity that drives them to pick up their iPad and search a topic just because they want to learn more. The learning that occurs in this situation will stay with them unlike the learning in a study guide and test. Curiosity that drives them to ask questions and solve problems. Curiosity that urges them to dig in the dirt, swing as high as they can, or slide backwards down a slide. This is what truly gives children a love of learning. This requires teachers to realize that learning is not always on schedule. If it is, the control is still in the hands of the teacher.

Let's give children confidence in themselves so they feel like they can succeed at any task as long as they are given the time. Confidence that can stand up to a wounded education system, bully, or complex problem like a warrior. We all have moments of self-doubt. Helping a child realize their own inner strength is how we help them overcome obstacles. As parents and educators we cannot, nor should not, remove all conflict from a child's life. What we can do is help them discover the value in themselves that will strengthen their character and help them survive a world that does not always show compassion and understanding.

We need to help children find a passion. Something that makes them want to jump out of bed each day and take on the world. Something that gives them a sense of purpose and pride. The sort of thing that their parents brag about to other parents repeatedly, whether it be music, sports, computers, books, nature, animals, engineering, or volunteering. Anything that helps us realize we are so much more than the person on the outside. We are a construct of our emotions, actions, passions, and understandings. Passion in life is the difference between surviving and living. We cannot deny our children the chance to truly live.

Unfortunately, we see that textbooks and tests do not instill curiosity. They do not leave all children feeling confident in their abilities. They do not strike a passion in a child that leaves them feeling like they just have to learn more. They leave many children feeling like they are, as my daughter put it, stupid. They affirm feelings of self-doubt that nag at a child's soul until they dismiss learning as a value. They shut down opportunities to discover passions and purposes in life that could mean the difference between a child growing up to go to college and a child being satisfied with a job that just pays the bills.

So, to my daughter and son, you are so much more than a test or set of standards on a piece of paper. It is okay to love playing with toys that are rated for three year old children because they are fun. Be curious and ask questions, even if others may laugh at your way of thinking. Use that same confidence to show who you really are, even if it means you will wear cowboy boots with sweatpants or a t-shirt full of glitter. And, find a passion that makes you want to succeed in life and not just survive. Find that thing that makes you tick. Scratch that, find the thing that makes you explode with enthusiasm to a point you share and rattle on until others are bored. You are not stupid. The system is wounded. So, count on yourself and others around you that share your curiosity, build your confidence, and support your passions.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Footsteps 2 Brilliance Giveaway!

Over the last few weeks, I have been trying out the Footsteps2Brilliance program on our iPads. This program includes the use of many different eBooks that are at appropriate guided reading levels for my learners as well as comprehension games and activities that the learner can complete on their own or with guidance.

We have utilized this program in our guided reading groups and it has been a great addition to our comprehension skills practice each day. The children enjoy the stories and the games, making this a fun addition to our curriculum. Some of the benefits that I have noticed as well as other teachers utilizing the program are: 

  • Increased use of vocabulary during discussions and practice activities
  • More opportunities to listen to reading 
  • Tools to build comprehension skills
  • Opportunity for independent learning
  • Fun, bright, interesting eBooks 

Please register for the Footsteps 2 Brilliance giveaway below! It is a great addition to any reading curriculum. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

iPads in the Classroom Presentation

It has been a great year thus far. Our building has made a lot of changes, including implementing a 1-to-1 iPad initiative. I have learned a lot, made many adjustments to my teaching style, and opened the classroom to a more student centered model. I have a long ways to go, as I am always learning and adapting.

I have wrapped up some of what I have learned this year and will be presenting at a multi-district workshop in our area. I would like to give attention to how we are organizing iPad integration as well as what we are using in the classroom that is working.

Feel free to take a look at the presentation below and use anything. Also, I would really enjoy some comments on additional apps or techniques if you have any to share.

App list: