Friday, November 18, 2011


Evernote is a great tool for classroom documentation.

It used to be that the other kindergarten teachers and I would walk around the classroom with a clipboard and scribble notes about student learning, thinking, challenges, and any other skill or ability that our children were demonstrating. By the time report writing came around, I had amassed quite a stack of scribbles and post-it's. It was really nothing that I could share with anyone until after I spent some time sifting through the scribbles and writing drafts of my reports. Using Evernote on our iPads, we can do more and we can share it all. Having created one Evernote folder for each student, I can now walk around the classroom as learning is happening and capture the students articulating their thinking. Evernote allows teachers to type notes, take photos, upload photos, and record audio.

Now, using Evernote, I am able to take a photo of a student's work, and then have a conversation with her as I record her thinking. I can make her thinking visible. (to me, to her, to another teacher who was not present, even to her parents if needed)

Using tags, I can come back later and search for a particular student's work. I can search for all math pattern work or all reading levels or any other category of learning that I tag to find out how we are doing as a whole class. I can save emails and documents that pertain to a student's learning or challenges in their individual Evernote folder.

I can take notes during parent conferences - using my tablet pc and Evernote I can even ink notes in Evernote during meetings and conferences. (dear Evernote, please make inking possible on the iPad version...)

Why this is a good idea:
-use evernote to snap photos of students at work and then write your notes directly onto the note for that photo
-use a new note to compose thoughts for reports from anywhere in your classroom, another classroom, on a field trip, anywhere
-use audio recording in evernote for classroom documentation, both student-led and teacher
-create a folder in your evenote binder for each student at the start of the year
-use evernote to add other documentation on each student as needed - emails, documents, photos, etc.
-open your evernote folders from any computer to write reports or updates or to check for assessments
-share your folders with other teachers, support people as needed
-keep every artifact about your students together, paperless, and accessible from anywhere

A Challenge to App Designers - Where are the Essential Math Apps for Young Learners?

One of our Kindergarten teachers, Denise Coffin, and I have spent three intense days at the Leveraging Learning: the iPad in Primary Grades institute in Auburn, Maine. It has been a gathering of about 120 people from public and independent schools all asking the questions such as, "Are iPads the educational tools that will transform a student's experience by creating opportunities to customize learning?"   As educators, we are all in search of methods and tools that will help students access the curriculum in ways that extend their thinking and engage them more deeply in the concepts they are learning. Learning becomes engaging when students are given the chance to ask questions and are encouraged to discover the answers using materials, tools, and guidance from a teacher, or through collaborating with classmates. What are the teaching methods, combined with powerful learning tools, that will help all students soar, grow, and feel successful?  iPads offer an intuitive interface that we have seen students of many ages interact with creatively, confidently, and with engagement. In these early days, the apps designed for education are still in their early stages. There are new apps out every day, but few of them make the grade for constructivism, deepening of understanding, or richness of material. At the institute, we spent an evening with Ruben Puendetura discussing his iPad Flows. Ruben has deep roots in constructivist thinking and computers in education, going back to the early days of Seymour Papert and Alan Kay. He has reviewed over 800 apps in search of those that meet the qualities of engagement that deepens understanding. I will post about each of his flows in the near future. He has posted a pdf of his flows on the Institute Resources along with many other useful materials.  After his presentation, we approached him at lunch to ask about the absence of a math flow in his collection of apps for young learners. His response was that, at this point, there aren't apps out there for young math learners that fulfill our expectations. We looked together at his Math Flow for older students, which includes interactive graphing calculators, geometry, and higher math apps. Of all of these, the two that could be used with younger students are Touch Draw, which would allow us to create shapes, even virtual Cuisenaire rods, for students to explore and manipulate, Sketchpad Explorer, which offers geometry exploration and discovery similar to Geometer's Sketchpad, and WolframAlpha, a "computational knowledge engine".    What is missing? Where are the apps that help kids work through problem solving and logic questions in a real and engaging way? Where are the apps that make math thinking visible, that challenge children to question the underlying concepts of math? Where are the apps that introduce concepts in a way that students can interact with materials, repeat the experience, and customize their learning? Here is the challenge to app designers who would like to create worthwhile, potentially essential, math apps.    We reflected on the days when "The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis" was still able to run on our computers. This engaging activity presented kids with fun, but often tough, logic problems to solve in the context of a story about traveling Zoombinis. The closest program like that is available only on a computer that runs flash, called "The Lure of the Labyrinth". We are also waiting for programming experiences such as Scratch to move to the iPad. Evidently that app appeared, was taken down by Apple, and is in redesign at this time.
The Math Flow just doesn't exist yet for our younger learners. Educators are willing and eager to find a way to make this happen. There's never been a better time for creative app designers to connect with educators to explore new ways to deepen and broaden student understanding of math using the unique interface of the iPad.