Thursday, December 19, 2013

Baby Steps with Thinglink

ThingLink hit my radar at the EdTech Conference in Boston (11/2013).  The whole conference was quite an educational experience.  EVERY session I attended made my mind spin - in the best possible way.  Since the conference I have made a huge effort to try out some of the iPad uses shared at the presentations.  Exploring, however, takes time.  Time is not a teacher's friend. Worry not - I have been exploring and working and failing.....and succeeding!

Before I get started with my experience - I must give credit where it is due.  Lisa Johnson, also known as TechChef, was the presenter for Thinglink.  She was VERY enthusiastic. I sat at the edge of my seat, trying to keep up with all the information she threw out to the audience. THANKFULLY she left us with her contact information and links to her presentation. This proved extremely useful as I started in on my own adventure.

I thought long and hard about how I could use Thinglink in my classroom. I decided my first effort would be to use it to jazz up our classroom weekly newsletter.

Here is my process:
Step 1: Create an image
I do not consider myself creative, so this part was quite challenging for me.  I used shapes and banners in Microsoft Word.  In each of the shapes, I designated one part of our weekly activities: Independent Book Project, Endangered Animals, Holiday Concert, Math and Service Learning. Once I had the image composed, I used the "snipping tool" to cut and save the image to my desktop.  It was then quite easy to upload that image to Thinglink.

Step 2: Create Content for icons
Here is a picture of my image with the icons:
Don't judge the image - it was a first effort!!  The icons were easy to add - just click on edit then touch the picture where you want to add the icon.  Once the icon is placed you can add text or even a video.  Being able to add video was something that really appealed to me.  So, for two of the icons I used text, but for the other 4 I used videos of my students sharing what had happened that week.

I asked several students to help me out with this project.  Each of them took a few notes, practiced with a partner and then when they were ready I filmed them using the camera on my iPad.  This process - for all four students took only about 10 minutes!

Step 3: Get videos from iPad into Thinglink.
I used our school Youtube account to upload the videos.  Once in Youtube I copied the link and attached to an icon on the image.

Step 4: Publish to our school webpage (Haiku Learning).
On the left side of your image, there is a small share icon:

Once you click on the share option you are given both a link and an embed code. Thankfully Haiku Learning works really well with embed codes so that is what I used.

Blogger is not as kind with Embed Code. But I did a quick search on how to do that.  When you are in the  I did have to figure out how to put the embed code into Blogger though.  In Thinglink make sure to check the box "iframe embed".  Alter the size by clicking on the down arrows. I had to change the size to about half the original in order to fit it nicely onto Blogger.  Click "copy code to clipboard".  Then go back to Blogger and click on the HTML button on the left.  Put the cursor where you want the image and do a paste.  Make sure to save before going back to "Compose".  Voila!

Here is the final ThingLink:

There you have it! My first Thinglink!  I'm a little embarrassed by juvenile image, but it works. Since we had a snow day today I decided to fool around and create more sophisticated image.  I used Canva, another recommendation from TechChef.  MAN - I LOVE Canva.  It's easy and FUN!
Here's the image I settled on:

Much better, right?  None of the links are active yet - as I have to finish out the week and film the kids. But I'm excited about the direction in which I'm heading!

Now I have to come up with some ideas for how to use Thinglink to support the curriculum.  Have any ideas? Please share!

Thanks for reading!

Carrie Strine

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


It’s been two weeks since I've returned from the EdTech iPad Summit in Boston.  The two professional days were extremely intense - but in the best possible way.  Weeks later, and I still find myself processing all that I saw and heard.  I’m amazed and in awe of what some teachers are doing in their classrooms. It’s all so exciting and stimulating - it’s hard to even know where to begin.

My biggest takeaway from the conference though can be summed up in one word - Choice. 

The iPad is an amazing tool with so many possibilities - so many choices.  But here’s the thing - the choice isn't all mine.  The kids have choice as well.  I don’t have to decide ahead of time what app the kids will use. They can do that all on their own - and often in a WAY more effective way than I could have imagined.

My goal for the next few weeks is to explore:
  • Subtext  - Super excited about using this for small group work in our research unit.
  • App Smashing- Okay, I’ll admit, this session was mind-blowing! But I got home and tried to do it and was totally unsuccessful. I love this idea and I think the kids will take this and run with it.
  • ThingLink - LOVED this - but need more time to explore and make something.  I’m not sure this is super useful for our kids, because the app isn't as smooth as the online interface.
  • Flipped Classroom - I need to get on this.  I love this idea, but once again, need time to make it all work.
My exploration needs to include my students, because let’s face it. They are WAY more adept at picking up how to use the apps on the iPad.  AND - they love being able to help their classmates (and their teacher).  Tech Tuesdays, something I've been doing for several weeks, will feature these apps.  I know the kids will get it sorted out.

Here is example of how choice can work - 
Two girls in my class are reading partners and both have been drafting a literature reflection in Google Drive.  One of them noticed the comment button and figured that since they can share their documents with me, they could also share their documents with each other.  So, as part of the revising process, they started commenting on different sections of each other’s papers.  I just so happened to discover this while I was at the iPad conference. Between sessions I “looked in” on the literature reflections that they were working on in school while I was at the conference.  

Check out this comment:  
I almost cried when I saw it.  When I got back from the conference I asked them if they could share how they were revising each other’s papers.  They were excited and enthused, but alas, time kept getting in the way.  So, then they asked if instead of just presenting in front of the class, they could use Explain Everything to show their process. They thought it would be easy to document their comments on the camera, and then talk through the process on that app.  What? How do they know about App Smashing? They mentioned that I could put it on the class website so their classmates could watch it at home.  What?  How do they know about a flipped classroom??  

Choice.  It works.

Carrie Strine

Monday, November 18, 2013

Paradigm Shift

If we are to truly become 21st century educators, then we may need to surrender some of our archaic methods of instruction and meet today's 21st century student/learner in their experience.  For some, this will involve a paradigm shift not only in our thinking, but in our instructional practice as well.  I don't use the term archaic in a cutting or derogatory manner, but in its true sense of being historically outdated, not meeting the needs of today's experience.  I make that statement being an educator and citizen that has had a difficult time transitioning to the high technology lifestyle that is now our common experience.  I still carry a notepad and mechanical pencil in my handbag.  When a car rear ended me 5 years ago, I pulled out pencil and paper to start taking down the offender's information.  My then 11 year old suggested I take pictures with my phone.  This was a novel idea to me, but was perfectly normal and par for the course for my children growing up in this technologically advanced world.

It will take much effort on my part to fully embrace the meaning of and place of technology in today's classroom.  But I must be committed to this journey in order to ensure that I am truly providing a 21st century education to the wonderful children in my charge day after day.  I am ready.  iPads in our classrooms are just the beginning, and what an incredible resource they are.  Attending the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston this past week, enlightened my thinking and opened the floodgates to my better understanding why it is so important to see iPads as more than a sophisticated tool to use in place of pencils, papers and folders.  Yes, the iPad can be a valuable tool for teachers to gather information about our students and review and assess their progress.  We can create digital portfolios which children can carry with them always.  Students can master the numerous educational apps available, take photos and make iMovies.  But what has struck a chord with me is this idea that an iPad can take anyone, anywhere, global.  There is exposure to the greater world and connections are formed to our global family.  We have equal access to information as people around the world make their knowledge public via the World Wide Web.  Typing this phrase (www) just gave me a little chill as I finally grasp the magnitude of its meaning.  Where have I been all this time??

We have become a globally accessible community, and mobile devices have provided this accessibility at our very fingertips.  My students and I may never visit the first graders in a classroom in Peru, but we can read and write a book together using the apps Subtext and Book Creator.  When students are curious about something, instead of heading to the library to grab an encyclopedia, they are suggesting we "Google it."  Blogging and Twitter feeds reach thousands of people whose thoughts and ideas spark dialogues that lead to the sharing of even more thoughts and ideas.  We have access to people and information around the world!

The benefits from global sharing of ideas and knowledge are too numerous to list.  If our goal as educators is to help our 21st century students become thirsty learners, critical thinkers and globally connected citizens, why then would we not shift our curricula and instructional methods into the 21st century as well?  Just a thought...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sharing Personal Narratives with iMovie


My class is so lucky to have 1-1 iPads.  Too bad the students aren't in the hands of a teacher who is proficient at integrating them into our daily classroom life!  It's true - I have a lot to learn.  BUT I am motivated and I'm always looking for ways to improve.

I'm committed to trying to find new ways to use the iPads.  My first strategy was to implement Tech Tuesdays.  Students are invited to come in during lunch recess on Tuesday for app discovery.  Together we explore and learn about the apps already loaded on their iPads.  We can explore and learn together.  The best part, however,  is that they become digital leaders in the class! It's a win-win!

On our first Tech Tuesday I asked the small handful of students who arrived to explore iMovie.  We were just about to finish publishing our personal narratives using Google Docs. The kids really wanted to share their stories with each other using QR Codes. I decided to add in the  iMovie presentation.  Using iMovie allows the students to show the documentation of all their work that went into the final draft of their narrative.  
Here's how I went about the project.

Step 1: Document their work 
The students took pictures of the work they did in their reading journal, their drafts, etc. to share their process.

Step 2: Record voice
Thankfully the noise canceling headphones made this a much easier task.  This was harder than it was supposed to be for some kids.  I had to work with them on not feeling the need to hold the iPad and their narrative in their hands as they read aloud.  Once they felt comfortable leaving the iPad on a flat surface and not looking at while they read, the process got a lot easier.

Step 3: Edit photos
One thing we had to manage was the "Ken Burns Effect". It is possible to turn this effect off on a laptop/desktop computer, but on the iPad you can't turn it off. So, you have to manage it for each picture.   It took us some time to figure this out. The apple website was incredibly helpful.  

Step 4: Insert titles on photos
This is was a cool step. The students were able to put a title on each picture noting what part of the process was being shown.  So, they labeled pictures with "pre-writing" or "draft" or "revising".  

Step 5: Upload to school's YouTube site
This was new to me and took many trips to the school tech team. Now that I have done it once, the next time will be a LOT easier.

Sample iMovie Narrative

Step 6: Share URL's on class webpage
For this I just copied and pasted the YouTube Url onto our class webpage. This allows all the students and parents to each other's iMovie presentations.

Step 7: Print QR codes for students to display on bulletin board.
Athough I think the kids could do this on the iPads, I ran out of time for completing this, so I just did this task myself. I used the website Super easy but it did take a little time.

The kids did an amazing job and took the task seriously.  The number one blessing for this project was the delivery of noise-cancelling headphones for each child.  The headphones have a microphone which really helps manage the noise level with all the kids working at the same time.  

Things I have learned for next time:
1) After the students take pictures, go back into "Photos" and edit BEFORE inserting them into iMovie.  This was particularly important when a picture needed to be rotated.
2) It was easier for the students to record their whole paper in one sitting.  Some students broke up their recording into parts but most found that challenging.
3) Make sure the students don't have their last names anywhere in the story to protect privacy when published on YouTube.

Next steps:
1) organize their photos into albums so that they don't' have to spend so much time scrolling to find what they need.
This is a pretty easy process on the iPad and so necessary if they kids are taking lots of pictures. I think it will save considerable amounts of time when they are trying to sort through all the pictures they have taken with their iPad.

Although I found this project valuable, I am now thinking of different ways to make their thinking and writing process visible. I'm reading a book called Making Thinking Visible (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison) as part of Professional Learning Community at my new school.   On page 39, the authors state, "Documentation of students' thinking serves another important purpose in that it provides a stage from which both teachers and students may observe the learning process, make note of the strategies being used, and comment on the developing understanding.   ….documentation demystifies the learning process both for the individual as well as the group, building great meta cognitive awareness in the process."  

Documenting their writing process is a good step. But truly, to make the thinking visible, the students need to share what they did and how it helped them move through the writing process.  If we did this process again, I would have the students record what they were doing and why for each piece of documentation.  After sharing their process, they could add on a reading of their narrative.  

Carrie Strine
Sidwell Friends School
Grade 4 Teacher

Monday, October 21, 2013

Proactively Teaching Digital Citizenship

The children are connected and online.   And now they are connected not just at home, but in school too.  With powerful tools, students are ever more able to find out what they want to know, to share that knowledge with people around the world, and to actualize their own ideas.   How does the role of the teacher evolve in the connected classroom?  Teaching with iPads has challenged me in ways I wasn't expecting and keeps me on my toes because while it's reasonable to expect a 10 year old to teach themselves to use a camera or an app, it is our job to teach them how to do what they are capable of well and responsibly.

I feel this responsibility most when we are discussing digital citizenship.  In the fourth grade we want our kids to be online in ways that are meaningful, but "Safety" and "Privacy" are illusions.  We can't promise to protect our students from all of the possible troubles being online brings, as much as we would like to.  We can teach students to proactively use technology in a wise and kind way.  We can teach them to decide what kind of mark they want to leave before saving, sending, or posting.  We can teach them to be good digital citizens.

Our fourth grade curriculum has a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, digital citizenship program that is co-taught by classroom teachers, our technology coordinator, and our librarian.  Good digital citizenship is not just an individual aspiration, it is a community necessity.   Ideas and norms are reinforced by all of the other adults and students in the building as we all work with the same lessons and language. Consistency is important in a connected school.  The expectations have to be the same for everyone whether they are 4 or 40.

 iPad Rollout Training Sessions and "Just In Time" Lessons

Our first sessions with the iPad are designed to introduce the technology (without assuming every child has had the same level of experience with the device) and its power.  After exploring the buttons and icons, we talk about what our tech coordinator calls "the most powerful app", the camera.  We spend time role playing different scenarios where a photo of someone might need to be taken and how to gain permission from others to take those photos.  Children are given the power and language to say no: they don't want to be photographed or they don't approve of an image or they aren't comfortable with how the photographer intends to use it.  Our class came up with norms and an agreement that we have posted and will refer to throughout the year.

This exercise made the teachers rethink how we document what is happening in the class (often taking pictures of kids in action without asking their permission).  We also developed a contract and those children who don't mind us taking their pictures for our Haiku page or this blog have signed it.  Those who are not comfortable with having their image shared will not be featured in any photos or video.

We are now preparing for training in Google Drive and our school Email system.  We will spend some time explaining how to use these accounts for our work flows, but we will also touch on the idea that these are their "professional" accounts to be used for school business.  We will review the major points of our school's responsible use policy, and we will practice email etiquette.

Our classroom generally suggests that students not email other students with their Sidwell Friends account unless it is school and work related.  We don't have the capacity to truly restrict their access so we do it on an honor system, and last year it worked fairly well.  This recommendation is always a debate, but it exists out of respect for different policies about email access among our families and to discourage writing and answering personal emails during the school day.  Fourth graders are also still learning to manage offline relationships and need to practice asking for playdates, joking, and apologizing in person.

Our technology coordinator is also developing a series of "just in time" lessons that will be touchstones throughout the year.  The topics include integrity, balance, and digital sharing.  With this model in place we are prepared to address any new situations that arise.  We hope that starting this dialogue in elementary school will impact our students' choices later on and that common language and experiences will enable them to navigate future opportunities with compassion and respect.

Project Redwood Literacy Connection

For the past two years, we have developed an interdisciplinary literature unit using a book called Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French, a SFS alum.

This book is taught as a piece of literature, and we explore the characters, settings, plots, and themes. Sustainability and stewardship connections are made, and students do research about the plight of the California Redwoods.  The characters also engage in questionable digital activities, which gives our students a chance to collectively discuss and evaluate such behavior in a meaningful way.  With lessons co-developed and taught by our librarian, technology coordinator, and the classroom teachers, students are fully supported as they grow their sense of citizenship in our digital world.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Articulation, Documentation, Reflection

Since my last post to this blog (months ago - yikes!), I have spent a good deal of time considering how I approach the creation and cultivation of my own classroom culture.  While some classrooms are plumping up their "academic" approach and priding themselves in their reputations for rigor, I am looking to "take back" kindergarten.  In other words, what makes sense in my kindergarten classroom culture right now?

I asked myself:
 What types of activities, projects, and assignments will really make the difference in the educational experiences of my students?

I started with:

  • I still think that documentation in the classroom is important and that the iPad is the most accessible and efficient way to do that.

And then:
This past summer I decided that it was time to re-evaluate how we use many of our classroom materials and how students use those materials to be partners in their own learning.  I considered how I might shepherd the kindergarteners as they go from being partners to being owners of their learning - in kindergarten-age appropriate ways.  (for me, that changes how students approach learning - are they engaged? are they self motivated? will they be able to continue even if and when I am not there?)

What I Read:

I am always moved by the resources shared by Ron Ritchhart and his Culture of Thinking as well as his work on Making Thinking Visible.  I used the Essential Questions by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins to help shape my own practice and reflections.  I also keep in mind a quote from Dr. Seuss, "It is better to know how to learn than to know."

Using these resources as jumping off points, I have refined the use of iPads in my classroom as threefold:

Articulation, Documentation, Reflection
One of my goals as a teacher of 5 and 6 year olds is to encourage them to practice articulating their thinking.  We want varied ways for our varied learners. We want them to feel safe enough and to feel bold enough to find some way to share their ideas, connections, predictions, and opinions.

I might ask: "What apps can you use to help tell the story of your learning on this?"


Even the youngest students can get involved in the collection and curation of their thinking. We aren't looking for photos of beautiful finished work, but the mess and mistakes and challenges that happened along the way.

I often ask: "Can you find a way to share with me the goofs that helped you figure it out?"

We reflect daily on our work in order to practice challenging ourselves and to use what we notice to help us grow.  The students look at their finished work (and their thinking) together and then look for ways to improve upon an idea or for ways to approach a problem from a different angle.  We also practice listening to a friend's thinking and then try to use those ideas to see something from a new perspective.

I love to ask:  "How has your approach to this idea changed / grown / evolved?"

In all of this, there is a long list of apps that I might recommend... but it really doesn't matter as long as you have a handful of open-ended apps that allow students to share their thinking in a variety of ways. They should be apps that you are comfortable with and that make sense for your own classroom culture.

Of course, much of this is messy and the classroom can get wonderfully noisy with the sounds of articulation, documentation, and reflection.  The students are happier, more independent, and are becoming bigger risk takers.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"May I take your picture?" - iPad Photography in the Classroom

Last week we had another introductory lesson for iPad use with our First Grade students, which focused on taking pictures.  We started by discussing why we might need to take a photo of someone.  Perhaps the student might need an image of a person in the story he is writing.  Maybe she is creating a photo collage to demonstrate something learned.  Teachers want to have photos of students to document what is happening in the classroom.  There are so many reasons why we might need to take a picture at school.  Now with iPads in the classroom, it is ridiculously easy to take multiple photographs.

In the classroom – how do you make sure everyone is ok with the picture?  To demonstrate, the First Graders acted out several scenarios and we created a flow chart on the board. 

1. Ask the other person if you can take their picture.  If they say no – stop.  Go find another person and start over.

How often do teachers just start snapping away in class to document the activity? 

2.  If the other person says yes, take the picture, and then show it to the other person for approval.  If he doesn’t like it, retake the picture until it meets his approval.

I know as a teacher, I am often guilty of not doing this step.  When every child asks, “Can I see the picture?” I am thinking that I have 24 kids to photograph and showing each of them the picture will take time.  In reality, it isn’t too much time to show the picture and retake it if the child requests.  More often than not, children are happy with what they see!

3.  Once the picture is taken and approved, tell the other person what you are planning to do with it.  Then show them!

All of these steps may seem like very strict guidelines, but we are looking at a life lesson here.  If children can learn at this young age that they need to ask to first take then share someone’s image first, maybe then as these students get older, they will think twice before posting an embarrassing picture of their friend.

One of my goals for the year is to constantly be aware of when I am photographing the students in my class and letting them know.  I plan on telling the children that I am going to post the pictures to our class website and then showing it to them.  I was able to put this process in practice immediately as we made a grade wide movie trailer for a school assembly last week.  I had to explain to all 48 first graders what was happening, why we were photographing them and retaking several shots when students weren’t satisfied with the initial results.  It didn’t take as much time as I thought it would, and was a nice reminder to me that this is an important practice to demonstrate as we are asking the students to do the same thing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

iPrep for iPads: Apps To Invite Back

iPad Rollout Day!  4x is super geeked for the introduction of iPads today.  It is the beginning of a journey with this class to collaborate more, create more, and learn more.  There were so many highlights of piloting 1:1 iPads in 4th grade last year.  Some of them were hard earned successes seeded by careful plans, but most of them were unexpected surprises.  What will inspire, excite, and obsess this year's class?  We don't know yet, and so we will try to leave room for everyone to discover something new.

What we do know is that not all apps are equal.  There were some that sparked our students' imaginations and others that fell flat.  Some that provided valuable skill practice and others that weren't worth the free download.  So which apps are being invited back?  Here's our short list:

Creativity Apps: open ended, good for any subject

Book Creator
Drawing Box
Explain Everything
Pic Collage
Strip Design

Productivity Apps: for getting the work done

Google Drive
I-nigma QR code ereader
Inspiration Lite

Exploration Apps: for seeing new things

Google Earth
Star Walk
Solar Walk

Tools and Resources: 


Games and Puzzles

Big Seed
Move the Turtle: Programming for Kids
Math Doodles
Slice It!

There are a few fan favorites that our class doesn't plan to use with students this year: Evernote, Skitch, Notability etc.  Some of these we tried, and for various reasons, they didn't work out.  Some we don't need because we can do something similar with another program that we like better.   On the other hand, a comeback might be just an update or project need away.  Instead of spending a lot of time investigating new apps this year, we want to find more innovative ways to use the apps we have, especially if they are open ended and multifaceted.  (We will take recommendations so if you think there is an app we should consider, let us know.)

There was one app designer that really caught our attention last year. Esa Helttula of idevbooks makes a mean math program.  The clean design and flexible settings allowed our students to practice important arithmetic skills at their own pace in a way that emphasized how and why various algorithms work. We'll be adding several of those (multiplication, long division, partial quotients) as we teach the concepts.

Additionally, backchanneling at conferences has encouraged me to try websites like TodaysMeet or Poll Everywhere or Padlet with students.  We are also looking forward to developing a better relationship with our AppleTV, which was not playing nice last year.

What else do we know for sure? There is no shortage of well thought out tools for the classroom. By choosing carefully and limiting the scope, we can focus on helping our 4th graders develop and express their ideas.

iPads in the First Grade Classroom: Start of Year 2

We are starting Week 4 of school and already I can see a difference in the way we are integrating iPads into our classroom.  A main change I can see is that we are rolling things out slowly.  Last year, using iPads in the classroom was such a new idea, I felt that I had to just jump in and try things.  Many times, we had to scramble to figure out where to go next, or we completely failed in our attempts to use iPads in certain areas.  I spent countless hours thinking about and planning how to possibly use the iPad in the classroom only to realize that it wasn't the right place for this tool when actually working with first graders. All that said, I feel that was the right way for me to try to integrate this new tool into the curriculum.  It gave me a good idea of where it could fit and where it could be left on the shelf.

This year, we have learned to roll this tool out with purpose and not just jump in.  We started with a review of the device itself.  What do the various buttons do? Where is the volume? How do you turn the device on and off? How do you know how much battery power is left? When do you need to tell a teacher your device needs to be charged? How do you take a picture? Where is the front camera? Where is the back camera?  It was a great review for the students and teachers alike.  And the big idea that this device was to be used differently in school - it's not your mother's iPad!  

Since it is still the beginning of school, another routine practiced over and over again was "belly buttons down" - a favorite of mine.  This is the signal that all students must stop working, turn their iPad over, and listen to whatever message needs to be delivered.  We practiced this signal many times, the message always being that you can always return to your work, but you need to listen now.

Our grade level team has started discussing where we can go with this tool.  How do we want students to use it in the classroom? Are there certain skills or experiences we want all kids to have before the end of first grade?  We haven't come to any conclusions yet, but are thinking and talking about it.  I am excited for another new year of growth! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

iPrep for iPads: The Game Plan (and Blogging!)

With a great deal of deliberation, 4x has not launched the iPads yet. We will this week – the fourth week of school.  It is the halfway point in the first six weeks – a critical time for routine setting and generally getting to know one’s students.  We waited for a few reasons.  One, a guiding philosophy is that the iPad is a tool and one tool of many that students are equipped with.  It can be perfect or wrong depending on the task, and our students need to now when to use it and when to put it down. Two, we don’t want the iPads (or any particular technology) to be the center of our classroom or our curriculum so we have been doing other stuff with books and color pencils and paper and glue and scissors and poster board.  The pedagogy is leading, and the iPads will literally follow.

When we do launch the iPads on Monday, we are going in with a game plan.  Our tech integration and rollout plan will include “just in time” digital citizenship lessons taught by our Technology and Idea Coordinator, guided discoveries of apps, introductions to supplementary accounts with GoogleDrive and Haiku, email etiquette and protocols, and the piloting of student blogs via KidBlog.

I've selected a few guiding principles or "professional development mantras" to help me stay focused throughout the year, and I look forward to conversing with colleagues about what motivates and guides them.

           We will focus on introducing open ended, creativity apps through meaningful curricular tasks and assignments. When exploring apps, we give minimal instruction.  There is usually a list of things to find or include; part of the learning process is figuring out exactly how to do so.  They teach themselves, each other, and often their teachers! Once the children know enough about these apps, the goal becomes enabling them to choose how to demonstrate what they are learning.  We want them to select the digital or non-digital method/format that is right for them.  We want students to think: 

  • How can I best communicate what is in my head? 
  • What project can I manage effectively and efficiently?  
  • "What can I do well?"  
  • "What risk could I take?"

I am most excited about our KidBlog pilot where students will curate their best work and reflect on their learning. Creating digital portfolios is an important next step - the absence of which left last year's program feeling incomplete. We have heard many good things about this platform, and I am hopeful it will help us achieve our goals. We are currently in the process of developing curriculum on publishing and commenting. Some inspiring work comes from:

If you have blogged with students (especially elementary school students) and have some advice, we would love to hear from you!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

iPrep for iPads: Mobile Learning Experience 2013

I just got back from Tucson, Arizona where Jenni Voorhees and I attended the 2013 Mobile Learning Experience hosted by Tony Vincent and the Arizona K-12 center.  I thought I was crazy to sign up for a conference taking place the third week of school, but the reality is I have a great co-teacher and an experienced sub to rely on.  It was a terrifically run conference at a fabulous location and well worth the trouble. Moreover, as we prepare to launch the second year of our 1:1 iPad program, the chance to connect with other educators offered inspiration and new ideas, which will ultimately benefit our students.  

In addition to attending the conference, I was selected to present on last year’s 1:1 program, as well as a cornerstone of our professional development program, the PD mantra. Here is a copy of the Prezi for "How iPads Revolutionized our 1:1: Program":

Presenting is such a reflective experience.  Sharing our successes and failures, surprises and challenges, as well as the work of our students, is an honor and a pleasure. It gives me time to pause and question and hope and plan for this year. 

Mobile 2013 reminded me of a few things I do not want to forget:  We are a student centered, student powered classroom.  It is not what they know, but what they can do, make, and create.  Teachers are not to be the “sage on the stage” or the “guide on the side”.  Be the “mentor in the center” who is active, alert, and ready to respond to the many teachable moments that will arise.  Asking good questions is a teacher trait that will never go out of style.  Creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised.  True humor is deep, thoughtful, and requires critical thinking. Children (and adults!) need to play.  Everyone in the room should experience the joy that is learning.  

These are wise lessons offered by wise educators who believe that technology is a fundamental part of learning experiences today.  Teachers must be creative, nimble, responsive, and flexible.  We don’t need to chase fads, but the world is a-changing, and we are currently in possession of the ones who will create tomorrow.  We have to be on top of our game, or they will resent us for holding them back.

A great experience in Tucson was meeting Ben Loker, owner of Arizona Star Tours.  He told us that when he was about 10 years old he discovered he loved the moon and the stars and began a lifelong journey to study astronomy and keep an eye on the sky.   He started out by getting broken telescopes and fixing them.  The shop owners who supplied him with what he needed eventually gave him a job.  He worked for a star tour company and ultimately bought them out.  Now he owns his own business bringing the highest quality portable telescopes to your conference or wedding and teaching you to see what he sees.  He spends hundreds of hours doing exactly what he loves and shares that love with others.  I left that conversation wondering, how can I better support in my students in finding and  pursuing the things they love?  How can we employ the iPads and technology to foster passion? How will I take what I've learned here and turn it into actual enacted curriculum?

I owe it to my students to keep trying new things and figure it out.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guided Discovery #1: Not Your Mother’s iPad

This year we are rolling out 1-to 2 iPads in K and 1, and 1-to-1 iPads in grades 2, 3, and 4. In each class I have the opportunity, during the critical first six weeks of school, to create expectations for how the iPads are seen and treated by kids. With two years of iPads to reflect on, my goal is to give the students full credit for what they already know about iPads, while making sure that the difference between a school iPad and a home iPad is established.

Not Your Mother’s iPad

In our first session, we talked about how this iPad is a classroom tool with apps that will help them create and share work for their classes. It’s not the iPad your mom hands you when the food is late at the restaurant, or you’re bored in the backseat. While your mom’s iPad might have games on it, and she might let you do whatever you like, the school iPad has apps carefully chosen by your teachers and you will use them for projects in school.

Encouraging Students to Discover and Share

Next, I drew an outline of an iPad, with our iBallz “case” and asked them to help me fill in the blanks. I decided to do this intro “old school” - on an old-fashioned white board or chart paper. This way our work could stay around for students to look at for a while. I asked students to tell me what was missing from the picture. As they came up and added things, we named them, and talked about what they did. An example is the “home” button, that has many jobs and many names. I left it up to the class to decide what to call it, although my personal favorite is “belly button”. After a few important additions were made to the drawing, I invited the students to take their iPads and spend three minutes exploring them without opening any apps. They were charged with finding three things to share they thought others might not know.

The exploration time helped students who were not as familiar with the iPad share discoveries and feel empowered by them. Depending on the group, we learned gestures, how to manage open apps, and how to use the search feature. When we added the battery symbol and % we were able to mention that when the battery is at 20% students should ask the teacher to charge their iPad at the end of the day. Many small details like that came out in this discussion that should help everyone feel more confident later.

The final drawing looked something like this:

After this, we guided students through using the camera app to take a photo of themselves with the front camera and set it as their lockscreen. Although the student’s name is on the back of the iPad, it is helpful to be able to press the home button and see the owner’s face as well.

Last but not least, we practiced putting the iPads away properly and making it clear that each of them is responsible for doing this well. The second session is about photos and how we establish class norms for photo-taking that everyone is comfortable with.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Striking the Right Balance

Our 4th grade studies ancient Chinese history along with an introduction to Chinese culture and language.  We recently finished a project looking at Ancient Chinese inventions, one of which is a set of tuned bells.  2500 years ago, craftspeople in China were able to create large, beautiful sets of bronze bells that each had not one, but two tones depending on where they were struck.  There was mastery in creating the tool, and also mastery in playing it.

Our year in iPads has been like that.  We have discovered that the iPad is an incredible personal and educational tool, masterfully thought out and created.  In the hands of our children and teachers, powerful experiences are possible - but only when the device is well played.

I recently had a conversation with a concerned 3rd grade parent who had good questions about how we use iPads and valid concerns about how our program will grow in the coming years.  It dawned on me that she didn’t need a demonstration and sales pitch about the iPad itself.  What she needed was reassurance that I, as an educator who would potentially use this technology with her child, knew how to use it well.  Of course creating a host of online addicts who can’t break away from their screens to have a coherent conversation with live people at the dinner table is not on my list of goals for our 1:1 program.  But how do I enthusiastically experiment with technology while demonstrating restraint?  How do I promote our program while supporting the wisdom of moderation and limiting screen time?

It feels good to reassure parents and colleagues that, as experienced educators, we are always starting with “why” when making a decision to use or not use these devices.  We just use them frequently because as it turns out there is a lot of work to be done in 4th grade and an iPad (along with Haiku, Google Drive, and our email system) allows us to do some of that work more easily, more conveniently, and more creatively.   Of course we still draw, paint, practice handwriting, use paper, sharpen pencils, and read books because sometimes those processes are more meaningful and more effective.  As it turns out, when seeking to inspire neither digital addicts nor luddites, what feels really good is balance.  We talk about balance explicitly with our students as part of our digital citizenship curriculum so it makes sense to live it in the classroom.  

Another guiding principle in deciding who, what, where, and when about the iPads is consumption vs. creation.  We try not to consume very much on our devices in class since generally that feels passive, less worthwhile, and more like the gratuitous use people are afraid of.   You might say we don’t really like that tone so we still use paper packets and copied math homework. We could put them online, but that might not be the best use of our students' screen time.  Instead we have learned to lean toward opportunities for students to create, to choose how to express themselves, and to share and document their work.  What results are processes that are unrestrained by medium because we can choose from the best of both online and offline worlds, mixing and matching them to suit student and teacher needs.  

For our next research project on daily life in ancient China we will research using books and take notes on paper.  We will draft pieces in our writer’s notebooks then type, share and edit in google drive.  In addition to performing the resulting historical fiction monologues for each other live, students might choose to record them in iMovie or to create a Telligami video.  At this point in the year, we enjoy considering all of our options and striking a spot that hits just the right note.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Learning from Setbacks

I just got back from an inspiring  presentation by Carol Dweck, author of Mindset.  In her presentation (and book, which I am thoroughly enjoying reading) Carol talks about two approaches to learning - the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, a person believes that they have a certain amount of intelligence and that's it. In a growth mindset, a person believes that they can always learn, and if they put effort into something they will get results.  Failures do not stop people with a growth mindset.  These setbacks often spur these people on to work harder and make new discoveries.

This got me to thinking about my teaching and learning this year. This has been a huge year of growth for me personally and I have noticed that I am more reflective about my teaching.    One might say I am in a growth mindset now! 

I have been thinking about how we teach and assess children.   If we want our students to learn and grow, then we have to give them ample opportunities to try new things multiple times.  Recently, the Spanish teacher at our school started a project with the students in our class using Book Creator. After the first session with them, she came to tell us the conversations that were happening in her class as the students were creating their books in Spanish.  They weren't afraid to experiment with various things in their books and helped each other throughout the process. As she was talking about the way the children were forging ahead with the project, I couldn't help but think back to the beginning of the year and the first Book Creator books.  The students were afraid to try new things, and wanted  us to talk them through every step.  I remember thinking at this point if it was worth the effort of giving the students this experience.  It took a lot of resolve on my part to find another time for students to experience Book Creator again.  They did, several times, and each time more students felt more comfortable with their results. The ones who were willing to experiment and make discoveries seemed to generate a "can-do" attitude in the classroom.   

Listening to Carol Dweck tonight, I realize again how much impact teachers (and, of course, parents) have on the children in their lives.  If I had let my frustration and discomfort with the project affect the students' access to discoveries, they wouldn't have had the same learning experience in Spanish class.  It reinforced my belief that students need multiple opportunities and ways to show us what they know. Just because they have one setback doesn't mean that they can't learn! Thank you to Carol Dweck for your inspiring words!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Reaching Redefinition and Nurturing Passion

The EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Atlanta has been another wild ride through all kinds of amazing ideas for learning with iPads, and many deep thoughts about learning goals and putting students in the center of their learning. It is too soon to know what will filter out as the most significant messages from these packed two days, but there are two big ideas that immediately come to mind.

Reaching Redefinition

We met Dr. Ruben Puentedura at the Leveraging Learning Institute iPad conference in Maine in November, 2011. The conference was small and Ruben could often be found deep in thought, alone at a table. My colleague and I were relentless about sitting with him and grilling him on all the topics we could manage. We left with our heads full of information and audacious goals about elevating our integration of iPads in our classrooms.

We got back to school with the SAMR model and began to look through that lens at our iPad integration. There were many examples of Substitution - students typing papers on iPads, or reading websites for research. There were some classes moving up the list to Augmentation, for instance posting materials on our Haiku pages to upload and use in a PicCollage project and Book Creator projects that include student narration and artwork. We have even reached Modification with some storytelling projects. But truly achieving Redefintion has challenged us in many ways. These types of projects are usually glorious, messy, engaging, and often unending - once you set the students loose absorb them for countless hours. iMovie trailers to teach peers to use Screen Chomp, iStopMotion projects to illustrate the growth of a redwood tree - mash ups of those and other apps in Explain Everything. Wonderful, noisy, chaotic class periods that bleed into recess and never seem to be done to the student's satisfaction. What does Redefintion lead us to? Discovering and nurturing passion!

Nurturing Passion

Angela Maiers' opening keynote, "Passion - the Difference Maker" started us out with enthusiasm for our role as educators, and empathy and appreciation for the genius in all those around us. Indeed, if we are to truly see the world as she does, then we will "honor people, always act as if the person sitting next to you has genius. Your (student or colleague) has a thought or idea that could change your life, remember that you are in the presence of genius." What would a classroom that had that belief at its heart look like? I think it would look like those crazy, messy class sessions we have had when every student was in the midst of expressing what they know, making their learning visible, using transformative tools that redefine class projects. This is passion with a purpose. Students who are allowed to act on their passions are happy, engaged and willing to take on difficult challenges as they joyously struggle to complete a project or reach a goal. When we nurture passion we redefine what it is to create and learn.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spy vs Spy - Digital Sharing in the iPad Classroom

Last Friday a fourth grade parent received an email from her son with the subject line "Mrs. ****'s Due!" In the body of the message was a photo of the teacher in question, taken (according to the time stamp on the email) during a math lesson. The parent forwarded the message to the teacher, wondering if this was an announcement of an expected arrival. Actually, it was a misspelling of 'Do as in Hairdo.

However innocent the message and intention, we welcomed the unexpected teachable moment that gave context to the usual digital citizenship lectures. It also made us realize that the combination of email, cameras, videos, and an online connection on the iPad offers fertile ground for all sorts of sharing right from the classroom. While I have worked with these students since First grade on topics such as not sharing personal information about yourself, your friends, or your family, and not spreading rumors, jokes, or inappropriate comments via email, none of those discussions came to mind when our student snapped the photo and sent it to his mother. There is no single inoculation for poor decision making about digital sharing. The message must be framed and reframed - and ideally put into a recognizable context. For this reason, the incident was a gift.

I  prepared a simple Prezi, and called a fifteen minute meeting which began with a game of telephone. I whispered "Miss Cunningham sure is wearing worn out shoes!" to the closest student. As the rumor was passed around the circle the game was clearly doing its job. Looks of confusion, but a willingness to pass the rumor along kept it going until the big reveal - of nonsense. We talked about rumors and how often they are passed without any question as to their verity, but how if they are in the classroom at least they are staying in the classroom. I then showed the slide with the actual sentence and my own worn out shoes. This brought the conversation about how far this comment, combined with a photo, might go without the knowledge of the subject (or victim as the case may be.)

iPads offer so many ways to share, and their online connection and easy email are part of their appeal in the classroom. Our students frequently take photos to use in projects, yet now I have asked each classroom to create an agreement among themselves about asking permission before we photograph each other and a mutual understanding about how that photo will be used. We found that we, the teachers, had to explain and apologize for eagerly taking photos and videos of the classes at work. Although we have permission from parents to share images of children, we hadn't thought about the importance of modeling asking permission from the children themselves. 

I am glad to discover the power of the short, focused discussion on a topic we often save for one big lecture that is overloaded with subtopics and too much detail. My goal is to create a variety of these simple conversations on topics based on our own experiences - a homegrown reality-based digital citizenship curriculum. To that end, the Prezi I shared is available to be copied and edited for use elsewhere. The iPad, while a potential liability where sharing is concerned, is offering great opportunity for us to think about what is important and help shape good habits of thought for our students about their digital lives.