Sunday, September 20, 2015

Explore and Discover

Thank you to Margaret Simon from Reflections on the Teche for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Please visit her site to read how other educators are integrating technology into their reading and writing workshops.

"I'm not sure.  Try it and let's see what happens."  This statement, or something similar has been my mantra this year.

I decided before school started that I was going to change the way I introduced different apps and digital tools (I wrote about our core apps in an earlier post.) into my classroom.   We are using more of a "explore and discover" approach.  The technology integration teacher and I have worked closely in figuring out how to best introduce apps to the students.

We began with a quick, informal check on students' familiarity with our core apps (Pixie, Explain Everything, iMovie, GAFE, Notability).  For each app, I drew a continuum that ranged from "Never Used" to "Expert."  I gave the kids round dot stickers to place  on each continuum.  It gave us a quick look at where our class was as a whole.

First Round

For our first round, we put kids into small groups and assigned an app to them.  I created a Google document for each too that I shared with them in a Google folder. We let the kids explore the app, with little input from us.  We wanted to see what they could do on their own.  Some groups discovered a lot of different things about their assigned app, while others got stuck and didn't get very far.  It was a little messy to say the least.  However, I think that messiness is important.  When I reflect on how I learn new digital tools, it's not always a linear process.  More often than not, I go round and round, trying something, finding it doesn't really work and then trying something else.  The kids go through the same kind of process when they are learning on their own.  So, even though it took more time than we anticipated, and we didn't get the results we thought we would, it was still time well spent.  

Round Two

For round 2, we decided to give them some guiding questions.  The questions varied according to the app.  There was one commonality:  How do you save to Google Drive?  This skill is essential as it will allow students to easily share reading responses, writing projects, notes, etc. with Miss Moore and me.  

I added the questions to the original template.  We mixed groups up and let them go.  It was time well spent.  Not everyone got to every question, but everyone did discover something.  Feel free to copy the template and tweak it for your own use.  We then asked the students to share what  they learned.  Their work is also saved in the Google folder, so students can go back any time they need a refresher.  In addition, as students discover new features of the apps, they can add their discoveries to the document.

Round Three

This week we will create a chart that will help us categorize what apps will be good to use for different kinds of work.  For example, we are currently doing a small research project on space.  It will be important for the kids to know which tools will be good to use for note taking and which ones might be good for presenting their information.  

All of this information is in a shared Google folder that the kids can access any time they need it.  

We are spending quite a bit of time at the beginning of the year to lay the foundation for a strong digital reading and writing workshop.  These tools will become a regular part of our workshop, alongside the more traditional tools.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Establishing Routines in the Digital Reading and Writing Workshop

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Please visit her site to read how other educators are integrating technology into their reading and writing workshops.

I am so very fortunate to have a second grade teacher coming along the digital literacy journey with me this year.  We are working closely with our tech teacher as we look at ways to add tech tools to what Cheryl is already doing in her classroom.

Last week, we had to solve a big problem.  She has 15 iPads for her class of 21 students.  There aren't enough devices for everyone to have one at the same time.  I know from talking to other teachers, that this is a common problem.  Sometimes the problem is so big that a teacher will give up, thinking that it just won't work.

As Cheryl and I talked about how we could solve the problem, we decided to give the kids a chance to help us figure out what to do.  We had some ideas, but we wanted the students to be part of the process too.  So, when we sat down with them, we weren't really sure where they would go with their ideas.

We talked about the purpose of keeping track of our thinking while we read.  And then we moved right into why we might want to use an iPad to track our thinking and why we might want to use our reader's notebook.  

Next, came the big question:  How are we going to share the iPads when we don't have enough for each person to have one?  Hands shot up immediately and a buzz filled the room as they began to share their ideas.

Our chart shows the beginning of their thinking:
  • We can take turns.
  • We could share them.
  • We could wait for another time if we already used an iPad.
  • We could use our reader's notebook and let someone else use the iPads.
  • We could take turns using our mailbox numbers (even and odd numbers) for first choice and then if there are any left over, we can see who still wants to use an iPad.
This is just the beginning of getting routines in place for using technology in our classrooms.  Cheryl will be asking the students to keep track of their thinking this week while she reads aloud and in that process, will be practicing and having conversations with her second graders about being respectful with each other and sharing the devices.  

It's been interesting to watch the process in my classroom.  So far, it hasn't been an issue.  I have some kids who right away want an iPad or Chromebook in order to read online, while others are content with their print books.  I'm not sure it will ever be an issue, but if it is, we just might ask some savvy second graders to come up and share their solution.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Slice of Life Tuesday...Becoming a Mom Again

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read and comment on other Slice of Life Stories.

This summer, I joked with some friends, "I think I'm ready to be a mom again."  My husband and I have raised 3 good kids, we've survived the bumps in the road, and I'm a lot smarter now.  I kind of feel like I know what I'm doing.  In my imagination, I'd bring home a new baby and would know all the right things to do.  No more guessing, no more fretting and hoping for the best.  I wouldn't make the same mistakes again.

Three weeks ago, the call came.  Could we take in two little girls?  We hesitated for maybe 10 minutes before saying yes.

And now, my wish has come true.  I am a mom to young ones again; a first grader and fifth grader.

And guess what?  I'm still not sure about what I'm doing.  This is a different kind of parenting.  Fostering children is not like raising my own children.  I find myself still fretting and hoping for the best.

And so we go at it again.  We will make decisions the best we can.  We will still worry.  We will laugh and we will hold them and love them while they are with us.

I am a mom to young children again.

The sandwich assembly line that comes with making lunch for 7 people.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Celebrating the Nuances of Family

"Julie, come here.  See what I drew of our family."

My heart quickens.

Our family.

On the patio I see...

Six blue hearts

Sketched in blue chalk

By six year-old hands

One for Autumn

            One for Destiny

One for Annie

            One for Zach

One for Keith

            One for Julie

Our family.

In one short week, our family now means something new.

Today I celebrate quiet time (and not so quiet time) with ALL of my kids and ALL of the puppies on this long Labor Day weekend as we settle into a cozy cabin in Pennsylvania.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space of celebration.  Visit her site to read about other celebrations.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Celebrating Life's Unexpected Opportunities

Over the past year, I've been given opportunities to learn what's important in life.  That's a nice way of saying that the unexpected turned our lives upside down.   I haven't written about them, because they were such personal experiences that affected my family, and yet, I needed to write.  I struggled with using this space.  This blog began as a place for reflection and sharing about my work with young readers and writers.  I learned, though, that I have so much more to write about.  This week, Bonnie's writing, coupled with Kevin's words, nudge me to come forward with more writing about what touches me deeply.  So, maybe the readers and writers I reference in the name of my blog, reference more than just the students I see before me each and every day.  I think it also needs to include myself...because I am also a reader and writer who is continually growing through words written by others as well as putting my thoughts down for others to read.

This week, our family was given one more opportunity to learn what's most important in life.  We welcomed two young girls into our home.  Their lives have been disrupted more than once, and we hope that our home will provide a place where they can settle in.  As soon as I knew they were coming to stay with us, I reached out to my school family and other foster parents.  I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support we've received.  Every day this week, I've walked to my office and classroom to find bags piled outside the doors...bedding, clothing, toys...all the things little girls need.  Women who have walked these steps before me, as foster and adoptive mothers of children who have suffered trauma, have reached out with words of advice and promises of being there for me when those rough days, that I know will happen, come along.  The school district where we live, has been nothing but supportive.  School secretaries bent over backwards to make sure the girls were in classrooms where they would be nurtured and supported.  The bus driver is keeping an eye out for them.  He called me after their first day of school to make sure they had had a good day at school and to let me know that they had found some nice kids to sit with on the bus.  My principal and teaching team have been nothing but supportive as I have to come in late or leave a little early as we all get settled into our new routines.  And my own family...our two grown children who  live at home while going to college have pitched in with not one complaint.  My husband and I are blessed indeed.

The girls are teaching us about resilience and bravery.  I fought back tears (and finally let them come the second time), after I left each girl at their new school.  They smiled at me as I said good-bye, and yet  the fear in their eyes still told me the truth.  They've never gone to the same school two years in a row and my heart breaks for that.

 I welcome new opportunities and joys that come with having young children in the house again...

  • Snuggling in bed and reading bedtime stories with a first grader who loves princess books.
  • Sitting around the dinner table playing the high/low game.
  • Leaving work by 4:00 because I have more important things to do than be at school.
  • Cuddling with puppies on the couch with a fifth grader and reading Harry Potter.
  • Watching my 20 and 22 year old children step outside of their busy worlds to lend a hand, play a game, watch a movie, or clean up a mess.  I feel as if I've been given a glimpse into the future and seeing the kind of parents they will be someday.  It makes my heart smile.

Thank you Ruth for providing this space to share celebrations.  I plan on coming back on a regular basis!  :)  Please visit Ruth's site to celebrate with others.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Starting the Year with Digital Writing

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Please visit her site, Reflections on the Teche to read how other educators are integrating technology into their classrooms.

As the school year hovers ever so near, it's time for me to think very purposefully about how I will be integrating technology into my classroom.  One of my fundamental beliefs is that the technology tools available to us are just  They become one more tool, alongside pencils, pens, paper, books, and staplers (to name a few) in our writing workshop.  These tools allow for choice, one of the most important foundations of writing workshop.

So, where to start?  I've learned from past experiences that it's important to focus on a few core tools depending on my purpose.  It used to be I jumped on every new tool I learned and then wanted to share it with my students.  I'd create projects (oops..there goes the choice) for the students to do that incorporated these tools, and then we'd move forward to the next tool I wanted to try.  There wasn't time for the kids to learn the tool well, and be purposeful about which tool best served their needs.

While chatting with Kelly Riley, the new tech teacher assigned to our school, I talked to her about what those core tools should be and how we could help students understand the purpose of each.  Our plan is to let students explore each app/tool in small groups and create a chart that describes the tool and how it can be used.  Here are the tools we will begin with this year:

Google Apps for Education gives students access to:

  • word processing documents 
  • spreadsheets
  • presentations
  • drawing tool
  • saving photos
  • mind mapping tool
  • calendar
  • work is automatically saved
  • can be accessed from anywhere at any time
  • can be used collaboratively
  • other apps can be linked to it
  • can be shared with others

Explain Everything is an interactive screen casting whiteboard app that students can use to:
  •  annotate text
  • record presentations
  • share their learning with others

Pixie is a creation tool that allows students to share ideas using:
  • voice narration
  • text
  • images
  • original artwork
  • can be shared

Noteability is a note taking app that allows users to: 
  •  take handwritten notes with a stylus
  • type notes
  • annotate text
  • organize notes
  • record voice
  • can be shared

iMovie creation of video where students can:
  • import images
  • add voice narration
  • add background music
  • import video
  • add transitions
  • can be shared

In addition, my students will be blogging.  I'm still up in the air as to which tool I am going to choose for our blogging platform.  

Let's continue the conversation.  Which will be your core tools?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Unflattening the Classroom

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday, a place for educators to share their experiences with technology in their classrooms.  Please visit her site to see what others are doing.

This week's CLMOOC make was to create a digital story about a public space and think about:

  • Why does this space matter?
  • How does this space shape you?
  • How do you shape this space?
I was all set to go, had my images and began to think about different digital tools, when I watched Tuesday's Make with Me where Nick Sousanis joined members of CLMOOC.  (And yes, I ordered his book, Unflattening while I watched the archived video).  He had so many great points, but one that stood out to me was the standardization of school, what testing does to students, and the importance of giving students voice and choice (my words, not his).  

I just finished reading Make Learning Personal, so I've been contemplating changes I want to make when I return to school in just a few weeks.  The math coach and I will be job sharing a 5th grade classroom (each of us teaching half day and coaching the other half).  In addition, we will be co-teaching with the special education teacher and about half of our students will have IEPs.  

I began to think about how I could "unflatten" school.  One of the first things that came to mind was the room arrangement.  Typically, on Meet the Teacher Night, students come in, find their name tags and choose a seat.  That becomes their seat until I decide it's time to change things up.  I wondered, "What would happen if we didn't have assigned seats?  How might our space change?"  I brainstormed some possibilities, knowing that it's important to get input from the kids when they return to school.  As I thought about what I might need as a learner, I thought about the following spaces that would help me:
  • a quiet place to work
  • a space to collaborate with others if needed
  • a space where I have access to technology
  • a space where I have access to tools to create
  • I need to be able to move around and spread out depending on what I'm doing
How could I create that environment for students?

I created this model during my initial thinking:

I envision a variety of places to sit, depending on students' needs:  tables, desks, plastic crates with cushions that can be moved around, and large pillows.  The large group meeting area is a non-negotiable.  The Quiet Zone is a place where students can work independently.  In the Creation Zone, students may work by themselves or with others.  It's a space where I imagine things are being made and problems are being solved.  In the Collaborative Work area, students may move desks around to form small groups.  And of course, there is a space to consult with the teacher.  Although, I can usually be found on the floor working with kids.  There will be no assigned seats.  Students will choose which space fits their purpose and needs.  We are also very fortunate because our students aren't confined to the walls in our room.  The special education teacher has a classroom that students will be able to use for small group work or if they need a place to work with no distractions.  The student always have access to areas in the hallway and media center too.  

Changing the classroom layout is only one tiny step in beginning to unflatten the classroom.  There are so many considerations as I begin to think about student choice, curriculum, lesson delivery, assessment, available tools, etc.  But it's a beginning.  

To read more about spaces, you can search the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter or the Google+ community.