Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

Keeping the Curriculum Context in Connected Classrooms

Most of this  article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

To say I’m pretty jazzed about the possibilities of my classroom learning by connecting with other classrooms and people would be a bit of an understatement. My class regularly learns from and with students and others from across North America and in fact from around the world using social media tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogging.

I frequently see teachers on Twitter asking if other classrooms would like to connect with theirs or I receive emails from teachers asking me how to get started with connecting.

I started the list below because, when I see these queries, my first reaction is usually “which curriculum outcomes or standards are you looking to teach?” followed closely by “what tool would you like to use to connect?”

Connecting just for the sake of connecting is a valuable activity as it exposes children to other places and cultures, helps to teach online safety and etiquette and helps to prepare them for the hyper-connected world they will eventually be living and working in.

But if you really want bang for your buck, try connecting around a curricular theme or outcome. Kids really do learn best from other kids.

Kathy-Cassidy-05

Keeping my students (meaningfully) connected

Kathy-Cassidy-03Recently, I went back through the posts on my classroom blog and on this blog to make a list of all the ways we had connected over the past twelve months.  I  hope the list below can help teachers  who are just beginning their connected classroom journey. I have seen other teachers also connecting in wonderful,meaningful ways, but here is what my classroom has been up to. Have you connected you classroom in a meaningful way? Please share it in the comments!

A couple more notes before I get on with it. First, there are lots of great tools out there to help classrooms connect. The ones below are the ones I have found to be most effective in my classroom. Second, these suggestions are all primary-grades specific (my students are almost all six years old), but it takes very little imagination to think of a way to make them work with older students too.

And now, finally, my list of suggestions to get you started connecting your classroom…

Using Skype or Google Hangout

Using Twitter

Using Blogs

Video

So there you have it. All of the above ideas have helped me to meet an English Language Arts or Mathematics outcome in my classroom. I hope they help you as well.

Technology in the Classroom: Embrace the Bumpy Ride!

This article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

I frequently get emails from primary teachers asking for help as they begin to add technology in their classroom. These teachers have a lot of questions. They want to use technology, but there always seem to be problems or glitches of some kind along the way.

Their emails go something like this: “How do you use technology so easily in your classroom? It seems to run so well for you. What is your secret? How does that happen? There are always problems when I use technology and then I want to give up.”

These are all great questions. I too have experienced many bumps in my travels with technology. Just when the journey seems to be becoming smoother, another roadblock comes along that needs to be negotiated. Experience has taught me a few things about the mindset that helps us navigate this bumpy road.

 

Don’t just “integrate” technology

The first bump in the technology road involves a new way of thinking. Don’t view technology as just one more thing to add to your day. And if “integrate” means (as it often does) adding one more thing to your already heavy load, then we probably need a better word. Technology should help us to teach better and in more meaningful ways. It should be used to connect us. It should give us choice and allow us to share. It should not be something that you do in addition to everything else you already do in your classroom. If technology is something that you try to add after you have planned your reading, writing and math, you are destined to fail at “integrating” technology.

Using technology does not mean keeping your students entertained with digital worksheets, or practicing skills with animation, or using computer time instead of a red checkmark as a reward. Instead, use technology when it allows you to do something in a better way than you have done before or to do something that was formerly impossible to do.

 

Technology supports new ways of learning

Thanks to advances in technology, we now have powerful tools to help students understand and learn in unique ways.

Kathy01You can select a tool or app that will give your students an online audience for their learning and connect them with other classrooms and experts around the world. That tool may be as different as a classroom blog or Twitter or Skype. Other tools make it easy for your students to create artifacts that show not just their learning, but their thinking processes and their self reflections. These are all examples of doing things with technology that could not be done before.

Use technology to make learning new and different in your classroom. Set your sights high and aim for activities that transform! Then, when you hit a bump, you will be more motivated to keep trying. Transformation is never smooth.

 

Expect problems

My days with technology do NOT all run smoothly. Sometimes there are many stops and starts. This is especially true at the beginning of the school year as my six year olds become familiar with the tools and apps we will use to learn and share what we know. Bandwidth can be an issue in my school, and access has often been as well. Sometimes a tool that I rely on will not work for some reason or other.

I think that everyone experiences these issues and they can be very frustrating. On the other hand, things don’t always run smoothly when I am teaching without technology either.

Kathy03When my students use pencils, they frequently break and need to be sharpened. Some of the children chew on the ends of the shared pencils we use. Erasers get thrown, children get poked. My students hold their pencils in a wide variety of ways, many of which need to be patiently corrected. But we don’t stop using pencils and erasers. I continue modeling the correct usage of those tools and helping students practice until they can use them well.

I don’t let the rough spots deter me because I know the importance of students learning how to use these and other traditional tools to assist and demonstrate their learning. The same holds true when we use a form of technology. Children already know how to use technology for entertainment. They need to learn how technology can help them to learn.

What is the solution? For anything that will become a learning routine in my early years classroom, whether it involves technology or not, I model, model, model it and then we practice it together until the students can do it independently. Even once that independence has been established, I still have to monitor how and what the children are doing to ensure the best learning outcomes.

Flexibility and a backup plan are important ingredients in any classroom, but particularly in a space that includes the use of technology. If the Internet goes down in the middle of our day, I have to be prepared to teach another way, just as if I had planned a trip to the school library and it was suddenly unavailable.

 

Start with just one thing

My suggestion for people who are hesitant to use technology in significant ways is to start with one thing. Think of one way technology could enhance or deepen the learning in your classroom and then just try it. If you fumble and falter for a bit, keep trying. Like the six year old learning to hold a pencil properly, you will gain mastery over time.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed if you try too many different tools at once. Most of us who have been teaching with technology for awhile have taken on too much too fast somewhere along our journey.  Focus on just that one technology-enhanced activity until you feel very comfortable with it. Then, when that feels good, try adding something else.

Kathy02bMaybe you would like to share what is happening in your classroom with your students’ parents and others who are part of your classroom community. Why not try aclassroom blog, a classroom Twitter accountor a Facebook page to showcase the activities and learning that are taking place? (You don’t have to do all three at once!)

Perhaps you would like your students to be able to publish their writing or their reading fluency or their math skills for a global audience. If this is the case, then why not trystudent blogs, a wiki or some other online program? Invite others in to view and give feedback to your learners.

Maybe you would like to use Skype to connect your classroom with another classroom far away to compare perspectives. Check out the resources that are available to help you do this. Plan a small event, perhaps with another teacher who is also just beginning to use Skype. Learn together. Building a network of online support is a great way to bolster your confidence.

 

It’s not technology – it’s the stuff of teaching

What do you consider to be technology? A pencil? An overhead projector? A computer? An iPod device? At some point, each of these items was considered to be the very latest technology for the classroom.

Many people think of technology as anything that came into popular use after they reached adulthood. To my six-year-old students, and in fact to all students in school today, computers, tablets, smart phones, interactive boards, etc. are not technology. They just are. It’s their teachers and parents who consider these items to be something new or unusual.

Students are comfortable using these devices to communicate and to find information. To them, tools and apps are just another part of the world they inhabit. These tools have the power to become the stuff of teaching and learning if we will let them. Don’t think of them as technology. They are just part of the fabric of life around us. Students need to be shown how to use them to learn.

Is using technology bumpy? You bet. But we need to begin thinking the way our children do. We use technology not just because it istechnology, but because of what it can do. It engages us and helps us to learn. So bring on the bumps!

Giving Student Choice with Digital Portfolios

My grade one students each have their own blogs that are digital portfolios of their progress from the first week of school until the last one. On those blogs, they post writing, images, video and other artifacts that show what they have been learning. I’ve written (there is an entire chapter in my book) and talked before about digital portfolios, why we use them and how I use them for assessment.

Recently, someone asked me about how I provide for choice in our portfolios. What a great question! Choice should an important part of digital portfolios, and I give my students as much choice as I can as soon as I can.

At the beginning of the school year, as we are learning what it means to show our learning and possible ways to do this, there are fewer choices for the students, but as the year progresses and they become more independent, I turn the choice over to them more and more often.

There are four kinds of posts on my students’ blogs:

  1.  Screen Shot of Zak's VisualizingWe all post a similar artifact. Sometimes when we’ve done something together that I think belongs on their digital record, I do ask them to all post it to their blog. For example, we were recently working on the reading skill of visualizing. I wanted a sample of this to appear on their blogs. Since the students all had several images, and I wanted them to learn how to use the Pic Collage app that I had added to their iPads, I showed them how to use it and asked them to use it to post their images on their blogs.
  2. I choose the outcome but my students choose the tool. That is, I ask them to post about a particular outcome(s), but I give them the choice as to how they show what they know about that outcome. They can choose a digital tool or markers and paper; the choice is theirs. If they choose a non-digital means, they know they will need to make a video or take a picture so that their work can be posted on their blog. Recently, we finished a unit of work about the First Nations people of Saskatchewan, so each of the students got to choose how they would like to show what they had learned. Making a poster with paper and markers was by far the most popular choice, and then those students made a video to explain what they had drawn. Other students chose to take pictures of some artifacts we had in our classroom and then to use the Draw and Tell app to record their voice with individual pictures. Those short videos were then put together using iMovie and posted on their blogs.
  3. 3. The students have a choice about whether or not to post a learning artifact. Often, when we have done something that I think many of them have done well, I will say, “if you would like to post this on your blog, now is a good time to do it”. Some students do and others choose not to.This was the case lately with several pieces of artwork that were completed. The students who wanted to post their artwork simply took a picture of it with their iPad and posted it straight to their blog using the Edublogs app we all use for posting.
  4. The students choose the learning and the tool. As the students become more confident, they begin to ask if they can post things on their blog–things that may not have anything to do with the outcomes that we are studying in school, but are important to them. These might include something they made out of Lego, or a picture they drew or a video they made of falling dominos during an indoor recess. I always say yes because it is, after all, their portfolio.

Learning how to make choices, how to demonstrate your learning and how to choose the best tool to effectively do that are important skills for anyone to learn, and I want the children in my classroom to begin to learn how to do that early in their school career.

The Journey to “Connected From the Start”

Eight years ago, I started out on a journey to open up my classroom and to connect it with the world.

Today is a big day in that journey. My book, Connected From the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades is being released as an eBook.  The thinking, the writing, the editing and the reediting this book has required have been an interesting part of my journey. I’ve had to reflect in a way that I never have before. As this day has FINALLY arrived, I’m feeling a lot of different emotions: trepidation, excitement, satisfaction and hope.

Trepidation Every time I publish something on this blog, I wonder. I wonder what the readers will be thinking as they read it. I wonder how they will respond. I wonder if others will see the potential that I do. A book is a lot of blog posts worth of wonders.

Excitement I’m thrilled that there is now a resource available to help teachers who want to begin connecting their classroom.  I often get emails from teachers who want to start their own journey in connecting their classroom, but aren’t sure where to start.  I’m happy to reply, but you can only say so much in an email. I have always wished that a resource existed that I could point those teachers to. Now there is.

Page from Connected From the StartSatisfaction I’m satisfied that after a year and a half of hard work, there is a user-friendly resource for curious teachers—one full of colour, hyperlinks, pictures and video from my classroom.

Hope is by far the most powerful of the emotions I am feeling. I want those who read my book to understand the tremendous potential that there is in a connected classroom. I hope that I have written a book that will be helpful to those teachers in choosing tools that work well for any grade level, but especially for primary classrooms where our emphasis is on literacy.

I hope that teachers will use this resource to become connected and to realize the powerful potential of social media to transform their classroom from a closed community into a learning space open to the world and with a worldview.

I hope that because of this book, other teachers and classrooms are transformed the way that mine has been.  I hope that other primary teachers can find ways to use tools such as blogs, Skype, and Twitter to open their classroom to the world.

I hope what I have written helps your classroom to be a connected place.  If you want to go on this journey with me, you can find the book here.

My own journey with my classroom continues. I can’t wait to see where it takes us!

Back Channeling With Six and Seven Year Olds

I’m not much of a movie-showing kind of teacher. When I first began teaching, I knew a teacher who showed reel-to-reel movies every afternoon.  I didn’t understand that. For me to show video in my classroom, there needs to be a very clear curricular reason and it has to tie in directly with what we are presently learning. It also has to be the best way for my students to learn something.  I sometimes show videos from our Discovery Education account to introduce or clarify concepts for students, but full-length movies rarely happen. This week was one of those uncommon occasions.

Back ChannelingWe have just finished a unit about fairy tales and I decided to show the students a fairy tale they were not familiar with to see if they could identify the characteristics of fairy tales in a non-book format. I also wanted them to look for some of the viewing elements from our curriculum such as colour, shape, size, movement etc.

In the past, I have tried showing a movie and stopping it frequently to allow students to reflect on what they have seen. The students don’t really enjoy this, as it interrupts the flow of the story. (“Can’t we watch it all first?”) But, if I wait until the end, the students have forgotten much of what they have seen. The reflective moments have passed.

This time, I decided to try back channelling. If you are not familiar with the term, it refers to using an online connection to share your thoughts and have a conversation during a lecture or presentation of some kind. I wondered if this would be a better option for my students than what I had done before. Since each of my students have their own iPad, I decided to let them tweet during the movie, using our Twitter feed as a back channel. The children had never heard the term back channeling before, but I explained that it was something that people did to help themselves to be better listeners and to show what they were learning. They could tweet their learning as they watched. The students couldn’t believe their luck. An entire movie with their iPad in front of them.  (“We NEVER get to watch movies,” said one of the students who is in my class for the second year, his voice full of wonder.) This was clearly going to be awesome.

The students are all used to tweeting on our classroom Twitter account, so there was a strong comfort level with this process. Before we began, I reviewed with them the characteristics of fairy tales from the anchor chart we had made together. We also looked at our anchor charts for viewing.  The students knew that we would need a hashtag (we’ve made them before) and quickly thought of one, #fairytales13. We tested to make sure no one else was using it and we were ready to go.

I knew there would be a lot of tweets , so before we started, I typed a quick tweet to warn anyone who follows my class of this and we began. The students tweeted out fairy tale characteristics that they noticed

And then moved on to some viewing elements.

After the students left for the day, I aggregated their tweets together using Storify. I now had a record of all of the tweets from that event for reflection and for assessment purposes.

It was interesting to watch my students through this process. They all wanted to share what they saw by tweeting (and did!). Some spent a lot of time thinking as they wrote their thoughts and others were very confident, sharing many tweets. Some students were so caught up in the visual display that they had difficulty taking the time to finish their tweets. Some shared many brief snippets while others put several observations into each tweet. (Frankly, this all reminded me of the various adult personalities I see tweeting during a keynote at an educational technology conference.) Many of them scrolled through the tweets of their peers, commenting aloud to each other about similarities and about the ideas other students had had.

I had seen other teachers back channel with young students before and we had done a whiteboard version together last fall, but for various reasons we had never done it using our iPads. Throughout this viewing experience, I watched as my students listened, watched, reflected, wrote and read together. They were supporting each other as they were learning and they were all able to clearly show what their learning was. Our first back channeling experience was a success.

Will we do it again? Absolutely!

The Use and Abuse of Technology in the Classroom

This article was also posted on the kinderchat blog.


More and more primary teachers now have access to technology in their classroom. Whether it is an iPad or an iPod touch, a desktop or a laptop, a growing number of teachers are either being given access to this technology by their school boards or bringing their own devices to class to help students to learn. Because of the multitude of choices and opportunities that technology enables, this is a positive development.

I have been concerned, though, by some of the ways that I see technology being used. Technology should not just allow us to do things in a more engaging way; it should allow us to do new things that we thought were not possible. It is those new things that are the real value technology provides.  It is not enough to USE technology. You must use it well.

Having access to books does not mean that the students in my classroom will learn to read. I need to make careful pedagogical choices and use those books in a way that will gently and purposefully help those children to become independent readers. Very few children can make this leap themselves. Most need a thoughtful teacher to guide them.

In the same way, having technology in my classroom does not mean that my students will discover how to use it as a learning tool. I have to carefully select and structure what it is used for so that it becomes truly educational. As with reading books, should not our goal be to develop independent learners? Here are my personal abuse and use lists for the handling of devices in the classroom.

Technology Abuses

Technology should not be used as simply a digital worksheet. There are many apps and Internet sites available that are simply a technological version of a paper task, forcing students to practice over and over a skill that they may already have mastered.  Don’t get me wrong. Skills do need to be practiced. I just happen to think that students should spend most of their time using technology for more creative purposes.

Technology should not be used as a way to keep students occupied.  A small number of computers or devices in a classroom can be an inviting center, whether it is an assigned or a self-chosen one.  If you use technology in this way, choose wisely when you decide what the students will do with the technology. There are many, many creative options available. It should not be just to keep students busy while you work with small groups of children. (They’re working on mouse skills? Really?)

Technology should not be used to do what can be done without it.  Drawing a picture on an app or a computer program and labeling it is a worthwhile activity, but why bother if that activity is an end in itself? It may as well have been done on paper. Technology should allow you to do something new with that picture, such as sharing/publishing it in some way.

The good news is that there are other, better options for using technology. My heart does a happy dance when I see these.

Technology Uses

Technology should be for accessing what was inaccessible. In the past, my teaching materials were limited to what was in my classroom and in the school’s library. Now there are a plethora of materials available online to fill any teaching need I have, limited only by my online search skills. From classroom-ready videos such as those of Mercer Mayer and Dr. Jean to sharing and learning with other teachers on Pinterest or Twitter to accessing the creative commons photos of thousands of photographers—well, let’s just say there is no longer an excuse for not having appropriate resources.


Technology should be for doing good things in better ways
. For example, hearing books being read aloud is an important part of primary literacy.  Long ago, listening to books on a cassette tape became listening to books on a CD. Now, there are online books and apps that do a much better job of this, highlighting the words as they are read aloud.

Technology should be for sharing with the world.  The environment that our students are growing up in is wired for sharing. The hardware and the software that is available make it easier every day for children to share what they are learning with the world. Even young children can share their learning using drawings, images, blogs, video and digital portfolios. By sharing their artifacts digitally, students invite the involvement and support of their parents, grandparents and anyone who sees their work.

Technology should be for connecting. Before the advent of the Internet, classrooms were forced to be isolated learning hives.   Now, those hives can all be interconnected as classrooms can easily link with other classrooms and experts to ask questions, compare experiences and learn together. Tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogs make connecting and collaborating with classrooms from anywhere a possibility.

Technology should give choices.  We are blessed to have a lot of technology in my classroom and my favourite part of that is the choice it gives my students in both their learning style and in sharing what they have learned. When allowed to choose, some students prefer to read on iPads or computers. Others choose paper books.  I think choice is important as we accommodate the variety of needs our learners have.

Technology should not just allow us to do traditional in a different way; it should allow us to do things that we thought were not possible.

 

The Power of Hashtags For Me AND For My Students

I have had a classroom Twitter account for several years. We have used it to share what is happening in our classroom, to find out what is happening in other classrooms and to have conversations with those other classrooms. Parents and others have followed us to watch what we are doing and  to be part of our learning. We have never been a “tweet every day” class, but went in fits and starts, much like my own Twitter use has sometimes been. Using and following hash tags has made a big difference to my own Twitter experience, and as always, if something works well for me, I think about the educational implications it might have. As I thought last summer about the things I wanted to explore with my grade one/two class this year, making better use of Twitter hash tags was one of them.

The first time we used hash tags this past fall, we were learning about the writing trait of ideas.  We explored many sources of ideas ourselves, and then asked the people who followed us on Twitter to tell us where they got their ideas,  using the hash tag #ideasforwriting. Classes and individuals responded, giving my students many more great sources for “what should I write about?”

On this, as on every other occasion, the giving nature of others on Twitter continues to astound me.  My students were thrilled that people they had never met would help them with their writing and we eagerly added their suggestions to our classroom list of where writers get their ideas.
It was getting closer to Christmas by the time we revisited hash tags, and this time we were working on the writing trait of voice.  After reading the story The Gingerbread Man, the students took pictures of their gingerbread men around the school and then tweeted about what the Gingerbread man might say using the hash tag #SaystheGBMan. A couple of other classes joined us, and the students laughed and joked as they set up their pictures, created their own tweets and read tweets created by others. Interestingly, during the process, the phrase “GBMan” became a saying in our classroom and the students now use it instead of saying “gingerbread man” in most of their speech. Along the way, all of the students showed me that they could meet the curricular outcome of writing using a different voice.

 

The week before the Christmas holidays, several classes from #1stchat were tweeting about Santa’s secrets–that is, things people generally do not know about the jolly old man. This was the brainchild of Karen Lirenman, who has done a paper version of this with her class for many years.    What fun to make up humorous anecdotes about Santa and  to see what ideas others had! Again, my students were fascinated to be part of a group of students who were all composing and creating tweets with their own ideas. (And meeting yet another curricular outcome at the same time!)

As with every form of technology, it is not the technology itself that improves the learning, it is the way that the technology is used. Harnessing the power of hash tags has really revolutionized my ability to learn on Twitter professionally, and now I know it can do the same for my students.

Free Books for Kids

As a teacher, I value choices for my students in both how they learn and in how they demonstrate that learning. I try to give my students choices about as many things as I can each day, including whether to use technology in their learning or to use more traditional methods. Because I am fortunate enough to now have a classroom set of iPads, I am able to offer the choice of using technology much more often.

Our iPads have apps for math, writing, arts education and many literacy activities, but it bothered me that these devices did not have a good choice for just reading. There are apps available that contain leveled books of some kind, but these books are always a bit contrived. There are also some good “listening to reading” apps available that read stories to the students. The best of these highlight the words as they are read. I appreciate the value of this as part of my literacy program, but I looked in vain for quality books that the students could read on their own.

Finding the Solution

Back in the spring, someone on Twitter shared a link to onehundredfreebooks.com.  This site has a constantly changing list of books that are currently free at Amazon. When you click on the link to a book on this site, it takes you right to the Amazon page selling that book and you can then purchase the free book. Because I had the Kindle app installed on my iPad, I could view all of my purchases there. I loved this site for myself. I could try books from authors I had never heard of without spending money on something that might not be as good as I had hoped. Last summer, I noticed that there were sometimes children’s books available. This intrigued me. I wondered about using these books in my classroom. Could this provide me with some choice for my students who like to read on the iPad?

I set up an account and tried it on my student’s iPads, only to discover that a book can only be viewed on a maximum of five devices. After five children had downloaded a book, the other children could see the book in the Kindle app, but not read it. The other children were more than a little disappointed when the Halloween book they wanted to read was not available to them.  So I started over.

Making it Work

This time I set up four different accounts. Since all of my iPads are numbered, I set up four gmail and Kindle accounts– accountname1, accountname6, accountname11 and accountname16. I put the Kindle account from accountname1 onto iPads 1 – 5, the account from accountname6 on iPads 6 – 10 and so on.

Then, I started watching for good books on onehundredfreebooks.com. Now, when I see a book I think might interest my students, I first check it out on Amazon. I have a look inside (Amazon provides this option) to see if it is an appropriate reading level, whether the illustrations are good ones, whether the illustrations are supportive of the text—in short all of the things I look for in a paper book. I have learned to NOT purchase any books that do not give you a look inside at the first few pages. If I think the book is worthwhile, I get my student’s iPads that are numbered 1, 6, 11 and 16. These iPads always have their Amazon account open. (This has never been an issue and saves me a lot of time). I choose onehundredfreebooks.com in Safari—and purchase the book on those four iPads. When my students next open their Kindle app, the book will be available to all of them.

I try to check the site a couple of times per week, and if I see something interesting, the whole process takes me about two minutes. Books on this site do disappear without notice, though. More than once I have found an interesting-looking book that has been taken off the site by the time I got to the iPads.

Here is a screenshot of what their Kindle app currently looks like. We have books from a variety of genres and reading levels.

Onehundredfreebooks.com has recently added genre selection to their home page, so I now go directly to their children’s books page and browse all the titles available there.

I appreciate the variety of books I have been able to provide for my students. Now, all of the students have access to a variety of books on their iPads as well as in their self-chosen bin of paper books. During our “read to self” time, the students can choose paper books or digital books. Some choose to read on the iPad every day, some rarely do and some switch back and forth. My students have another choice.

Managing: The Nuts & Bolts of an iPad Classroom

Awhile ago, I wrote about the beginning of the one-to-one iPad journey in my classroom.  I have always appreciated when others have shared not only their pedagogy,  but the organization of their tools or classroom as well.  I’ve also had more people ask me questions about my set-up than how I use iPads to actually teach in my classroom, so here’s my “share”.

Purchasing the iPads was the easy part. Managing them is another matter.  Dean Shareski says that “iPads are meant to be owned, not managed.”  I think he is correct, but managing them still needs to be done for my grade one students.  Managing them is the nuts and bolts that makes our iPad classroom run. Truthfully, the management has turned out to be more work than I imagined. Setting up email on each device (gmail worked the best), syncing apps, updates to firmware, making (and re-making) folders and keeping the devices charged has kept me busy. My IT department has been supportive, but they are clear that this is my job and not theirs.  I am not complaining–I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything–but it has meant a great deal of learning and planning.

Organizing

Each iPad was named with a number.  This number is also written on its case.  Initially, I  had put numbered stickers onto the iPads, but they began to fall off the first day, so I used a gel pen to write the number right on the iPad case. I have a record of which child goes with which iPad, but I have rarely had to use it. Each student knows their own number as well as many of the numbers of their friends, so if an iPad is not put away correctly, it only takes a moment to find out who it belongs to.  This is working, but next year, I think I will put student’s names on stickers on the front of the shelves as well to eliminate my “who didn’t put away their iPad?” questions.

Before we purchased the iPads, the students had been storing their headphones at the other end of the classroom.  The students use the iPads and/or headphones over and over during the day so it has proved to be time consuming to be fetching and returning both to two separate places.  We now keep their headphones or earbuds on top of their iPad, making getting and putting them away a much quicker process.

Ipad Storage

The iPad shelf in my classroom has become as hot an item for discussion (at least for the adults who visit us) as the iPads themselves.  Designed and built by my ever-supportive husband, it has been working exactly as I hoped it would. I had heard from more than one person that iPads are more often broken putting them in and out of a charging station than they are broken when in use.  I wanted the students to be as independent as possible in getting, putting away and charging their iPads themselves. (Avoiding the high cost of a cart–not available through my winnings–was also a big factor.)I frequently mused about this and my search for some type of shelving on my daily walk with my husband.    Since he had already designed and built a book trolley, a bench and a poster storage unit for my classroom, he began to see the writing on the wall and started making plans.  The day we drove to Best Buy to pick up the iPads, we stopped to pick up the wood for the shelves as well.

To power the iPads, I used four Belkin charging stations, which are fastened right onto the back of the shelves. Their size ‘just’ allows for the chargers.

Students Making the Rules

Up to this point, we had had a couple of the original iPads in our classroom, so the students were fairly familiar with their care, but having so many more in use at a time is a different story, so I asked the students to come up with any rules they thought might be necessary to keep our new devices safe.  They came up with two:

  • Use two hands to carry the iPads.
  • Don’t leave the iPad on the floor. If you have to go to the bathroom or somewhere else, leave the iPad on a table or a counter.

I can’t recall a time I have had to remind any of the students about these two rules.  I often hear the students policing the other students themselves.  No one wants anything to happen to these engaging devices.

Updates and Adding Apps


Because we chose to not get a charging cart, I instead purchased two 7 Port USB Hubs. Since we have 30 iPads, I sync new apps or do updates in three separate lots of ten iPads. It does take more time, but has saved a lot of money.

Currently, I have to remove ten charging cords from the shelf to do this, but my plan is to purchase ten extra cords that can be left attached to the USB ports.  This way, they will be able to be used for easily syncing other iPads in the school with other computers as well.

So for what it is worth, this is how I am “managing” our iPads. It’s like the nitty-gritty of all teaching. You have to deal with report cards, policies that you don’t agree with and lots of frustrations so that you get to do the incredible job of  teaching kids.  In the same way, you have to take care of the syncing, the storage of the iPads and the frustrations to get to use tools that have such tremendous potential. In both instances, it’s well worth the effort.

As always, I know that there are people doing this better than I am. I’d love to have your input in the comments.

Nintendo DS: An Assessment Tool?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about our first BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) day.  When I saw the students’ enthusiasm, and what we were able to do with their Nintendo DS at school, I knew that we would have to do it again. And this week we did!

Between half and two-thirds of my students own a Nintendo DS of some kind, which they all brought to school.  Interestingly, a student who had brought his Nintendo 3DS last time left it at home in favour of his younger brother’s regular DS so that he would be able to access the Pictochat feature, which he knew we would be using.

There was nothing earth shatteringly new this time.There was more wonderful oral language as the students talked about their games–something that they were truly interested in sharing with their friends. There was more engagement and more sharing of devices.

Using the DS for Assessment

The best usage of the DS for the day, though, was when we used the devices to help us with spelling. We were working on the long a sound, and ai in particular. In the past, I would say a word such as “rain” and ask the students to “sound it out” and write it on an individually-sized whiteboard, or on our whiteboard-topped tables. Then I would run around checking their words. With the six DS units that I already have in my classroom and the ones that the students themselves brought, every student was able to use a device instead.

They all logged into the same chat room in Pictochat and wrote each word as I said it, but didn’t click on the send button until we counted “1, 2, 3, send”. Although I meandered through the students as they sat on the carpet, checking for students that needed support, watching one of the DS as the chats flew by was a much better way to assess the students’ understanding. Within ten seconds I knew exactly who needed help and with what.

The students helped assess each other as well. “Hey, some people are putting nines instead of p’s”, said one student. I modeled a correct p and that didn’t happen again. “He forgot the i”, commented another. We talked briefly again about how to make the long a sound, and no one forgot to include the i the next time.  Because of all the correct answers flying by, students could instantly self-assess as well. Most did not need to have their peers point out their errors–they could see the mistakes for themselves.  This held true when we later wrote number sentences to go with number stories.

This is the kind of assessment I want to have a lot of in my classrooms–timely, focused and done by peers and the students themselves. I guess I just have to figure out how to have a class set of Nintendo DS!

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