Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

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

Get Your Game On–Do the Snow Clothes Challenge!

Those of you who live and teach in northern climes know what winter is all about. It’s not about the beauty of the fluffy white stuff or the bone-chilling temperatures or even the short sunlight hours each day. In a primary classroom, it is really all about the snow clothes. Assuming that the temperature is warm enough to actually go outside (in my school division the children go outside unless the temperature—including wind chill—is below -28C), the whole putting on/taking off all those snow clothes takes up a LOT of time. For some students, it is a ten-minute process. And when you consider that it has to be done first thing in the morning, before and after two recesses, at lunch time and again at the end of the day…well, you can see a lot of time needs to go into this every day.

A couple of years ago, in the midst of a cold streak and the endless tying of scarves, hunting for mittens and putting ski pants back inside right, I asked my students how fast they thought they could put on their snow clothes if it was a race. They made predictions and I decided to make a video to show them how fast they had been. For fun, we put a “how fast can you do it” at the end of the video and put it on our blog.

The very next day, we had our first response. Bill Genereaux from Kansas surprised us with a video of himself putting on his snow clothes. My students were enraptured, although suspicious that his clothes were not “real” snow clothes. Other classes of young children followed. More classes took up the challenge, including a university class who, as my students pointed out, did not have to wear ski pants and a group of teachers at a PD day. Each video was a highlight for my students as they watched their time bested, complained about how the other class had had an easier time for some reason (very competitive bunch that year) and compared the other classrooms to our own. Last year we again had lots of fun with this challenge.

This year I have a grade one/two split that includes 13 of my students from last year. Despite having already “done that”, my students unanimously voted to do it again.

Instead of just posting all of the challengers on our classroom blog, this year I have set up a Padlet so that classrooms or individuals can post their video for everyone to see. Also, in addition to our #snowclotheschallenge hashtag, we also have the French equivalent — #DéfiVêtementsHiver thanks to the enthusiastic Brigitte Léonard.

My initial goal in creating this was really to speed up the dressing process, but serendipitously, the result has been lots of fun and unanticipated learning.

Take up our challenge! Join us. We’d love to have individuals, groups or classrooms try to beat our time. It makes the tedium of snow clothes just a bit less onerous.

Blogging in a Primary Classroom–With Only One iPad!

Many primary teachers who only have access to one iPad in their classroom assume that there is very little they can do to make that iPad useful for an entire class.  A few weeks ago, I blogged about the way I would do the “listen to reading” option of the Daily Five in a one iPad classroom. Today, I want to share some options for blogging with only one iPad.

Blogging with one iPad is possible with several apps, including the Edublogs and Kidblog apps, which allow multiple users. With Edublogs, all of the users can be logged in on one app. Kidblog also allows this with students just typing in their password each time. These options are definitely doable, but a couple of newer apps make the process even easier, especially for young children.

The Easy App Company has created Easy Blogger Jr. and Easy Blog Jr. The former works with Blogger blogs and the latter works with Edublogs.

Because Easy Blogger Jr. works with Blogger, the blog itself is free. You just have to pay for the app. And because setting up a blog seems daunting to some people, the creators of the app will even set up a blog FOR you. Once you have the blog set up, you just need to add your students’ names and pictures to the app so that they can begin to post.

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I made a practice blog to try this out and discovered that if I gave each student the “label” of their own first name, their name would appear along the side of the blog. While all the student’s posts appear in order of posting on the main blog, clicking on a student’s name on the right brings you to all of the posts that that child has written.

 

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The best part of the app is that even young students can use this app independently. They just touch their own picture…

 

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…and then confirm who they are. Notice that every page has an icon which, when tapped, will read the words aloud to the child.

 

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Students have a choice about what they will post.

 

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If a student chooses a photo, he can even record his or her voice talking about the photo, making the photo into a screencast or video. Just think of the possibilities this holds for young pre-writers to share the things they create!

 

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If you use (or would like to use) Edublogs, the Easy Blog Jr app works just the same, but works with the Edublogs platform instead.

Your students will all be blogging using only one iPad. Such a great way for young children to share their learning with the world!

Full disclosure: The creators of Easy Blog Jr and Easy Blogger Jr gave me a copy of the apps to try.

Three Options for Independent Reading on the iPad

Primary teachers (and in fact all teachers) are always on the look out for quality reading options for their students.  This is true for digital format books as well as more traditional book forms. When my six and seven-year old students read independently on their iPads, I want to offer them good options as well. Fortunately, I have found three worthwhile options for my six and seven year olds.

Epic! Books

After seeing a post by Joyce Valenza about Epic Books, I knew that I had to see if it was really as good as it looked. Was it? Actually, it’s even better.

Epic! is an app  that has thousands of books for all age levels, but I can tell you first hand that it has hundreds of excellent books for primary teachers. If you register online as an educator before you sign into the app, your account is free and you are able to view all of their books.

There are several categories of books, including some excellent non-fiction books under topics such as sports and living things. There is even a large selection of  “Read to Me” books that are read aloud in video format.

I knew that I wanted Epic! for my students as well, but could see no plan for classrooms on their website, so I emailed to ask about their policy.  Suren Markosian replied for the company that teachers are free to log into multiple student iPads with their teacher account as long as the iPads belong to the school and they stay at the school.

My students and I tried out the app with twenty of us logged in at once to see if there would be any issues, but there were none, even when we all read the same book at the same time. (It was definitely my idea to try that. I wanted to see what would happen, but the students were much more interested in reading the books that interested them.)

This app has tremendous potential for classrooms and I highly recommend it.

Unite for Literacy

My next choice is not actually an app, but a website that I’ve mentioned on this blog before.  Unite for Literacy features over one hundred beginning level books for emergent readers. Each page of each book gives the option of hearing the text on that page read aloud if students become stuck on a word.

I use the Add to Home Screen option on the iPad to create a direct link to Unite for Literacy on each student iPad. Then, I add that icon to the Read to Self folder. Another option for my budding readers.

Kindle

I wrote a blog post a while ago explaining how I use the Kindle app with the multiple iPads in my classroom. The short version of that post is that I have several Amazon accounts—one account for each five iPads. I watch for good books to go free on One Hundred Free Books and then buy copies for each account. Not all books that go free are of good quality, so I generally read the books first on my own account to check their suitability.

Three great options to allow my primary students to have lots of choice for their digital reading.

Connected Teachers, Connected Students

As you may already be aware, this month is Connected Educator Month. A plethora of webinars, discussions, Twitter chats and events have been planned (scroll down to see upcoming events) to help educators to recognize the power of connecting, to help them to build their Personal Learning Network (PLN) and to give teachers opportunities to learn together.

This event is a tremendous chance for educators to take control of their own learning. I hope that you’ll take advantage of some of the opportunities it provides.

But what about our students? Do they, too, deserve to have a learning network that is outside of their classroom? To have opportunities to connect and learn from people who live in other locations? To see the power of having a Student Learning Network (SLN*)?

I think they do. This month, as part of Connected Educator month, I’m going to be leading a virtual book club centering around my book, Connected From the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades.  Some of our book club will be asynchronous such as online discussions and activities to get you started on your connecting journey. We’ll also get together for a webinar twice this month for virtual face-to-face time.

Have you wanted to start connecting your classroom but never quite got started? Now is the time to do it. We’ll all be in the virtual room learning together. You’ll have support for the questions you have and others who are learning alongside you.

How to get started? Buy a copy of my eBook and then hop over to the Connected Educator Ning and register to get started. I’ve joined lots of Nings in the past and have always found them to be a great tool. They are available when the timing works for me. Once you have joined, have a look around, but be sure to click on my book in the list on the left hand side and then click on Join at the top of the page.  Once you’re there, introduce yourself in the discussion area and get started learning!

Although I teach primary grades, teachers in any elementary grade can take the principles we talk about and apply them to their own classroom.

I can’t wait to see you there!

(*Kudos to @kristenziemke for coining the term “SLN”)

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