Saturday, June 25, 2011

Combining Apps For Creativity, Problem Solving, and Authentic Learning

Many teachers using iPads in the classroom have discovered some very good drill apps to help support the classroom learning. The apps that I'm thinking of would be those apps that do not encourage much more than the lower levels of thinking...basic comprehension, recall. I have found apps such as MathNinja and PearlDiver to fall in this category.

While they aren't really high on the learning levels, they still fill an important role in the classroom. They are helping our students to review information that is definitely needed to be successful at higher levels. And, they are accomplishing it in a rather fun manner.

However, if we are only using this level of apps in the classroom, we are truly missing out on the power of the iPad. I've previously discussed those creation type apps that give our students a forum for expression, synthesis of information, and creation of new knowledge. These apps include everything from Keynote to DrawingPad to Toontastic, and so many in between!, next step. How do we encourage students to use combination of apps to truly ramp up the use of the iPad? Well, I say 'encourage' very loosely because I found this level of use almost by accident in my room this year. It was a very cool side effect from my students using the iPads, and I didn't have too much to do with it!

By combination of apps, I mean this...

A student creating a keynote presentation to share a lab experiment and results uses:
-drawing pad to draw lab work area and pull in from photos
-dictionary and thesaurus apps for writing presentation
-idea sketch app to create a concept web to pull in from photos
-strip design app to create a cartoon to pull into presentation

Another student using toontastic app to create cartoon of their project uses:
-garage band to create a new sound track for their cartoon (created on one iPad and recorded into toontastic on another through microphone...choppy method, I know.)

And, so on. By not limiting their use of apps, I found my students naturally pulling in a variety of apps to accomplish goals as they went! PROBLEM SOLVING! The discussions between students and with me included the phrase, "I want to do this, so I'm going to try this.". And, isn't that were we want our students operating? Solving problems as they go!

Also, another phenomenon occurred. My students were creating even more personal works. They were always jumping straight to google to grab pics for their projects (like I did in the pics above). They were drawing their own pictures, or they were grabbing the class camera and pulling them in to work with. I didn't see as many clipart pictures with labels over them...obviously just taking someone else's work. This was giving their projects a more original feel. The original music created for the toontastic project that was recorded by just setting one iPad next to another...not the best music track I've ever heard. But, wow...that kid was PROUD!

And, finally...authentic learning. I think most educators can recognize the value in students creating the foundation for their own learning. Students will remember what they have MADE, what they are involved in. The student that created the keynote presentation about metal corroding will remember her results, her conclusions, and her ideas for future study much longer than a multiple choice or short answer test would have instilled.

How did the students get this good? How did they know to use this app or that with their projects?

By allowing my students time, access to various apps, and control of their learning, I found they naturally will problem solve, be creative, and develop products that promote authentic learning. Let go. Become learning partners. And, watch. It is amazing!

(This picture is just added for effect. This kid is a cutie!)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 24, 2011

Passion For Science

After today, I can call myself a rocket scientist. Ok, that's not entirely true, but fun to say!

I spent the day at Plum Brook NASA facility in Sandusky with about 30 other educators learning about rocketry and launching rockets with students. What an awesome experience! We discussed everything from simple demos...

To real NASA rockets, and everything in between.

AND, we were able to build our own rockets to launch, which we did.
How awesome is that?

I loved the hands-on, step by step assembling of the rockets. I loved personalizing my rocket with the name "George". And, I LOVE that my 'eggstranaut' George made it back to Earth in one piece after being launched outside.

The excitement in the activity was phenomenal. The instructor, Fred Kepner, was great. His pacing, instructional methods, and excitement made the time zip by! I would have loved to talk for even longer.

When it came time to launch my rocket, George 2011, I was as excited as a kid. Saying, 3, 2, 1, and hitting that button was a blast! Seriously!

In my 'eggstranauts' capsule, I included a little fortune cookie fortune from my stash (which I keep handy at all times...never know when you need a great message). It said, "You will be called to fill a position of high honor and responsibility.". I'm sure you can imagine how that quote applies. But, it made me think of my role as a science teacher. It is an amazing honor to work with my fifth graders! To get them excited about the world around see science in question ideas/designs/people. What an honor and responsibility. I hope to keep my students feeling the same thrill that I had launching George today! And, if any of my colleagues ever see me drifting from this, please pull some ninja moves out and remind me of this!

I love science!

Dorky picture thanks to @dpcasper, an awesome colleague that I had the pleasure of chatting and working with today! That is a teacher that does some seriously cool stuff with his students...worth following!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

iPad2 in the First Days of School

After using a class set of iPads this year with my science students, I have actively petitioned to expand the use of these devices. Seeing my own students success, I am passionate about seeing other students have these opportunities. So, I've emailed, talked, presented at conferences, and BEGGED my administrators to invest.

And, yes! They are listening. We are seeing iPad orders being placed in special education, class set for our 6th grade class, and even more small additions around the district. And, I couldn't be more excited. If the teachers using these devices are reflective, creative partners with their students, "Oh, the places they will go!"

I however am left in a very interesting position. I have grown as an educator with my Muppets (my iPad1 set that I piloted), and I love all the wonderful learning, creating, sharing activities that my 5th graders have done. But, it is...I want more. I know that sounds so incredibly greedy of me. However, in looking at the work I've done with the iPads and seeing what the next version offers, I feel like I'm ready for the next level. And, to those who say it isn't that much different, I have to ask if you've considered the possibilities? Having picture and video access at your students fingertips...the level of learning just exploded!

Here are my ideas on how I would utilize the iPad2 in the science room in just the first few days/weeks:

-Using Teacher Pal app, I would grab student pics the first day of school, organize them into their learning teams, and later enter parent contact information for emailing good notes on the spot.
-Students would take their own picture with their iPad2, pull it into a Keynote doc, and create an "About Me" poster answering some key questions about themselves for saving in their google docs portfolio and sharing with me. Learning a little about their interests, strengths, and expectations of science while introducing them to pic taking, keynote, and google docs.
-Using iMovie to create a class/team video highlighting how we will work together to learn and grow (previously known as 'going over the rules').
-Student groups use iMovie to create short videos for lab rules and safety.
-Student take picture of sunrise each morning with iPad, pull it into google presentation, so that we can see the angle of sunlight change with the seasons.
-Students take pictures of butterfly garden plants for classification of various plants.
-Students record lab events by picture or video to create short movie to share results.
-Students take pictures of their Lego vehicles for presentations/design., I went a little past a week's worth of ideas. And, I have even more ideas in how to incorporate this into a problem/project based science classroom. I truly believe that using the iPad1 for this past year has made me so excited for the possibility of the second version. It's not JUST a's another entire dimension added to the mix.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Imagine a room full of 10-11 year old science students, just finishing up with research on a topic, person, or experiment of their choice. The school year is ending, and this is the Independent Study Phase. For the last week, the students have been asking and answering questions. Using their iPads, they have done the work to become the experts in their chosen area. So, the students have the content, and now they want to showcase it. They want to CREATE!

With iPads in hand and the Toontastic app open, the conversations bubble. In one area, a group of three boys are trying to share all parts of their thermal insulation experiment into a cartoon. They are laughing about changing voices as they discuss key elements to include about the experiment. A little girl works in another area by herself. She is excited to make her video about dolphin adaptations. This topic has captivated her interest for the past week. She makes eye contact with me 1 or 2 times during the 40 minute period, and each time, her face is glowing and her science and creative mind is hard at work. Another young lady comes up to me several times to hear the latest addition to her Toontastic cartoon about Mars. She loves her work, her cleverness, and her topic!

These students are informed, creative, and filled with purpose. Not one time is the amount of work questioned. Not one time is a student asking to change or quit. They are into it! Big. Time. AND, they are acting and feeling like scientists. You can magnify this pride and sense of purpose many times over when it is time to share. The students each get their time to give background information before playing their Toontastic video. They are the recipients of enthusiastic applause at the end of each video. And, they are proud!

There isn’t a multiple choice, fill in the blank, or true/false component to this learning. There isn’t cramming to memorize vocabulary. And, their isn’t a high stakes test involved. THIS IS TRUE LEARNING.

With Toontastic, my students are problem solving, creating, and sharing ideas. They are modeling what we really do…in the real world. And, they are doing it using a medium that attends to THEIR learning style and their brains. Creating a cartoon with their ideas and voices, shows me how much content was truly learned.

And this is why I will continue to use apps such as Toontastic. Giving my students a forum for expression of science content is key!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Skype and Twitter in the Classroom

I think we all have noticed that the school classroom walls are not so defined anymore...right?  Through avenues such as skype and twitter, we can direct our students to go beyond the traditional learning methods.  We can branch out and learn from others miles away.  We can learn from our peers.  We can learn from experts in the field.  We can learn in real time!

This year, I branched out with skype and twitter in my science classroom, and I can't imagine going back to school in the fall without utilizing it. 

With Skype, my classes formed connections with other 4th/5th grade classes by starting out with a "Mystery Skype".  Our students did not know where their partner class was from.  So, we each developed clues for one another.  Our clue creations were a lesson on their own!  Everything from our geographic location and climate zone to economic factors were investigated for possible clues.  This first Skype was a great way to share information, get practice in talking over Skype, and get excited about the process.  We later branched out with practice questions for our state tests and discussing our class projects.  We even were able to Skype with other teacher in our district for help learning, and we LOVED our connection to our technology director.  He was able to work with us on several occasions discussing computer parts, the iPad2, and how cameras work with light to produce images.

With twitter, my students and I decided to follow various people and organizations to extend our learning.  Through my twitter account, we began to follow our hero, Steve Spangler.  Each time we read one of his tweets, my students were off and away on the iPads, finding out more about his message.  We also followed the NASA astronauts and were able to send in questions during a video conference via twitter.  Each time a NASA event was tweeted, it jump started our next avenue of investigation.  Another really powerful twitter experience was in following NPR and Science Friday.  This, along with the use of TED talks, was a great way to feel the 'pulse' of science. 

There is NO better way to learn science, than to learn the real time events, concerns, and discoveries.  A textbook just isn't enough anymore!  This is where technology such as Twitter and Skype come into play.  Connecting our students to other learners, building that learning community, and finding the experts and those in the field is at our finger tips...time to explore!

 This is why I'm using the summer months to lock in skype partners, gather ideas, and continue discussions with other educators.