Monday, July 25, 2011

My Own Personal IEP

While reading through various educators blogs, my attention was caught by a particularly interesting post by Morgan Kolis (@Room5Friends). Her blog address is

First, I always like reading Morgan's posts because she is a Special Ed teacher that shows her true feelings and love for her students in every post, tweet, and email. She keeps me reminded of the reasons that I love the classroom, my students. She is also pretty great at using technology in the classroom. ;)

Her recent post that caught my attention was regarding her reflections of this past school year. She had made a personal IEP for herself in her goals, and the post described her accomplishments along with the areas she still needed to grow. I like that! I like that she wrote out her ideas, did her best to meet her challenges, and she reflected on them honestly with careful thought. Awesome!

Now, I had some ideas jotted down in a notebook that remind me of Morgan's IEP. My ideas are scribbled out, unorganized, and not likely to be implemented anytime soon...UNLESS!!!! I snag Morgan's ideas. I am going to outline my own IEP for this next school year. And, being the low tech (at heart) person that I can sometimes be, I will be printing out a hardcopy of this to post in my classroom.

Overall theme: BALANCE


1. Provide parents with a steady amount of feedback. This will include our daily classroom progress and event and individual student comments.

To accomplish this goal, I will use:
-Class webpage with embedded google calendar of lessons, announcements, and assessments. Student projects and class blog posts.
-Parent postcards (3-5 weekly).
-Daily emails through TeacherPal app (1-3 daily).
-Student twitter feed for class events

2. Provide balance in instructional techniques. (I tend to go all tech at times and forget my students other interests!)

To accomplish this goal, I will use:
-Lesson plan format that indicates the 5E levels for science instruction.
-Lesson plan format that embeds the various methods of instruction that I employ including, but not limited, text, lab, roundtable discussions, art, literature, journaling, projects, problems.
-Lesson plan format that includes connections with other classrooms via skype, twitter, and edmodo.

3. Provide balance in instructional materials. This is really similar to goal #2.

To accomplish this goal, I will use:
-More interactive smart board lessons in CONJUNCTION with iPads.
-Real world science stories through National Geographic articles, TED talk, and NASA emails.
-More access to greater variety of lab materials.

4. Provide balance in my own Personal Learning.

To accomplish this goal, I will use:
-The network that I have developed on twitter.
-The grade level partners that are excited to work together...forget the rest.
-My Conversations blog to brainstorm ideas and my google iPad site to continue recording my iPad implementation process.

These will be my top four goals with the overall theme of balance. I am fortunate that I have so much available to my students and myself for learning. I just need to pick and choose the best ways for our classroom to blossom. I'm excited for all the possibilities this next school year brings.

Thanks, Morgan for being so reflective and honest. You can see a common thread in my IEP. ;)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 15, 2011

How Do You Keep Them From Playing?

I've had the incredible opportunity to work with a plethora of people this summer regarding the use of the iPad and other technology in the classroom. From twitter connections to district admins to teaching partners, my airwaves are full of conversations! There are many different levels and perspectives. Ideas that I would have never thought of are being shared all the time...thank you! I'm learning so much. Awesome!

I recently worked with a teaching partner on her use of the iPad in the upcoming school year. She will have the opportunity to use a class set of iPads that will be shared amongst her team. Ugggg...shared cart? Right? I know. I am NOT a fan of a cart system between a grade level. But, in this economy, I think we have to thank our lucky stars for anything! In any case, it is some tech and the students that she will be working with are all my former students...I like to think of them as muppet masters (ipad personalities as muppets...get it? Funny! Ok.). So, they will definitely help with the learning process IF the teachers are willing to become partners with them.

So, in the brainstorming session with this teacher, we are talking everything from grammar apps to keynote presentations to recording students answers with DragonDictation and proofreading to google app possibilities. Really good stuff. She has great questions, and i have some options for her to consider. And, I recognize the developmental level of this teacher...she is ME a year ago. Really! Just looking for ideas, scribbling them down like mad, pausing with some confused moments, and then back on track. Now, I recognize this level, and my philosophy here is to allow the learning coaster to begin. Recognize the full plate moment. Allow any mistakes that need to be made. Support. Don't push! Because really, the use of the iPad or any other revolutionary technology is a learning coaster. There will be ups where the use is just rocketing the level of your class. And, there will be other moments that you see/feel/cringe at the failure. It happens in spurts (like most growth). Also, you will learn the most when answers are NOT given to you. There is something to be said for the process.

In the course of our conversation, my partner teacher asks me the golden question that I have heard before, "How do you get students to stay focused and not PLAY with the iPad?". Hmmmmmmm? What is your first reaction? Think about it before you read on...

Well, in MY learning coaster I did have to go through that. I had to learn...what did I do? I went through a process that helped me identify some key ideas:

1. There are some craptastic apps out there that encourage a student to PLAY (and not in a productive way). There is money in app creation, and apparently a lot of people wanted to capitalize on that...ha! I had an early learning ride on the coaster where I had to figure out what my students needed in the ipad use. So, it went from asking my students to work with encyclopedia type apps that had too high of a reading level to unlocking the potential of apps like StripDesign or Keynote. Apps that are geared towards just pushing information aren't going to be the most engaging for very long...especially of they are poorly created. Also, important, there can be some craptastic ways of implementing apps.

2. students needed time. They needed to get good at just moving around the iPad, basic navigation. They needed to get good at working with a specific app like StripDesign. They needed to have time to work through the creative process. There is much to be said for this time, patience. It will be frustrating for you and your students if you try to do too much, too fast. Give them the time, and look away when they are still zooming in and out on everything...haha.

3. Conversations...this is where become learning partners is really important! Students needed to have the floor some of the time. They needed to share their observations, stumbling points, and AH HA moments. They were ON the coaster with me, so I had to give it up sometimes for their ideas, conversations, and critiques!

And, most importantly, how do you get students to stay focused and not play on the iPad?

4. Design an authentic lesson/lab/learning experience that will keep them rolling, focused. This goes back to inquiry based, problem based learning. If you have designed a truly authentic learning experience, the 'play' will take care of itself. Students get so engaged in their work, you don't see 'play'. (Although, I would argue that the fun they are having with learning with the ipad is pretty close to 'play'.) But, I did see a transition in my teaching over the year. I went from being worried about students playing, finding all the best apps, and I did not really address the ENGAGED were my students in the content? How INVESTED were they in the science? The lessons didn't reflect THEIR questions, ideas, and problems. So, consequently, they didn't buy into it. Shocking? Not really. Once I started being honest with myself, I had some serious conversations with my students and got them on board as partners, and we really evaluated the classroom.

So, to wrap up another LONGGGGG post, I didn't give my partner all these ideas. I think there is value in making your own path, learning your own lessons, and having those conversations with yourself, your students, and colleagues. I hope the transformation I felt in teaching is what she and other educators feel in utilizing technology.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Final Word on Apps...I promise

When I talk to other teachers, students, or admin about apps for the iPad, you can hear the excitement in my voice...for certain apps. The apps that really get me talking are those that I feel showcase the true power of the iPad...the creation apps. These are the apps that students would use to showcase their learning and/or questions. These apps provide a platform for students to make, create, showcase.

I'm talking about:
And so on...

I do recognize the importance of those OTHER apps. The apps that allow us to make the teaching process easier, smoother, more effective are important. I get that. They are important, even if I don't rave about them. My favorites (today) are:
-eClicker and eClicker Host
-DragonDictation, iTalk, MoesNotes
And so on...

Finally, there are those apps that are JUST my view. They promote the lowest use of the iPad. They allow unproductive teaching methods to be EVEN easier to use. I don't think I'm the only one to see the flaws in this app:

Here's the thing, each teacher will have his or her favorite apps that allow students to really rock out the learning process. What works for me in my room, may or may not work well for you and your students. I may have an app that I LOVE, RAVE ABOUT, and you may find that it falls flat with your students. And, that's OK. Being reflective, watching your students and having conversations with them...that's the key!

My method of choosing apps (and I am the first to admit that I have been known to purchase some craptastic apps and get too app slappy):

1. Search with purpose. Just going to iTunes Teacher section and choosing from their list...not a great plan. So, search with purpose. What are you looking for in the app? What requirements and needs must it meet to warrant a look?
2. Ask others...tweet, email, check w/other teachers. I will sometimes just throw an app question out there on twitter and get a ton of feedback.
3. Check the app developers website and support. Ask them about their app...if they never respond, that tells you something!
4. Try the lite/free versions with your students. They will be the best judge of how it works with them.
5. Follow some of the best...I follow the iPad pioneers (@SamGliksman and @iPodsibilities are two of my favorites).
6. Get a couple of good sites that showcase apps like

But, bottom line...
Use the apps that work for you and your students to enhance your best teaching practices. There is no set list of apps that is the magic's not about the app, it's about the teaching method behind it! AND, just because an app is highlighted in the teaching section of iTunes, that does NOT make it an automatic winner!

Ok...the more.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Boy Who Lived in The World of Goo

Meet Andrew...

Andrew is ALMOST 10 (Did you hear him shouting that? Very excited about the double digits!)

Like most kids (people in general), Andrew has his own little quirks. He laughs really loud at odd times. He snorts, grunts, whistles, and moans through many conversations. He rotates through a variety of facial tics that would stop anyone in mid-sentence. He's the kid in the outfield looking in the wrong direction and singing Lady Gaga songs. (However, when he get's up to bat, he rarely hits anything less than a double!). He's frequently arguing with anyone telling him what to do because we ALL are SO illogical! And, my goodness, look at the chocolate on his face. If it's not that, it'll be something like spaghetti.

But, he's ALMOST 10!

That is the number that means the most right now. Not, the Ohio Achievement Assessment scores I recently saw. Andrew missed passing both math and reading by 3-4 points. Bummer, right? Not really because this year Andrew was most proud that he didn't run out of the room mid-way through testing, as he did the previous year. So, we have improvement, right.

Well, anyone that knows me is aware that I've developed into a Very different educator than when I started teaching. I've grown by watching my students learn, and I have come to the conclusion that many others have in education: Test scores will not be a valid measure of true student learning due to the very nature of the test. It is a flawed system at best, and not one that I am going to base my conclusions on.

That being said...back to ALMOST 10 Andrew. Where does that leave him? His parents are super proud that he stayed in the room the entire time during the test, did his best to regulate his vocal and bodily tics, and is ALMOST 10!

What I haven't told you yet is that Andrew is a whiz while playing an app called The World of Goo.

This app was one that I originally talked about being a good science app...wrong! After watching students and listening to their conversations, I revised that idea. World of Goo is a THINKING app. It encourages critical thinking and SOME building design. Andrew is a bad ass at this game. While he is playing, he will frequently chirp, sing, and talk about the structure of the goo towers. He will sweet talk the goo balls into stable systems. He isn't using all the perfect terminology, but watching the kid work is a visual preview of what kind of thinking skills are locked up in that chocolate covered head! He was rocking it out so much at a doctors office that a gentleman had to scoot over and watch him work. (The gentleman never interrupted, just mouthed a WOW.)

So, long blog post wrapping up with these thoughts:

Will we ever develop a test that allows us to see how Andrew thrives in the World of Goo? Probably not.

Should ALMOST 10 be as important as the Math and Reading ALMOST passing? Definitely.

Can future teachers, employers, friends, neighbors, and the world in general see how special the boy that thrives in The World of Goo really is? As his mom, I really hope so!

As a teacher of 115+ students every year, I remember...they all have their World of Goo.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Using New Tools To Obtain Deeper Understanding

Taking the Toughest...Let's Work Together

In fifth grade science, one of my toughest concepts to explore with my students is the Earth/Space Science concepts of day/night and seasonal cycles. I understand their dilemma. These concepts are really hard to visualize. I mean, seriously, we are ON the giant ball that is rotating, revolving, and tilting as it dances it's merry way along space. So, for a 9-10 year old, I can understand the difficulty.

In the past, I have gone from just reading about the cycles and filling in diagrams and multiple choice questions to stepping it up with models and students acting out motions. We've used claymation movie making. We've colored posters. I've started to incorporate the PocketEarth app for even more opportunities to visualize the process. And, so on. (To be honest, my methods have changed through the years as I have gained more of an understanding of the topics themselves and how my students learn best.)

So, this year I'm looking at another approach...using Twitter, Edmodo, Skype and the iPad2 to facilitate a deeper understanding of the topic. And, I'm hoping to partner with some dynamite classes out there!

Long term strategy-
Ss take picture of sunrise each morning from same spot at school at same time with iPad2. These images will then get uploaded into a google presentation for an accumulated set of photos. Setting the play mode to a short duration, Ss should observe that the position of the sun changes as the seasons continue. This same activity will be done by partner class in southern hemisphere. Comparing the position of the sun should help students see the difference in planet's position. (While this photo taking activity is being conducted, another goal of long term investigations will be highlighted. BONUS!)
Ss will also track the amount of hours of daylight and darkness for each day to see the transition.
Edmodo, Twitter, and Skype will allow us to continue the conversations and observations made in class. Utilizing these medium, will allow us to make the connections around the world. Ss will not be limited to just imagining the changing seasons, cycle of day/night, and shifts around the globe, they will have FRIENDS to connect with and share observations.
With all other data, our google presentation will be shared with the partner class.

Will I continue to use my models, posters, iPad app, and Ss actions...probably! But, now, I can add to the understanding by connecting them to other students.

And, HOPEFULLY, this project will lead to other partnerships including an ecosystem/estuary project, a physical science activity exploring how light, sound, heat, and electricity work in various objects, and more!