Saturday, September 3, 2011

2 weeks in

Hello world. 

Now we are 2 weeks into our iPad 1:1 pilot, and I'd say we're making great strides toward using these devices to their full potential.  Getting back into the swing of things at the beginning of a school year is a real challenge.  It feels a little bit like jumping into a lake in the middle of winter. 
So as I was attempting to plan for next week, it hit me that I have this amazing opportunity to make each and every learning opportunity deeper for my students.  The devices at our fingertips have so much potential, and I am DETERMINED to crack the code, as it were.

So this week I created a science lesson that I'm pretty excited about.  We are studying the Scientific Method as a way to kick off our combined SS/Sci unit about Explorers, Scientific Method, and forces and motion.  I went to our LRC and asked the director to help me locate a book that presented a scientist that worked through the scientific method in order to make a discovery.  She found me a great book about the woman who developed Kevlar - you know, the stuff in bullet-proof vests. 

My first thought was to do a read aloud, and then have a class discussion.  Then as I thought more about the length of the book and the fact that I have these iPads, I changed my direction.  It's a simple addition, but I think it will keep the kids more engaged. 

Using the app e-clicker, I created a question set that goes along with the story.  I will deliver the questions at strategic places during the read-aloud to capitalize on teachable moments and opportunities for discussion.  I think this will keep the students attention more than a typical read-aloud because they will be excited for the next question, and will want to be ready to participate.  The question set is a variety of questions including multiple choice and true/false with correct answers, but also includes some questions that will ask the students for their opinions (agree/disagree). 

I hope it works out!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to school, back to schooooool...

Ok, I know it's been a while, but now that school is back in session I finally feel like I have something to write about.

Today was the first day of school, and for my class, it was the first day with our fabulous iPads.  Of course, the first day of school is always full of assemblies and supply organization and other business.  We only got to spend about 20 minutes with the iPads today, but the kids are absolutely in love already.  They are sure to change the dynamic in our classroom.

The process of getting them all ready was a bit tedious, but totally manageable if you're even slightly tech savvy.  Here's how it works:

We purchased 26 iPads for a self contained classroom.  Over the summer, I did my research and picked out a number of apps I wanted to be loaded on each machine.  I tested these out myself, catalogued them, and will likely add more as the year goes along.  Yesterday (yes, the day before school started...) I went and picked up the machines along with our charging station, which can accomodate up to 10 iPads at a time.  Next, I created a brand new account on iTunes that is separate from my personal iTunes account.  This way I can still sync my personal devices on my computer, and I can also sync a different image to the school iPads.

If you're wondering how to create multiple iTunes accounts, you can visit this website.

Then, the fun began.  I plugged in the iPads to the charging station which was hooked up to my laptop.  It recognized all the iPads simultaneously as their own device, meaning I can make changes to each one individually.  I decided to create a backup file which I then used to image every iPad.  I could choose later to register each iPad individually, but that is a project for another day :-)

It took about 20 minutes from start to finish to set up and sync each batch of 10.  Before I knew it, the machines were ready for the kiddos.  I just can't wait to spend more time working with them tomorrow!!

Friday, April 29, 2011

1st Meeting Woes

I had my first meeting this week with the team of teachers who will be implementing 1:1 iPads next year. Being that the group of 15 teachers from the other buildings wrote their grant collectively over the course of a year, and I am the sole writer of my grant, I was lumped into this team.  All the other teachers are in the primary grades - a group of four teachers each from Kindergarten, First, and Second Grades, plus their tech facilitators.  I, on the other hand, wrote my grant completely alone, without the help of people in my building.  I'm a little bit of the lone ranger here, forging my own intermediate frontier without a support system built in.  I guess I didn't really think about including others in my building, partially because I wrote the grant in the span of 48 hours, and partly because I guess I just didn't really think my team was ready to take on something like this.  Nor did I feel like there was anyone else in my building that would be as passionate or ready to take this on with me.

I want to share some of my take-aways from the initial meeting, keeping in mind that this is the version post thoughtful reflection and regrouping.
  1. Patience will be KEY in working with this group.  When I arrived at the meeting I was nearly bursting at the seams to talk about integration, instruction, research we've all been doing, etc.  But, I came to realize about 30 minutes into the meeting that I seem to be the only person scouring the internet, my PLN, the blog network every night because I am dying to absorb as much information as possible.  That was a disappointment, which leads me to #2:
  2. This sense of urgency that I've been feeling around transforming the classroom environment is what made the writing in my grant proposal so successful.  I've gotten a lot of compliments on it, and at first I was rather surprised about that.  I can admit that I really don't like writing, which is partially why my first blog failed.  I never enjoyed writing, never felt like I was doing it correctly, except for one blissful year in high school when my teacher introduced stream of consciousness writing and let me write just as my brain functioned.  But I got a chance to read their proposal this week, and I noticed what I believe to be a fundamental difference.  My grant was a brain dump of straight passion for what I truly believe technology in the classroom is capable of doing.  Theirs was more calculated, better planned, but didn't have that same intensity.  This was evident in the way they conducted themselves at this meeting as well, while we talked about what case to buy, and whether or not the wifi would work in certain classrooms.
  3. There is a dual age issue here.  First, what I can do with my fifth graders is going to be hugely different from what these other teachers can do with kindergarten or first graders.  It's something I was aware of right away when I found out I would be working on this team.  I'm going to have to operate in my own world here to some extent, but still have to be open and ready to share and learn.  The other side of this is that I am the youngest one on the team.  In some cases, I'm younger by quite a bit.  That means that I am also likely the only digital native on the team.  I sometimes feel like I'm being arrogant when I say that, "digital native," as if it somehow makes me smarter or more capable or something.  I do not believe that for a second.  These women have years of experience on me, and therefore have so much knowledge about good teaching that I can only hope to acquire as I move up in my career.  But, I have the distinct advantage of learning by doing, by exploring, by picking up and solving my own problems without having to read an instruction manual or get help from a teacher.  It's how my brain functions, and how our students' brains function.
In short, I will really need to exercise patience as I go through this project, and keep in mind that I need to work at my own pace, not the pace of others.  I wrote this grant for me and my students, to do it my way.  So, no matter how much work it is, I'm going to make this work for me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Now for the hard part....

So now that my dream of having a 1:1 environment has been realized, I have to start doing the work to make the best use of the tools I will be given.  I'm told that in the next few weeks I will receive my iPad 2. 

There are NO WORDS to explain how excited I am (pardon my nerd).  But before I have it in my hands, I know there is a lot of research I need to do to make sure I'm ready.  I don't want to be overwhelmed at any point in this process (wishful thinking....) so I'm trying to stay a little bit ahead of the game.

To get the ball rolling, I've tried to compile a list of apps that I think I'll be able to use with my kids next year.  They will be fifth graders.  A great deal of the education apps out there are geared toward the primary grades.  Some of those are useful in the intermediate classroom, but I'm afraid they are not as likely to hold the attention of my students.

I'll list some of them here, with some brainstorming on how they might be used in the intermediate classroom.

Popplet - This is the tool I used to brainstorm ideas for the grant I wrote, so I already know it's a great mind-mapping app that is user-friendly.  Students create a "bubble map" of sorts.  This could potentially be used for responding to reading.  For instance, if I read a story in shared reading, I could propose a question and students could all add their thoughts to a common popplet.  The app would let them respond to the original question or their peers' comments.

Bill Atkinson PhotoCard Lite - This app allows students to create postcards using pictures and even audio recordings.  They can be emailed or printed and sent via snail mail.  In 5th grade we study the American Revolution, so my thought is that I could create a character for each student so that they had to embody someone that actually lived during that time period.  Over the course of the unit, students could write postcards to another student, or to an imaginary family member or friend that would come from the perspective of their character.

BrainPOP Featured Movie - While I feel this app is slightly limited because it only plays the featured movie of the day from the BrainPOP website, I think it could serve as really good morning work activity.  Students would watch the daily video and take the quiz.  I believe this app has a feature that allows students to track their progress in terms of quizzes.  It might be a nice comprehension/listening activity for them.  In addition, there is a part of the Google Apps suite that allows you to compile results from BrainPoP quizzes.  If these two could link, it could be really cool....

Flipboard - This is a really cool app that allows you to place all your social media updates, blog posts, etc. into a magazine-style view.  I really want to get kids into reading blogs to journal about current events.  I'd like them to create their own blogs to report their findings.  I think if all of the blog posts were presented to them in a visually appealing format, they would be more likely to be interested in such an activity.

This is a short list.  I still have about 30 more sitting in my Evernote, but they will have to wait for another post.  

Monday, April 11, 2011


Well folks, I am so proud and SO ecstatic to report that I was awarded my grant in the FULL AMOUNT!  You can read my hurried post about the grant writing here

This is a HUGE opportunity for me, a lowly second-year wannabe good teacher.  I have received the most generous compliments and such amazing support from my colleagues and administrators throughout the district. 

Next year I will have a full class set of iPads to use with my kids.  I will also have a cart to house them that syncs all the information to a central computer.  It is going to completely change the way that I teach and the way that my students are engaged in their learning.  I absolutely can. not. WAIT!

If anyone is interested in reading my grant, just let me know in the comments. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Classroom, reinvented

In my last post, I commented on how my classroom used to look.  But thanks to another year of experience and inspiration from my good friend Miss G, I have been very focused on getting organized so that I can maximize my classroom space and make it  the best possible environment for my kids.

Example #1 - I've tried to put all like materials together.  Here you see the math materials all nestled together in an easy to reach bin/baskets that can be removed for lessons.

 Those boxes that used to sit at students' desks?  They have their own place on the shelf now.  This keeps them out of the way, but also gives students the perfect place to keep those supplies they don't use too often like crayons, markers, and glue.
 My library has seemed to multiply, but that could just be because I've finally organized it in a way that makes sense.  The books are all in one place, they are organized by genre, and they are broken up by multi-colored bins to keep it interesting. 
 All the technology is run out of the back corner of the room.  I have a cart here that houses my document camera and my laptop during the day.  This way I can plug in my SMARTboard and work from the front of the room, or work with students at this station.
 I have learned that bulletin boards are better used if they contain material that contributes to the learning process.  On the right are word study activities students must complete each week.  On the left, our bulletin board where we will record characteristics of the each region of the United States.  On the tables?  Guided reading materials, extra post-its and highlighters, and a tower of different types of paper kids might need throughout the day.
My desk is at the front of the room as you enter.  It takes up little space, and when I'm sitting there it gives me a full view of the classroom.  Individual student desks have been replaced with tables.  They take up less space and they are easier to re-arrange.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Well, thanks to my friend Miss G I have been on a Spring Cleaning kick.  Right around most breaks from school I'm inspired to...rearrange.  Now 1.5 years into my teaching career, my room has changed drastically.  When I first started teaching, my room looked like this:

 The library was separated.  Some books were in one place, and the rest were separated.  Plus, they weren't easy to locate.  Those baskets were too heavy!
My desk was in the back corner of the room.  It's a pretty typical spot in my building, but I've sinced moved it so that it's the first thing you see when you walk in.  It keeps all my stuff in one place, and has been a better location for me.

Oh, and we had desks.  And imacs, which took up a ton of space, were always broken, and took forever to start up when they were functional.  I've sinced ditched the desks and the desktop computers, and we have a lot more useable space. 

So, I don't have pictures of my classroom today, but I'll take some.  Upon returning from Spring Break this morning, I was pleasantly reminded by the state of my room.  I stayed after school last Friday for 2 hours so that when I came back today, things would be all neat and tidy.  It's much better and less stressful to come home to a clean classroom (, house, kitchen, etc.) 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Post-Grant crazy

A rainy Sunday is the perfect time to blog.  Especially when you're trying to be better at blogging regularly.

Really what I'm doing is putting off dealing with the large bag of grading that I haven't touched since I put out the Trimester 2 report cards with the thought that between report cards, and conferences, and other things, it wasn't necessary and could wait.  Weeeeeelllll it's waited - and it's still waiting, for now.

So I wrote this grant....

 I started the process on Friday evening last week with a tool called popplet.  It is a great little site that let's you create mind-maps in a seemingly infinite space that can incorporate text and other media (pictures, videos, etc.).  With that open in one window, twitter in another, Google Reader in a 3rd and Evernote in a 4th, I managed to put together a big map of ideas for possible activities, facts about others' experiences with Ipads, and my own opinions about why they're so great.  I worked on that Friday night and Saturday night (how lame am I??) and by Sunday morning I was ready to start writing.

The process was so much smoother than I thought.  I put it all together in a Google Doc and immediately shared it with all the people whose opinions are important.  I got amazing feedback and so many compliments on how thorough and exciting the proposal came out.  Later this week at a team meeting, the district tech guy told me that I got a lot of compliments from the committee upon the first read.  That doesn't mean at all that I'll get it, but it's great to hear that I'm at least being considered.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how much a class set of Ipads could completely revolutionize my classroom.  And of course I'll be reaching out to my teacher friends and PLN to brainstorm about that if it actually happens!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grant writing

Well, I did it!

I'm pretty impressed with myself, cranking out a big ol' grant proposal in just one day's work!  I'm very excited about what I've written, and even if I don't win the grant, I guess it was a good experience to consider how beneficial these tools can be in my classroom.

Here's hoping it works out.  Apparently decisions are announced in May.  Fingers Crossed!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mad Dash - Your Comments Needed!

So I've been thinking about writing a grant for next year to get 1:1 IPads for my classroom.  I figured I had plenty of time!  NOT SO!!  It's due Monday.  Sooooooo help!  If you have any ideas for how to use them, either in a classroom, or in your personal life, let me know!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thank You, John Stewart.

I am grateful for people in the world that appreciate the job that I do every day.  I know that there are a lot of things wrong with education in America today, and that we all have to work together to find a solution, but it's so hard to hear all the negative conversation centered around the supposed "fault" of teachers.  I appreciate this take on the whole argument, with the understanding that there are a million other factors to consider in the debate.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Screen time woes

During conferences yesterday I had a parent express concern about screen time.  My initial reaction (internally, of course!) was defensive.  The screentime in school is used as a tool, and if I assign something that requires additional screen time at home, it's only an extension of the learning day.  But then.....

Picture it: A team of teachers sitting around a table at Potbelly's who really enjoy each others' company, smartphones in one hand, sandwiches in the other.  No talking.  Words with friends, email, texting, what have you, but not conversation.

Having made the decision to dive head first into the world of educational technology, I find myself far too preoccupied with my tech tools.  Twitter updates fly in so much faster than I can read them.  I keep adding new blogs to my Google Reader that are full of fascinating and pertinent information that I want to find out about.  All these new online tools (tweetdeck, evernote, etc.) are opening my eyes to this exciting world of organized information, but they are also keeping me glued to a screen whenever I'm not being forced to interact with others!

This is bad news, my friends.  Now, how to strike a balance in a world that is overwhelmed with information?  A fellow teacher mentioned that she is sending her teenage son on an 8 day trek in the wilderness where absolutely no technology is allowed.  I love that idea.  I love camping, and I love nature, and I honestly love quiet.  It's hard to draw the line between overkill and efficient.  I'm hoping that once I've become accustomed to using all of these new tools that I will settle down a bit and use them when needed.  With any luck they will fit seamlessly into my life, creating order out of chaos, instead of the other way around!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Conference Week

I've mentioned already that my first year of teaching was really rough.  Miss Teacher and I struggled a lot, but somehow we made it through without quitting, or killing any children.

I bring this up because a former student stopped by to see me today, and it got me thinking about a lot of things.  His initial comment upon walking into the classroom was "Wow!  It's so different in here!"  That's for damn sure!!  For starters, I've changed the way the room is organized.  To be fair, I really just organized it.  Last year, I lived in piles.  This year, it's better.  There are tables, instead of desks.  There is order.  Kids know what to do and they do it (mostly) independently. 

But I think the most important change is the kids.  I've been having the most wonderful conferences.  I get to gush about these kids that I really care about and enjoy spending my day with.  Last year I had to work really hard to think of something good to say about my students.  I don't think that's so much a reflection on the kids themselves, but on the situation they were in (I came in mid-loop and my style was drastically different than the previous teacher's).  It wasn't their fault that I was inexperienced (still am!!) run-down, and at my breaking point about mid-way through the year. 

But this year is different.  I have fallen in love with these children, and I want to do my best for them.  It has really made all the difference.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Planting the seed...

I'm just a plain old classroom teacher...for now ;-) 

My principal sent an email saying our superintendent was looking for teachers to write little blurbs about innovative activities/projects they're doing in their classrooms.  I got to gush about the concept books we're making for students in Mongolia thru my friend who is stationed there with the Peace Corps, and about my use of Google Docs for both Writer's Workshop and responding to reading.  Naturally at the end I made a note to my principal that I had a million ideas from the 2011 ICE conference to share with anyone willing to listen.  The response?  I'D LOVE TO HEAR ALL ABOUT IT!!

This is good.  I'm an aspiring techie.  I'm starting grad school in a school technology program in the summer with the hopes of becoming some kind of tech facilitator.  Don't get me wrong, I love so many things about having my own classroom, but there are a lot of things I don't love.  Things that will only be exacerbated in the coming years as RTI and stricter standards roll out.

Then after school the tech facilitator dropped by my room and I briefly talked her ear off about all my ideas and shared some questions I had that I want her to pass along to the district tech guy.  I might have mentioned to her that if they are planning to pilot a 1:1 environment with either Ipads or Laptops that "I'm your girl."  She suggested writing a proposal for some grant money through the Education Foundation in our district, so I'll be looking into that while my kids handle the ISATs.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Obsession #1 - Food

So, I have a confession... I'm in love with food.  I'm going to call it an obsession because it has a tendency to take over my life.  Put me in a room with cable tv and I immediately turn to the Food Network, or Cooking Channel, or TLC, or Travel Channel, or whatever happens to be playing something that involves people cooking, eating, or watching other people cook and eat.  I also subscribe to an unhealthy number of food blogs which I keep up with daily through my Google Reader.  I've got a bunch I'm happy to share, if you're interested.

So this morning while I was putzing around on the internet I came across this delightful little treat!  I must make these:
Yes, my friends.  Pie.  In a cute cute cute little jar.  I want a hundred in my freezer immediately.

Secretly I wish I could quit my job and just cook a hundred things all day.  Of course, that dream also involves me married to a rich man... that needs to be fattened.  Oh, and I have a personal trainer in this dream.  Oh well.

A New Bloginning

My feeble attempt at blogging was thwarted by a very difficult first year of teaching.  With my second year rolling along at a fast pace, I think I have finally found enough perspective to try again.  This time the blog will not be devoted to teaching.  It will not be devoted to anything, really. 

I set up my Google Reader this year, and it has been such a great addition to my life.  My mother thinks blogs are self-indulgent and not worth reading, but I beg to differ.  Blogs help me stay in touch with my teacher friends like Miss G. and Miss H.  They allow me to indulge my obsession with food, like this.  They inspire me with amazing ideas for my classroom, like this, the inspiration for my new "bloginning."  So because of my new friend at teachpaperless and because of the realization that my friends might want to know what the heck is going on with me, I will give this blogging habit another go.

Another reason I decided I should probably get back on the wagon was my recent attendance at the 2011 ICE Conference in St. Charles, IL.  I am an aspiring educational techie, among other things, and I was so inspired at this conference that I realized if I am going to take this career move seriously, I need to plunge myself into the depths of the internet and see what there is to see.  I attended last Wednesday, and now, 3 days later, I've downloaded multiple educational apps to infuse (hopefully!!) into my daily curriculum, joined twitter (very, very reluctantly and with much caution - baby steps),  and signed up for a few different websites I think might be useful to me and my students at some point in the future.  Blogging is just another piece of the puzzle.  If I'm going to ask my students to buy into it, I better figure out a way to buy into it too.

So, in an effort not to limit my own creativity, I will leave this blog open-ended.  Here's to round 2!