Sunday, September 25, 2011

A few answers to recent questions

First of all, thanks for posting your question or comment here... I enjoy adding to the blog so much more when I know people are enjoying it and find it useful.

jmartellino said...
Do you use a stylus with your ipads when the children are learning to write letters? FROM SUE:  Not yet, but plan to.  I had one stylus last year and have found one marker sized barrel one I want to try out.  My issue is the price though, and my own personal stylus took a beating from my 3 year old the other day so I am nervous about buying them for students. My goal is to try to make my own... this link explains how.   There are also several other methods too, along with videos if you do a search for make your own stylus.   The change I will make is to try to use a large marker barrel instead of the thin pen so the size is more appropriate for K.   I love the touch screens, but also want my kiddos to get used to writing letters and words with a tool.  One thing I have encouraged for now is that the students curl their fingers under and support their pointer with their thumb while writing on the iPad so their hand is in a "pencil grip" form.
Kailyn B. said...
Do you suggest any kindergarten online math games to play? FROM SUE: Yes, there are some that I really like, but they seem harder to find than reading games, at least without ads.  Some of my favorite sites are available here: 
dillsmelissa said...
Thanks for all of your ideas, I am putting them to good use already. I love the idea of a specific student using the ipad for the day. I will try it! I'd love to see a video of your entire set in action! I've found some on youtube and it has sparked some ideas. What are the 'logistics' of having a class set? Where do you store them? How does the syncing work? Charging them? Thanks for your blog and awesome work. Keep it up, you have a following! FROM SUE: Glad I could help and I hope you'll let me know how it's going.  I will try to get some video to share- usually I am so busy I don't think of videoing, but I will try this week or next.  As for logistics, it has varied over the past year.  When I had six I used a metal file folder, and then for the first weeks with the class set I used 24 metal paper holders (I'd bought from Costco a couple years ago)  that looked a little like the red paper organizer below, and now I have an official iPad cart.  The cart provides security and easier charging.  I have the iPads color and number coded to minimize confusion of whose is whose.  I do all the plugging/unplugging.  I've heard of iPads charge ports ruined because kids were plugging them in and jamming them the wrong way.  I have the cords tied by a velcro strip and off to the side when not charging.   Before the cart I charged about 6 each day, now I will charge every few days.  This cart does not sync.
 Syncing continues to be a pain and I try to do it as little as possible.  Now that you can download from the cloud, it is easier to load just a few apps at a time from the purchased icon in the AppStore, but I still dislike anything involving touching iPads one at a time.  My school bought a 16 iPad sync "octopus" as they call it, but I did not find it any easier than syncing a couple at a time.  Half the time they'd sync, half the time not.  So I am trying to go with the set up I chose the first week of school and sticking with that until I have a significant change to make. I am probably futilely hoping ios5 will help make syncing easier.  If you haven't been to Tony Vincent's site you should check it out- he has great ideas for organizing iPads.

The biggest tip I have is for those who are frustrated with losing folder organization when syncing- you don't have to!  Once your iPad has synced/restored, and non-apple apps have been dumped out of the folders, right click on the iPad name in your iTunes account under Devices (it's on the very left of the screen) click restore and pick restore from the backup that you just did.  This will take much less time than the first restore and will reorganize your apps...

THANKS AGAIN for letting me know I'm not just talking to myself here!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Purposeful and Powerful Play on the iPad

I am usually all about the educational value (and cost of course) of apps.  But no kindergarten teacher should ever discount the power of play.  Building relationships, decision making, and creativity are key developmental areas that should be addressed in kindergarten.  They often get brushed aside in the rush to meet standards and prepare children for first grade.

My teaching career started in 1998 at the Cooperative Children's Center in Seattle, WA.  It is a parent owned childcare center started in the 70's by University of Washington parents and continues to value parent involvement, an anti-bias and emergent curriculum, and teachers and parents utilize positive discipline strategies.  At the Co-op I learned about NAEYC standards (National Association for the Education of the Young Child) and DAP (developmentally appropriate practice).  During my time there (I said goodbye for the last-time in 2003 and I still think fondly of the staff and families I came to love) I saw the power of child directed play and learning experiences based on child interest and not a prescribed curriculum.

I've been working in Preschool and Kindergarten in a school district setting since 2005 and I have felt the pressure of meeting standards and teaching children of all abilities.  I have felt the need to make my classroom look and act like first grade so parents and administrators trust that I'm adequately preparing the precious darlings entrusted to me.  Focusing on phonics, handwriting, counting to 100 seemed the right thing to do... but what about play?  Creativity? Social skills?  Vocabulary development and conversation?  All teachers complain about not enough time in the day to teach everything necessary.  I have the luxury of teaching all day Kindergarten but it still feels like there's not enough time to fit in "academics" and play and do justice to both. 

I was reminded today of a phrase I focused on during my quest to complete my Masters and National Board Certification.  Purposeful teaching, powerful play.  NBCT's know any lesson is not complete without asking the question- what is the impact on student learning?  No matter how fun, engaging or just plain cool an activity is, you are wasting your and student's time if you haven't considered just what the impact on student learning will be.  You don't even have to make changes usually (although often I tweak a lesson once I consider the question) to your activity.  Simply asking yourself how can I be purposeful while teaching this lesson helps you look for opportunities to ask meaningful questions, guide play, and build on student interest to make a powerful learning activity rather than one that was 'fun'. When play is approached purposefully academics naturally fits in. 

So I think my soliloquy is done.  When I started this post I was going to share some 'fun' apps that I believe could benefit your classroom.  Today I was watching my 3 year old play on my iPad and paid attention to the apps she likes to play with.  Several of her favorites (and mine too) are made by the app developer Toca Boca (website with videos of their apps). 

Today I bought the full version of Toca Doctor for her @ $.99- but you can try out the lite version too- she loved it so I decided to pay up!)  While I was on a roll I bought the Toca Tea Party  for $2.99 (I love tea parties and what a fun way to let Lily play at having one too). I downloaded Toca Hair Salon while it was free awhile back (thanks to Mom's with Apps for their Free App Friday site!) as well as Paint My WingsToca Robot Lab is relatively new and I bought it for Lily for $.99 today too.  Lastly, I bought Helicopter Taxi (it's just so easy to click install when you have $ in your account!!!) for $1.99.

For Lily, I buy things I wouldn't be willing to buy class sets of.  I would however recommend at least buying one copy of Tea Party, Hair Salon, and Doctor for your dramatic play centers (I need to play with Helicopter and robot more before I recommend them).  You will definitely need to ask your kids to brainstorm fair ways to share the iPads you put it on, but they should also be clamoring for turns cutting yarn hair, playing with doctor tools and setting up a tea set. 

Lily's Tea Party
Tea Party is built for up to four players at once (three attendees and one server)- Lily and I had a tea party with her baby doll and then she had one with her stuffed dog and baby all by herself.  I liked the choices offered and the opportunity for us to talk and use manners and just have fun.  I loved watching her talk for her dog and doll and serve them.  Make the play purposeful by counting how many bites you take or how many sips until your cookie or juice is gone.  I want a star shaped cookie- do you want the triangle shape cake?  Is it fun- Yes.  Can it be educational? Yes.  Developmentally appropriate? Yes.  Put an iPad in your kitchen corner and see what they do with it.  By the way, kids could take orders for a restaurant using a drawing app too.  :)

Doctor has little puzzles and activities that have children pick an area of the body to fix.  I would love if the app had an option to turn on verbal labels- such as stomach, wrist, and maybe count how many slivers are taken out.  But again, this is where the teacher/parent should come in- be there while your child plays and create opportunities to learn through play.

I do have Hair Salon on my class iPads and the kids LOVE it.  And honestly, so do I!  They make funky hairdo's, show off their creations and talk about the choices they make.  You can use vocabulary like short and long, talk color choices (what nice blue and gold hair you've colored there!) and discuss symmetry and asymmetry. 

Speaking of symmetry, Paint My Wings is another favorite of my kinders- and is good for discussions about color and examples of how butterfly wings have a line of symmetry.

Here's an idea for you teachers with one or a few iPads, or for when you've only bought one copy of an app.  During centers put an iPad in the housekeeping center that kids will use "housekeeping" folder apps with.  Put one at the math table with math apps, including some of the fun math apps.  In your construction corner put the iPad with a build folder with angry birds, toca robot and more.  Encourage the kids to build an example from the game. 

There are more apps that are playful I could mention by name, but that would require my daughter giving me back the iPad.  But she is still playing- and by the way, after cleaning the sugar bugs off the teeth in Toca Doctor she told me she wants to go to the dentist now.

Study after study talks about the need for creativity and problem solving skills for successful 21st century learners... can the iPad help with that?  I think so. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Facebook and Family Communication

Thank goodness kinderchat came into my life this year. It has helped me become more excited about teaching and kindergarten than I've been for awhile. I like new things, and the people on #kinderchat have given me a plethora of new ideas to challenge me.

Going successfully, so far, is the Facebook page I've created to share with families about the daily life of my classroom. This idea sounded great to me once I read Matt Gomez's blog about his successful use of FB last year (lots of info and links can be found from kinderchat's blog). He let me look at his page from last year and the quality of information shared as well as his parents responses on the page itself made making my own Facebook page a priority.

Feedback from my own classroom page parents-
Thank you so much! This is really nice. It is a great way for me to see what is going on. I ask a million questions but not much imput back from DS. Love this!

Cute! I love that we can see pictures so fast on what they are doing in class! Great idea!

It's so nice to be able to see our kids' work they are doing. Thank you.

My opinion, so far...
SO far I have posted pictures and videos of kids in class playing and learning, outside at recess and more. I took videos of them dancing to Jack Hartmann's Hip Hop tooty ta song today and asked them to guess what animals we would be studying in science. I enjoy looking for great pictures and video moments during the day and adore how easy it is to upload to Facebook from my phone. 7/20 parents have joined our page since school started (we are on our 9th day today). I really would LOVE if all 20 families actively participated on the page. As a parent I would love if my kids' teachers had a FB page too.

Pro's of Facebook Classroom Pages:
easier to update than school website
immediate sharing of what went on during the day versus a weekly/monthly newsletter
grandparents, and other long distance family can join too
secure- families must request to join page
do not need to be friend's to see page and posts

Some parents may not have easy access to FB/internet.
Some parents might be leery of having photos on the page. We don't use names and the posts can't be shared like most FB posts.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Tonights kinderchat talk was about documentation with Evernote (really, how did I miss the beauty of Evernote before?) I created an account in December and never touched it after that. During tonights discussion (tune in Mondays on twitter @6pm PT #kinderchat for more great ideas) the idea of documenting students' work using Evernote and a few other apps caught my attention.

So, after pulling myself away from my new Google+ account, I created notebooks for each student. It was EASY. I look forward to snapping pics of student work, recording them reading, etc to share w/ parents at conferences or the child for self-assessment. Beautiful idea. Can't wait to try it out tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

1:1 iPads launched in Kindergarten today

The kids were so excited last week when they saw the iPads in our classroom on the first day of school. I had hoped to have them ready for the first day of school, but priority wise it was not too high. Any K teachers... you know what I mean! Survival is #1 the first days of K! So today was our third day of school and I finally got the 20 iPads all synced and ready to go. I wish syncing was easier... I would do a 'first days' version and a 'all the apps' version.

I'd promised that they could use them today, but due to an assembly, I had less time to introduce them. Instead of introducing them in smaller groups I condensed and had the whole group in a circle and let them 'go' for a few minutes. About 85% got them on and used the slider to get to the dock and folders without assistance (INTUITIVE- love it). The rest figured it out soon enough and I encouraged peer coaching. If I had it to do over I'd probably have them at their tables- they could sit on their hands during instructions!

After a few minutes of exploring I guided the kids briefly through writing their name with Sketchio and using math and reading skills with Teach Me Kindergarten. Afterwards I directed them to use an app from the dock only.

During playtime I let them choose the iPad- 19/20 chose to play on them. One child cried when her mom picked her up early. Many of the kids kept using TeachMe: kindergarten even when they had the chance to play something else. At the end of the day, several kids tried taking them home.

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