The Paper Trail

I am now a classroom teacher (and have been for 9 years or so) and a mother to a school-aged child in three after-school activities and I am finding it very difficult to stay on top of everything. As a teacher, I have dates and paper flying at me from every direction and as a Mom, I am on the receiving end of all that paper. My solution is technology.

1. Email newsletters and requests to parents. It appears directly in their inboxes, often with a link that parents can just click to add dates to their calendars.

2. Scan paper with my phone as soon as it comes home. I can search for a digital document with a few clicks, while a paper document goes missing easily.

3. Deal with it as soon as I touch it. Need permission? Sign it! Need money? Pay it! Receiving money at school? Check it, track it, deposit it!

4. Put it all in one place: one calendar, one to do list, one inbox…

5. EVERNOTE! Love! Really! Great place to sort and keep student work, notes, reminders, etc! Also started one for kid #1, because while I love all the work he brings home, where should I put it?

6. Keeping absent students up to date can be a challenge. I find it easiest just to run the correct number of copies of my calendar for absent students, though I would like (maybe with older students?) to keep them on track by having them subscribe to the calendar on their devices.

7. Keep calm and carry on! I think I’m busy now!? Wait until kid #2 is also in school and activities!

Apps I love

I just happened to be resyncing my ipods this morning so I had a chance to go through my apps again when a colleague asked for some advice on some good apps. I thought I would also post here for parents who often ask for what apps are worth the investment. The following is a list of apps I would be hard done by to work without:

Pages: Just a word processor, but it works great for students who prefer to type. I also have a couple of students whose handwriting I have a hard time reading and Pages means that they can communicate their ideas easier.

Dropbox: easy way to get documents from my computer to their device. Love it. I use it with my guided reading program. Most of my books come from Reading A-Z and they open seamlessly.

iBooks: This is where the reading A-Z books open to. It looks just like the paper book without the wasted paper. Have also invested in a few books from iBooks and the kids can highlight and make notes as they read.

Dictionaries: Some are a little pricey, but they are by far the best investment I have made: Collins, Multi, Robert (dixel) Meriam Webster, Bescherelle). My students LOVE looking stuff up that was like pulling teeth to get them to do before. Writing and reading have improved TONS just by having these resources.

Tumblebooks: This is less for my own students, but they read them with their buddies. My four year old loves them and they highlight the words as they read along.

Explain everything: Allows you to import an image and will record sound and drawing as you explain. I haven’t used this with students yet but I want to use it with math evals. I have created a couple of math lessons with this that students can refer back to when they need support.

Evernote: just a great way to organize notes

Chalkboard: Good way for students to reason through math.

Math tutor and World Maths: Good drill and practice

LeaderPost: Kids use for current events. Good for distilling an article down to a paragraph or two.

Sticky notes: kids use stickys as they read for vocab and notes

Flipped

I’ve been back in the classroom for three weeks now, and I think it’s safe to say that “flipped” is a good word for it… It’s a different pace of life than being home with my kids. I don’t know why it surprises me… it’s the same thing every year when we come back from break. Roll out of bed, hit the ground running.

I have been excitedly planning for the use of technology in my class and, as can be expected, I hit some technical glitches right away. The iPads are much slower at syncing than I had anticipated because they all need an updated OS, which seems to reset them. It’s taken an hour each for the two iPads I have done so far. Part of my plan for today’s PD day is to catch up on that front.

The learning curve was steep in the beginning, but I think I have a good app figured out for screencasting. I have been using “Explain Everything” ($1.99). It has some really nice features that allow me to bring in images and video, to draw and record on the screen, and to pause and rewind when needed.

So far, I recorded one lesson with the students. In that lesson I recorded sections where the students were to “pause now and find a solution on paper”. I watched them do it in class time and walked around to watch them work. All of them seemed to be engaged in the lesson and took the time to pause the video at the appropriate spots to work.

After watching the video, students were given some text book questions to do and all students seemed to have had success.

The plan now is to record a lesson and have the students watch at home so that we can ask questions at the top of the lesson, hopefully posting questions to corkboard, and spend the in-class portion practicing. The teacher who covered for my mat leave did a nice job of setting the students up with a math routine and they know that it goes lesson, text book work, duotang work, evaluations.

I think even if I don’t get the at-home portion of the flipped classroom working this year that there is some value in having recorded lessons for students. This could be a good way for more advanced students to work ahead and for weaker students to go back and review.

The Value of Wonder

This site got me thinking about the value of wonder. I think children have a natural tendency to ask “why” (time spent with my four-year-old will attest to that observation!) The other day, my son asked, “Why do lightbulbs ‘pop’ when they burn out?” I had no idea. But we looked up the answer together here. He asked the question because he had observed something about the world around him. Using the tools available to him (a parent, the Internet), he found the answer. The thing I have noticed about my son is that he tends to learn something and I often think it doesn’t sink in, but then he’ll bring it up in conversation later and I know he has, in fact, learned something. I think that schools should be built more like this. Ask a question because you are genuinely curious about it, using various tools find the answer, choose a way to share what you have learned (blog, write an essay, take a picture, make a movie, talk). Kids learn because it’s fun! They should be able to share their learning in a way that gets them excited. I’m not talking about a free-for-all, do-whatever-you-like approach, but guided inquiry can be really powerful stuff.

The iPad Project

Our Best Buy dollars bought 9 iPads for our classroom and my first impression: totally cool!

Each morning, each table group is given one or two iPads that they use throughout the day. Beginning at 9:00, students enter the room and check the iCal for the day’s events, this way they get straight to work without wasting the first ten minutes of the day, which is so common otherwise.

At present, the students and I are learning to use Pages ($9.99) from the iWork suite. I, for one, love it! Students can download documents from my .mac account and can also store their work there and retrieve it from anywhere. I look forward to learning Keynote ($9.99) as well.

As before, Safari is in heavy use for research purposes and Google is a good first source of information. Students are working on their ability to evaluate resources as good sources of information or weak ones.

Our paper dictionaries have become completely outmoded as students make such heavy use of the digital documents. I have found that with the digital resources available students are much more likely to look words up than they are with paper. Even when spelling doesn’t “count” students like to have things written correctly.

I have also found technology to be invaluable for drill and practice activities such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I look forward to implementing them as a resource for our students who want to work on problem solving.

After one week, I still feel like I have so much to learn, but I am enjoying the challenge!

Learning Within These Four Walls

The question that I asked myself the other day is how I can better use all of the amazing technology available to me without using it just because it’s something cool.

Regina recently had a severe winter storm that kept half of my class home on the Monday following, five students out on Tuesday and busses are not expected to run Wednesday or Thursday. What a perfect opportunity to prove that the learning that takes place in our room doesn’t have to take place within the four walls that contain us!

The Website files have mostly been recovered and we seem to be back in business that way. Step one of project innovation is already under way: blog more. Students are able to check in from home and see what they’re missing. I was thrilled to see a student who had been away for a week had already copied down the new spelling words. In addition, students who had attended classes within our four walls on Monday ended up with extra time on their hands on Tues while waiting for some of those who were out to catch up, so they podcasted two of today’s articles, which some students have taken the time to comment on on the site!

What can I say? I’m already thrilled! This is a classroom in which students are often absent due to various commitments and travel plans. There is no reason why those students can’t stay in touch, participate in classroom discussions, and be our eyes and ears on the ground around the world.

I look forward to further exploring some ideas and seeing just how far we can take this. Of course, there are always some hurdles to jump due to technology failures (our two classroom computers have a broken Internet connection), but I think the project will be well worth the effort.