Friday, October 29, 2010

What if......

Sometimes at night I can't sleep. There is always something to think about. My little one in class that doesn't seem to be making the progress that he should by this time in the year. The parent letter that I need to write. The sub that I need to call in so I can attend that meeting. Maybe everyone's brain works overtime even when it's supposed to be resting, but it seems like a teacher never has a moment when their thoughts are not invaded with school related content. But sometimes when sleep does not come instead of worrying about this or that, I like to play the "what if..." game. Like, "what if I won the lottery, would I continue teaching?" Or "what if I had a whole class where EVERY parent really cared about their child's education?" Or sometimes even "what if I woke up to the "it's a snow day" call?"
The other night my "what if...." game had the following theme: "What if I had an iPad for every one of my 21 students?" It was an interesting mental conversation. It went something like this:
"WOW...this is exactly what I have dreamed of, how incredibly cool is this! Every child could have an individualized menu of learning activities they could access at a moment's notice....but wait, let's think about the do I keep them all charged? Where do I keep them all? How much is it going to cost to buy the apps that I might want to use for an ENTIRE class? What else will I use them for besides just finding educational applications? Will I trust and allow the students to take them home? What will they use them for at home? Will I be constantly feeling guilty that I am not using them to their utmost value? Will their use REALLY have an educational impact? How will I know if it does?".

Maybe my two iPads that I have in my classroom right now will do. Go slow to go fast. I have some things to think about. My educational instinct is telling me that the iPad could transform some aspects of instruction and learning, but I am glad to be going slow.....for now. When I get some answers to those late night musings, I will then begin to play the "How do I get more iPads for my class?" game.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And Then There Were Two

Ok...1 iPad in a class of 21 kindergartners just doesn't work out. I thought that after the novelty wore off, we would get into a normal routine of sharing and "taking our turn". No. So I did it. I cashed in my 20,000 points that I have been frugally guarding for the last few years. THIS year, in the Bonus Points Catalog the first thing that caught my eye was the big ticket technology item of an iPad! I couldn't believe my luck! I don't know how these points are monetized (is this the right word?) and how they decided on the value of the item compared to the points, but I felt like 20,000 points was a GREAT deal! It was a big decision though. I have been saving these points for YEARS!! But having had these couple of weeks to 'test drive' the use of the iPad in my class has convinced me that I really HAD to have another one in my classroom in order to find out if this technology has potential for positive benefits with my young learners.
Our school custodian brought it in when it arrived. At first I couldn't figure out what the package was, then I remembered OUR iPad! It was SO much fun opening the package together with my darlings looking on. It really looks so unassuming and simple as it comes out of the box, so unlike so many other technological acquisitions I have made. There are no tome-like instruction manuals or 1-800-call-India tech support or CD's to load or red, yellow and purple cables. We took it out, turned it on and we were locked and loaded. THIS is why I L-O-V-E the iPad in my Kindergarten class....simple, no mess learning!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sometimes even FANCY technology doesn't win out

I have a student that is HIGHLY motivated by technology. He has been the beneficiary of many technological advances in his short life. He was born deaf and at 18 months received a cochlear implant. Besides the cochlear implant he wears hearing aids and I use an FM system to increase understanding in his hearing. I am not sure if his behavior issues are a product of living in a world where things don't always seem clear or comprehensible, or if, because he has never gotten a clear understanding of what acceptable behavior, he doesn't know how to act accordingly, but either way, my dear friend struggles with our daily rigor and routines. The one thing he absolutely adores is the computer. The first time I met him was at Back to School night. As most of the other children were wandering around looking at the other amenities that a kindergarten room offers, I found him sitting in front of my not yet networked computer trying his hardest to get it to respond in some fashion. Every day he asks "Is it computer day?" When we got the iPad, the look on his face was like Christmas, Halloween, and the best birthday ever. An even bigger attraction, is that his FM system plugs directly into the iPad, so for those precious few minutes when it is his turn, hearing is not a deficit. Of course, the bad news iPad, 21 do the math. At the most, my sweet student has one day a week for his turn and then it is still be shared amongst at least three other students. This is one of the things we learn and practice in share. This is one of the things that B. can NOT do. So unfortunately, every day when it is iPad time, we go through a major meltdown when the realization hits that it is someone else's turn rather than B's.
In a desperate moment when all other redirection and distraction didn't seem to suffice, I had ONE ace up my sleeve. LIVE WORMS! We had just gotten our very fresh and very active and very fat worms for our science unit of study. And it worked. Sometimes even the fanciest of technology doesn't hold a candle to the fascinating allure of nature's finest; big, slimy, wriggly worms. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Apps-the bang for your buck

It has been fun looking for apps for my iPad. I am excited by the ones that I have found. I have been very strategic about what I download, and even more judicious about any that I have actually bought. My goals right now in my class are to integrate the use of the iPad into our normal routines and learning blocks. It is still a novelty and so of course each day there is a gathering around the daily schedule to see who are the lucky few that get their time at the "iPad Work Station". When I introduced the iPad to my students I emphasized that it wasn't a toy. I call it a "work" station, because I want them to understand the difference between a learning mode and an entertainment mode. In kindergarten the lines between play and work are blurred. I want our 'work' to be fun, but I want my kindergartners to understand that the learning process truly is work. At some point every learner reaches the threshold of having to struggle with a concept, and that work ethic that we try to create during the course of our day gives these young learners the mental stamina to power through to understanding.
Right now just about ANYTHING the kids are working on is a pure delight. It is the newness factor that every teacher adores when a new activity is introduced to a class. But the true value of any learning activity is whether the students will stay with the activity long enough to garner the desired learning, and then too, if their time doing the activity was the best use of instructional time.
I am not an advocate of 'busy work'. If the learning is not almost blindingly apparent, it is most likely NOT the best use of our instructional day. Kindergartners will do just about ANYTHING you ask them to do if you present it with enough pizazz.( that is why I love those little kids so much). But just as I try to make sure that every learning station( I call them stations rather than centers) has a strong learning objective, I want also, to be very selective about what I choose to have them do on the iPad.
For this week I didn't want to give them too many choices. Five year olds like to explore. They will push( or touch, or tap) just about anything that is put in front of them. I am sure they will discover how to navigate through these apps better than I can, but for now I want to just get them used to the basic feel of the iPad so that when we 'buckle down' and work towards some more specific learning goals, they will be ready to WORK not PLAY.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

DO Touch

In kindergarten, you find yourself saying "Don't touch that!" a lot. It seems that a 5 year old needs to discover everything through their sense of touch. As a matter of fact, it is not just an astute teacher's observation, it is scientifically researched that, from infancy until about age 8, much of a young child's learning really IS in their touch. When I introduced the iPad to my kindergartners yesterday, I was more reticent about their touching it than they were. It was so new and pretty, I wanted to keep it in its 'virgin' state. Over the weekend as I thought about my kids happily engaged in the LEARNING that could occur using the iPad, I was immediately drawn to the fact that the iPad is SO easy for a young child. There would be no booting up the computers and hoping that there would be no technical glitches in either the software or the hardware. There would be no getting them to the right website or finding the right disc for them to use. But in the moment I actually handed my new iPad over to those little hands, I was hoping they would handle it with care and 'TOUCH' it correctly. And of course they did. Although, it was VERY interesting to watch them. My little digital natives have most certainly spent many hours playing video games, and this demonstrated itself in their instinct to move their thumbs onto the screen to try to 'feel' their way to the buttons. It is a 'touch' that has to be learned, and some thought applying more pressure would give them better results. I know that very quickly they will get the 'feel' of it.

One thing I did in my classroom to ready it for the unveiling of my new technological ally was to find a place where the kids could be comfortable while working with it. I found an old desk in the hall and took the legs off so that it sits about 18 inches off the ground. The kids can sit on the floor or on a short stool. My thinking in the low to the ground desk was that if by chance the iPad slipped out of someones' hands, it wouldn't have too far to fall. (A good teacher always considers all possible scenarios ) It worked beautifully. The hardest part of this process thus far is explaining to the 19 other kids who are watching their lucky friend who is working with the iPad that EVERYONE will have a turn. (eventually). I can't wait for tomorrow!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ready, Set, Learn!

I have a new title, "Technology Innovator". My other titles include, Kindergarten teacher, Literacy Liaison, Leadership Team member, mom, friend, fiancee. I like the idea of being an "Innovator", it makes me feel like a pioneer, like I am embarking into the unknown....and I guess I am. Along with this title I was given the use of an iPad. How thrilling is that! I felt like I had Christmas, my birthday and Valentine's Day all in one! Although we ( the other Technology Innovators in my district) were not given parameters on the use of "our" iPads, I knew IMMEDIATELY that I wanted to put it right into the hands of my Kindergarten kids. I was given my iPad on Friday, today is Sunday evening and I am ready to rock and roll down my unknown trek starting tomorrow morning. I went into school today to set up my "iPad Work Station". I wanted to make sure I called it a "Work" station, because although I can already hear my kids all clamoring to 'play' on our new iPad, I want to distinguish that, although it might be a LOT of fun(and from what I have IS) this is the "work" of Kindergarten. Of course as any teacher knows, the first thing I did was make a schedule so that every student will get their day to use the iPad. During our Literacy Block, I will sit with each student to familiarize them with the basic navigation (and care) of our new classroom technology. From there, I am going to watch and observe how it goes. The one thing I know abou these little "digital natives" that I have in my classroom is that they are going to LOVE this tool, and I expect that the educational implications will be immediate.

I am going to log(blog) as often as is feasible to chronicle my classroom experiences and impact on learning. My brain has been on fire with the this age of negative press on the state of our public education arena, I feel SO strongly that THIS really is 21st Century education, and the great, open expanse of educational pioneering is on the forefront.