Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tech Tips Tuesday

Starting a New School Year

When you start a new school year there are always a number of things that need to be trained into students, be it ruling margins, hanging bags on hooks or logging onto computers. Today I thought I would reflect on some of the things I do to train students with computers early in the year so that we can get stuck into the good stuff quicker.

Password cards
The students in my class tend to end up with a number of passwords they need to remember or use throughout the year. I create simple password folders for my students by folding an A6 piece of card in half and writing their name on the front. Depending on the age of the students I may get them to write their own usernames and passwords inside. As students acquire more usernames/passwords these can be added to the folder.

Student Storage
Another simple thing that students need is somewhere to store their work. I create a class folder and student folders within that. We save everything to this folder through the year so they soon become familiar with the path required to find and save their work.

Prepare for the Inevitable
Expect difficulties and teach kids to expect them. Anyone who has ever used computers with a class knows that things go wrong, and to different degrees. At the beginning of the year I have students who get upset when their writing shifts down the page because they leaned on the enter key, and the flip-side of that is those who get disheartened because they don't know how to leave a space between words or move to the next line. It takes a bit of patience - both from me and from the students.
I give them my spiel about how it will take them a long time to get anything done at the beginning. They may spend the whole lesson just logging on. But... with practice they will get better and by the end of the year they will be able to make the most of 15 minutes to get something worthwhile done on the computer. I think the key here is practice.
While tempting, I would say DON'T log on and set up everything in advance. Logging on is part of the process and students need to learn and do it. (That said, when I'm trying to manage three or more different tasks in the classroom, feeling exhausted, and am about to crack, I will take the shortcut and login for them!) I also find that before long a few students will stand out as experts and share what they know with others, taking some of the burden from me.

Start with Simple Processes
Understand and appreciate that quality content isn't the initial goal - log on, access program, and save to the right place is a good start! Print and collect print-out is another skill. Once the basics are sorted, then delve into work quality: punctuation, spell check, formatting etc. We don't expect perfection the first time a toddler puts pencil to paper, nor should we expect that of a student when starting out with an unfamiliar computer.

This year I have been working on multitasking when we have the laptops in the classroom. As they take some time to load up, I get students to have other work to do while they wait.

Know the resources
If no one is using them, then... practice. Last year my room was next to the computer lab so we made use of it when the other classes didn't show up for their sessions. This year the laptop storeroom is close by, so we grab them instead. I get frustrated when teachers complain about the resources saying "it would be great to do all these cool things, but we just don't have enough resources" or "our resources never work". That said, it is because of these attitudes that my students get so much extra time!

The start of the year is always hard work, but valuable. Once you establish the basics, you open the door to many more learning opportunities to experience and enjoy through the year. What additional tips do you find useful when getting students started with computers at the beginning of the school year?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Friday Fun

This week felt very long and the kids (and I) were exhausted by the end of it. Here are just some of the things we did...

A big part of our week was made up of dance lessons with Footsteps Dance Company culminating in a family picnic on Thursday night when all classes performed. It's a tradition at my school and has proven a fun way to start the year and build a sense of community.

Adjective Mobiles
This week our literacy lessons had a focus on noun phrases:
Understand that nouns represent people, places and things...and that noun groups/phrases can be expanded using articles and adjectives. ACELA1468.
We brainstormed a large list of adjectives and then students wrote these on coloured card. The cards were joined with strips of paper that students had folded zig-zag. these were then hung above students desks as a reference to colour their writing.

Overnight Take Home Book
The concept of noun phrases was introduced to students. We then used this to help us with writing the first two "Who Am I?" clues for our latest overnight take home book. Students were given the prompts:
I am... a cheerful lady.
I have... long, straight, blonde hair.
I like... Lego, riding my bike and sometimes running.
I am good at... doing things on the computer.
Under a flap they completed I am... and drew a picture of themselves.
As this book has flaps we bound it and sent it home rather than using a plastic sleeve folder.

Window by Jeannie Baker
We 'read' this book, looking closely at the details in the pictures and considering how the view through the window changed from one page to the next. We led students to think through the similarities and differences between this book and Uno's Garden by Graeme Base. Both books tell the story of the impact of humans on their environment, and illustrate a beautiful setting, turned bad and then a return to beauty.
Later in the afternoon we returned to the book and provided students with a photocopy of one of the pages from the text. They worked in cooperative pairs to label items from the picture with noun phrases eg. 'Woolly jumper' and then colored the page to be displayed.
This lesson reinforced the idea that images add to the meaning of the text (ACELA1469) and can be used to add detail to characterization, setting and storyline. It also provided an opportunity for students to discuss different texts on a similar topic, identifying similarities and differences between the texts (ACELY1665)

Letter Buddies
This term our writing focus is on letter writing. We began the year with a 'letter to the teacher' and this week started writing to peers. Back in high school, my bestie and I had a letter writing book, and despite the fact that we spent most of the day together and called each other at night, we still felt the need to write letters to each other! Flowing on from this experience, I thought that we could replicate this idea whereby students buddy up with a student from the other class and write letters to each other in a letter writing book. Students loved this idea and enthusiastically wrote to one another, sharing information about themselves and asking questions of the other.

Never Give Up Attitude
One of our values lessons this week was focused on having a never give up attitude. We read the story of Floppy Cat and discussed some of the things that we find challenging. We then set some goals and made some plans for how to achieve these goals. Prue, the teacher I am teaming with this year, designed a fishbone diagram worksheet for students to record their ideas. I am storing these goals in a wall display for students to revisit during the year. In this display the goals are accessible, but still private.

So all said, it was a great week but I'm glad to have the weekend now to recharge the batteries.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tech Tips Tuesday

iDoceo - My New Best Friend!

So I've mentioned iDoceo a couple of times now, but really wanted to sink my teeth into it before I started blabbing about how wonderful it is... and that has been a hard task! At least four others at work have already taken to it on my recommendation and have started playing as well. We now need to find some time to share our ideas and tips!

Late last year I wrote about how I was looking for one iPad app to record work samples, grades, and to communicate with parents. There were a lot of apps which focused predominately on attendance, and classroom behaviors, or which focused on numerical results and averages. I was feeling disappointed and on the verge of giving up when I found iDoceo.

What I like:

It's SO easy to use! The designers provide support on their website and include a sample class with the app. If you set aside a night to play with it and then jump straight into using it to record data, you learn the ins and outs very quickly. Most things work by touch and hold or double tap - if you're not sure, try one of these! It's very easy to add images, video and audio - anywhere you see the paper clip icon.

It makes parent communication simple and effective. If you want to send an email, just look for the envelope icon. I set up email to send from my work email. In order to do this, I needed to make my work email my default account for my iPad (in the iPad settings). This isn't ideal when using other apps, but in my mind is still better than using personal email to contact parents. Before you can begin emailing you also need to include email details in the student data (found by double tapping a student's name). You can choose to email content to students, parents or all parents. You can email individual results or a whole column. I am going to have a fiddle to see if I can send it to another teacher in the case of differentiated Maths groups when I will be teaching and monitoring students from other home classes. If I'm unable to add an extra email option I will hijack the student email slot as we don't use student email anyway.

You can collect a range of data and use text, icons, numbers and annotations. As an example, the other day during a handwriting lesson I used a tick to indicate correct pencil grip, a cross to indicate incorrect pencil grip, the letter l for left handed or r for right handed. I included an annotation containing a photo of the writing sample and brief notes on my analysis of the letter formation.
Having information such as this located all in one place will make it less time consuming when it comes to report writing as the hard work will have already been done. In theory there should be fewer surprises for parents as they will have seen work samples along the way. It would even make sense for student outcomes to improve as a result of greater awareness and focussed efforts by caregivers both at home and at school.

Other tools I use alongside this:

Dropbox - for backing up. This worked a charm for me and was something I was very worried about when I upgraded my iPad. Unfortunately, only 2GB storage comes free but you can earn more with referrals, so if you're thinking of signing up, please use this link and we will both get a bonus 500MB.

Blurr - for blurring other students' faces in photos before sending to parents.

Sketch Pad Express for iPad- for writing on/editing work samples to highlight aspects without writing on the original (useful for pointing something out to parents).

If you are looking for a way to streamline your record keeping and provide feedback to students and their parents, this is the app for you. I look forward to exploring it further as the year progresses to determine how it fits with the variety of challenges facing teachers as they pass through the plan, teach, assess, report cycle.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Friday Fun

Hooray for week 2!

I had a not so happy start to the week, with particularly bad Monday blues (but on Tuesday as I don't work on Monday)! I had to keep checking the mirror to make sure that I didn't have a "MESS WITH ME" sticker on my forehead! I'm very happy to say that things picked up in the days that followed.

We also had our parent information night which always throws me out of my comfort zone, but also allows me to make initial contact with parents. It went really well and opened the door to start sending email as a communication tool. Since then I've done a lot of emailing which has been well received.

Cinquain poems
For Valentine's Day students wrote poems about someone special to them. We used the structure for a cinquain poem. We introduced the structure, gave some of examples and then walked through writing the poem line by line. We edited the poems and then students wrote and decorated a good copy for their someone special.

Crazy Creatures
We led a brainstorm of animals with students contributing ideas. Students then combined elements from three of these animals to create and draw a new animal - similar to those created by Graeme Base in Uno's Garden. Students are now in the process of writing a cinquain poem about their crazy creature.

Buddy Maths
For one of our lessons this week, students paired up with a buddy to complete a worksheet from the Mathletics resources. It worked brilliantly as a cooperation challenge, especially once students reached the second page.
On the first page, students filled in missing 2-digit numbers in forward and backward number sequences. They then used clues to determine a mystery number. We had done something similar early in the week when students chose a mystery number and then asked each other yes/no questions to work out the answer. We also did some work around covering up a mystery number on a hundred grid.
On the second page students used a hundred grid (on the interactive white board) to solve complex mystery number problems. Few students were able to find the answers, but it was great to see the way they worked together, and to hear their discussion. At the end of the session we went through the problems together so students could see how the answers could be found.

Quick games
We had a couple of times through the week when the kids had worked really hard and we were all exhausted but still had about 20 minutes until the next scheduled break. On these occasions we grabbed our hats and ducked outside for a game. We played Jam Drops, Toilet Flush Tips, and Golden Child. These worked well in the allotted time.

Selby's Selection by Duncan Ball
Having been a bit of a fan of Selby the only talking dog in Australia (maybe even the world), I decided to introduce students to his antics. Unfortunately, the corny humour in this particular book seems to be a little beyond my students and I find myself struggling through the embarrassing silence after I deliver each pun! We now discuss the humour at the end of each chapter and I point out the play on words. Is humour something that comes with age? Or that is taught? Any suggestions for another more suitable novel for Year 2 students?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Don't give up...

When things look bad, they could always be worse!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tech Tips Tuesday

Here's a simple tip from my experience: you need more than 16GB on an iPad! Even if you think you'll hardly use it, you'll be surprised. I had my 16GB iPad for less than a year before I'd filled it. Mine filled up with toddler apps and videos very quickly, and now that I want to use it for some of my own things I'm struggling with the capacity. I didn't even have any music on it. I'm upgrading to my husband's 64GB and he is upgrading to 128GB on a new iPad. I hope not to run out of space again!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Uno's Garden #1

One of the teachers in my teaching team arrived this year with a great idea for a unit theme. Each year we select a theme for the unit (grade) and each class chooses a relevant class name. This year we are Uno's Garden based on the book by Graeme Base. Our class names are Magnificent Moopaloops, Talented (instead of Timid) Tumbletops, Super Spectacular (instead of Sneaky) Snagglebites and Great Galloping (instead of grazing) Gondolopes.

On our first read through of the book, we did not show students the pictures. I'm sure this is some kind of sin when it comes to the amazing work of Graeme Base, but our motives were pure!
In line with the Australian curriculum we want our students to: identify visual representations of characters' actions, reactions, speech and thought processes in narratives, and consider how these images add to or contradict or multiply the meaning of the accompanying words (ACELA1469) We thought a good way to get students to start thinking about this would be to take away those images and see what the students would create in their minds. Our students then drew what they imagined the class' mascot to look like. They wrote a description of the character below the picture using this model:
A Talented Tumbletop is ... small, soft, and furry.
It has... big eyes, a tiny nose and a long tail.
It (does)... swings in the tops of trees and tumbles back down to the ground.
The students' work was marked, collated in a plastic sleeve folder and then used for an overnight take home book. Students take turns to take the book home, share it with their family and return it the next day. Parents leave a comment for the class in the back of the book.

Image: Uno's Garden book by Graeme Base. You can buy the book here.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Enjoying the Garden

Just thought I'd share a couple of ideas I've tried to make the garden fun for my little guy.

Dinosaur Garden
And a dinosaur!
At the preschool we have a fairy garden for our students to play in. Bouncing on from this idea I decided to make a dinosaur garden at our house. It is a herb and veggie garden in a planter box. My little guy chose which seeds to plant and where to plant them. We then watered them and have been watching them grow. A week ago the dinosaurs moved in. I imagined that my little guy would move the dinosaurs around and make roaring noises, but that hasn't happened yet. He does, however, take care of the garden - watering it regularly and noticing the changes.

Veggie patch
We also have a larger veggie patch where we have enjoyed growing and harvesting snow peas, beans, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, corn (our favorite), silver beet, tomatoes, basil, tarragon, garlic, onion, lettuce, and broccoli.

We have two strawberry patches, some raspberries and three blueberry bushes. My little guy enjoys finding, picking and devouring the fruits.

My little guy found sunflower seeds at the shops and wanted to get them for our garden. As they were only $1 I figured we could give it a go. It was exciting to watch the flower head grow and then close in. When the birds started eating the seeds we cut the head off and looked at the seeds together before husking and eating them.

We've also collected and scattered seeds from other ants including coriander, parsley and marigolds.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Fun

It's the end of Week 1, Term 1 and I am exhausted! The first week takes a lot of energy and requires a lot of extra bits and pieces to get things underway. Time is spent organising the classroom, sorting and labelling stationery, collecting assessment and talking with teachers from the previous year. We've also been trying to piece together information for our parent night, structuring our timetable and planning our programs. Given that my evenings are usually very family oriented, I have been skipping my lunch break to try to fit everything in, and hoping that somehow I'll be able to get ahead of the ball sometime soon! On a personal learning level, I have been familiarising myself with the iDoceo app for iPad and supporting other teachers as they get started with it too.

But, let's face it. The first week back is about the kids - getting to know them, meeting their parents, enthusing them about the year ahead, and stomping out the unwanted behaviours early. So... here's some of the fun stuff the kids got up to this week.

Flap Book
Students made flap books containing their teacher's name, class, something they enjoyed from the first day, something they are looking forward to and some of their friends. We planned to take these home on the first day, however they needed a little more time so took them on the second day instead. These were designed to be a prompt for students and their parents to use to discuss the first day.

Students created a portrait of themselves depicting how they see themselves as adults. They also wrote a text to go with the image. These will be displayed in our unit on completion.

My school has developed a values curriculum around an acronym for FRIENDS. This is taught at the beginning of each year and referred to continually. This week students were engaged in a quiz related to the values and completed a worksheet which is now displayed in the classroom.

House Meetings
Our swimming carnival is just around the corner, so today students met in house groups to select Year 6 students as their House Captains. They then practiced their war cries.

Of course there have been many other activities through the week, but some of those will form other posts I plan to write this weekend! Bring on week 2!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lost and Found

When we returned from our overseas trip in the USA, we were disappointed to discover that somewhere we had misplaced our old camera, which we had given to our son as a learning camera. While disappointed, we shrugged it off as just one of those losses. The little guy, on the other hand, was not so willing to let it go and often talked of how he missed his camera. So, I decided to put in a little more effort toward finding it. And, alas, we found out that we had left it at The Donatello Hotel in San Francisco. Our stay there had been fantastic and the staff were very helpful with tracking down the camera and sending it back to us. It arrived this week and we were very excited to see the camera again and to get a glimpse of the trip through the eyes of my little guy. 

There were many photos like this:

And this funny one, which says to me: "What is that two-year-old doing with a camera?" (We don't know who this lady is, but she was one of the many photographing Lombard Street!)

And this one, my favourite, which we have unofficially named Reflections of Lombard Street

Now the little guy has got his camera back, he has moved on to learning about the zoom function and use of the flash. Yesterday he also took it further and learned about how the camera connects to the laptop to put the photos on our server! As one who loves to take photos, it's nice to know that he can get back to his experimenting without impinging on my own camera time!

It's fun to see what he captures, often by chance, in that moment when the shutter opens. One might wonder whether more guidance will help or hinder his ability to capture creative images. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tech Tips Tuesday

iPad for Preschoolers #5 Bookshelf

Today I thought I would share some book apps that are available and beneficial. I must admit that these apps have not had much use on my iPad, as I'm still quite committed to the old-fashioned, ink-on-pages variety. While I agree that it is nice to have a book with moving pictures and flashing words, my son also prefers to cuddle up on the couch and read one of his favourite, slightly torn and buckled books. While he will sit still for multiple readings of one such book, I struggle to keep him from pinching the page of the electronic version! And so, I think to myself, "Why am I fighting this?" and put the iPad away for another time, draw him up onto my lap and read with my own voice and expression - maybe this is what it is really about after all!

That said, there are some great book apps, that provide for interaction with the text and images.

Sesame Street Books - I love some of these, particularly The Monster at the End of this Book which was a favourite of both my husband and I when we were growing up. The original version of this book draws the reader in and Grover asks (or begs) the reader not to turn the pages as they draw us closer to the monster at the end of the book. The electronic version does not disappoint, and equally enjoyable is Another Monster at the End of this Book.

Dr Seuss Books - I was amazed to see how many Dr Seuss Books have now been made electronic and are available through the app store. I remember learning to read with Dr Seuss and his zany, rhyming tales. As in the original version, these texts are fairly lengthy - too lengthy for my two-year old at this stage. The apps allow you to read the story, hear it read, and touch words to hear them again. I bought a selection of these stories when they were on sale recently.

Graeme Base - The work of Graeme Base is a sight to behold. His detailed illustrations attract and captivate the attention of both children and adults. The text is also amazing, reminding us of how beautiful the English language can when words are carefully selected. Through his work we can teach children about using adjectives, adverbs and interesting verbs to paint with words. In Animalia, Base makes good use of alliteration to explore each letter of the alphabet. The Waterhole is a counting book with so much more. Base illustrates different regions of the world and the issue of biodiversity and shared resources. The apps encourage the reader to take a closer look at the details within the illustrations and to find the hidden items.

Bedtime Stories - Here are two apps I have found that work well at bedtime. Goodnight Safari is a read-along story that invites children to interact with the safari animals. It also includes some learning activities beneficial to preschoolers. Nighty Night has been a favourite of ours for bedtime. Children turn out the lights in the farmhouse and put all the animals to bed before going off to bed themselves. It is in the 'book' category on iTunes, but doesn't include written text, and children choose the order in which they interact with the farm animals.

If you'd like to read more on selecting appropriate book apps, you should read this article: Let the Reader Beware:| Evaluating Digital Books.

Other posts that might interest you:
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #1 Mathematics Concepts
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #2 Alphabet Apps
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #3 Let's Pretend
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #4 Creative Play