Friday, July 18, 2014

Looking for Technology Ideas for Little Ones?

I am kind of obsessed with finding the best and easiest sites and apps for my class.    Next year I will be embarking on a new adventure - our new STEM school!   I am so stinking excited sometimes I don't know what do! We will have more technology than I know what to do with and I have been trying to put together ideas on how to use it. My friend Sara and I presented at our district tech conference this week and we put together this little list of our favorites. Check out the link below to access it.  What do you use and love?

https://www.smore.com/kt0xj-technology-in-the-primary-grades
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Less Painful Newsletter

I am the designated newsletter writer on our team and I have to admit,  I don't enjoy it at all.   I have been using PowerPoint to create it and then make copies for some parents and email others.   It is boring and annoying,  but has some value.   Parents have a digital copy of what we are doing and have a copy of spelling words etc.   We are so close to the end, I am sticking with the plan for the rest of this year but next year I am excited to have found a new way - Smore.

Smore.com is a website that has a completely easy-to-use formatted newsletter to send out without all the work of making your own.   It has places set up for pictures,   lots of different themes and fonts to use and is super easy to access.   You can link anything inside of your newsletters, including homework,  websites,  whatever.   But the best thing about it (other than being FREE) is that it takes seconds to use and can be accessed on any device (phone, computer, iPad etc).  




You can add as many pictures as you want - which is really cool if you want to put in pix of kids work,  or something you are doing.   It is web based so as long as parents have the link they can go back to it whenever they want.   I think I am in love!   I think this would be an awesome site for kids to use for a class newspaper as well! 

I know this year is not over yet,   but my mind is already next....

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Super Fun App!

Summer is so close.  My kids are so ready.   I am so ready.   So things are getting a little wonky.   The volume is UP!   Attention spans are tanking.  So it is time to pull out some seriously engaging stuff to keep us floating to the finish line.

Enter - ChatterPix.   Do you know this app?   It is seriously the easiest app to use EVER.   It's free.   You can download it on any Apple device.  It's fun and motivating in a serious way.  


You kids can take a picture of ANYONE (or anyTHING for the matter) and create a talking biography or report.   They literally just have to save the picture to the camera roll,  upload it to the app,  use their finger to draw a little dotted line across the mouth of the picture (or where a mouth could be), and press the microphone icon and speak.   My kiddos seriously went crazy for it.   They wrote biographies about a famous person and then read it into the app.   Even my kids who hate writing or struggle,  had a very easy and fun time with this. 

One of my kids made a ChatterPix video of our town mayor.  I sent it to him and he loved it so much that he put it on his website.  She was so thrilled!   

Give it a try if your things are getting a little dicey in your room as well.   You can also do an app smash up with ChatterPix and Aurasma.   You can upload the video you create into Aurasma and then link it to a photo or drawing of the person and create a talking biography gallery!   The kids can use iPads or other devices to walk around and focus the app on the photo or drawing and see it come to life! So fun!


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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mind Blown!

Today I seriously had my mind blown.   I went to a digital fluency conference and it was truly crazy.    I am kind of tech-y.   I got to tech conferences a lot.   I am willing to try new things and get excited about really geeky stuff.... but today I had my mind BLOWN.   I spent almost all of my day learning about augmented reality and seriously I almost can't wait til morning to try this out with my kids.   My own kids have been playing with it all night.

I guess this stuff has been around for a long time... but I didn't know about it.   I actually did hear about it a few weeks ago but didn't have the time to really work with it like I did today.   It is freaky cool!  And SUPER easy...!  What what?  Oh and it's all free...

One app is called AR Flashcards.  Totally free app.   You can download it on any platform.   You simply download the viewer (takes just a few seconds), go to their website - arflashcards.com, print out some flashcards and you are ready.   You hold the viewer up to the flashcards and the images POP off the the page is 3D awesomeness.   They move around and make noises.  Seriously!





Now,  I am not even going to venture a guess as to how they do this, but holy moly,  I am glad they did.   This particular app is a little young for my second graders,  but you can bet I ran the cards off my own little ones! 

The next app we used was called colAR.   Free again.   It is a coloring app.   You again,  visit the website and download and print their coloring pages.   Once colored, you view your creation through the app and they JUMP off the page and come to life.  Like the birds eat worms and the fish blow bubbles.   It literally takes seconds to download, and your kids think you are a magician!

Watch this video!

It turns out that there a LOTS of these apps.   They make Valentines cards and games and all kinds of things.  And while I thought these were AH-mazing... they are maybe more fun than educational.   So I was beyond excited to see the last app in action.

It is called Aurasma and I have actually heard things about it and have had the app downloaded for a while.  But,  I haven't really used it.  Today our presenters gave us time to actually use it and create an Aura of our own and I CAN NOT stop thinking of how many ways it can be used.   The FREE app layers a flashcard, or image with a video or another image,  so when you hold the app over your image - the video or second image comes up.   For example,   if you hold the app over a student's self portrait in an art display,  their photo will show up so you know who made it.   Or if you hold the app over a flashcard the answer may come up.   You can make vocabulary cards for a unit and have a video clip come up of what the word means.   You can download videos or create your own.   You can even make a video about how to do a problem.  Hold the app over an image of a math problem and have a video explanation come up.  I am thinking truly interactive word walls,  self check stations,  vocabulary centers....just think of how freaking amazing this could be for ELL's - image of the word dolphin, video of a dolphin swimming with the word pronounced.   



We made Auras in a few minutes and I imagine with time it will only take seconds once you have picked your images.   The only thing you really need to know is that you have to upload your overlay first - meaning whatever you want to show when you click on the image is where you start.   You upload a video or image and then select it in the app.   As soon as you do that it will prompt you to hold the app over the image you want to associate with that image or video and that is IT!   I can't wait to show my kids.   I can't see the things they CREATE!   Can you imagine this in book reports or on a report board - having a new video or image to explain every image there? Who even knows what they will come up with? 

I can't wait to try it out with my kids tomorrow!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

At least they're not lice...

I meant to post some of these last week.   We started our lifecycles unit with insects. My kid are seriously obsessed.   We have bugs everywhere in little jars and houses.   I am spending the majority of this week in PBL training,  so I am a little scared to see what is sharing our space when I return on Thursday.   As long as we don't have lice,   I guess I will be okay with it.  

I bought some ladybug larva. Of all the bugs I know, I like them best. They don't bite or sting,  and aren't especially creepy.   They don't stink or spray anything...major pluses in my book. I love how different they look as larva than adults. They are a great example of a complex lifecycle if your kids have already done the butterfly thing,  as mine have.  





We have had a quite a few days of no specials (no planning -gahhhr!),  so we planned two straight days of ladybug fun!   We worked with our bilingual pals and completed almost everything in my Ladybug Love packet. We were able to take a bunch of grades (science, ELA and math) for the end of the year. Serious bonus!
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Ladybug-Love-Science-Math-and-ELA-Activities-682166






One part of the unit is researching their own insect.   They had so much fun.   They were so engaged and just kept going with it.   In fact,  on Friday I gave them some "fun Friday" time. I was fried,  so they could have pretty much taken advantage of the situation... I have Legos and computers and games with very loose education value... and they seriously made insects and insect projects.   EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.   Little weirdos!   I love them!






We all tried on my bee vision glasses.

And in an incredible stroke of ....luck?  I found this big bit of nastiness in my front yard.   The entire disgusting  interesting thing is here - from the eye scales to the tail... so we had a non insect example of molting to go along with the "ladybug poop" which is really our larva molts!   Springtime fun!



One of my friends posted that you can tell if the snake it venomous by looking at the tail.   Can you tell if this one is?
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Saturday, April 26, 2014

This seems to be very controversial and unpopular in my neck of the woods, what do you think?



This is not my school district,  but near where I live and teach.  This policy seems to be getting a lot of press and the opinions are flying.   It seems that most people in my area and the people running for our school board are very against this.   I don't think I am.

It seems the biggest argument that people are giving is that this is not "real life".   That kids will fail out of college and lose their jobs if they move into the the world with this work ethic.    I get that.   You have to get things done in the "real world".   There are definitely high expectations at the university level. I don't want my kids to fail out or be slackers any more than the next guy, in fact,  as a teacher, I probably give this more thought than most.   But,   I think by and large,  I am in favor of this policy.   Here's why.

I believe that school is not supposed to be a model of "real life" with shorter people.   I believe it is more like an apprentice program.   The place to LEARN the things that will one day help kids when they are adults.   I believe that is a truly complex mission.   It is not all about instant achievement. We scaffold our teaching, pulling away supports as new skills are learned.   It is about gaining skills throughout the process,   some content skills,  some work habits, some social skills.   But I don't necessarily believe that those occur for every person at the same time.   

From my reading,  I understand that there are two main ideas in this proposal:

NOT AUTOMATICALLY FAILING LATE WORK:

I believe that academic area grades should reflect true content learning.   They should not be a reward or punishment or "alternative paycheck".  As an educator it is my RESPONSIBILITY to make sure that my students are mastering the CONTENT and SKILLS prescribed by the state (and common sense).  It is essential that parents and students know how well they are achieving those skills.   If I simply give a grade based on the time something is turned in,  rather than mastery of skills,  then the grade is not a measure of of true knowledge,  but rather a measure of time management.  

Now,  I also believe that time management is extraordinarily important.   I believe that it is something that we have a responsibility to teach with the same amount of passion we teach our content area,   but they are not one and same.  Some people will get this at the same time,  but others won't.   One of the arguments I am reading over and over is that if a report is turned in late at a job,   then the employee with lose said job.    This may be true.   In my experience,   it has not been.   I have had reasons over the years that I have turned in a report late.   For example,  this year my sweet father in law became very ill and passed away.   I had several reports that I turned in late or forgot about during this time period.  I was emotionally hurting and it affected my work negatively.   I was also physically absent from my job for a time.   But in my "real world",  I have a compassionate employer who understands this kind of thing and gave me some time to get things done.   She did not excuse the work or give me a pass,  but accepted my late reports with a hug and some understanding.   I guess she could have just said,  YOU FAIL and fired me,  but I have never experienced that kind of "real world" that people seem to be talking about on line.   I may just be very blessed,  but I tend to believe that the "real world" does occasionally make exceptions for late work and mistakes. 

Just as we do,  our students have reasons for turning in late work. We may or may not see them as valid,  but they are valid to them. They are doing the difficult work of growing up.   Some are dealing with incredibly difficult life circumstances,   some are over committed with other responsibilities,  some have no example of what that time management looks like because their parents are unemployed or have substance abuse problems or are just plain absent.   Some kids are just naturally slower than others or less able to manage their time.  Some don't comprehend the content in the assignment and need help that may or may not be available at home. They need help to develop these skills very intentionally.  What do we do FOR students if we just give them a zero and let it go?    Are we TEACHING them anything other than life is hard?   So many of our students have grown to accept and expect failure.   They don't have an expectation of success (much less college and a professional career),  they just cease to care.

So what if we TEACH these skills instead?   What if we expect that it is done NO MATTER WHAT?  Even if they can't get it there on Tuesday, we still believe that mastery is achievable and important and we push that student, and love that student, and assist that student until it happens?    Is that really going to make them a loser? Or it is going to build up their self confidence and hold them accountable for the work? I think we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.  What is our goal?  What should our goal be?  If they never do the work and simply fail, what has been accomplished?   What have they been taught?  


LETTING THEM TEST UNTIL THEY PASS:

I believe that much of the debate around this stems from our core beliefs about why students fail.   If you believe that students fail because they are lazy and don't try, and should be punished,   then it makes sense that we would just give them the fail and move on.   But if we believe that all people learn differently and some more quickly or slowly than others,   then this new grading policy makes sense.   

If a student is struggling with algebra (I am tapping into my real life experience here),  then it is entirely possible that they are not even completely able to understand what they do not know yet.  They can take a test and be surprised at how poorly they do.  I have been there (I remember thinking I had studied well for a test and getting the test and thinking I was an idiot).  Should we then just record the failing grade (as punishment that the student didn't learn it), or should we let the student keep trying until they get it?  Which method is more likely to have all of our students reach mastery?

From what I understand,  it will be a choice in Denton ISD.  If a student wants to do better,  they are given the chance to keep working until they achieve their goals.   People against this seem to cite that it is similar to giving students rewards for losing, a trophy for participation.   I don't see this at all (and rewarding without reason is a practice I am very against).   If the student accepts the failing grade, then that is what is recorded,   but they use perseverance and keep plugging away at the skills tested,  then they will receive a grade based on that.    To me,  taking the test over and over again until they master it,  seems to be a far more desirable outcome than a straight up failure.  If they fail a college course, they can pay to retake it right?   I would much rather them do that then just quit.   Otherwise,  we have "punished them" for not getting the information in our time frame,  and while I guess that "teaches them" something... is it what we want to teach?   


Now this is a new philosophy of grading students, and it is entirely possible it will not work out.   But right now,   we are failing a LOT of kids.   Not all of our kids are college bound,  nor should be expect them to be.  Many of them will not go into the professional world. Some will choose another path.  In my opinion, that is not a tragedy. We need people who are passionate about in all walks of life.  In the end,  that is not our choice.   But I believe, as educators,  we need to give them every opportunity to be successful,  whatever that looks like.   I applaud this district for shifting paradigms and taking a chance.    I, for one, will be watching and cheering them on!

What do you think???  I think this conversation is important,  please join in!  




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Monday, April 14, 2014

Sometimes you just know....

Sometimes you just spiral through topics and sometimes you KNOW when it is time to review.   It became glaringly obvious that our kids needed another trip through r-controlled vowels when this soft shirt became rather something quite different....

SaRgent R brought his bossy self around and helped us make some words.   A dollar store army hat and vest turned our boring lesson into some fun!






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