Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In Support of Common Core Standards

A few days ago, my students and I had a golden moment during math. A child asked about a question on the homework page, and before I could even read it myself, several hands shot up--not to shout out the correct answer as would have been the case as recently as last year, but to offer explanations for how to get to the answer. Pride swelled within me as the class and I listened to five different ways of solving the same problem. I just stopped and said, "I'm so proud of you all. Think of how far we've come this year...We all struggled with our new math in the beginning, including me, but now look at you! A few months ago, would you have thought about more than one way to solve a problem?" I could see it in their faces. One by one, they began to grasp the vast distance they'd spanned over just a few short months, and little smiles began to appear. Looks of pride and faces that shone with a sense of accomplishment glowed all around the room.

That golden moment marked a clear milestone for us. We had all started with somewhat of a traditional mindset when it came to learning mathematics. Students and teacher alike were accustomed to a directed teaching approach: I showed how to solve the problems and students did what I showed them. The end. There was no real understanding of number sense, and mathematics was mainly a set of rules or steps to be followed. In my heart of hearts I knew there was more to it, and there had to be a better way, but I wasn't equipped with the knowledge or tools to be a better math teacher.

Enter the Common Core, or as we call them in Alabama, the College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS). With the new standards came a new math program written around our standards. I'll be honest. Even though I firmly stood behind our new standards and had hope for what the implementation would look like, at first it was very difficult. My kiddos and I were used to our school game. CCRS didn't  play by our rules. No longer was it acceptable to just learn a few steps. No longer was math simply about numbers without meaning. CCRS forced us to articulate our thinking and actually write it down! CCRS forced us to apply our learning in rigorous ways that we had never even considered before. Reasoning, explaining, illustrating, distinguishing, and making connections were now just as important as actually solving the math problems.

We are less than 3/4 of the way through the school year now, but it is clear that the implementation of the CCRS in math has transformed the thinking and learning in my classroom. I see evidence of students using various strategies, choosing appropriate ones for particular tasks. Conceptual knowledge and number sense are growing in my students, and they're becoming well-rounding mathematicians and really great thinkers. They're excited and eager, and the thinking strategies they're using are overlapping into other areas of the curriculum.

Finally, I feel like I'm doing what's right for students when it comes to teaching math. Finally, my students are learning real world problem solving techniques that they'll carry into the work force one day. Finally, I'm teaching critical thinking skills in a way that works. The CCRS are not evil, or an assessment, or some secret set of standards (you can find AL's here). They are the tools that ensure Alabama students will receive the education they need to compete with students from other states and globally.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pic Collage

This is a great little FREE photo collage app that I found last night and tested with the kiddos today during science. What can you do with a photo collage app, you ask? We made collages of opaque, transparent, and translucent objects today. It was so much fun to see the kids learning the "tricks" of the app and showing one another, not to mention seeing them figure out which items to take pictures of. Here are a few examples of their work:

This was such a fun learning activity, and the app is really simple to use. When students open it, this screen appears:

The stickers, text, and background options were pretty popular with my kiddos. Items on the page can be turned and sized using the standard pinching gestures. Once finished, students emailed their collages to our class email account. I can't wait to use this again soon! Some ideas I have are to make collages of:
  • real life examples of planes (we're starting geometry soon)
  • acute, obtuse, and right angles around our school
  • items that are insulators
  • items that are conductors
  • equivalent forms of money ($1.00 shown in several different ways)
Have you ever used this app or one like it in your class? Please comment and share an idea!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Must-Have Kindle Apps for the Classroom

The addition of Kindle Fires to my classroom has totally transformed our learning! We still have a lot to learn about them, but here are some of my favorite apps and how we're using them.

Kids Doodle
Kids Doodle is a free app that records what you draw and plays it back to you as a movie. We started using this one today in place of our individual white boards and markers. During many lessons (especially math), I'll have students draw or write quick answers on white boards and then show me what they've written. This app allows students to do this in a fun, colorful way. Very motivating!
AB Math
AB Math is a great app for practicing math facts. There are other games on it as well, but I really like that the students can chose which set(s) of facts they practice. I love this because now my students' fact practice can be easily differentiated. I got it for free as one of the Kindle daily deals, but it is well worth the $0.99 price.
ES File Explorer
ES File Explorer is another free app that is really more for my use right now, but I have it on all my Kindles. It's a must have if you plan to side load apps from the Android market.Here's a great tutorial for side loading.  Installing this app allowed me to install the dolphin browser and flash player on my devices. 
Dolphin Browser
We use the Dolphin browser, rather than Silk, for all of our web browsing because it allows us to use sites that rely on flash player such as Spelling City, Fun Brain, Accelerated Reader, etc...I also love that this browser makes bookmarking easy, saves passwords, and has add-ons, like ScreenCut (which allows you to take pictures of websites) and Evernote WebClipper (which lets you save sites into Evernote. Here is my favorite tutorial for setting up flash player and dolphin on your Kindle Fire HD. 

This multi-platform app is part of the Evernote family and works seamlessly with Evernote. It allows you to take pictures and annotate on them. You can also start with a blank page and type, write, highlight, etc...We're using Skitch to make classroom charts and "write" answers for our grammar exercises. We've also used it during small group instruction for "writing." Basically, anything that kids can write on paper, they can do on Skitch. Here's a sample of a chart we started:
Evernote is a note taking app that allows you to capture images, audio, and websites into your document. You can even share your notes via email or Edmodo. We use this app in much the same way that we use Skitch, but we prefer Evernote when typing. It allows you to make a checklist or a numbered list. We recently used it during reading instruction to create a list of the events in our story. 

How about you? Is there a favorite app you have for your Kindle Fire? I'd love to hear how you use it. If you're an Edmodo user, feel free to join my Kindle Fires in the Classroom group here to share ideas. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Getting Started with Evernote in the Classroom

One of the first apps I downloaded onto our class set of Kindle Fire HDs was Evernote. We were in need of a way to compose thank you letters, and previously found out through trial and error that Google Docs will not work on our devices, even using Dolphin browser. "I'll go home and figure something out tonight for us to use," I told the kiddos. Enter Evernote: Evernote is a multi-platform app that allows you create and share notes easily. The notes can include typing, pictures, audio, and can be tagged and organized. It's such an easy app to use, we were set up and using it in less then 15 minutes. Here's how:

Step 1:
Download and install the app on your device. Open it and begin to create your account. All my students used our class gmail account plus their name as the email. For example, they typed " Their username was my name plus their class number, and their password was the same.

Step 2: There is a quick tutorial that Evernote guides you through, then you can open the app and begin using it. Your screen will probably look like this: You can swipe across to reveal your notes and your notebooks. To get started on a new note, tap New Note. 

Step: 3: Begin composing your note. Our first notes were titled "test" and the kids literally just typed a bunch of funny stuff to begin with and to learn how to use the app.
Step 4: Save and/or send your note. Click the checkmark to go back to the Evernote home screen. This will also save your note. To share your note via email or Edmodo, tap on it and then tap the share symbol circled in pink below. 
That's it! Simple to use, easy to learn, and has many useful functions! In a later post, I'll discuss ways we're using it in our classroom.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

New Kindle Fires!!!!

After a pretty horrible weekend, I went into school Monday to discover that my class set of Kindles had arrived! We were so excited to receive them! My class, along with one at a neighboring school, was fortunate enough to be chosen to pilot the Kindles as part of a grant that was written at our Central Office. I had made lots of great plans when preparing for them, but really couldn't anticipate just how much they'd change the landscape of learning in my classroom. (More about that in a future post). In the mean time, here are just a few things we've been doing since we got them:

  • Taking AR tests ( I had to install flash and the dolphin browser using this tutorial for this to work). No more waiting for computers to test! Having the kindles in hand has really encouraged the kiddos to take those AR tests. 
  • Playing spelling and vocabulary games on Spelling City.
  • Researching things we're learning about in history. Yesterday the students researched the Bankhead Tunnel in Mobile, AL, and realized through their research that many of them had actually been through it! 
  • Bookmarking favorite sites. My kiddos are now proficient at bookmarking their favorite sites, starting with KidBlog, Voki, PearsonSuccessnet, and more.
  • Creating blog posts on KidBlog. (You can see our blog here). 
  • Creating Vokis and Toondoos
  • Using Evernote to create thank you notes (complete with pictures and audio files) and emailing them to Mr. Dixon, the person responsible for this great opportunity. 
I can't wait to learn more about them and use them even more in class. I'll be posting my ideas and the things I'm learning along the way, and I'd love to hear any suggestions from you veteran tablet users out there. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Top 25 Elementary Blog!

I was very excited to receive an email today letting me know that my blog has been selected for inclusion among the top 25 list at Top Masters in Education. I feel honored that my blog landed a place on the list among so many of my favorites! You can check out the list here.

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