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Available for Purchase Now!

In “Innovate with iPad: Lessons to Transform Learning in the Classroom” primary teachers Karen Lirenman and Kristen Wideen provide a complete selection of clearly laid out engaging open-ended lessons to change the way you use iPad in the classroom.

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Connect, Collaborate and Create with Twitter in the Classroom

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of ETFO Voice.

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Course Description

In this grade two 3-D Geometry iTunes U Course, students will explore attributes of 3-D objects using concrete materials and drawings. Students will also build and construct 3-D objects and models as well as develop language to describe geometric concepts.

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One Best Thing

Discover how to keep parents informed, connect globally and link to your curriculum. This One Best Thing leads your primary classroom students through the creation of a learning network on Twitter.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Are You A Free App Addict?

My name is Kristen Wideen and I am a Free App downloading addict.  I have been sober for 8 months......  It all started when I received 20 iPads to use in my classroom 2 years ago.  I wanted the BEST apps to use and I wanted to find the apps that produced the best learning results for my first and second graders.  I downloaded apps for free and followed various Twitter accounts that tweeted out deals and details about free apps.  I downloaded every free app that looked educational because I knew that I could delete it later.  This led to excessive downloading and hundreds of apps that I would never use.   I hit rock bottom when the message "You do not have enough storage to download this app" popped up.  It wasn't because I had all this amazing work from my students stored on the iPads it was because I had pages and pages of apps that I did not use!

I vowed to change my ways...

I deleted every app from one of the school's iPads and went through all of the apps that we used on a regular basis.  See, the truth is, there is no "magical app"  it's what your students do with the app that makes it magical.  I now try to stay away from consumption apps and use apps that let my students create.

I want my students to have "app fluency."  The ability to move through an app easily and smoothly.  If we stock our iPads with dozens and dozens of apps then our student's never gain this fluency.  I am all about choice in my classroom.  I never tell my students which app to use, however I think having 3 great apps to choose from that students know and feel comfortable using is much better than 40 apps to choose from that they have no idea where they are on the iPad and how they work.

My students basically have one page of "go to apps" on their iPads.  We do have a math folder where there are a few apps based on the curriculum strand we are currently working on.  For example, we were just working on money and time, so there are a couple of apps on those two topics.  We also have a folder labelled "Research"  where we have about 6 apps to help with research.  Other than that, we have our "go to apps" that I want my students to use and to build that app fluency I mentioned earlier.

Here is what we have on our iPads:

As you can see, the majority of these apps are for content creation.
I have Remarks to add notes, annotate and import PDFs, notability is also a great choice.
The 100's chart is on our main screen because we use it all the time in math.  It is a simple but wonderful app that my students use in many different ways.
Qrafter is a QR reader, which is a must in my class.  It is an easy alternative to having my students type in a url code.  Which brings me to why I have the Chirp app on my main screen.  If you have not used chirp, see what it does here. 
We then have our apps to share and collaborate with others: Kidblog and Twitter are a must and dropbox is our storage solution.
Minecraft is what my students will do anything for and having a carrot like that is amazing.  Have a group of boys that don't want to write?  Set a timer,  and have them play Minecraft for 15 minutes, then have them write about it.  Voila, you have them writing about something they are excited about and they can't wait for the next time to write.  I have a few students that never seem to get anything finished.  I told them that if they complete their work they can stay in for recess and play Minecraft.  I am now in the process of organizing a Minecraft club because it is so popular.  This is the reason, Minecraft is on my main page.

The rest of the apps are content creation.  However, if I had to choose just one app for content creation it would be Explain Everything, hands down.  This is your everything app and it is the most popular app with my students for sharing their learning.  Will you see Explain Everything on Apps Gone Free?  Probably not.  Most if not all of these apps will not be on those sites because they are high quality, tested and popular apps.

Do yourself and your students a favor, go through the apps on your iPads and start fresh in the new year.  Don't be the teacher that says, "I have that app somewhere" as you flip through page after page on your iPad.  I challenge you to get down to 2 pages, without multiple folders.  Encourage app fluency.  Instead of being mediocre at 40 apps be fantastic at 10.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Resources To Help You Start Your Own Class Twitter Account

Twitter is an invaluable tool in my classroom.  It hasn't always been.  In this post, I want to point out some of my mistakes and how I overcame them to help you and your students be successful with Twitter.

#1 Classroom Twitter Mistake
The Teacher creates and publishes the tweets.

When I first created my Twitter feed, my purpose was to share what we were doing in class.  I created the tweet, took the pictures, responded to tweets, and shared the feed once in a while to my students.  Who owned the learning?  Certainly not my students!  The way I rectified this was that I sat down with my students and we created a new Twitter handle (@mrswideensclass) and I kept the current feed as my professional Twitter handle (@mrswideen).  Instead of me tweeting about my students, my students are now tweeting about their learning and have created their own meaningful connections with peers, as I had, through my personal learning network. 

#2 Classroom Twitter Mistake
Jumping right in without laying the ground work first.

I know you and your students are excited to jump into the the Twitter sphere and start tweeting.  But WAIT!  You need to lay down some parameters first.  Twitter is just like any other digital citizenship piece.  It needs to be discussed over and over.  Safety is our main concern so it is imperative to co create some Twitter norms or rules for being safe while tweeting.  Here are my classroom Twitter Norms that my students and I created and are hanging up in my classroom:

You can download these posters here

#3 Classroom Twitter Mistake
Leaving the parents out of the loop.

Keeping parents informed about incorporating Twitter into the classroom is important in cultivating a sense of community with parents.  Sending home a quick note regarding our Twitter feed with our Twitter handle and how to follow our class was a start to our communication.  Being available to discuss concerns and how we were going to proceed was the most beneficial.  In my experience, clearly explaining that safety is a priority and that the focus of using Twitter in the classroom is always learning, parents supported me whole heartedly.  Included here is a sample of a parent letter created by Samantha Steinberg and myself that was sent home to parents regarding using Twitter in our classroom
Download the letter here

#4 Classroom Twitter MistakeKeeping the Class Twitter Account Locked Down

The purpose of Twitter is to CONNECT with others.  If you make it difficult to connect with other classes, then you are defeating the purpose of Twitter.  Now, I am not saying you follow anyone and everyone that follows your class.  My students and I choose who we follow very carefully.  We follow classes that tweet themselves, add value to our learning and that use Twitter as a tool.  We also love the adults that follow us because they help answer our inquiries and push our thinking.  Twitter expands learning possibilities by making instant connections to a global community.  Sharing perspectives and opinions about the topics my students care about builds writing skills and improves research skills.  

Once you have created your classroom Twitter and are looking for activities to do on Twitter, read my previous posts on I Created A Class Twitter Account, Now What? and Using Twitter To Extend My Math Lessons

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Teaching Money With Technology

We are just finishing up our math unit on money.  I teach grade 2 math, so the expectations were that students would be able to count coins up to one dollar.  We had to start right from the beginning with money.  Many of my students were unable to name the coins and tell me what they were worth.  In this blog post, I am going to highlight some of the activities we partook in over past couple of weeks. Small group instruction is key in my math classroom, so I try to give activities that I model first, then students can work independently while I work with the students that need the extra help.

Like I said before, some of my students couldn't name the coins and others knew their value.  I decided to have the students create a money book on the iPads using the book creator app.  Some students made a book about each coin while others were given set amounts that they needed to show in their books.  They also needed to record their voice and talk about each page, whether it be explaining the coins and how much they are worth or counting the coins that represent a certain amount.  Here are three examples from three different books.

Another activity students participated in was a money Math Station that I used last year when I taught grade 2 math.  For my students that were not ready to make a dollar four ways, we used sticky notes to cover the amount and wrote in a different amount that were challenging for them at their level.

App Needed - Draw & Tell

This one might be a bit confusing at first.  Here is a video of one of my students completing this math station:

My students also created money questions to share on our class Twitter feed for other students to answer.  Here is an example from one of my student's blogs here.

Instead of giving my students a written test at the end of our unit.  I had them show their learning using a content creation app.  I think is a far superior way of seeing and hearing what your students can do rather than a paper pencil task!  I love the following example because my student makes a mistake on the second slide and you can hear him thinking about what he is doing and fixes it!

Here is the instruction sheet my students received:

What are some ways that you teach money in your classroom?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sign Up For The January Blogging Community Session Now!

The Primary Blogging Community is currently accepting classes that blog for the January rotation.  The last rotation was a huge success with over 80 classes participating from all over the world.  I have made a few changes for this rotation.  I have changed the rotation schedule from 8 weeks to 6 weeks.  I've done this because I feel that the most important part of this community is to have students commenting on each others blogs to generate excitement to write!  Instead of taking 4 weeks to read and comment on the class blog, I have shortened it to 2 weeks.  Here is a brief description of what the blogging community is:

What is the Primary Blogging Community?

The PBC is a community of primary teachers (children aged 5-10) that want to share their students' learning via their classroom blog and their students' personal blogs.  Classrooms will be grouped with 3 or 4 other classrooms from around the globe.  The program is 6 weeks long.  The first 2 weeks will concentrate on the classroom blogs only.  Each week, two of the classes will be the focus classes and the other 2 classes will be visiting and commenting on the two focus class blogs.  The following week, the third and fourth class will be the focus classes.   This is a chance for the other classes to see what is happening in your school and class, to discover where in the world you are located and to learn about how to write a good blog post and to watch how you model and work together to write good comments.  After the first 2 weeks, we switch the focus from your classroom blogs and concentrate on student blogs.    For the remaing four weeks, the focus is solely on your student's individual blogs. 

Why join the Primary Blogging Community?

1.  You will be collaborating with other like minded educators on this project and in return will build your PLN.
2.  PBC creates enthusiasm and engagement in reading and writing.
3.  It gives your students a voice and lets them be the teacher to their peers.
4.  Your students will have a built in audience that will provide authentic feedback to what they are writing about on their blogs.
5.  It is not uncommon to receive over on your students' blogs when they are the focus class!  The excitement and engagement piece to this blogging community is huge!  

What Does The Schedule Look Like?

January 13th - January 24th

Each week two class' blogs will be the centre of attention. The other two classrooms will be exploring and commenting on those two particular blogs.  The following week, class three and four will be the centre of attention where the other classes will comment and explore on class three and four blogs.

January 27th - January 21st

We will have the same blogging buddies as we did in January, however, this time we will be focusing on our students' personal blogs instead of the class blog.  This will create more comments, more traffic and more enthusiasm for your students' blogs.  I can tell you from personal experience that on the week that my class was the "focus week"   it was not unusual for my students to have up to 100 comments collectively on their blogs in one day.

What is the difference between the Primary Blogging Community and Quadblogging?

Quadblogging -  Each week one blog is the focus blog with the other three blogs visiting and commenting during that week. In week two, another school/class blog is the focus with the other three visiting and commenting. This is repeated until each of the classes/schools has had their week in the spotlight. The cycle is then repeated. (from

Primary Blogging Community - Is the exact same as above except the second 4 week cycle we concentrate on your student's personal blogs, not your classroom blog.

What do I need to begin?

You need to have a classroom blog and your students need their own personal blogs.  If your students do not have personal blogs, I suggest you create them or sign up for instead.  If you do not have an edmodo account, I highly suggest you sign up for one and join our blogging community.  This is where you can ask questions and collaborate with the other teachers in the group.  The code to our group is k6uu8u.  We also communicate frequently on twitter, use #PrimaryBC on twitter and follow me on twitter for news and updates @mrswideen.

If you would like to participate in the January rotation, please sign your class up below.  I will contact you at the beginning of January with further details. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Different Ways To Generate Ideas Using Technology

After meeting with the 5/6 teachers at my school and discussing how we teach writing to our students, it got me thinking.  I have always taught writing by teaching the different forms of writing and modeling sentence structure, revising, editing etc through the forms.  The 5/6 teachers at my school first teach how to generate ideas, then how to write a great introduction sentence and so on.  This intrigued me because if you work on ideas first and develop a great introduction, then a great conclusion and so on. Then the thought is, that when you start to teach different forms of writing, students' writing pieces would be better developed. I started with searching the internet for intriguing pictures that would peak my students curiosity and imagination. To my surprise, there were plenty. The first lesson began with my team teacher creating an anchor chart of different ways to brainstorm ideas. The students came up with, webs, lists, talking to peers and drawing pictures. We then introduced the 5 W's - Who, When, Why, Where and What. We told the children that if they wanted to generate great ideas to use in a piece of writing, we need to answer the 5w's. I then projected a picture up on our white board and we used the popplet app to answer the 5w's. We then let the students pair up to complete their own popplet. Here is an example:

The next day I made a padlet wall with another image I found on the internet. Instead of making a QR code for my students to scan, I used the Chirp app. If you have not tried this app and you teach young children, you are missing out! See about this awesome app here Click Here Here is one of our padlet walls:

The third way we are working on generating ideas is with the Write about this app.Click Here There is an option for this app to create your own writing prompt. I found a fun image that I knew my students would love!

Prompt and photo courtesy of

I took a screenshot of the minion prompt and saved it to our school photo stream. All of our iPads have access to the photo stream so they could choose the minion image in the photo stream to use it in the app. I love that the students were able to generate the ideas on the app, then it can be saved to the photo roll. The students then embedded the prompt and their ideas onto their personal blogs.

How do you teach writing in your classroom?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Very Special Skype Call From A Very Special Author, Ame Dyckman

This blog post is to give a HUGE shout out to the talented and amazing author, Ame Dyckman.  If you ever get the chance to invite her into your room through Skype, JUMP at the chance.  Her bubbly demeanor and positive outlook is contagious even while dealing with a slow internet and temporary technological issues.

Our relationship began with a simple tweet I sent her on Twitter about reading her fabulous book Boy
+ Bot on the first day of school.  In return, Ame sent my class of 40 students, bracelets, stickers and bookmarks.  My students were so thrilled, they tweeted out their gratitude, questions and pictures to her via our classroom Twitter account.  Ame, responded to everyone of my students' tweets with a personal message.  They couldn't have been more excited to be tweeting with a real author, of one of our new favourite stories!

When Ame's new book came out a few weeks back (Tea Party Rules) we received another package in the mail.  We had not read the book yet, so I wanted to wait to open the package.  Unfortunately, my trip to the local book store was not a success (I did buy another copy of Boy + Bot because it is so popular in my room.)  I tweeted Ame and asked if we could Skype so she could read her new book to the class.  She got right back to me with a date.

This past Tuesday we finally got to meet Ame via Skype.  Like I said, she is full of energy and fun!  My students were captivated by her for an entire half of an hour.  You could hear a pin drop in my room when she was talking and that is very hard to do with 40 seven and eight year olds.  Ame read her new book, talked about her love of reading and answered any and every question my class threw at her, including what her favourite cereal was and how old she was.  We then opened up the package from her to find buttons, bookmarks and more stickers.

Thank you Ame, for getting my students pumped up to write and instilling a very important message to my students.  To keep reading.  This is a tweet I sent Ame this week that made me smile:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Using Twitter To Extend My Math Lessons

As a primary level teacher it was my goal to have students communicate their learning from the classroom to the world while leveraging student safety and the logistics of multiple devices.  Leading my students through the creation of a learning network on Twitter was the ticket. 
Twitter is a classroom tool that empowers students to develop their voice through global connections.  

My students learn from others on Twitter and share their learning with a broader community. Through whole-group Twitter activities (mirroring our iPads through Apple TV) and individual Twitter activities (tweeting independently using iPads), my students recognize that there are connections to be made beyond our Ontario classroom.
We have been using Twitter for over a year now and in the last few weeks, my students have really taken the lead on using it to extend their learning in math.  It seems like over the past few weeks, if we have a few extra moments at the end of the math period or for my early finishers, my students jump on Twitter and continue the math lesson.  However, my students have changed the role from student to teacher.  They are asking the questions and providing feedback when they have members of their PLN answering their questions.
Here are a few examples of how my students have been reversing the roles and teaching their peers on Twitter about what they are learning in class.

These extensions on Twitter help solidify my students math knowledge and it keeps them coming back for more.  They can't wait for the next day to see if anyone has answered their questions.  If someone does answer their question, I have my students check to see if the answer is correct and respond back to that person or class.  If the answer is incorrect they must tell them and give them an explanation on why it is incorrect.

Not only does this enrich the learning but it is a fantastic assessment tool for myself.  When a student can create their own question and argue the answer, I know that they have mastered the concept.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Connecting The Curriculum to an Authentic Audience

Yesterday was a very busy day in my grade 2/3 classroom.  We had joined Jen Wagner's Pumpkin Seed Project.  If you have not visited her site, I highly suggest you do.  She hosts a variety of online projects that involve many classes from around the world and that tie into the curriculum seamlessly.  We asked parents to donate a pumpkin in the name of math, literacy and science for this project.  My teaching partner and I were hoping for at least 1 pumpkin per table (we have 9 tables of students) so each table could do their own measuring, weighing, scooping and counting.  We were excited to have received 9 pumpkins exactly and 1 gourd that looked like a pumpkin.

I started the day off with a KWL chart on pumpkins.  I used Padlet and QR codes to easily navigate the students to the correct wall.  We completed the first 2 walls before heading to the tables to do the activities.

I then handed out a sheet that I found on Kristen Smith's Blog that was perfect for the activity.

Now, this is when my students' started to wow me.  You can imagine what our room looked like and sounded like with 40 students measuring, weighing, dropping their pumpkins into buckets of water and scooping the guts out of pumpkins.  It was loud and bursting with excitement.  With all of this going on, I had many students that came up to me and asked if they could post what they were doing on Twitter.  They wanted to poll their peers about if they thought their pumpkins would float or sink, how many seeds were in their pumpkins and we had one pumpkin that they were not sure if it was a pumpkin.  I LOVED the idea, and I loved it even more because it came from my students!  I heard one of my students say that it was the best day ever and they wanted to share it with all their friends on Twitter.  Instead of me standing in front of the class asking, "How many seeds do you think are in this pumpkin?" They were taking the lead and asking their peers on Twitter!  How empowering for my 7 and 8 year old students.  Can you tell how excited I am?  One of my goals was to have my students experience the magnitude of having a PLN like I do each and everyday.  Yesterday, they accomplished that goal!   
Here are a few of their tweets:

At the end of this wonderful day, we read a fantastic book that I have to mention, that went perfectly with the day.  It is titled "how many seeds in a pumpkin?"  When we finished the story, children filled out our final padlet wall and then to my surprise some of the students asked if they could blog about their day before they went home.  Again, tying in that authentic audience increased engagement, excitement and a willingness to write!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Introducing Young Students To Social Media Is So Important

Last year my grade 1 students were uploading videos to their personal blogs and to youtube, tweeting from our classroom Twitter feed, face timing, skyping and participating in Google Hangouts with peers, soon to be teachers, teachers, experts in a certain field, and the class down the hall.  We participated in global projects like the Global Read Aloud and created our own global projects.


There are many great reasons why we have embeded social media into our daily classroom routines.  The two most important to me are, the increased excitement and engagement I have experienced in my students and because I think it is imperative that we model appropriate digital citizenship at a young age.

I am in charge of a Primary Blogging Network that started this past Monday.  There are approximately 80 classes, grades K-3 from around the world participating in this project.  The classes are put into groups and they are currently visiting and commenting on classroom blogs that will eventually turn into visiting and commenting on student's individual blogs in a few weeks.

Yesterday I received information from a teacher that a child was writing inappropriate content on her class blog.  Luckily, she moderates the comments before anyone sees them so there was no harm done.  At first, I was mortified.  Many times we jump to conclusions and put blame on the teacher.  "Well, if the teacher had been paying more attention...." or "Didn't they go over blogging etiquette?"

First, we all have had a child in our class that pushes the boundaries and is always curious on how far he or she can get without getting caught.  Think about it in a positive light.   This is a wonderful teaching moment!  This 2nd grade child that was writing inapprorpriate words in all of his comments needs a refresher in digital citizenship.  Luckily, he is 7 years old and this is a minor issue that resulted in no harm done.  We know exactly who it was and he will learn a valuable lesson.  One that will hopefully remind him in the future to think before he posts something online.  We all know a story about a teenager, posting a picture or video or writing something inappropriate on a Facebook page, or texting someone something that they can't erase.  The ramifications of those mistakes are far worse as you get older.  I want my students to learn about these things now, in our classroom with my guidance, so they don't make those mistakes when it could seriously hurt someone or themselves.

My students use Twitter almost everyday.  They see Twitter as an educational tool that enriches our learning environment.  My students don't see it as a place to follow teen idols or to post garbage to their friends.  I hope that as my students get older they will continue to use Twitter for a significant purpose because they have only been exposed to it in that way.  My students already have created a wonderful personal learning network where they share their learning and use social media as a way to answer questions.

Last week during a lesson on where to find information my students came up with this list:

Look at how my students view social media as a TOOL.  I am so proud of them for how they view it.  Would this list look different if I didn't model and let my students use social media?  You bet it would.  Would there be a higher risk of them getting into "online trouble" when they are older.  We can't be sure about that but it would be a very interesting action research project.....

Monday, October 7, 2013

Teaching Procedural Writing Through Art

Last week, my teaching partner Sarah and I decided that we would start our procedural writing unit.  I always love to teach procedural writing because there are so many fun lessons to do with procedural writing.  Last year students took pictures of each other eating gingerbread cookies and they had to write out how they ate their gingerbread cookie.  They completed the assignment with using the pictures that were taken and the text that they wrote to create a procedural writing video.  Here is one from last year:

Another great activity is to conduct an experiment.  Tomorrow we will be reading a recipe on how to grow crystals.  We will then create a "How To" piece about how we conducted the experiment.

Last Friday, we had an art project planned.  I had found a beautiful art project titled, "Birch Tress Art Lesson" on this fantastic site deepspacesparkle.  I wanted to incorporate the art lesson with what our students were learning about in writing.  

So, last Friday while Sarah modeled the art lesson, I used the Apple T.V to project my iPad onto the screen and the class and I wrote a procedure on how to create the birch trees scene.  I was able to take pictures as Sarah modeled the art and when she was finished we not only had an example of the art, we also had a completed procedural piece of writing that the students helped to create.  An added bonus was that I was able to immediately print it out and had a few copies floating around the room for children that needed to reread the procedure.  Here is our co-constructed "How To" piece:

Today, the children completed their art and they turned out beautifully.     

Sunday, October 6, 2013

YOU Must Try This App!

If you teach primary children you know how long it takes for a child to type in a website.  At all costs I try not to have my children do this.  Imagine, twenty 7 year olds trying to type in a 30 character  URL on their iPads all at the same time.  It is true madness, "It's not working," "I need help!" "Is that an i or a l?" and this is why the app that I am about to tell you about is pure genius.

A couple of weeks ago a colleague of mine asked me to participate in "Talk Like A Pirate Day."  Of course the catch was that Pirate Day was the following day.  It took me two seconds to respond with a yes.  I quickly drafted up a letter and sent it home.  We decided we would use todaysmeet to connect the classes.  Sarah's class would pretend to be pirates and my class would ask them questions.  The following day my pirates walked in and it dawned on me that I had not made QR codes for my students to scan to go to the todaysmeet site, nor did I put the website on their home screen of their iPads.  From my description above, you knew that I was not going to put the website on the board for them to type out....I would rather walk the plank.

This is when the must try app comes into place.  The app is called chirp.  Don't go looking for it in the iPad apps, it is an iPhone app.  This app shares links using sound.  All you need to do is download it to all of your devices (it is free!) and turn it on.  You type in the website you want to share and press the chirp button.  It sends out a noise that all of the devices will hear and it goes to that link.  GENIUS!  I am not classroom is a NOISY place and Chirp is designed to cope with music, speech, TVs blaring in the background, and so on!  It can share pictures too. 
Here is video showing you how it works:

This app has made my life so much easier in sharing information with my students.  I would love to hear how you use it in your classroom!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ready To Use Fact Family iPad Station

My students have been working on fact families the past couple of days.  To reinforce what has been taught in class, I try to incorporate a math station that practices the skill and incorporate it into our math stations the following week.  I modeled the station today and had them give it a go to make sure they would be able to do it independently next week.  I was pleasantly surprised how my grade 2 students did the station independently.

To prepare this station, first download  and print the station here.  Then cut out the slips of paper with the numbers on it (the fact families).

Next, download the app - Draw and Tell by Duck Duck Goose.

Finally, go over the station directions sheet.

Your station is ready to go!  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Classroom For Discovery And Curiosity - Part 1

One of my goals this year was to weave a wonder and curiosity theme into our classroom.  I wanted to put the choice in the students hands this year.   We will learn through inquiry and discovery.  We will question and be information seekers.  We will be wonder experts.

The next few blog posts will be about my journey, first starting with the space, second with a few of the key lessons that were delivered and finally a reflection of how it is going from my point of view and from my students point of view.

Before the students even stepped foot into our classroom, I wanted a space where my students curiosity would be peaked instead of flattened.
 I wanted a classroom that would encourage my students to learn, explore and investigate. Now don't get me wrong, I know the space is not the only factor in the equation.  However, through modeling and explicit teaching I knew that my students were already asking questions and seeking answers to those questions.

I began with the furniture.  I was able to replace the desks in the classroom with tables.  Some are round and others are rectangle.  I also made a few crates into stools and brought a large ottoman in that I had donated.  Other furniture additions were two high stools that sit in front of the observation window  (a place where children can sit and write about their observations of the outside world) and a new carpet for the students to gather on to work alone, with a partner or a group.

The next thing I added was a science table where I invited my students to bring in things they found that they may have questions about or natural treasures they have at home they wanted to share.  Currently, we have an assortment of bugs in bug jars that the students have found outside at recess, 2 different bird nests that were found around their homes and a strawberry/blueberry bush that I brought in to model my inquiry question.   We also are growing crystals in a jar (One of my students found a crystal making recipe in a book from the library that he wanted to try). There is also a science notebook for the students to write their predictions, questions, observations and answers in.

Another thing that I brought in was various potted plants for the children to take care of.  Our window sills now have plants growing on all of them and it is a favourite job of many of my students to be in charge of pruning and watering them for the week.

On the first day of school, instead of a large pillar in the middle of the classroom there is now a large tree with branches stretching throughout the classroom.  The bulletin boards are all a chocolate brown with green borders to give the space a more calming and "green" feeling.

From the first day of school we started wondering.  Some students brought in their wonder jars I had given them as an end of school token with treasures from the summer in them (one student even brought in a toad!)

I aslo picked many read a louds at the beginning of the year that would inspire my students to wonder.  A few of my favourite are:

 A story that encourages children to put down the TV remotes
and video-game controllers and take a look at the wonder of
the world around them.

On a Beam of Light:  A Story of Albert Einstein

Me...Jane - A Story of Jane Goodall

Finally, our first completed bulletin board was our "Wonder Wall"  where students wrote their wonders on with dry erase marker so they may change their wonder as frequent as they wish.

Please stay tuned for my next blog post on "Lessons That Spark A Sense Of Wonder".


Saturday, September 14, 2013

2nd Grade Math, My Way

This year, I am teaching a grade 2/3 split.  I have had some of these munchkins since Kindergarten (with a year mat leave in-between).  Needless to say, we didn't need much time to go over procedures and classroom norms because I have had many of these children for 3 years.  I am team teaching math with 2 other teachers, so for math I teach all of the second graders.

My school board uses the math program, "Math Makes Sense" and for the most part I really like the program except for all of the worksheets to photocopy.  Now, if you know me at all, I try to use the iPads A LOT during math.  Why photocopy a worksheet when you can use manipulatives and the camera on the iPad?  Not to mention the ability to annotate and capture students talking about their thinking.  

So, I took the first unit of the year which was sorting and patterning, looked at the overall expectations and tweaked the lessons to incorporate the iPads.  Here is what we did:

Learning Goal -  to be able to create a pattern and explain the core

To introduce patterning, I first showed the pattern video on  I then modeled different patterns and we talked about what the core or unit was.  I then invited the children to use any type of manipulatives they wanted to create a pattern.  Students were instructed to take a picture of their pattern then use an app to draw a circle around the core of the pattern and upload it to their blog.  Here are a couple of examples:

The second learning goal was to be able represent a pattern in different ways.  After the lesson.  I again instructed the students to get out the iPads, manipulatives, paper, markers and whatever else they wanted that would help them to answer the problem prompt.

Create a pattern using three colours of snap cubes.  Find another way you can represent your pattern.

I also had 2 students create videos and use sound (clapping, snapping and stomping)  I would love to show you, however the video is at school on the iPads, so you will have to take my word for it until I can upload the video to my blog.

The final learning goal for this unit was to Use "look for a pattern" to solve a problem.    After the mini lesson (different problem solving strategies and how to make a plan to solve a problem), I put children into groups of three and gave them the problem prompt.
There are 9 red beads, 3 green beads, and 6 blue beads.  Make a pattern using all the beads.  

I had students use any type of manipulative they wanted and they got right to work.  Some drew pictures but most got manipulatives.  I was pleasantly surprised how many groups got it without much prompting.  I did have one group that I worked through the problem with.  The following day we did a similar problem with different amounts of beads and only one munchkin was still having trouble.

I did not use one single photocopy or worksheet for this unit.  My students choose how to demonstrate their learning and I have evidence of all of their work on their blogs for assessment.  Best of all, all of my students were successful with this unit.
Is it because I gave them choice? 
Is it because they weren't sitting at their seats doing worksheet after worksheet?
Is it because I am able to give small group instruction while the other children are busy showing their learning on the iPads or any other way they choose?
I think the answer is yes to all of the above questions.  I still covered the curriculum, I still delivered math mini lessons and I still have a group of students that are excited when I say that it is math time!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

6 Ready To Go iPad Centers

A few of the following iPad Centers/Stations I have posted before, however I thought it might be useful to post them again, at the beginning of the year so you know they are here if you want to try something new during your literacy or math block.  All of the centers can be done using one or two iPads at the center and are actual centers that my students used last year.  I hope you find them useful or they spark new ideas to try with your students.

Writing Center:

App Needed - Write About This

Fluency Center

App Needed - Audioboo, iPhone version

Research Center

App Needed - Pocket Zoo

Math Center

App Needed - Draw & Tell

This one might be a bit confusing at first.  Here is a video of one of my students completing this math station:

Math Center

App Needed - Explain Everything

Math Center

App Needed - Explain Everything