Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Starting with Choice: Primary Classroom Implementations

Have you ever wondered how I start my school year off to set up a classroom environment that puts student learning back in the hands of students?  If you've followed this blog for any period of time, or heard me speak you'll know that student CHOICE is something I believe strongly in for my students. 

Today I am pleased to announce that my contribution to the Apple Distinguished Educator  One Best Thing  collection is now available on iBooks.  According to the website each contribution to the One Best Thing collection "highlights a specific use of Apple products, apps, and other content to transform teaching and learning. From effective assessment practices to exciting student projects, this professional learning series – devised by outstanding educators – provides practical tips and a lot of inspiration".

My contribution Starting with Choice: Primary Classroom Implementations is a multi-touch book where I explain the steps of how I set up my classroom environment for choice and teach my students how to make their own choices.  This book is now available on iBooks stores around the world.  If you'd like your own copy click the  title above (highlighted) and follow the link to this free resource.  If you like it please share the link (or this blog post) so other educators can get started with providing choice for their students too. Together we can do this for our students.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

ISTE 2014: A Look Back

I've been home from ISTE 2014 in Atlanta for a few days now and I think I'm finally coming down from the ISTE high.  You see, ISTE is like no other conference.  It is five days filled with love, laughter, learning, and very little sleep.  Picking a highlight is tough as there are so many highlights to mention. Let me try to put into words some of them.

The People

ISTE is HUGE in size, with over 16,000 participants coming from all over the world. Without a doubt the connections with PEOPLE is what makes ISTE for me.   It is where on line connections become face to face connections and this years ISTE was no exception.  I was fortunate to reconnect with so many inspiring educators from around the globe.  I was also fortunate to meet, for the first time,  so many other educators.  Last year blew me away with all the incredible people I met, and this year just continued to do the same.  I can't even begin to share with you how  many face to face hugs I gave and received. This year the ISTE love was very strong.

What was different for me at this years ISTE vs last years ISTE is the additional families that I now belong to in the EdTech world.  ISTE  brought  many of these "families" together.  At times I was hanging with my incredible Surrey Schools family, those who work with me in our innovative district.  At other times I was hanging with my Apple Distinguished Educator family, yet another group of incredibly inspiring educators.  I met many of my Google Certified Teacher family for the very first time (we don't actually meet as an entire group until later this month).  I hung with many of my incredible twitter friends and my global classroom friends too.  I was part of Voxer groups with many other inspiring educators. I have so many different families in my connected world and I did my best to spend time with each and everyone of them.  It was, in so many ways, like a massive family reunion. It was wonderful!

The people I am connected with were not just conference participants.  I have really great relationships with many of the vendors as well.   I had an incredible time meeting and face to face connecting with many of the websites and apps that I use and love.  These included people from Fresh Grade, Discovery Education, Osmo, Remind, and Padlet.  They are all such incredible people doing amazing things for students and teachers.  I spent time talking with start ups and well established companies sharing my view point from an early years teacher perspective.  These people were equally as important to me as my fellow attendees.

Here's a little collage of some of the people I connected with. The things is, I didn't take any of these pictures. They were all shared with me by the people who did. 

The Presenting

When I left ISTE in 2013 one of the goals I set for myself was to try to present at ISTE 2014 and share more of what I am doing with young learners. I wanted to share beyond this blog and so I submitted several proposals to present.  But presenting at ISTE is a highly competitive process so to say that I was blown away when I found out four of my five proposals were accepted was an understatement.  Along the way I picked up two more presenting opportunities - one with the Early Years playground, and one with the Apple playground.  Needless to say all this presenting had me running around a fair bit but I wouldn't have traded that for anything, not this year.  I feel extremely honoured to have been able to do a poster session and 3 hour workshop with Kathy Cassidy, be a part of a panel on Genius Hour with Vicki Davis, Angela Maiers, Erin Klein, Sylvia Martinez, Don Wettrick, and fellow Surrey teacher Hugh McDonald, and present a  BYOD session with the brilliant Michelle Cordy.   With my two playground presentations I presented six different times on six completely different topics and loved every minute of it. Okay, I won't lie I had my moments when I was extremely nervous but hopefully that didn't show through while I was presenting. I was also truly inspired by those I was presenting with, and at times felt out of my league.  I am super grateful for the presenting opportunities I had.

This high volume of presenting made me realize that I do belong in this presenting circuit.  I have good things to share and I love sharing them.  The feedback I received was positive and who knows if futures presentation opportunities will come my way because of it.  In any case I did what I set out to do and shared more of what is possible with young learners.

If you weren't able to attend ISTE here are some links to some of my presentation handouts or slides.
Primary kids can! Let's tweet, blog, or Skype to connect [poster session handout]
With iPads you're never too young! Capture, create, document and share [workshop handout]
Making Thinking Visible with iPads and Young Learners [presentation slides]
Visible thinking: BYOD tools for quality questioning and formative assessment [session handout]
Building Student Learning Networks in the Early Years [presentation slides]

The Sessions

While my time to attend sessions was some what limited because of all the presenting I was doing I did manage to attend sessions too.  Ignite sessions are a total highlight for me as I love to learn from inspiring people sharing their passions.   This year was extra special as I personally knew several of the people presenting. While some of my friends seemed disappointed with their ignites I can't be more proud of the way they all inspired the large crowds.  Who knows, maybe next year I'll submit to do an ignite session too.

I enjoyed the second and third keynotes sessions from the Blogger's cafe. Kathy and I missed the first keynote because we were setting up our poster session.

I also managed to hit some of the playgrounds and poster sessions which I also find equally inspiring. I love the way you can wander from table to table, stop for as little or as long as you want, and keep moving.  I picked up a lot of contact information from the poster sessions and I look forward to diving a bit deeper and learning a bit more.  So many questions I have, always.

Sharon Davidson's poster session

I also sat in on a few sessions, one of the highlights being my dear friend Kristin Ziemke's session with her co author Katie Muhtaris.  There were many great sessions on the program but I must admit I missed many because of all the presenting I was doing.

Kristin Ziemke's  Session

The Volunteering

Last year I was extremely fortunate to win my registration for this years ISTE.  In addition, I have helped out ISTE each time they have asked.  But I wanted to do more and so I offered to volunteer at the conference.  Once I saw my presenting schedule I realized I didn't actually have that many consecutive hours to volunteer. Thankfully I found a three hour time slot that worked.  I loved volunteering! At first I was a peach pop girl, handing them out as people registered to the conference. But soonI was moved and became a greeter. For me that was the best job ever. I chatted with people, helped them understand the conference app, and in general had a great time promoting all things good about ISTE.  To no surprise the time flew by. I also came home with an ISTE t-shirt and bag. :-)

The Pre/Post Conference Hour Events

The other thing about ISTE that those who have never been before may not know is that there is an entirely separate schedule of events you can attend outside of the actual  "conference hours". Last year I got swept up into attending up to five events a night. This year I knew I couldn't do that again because quantity never replaces quality.  Picking and choosing which family event to attend was not always easy but I tried my best to attend a variety of events. Some of my highlights included time with my Surrey team, including honorary member Bill Ferriter and his buddies John Spencer, and Phillip Cummings; breakfast with Heinemann publishing celebrating Kristin Z and Katie M; and the Atlanta Braves baseball game with the Fresh Grade crew. I loved all the events I attended "after hours" because each one connected me with one of my many Ed Tech families.  I am very blessed to be a part of so many amazing families.

Final Reflections

As you can probably gather from all the above writing ISTE was an extremely positive experience for me. However as a reflective practitioner not everything was positive. Here are a few things I hope will change for next time.

1. The Vendor Floor

While  I mentioned some really fantastic ed tech companies above I was some what disappointed with the vendor floor, but more specifically the companies that were trying to sell me products to manage/control my students.  I get that technology is suppose to make our lives "easier" but nothing will every replace the one on one relationships I build with each an every one of my students.  Many of the companies I saw promoting their products fell within the realms of promoting bad teaching pedagogy.  

2. Inappropriate ignite presentations

A couple of the ignite presentations were more like informercials selling products then teachers sharing their passions.  What bothered me most about this is that their slides were submitted weeks earlier and it should have been recognized that these presentations did not belong in the ignite venue. They would have been perfect on the vendor floor, but they left an awful taste in my mouth during the ignite session. To make matters worse I  know a few very inspiring educators who submitted to do an ignite session and were not accepted.  Obviously ISTE can't accept everyone but these informercials were a huge slap in the face of those whose inspiring ignites were not chosen.

3. Missing Great Sessions

This year I once again missed great sessions.  Sometimes I missed them because I was presenting at the same time, but in other cases I missed them because I had no idea a certain person was presenting or  a certain event was happening.  The ISTE program is so over whelming that no matter how much time you spend covering the presenters and topics you still miss many excellent sessions.  Unfortunately I'm not sure what the solution is expect perhaps try a bit better next year.

4. Over Presenting

This is a tough one for me because I love to present and share but perhaps presenting six times in four days while trying to find quality time with incredible people may have been a bit too much. But when I think about what I presented and who I presented with it's tough to find out where I should have cut back.  Something I will certainly think about next year when I start to submit my presentation proposals.

5. Not Enough Time!!

This year I once again tried really hard to connect with as many people as I could but I still managed to miss spending quality time with people.  Krissy Venosdale is one who comes to mind first.  She and I managed to sneak away for 1:1 time, and small group time at last years ISTE but this year our schedules just never seemed to click. Yes, I did see her, and hugs were exchanged of course, but our time together was way too short.   I have no idea when I'll be face to face with her again so it's a tough one for me to stomach.

Over all though ISTE was, once again, an incredible experience. I am so thankful I was able to share it with some of my Surrey Schools colleagues as our converstaions will continue long after the conference has ended.  Will I be back next year? You betcha as long as I can save enough to fund the trip. (Hey, anyone want to sponsor me?)  Thankfully, next year ISTE is once again after the Canadian school year is over which means if I can get my funding in order, I won't have to worry about missing my last week of school with my students.  This doesn't happen often so I need to take advantage of it when it does. I'm sure there were more Canadians at ISTE this year because it took place after Canadian schools finished for the year.  If you're able to get to ISTE 2015 in Philly GO!  Seriously, you won't regret it.

Thank you ISTE for another incredible conference.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Looking Ahead to ISTE 2014

ISTE 2014 is just around the corner and the excitement is building.  If you’ve never been, it’s an educational technology candy store with something for everyone.  This year I’m fortunate to be attending and presenting.  While I’m presenting several times over the four day conference there are two overarching themes that I will be sharing.  These include Making Thinking Visible through Choice, and Building Student Learning Networks to Connect with the World.  For those unable to attend ISTE let me share some of what I plan to share.

Making Thinking Visible Through Choice

I have been extremely fortunate to be in a 1:1 iPad situation for the past two years with my grade one students in Surrey, British Columbia.  This has allowed my students and I to explore different open-ended creative apps for making thinking visible.  Student choice is also key as my young learners often chose how they want to show what they know.  With the larger learning intention in mind, my students pick the tools to practice, show and share their learning.  It helps foster self directed, independent learning at a young age.

Our classroom open-ended creative apps tend to fall into three main categories - documenting with images, documenting with voice, and documenting through stories.

Documenting with Images

At present my students three favourite apps to document with images include PicCollage, Skitch, and Poplet lite.  These free apps allow my students to show what they know through images.  Specifically, PicCollage allows my students to arrange images to demonstrate a concept. They can create their own images in another app or with a photo of their non digital work and then combined their ideas together into a collage.  Text can be added to the collage.  Skitch allows my students to add text and arrows to further explain what their image is demonstrating.   Popplet lite allows my students to create a graphic organizer with images and/or text to show information about and/or relationships of concepts.

Documenting with Voice

With the introduction of technology and more specifically the ability to record voice my students now have many ways to add voice to their digital and non digital creations. Some of the tools they can choose from include, AudioBoo, Tellagami, Chatterpix, Draw and Tell, Educreations, and Explain Everything . allows you to record up to 30 seconds of voice. You then receive a unique link which can be shared with parents via email, or can be used to create a QR code to add to a student creation.  Tellagami, and Chatterpix are fun ways to add voice directly to an image.  Tellagami creates an avatar and the student records what the avatar should say to explain the learning behind the image.  Chatterpix adds a mouth to an image so it looks like the image is talking.  Draw and Tell, Educreations, and Explain Everything are three similar but different screen casting apps.  Each are chosen for different reasons to show learning.

Documenting with Stories

Stories can be shared in many different formats. Typically my students share their stories in book, movie, or presentation form.  Our favourite book creating apps include My Story  and Book Creator.  In these apps my students create both fiction and non-fiction books to show/share their knowledge.   Movie making is also extremely popular. iMovie is very popular. Other tools we’ve explored to share in video form include 30 Hands, GreenScreen  , and iMotionHD.  Haiku Deck is another excellent and easy to use tool to share a story.

You can find me sharing making thinking visible through student choice during the following ISTE sessions.

Primary kids can! Let's tweet, blog, or Skype to connect [Poster Session]
Saturday, June 28, 7:00 pm–8:30 pm
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 21
Genius hour 20% time: Best practices inspire creativity not chaos [Panel]
Sunday, June 29, 12:45 pm–1:45 pm
GWCC Sidney Marcus Auditorium

With iPads you're never too young! Capture, create, document and share [$ Workshop]
Sunday, June 29, 4:30 pm–7:30 pm
GWCC A406/407
Making Thinking Visible with iPads and Young Learners [Presentation]
Interactive playground featuring iTunes U, iBooks Author and iPad
Tuesday, July 1, 9:00 am–1:00 pm (9:30 am presentation, 10 - 11 app exploration)
GWCC Building B, Level 3 (near Room B313)

Visible thinking: BYOD tools for quality questioning and formative assessment [BYOD]
Tuesday, July 1, 1:15 pm–2:15 pm
GWCC A402/403

Building Student Learning Networks to Connect with the World

Building student learning networks to connect and learn with the world is another one of my greatest passions these days. I am always looking for ways to connect, learn and share with colleagues.  I want the same for my students too. Some of the ways I do this with/for my students is through blogs, twitter, video conferencing, and co-creation.


I maintain a class blog (with help from my students) and my students maintain their own individual blogs.  Both blogs are open to the world to read and comment on.  Commenting is one way we connect with others as we visit other class blogs and learn with them.  


We use Twitter to share our learning. The simple fact that we share on twitter invites others to learn along with us. We create hashtags such as #lrrh13 to tweet in the voice of Little Red Riding Hood, or #2d3dshapes to share facts and clues about two and three dimensional shapes.  We tweet from a class account @MsLsClass and invite others to join along and learn with us.  We’ve met and connected with many classes from around the world through sharing on twitter.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing has been another way for my students to expand their learning communities and connect with the world.  My students have learned with other classes, app developers, various experts, and authors. They have also used video conferencing to teach others.


Co-Creation is yet another way my students connect and learn with others.  We have used the iPad app Book Creator in conjunction with Dropbox to co-create stories.  We’ve used iMovie and dropbox to co-create movies with other classes around the world.  This fall we invited classes from around North America to submit to our two global read aloud projects.  Co-creation is another way to connect with children beyond the physical classroom.

You can find me sharing building student learning networks to connect with the world during the following ISTE sessions.

Primary kids can! Let's tweet, blog, or Skype to connect [Poster Session]
Saturday, June 28, 7:00 pm–8:30 pm
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 21

Building Student Learning Networks in the Early Years [Presentation]
Little learners, technologies and big learning -- come play in our playground
Sunday, June 29, 12:30 pm–4:00 pm [2:30 presentation]
GWCC Building B, Level 3 (near Room B313)

With iPads you're never too young! Capture, create, document and share [$ Workshop]
Sunday, June 29, 4:30 pm–7:30 pm
GWCC A406/407
Making Thinking Visible with iPads and Young Learners [Presentation]
Interactive playground featuring iTunes U, iBooks Author and iPad
Tuesday, July 1, 9:00 am–1:00 pm (9:30 am presentation, 10 - 11 app exploration)
GWCC Building B, Level 3 (near Room B313)

Visible thinking: BYOD tools for quality questioning and formative assessment [BYOD]
Tuesday, July 1, 1:15 pm–2:15 pm
GWCC A402/403

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right

 When things aren't working in my classroom, I take a step back, reflect, reassess, and then try a  different approach.  Sometimes the new approach works, other times it doesn't and I repeat the process again.  In all cases though my goal is for student success.   I'd love to apply this to the labour negotiations BC teachers are in the middle of.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Early Primary Maker Space Resources

Last week I was given time to work on a primary maker space resource for my school district. After crowd sourcing on twitter and google plus, and checking out blog posts and websites I created the beginning of such resource.  It can be found on my district website here.

I have continued the journey (with hopes in the future I will be able to add it to my district resource as well) on a Google Doc which I've made public to the world.  If you are an early years teacher who has been dabbling in the maker movement I'd love some feedback from you as well.  While the document I've created is not editable to anyone other than myself, the comment feature is open to all. Please feel free to add ideas, suggestions, or feedback to the document.  My goal is to create a comprehensive one stop document for early primary teachers.  Your input is greatly appreciated.

Here is the link to my Early Primary Maker Space Resources

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Osmo by Tangible Play

Back in February, when I  presented at the Ed Tech Teacher iPad Summit in San Diego,  I had the pleasure of meeting some of the team from Tangible Play.  As a grade one teacher their table stood out from the other vendors.  Instead of information pamphlets and business cards, there were letter tiles, tangram pieces, play dough and coloured markers.  Some how those hands-on tools (which my young learners enjoy working with) were used in conjunction with an iPad.  I had to find out more.

I asked a ton of questions and Karen O'Dell shared a lot with me but more than anything I wanted my students to have the opportunity to try the product out.  Karen made it happen.

When Osmo arrived Tangram was the first app we looked at.  I shared it with a couple of students and instantly they were hooked.  It was really quite wonderful to listen to how they were talking and problem solving together. To no surprise the rest of the class wanted in so we put it under the document camera and one at a time children came and added pieces to the puzzle.

Knowing that with a class of 24 students, more than two would have to work with it at any given moment, my students figured that six was a good number and they happily problem solved in sixes. Tangram became a choice activity during "free choice" and was also integrated into our math time. During other times of the day it was pulled out to give students a break.  It was always in use.

The Tangram app itself has changed a fair bit over the beta testing period.  Tangible Play (the makers of Osmo) have been extremely receptive to feedback.  There are many levels/challenges with the images that students are trying to replicate with their tangram pieces.  At first the images on the iPad are full colour outlining the shapes, but quickly the shapes become grey in colour, then the outline of the tangram pieces disappear.  My students chose to try more challenging puzzles or to work where they are most comfortable.  That's one thing I love about the app. It doesn't expect every one to work at the same level.  It's  really easy to clean up too.  My students just have to return the pieces to the clearly marked spots in the box.   

Words was introduced  next.  In Words an image is shown on the screen with circles to make the missing letters for the word.  Sometimes only the first letter is missing, some times a few letters are missing, and quickly all the letters are missing.  Apparently it changes levels as you play. I think you may even be able to select your level but we haven't explored there yet.  There are also two sets of letters.  You put your "letter guess" in front of the iPad and the letter either helps complete a word, or it goes to the top.  You are allowed only so many "wrong" guesses before the app finally reveals the word.  For each correct guess you are awarded points.  Originally the app could only be played in competition mode but it was since been modified and a cooperative mode has been added. My students typically just use the cooperative mode and work together.  They get so excited when they achieve the 100 points together.

When I watched the promotional video (see below) I noticed that they had students throw letters down at the same time. In my class my students take turns adding their letter guesses.

I will be honest Words frustrated me a bit when I first started to play with it at home.  Often the word it was looking for with the image it was displaying was far too obscure. This feedback was given and like with tangrams the app was tweaked.  You can now add your own images and words too (which I haven't explored yet) so it has great potential for word work study while continuing to promote problem solving and cooperation between those who are playing together.

Despite my initial reservations my students love this app too! They love guessing the words and trying to figure out what they have to spell.  They have been frustrated when the words are too easy, and equally frustrated when the words are too hard.   But the app seems to adjust well for them and just like with Tangrams, Words is a popular app during "free choice" time, and word work time.  My students choose to use this app often too.

This picture totally stumped my students the first time they saw it.

The only issues I've had with this app is how long it takes for my students to put away the letters.  At first my students were just stacking the letters and putting them back in the box. The problem though was that in the process we lost a letter.  We now stack the letters in ABC order, and as bright as my young learners are, finding the letters in order remains a bit of an issue.  When time is short I'll direct my students to Tangram or Newton for the shear sake that this app takes a bit longer to clean up.

The third and final app I introduced my students to was Newton.  In Newton you draw or put down objects in front of the iPad to help redirect a ball to hit a target.  What you draw or put down in front of the screen interacts with the balls falling on the screen.  By far this is the coolest app.  We've only done it using a white board and a white board pen but other beta testers have used all types of objects to redirect the balls.  Since my kids are a huge fan of the Where's My Water app by Disney, this works some what similarly as they create the path for the falling balls.  

I introduced this app last because I was worried my students would be all over it.   With only one Osmo and 24 students,  this is the most difficult of the three apps to share in a large group.  Introducing it was easy and to no surprise my students took right to it.  I was also extremely fortunate because its introduction corresponded with the arrival of more Osmos in our classroom. At present I have one Osmo for every four students.

Again like the first two apps my students loved Newton too.  They do find that the groups need to be smaller - remember they have no issue with six for Words or Tangram.  Four seems to be the maximum group size for Newton.  For some kids this is the app they want to play with all the time, for others they choose Tangram or Words.

One of my fears when I first started to Beta test the product was that the novelty of the tool would wear off.  It's been a few months now, and we have more Osmos in our classroom, and I still have students who can't always get one when they want one.  It isn't a fad app at all, it's here to stay.

Another worry is that using the app requires that I remove iPads from their cases.  This frightens me a lot in my very active grade one class.  But the Osmo stand is very secure and my students know that the iPads do not travel when they are out of their cases.  At clean up time I put the cases back on to ensure that they are on securely.  So far this hasn't been an issue.

Sharing Osmo with our families.

My class and I have also shared Osmo with  parents, grand parents,  big buddies, and other students in the school.  EVERYONE we've shared it with thinks it's really cool and a lot of fun to use.  One much younger sibling had more fun throwing the letters at the iPad then trying the Words app.  At three though, I'm not surprised.  

Sharing Osmo with our grade six/seven big buddies. They loved it too!
Personally I'd say Tangram is the best app for all ages.  I've caught many adults trying to recreate the tangram picture on the screen.  I've also seen the young learners giving it a try with success. The app meets a variety of  learner needs.

Show casing our learning using Osmo during student led conferences.

Osmo, with it's bright manipulative hands on tools, has been an excellent addition to my classroom.  The Tangram, Words, and Newton  apps, in conjunction with the hands on tools, immediately engage my young learners. But not only do they engage, they also promote collaboration and critical thinking through the negotiation and problem solving skills that are required to solve the challenges being faced.  Osmo is a creative, interactive, fun way to learn.  It adds a whole new dimension to working with an iPad. 

Still curious to find out more, check out this promotional video from Osmo.  I smiled  when I watched it for the first time.  While their video is scripted, it is exactly how my students reacted when they played Osmo for the first time.  They were drawn to the product, and immediately  started to work together and share ideas as to how to solve the tangram puzzles.  Seriously. 

So how can you get one too? On Wednesday, May 21st  Osmo finally went public and pre orders are being taken at 50% off for the next month.  You can find out more at .