Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Plan, Do and Review iPad Exploration

After finally getting the 20 new iPads set up and ready to use (a major undertaking for which I take no credit-- read about it here), I am planning to embark on an explorative journey of how to best use these tools to transform learning in 2nd grade.

Aside from a little fun in Kitah Alef (1st grade) one afternoon, using Doodle Buddy to practice writing Hebrew letters, I have very little experience with the iPad as a school device. I am only a moderately fluent user of my own iPad, which I use mostly to consume information.

So, where to begin?

I will be using iPads in one of the 2nd grade learning centers, twice a week. My initial goals are to learn more about what can reasonably be done by 2nd graders during this period of time and to let the kids do a bit of structured exploration. So far we have only been able to add free apps to our iPads. (Here is our list.)

I need to do my own experiential learning of how to use the iPads with young children, while continuing to gain fluency in using the iPad for my own productivity. I am willing to allow curricular goals to take a backseat in the early stages of exploration. In my many years of using technology with students (of ALL ages) I have always had big goals, but I have learned that what seems simple to me is not always as simple as it seems. In fact, I believe that one of the reasons many teachers turn off from using technology actively with students in the "messiness" of it. For me, part of embracing the messiness (which I have come to love) is to realize that it's all learning.

In thinking about how to structure the early exploration, I recalled a model called Plan, Do and Review. In researching the method, I see that it is used most frequently in preschool, but is also indicated as developmentally appropriate for use in lower elementary grades.
I like this model because it gives students opportunity to explore and choose but within a guided structure designed by the teacher. I believe that creativity and exploration are often more productive within a structure. I have observed that students, when given too many choices, may have trouble committing to an activity. They become overwhelmed with choices and jump around from one thing to the next, never really "doing" anything.

In the initial meeting with students, after a brief introduction to the iPad and discussion about proper care and handling, I plan to provide students with 3 or 4 choices of apps/activities to freely explore. I will keep demonstration to a bare minimum and let the focus be on problem solving and exploration for the students.
Ideas for choices:
•Listen to a student created podcast, downloaded from the MJGDS podcast channel on iTunes. We have many excellent, student-created podcasts, including one that they made last year in first grade.
•Read an eBook (we have a few free eBooks downloaded, as well as two student-created eBooks.)
•Sock Puppets

The emphasis will be making a choice and then sticking to that choice for the entirety of the "do" period.

Doing is the active engagement. Some choices will offer more exploration and experimentation than others. It's all good. Or even if it's not good, it's ok. That's why there is time to review.

Review can be formal or informal. I am hoping to have time for a formal, written review. I've created a google form for students to use (at this point, I will probably print the form and have them write it. In the future, we plan to download the forms app so students can fill out the form on the iPads).

Although that will complete one Plan, Do, Review session, the cycle will continue with the next session as students become more familiar with the process itself, as well as the things they enjoy doing during their "do" time.

This is my plan for at least the first few sessions of working with the 2nd graders. It should give me opportunity to get a feel for using the iPads with the small groups. From there, the teacher and I will strategize on next steps.

I welcome your ideas and feedback, as well as suggestions for great (especially free) apps to use with young students.

Taking Notes

I was intrigued by the exploration of note-taking styles described in the post "The Official Scribe: It's All About Learning Styles & Collaboration" by Silvia Tolisano. We (the 4th grade teacher and I) decided to try a similar lesson while watching a movie about the Geography, Culture and History of Florida.

What We Did:
We began with a discussion about note-taking. Why and how do students take notes? Some of the students shared their own note-taking strategies; other students had little or no experience with note-taking.

We talked about how different people think in different ways, and took a few moments to think about and share the way each of us thinks we think best (in words, in pictures, a combination of words & images).

We generated a list of ideas of different ways to jot down key ideas, as well as the tools we might use:
• paper and pencil-words
• paper and pencil-doodles and drawings
• computer keyboard using mind-mapping software (Inspiration)
• computer using art software (Pixie)
• iPad using the app Doodle Buddy, and a stylus or iPad keyboard

We also showed a the beginning of the RSA Animate Ken Robinson video as an example of using doodling to take notes.
Each student chose a tool and a style to use to take notes during the video. Most were given paper/pencil as the tool; we had one iPad and two computers. One student was selected to stand by the SMARTboard to pause to the video to use Skitch to take screenshots at important points. Those screenshots were put into an open Word document.

What I Noticed:
The students seemed highly engaged in the video and in their note-taking. They were vocal about where the video should be paused for screen shots. The student doing the screen shots was slow at first with the tools and process but very quickly became proficient.

I wonder:
I wonder if the emphasis on the different styles of note-taking impacted the way the students watched the video and, if so was the impact positive.

What's Next?
This afternoon, we will finish watching the video. We plan to compile the notes and reflect with the students on the pros and cons of the different strategies. It will be interesting to hear their thoughts on taking notes. Did taking notes help them pay attention to the video? Will their notes help them review and process what they learned?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Re-Thinking Faculty Meetings

In 20 years of teaching, I have attended my fair share of faculty meetings. I remember sitting in the meetings at my first job, listening to impassioned debates over whether or not to have a water cooler in the staff lounge and wondering, "Is this what adults do at work?"
I found out that the answer to that was, disappointingly, yes. This is how a lot of adults spend time in meetings. I have viewed faculty meetings, for the most part, as something to be endured, a necessary part of a teaching job, but not something exciting, enlightening or particularly useful or relevant to my work.

We Don't Need Reform, We Need New Forms
Our new (as of last year) head-of-school, Jon Mitzmacher is committed to new forms for the traditional faculty meeting. The first innovation he introduced was to begin & end every meeting on time. This is no small feat and brings into focus the question of how to best use that once-monthly hour when the whole staff is together in one place. Do we really want to spend that time discussing the proper way to staple papers to a bulletin board?

Even more importantly, Jon did away with the typical "administrivia." An agenda is shared with items of note listed at the bottom, and we are trusted to read these ourselves and clarify, if necessary, on our own.

This stems from a core value that I feel is game-changing, although it seems obvious and simple. Staff meetings should be devoted to the practices of teaching and learning. The goal is to model the type of learning culture we envision for all members of our community: reflective, differentiated, participatory, collaborative. Last year teachers took turns "hosting" the meeting. We had the opportunity to visit each other's classrooms and learn from one another.

New School Year~New Ideas
I was thrilled when, this year, I was invited (or maybe I invited myself) to brainstorm and participate in re-thinking the faculty meeting. My role at the school is evolving as we grow into a 21st century learning community, and I am working more in the capacity of a provider of professional development and coaching for teachers, so I think it makes sense.

The first meeting of this year featured a guest speaker, Dr. Elliott Rosenbaum of The American School of Professional Life Coaching. He did a wonderful presentation about "Active Listening" and then guided a role-playing activity. Everyone agreed that it was an excellent use of our faculty meeting.

For our next meeting, we decided to introduce the idea of "Ignite" presentations. In talks that are exactly five minutes long, Ignite presenters share their personal and professional passions, using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. I wanted to show Jen Orr's "Encienda EduCon"presentation "What do you teach?" but I couldn't find a video online. Jen very generously agreed to Skype into our faculty meeting and recreate her presentation for us.

Next we showed Chris Lehmann's "Ignite Philly" presentation "The Schools We Need."
We have invited faculty members to present their own 5 minute talks at הצתה
(Hebrew for "Ignition"), which will be
the opening to future faculty meetings.

In the remaining time, each teacher was given a KWH (What do we KNOW, WANT to know, and HOW will we find out?) graphic organizer to begin preparing an implementation timeline for his or her professional development plan for the year.

What Else?
Here are some other ideas I'm thinking about--
•using TED talks (have a different teacher select the TED talk of the month to be shown at the meeting. Have teachers give their own TED talks (very similar to the Ignite model).
•I was very moved by the movie, Temple Grandin. There are some important messages in this movie for educators, and I would love to use parts of the movie as a catalyst for discussion about how we deal with different types of children. How do we, as teachers, either help them feel valued for who they are or misunderstood? An additional resource might be Temple Grandin's TED Talk, "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds."
•Watch a video of someone teaching then ask participants to "rate" the teaching or similar discussion starter of what constitutes "good" teaching.
• A "smack-down" where anyone shares a favorite resource. This is a really low-pressure way to introduce a shift in the culture toward one of sharing and openness.
•Guest speakers either in-person or via skype.
•Time for collaboration and reflection.

What are other schools doing during faculty meetings? What are your ideas for the best use of this time?