Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tips and Tricks for Tweeting in Kindergarten

While sipping my morning tea and scrolling through my Hootsuite account this morning, a Winnipeg kindergarten teacher whom I follow posted a tweet saying that she was interested in using Twitter in her classroom. Have a look at some of our conversation:
This brief conversation made me reflect on how and why I've been using Twitter in kindergarten. Before using Twitter, I got my feet wet with blogging. I first began blogging in kindergarten in November 2008 after returning from the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Hong Kong. I had connected with some amazing teachers who blogged, and blogging seemed like a great way to share what was happening in my classroom and stay in touch with teachers around the world. The teacher who had the biggest impact on my classroom practice with blogging was Kate O'Connell (now Kate Murray). In 2008, Kate was a teacher at Scoil Mhuire in Kilvemnon, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Her students blogged the adventures of a school mascot, Piggly, who had travelled to the Global Forum in Hong Kong with her. Take a look at some posts from 2008 chronicling the adventures of Piggly in Hong Kong! Kate and I decided that if my classroom got a mascot, we would communicate through our blogs. It was a wonderful project, and our mascot Barkley the Beaver became a beloved member of the kindergarten class.

My kindergarten students were very enthusiastic about our classroom mascot, but composing blog posts as a shared writing activity was painful at times. Even with me acting as a scribe/keyboarder, it was a challenge to our brief attention spans. When I heard about Twitter in 2009, I decided that "microblogging" with 140-character tweets might be just the tool we were looking for. We created a Twitter account, @olcskinders, and began looking for other early years classrooms to follow. The students loved checking Twitter, and composing a number of short tweets throughout our day worked perfectly!

Based on what I've learned in the past few years, here's some Twitter tips and tricks for tweeting in kindergarten.
Use Twitter yourself: the best way to become proficient in using Twitter is by creating your own professional or personal account. Twitter is an amazing tool for professional development and building your own professional learning community. The best way to get started is to visit the Twitter page of another kindergarten teacher, take a look at who they follow, and follow anyone who looks interesting! 

What should you tweet about? Share links to great online resources, ask questions or post a plea for suggestions/resources, retweet tweets that you found interesting, share what you've been reading professionally, funny anecdotes from your day in kindergarten...really, just about anything that other teachers would find useful or amusing! When you're participating in professional learning, it's a great idea to paraphrase important points from the speaker, reflect on what you have heard, and share recommended resources--this scales up the impact so that hundreds and maybe even thousands of people can benefit!

Use a Twitter client: I find the Twitter site to be very limiting in terms of functionality, so I use a Twitter client such as Hootsuite.  Hootsuite can be accessed online (just set up an account and allow access to your Twitter account) or downloaded as an app to your smartphone or tablet. Hootsuite has default streams, such as sent tweet, mentions (very useful to know who is talking about you on Twitter), direct messages, etc. You can also customize Hootsuite and add your own streams, such as hashtags used for conferences or discussion groups  (#kinderchat and #mbkteachers are great ones to follow). To learn more about hashtags, check out this video tutorial.

A word of warning: using a Twitter client for your professional account is invaluable. However, I find that when I project my kindergarten account on our SMART Board, the Hootsuite interface is WAY too busy and confusing for kindergarten students. We always use the plain old Twitter website when reading and sending tweets!

Finding Other Kindergarten Classes to Follow: becoming involved in a professional learning community such as #kinderchat or #mbkteachers will give you access to lots of kindergarten teachers. It's easy to send a tweet saying, "Looking for other K classes to follow and share with on Twitter. Who's interested? #mbkteachers #kinderchat". Or, visit my classroom Twitter account, @olcskinders, and follow any of the classrooms that look like a good fit for your students.

Involving Parents: It's a good idea to inform parents that you will be using Twitter in your kindergarten classroom. Explaining the educational value of such a tool is key for parents to understand that this isn't a waste of classroom time! Here's a link to the note I send home to parents explaining why we use Twitter. The note also contains some video tutorial links and step by step instructions to create their own account so they can become involved with our classroom on Twitter.

How does it look in kindergarten? We usually check our kindergarten Twitter account as part of our morning calendar routine. Our entire calendar is done on the SMART Board in a Notebook file, so it is super easy to include a hyperlink to our Twitter account. We read tweets from other K classrooms and reply as often as we can to encourage dialogue. We write tweets detailing what we will be doing for the day and share links to online games and videos we enjoyed. Other times, we ask questions based on what we are learning (Who would like to share a two-element pattern with us? Who knows what colour red and blue make?), share products we have made (such as our latest Animoto video) or pose a math problem of the day. Some classrooms post Google forms to fill out to collect information (on other communities for example) to enhance their learning.

Composing tweets: We compose tweets in one of three ways...
1) Teacher as scribe/keyboarder: this is the quickest way to get something on Twitter. The students generate the message while I type it. I pause and ask students to supply initial/medial/final sounds and spell simple sight words. Sometimes I talk about starting the sentence with an uppercase letter, leaving a space between words, and choosing the correct punctuation. We re-read the message and make sure it makes sense, then a student presses "tweet" on the SMART Board.
2) Student as keyboarder: sometimes the students do the actual typing while we work together to generate a message. In these instances, I use the pop up keyboard on the SMART Board (you can customize it to display in ABC order, qwerty, or using uppercase/lowercase letters). I often help the student by typing the tricky letters or words while he/she types familiar sounds and sight words. If you are working with a projector but not an interactive whiteboard, plugging in a keyboard such as the Kinderboard from Bridges is a great option! Manitoba teachers: Contact Andrea Marginet at Manitoba Education's Rural and Northern Assistive Technology Lending Library. She can hook you up with a kinderboard to trial in your classroom!
3) Student as scribe: other times, students and I share the pen on the SMART Board, using Notebook software, to compose our message. This gives us an opportunity to practice letter formation and other writing conventions. When our message is complete, we export it as a JPEG file and upload it to Twitter. Tip: supply the other students in the class with little whiteboards and markers. Have them write the message with you so that everyone is busy and engaged!

Mapping outcomes with Google Maps:  There are a few mapping outcomes in Manitoba's social studies curriculum. Discussing and plotting the locations on a map of our Twitter friends is a great way to infuse social studies into our daily tweeting. My students and I created a map using Google Maps that we update as we follow new classrooms. The students find it interesting to calculate how long it would take to drive to the school of a classroom we are following on Twitter! We often take a minute to use Google Street View to check out the school and do a quick internet search to learn about their geographic location and climate.

Using picture files on Twitter: as previously mentioned, SMART Notebook files can be converted to JPEGs and uploaded to Twitter. To give your Twitter followers a window into your classroom, it's very easy to snap a picture with your smartphone or iPad and upload it directly to Twitter. Whether it's an art project, a science experiment, or a pattern that has been created, by snapping a picture it can shared with your followers around the world in seconds. Working with your students to attach a brief tweet to the picture that reflects on the learning takes it to the next level. Just a word of caution: only include student images if you have informed consent from parents and you are operating within the parameters of division policy!

Develop digital citizenship from a young age: using Twitter in the classroom gives you the perfect opportunity to teach ethical, responsible, and safe use of technology and social media. Hopefully lessons learned in kindergarten will prevent cyber bullying and some of the dangerous behavior we hear about in the news! Manitoba Education developed the Literacy with ICT continuum in 2005, and it contains many relevant descriptors for using technology safely and responsibly in the early years. When appropriate, I include the following in our Twitter use:
1) Let's enter our username and password. What is a password? Who can we share it with?
2) Our Twitter friends want to know about us and where we live. Should we use our first and last names on Twitter? Could we give them our home phone numbers? Why would that not be a good idea?
3) Let's share what we've been doing in our Dr. Seuss unit. It would be fun to show a picture from the book Green Eggs and Ham because we just read it. But is that our picture? Did we draw it? Is it okay to share something that we haven't made ourselves?

Twitter Resources and Tools
Kinderchat: the original kindergarten Twitter discussion! Visit this site for Twitter tips and tricks, discussion archives, and information about upcoming projects. It's a gold mine of information for the tweeting K teacher.
Eight Useful and Fun Twitter Tools: some great ones here, and they're all new to me!
Twit Longer: when you're too chatty to contain your message to 140 characters!
Twitter Gets an A+ in Kindergarten Classroom

When infused into your classroom practice, Twitter can provide a wealth of opportunities to meet curricular outcomes and Literacy with ICT descriptors. In 140 characters, it brings the world into your classroom and shares learning with a huge audience. My classroom would love to tweet with yours--please don't hesitate to follow us at @olcskinders. And if you're tweeting professionally about kindergarten practice, please use the hashtag #mbkteachers in your tweets. Happy tweeting :)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

4 and 5 Going on 21? 21st Century Learners and the Benefits of Edugaming in Kindergarten

I was recently asked to contribute a blog post to Microsoft's Partners in Learning Hot Topics Games-Based Learning blog. I thought some of my kindergarten readers might be interested in the content, so here it is! I encourage everyone to join the Partners in Learning Network for great resources, free software downloads,  learning activities, and access to a huge professional learning community!

As a Canadian kindergarten teacher, I spend my days immersed in the world of little people. Their brief attention spans, need for frequent movement breaks, and emerging 21st century skills require a variety of play-based strategies. Edugaming is an exciting development in education, yet the use of games in early years education is far from new. To engage today’s youngest 21st century learners, the addition of technology and social media to these games only makes sense.

Why games-based learning in the early years classroom?

Gross motor development: the Xbox Kinect console and games have huge potential for gross motor development in young children. Motor skills have consistently been identified as an area of concern in our community’s pre/post kindergarten screenings. Moving and manipulating in new ways with Xbox Kinect games is yet another tool to strengthen this deficient area in our kindergarten population.

Movement breaks: with attention spans of 5-10 minutes, young learners require lessons that incorporate movement breaks and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. As they work together to navigate challenges within the game, children engage another intelligence and develop key social competencies.

Curricular connections: links to all subject areas are possible when games-based learning is implemented in a thoughtful and intentional manner. A game such as Fantastic Pets can address science and social studies outcomes (characteristics/needs of living things, the world around me, etc). 

Games-based learning expert Dr. Richard Van Eck from University of North Dakota recommends that students play the game, engage in further study of the content, then play the game some more. This cycle gives students many opportunities to activate, acquire, and apply new learning.

Here's an example of a science/sustainable living lesson based on the Xbox Kinect game, Once Upon a Monster, that I taught with my colleague Leah Obach.

Tips for Teachers
-develop digital citizenship in your students as a part of games-based learning. It’s never too early!
-overwhelmed by the huge variety of games? Search online for the game title followed by walk through/cheat to see what the game looks like and how it’s played.
-no time to run a gaming centre while monitoring 20 other students? Train older students as experts. Mentoring younger students builds confidence and skills in them too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rhyme Time

Teaching and reinforcing important rhyming skills has never been easier with the huge variety of multimedia resources available to kindergarten classrooms. Although we practice rhyming all year, I always designate March as the month where rhyming really becomes a focus.

Since March is Dr. Seuss' birthday, it's the perfect time to read his rhyming books. We completed a favourite learning experience based on the books "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back". After reading both books a number of times, we decided to create our own "Cat in the Hat" hats. We watched a Brain Pop video on rhyming words. This video was excellent, and extended rhyming words into reading and spelling word families of rhyming words. We paused the video at strategic points to provide our own answers and predict the rhyming words. The quiz at the end of the video provided additional practice, and the special helpers chose the correct answers on the Smartboard.

After a movement break, we watched one of my favourite rhyming Sesame Street videos, Gangsters: AN Plan. Then we retold the story in the video, using the rhyming words to remind us what part came next in the story. After discussing how the words rhymed, it was time to print them on the Smartboard. We talked about how the first letter/letters changes each time, but the last part always stays the same. Halfway through, we started using red for the onset and blue for the rime to make this really obvious.
The next step was modelling the creation of a Dr. Seuss hat. Using four white strips, we printed a different rhyming word on each. I modelled this while students gathered around on the floor, but using a document camera projected on the Smartboard would have been even more effective!

Students returned to their table spots with their four strips of white paper, printing a different rhyming word on each strip. Next they glued them on their Dr. Seuss hats to create this adorable finished product!
We're excited to model them this afternoon!

Taking Show and Tell to the Next Level: Mrs. P Style

On Friday, I had the privilege of spending the day with some of the province's finest kindergarten teachers at Manitoba Education's first-ever Kindergarten Share Fair. I will do another post about this amazing day, but guess what? I wasn't surprised to discover that I'm not the only kindergarten diva around--Manitoba is full of phenomenal kindergarten teachers modelling best practices in early childhood education!

During our show and tell time, I was exposed to a plethora of great ideas. This one, shared by Mrs. Tammy Pidborchynski, caught my attention as my own show and tell time is really in need of revitalization! Tammy has one student bring a show and tell item each day, and he/she shares it during morning circle time. The student places the show and tell item in a box, and other students at circle time take on the following roles.

The reader reads the following questions aloud and the show and tell person answers them. Even better if the reader uses a pointer to track the print and the whole class reads together!
 The colour person adds pieces of coloured paper to the inside of the frame to depict the colour(s) of the show and tell object. Tammy uses this opportunity to meet some K science outcomes from the colour cluster, including introducing the vocabulary "multi-coloured".
 The letter person asks, "What letter does your item begin with?" and finds it on this chart. Tammy assesses to see if the student can locate the letter in both lowercase and uppercase form. Notice how the lowercase letters are not printed in order on the chart, adding an extra level of challenge.
Lastly, students in the class use the information to guess what the object is. The music person shakes a morocco or plays another instrument when a student guesses correctly!

I really believe that these show and tell activities take the oh-so-boring traditional show and tell to the next level, infusing science, early literacy, and music, and providing some important opportunities for assessment. Thank you so much for sharing Tammy!

*Although Tammy has adapted this idea, she learned about it at a kindergarten session by Joanne Sleightholm.