Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Interview with a Kindergarten Teacher

I think that nearly every year, an education student from Brandon University asks me if they can interview me about my use of ICT in kindergarten and I am always happy to share with them. And I think that the questions are pretty similar from year to year... so I thought it would make sense to post the questions and responses on my blog for anyone interested! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I am passionate about teaching kindergarten and infusing technology in a developmentally appropriate manner and they are both favourite topics of mine!

Interview Questions
How did you get started with using technology in your classroom?
I always tell everyone that I was a technology zero. I was teaching Grades 1 and 2 at the time, and I firmly believed that school budgets should be dedicated to buying guided reading books as my main goal at that time was to build my library for reading instruction and home reading. I saw "computer class" as an add-on that took away from my time to teach the curriculum. At best, I used computers as a reward for students who completed their work early. At worst, I never turned them on for the students, and I used my computer for email, online shopping, lesson planning/research, and word processing.

This all changed in 2005 when Howard Griffith, our division's ICT consultant, approached me to see if I would be willing to develop and pilot the new Literacy with ICT continuum in my classroom. My first reaction was, "why me?", but when he explained that I would receive 5 new computer workstations, a printer, scanner, and digital camera for my classroom, my thoughts turned to "why not?".

That fall, I began my journey in technology infusion with my first Manitoba Education Literacy with ICT session in Carman, Manitoba. The pedagogy made sense to me (after all, it was best practice in any subject area), but there were so many new terms floating around--ethical/responsible use, digital citizenship, digital natives/immigrants, so my learning curve was steep. We were given homework to complete before our next session... and it was something like, use technology in one learning experience and plot three students on the Literacy with ICT continuum. As the deadline loomed, I made the decision to use PowerPoint in our Grades 1 and 2 polar animals research. At that time, I didn't have a projector or a SMART Board, so I figured out PowerPoint the night before and did a mini-lesson to my students. 24 little bodies were clustered around the monitor as I explained how to create a presentation on a polar animal. Then I unleashed some of my students, working in partners, on the classroom computers. And within an hour, several pairs of students had produced rudimentary PowerPoint presentations. I was shocked and awed! With great delight, I printed (printed LOL) the students' presentations and took them to the staff room table to show off! I was hooked, and THAT was the beginning of ICT infusion in my teaching practice. After several additional learning experiences that featured technology, I came to the following conclusions. These conclusions marked a huge shift in my classroom practice and still shape how I teach to this day:
-technology is not an extra. Technology is infused to meet curricular outcomes.
-technology develops 21st century skills, which will be vital to our students' future success
-technology is engaging for students and teachers
-teachers/students don't need to know everything about a piece of hardware/software or a web site. We just need to know enough for that particular learning experience.
-every student in our classrooms does not need to do the same thing at the same time. It is fine for some students to use technology while others use pencil and paper.

What types of technology do you use in the classroom?
Tablets: my school division provides my students with iPads, so that is what we use. I would also be excited to use Microsoft Surface devices in my classroom. We use our tablets for many purposes, including photographing and filming. They have taken the place of a digital camera.
Interactive whiteboard: I would be lost without my SMART Board and SMART Notebook software.
Interactive response system: I use the SMART Response LE system, designed specifically for young learners.
Front Row Classroom Amplification System: this fantastic sound system provides surround sound for all my devices (computers, iPhone, iPads, etc) as well as a pendant microphone for me and a pass-around student microphone. Quality classroom sound has a direct impact on student achievement and my vocal fatigue!
Computers/laptops: I use these rarely with my young students, but obviously they are indispensable to me in creating and delivering learning experiences.
Social media: we tweet as a class (@olcskinders) and I tweet professionally (@india0309) as well. I also maintain a classroom Facebook page as a parent communication tool. Check out these blog posts for more information on how we use Twitter and Facebook.
Smart phone: my cell phone is an indispensable tool. I use it to communicate with parents, photograph/film, enter assessment data, as a timer, etc.
Document camera: great for science experiments, shared reading, math manipulatives, etc.

Do you blog personally or with the class?
This blog, Kindergarten Diva, is a platform for reflecting on and sharing my kindergarten practice with other educators and educational stakeholders. Little Hands Extended is a joint blog with colleague Leah Obach and her Grade 1 class, where we chronicle our collaborative project-based learning. Sometimes, the students and I use shared writing to post to this blog. Given the age of my students, I find that Twitter is a better fit for their writing abilities and attention spans.

Do you use Skype to communicate with people and/or other classes?
We use Skype on a daily basis in our project-based learning. We use Skype to communicate with partner classrooms around the world, to consult experts, and to obtain information that is vital to our learning. Read our Skype in the Classroom moment--it was just chosen as a winner and we won a new webcam!

We use Skype in the Classroom to connect with other classrooms who are learning about the same things as we are and to access experts that are far away from us. We live in a small rural community, so Skype is an important tool to that brings the world to us. Also, when I am away, even for a day, I Skype my students to check in on them. I love being able to see and talk to them when I am out of the classroom. Skype is probably my most-used technology tool! Read this blog post to see how we infuse Skype in kindergarten.

What do you feel are the benefits of using technology in your classroom?
The benefits are numerous, but as a kindergarten teacher, I strive to infuse technology when it is developmentally appropriate. Little ones need many real-life, hands on experiences to stimulate their senses and develop gross and fine motor skills. Many students have a lot of screen time at home, and don't need hours more at school! I try to make deliberate decisions about when technology is the best tool for learning! These 21st Century Learning Design Rubrics from Microsoft Partners in Learning guide my planning and assessment. Create your free account to access these rubrics and many other great resources!

Benefits include:
-student and teacher engagement
-development of 21st century skills (communication, collaboration, problem-solving, creative thinking, ICT skills, etc)
-matching the learning style of the 21st century learner
-bringing the world into my classroom and providing students with opportunities that would not be possible in a traditional classroom
-sharing our learning with others
-reducing the amount of paper consumed for a more sustainable classroom
-enhanced parent communication through texting, Facebook, and Twitter leads to greater support for student learning

Is there any advice you would give to someone who is new to using technology in the classroom or is unsure about using it?
-you don't need to know everything. You just need to know enough for that learning experience.
-you don't need to figure out everything! Just know that it is possible and you can always find a tutorial on YouTube or get a colleague to help you.
-start small by infusing technology in ONE area--start tweeting, use your SMART Board for calendar or attendance, use YouTube songs and dances for movement breaks, etc. Once you are more confident, add another area to your repertoire.
-don't be afraid to learn with your students! Become the "guide on the side" instead of the "sage on the stage".
-take risks, be prepared for some technology disasters, and persevere!!! Have a back up plan for when technology doesn't work!
-teach digital citizenship and ethical and responsible use from kindergarten on. Explain that you can't use someone else's music or images. It's much easier to create good habits from the beginning than try to undo them in the middle years.
-attend inexpensive local conferences such as BYTE in Neepawa or visit another classroom that infuses technology
-and remember--infusing technology is NOT OPTIONAL. It is a best practice in education that will enrich and deepen student learning while developing 21st century skills.

My go-to websites:
Microsoft Partners in Learning Network: everything here is so useful, from free software downloads, hundreds of learning experiences, to rich discussions in the Hot Topics blogs! Access to Virtual University webinars brings professional learning right to your home or classroom too.
SMART Exchange: why create a SMART Notebook lesson when you can download and modify a pre-made one? Save yourself time!
YouTube: seriously, who wouldn't be lost without YouTube? Just preview content first and watch out for videos of scantily-clad women that come up when the video is finished playing!
Symbaloo: the perfect way to safely bring web content to your students and their mobile devices! Read this blog post for an example of how I use Symbaloo to build student knowledge.
Evernote: organizing and tracking assessment data. I'd recommend using student initials to maintain confidentiality.
Brain Pop Junior: the videos are fantastic and the educators' community has great free webinars. The videos are subscription only, but there are some free ones so it's worth checking!
Twitter: my students and I love to tweet our learning and interact with classrooms and teachers around the world. I use Hootsuite to manage my many streams. Kindergarten teachers, please tag your tweets with #mbkteachers to share with other Manitoba kindergarten teachers!

Being in an early years environment, how do you monitor and make sure that students are using technology appropriately?
-as I mentioned earlier, I teach and model digital citizenship from the beginning. Students know what they are allowed to do and why. Read this blog post to learn more about digital citizenship in my kindergarten program.
-I use guided access on my classroom iPads to lock students in the one app that they are allowed to use at that time.

My colleague Leah Obach and I often hear that we must be gifted with technology or that we're really "lucky" with technology. Neither statement is true...infusing technology to maximize student learning just requires a lot of persistence and tenacity. Having a teaching partner to share the planning and problem-solving makes it so much easier and more fun (and they don't need to be in the same building or school division). Don't give up--begin your journey with one little step and you'll be walking then running in no time at all! And remember that help is just a text, email, internet search, or tweet away!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Building Knowledge with Symbaloo

Anyone who follows this blog and/or Little Hands Extended knows that we do a lot of project-based learning in kindergarten. For the past few weeks, we've been involved in yet another exciting collaborative project with Mrs. Obach's Grade 1 class--the Olympics! Since my kindergarten students were babies the last time the Winter Games were held, they knew absolutely nothing about this huge event. Although knowledge building is an important part of any learning experience in our classroom, it was even more vital for this project!

Since I became involved with Microsoft's Innovative Teacher program (now Expert Educator program) in 2008, I have used their rubrics to plan and assess instruction and learning. Their latest rubrics, 21st Century Learning Design, include collaboration, knowledge construction, skilled communication, use of ICT for learning, self-regulation, and real-world problem solving and innovation. Although this learning experience targeted descriptors from all rubrics, I chose to really focus on knowledge construction.

One of the areas that my students were really struggling with were the variety of Olympic events. They had some knowledge of hockey and figure skating, but the rest of the events were a complete mystery to them. It was important to me that they guide their own learning of the Olympic events, rather than me just tell them what each event was. So here's what we did....

I used a tool called Symbaloo to create an Olympics 2014 webmix. Symbaloo is a kid-friendly bookmarking tool that helps me make internet content safely and readily available to my kindergarten students. My Olympic webmix contains one video for each event as well as video clips of famous Canadians at the 2010 Olympics. I have published this webmix so feel free to use it with your class too.
I love how I'm able to customize each tile with my own text and images. The ability to add an image makes it very user-friendly for our youngest learners! My next step was to install the SymbalooEDU app on my classroom tablets. Once the app was installed, I logged in with my account and there was my Olympics webmix for all my students to use!

When it was time for the research portion of our learning experience, each student chose one event to study. I modelled using the Symbaloo webmix on our interactive whiteboard, and the students navigated the Olympics webmix on their tablets with no difficulty at all. Each student watched their video, then recorded their understandings on this recording form. Students drew a picture of what happened in the event, then printed words below describing the event. I was super excited to observe how independently they completed their research!

Once our research was complete, we skyped the Hamiota Grade 1s to share what we had learned from researching Olympic sports. Each student was responsible for describing the sport they had researched and answering any questions their peers raised, which added to the learning of the entire group and made their work more interdependent.

Tomorrow each student will select a new sport to research and complete another research recording form. Now that we are more comfortable with using Symbaloo and the research recording form and sharing what we've learned, I want to add another layer to the task that requires them to apply their knowledge in greater depth.