These headphones aren’t gonna be the ones.

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So today before we started centers I remembered that I’d seen some of our older students using headphones when they used laptops. Turns out the upper grades have a whole container of headphones that they use. They are what I call “Walkman style” and were all the rage in the 80’s when the Sony Walkman revolutionized the way we listen to music.  I  borrowed 3 pairs from third grade for our preschoolers to try out today with the ipads.

While good in theory, these headphones just weren’t a good fit for such young kids.  They struggled to get them on, and then struggled to get them to fit properly.   Adjusting each set of headphones for each student took away from learning time, and truth be told, a couple of the kids still found them uncomfortable and hard to wear even after we adjusted them. It was definitely better than last week when we had all 3 ipads “talking” at once,  but I think it’d be even better still if we we’re able to track down the kind of headphones that a lot of teachers use at listening centers.

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The kids were just happy to be using the ipads again and weren’t too concerned with the headphones. Engagement was as high as it had been before and boy, were these ipads a motivator!  Each child had to complete a short journal entry before they could use the ipad.  Children who had before taken 25 minutes to finish their work were completing high quality journal work in 15 minutes.

Today we tried out new headphones.

I’ll keep you posted on the headphones.  The yellow pair in the picture above belong to my son and I was able to find them for just a few dollars.  I’m hoping we might be able to find something similar for our classroom.

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We are loving HeidiSongs In Our Room!

Have you seen this?

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I’m not sure how we stumbled across the HeidiSongs website. It could have been Pinterest, or just plain Google. What we do know is that our class is loving it! (** After I finished this blog post I realized that Heidi of HeidiSongs is actually quite active in the teacher blogger community. Ironically, that’s not how we discovered her!)

Learning the teen numbers can be challenging. Poor eleven and twelve are so often neglected when preschoolers count, and that just messes up the whole counting process. We’re at the point in the year where we usually teach our children “the teens.” This group was struggling a bit more with the concept than others had so we were looking for other ways to help them. That’s when we stumbled across Heidi Songs. After watching a few free previews online, we knew we had to have the DVD.

What our kids love about the series is the catchy songs. It took just one viewing of the DVD and our kids were singing about numbers non stop.  We as teachers loved how the video incorporated so many different learning styles into one lesson.  The children are singing the song, doing a special unique dance for each number and seeing the number.  The number is presented in written form (fourteen) numerical form (14) and with a 10 frame. It’s obvious that someone with a solid educational background created these videos.

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Our kids’ favorite number song is twenty. “Number twenty goes first a two and then zero.”

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“You better watch out for the twenty or he’ll bite your little bunty!”

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We used our document camera, projector and laptop to show the DVDs so the videos were on our big screen. They’d also work well with a TV and DVD player. We’d only had the videos a day when we went back and ordered more. I think Sight Words and Letter Sounds are headed our way.

The highschooler working in our room this week came back to school the day after we first played the first DVD and said, “That song was stuck in my head all night last night!”  My teaching partner replied with a smile, “That’s the whole point!”  To which the highschooler replied, “You know it really would be nice if they still did stuff like this to teach highschoolers.”  I think the highschooler nailed that one.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have multi-sensory instructional videos to teach higher level concepts too?  For now, go and check out all of the early childhood videos at HeidiSongs. I bet you’ll find at least one you like.

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Using the Kindle App for a Lesson: Put Me In The Zoo


Using the Kindle app ipad and document cameraPut Me in The Zoo Stacked Collage2

                                                                                                                             

My teaching partner is incredibly organized. She’s almost always planned and prepped at least two weeks out. It’s a rare day when we have to scramble to come up with an activity at the last minute.  For whatever reason (perhaps the holiday weekend threw us off) that happened this morning.  We’d seen this idea on Pinterest yesterday.

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When we clicked on the pin it took us to Kangarooboo.  (They give the detailed instructions for this project on the blog part of the website, but also have an online toy store. I haven’t shopped at their toy store.) We loved the idea of doing this lesson based on the book Put Me In The Zoo by Robert Lopshire and knew it would be the perfect activity to fill the empty spot in our schedule.  There was just one problem: We couldn’t find a copy of the book anywhere! We checked our school library and checked with all of the primary teachers in our school and no one had it!

That’s when we decided that we could solve this dilemma with our ipads. I’ll confess that I am not native to Apple products.  I was “raised” on PCs and my smartphones have always been Android based. So when I started looking for a way to put the book on our ipad, my first thought was to use the Kindle app. We could have gotten the book through itunes, but Kindle was easier because I knew the system, and we were in a hurry.

We quickly downloaded the app to one of our ipads and synced it with our existing Amazon account. We then purchased a Kindle version of Put Me In A Zoo.  We connected our ipad to our document camera with the ever versatile dongle, and we were ready to roll!

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The children settled in on the rug for the story.  We projected the book onto the big screen and the kids loved it. The pictures were far bigger than they would have been had we simply been sharing a traditional book. We were also able to double tap on the pictures to eliminate the text and make the pictures fill the screen.

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After the story, we did the activity in a traditional classroom manner. We provided each student with a tray of supplies.Talented teaching partner had quickly sketched up a template first thing in the morning. We were also incredibly lucky to have 2 high school volunteers in our class today who quickly punched out all of the colored spots for us with a paper punch. I’m not sure we could have pulled it off without them! We added eyes and a pom pom nose to each tray, along with brads for the legs, and the usual paste and scissors.

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We ended up with an adorable collection of animals.

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While I know many of you could sketch up your own pattern in a flash, I absolutely could not. For those of you like me,  talented teaching partner generously offered to let me upload her template.  You’re welcome to download it. I put it on Google Drive and shared it. Click here to see my post about how to share something with Google Drive and Click here to download your own template.

So what do you use to share digital books with your students? Kindle? Ipad? Something else? Let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for ideas!

I’m linking up to Technology Tailgate again. Lots of great techie posts over there.  Click the picture below to check them out.

Tech Tuesday

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Is It Really OK to put Technology in an Early Childhood Classroom?

Is Technology In Early Childhood OK

That’s the unspoken question I’m sensing from other Early Childhood educators. Is it really OK to give ipads to four and five year olds? When you’ve got the American Academy of Pediatrics making fairly strict recommendations about screen time for children under two, it makes sense to consider the question for young children as well. It’s definitely a question I considered before writing a proposal to request the ipads that we received.

I remember a teacher I met early in my teaching career.  She taught kindergarten and was adamant that no technology would cross her threshold. There was no TV in her room and computers were relegated to the hallway. I admired her for taking that stand. Even in those days, so many children were spending far too much time in front of  television, computers and video games. She wanted to make sure her students were doing the things that are so important for development: playing outside, interacting with peers, building sand castles and climbing jungle gyms.

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I don’t think the situation has improved in the last 15 years. Children of all ages in this country are still spending far too much time in front of screens. At the same time, I do believe that our country has evolved. Like it or not, we live in a digital age.  It is almost impossible to exist without at least a computer, if not also a smartphone, laptop and tablet. There comes a time when it is foolish to pretend that the world has not changed. The children that enter our classroom today have had their mom or dad’s smartphone at their disposal to entertain them during downtime probably since birth. They were practically born into an ipad age. Technology is a language that some of them speak quite fluently.  If we really want to reach them and meet their needs, we may need to start speaking their language, and that means using technology in their classrooms.

As I started to consider ipads in our classroom, I was pleased to find that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) had examined the issue of using technology with young children.  I was even more pleased to discover that they saw a place for technology in early childhood classrooms.  In January 2012, NAEYC, in conjunction with  Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College issued this position statement on the role of Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs.  This position statement makes a couple of points that I think are essential to keep in mind whenever one is using technology in an early childhood classroom. 

One of the first points they make is with regard to intentionality. Teachers who plan to include technology in their classrooms must be thoughtful and deliberate in the ways that they invite children to engage with these digital devices. Open access to ipads, while fun and exciting, will not necessarily benefit our students any more than their ability to pick up their Nintendo DS, Nook or ipod touch at home and start playing.  As I stated earlier, children in this day and age are already getting plenty of screen time. If we’re going to invite technology into our classrooms,  we need to consider how we are going to ensure that this is not just more of what our students are already spending far too much time doing at home.

NAEYC also addresses the fact that limits should be put into place with technology in early childhood classrooms. Currently our students have an opportunity to use the ipad twice a week, for up to 20 minutes at a time. It is one of our stations for our learning centers. Those 20 minutes have so far proven to be very rich in learning for the children. They are working at a “just right” level for each of them and getting very targeted instruction. While we may increase the amount of time children are spending with the ipad, we in no way intend to replace our entire curriculum and rely only on digital sources. Our children are still spending the majority of their time at school each week engaged in meaningful, hands-on play and learning. They’re still building those sand castles and climbing those jungle gyms that my colleague believed in so many years ago.

So is it OK to put technology in an Early Childhood classroom? I think that it is, so long as we’re taking the time to make sure that we’re using technology in a way that will actually be helpful for our students. I recommend that anyone planning to use technology with young children consider giving the NAEYC document a quick look, if not a thorough read. It’s tempting to simply grab a few educational apps and throw these amazing, engaging devices at our eager students. They’d certainly be willing to use them, and probably be quite entertained.  But it’s not entertainment we’re looking for.  It’s learning, and learning in a classroom takes careful planning. Whether we’re planning lessons from textbooks or from technology we need to devote some energy to making sure we’re doing it right.

5 Best Writing Apps for Pre-School and Kindergarten

best writing apps

Update: I’ve added a new post to this series about math apps.  Click here to see it.

It’s been about a month now since we received our ipads. In that time I’ve downloaded close to 100 apps. Probably 90% of those are directly related to teaching young children. I’ve been particularly looking for an app to help cement our students’ writing skills. Many of them are still working on letter formation. I’ve honestly been shocked by how hard it is to come by good teaching apps! Some of the apps I downloaded were truly awful. More than a couple were actually saying letter sounds incorrectly. Not just a little off so that a teacher trained in phonics would notice, but really off. One or two were bad enough that my eight year old complained that the app wasn’t making the sound right! Then there were the apps that had students writing letters incorrectly. And finally the there were the ones that turned out to be in another language! (I actually like the Japanese app I downloaded quite a bit. You could switch it to English in the settings, but then I ran into the trouble of letter pronunciation…) So now that I’ve waded through quite a number of letter writing apps, I’m ready to offer up my top five choices. So in no particular order, here are the five apps for practice with writing letters that I like the best so far:

abc PocketPhonics: letter sounds & writing + first words

There’s a free version with some of the letters so that you can try it out and then a paid version to download if you like it. Educationally speaking, I like that the app teaches the formation of the letter with the sound of the letter. I always like instruction to be as multisensory as possible. After the student has traced enough letters, the app guides students into the process of blending and segmenting words. The interface is clean and simple, offering gentle redirection if the student makes mistakes. Finally, I like the fact that there is a locked parent control panel that lets you adjust the settings. My daughter likes the fact that you shake the ipad to clear the screen.

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ABC Circus

This app has lots of sound and lots of visual stimulation. Great for some students, not so great for others. Each letter is presented with one of the sounds that it makes. This app takes it a step further by creating an icon to trace which corresponds with the sound of the letter that you are tracing. For example when you trace ‘a’ the icon is an ant and you trace the ants with the finger in the shape of an a. (See the picture below.) For ‘b’ the icon is a bear, etc. These visual cues paired up with both the letter and the sound can be really helpful for some students. Again, there is a free version to try it out and then a paid version. The only thing I don’t like is the line on the left hand side of “other games” available for purchase, even in the paid version. I’ve already had students end up in the app store instead of playing the game.

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Crabby Writer: Phonics Read & Write (free!)

This app links up letter writing practice with three and four letter words. It teaches sounds in combination with writing. One unique thing about this app is that it requires the student to trace the letter with the thumb and index finger pinched together. Apparently this helps in building skills that will be needed for proper pencil grip. I’m not sure I buy that, but the app is a useful teaching tool regardless. I actually found myself using two fingers rather than a finger thumb combination. There are rewards offered after a certain number of words have been written. The game is not as intuitive as some, but that’s also because it’s a bit more complex, and more entertaining as a result.

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Letter School

Letter school teaches handwriting in conjunction with letter sounds. It presents the letter three times and on the third time, the model disappears and the child has to actually write the letter without tracing, but from memory. Also, I like the fact that this app puts dots on the distinguishing characteristics of the letter. I think that creates strong visual cues that will actually help the children recall the shape of the letter and be able to draw it on their own. There is both a light and free version.

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Letter Quiz

Letter quiz is a tracing app that puts each letter on a blackboard just as you’ve written it. After you write all of the letters, you get to put on a little digital fireworks show. The kids thought that was fun. This app also teaches letter identification matching upper and lower case letters. It’s not fancy, but reasonably intuitive and fun. Again there is a light version and a free version.

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So that’s pretty much the best of what I’ve found so far.  I know there have got to be some more great writing apps out there for young children.  Tell me about the ones you’ve discovered in the comments.

Update: I’ve written a companion post about the five best math apps that I’ve found so far. Click the picture below to check it out.

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Today I’m linking up with Technology Tailgate for Technology Tuesday. Click on the picture below to head over there to check out some other posts about technology.

Enjoying our 5 Best Apps series? Like us on Facebook or follow this blog to make sure you see the next installment!

Tech Tuesday

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Review of Teach Me Toddler

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Teach Me Toddler, while not perfect, is easily the best educational app I’ve discovered so far. Here are the reasons why I like it:

Teach Me Toddler was clearly designed with the educator in mind and is extremely customizable. It allows a whole classroom of students to use a single ipad, and tracks each student’s individual progress. It also has leveled instruction. Each student progresses through the activities, moving forward only when mastery has been achieved. The teacher is also allowed to define what mastery looks like for each student. One of my students really should be using Teach Me Kindergarten or First Grade, but before I moved him on to those levels, I wanted to make sure that he really had mastered the preschool concepts. I didn’t however, want him to have to identify a circle 3 different times just to prove that he really knew it. I went into his profile and adjusted the “#number to learn questions” field to one instead of three. So now he only needs to answer each question correctly once to move to the next level. I also wanted him to be able to move through the material quickly, so I was also able to adjust “number correct to earn reward” field from 3 to 10 so that he could quickly show mastery of the entire program. I have yet to run across another app which allows this kind of customization.

What’s even better is that this app includes “parent controls” (or rather teacher controls. ) Each child’s profile is lockable so that they cannot adjust their own settings. Nor can they go in and play on another child’s profile.

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Another thing I love about Teach Me Toddler is its usability. There are verbal instructions which tell the students (and the teachers, for that matter) exactly what to do. There’s also an mouse icon that the children can touch if they’ve forgotten the instructions. Additionally, if the children aren’t yet able to recognize their own name, the profiles contain a space for avatars of each child. They simply need to click on their own face to begin play. Once I had each of my students set up with a profile, they required almost no assistance to complete the tasks set before them. All of this verbal instruction is so important for young children, but it did remind us that we were likely going to need to consider purchasing headphones, as I wrote about a few days ago.

I’ve been shocked by how many apps I’ve downloaded which are supposed to be “educational” but don’t actually teach anything. Teach Me Toddler is not like that. The activities actually do encourage learning, and offer support where the children need it. One of my favorite things is the way that children can touch the objects that they are counting and see the corresponding numbers on the screen. Here they are counting the treasure chests and then choosing the correct number from the choices at the bottom of the screen.

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There’s also built in, adjustable, motivation. The child is offered the chance to “choose a sticker” after getting a certain number of questions right. The default number is three, but as I mention above, that can be adjusted. I was surprised by just how key this motivational piece turned out to be for some of my students. They were really excited to earn stickers and place the stickers in a variety of scenes. What was particularly nice was the fact that the sticker/scene reward was just enough to get them excited, but not enough to completely distract them from the learning activities.

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Finally, there’s a report page for each student. As a teacher, I can look at the individual progress of each student at any time. This allows me to check in later in the day, when the chaos of the classroom has settled a bit. The picture below shows my “teacher” profile that I used to experiment with the app. When you’re looking at students progress, you actually see the name of an individual student with the progress they’ve made.

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It could perhaps be said that the interface for Teach Me Toddler is not as colorful or animated as some. However, I think all of the other features make up for this, and that in fact, a bigger and louder interface just might be too much distraction for some students. We’ve only actually used this app a couple of times, but it was instantly a big hit. The only other drawback seems to be that I may be incurring the wrath of a few parents because their young preschoolers are coming home asking for ipads.

*Teach Me Toddler does not know me and did not have anything to do with the opinions expressed in this review.  The words are my own and are based on my own opinions. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post.

Smart Apps For Kids with Free App Friday

I made a great discovery today! It’s a website called Smart Apps For Kids and each Friday they offer “Free App Friday” where they give away a select number of educational apps for free! Today, they’re giving away Montessori Letter Sounds HD, which I’ve been wanting to try for quite some time. I keep seeing it recommended on some of the different blogs I read, but it’s usually $4.99. Today, it’s FREE! They’ve got 11 other free apps today, and you can even sign up for their free app alert so that you’ll know about any of the free apps they are offering.20130215-103505.jpg

 

ipod for music

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Every early childhood classroom I’ve been a part of has relied heavily on music as an instructional strategy. Our classroom is no different. We’ve got music going all day long. Whether we’re singing to learn our letters at circle time, playing a song to signal clean up time or listening to relaxing music at rest time, there’s almost always music coming from our classroom. After burning out 3 cd players in as many years, we decided to see if we could convert our collection to digital format and begin using an ipod for music instead of an old fashioned cd/cassette player.

The first thing we had to consider was the enormous task of converting all of our CDs, many of which were years old, and adding them to our itunes. Admittedly, that was a large task and we did crash one hard drive in the process. (We’re actually not sure that the crashed hard drive was related to the uploading of discs, but are planning to exercise more caution in the future!)

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Once we had all of our music on the ipod we had to think about how we would play it for the children. Our technology coordinator was able to find a set of speakers that wasn’t being used so we simply plugged them into the headphone jack on the ipod. We don’t use a dock and we charge our ipod in our office each night.

Since this is a classroom full of Junior Kindergartners, we wanted to make sure that our ipod was well protected.  Though the students don’t currently use the ipod, it could conceivably wind up in their hands a time or two.  My favorite durable case for devices like this is an Otterbox.

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My husband and I have them on our phones and my son has one for his ipod.  They have an underlying rubberized case that is covered by a hard plastic case. A screen protector is also included. DSCN6932-001So far, they have proven to be indestructible. The only downside is that they are quite expensive.  Each case is close to $40. As a result, when we were buying the case for our classroom ipod, I let my budget-minded self get the better of me.  I ordered an Otterbox knock-off from Amazon. Big Mistake. When we went to plug in the speakers, the hard plastic case, which was actually cheap flimsy plastic on the knock-off, blocked the headphone jack. There is no way to use the speakers and have the case on.  For the time being, we’ve compromised and are just using the silicone case.

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It looks sloppy and doesn’t protect very well, but it’s better than nothing.  A real Otterbox case is on my shopping list, but now that I’ve already spent money on the knock-off, it’s even harder to warrant spending $40 on a single case.  Let me know in the comments if you have another sturdy case you can recommend.

I feel like we’re under-utilizing our classroom ipod.  It has many features beyond playing music that I’m sure we could implement in the classroom if we devoted some thought and energy to it.  The camera, facetime, and learning apps are just a few things I’d like to explore.  Unfortunately, I think the ipod was overshadowed by the ipads, which arrived just a month or so after it did. Hopefully as we settle in with the ipads we’ll find more ways to use our ipod as well.

Using Google Reader to Keep Up With the Blogs You Want to Read

 

Using Google Reader to Keep Up with the Blogs You Want to Read

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Update: Google recently announced they they would be discontinuing Google Reader as of July 1, 2013. As a result, I no longer recommend it as a blog reader. Click here to read my newest post about alternatives to Google Reader.

I’ve been reading blogs on a regular basis for several years now.  Initially, I would visit each blogger’s page periodically to see if they’d written anything new. This was time consuming, and not necessarily helpful because many of the bloggers I read would go weeks between posts. At some point along the way, someone suggested that I use Google Reader and that changed everything.

I use Google Reader to subscribe to any blog that interests me. Then, when the blogger posts something new,  the new post shows up in my Reader right away, and then stays there until I can get to it. I don’t have to keep checking in every few days because I know that everything will be in my reader when I’m ready for it.  I now follow over one hundred blogs on a plethora of topics. I have all of my blogs organized by category: Deocrating, Teaching, Cooking, etc.  When I have a free minute, I can sit down and browse the most current posts in whatever topic I’m interested in at the moment. This is particularly useful with my teaching blogs.  There is simply no way that I could keep up with all of the blogs that I follow if I didn’t have their posts all in one place.

If you’re lucky, the blog you want to subscribe to will have an RSS reader icon that looks like this.

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If you can find that icon, you click on it and then it will ask you which reader you want to subscribe with. You simply click “Subscribe with Google Reader” and you’re done! Unfortunately  not all the blogs I like to follow have an RSS button. So I’ve learned to put them directly into my reader.  Here’s how you do it:

Google Reader is pretty straight forward, particularly if you already have a Google account. The first thing you need to do is sign into your Google account. When you’re signed in, you should have a toolbar across the top of your screen that looks like this:

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If you click on “more” there will be a drop down menu, and one of the choices will be “Reader.”

Once you’re on the reader screen, you need to look for the “Subscribe” button. It’s orange and on the upper left.

When you click on subscribe, you’ll see a box like the one below.

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Next open another tab on your browser and find a blog that you want to follow. For this example, we’ll follow Technology in Early Childhood. Copy the URL of that blog.  For Technology in Early Childhood the URL is

technologyinearlychildhood.wordpress.com

The URL is the “address” for the blog that’s at the top of your browser.  In Google Chrome (the browser I use) the URL is circled in the picture below.

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Next, click back to the tab where you have Google Reader open, and paste the URL into that box under the subscribe button.

Click “add” and you have now subscribed to your first blog!

Once you’ve got a few blogs you’re reading, you may want to add some categories. Here’s how you do it.

*All of the blogs that you subscribe to will be listed on the left hand side of your page.

*Hover over the title of any blog that you want put in a category.

*Click on the inverted triangle that appears on the right hand side of the blog title

*Choose “New Folder” from the menu.

*Enter the title for your first category and the blog you highlighted will automatically be added to that folder.

*Repeat the process with any blogs you want to add to that  folder, except choose the folder you made, instead of “new folder.”

A full Reader is a good friend to any bibliophile; you can always have something  to read on hand. You just log into google, click on “reader” under the more button, and go to town.

Looking for some blogs to add to your reader? Here are a few of my favorites. Click on the name of the blog to visit it.

Teaching:

Boy Mama Teacher Mama  Full of great teaching ideas, and mommy ideas

Teach Preschool  Lots of hands on, engaging preschool lessons

Home:

The Pioneer Woman  Amazing recipes, humor and tales of life on a ranch

Young House Love  House Decorating ideas

Cooking:

Bakerella  The inventor of cake pops! Lots of yummy treats

VegGirl RD She makes vegetarian eating look so yummy

Of course there are countless other ways to follow blogs. Most blogs have a place where you can enter your email address to receive an email when the blog is updated.  That honestly isn’t my favorite method because my email box is pretty cluttered already, and I miss my favorite blog posts that way.  But it does work for someone who isn’t going to read a ton of blogs.  I suspect to that as a blogger, rather than a blog reader, I will soon discover other ways to keep up with my favorite blogs.  I’ve tried to follow a couple of you that are following me through WordPress with only mixed success. Let me know if you’ve got any tips for me on that! Otherwise, happy reading!

Why Blog?

pencils found.  ransom sought.

So yesterday was the first day that I really started  telling people about this new endeavor of mine, blogging.  For someone who is somewhat private and reserved, opening myself up like this made for a rather overwhelming day.  This is all a bit of a stretch for me, even if it is more of a professional endeavor more than a personal one.  As I shared my plans with different people, I got a lot of different responses and affirmations.  One of the best questions I got though, was “Why?”  “Why are you starting a blog?”  So as I sit here a day or so after telling all the world (or at least what feels like all the world!) about my blog and I am feeling just a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, it seems a good time to examine the question of “Why?”

*I want to dialogue with other educators. I know there are other people out there that are trying to use technology with young children, particularly ipads, but they are hard to come by with just a quick internet search.  There’s a lot of trial and error involved in this whole process and I think it is helpful to figure this out with others who are experimenting in the same realm.  I know that if I get involved with the educational blogging community,  it will be easier to find those people that are trying to accomplish the same goals as we are in our program.

*I want to grow as an educator and the kind of self reflection that happens with blogging encourages that. One of the first people I told about this blogging experiment was our technology coordinator.  When I asked for her advice she sent me several articles about blogging in education. They expressed something that I hadn’t really considered before: writing is a form of self reflection, and self reflection leads to growth. I was only a few posts into this blog when I realized that indeed, writing about which apps we’d used or what our management strategies had been, had caused me to consider them more carefully and then find ways to improve them.  Even if no one ends up reading what I write, I think the way that we use technology in our classroom will still be better because of the time I’ll have spent writing about what we’re doing.

*I want to help other people who find computers confusing and overwhelming to perhaps understand them a bit better.  I consider myself lucky to have grown up with computers. I can not remember a time when our family was without one. I started watching my dad build them when I was a toddler and still enjoy helping him when “we” (really he) replace a motherboard or get my wi-fi situated. Technology has always been such a big part of my life that I forget that it’s still very new and intimidating to some people. I like helping people make sense of technology. It is fun for me to find ways to simplify seemingly complicated programs so that technology novices can master them.  Of course there’s still plenty for me to learn too. I’d be hard put to replace a hard drive, and am quite the novice when it comes to blogging, but I do know more than some and I like to help.

So I think those are the main reasons I’ve started this blog. And I think they are good reasons. Reflecting on them has helped me feel a little less anxious about the fact that I am sharing so much with potentially so many. So hopefully now I’ll experience a little bit of that growth I mentioned above.

Using Pinterest as an Educator

How to Use Pinterest as an Educator
What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is the social networking site that has swept the nation, quickly rising in rank to stand alongside long time players Twitter and Facebook. People, particularly women, are drawn to the very visual interface.

How does Pinterest work?

Pinterest is a collection of ideas. It can be used to store and organize your own ideas, or it can be used to find new ideas. The ideas are represented initially in picture form, but the pictures often link to information on a website about how to implement the idea. A Pinterest user will have a collection of bulletin boards that are organized by category. The user can then “pin” any ideas they encounter on the internet to a board of their choice. Users can also browse other users’ boards and re-pin any pins that they find interesting. Pinterest is similar to Twitter in that one user is “followed” by another user. A follower sees anything that the user “pins.” A follower can then “re-pin” anything they see that strikes their fancy.

What do you do with Pinterest?

I have a personal Pinterest account where I follow any of my Facebook friends that have Pinterest accounts. Most of my friends pin things like recipes, craft ideas, decorating ideas, and fashion ideas. We pin & re-pin one another’s ideas. If I want to branch out, I can click on “Everything” at the top of the Pinterest page and see things that other people besides my friends are pinning. I’ve tried countless recipes, and more than a few decorating ideas that I first discovered on Pinterest.

How do you use Pinterest as an Educator?

I also have a professional Pinterest account. This is where I pin all of my teaching ideas. All of my “boards” are like file folders you might have in your drawers. I have one board for every subject and theme we teach in our class.

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When I find something that fits a category, I “pin it” to a board. I made a special effort on my teaching account to only follow other teachers. In fact, I know very few of the people I follow on this account in real life. Often, I simply stumbled across their posts when I was browsing Pinterest using the “Everything” button and liked what I saw. I then visited their Pinterest page so that I could “follow” their boards about teaching. The other way I’ve found people to follow on my teaching Pinterest board is by reading teaching blogs. I follow close to 30 teaching blogs on my “Reader.” (More on how to use a blog reader in another post.) I follow many of the bloggers from my Blog Reader on Pinterest. Following all of these other early childhood educators ensures that whenever I open my professional Pinterest account I will see lots of posts relevant to my field and that there will be lots of things I want to pin.

In addition to simply browsing Pinterest for ideas, my teaching partner and I also use the “search” function a great deal. For example, when we were studying “spiders” in the fall and needed spider related activities, we simply entered “spiders” or perhaps more specifically “spider activities” in the search bar and pinned anything that looked interesting. As a result, we now have 23 spider craft ideas on our “Spiders” board. We’ll be able to refer to our spider board next October when our spider unit comes around again and we want to change things up a bit.

The third way I use Pinterest is when I’m browsing the internet, or reading teaching blogs. Pinterest has a “Pin It” button that you can add to your computer. When you find something on the internet that you would like to add to one of your pinterest boards, you can click the “pin it” button and choose a picture to represent your pin. Then you’ll be able to find that same idea on the internet again just by looking on your Pinterest board. I interact with Pinterest in this way least often. In fact, I know there are many Pinterest users who never pin anything from the internet. They simply repin things that are already on Pinterest.

Implications

In all honesty, I’m surprised by how much Pinterest has revolutionized our teaching and planning. Finding new teaching and learning activities that are relevant to our themes and age group has never been simpler. Current ideas and best practices are flowing into our Pinterest feed and we’re discovering things we might have overlooked before. Have you discovered Pinterest yet? Are you using it for your teaching?

We’re gonna need headphones.

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So here’s the thing about working with young children: you can’t depend on them being able to read directions to complete a task, even with a fancy schmancy device like an ipad. The majority of four and five year olds need verbal instruction to succeed. One of the things I’ve been looking for is an app that will offer that verbal guidance and instruction. Another of our hopes in using ipads in the classroom was that it would help us individualize our instruction so that we could better meet each students specific learning needs. We used an app today that I think will really help us meet both goals. Teach Me Toddler allows each kid to progress at their own pace, which is fantastic. Additionally, it is really good at giving verbal instruction to students, also fantastic. Where we ran into trouble was when we had 3 different ipads talking to three different students about three different tasks. No one could hear a thing. I turned around to find one student with both his hands over his ears. Another student had his eyes glued to his neighbor’s ipad, not his own. Unless we made some quick changes, the ipads were not going to be the engaging instructional tool that they had been yesterday.

As a quick fix for today, we moved one of the three students to an empty table across the room and moved the other two to opposite ends of the table. Honestly, they were still sometimes distracted, but they were better able to maintain their focus. As we move forward in this ipad project, we’re going to have to think about what kind of headphones will be most practical as well as whether we want kids to use headphones all of the time, or just some of the time.  Despite the fact that there were three ipads going at once, I was getting useful information from listening. I could tell when a student got off track and found his way to the app store and I could hear when another student was struggling with the content.

Assigning Each Student an ipad

Today was our second day formally using ipads at centers.  We borrowed a third ipad from the Kindergarten classroom down the hall so that we would have enough ipads for each child in a center group to have one.  That worked really well. The children were incredibly engaged.

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We used the Math is Fun app again today. The developer makes several different levels of this app. The 4/5 app is too easy for some kids, so I had them work on the 6-7 app.  It was nice to have children working at different levels, but on similar looking programs.  However, I’m still looking for an app that is a little better at individualizing instructional level.

Thanks to my favorite blog about using ipads with young children, A Digital Kindergarten, I think I may have found an app that fits the bill!  It’s called Teach Me Toddler.  Though I’m not thrilled with the name, (my 4 & 5 year olds would be insulted if I called them toddlers!) the app seems to be right at their level.  One of the great things about this app is the fact that it allows each child to progress at their own rate, and then tracks that progress.

I was all set to jump right in with this app tomorrow, when I realized that up until this point, we’d been completely haphazard in terms of how we decided which student would use which ipad.  I knew that if we started using an app that tracked progress, we’d need to have each student working on the same ipad each week so that record of progress would not be lost, or worse, jumbled by another student.

When our technology coordinator “gifted” us with our ipads, she also bought each of us a cover in different color so we could tell them apart.

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This has been helpful for the four of us, but has also turned out to be a nice way to manage the ipads in the classroom.  As of today, we have assigned each student to an ipad color: red, green or pink, making sure that no children in the same learning center group are assigned to the same color. This way the child will be able to return to the same ipad, each time they visit the ipad center and we will be able to track their progress. I’m looking forward to centers tomorrow when we can find out how well Teach Me Toddler is going to work. Look for a report in the next few days.

Review of Math is Fun 4/5

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Math is Fun for Ages 4 & 5 has a lot going for it.  After trying the “free” version, I upgraded to the full version to use it with the kids. There are a variety of games to choose from, and all of them require just a bit more skill than number identification. It required more complex thinking.

It was also easy for my young students to navigate.  They quickly learned to use the “house” button to go back to the main screen if they wanted to change games. It did not however, offer any verbal instructions.  This meant I had to sit with each student to explain how each game worked.  It was a little time consuming, but do-able because the games were not complicated, and only needed to be explained once.

While there are no overt, obnoxious ads, there is a small bar at the bottom of the home screen (see above) that offers links to the developer’s other apps.  As a teacher, I liked being able to find other apps by this developer, but I know this will be distracting for some of my students.

There was not much redirection when children made mistakes.  Objects will “bounce” back when they are incorrect but I watched one child try to drag the same object to the same wrong square at least 10 times, and then become frustrated.

I do think we will continue to use this app in our learning centers.  It is one of the better apps we’ve found for this age group.

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