Monthly Archives: March 2012

21st Century Thinking and Learning In Kindergarten, Really!

I hear and read a lot about 21st century learning and thinking.  I am always so impressed and thrilled to read, watch and listen to what other educators are doing with their students.  For me this is very inspiring as it helps me to reflect and think deeply about my own teaching practice and what I am doing to support my children in finding and using their voices when it comes to learning.  I had an aha moment on Friday morning……….

I introduced a new app called;”Scribblepress” to my Kindergarten students.  I used my document camera along with my SMART board to enhance and encourage my students to be observant as well as interactive with what I was showing them.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I just learned about this app on Thursday at an after school technology workshop offered weekly by our Technology Integration Specialist.

Anyway as I began to show “how to” create your own book the children immediately started making connections with previous writing experiences…  Some of the children shared;”That is like our paper, look their markers are like ours, but have more colors, Mrs. D. remember we need erasers for writer’s workshop, that T must be for typing text like we do when we use our Gmail, I think I will use my finger to draw just like I do when I use Doodle Buddy.”  These connections and observations continued as we explored the app together.  Then we looked at some colored stamps.  I forgot how to use on the page and one of my students said,”Mrs. D. just drag the marker up next to the other ones”.  It worked!  You can just imagine how excited this child was who problem solved this for us!

As the children took an iPad they worked with a partner.  I was so impressed with how collaboratively they were working together as well as how they were communicating and problem solving together to create and design a story.  Within 20 minutes, I had 6/17 Kindergarten children who created their own book, varying in length, but they did this independently!

I feel so fortunate to be a part of a school community where there is weekly support for teachers in regards to technology.  Our Technology Integration Specialist offers a 1 hour workshop each week where she focuses on different tools that we, as teachers can use with our students.

Some of the wonderful things I noticed were…  my students were very confident and comfortable using an iPad as a learning tool to create a piece of writing.  The writing contained lots of illustrations, sentences about the illustrations that were drawn, the stories had meaning and made sense and some of the children even wrote The End to make sure that people knew the story ended.  The stories all had a title, a common theme, the children wrote about a topic they choose and they stuck to that topic.  I also noticed how comfortable the children were using their invented spelling, leaving spaces between their words and remembering to give their page/story a title!  As a teacher this was great feedback for me as their designs and creations were reflections of the many things we have focused on during both our writer’s and reader’s workshop time.

Some other observations that I made really made me think about how my students are 21st century thinkers!  The children were not only able to maneuver around on the iPad, but a few of the children figured out “how to” use the camera and took their picture and then inserted it into one of their pages, another child figured out “how to” take a screen shot!  I learned from one of my kids about how to do this.  I asked why they would want to take a screenshot and one of my students said; “so I can email this to my mom!” All my 17 students were completely engaged and excited about this new app and of course, the technological tool, the iPad!

I think about how my writer’s and reader’s workshop mini lessons have been really important times where my students have learned so much.  I observed how easily young children can apply what they know to a new learning situation and be so inspired about their work.  I noticed reflections of their understandings about what I taught and exposed them too. Every child felt so successful and pleased with what they had created.  Our share session was really wonderful too!  The children did an awesome job of listening to understand while each child shared their observations and discoveries about this new app.

So for me, my students are 21st century thinkers and learners because they collaborate, create and design as well as interact with their learning in meaningful ways.  Near the end of our writing session one of my students asked if we were going to ‘tweet” our stories on vermontkkids123.  I asked her why, she shared with me so that others will know what we did.  This is a really wonderful example of an awareness that young children can begin to think about when it comes to learning.

The Value of Being Connected and Experiencing Transformation

As a teacher I have always valued the power and importance of building relationships that evolve from connections. I have a strong willingness to not only be informed, but to be actively engaged with my own learning.  I have made a huge shift from where I go to be connected and inspired about my teaching practice and with whom I am connecting with. By “putting myself out there” in a digital way I have begun to transform as an educator.  I view my transformation as never ending.  I say this because transformation never stops. I feel inspired through my discoveries and work with my students, but am also connecting with others who are doing similar things and finding themselves being inspired. Through my daily observations and discoveries I am a part of, I continue to seek ways to be connected and risk the exposure of my ideas as I hope others will find ways to use what they are discovering also to make a difference for their students.

Blogging has given me endless opportunities to keep my students, their families, my colleagues and others throughout the world involved in what is happening in Kindergarten.  The blog, my on line journal keeps what I am doing fully exposed and presented in meaningful ways that promote the learning that is happening in and out of my classroom.  The possibilities are endless. Keeping my eyes wide open and my mind exposed to the endless possibilities that being connected can offer.

Through blogging I have made many connections with my students and their families about the learning that is happening in Kindergarten.  This has proven again and again how much fun we are having and of course what we are involved in, in and out of the classroom. My students are excited to come to school each day and are always eagerly involved in the learning discoveries for the day and beyond.  With this idea, the children also have endless opportunities to reflect on their learning through our class, life studies, summer and individual kid blogs.  The children have begun to be connected in ways that begin with what and how they are learning in Kindergarten.  With this evolving the children are then getting their parents and their extended family excited about what they are doing in their classroom.Through this excitement the children seem almost relentless about demanding their parents to come to Kindergarten to see what they have been doing.

By having all learning and experiences “in the open” everyone has an opportunity to be as involved as they want to.  By ‘in the open” I mean having everything we do open to the public. This involvement can be anything from posting a comment on 1 of our classroom blogs, posting with their child about an experience on their kidblog, leaving a comment on 1 of our 3 wiki’s about a project we have created through voicethread, podcasting, etc.

What comes next is vital. I have an opportunity to make these connections more meaningful by responding to the comments, offering another opportunity for the child and parent to go further in their thinking, observation and comments.  The response time is also critical.  I try to respond within 24-48 hours only because after that time frame, it becomes harder… The idea/connection made “gets lost” or the child/teacher has moved on to other ideas.

As an educator I want my students to love school, but more importantly, love to learn.  The connections we make with each other helps amplify this idea and makes opportunities for parents and their children to be not only connected with the classroom, but each other.  Many children are now beginning to blog to each other on their kidblog, yup!  5 and 6 year old children reaching out to classmates and saying hello!  This is the beginning of how children are beginning to learn the importance of becoming a digital citizen and how being connected is important as you learn from a wide variety of experiences and connections with lots of different people that you may never meet, but are drawn together through a common idea and/or experience.  That is the power of the technological tools available and how they can be instrumental in making learning meaningful and engaging, while also reaching beyond the classroom as looking in other places to answers that we may have about an idea/discovery or experience.

Since I have put myself “out there” in ways to share and make connections with others, my learning has increased immensely.  I have developed a very strong PLN (Personal Learning Network) that I have come to depend on for making connections, sharing ideas, getting resources and making new learning opportunities possible for my students and their families.
ImageHere one of my Kindergarten students is reading the “tweet” we just posted on our class twitter site to our friends in Texas.

For example….  Since I have been on twitter I have made over 200 connections with people who share a love for learning using a variety of technologies.  These friends are people that I may never meet, but we connect because of a shared passion, experience or desire to learn/try something new.  We care about learning and making opportunities for our students that are meaningful and engaging.   I have developed a closer relationship through twitter with a few other teachers of Kindergarten and 1st grade who I have had opportunities to connect and collaborate with on ideas and learning.  I met a teacher in Texas.  Our interest developed with literacy.  We shared a common interest in an author study, so we created a voicethread together.  The children were able to listen to and respond through a meaningful, learning connection around books!  A very simple, easy way for children to share their love and interest of a book read.  Later we connected again, this time to collaborate on an author study, but in a different way.  We began by SKYPING with each other.  We introduced ourselves and shared what we felt was important about reading and writing and the tools that we use to help us.  So our relationship began… a connection being made.  Our next connection/meeting time will be around a story, a sharing , read aloud that we will do through email or by SKYPING.    My collaboration with another teacher has begun…  This teacher began by setting up a Google Doc that we can communicate with to share our ideas around our next steps of collaboration.  Wow!  The power of Google Docs, anywhere, anytime…  Another great way to be connected and collaborate…

Through twitter I have now connected and made a new friend/professional colleague because we have shared a common idea/theme that is of common interest.  So I created another twitter account for my kids in Kindergarten.  This is a way for my children to tweet about daily/weekly things we are doing/sharing with others we have connected with.  So now through my initial connection, I have learned the power of being connected as it has helped me learn the value of tools I use, but had not understood or experienced the value and possibilities of those tools.  Twitter, wow!  I could not imagine not having this available for me and my students.

Another great story…..

I was contacted by a language arts coordinator/leader in Virginia who came across my class blog and was so interested in the technological tools that I was using with my students, that she sent me an email and inquired if I would be willing to be a host for 3 days so she could see 1st hand how I am using technology with Kindergarten children.  Then she applied for a grant that was funded so she is now coming to Vermont to spend time with me observing, talking and interacting with me and my students and other classrooms.  Her goal was to learn how I am using technology and to establish some possible connections with other teachers in her school.  What a grand opportunity for endless learning opportunities!
So this is possible because she came across my class blog which is open to the public…  It really seems amazing to me at how easily connections can be made.

As an educator, the best things I have to offer are the things that I am also learning about and the things that I know about.  I am learning how to “fine tune” and enhance these best practice ideas through technology.  The technology makes the best practice work even more powerful and offers endless opportunities for my students, their families and others to share and collaborate on any level you wish.  The connecting can be short or long term.  For myself this is wonderful as the connections are meaningful, and are always there, “waiting” in a sense to be re connected or ignited again when an opportunity arises.

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In this photo you see a Kindergarten child showing a parent volunteer how to access his email on an iPad!

I learn best through my own disequilibrium and my modeling of making change.  Change is so rewarding and inspiring and can offer lots of opportunities that I may not see if I don’t take risks. This change evolves for me because I keep my eyes wide open, I read lots of different things and believe and value in innovation and collaboration.  Everyone has gifts to offer and share, it is what we do with these gifts that makes connections come alive and meaningful.  My students and their families learn through my example and modeling of what I feel and experience.  I take risks with this, but am not afraid of being exposed.

What I love most about the idea of making connections is how rewarding it is for me, my students and their families and others that I connect with.  The excitement is real and contagious.  This is where the learning happens and the ideas flow…  Being on facebook, linkedin and twitter I am now understanding the full value and importance of these networking sites to make and keep connected with others.  The sites differ in what they offer, but all are ways for connecting and collaborating around personal experiences, ideas and common interests.  All of these ideas can be used in any way we feel comfortable sharing.

The transformation that I am discovering and experiencing is a result of my willingness to keep my mind open to the endless possibilities that I explore with my students through a variety of technologies.  Without a doubt the technological tools are key and vital.  These tools give children voice and opportunities that strengthen their desire to learn and explore ideas.  I can’t imagine being in a classroom without them.

Children returning iPads to the lab!  One of the children made a connection here and said; “Hey, this is like returning books to the library!”

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