Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Flexible Classroom

I have always given my students the option to work around the room using clipboards. Over the years I have noticed that the majority of my students would take this option, rather than sitting in their desks. Since transitioning over to a 1:1 iPad classroom, I noticed that we were using the desks less and less.  We would have whole group lessons in the reading area or in the front of the classroom, and my students were working around the classroom independently or in small groups throughout the rest of the day.  It seemed like the desks were becoming more of a barrier to our learning.  They took up a lot of space and made it difficult to encourage collaborative groups.  We had limited spaces for students to work in small groups, especially if they wanted to spread out.

Looking through other classroom blogs, I noticed more and more teachers moving to a flexible, or agile, classroom environment. I loved the idea of giving students more options for working around the classroom, but I knew that having all the desks in the room would make it difficult. After doing a lot of research on classroom blogs and Pinterest, I went to talk to my principal.  He loved the idea! Then it was just a matter of moving some of the desks out of the classroom over spring break and coming up with some alternative seating options.

Our current reading area and the front of the classroom
The 10 remaining desks and the center of the classroom
The other end of the classroom.
Prior to moving half of the desks out of the classroom, we had a class meeting.  We talked about how little we use the desks, and about bringing in some other options for working around the room.  The kids discussed how they liked to work (standing, at a desk, sitting, laying down, on the classroom couch, etc.). As a class, we decided to try it out.  I moved about half of the desks out of the way, brought in some folding chairs and stools from home, and tried it out.  After the first day, we met as a class again to discuss what we liked and didn't like.  The students were quick to point out that they enjoyed having different options. Several of the students stood and worked at the counter during the day, some chose to work at a desk, while others moved the chairs and stools around to find a good place to work.  The kids loved it! Now it was time to actually make the shift permanent!

Over spring break I did some shopping.  I purchased some scoop rockers from Walmart, pillows, and seat cushions. I also rearranged the classroom (multiple times) until I found a setup that I felt would work.  My principal asked the custodians to move out half of the desks, and brought in a table for the students to use. 

Scoop rockers
The custodians lowered the table by removing the silver part of the legs. Students are now able to work at the table while sitting on seat cushions on the floor. The beach chairs and scoop rockers are constantly moving around the room as students find a spot that works for them. With the help of a colleague, I moved two computer desks back into the classroom.  With the addition of some pillows underneath and some tap lights, the kids have a great little nook to work in during the day.

The computer desks with pillows. I added contact paper and duck tape to make it more colorful.
The desks also make a perfect storage spot for the kids' book boxes!
The lowered table with seat cushions. We store the cushions on top when not in use.
There were several things that we had to figure out as we started implementing the flexible seating.  The first was the expectations.  One of the blogs that I read referred to the seats as a smart spot.  As a class we brainstormed what a smart spot would mean.  We also discussed how that smart spot might change depending on what we are doing. We came up with three rules for our smart spots:

1. Away from distractions
2. Stay in one spot for the entire time
3. An adult can move you without a warning

Using the beach chairs while playing a math game.
Using the scoop chairs while playing a math game.
Playing a game on the couch
The kids love being able to sit and work near their friends. The only time students aren't allowed to sit next to another person is during a test.  During tests, the students have to be at least an arms' length apart so that everyone can concentrate.

Playing a math game.
Using the stools while they play a game.

We also had to figure out how to store all the things from inside our desks.  The kids already had book boxes that we used to store any books that we were reading.  These are portable, so the students just take their book box with them when we have free reading time.  A few years ago (with the help of my dad and some friends), I made some cubbies for the students.  Everything that was in the students' desks, fit in their individual cubbies.  Crayons and other art supplies are kept in a basket so that the kids can bring their basket with them when they are working at different spots around the room.

Our cubbies. We have three of these, so each student has their own cubby space.
The kids also use these when they choose to stand and work.
Since implementing the flexible classroom, I have noticed some great changes in our classroom environment! In general, the room seems more open and welcoming. The kids are more focused and are starting to realize where they learn best--advocating for themselves throughout the day!  The majority of the behavior issues that we had are gone because the students are constantly moving around the room as we change subjects. As for whole group lessons, the students have always been more focused when they are closer to me, whether its in the reading area or in the open space in the front of the classroom. 

Working at the table.
Reading under the desk. Next task--add curtains!
There will definitely be changes again next school year as I welcome a new group of students, but I can't imagine going back to a "traditional" classroom with an individual desk for each student!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Workflow in a 1:1 Classroom

It has been awhile since I last wrote about what has been happening in our classroom.  The last few months have been busy, and we have been making many changes to our classroom as we adjusted to being 1:1 with iPads.  My students and I have all learned to be more flexible, as sometimes things take longer than expected, and the technology doesn't always work how we would want.  At this point, I can't imagine going back to being a one iPad classroom.  I am continuously amazed by what my students have learned and are capable of doing.  My students have become more confident in their own abilities, and have become teachers as well as learners.

After getting the students used to using the iPads at different times throughout the day, I had to start considering how students could turn in their work so that I could view it, and so that their parents could see what they have been doing.  The students were getting all of their assignments and video clips from iTunes U, but we needed to have some way to turn in their work.  After talking with some of the other teachers in the iPad Academy, I decided to try using Google Drive and Google Classroom to turn in assignments.  The students were able to store their work in Google Drive, and then connect it to an assignment in Google Classroom, which is where I could then grade the assignment and provide any comments.  It was working, but we were having some issues with getting the assignments turned into the correct spot, students were unable to access iTunes U at home unless they had an iPad, and I didn't like that I was unable to "write" directly on the student's work.

iTunes U
Google Drive
Google Classroom

We tried using Google Drive and Google Classroom for about a month, before realizing that we needed to try something else.  At this point, my wonderful coach Ann Feldmann suggested trying an app called Schoology.  In January, my coworker Michelle Klamm and I decided to try using Schoology with our Social Studies unit on America's Beginning.  We worked together to create some assignments to go along with our unit, and then found videos that would help students understand the concepts.


Our America's Beginning Course
I explained to my students that we would be piloting a new app to see how it compared to iTunes U, Google Drive, and Google Classroom.  By this time, my students were used to trying new things, so they were excited to try Schoology.  We quickly realized that it was perfect!  The one app combined all the things that we liked about iTunes U, Google Drive, and Google Classroom, plus it improved on some of the things that we didn't like!

All of the Schoology courses students can access
Similar to iTunes U, the students are able to download assignments from Schoology and open them in Notability, I am able to link to different websites, and the students can view videos that go along with the curriculum.  Once students are finished with their assignments, they are able to turn them directly in to Schoology, where I can "write" on their assignments, grade their work, and write comments to help them continue to improve.  We love it!  After starting with just the one Social Studies unit, we quickly realized that Schoology was a great tool to use, so we started putting all of the other subject areas in to Schoology as well.  Now, students are able to access assignments, video clips, and links for all subject areas through the one app.
A sample of student work.

I can grade student work and comment right through the Schoology app!
At 3rd quarter conferences, my students shared Schoology with their parents.  They showed their parents how they were able to download assignments, complete an assignment, and then turn it in.  I explained to all parents that the students can access Schoology from home on any device that connects to the internet.  I now have parents accessing Schoology from home to check on their children's work.  One of my students that was absent for almost a week was able to complete his work at home and turn it in via Schoology.  It has been a great change for our classroom!

After using Schoology for most of third quarter, I had my students write about what they liked and didn't like about Schoology.  Check out their Schoology blogs at our KidBlog site.  It is always great to get feedback from the students!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our New Adventure

I took the Apple Foundations Training last winter and received one iPad to use in the classroom.  At that time we were told that due to budget cuts there would probably not be any classroom sets of iPads available for the next school year.  I was so disappointed, but still excited to have one iPad to use in the classroom.  My students last year loved being able to use the iPad to create different projects to show their learning (Keynote presentations, Stick Around puzzles, etc.).  At the end of August we found out that the district was able to purchase several classroom sets of iPads, and that any teachers that had completed the training could apply for a classroom set.  I quickly started working on my application.

Reading on the iPad!
We found out at the beginning of September that we would be getting iPads in the classroom.  My students and I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the iPads and were so excited to get started!  We officially became a 1:1 iPad classroom last week!  I can't believe how quickly our classroom has changed!

Working on Keynote
Prior to the arrival of the iPads, I had to figure out the logistics.  I knew I wanted a place to store the iPads at night, and ideally charge all of them at the same time.  After talking with some of the other members of the iPad Academy, I picked a system that would work for us.  All of the iPads are stored in letter trays, and a charger is hooked to each tray.  Students are able to quickly plug in their iPad at the end of the day, and there is even room for the headphones!  It has been working perfectly!

Since we had been using one iPad in the classroom all year, my students were already familiar with some of the gestures (swipe, chomp closed, etc.).  This meant that when the iPads arrived, we didn't have to spend a lot of time learning how to navigate on the iPad, and instead were able to get started right away.

Working on Keynote

In just one short week the students have already started creating using several different apps to show their learning!  Each child created a Keynote presentation to show what they've learned about their reading vocabulary, they created a Popplet to show what they learned about a Native American culture, and are starting a project to show what they learned about a specific Native American tribe.

Sharing a Keynote presentation for vocabulary.

Sharing a Keynote presentation for vocabulary.
Sharing a Keynote presentation for vocabulary.

We have also started using the iPads to improve our math and reading skills.  FrontRow is an excellent app that helps with math.  The students are working at their independent level to enrich what we are already learning in class.  The students that need to be challenged are able to work on more complex problems, while the students that need more practice with a certain skill are able to practice.  Differentiation at its best!  We recently received permission to use Raz Kids with our students.  This app also helps students work at their instructional level in reading.

Reading a book using Epic!

One app that I recently found is called Epic! Books For Kids.  This app is free for teachers and students to use.  There are tons of books available for the students to read on a variety of different concepts.  I can pick specific books that go along with our curriculum to have the students read, or the students can explore all of the books to find a book of their choice.  All I had to do was sign up for a free educator's account on the website, download the app, and then make choices of what types of books I want to have available for the students.  Some of the books can be read to the students, which is a feature that many of my students enjoy.  Practice makes perfect, so Epic! is a great app for students to use to practice their reading skills.

Listening to a story in Epic!

I can't wait to see how my students continue to grow and what they create with their iPads!  I think this is going to be an amazing adventure for our classroom!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A CritterKin Summer Adventure

Summer school is always a great experience in Bellevue Public Schools.  This year was extra special due to our CritterKin friends +Jena Ball and +Marty Keltz!

Listening to Ms. Jena Ball read from Lead with Your Heart.
When it came time to plan for summer school this year, +Monica Evon and I thought it would be fun to create a summer school class centered around one of the CritterKin books written by +Jena Ball.  We had both worked with Ms. Jena in our classrooms during the school year, and wanted to include this experience in our summer school class.  After meeting with Ms. Jena and our wonderful technology trainer +Ann Feldmann, Monica and I started planning our summer school class for the incoming third graders.

Working together!

As a group, we decided to structure the three weeks around Ms. Jena's book Lead with Your Heart.  The CritterKin books are written from the viewpoint of dogs, and are great for teaching children important life lessons.  Using Lead with Your Heart, we were able to talk about the topics of kindness, empathy, prejudice, and what it feels like to be misunderstood.

Drawing with Ms. Jena.
We used the book as our guide for planning, and read 1-2 chapters a day for the first two weeks.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, Ms. Jena joined us virtually through the use of Google Hangouts, to discuss the reading.  Since Ms. Jena also illustrated Lead with Your Heart, she actually spent some time each week showing the students how to draw.  They did several drawing experiences with some of the dog characters from the book, and then we were able to use these drawings to help with the students' writing.  The students took several pieces through the writing process, and then published their writing to our CritterKin KidBlog, where Ms. Jena actually commented on their writing.  As their writing would be read by Ms. Jena and others, the students took their time with the writing and really did their best work.  In the three short weeks of summer school, Monica and I already noticed many improvements in the students' writing.

Showing off her quilt piece and working on the writing activity.
In addition to reading the book and writing about it, the students also created several quilts to tie into the theme of kindness.  What started as an idea to have the kids create a fabric quilt, turned into a fabric quilt, a paper quilt (with videos linked to the images using Aurasma), and a chalk quilt.  The students were able to choose how to create each part of the quilt, and had to practice working together on several of the sections.  This was a wonderful way to take what the students were reading, and create something to show what they learned.

The paper quilt is finished!

The finished fabric quilt!  So colorful!
Working on the chalk quilt.
During the last week of summer school the students worked on a play of the final chapter of Lead with Your Heart.  Each child had a part in the play.  On the last day of summer school, we presented the play to the school, family and friends, as well as the community.  The students were so proud of themselves!  This was also an opportunity to show everyone the fabric and paper quilts that the students had created.  The parents and community were impressed with what the students created!

The CritterKin play.
Using Aurasma to see the students' videos.
By the end of our three week summer school adventure, students had worked on reading, writing, art, and technology.  They worked with an author/illustrator on writing and drawing, and even had the chance to get acting tips from an actor, Marty Keltz's son Jonathon Keltz.  What an amazing opportunity for the students! The kids had so much fun with this experience, and were able to learn some great lessons.  Thank you to Jena Ball, Marty Keltz, and Ann Feldmann for making this experience possible.  We couldn't have done it without you!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Class Dojo

We have been using a new behavior management program since the beginning of April and it has been a WONDERFUL change for our classroom!  We started using Class Dojo after I read about it on Pinterest.  Class Dojo can be used on the computer, iPad, or mobile device, and it's free!  After you set up your class, you can pick positive and negative behaviors that you will be watching for.  Class Dojo comes with some behaviors already set, but you can add or change the behaviors to customize it for your needs.

When you see a student doing a positive or negative behavior, you just click on their name and then click on the behavior.  A chiming sound is made for a positive behavior, and a buzzer sound is made for a negative.  Since starting Class Dojo, I have noticed that I am giving out more positives, and it has had a great effect on my classroom.  The students don't usually know who is getting the positive or negative, so as soon as they hear the sound, they change their behavior.  I am able to use Class Dojo on several devices, so my students know that I am watching their behaviors at all times.  I've used it on field trips, in the classroom, in computer lab, at recess, and even in the hallway.  It has been fantastic!

At the end of each day I project the Class Dojo website so students can see how many points they have earned throughout the day.  Several of my students have been challenging themselves to improve each day, and they are even cheering on their classmates.  It has been great for the classroom community.

I created a calendar where students can keep track of their points, so at the end of each day they fill this out.  Students can save up their points to earn rewards.  On Fridays I have students total up their points and can exchange their points for prizes like lunch in the classroom, a piece of candy, etc.  We also have class rewards for when the whole class has reached a certain number of points.  In order to participate in the class reward, my students need to have at least 80% positive behaviors.

I have a background in special education, so I know the importance of documentation.  Class Dojo is perfect for documenting students' behavior, because it keeps all the information in the reports section.  Whenever students earn a positive or negative point, the time and behavior is recorded.  At the end of the day I just reset their bubbles so that they start each day with 0 points, but all the information is still saved.  I can look back at certain days and see exactly what happened on that day.  I can even add a comment if there is something specific that I want to remember.

In addition to helping in my classroom, it has also increased parent involvement.  Class Dojo is set up to include parents and students.  You can send home a code to parents that they use to create an account on Class Dojo.  Once they have signed up, they can view their child's behaviors at any time.  Class Dojo will also send them an email each Friday with a report for their child.  When we started using Class Dojo, I sent home a letter to all the parents explaining Class Dojo and how to set up an account.

Class Dojo recently came out with a new messaging feature.  I can send out individual messages to parents, or I can send out a whole class broadcast.  I have not used this feature yet, but I can see how it would be extremely beneficial.

My students and I love using Class Dojo.  Hopefully you will enjoy it, too!

If you would like a copy of the parent letter, click here.
If you would like a copy of the calendar, click here.
If you would like a copy of the rewards, click here.
If you would like a copy of the rewards poster, click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why iPad?

In recent years, many school districts have made the shift to a one-to-one district.  In most cases, this shift has been made with the use of iPads.  I have heard many people question this decision, and wonder why school districts are spending so much money to purchase a toy for students to use.  I am always quick to point out the benefits of technology, and what I have noticed in my own classroom. Our district recently started having one-to-one classrooms with iPads.  Unlike many districts, where teachers are just given the iPads without any training, teachers in our district must go through a 6 day training period and then apply for the iPad Academy.  If a teacher is chosen for the iPad Academy, in addition to receiving a classroom set of iPads, they are assigned a coach from our district technology team.  This coach is available to help in the classroom, answer any questions, and provide any additional training the teacher might need.  Teachers in the iPad Academy also attend meetings once a month where they are able to work together, brainstorm new ideas, and share what is working in their classroom.
This semester, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in an Apple Foundations Training through my school district.  As a result of this training, I was given an iPad to use in the classroom, and will have the opportunity to apply for a class set of iPads in the future.  I have always enjoyed using technology in the classroom, because I've seen how engaged my students become, and it's been a great way to reach those students that tend to "zone out" during lessons.  The AFT trainings have increased my knowledge of the technology available to my students.  Our final assignment for AFT was to create an iMovie answering a driving question that we had about the use of iPads in the classroom.  My driving questions was: How can we, as teachers, differentiate instruction using the iPad to encourage students to continue creating and learning at their level?  We had to find research to answer our question, get teacher opinions about the subject, and record video of students in a 1-to-1 iPad classroom to support our findings.  I was amazed at the information that I found.

The amount of research available supporting the use of iPads in the classroom is astonishing.  I found some wonderful quotes from newspapers and magazines that documented the impact of iPads and technology on student learning.  Here are some of the quotes that I found (sources at the bottom of this blog):

"With innovative instructional design, iPads can work especially well with inquiry- or problem-based learning modules." (Bennett)

"Technology makes it possible to pace lessons appropriately for each student's learning level and can be used to promote learning in the multiple intelligences." (Tenkely)

"It has brought individual technology into the classroom without changing the classroom atmosphere." (Hu)

"[iPads] can deliver content in an interactive way, but on a one-to-one level." (Bennett)

"…technology is seen as a benefit and described as helping to reinforce critical skills." (McKenna)

"Throughout it all, both teachers…saw students become more engaged and 'blossom' into deeper thinkers at a younger age." (McKenna)

"Technology…also takes learning one step further because it can offer so many supplements to plain text." (McKenna)

"One of the major benefits of using technology in the classroom is the ability to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of every student in every lesson." (Tenkely)

"The interactive aspect of the iPad appeals to the kinesthetic learner because the apps motivate students to manipulate the content." (Bennett)

I also looked through teacher blogs from the teachers that are a part of the iPad Academy in our district.  I am always inspired by what I read on these blogs, and came across many great quotes that supported my driving question.  Here are some of the quotes that I found:

"The students have taken over the role of teacher and not only have become strongly motivated to learn new things, but also to make the jump to help each other learn." ~Michelle Boyce

"I was able to work one on one with students that were struggling with the concept, while others that were understanding it moved at their own pace…" ~Jenn Manning

"Differentiation of instruction, individualized and small group instruction, and student engagement happens at its best on a daily basis!  I feel I am meeting all students' instructional needs each day." ~Monica Evon

"I have been using the iPad to work with students at ALL ability levels and have observed excellent growth and progress!" ~Michelle Klamm

"The iPads have allowed me to act as more of a coach, letting the students work on their projects while moving around and guiding them when necessary.  It also allows kiddos the ability to work ahead and move beyond grade level - truly differentiating their learning.  Giving more Project-Based assignments allows each student the opportunity to work at the level they are at.  With the integration of technology into these projects, it allows some students to shine who otherwise may not have had many chances in a traditional classroom." ~Garrett Sims

Finally, I asked the students what they thought about having iPads in the classroom.  Monica Evon works across the hall from me, so I pulled several students from her third grade classroom and interviewed them.  Mrs. Evon's class started the year as a traditional classroom, and received a classroom set of iPads in January, so they have been able to experience both types of classrooms in one short school year.  Here is what they said:

"I think [our learning] has changed because we used to, during our free time, read or do a challenge sheet of math, but now we always have something to do." ~Kaitlyn

"It's changed our learning because of the great creativity and all the...learning we have done." ~Jaxon

"It has changed our learning because everyone is doing the same thing, but we're all on different levels, so it helps with our curriculum in math and science…I feel like more of a teacher…because we're teaching the class new things and new improvements on some apps." ~Madison

"Having iPads in the classroom has changed my learning because on normal paper and pencil I wasn't being challenged enough, but then on the iPads it got...harder for me…I'm being challenged by having harder questions and getting the answer is a little bit harder than it usually was with paper and pencil…with paper and pencil we didn't have all of these apps that let us use our creativity on how we think our learning is." ~Hayden

"…It's changed our learning because we can be so creative, and the iPads challenge yourself.  Everyone is at a different level in our classroom, so some people might be working on addition while some people might be working on division.  It's so great to have these iPads!  It really, really challenges us." ~Natalie

"My favorite iPad app is Front Row.  It's personalized learning math.  Since everybody in our class is on a different level.  I might be on level 27 and everybody else could be…on level 8 or 9, so we all do our different learning level." ~Ava

This final assignment for AFT was wonderful.  I feel like I was able to confirm how beneficial iPads and technology can be in the classroom.  Hopefully this helps others realize the benefits of including technology in the classroom!  If you would like to see my iMovie with video clips of students utilizing the iPads in the classroom, click here

Research Sources:
  • Bennett, Kristin Redington. "Less than a Class Set." 1 December 2011. International Society for Technology in Education. 31 March 2014 <>.
  • Hu, Winnie. Math that Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad. 5 January 2011. 31 March 2014 <>.
  • McKenna, Corey. "There's an App for That: How Two Elementary Classrooms Used iPads to Enhance Student Learning and Achievement." 5 February 2012. Scientific and Academic Publishing. 31 March 2014 <>.
  • Tenkely, Kelly. "Using Technology to Differentiate Instruction." 1 June 2009. Teaching Community: Where Teachers Meet and Learn. 4 April 2014 <>.

Teacher Blogs:
  • Michelle Boyce, Boycetown iPad Class Blog,                 
  • Jenn Manning, miPad Classroom Blog,                                
  • Monica Evon, iPaddling through Third Grade Blog,     
  • Michelle Klamm, iCan iPad in 2nd Grade Blog,             
  • Garrett Sims, Our iPad Classroom Blog,