Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Innovative teaching with iPads

Today’s post, by Ferdinand Krauss (@eLearnDiscourse ), is a summary of his observations of my students working with iPads in my classroom.

I had a chance to observe a colleague that used innovative teaching methods and the toontastic iPad app to engage grade 2 students in the task of creating a story retell about the challenges they faced in preparation for their first communion. Students were divided into groups of 4 or 5 and worked together on the iPad to represent a challenge they encountered. These ideas had previously been brainstormed with the class so that each group could spend their time creating animations for a particular situation, as opposed to identifying a challenge. When the project started the teacher gave the students an overview of the features of the toontastic app and the class co-created the success criteria for the animations.

As I walked around to the different groups, I asked the students what steps they took when they did not know how to do something. Their approach to figuring out how to do something was very playful in nature. They just started trying different things to see what effects were created.

The teacher's approach was similar to the flipped classroom model example. The students were empowered to direct their own learning by finding creative and different ways to express what they knew about a topic or situation. This is why I refer to it as innovative teaching because typically the teacher would be the one directing the process as opposed to facilitating it. 

When you look at the teacher's blog you can see that the iterative process documented by the educator. He recognizes that he needs to reflect on how to best facilitate the process given the specific needs and abilities of the learners with respect to the desired outcomes. 

The teacher referred to success criteria when reviewing the group animations. It gave him an opportunity to provide formative feedback so students know what and how they can improve by referring back to specific items in the success criteria that the class created. This also improves the meta cognition of students as they are becoming more aware of what constitutes a good story re-tell and what they need to do in their animations to meet that criteria.

Ferdinand Krauss, OCT, MDE, is the e-Learning Contact Support Teacher for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. You can find him on Twitter (@eLearnDiscourse ) and reach him through his Blog.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Using the iPad/iPod Touch to Assist Students in meeting Writing Expectations

My students and I recently embarked on a new journey with the iPad/iPod Touch. I learned about an app called Lifecards - it allows users to create imaginative & creative postcards. With the end of the school year coming to a close many of my students will be travelling this summer so I thought it would be appropriate to put this app to the test!

The students will create a postcard that is related to our school, and write it to someone in our school community (e.g. friend, teacher, administrator, parent volunteer, etc). This app cost $2.99 and it works on the iPad and iPod Touch - this is an ideal situation.

The following Ministry of Education Writing expectations are addressed in this assignment:
  • write short texts using several simple forms
  • confirm spellings and word meanings or word choice using a few different types of resources
  • make simple revisions to improve the content, clarity, and interest of their written work, using several types of strategies
We started off by taking a quick look at the app - I projected it onto the whiteboard to show them what it looked like. We then created our success criteria to guide our journey:

After the success criteria creation, I took some time to reflect on how to teach my students how to write a postcard (in a systematic way). After coming up with a 'rough' idea of an anchor chart that would support their learning, I created a model for them to follow:

After showing them the model, we took the time to create this anchor:

On Wednesday my students were formally taught how to use the camera that is built-in to the iPads/iPod's. We talked about the importance of being are able to explain why they chose the picture(s) that they end up using on their postcard (one of the expectations is that they are able to confidently explain the choices they make in creating their postcard). After teaching them how to use the camera and how to access/delete photos, we set off to take some pictures that may be used in their final product. It was a proud moment for me as I walked around the school (mainly the front foyer where our religious artifacts are kept) watching them use the technology and talk about their choices.

Today the students were hard at work with the 'text' portion of their postcards. It is very satisfying to see them so focused and working together. I am looking forward to posting some of their work so you can see where their imaginations led them. In fact, I have a rough draft for you to view -

The two students who created this will meet with me on Monday and we will talk about their work and compare it to the model I created, the anchor chart (how to write a postcard), and the success criteria - we will assess their work. After providing them with feedback, I will send them off to tweak their work and/or discuss their options before seeking me out to formally evaluate their work. Hopefully I will have some more postcards to share with you next week.

Feel free to leave comments/suggestions/questions if the mood strikes you!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Technology & Metacognition

I have found that the use of the digital camera in my class has helped my students think about their thinking. When the students use the camera to document their work they know that there is the chance that I will project their pictures for everyone to see. When and if their picture comes up, they are invited to explain why they took the picture and tell us about their thinking at the time the picture was taken.

I really enjoyed talking to the student who took the photo below. She used the link cubes to represent her multiplication and took the time to write it out (addition and multiplication). In her addition sentence, she detailed her addition --> 4+4(8)+4(12)+4(16) = 16 <-- to help her keep track and not get confused. When she talked about her thinking to the class she took us through what she had done, step by step. She also told us that she used the manipulatives and wrote out the numbers so that she could show her understanding in more than one way. She told us that when she was doing this she was thinking about the different ways she could show us her work and that she wanted to make sure she organized her work in a way that made sense and kept her on the right path.

In the following photograph the student told us that he wanted to represent 4 X 4. He neatly made four groups of four in the shapes of squares and then represented the answer (16) with cubes placed in rows of three. I asked him why he had placed his equal groups into 4's and his answer of 16 was arranged in groups of three. He told us that when he did this work he was thinking that he wanted his work (4 X 4) to be neat but when he put together the 16 he just wanted to make sure the answer was represented in order to be able to present his equal groupings and the answer to 4 X 4.

I really enjoy the use of the digital camera to help my students think about their thinking. I find it to be a great way of taking them back to the time and place where they did their work. That connection gives them a great start to what has proven to be a difficult task - to think about what they were thinking at that time. It hasn't worked for all of my students, but it has proven to be a useful tool that is offered to my students.

As I learn more about my smartpen, I believe that it will also prove to be a useful tool that will be readily available to my students. It has proven itself useful and I look forward to possibly blogging about how my students and I use it to help them with their metacognition.

It's not failure, it's learning: Part #4 - Toontastic Animation

All of the students have completed their Toontastic animations. They were successful in meeting the learning goal that was established. I attempted to post their creations on the Toontastic site but I was not successful. I experienced issues with the 'logistics' of getting their work to post on the Toontastic site. Something happened with the iPad that I had chosen to do this job and I ended up having to reset that iPad. The group that used that particular device to create their animation ended up losing their work. The class did get to watch all the animations before I attempted to post them, so the group that lost their work did get to publish their work and I had the opportunity to see their final product.

Due to the issues I faced with the Toontastic site, I decided to use my camcorder to record their work using our Bright Links projector. In order to ensure that the volume (or lack there of) was not an issue again, I brought in external speakers to project the sound across the room for my students to hear and for me to pick up on the camcorder. Well, I'm sorry to say that volume was an issue again. The only animation that I deem audible is posted here for your enjoyment (turn up your volume!):

Feel free to review where we started, our next steps, and the progress we made in getting to this point.

Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We Welcome our Visiting Students - TLLP Phase 2

(if this post has been emailed to you and you can't see the pictures/video, please do visit in order to see the post as it is intended to be viewed)

We welcomed three special students to our classroom community today. The three students that will be the focus of our TLLP came over to visit us. The intent of the visit was three fold - 1) for them to familiarize themselves with me, 2) for me to familiarize myself with them, and 3) for my students to lead by example, as caring & compassionate humans, and as iOS (iPad & iPod Touch) experts! Our three visitors were with us for about 45 minutes and in that time I observed lots of great things.

I will share my observations of each student, and in order to ensure their privacy, I will be using pseudonyms.

Neil - Grade 4 Student
Neil and I have a bit of rapport. When he was in grade 2 we spent some time getting to know one another as the grade 2 students gathered several times to prepare for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion. Neil makes eye contact with people and smiles a lot. Of the three students, he is the most verbal and I would say that he rarely gets upset. He engages in conversation but seems distracted from time to time. Neil arrived to our room with his E.A. and was then left in my care. He was excited to see the students using the touch technology and knew what they were working with. I welcomed him and asked if it was ok if I teamed him up with a couple of my students - he had no problem with this. I had already prepared two of my students to work with Neil. Their job was to take him through a few apps and to then allow him to use the device if he wanted to. Neil didn't end up using the iPod Touch that his group was working with. He spent most of the time watching. He did communicate with the other students verbally, but not much. He seemed happy to be with us and from time to time he looked serious - this appeared to be when his team members would start up a new app. At the end of our time I thanked him for coming and asked him if he would like to come back. He smiled and said yes!

Eric - Grade 3 Student
I know Eric because he is in the room next door to mine. From my observation, Eric doesn't make eye contact with the people around him and he communicates verbally but not in complete sentences. Eric was brought to my room by his E.A. and left in my care. He came with a piece of paper and a marker. The paper had a variety of numbers on it. When he came in the room he instantly stopped and looked around - he saw the students working with the iPads and iPod Touches and after surveying the room he headed towards the closest students. My students told him that they were using an iPod Touch. He sat next to them and watched. I welcomed him and asked him if he wanted to see what they were doing. He said he wanted to. I left his area but kept an eye on him because I couldn't gage whether he was interested or not. For the first few minutes he looked around and wrote more numbers on his paper. I later found out from his teacher that he is constantly writing numbers down on paper. When my students got his attention again they started telling him about the apps we have on the iPod Touch. He saw something he liked so they gave him the device and started working away. One of my students came to get me and bring me over, they wanted me to see what he was doing. He had discovered the app called "Fireworks123". Here is the description of the app, taken from the app store:

"Fireworks 123 is an interactive “cause and effect” app designed to support the development of early literacy skills and the comprehension of descriptive concepts such as number, size, and color in a fun and entertaining way. Each time a user makes a selection from one of the three descriptive choice menus, Fireworks 123 provides immediate feedback by showing a clear visual representation of the choice made. LAUNCH the firework show you selected to watch a fun and dynamic visual display designed to further reinforce comprehension."

He asked me how to turn up the volume so I showed him how to do so. He spent most of his time on this and did not write down any numbers as he was using this app. At the end of our time I thanked him for coming and he proceeded to leave the room (I watched him walk back to his class next door).

Hailey - Grade 1 Student
Hailey came to our classroom with her E.A.. I welcomed her and her E.A. and asked that she circulate the room and see what was going on. After a short while a few of my students started showing her what they were doing. Hailey did look at me and she did communicate with one or two words at a time. She seemed more engaged than Eric did, but not as much as Neil. As her E.A. and I were talking about this experience, Hailey noticed the iPad that was on the carpet beside us, it was unattended. She went over to it, picked it up, and began touching the screen. I immediately thought that she was mimicking what my students were doing or she has a touch device at home. My students immediately helped her get back the the 'home' screen. She flipped through the pages and she stopped at the "Glow Colouring" App. When she saw this app she touch it several times quickly - almost like she had seen it before. We are not sure if she has an iPad at home but her E.A. told me she would ask mom and get back to me. Here is the description of the app from the itunes store:

"Glow Coloring is the first doodle app that allows you to scan in images that you can color in or trace. With Glow Coloring, you can adjust brush pattern, brush size, and color. When you are done drawing your masterpiece, you can save it to your camera roll or email it directly from the app.
Glow Coloring provides you with the ability to add text messages to your colorings. Type a special message to a friend, color it in glowing colors, then email it to them."

After a little bit of time using her finger to make colourful marks, one of my students got her to exit our of that app and they I suggested she take a look at "Letter School Lite" (makes handwriting cool), which I had read about recently. Here is a brief description from the app store:

Kids practice essential skills as they play four exciting games per letter/number:

INTRO - discover the letter’s shape, name and sound
TAP - learn where to start, change direction and finish by tapping the dots
TRACE - learn the letter trajectory by tracing it
WRITE - test your knowledge by writing from memory"

Her E.A. had the iPad and began to start working with the letter 'A'. Right away, Hailey yelled out "A"!! She was excited and seemed quite engaged. Her E.A. looked surprised as well and commented that this app would be very appropriate for Hailey. This particular app has been recognized for its looks and operation.

I was told that aside from having autism, Hailey also has has other medical issues that impact her learning. I was pleased to see that she was happy and she appeared to be comfortable. I thanked her and her E.A. for coming and told them that I would love to have them back.

Today's visit was successful and I believe that the visiting students and I were able to become a little more familiar with each other and my students were fantastic. They were very patient and kind with our visitors and with each other. I enjoyed seeing Neil, Eric, and Hailey engaged with the touch devices but more importantly, I saw them enjoying themselves. Neil and Hailey smiled a lot and provided us with those visual clues of how they were feeling. Eric didn't provide us with that type of feedback but he provided us with information about how he was feeling by the intense focus he placed on the app he was working on.

I look forward to having them visit again and to working with them to enhance their learning.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's not failure, it's learning - Part #3: Taking it to another level

Since the last "It's not failure, it's learning" post the students have really come along with Toontastic.

We started our formal learning journey with a learning goal and success criteria:

This provided my students with a goal and guidelines for success. This is what we have been doing in Math, Writing, and Social Studies. They are familiar with it, and I believe that it puts them in a specific mind set. They know what to expect when we start our new learning this way - it is a normal and expected aspect of our learning community.

Having established the foundation for our work, we started talking about our goal and that led to our first anchor chart:

I had spent some time reflecting on my dismay with the way my students had originally used Toontastic - so I was more than happy to create this anchor chart with them about the effective use of Toontastic - which is also part of our Success Criteria - 'What we show (K/U)'. With this anchor chart placed in a common area, the expectations are clear, visible, and easily referred to. Moreover, this chart provides students with the 'How we say it (C)' section of the Success Criteria.

The next anchor chart that we created was around 'problems and challenges' that we faced when we were preparing for our First Communion:

The time we took to create this chart was well worth it. With this chart, the students had a menu of problems and challenges to choose from - avoiding the amount of time that it would have taken them to think through some of the issues we faced when preparing. This chart helped address two areas of the Success Criteria: 'What we say say (T)' and 'How we connect it (A)'.

The students were taught how to write a retell earlier in the school year and we reviewed the Success Criteria and Anchor Charts that we created at that time:

I explained that we had already done the "heavy lifting" part of learning how to write a retell and that this was another opportunity for them to demonstrate their awesome learning! I also told them that Toontastic was going to give them the opportunity to reflect on their First Communion preparation, create an animated retell, and use state of the art technology to bring it all together!

They are almost finished their animated retells and I am very proud of them. I won't get into everything that they are showing me - I will save that for another post :)

I invite your feedback/comments - would love to engage in a conversation about the integration of technology in the classroom.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Witnessing 21st Century Learning - Students Working Towards Reaching their Full Potential

Today’s post, by Mark Godin, is a summary of his observations of my students working with iPads in my classroom.

Today I had the opportunity to visit Rolland’s class while his Grade Two students were creating stories using the Toontastic app on their iPads. What I observed was truly remarkable. Their assignment had been to create stories around an issue they had encountered at First Holy Communion time as the central focus of the story. The “problem” had to be set within the context of a story with a plot having characters, a setting, a problem, the solution, and their favourite part -- cartooning with digital images they were able to edit and manipulate. Rolland had prepared the students by engaging them in the creation of Success Criteria connected to the Learning Goal, and the students had brainstormed a series of anchor charts breaking down the various pieces they needed to work on in order to assemble a final successful cartoon story.

The process itself versus the product is what I want to comment on. The products – which are in themselves delightful small digital vignettes that tell a story from beginning to end using cartooning, students voices as characters recorded as voice overs and background classical mood music applied by the students to the five scenes of the story, though remarkable in themselves, represent only about one tenth of the total work the students engaged in. What I mean to say is, what you see cartooned, is only a fraction of what happened behind the scenes to produce wonderful little pieces of work.

Behind the scenes I watched one group of four students engaged for 25 minutes in deep sustained higher order thinking at a level one would assume barely possible for this age group without coaching and supervision. Independently they were asking each other very meaningful and challenging questions and the tasks they were setting for themselves were amazing. Students were using language such as: “that dialogue doesn’t belong here because we need to keep that for the climax of the story.” And “that character wouldn’t speak that way, that tone belongs to this character.” Another time when a Grade Two boy recorded his dialogue too slowly, a female classmate said to him: "that was really good X, do you want to do it again but this time do the same thing but a little faster.” His response was: “that’s what my mother always says about my reading, “pick up the pace X.” Okay let’s do it again.”

The activity invited collaboration, co-operation, planning, sustained engagement, and creativity. It is the dynamic between the students that amazed me. They took their task seriously and were able to practice shared decision making and problem solving at a very high level. The dynamic between them as they huddled over the technology, using an app that invites this form of sharing, would be no different than the dynamic with a group of graduate student researchers huddled over their latest equipment looking for a solution to a problem. Perhaps even smoother as their egos are small, versus the egos of several PhD scholars vying for the next research grant. What fun to witness students working collaboratively at a higher order thinking activity in such a delightful fashion.
Mark Godin is Principal at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic elementary school in Cambridge, Ontario and can be reached at –

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It's not failure, it's learning....Part 2: Next Steps

In my May 28th post, "It's not failure, it's learning", I shared my dismay regarding the unacceptable cartoons my students created using the Toontastic app. I have spent a significant amount of time reflecting on the learning I experienced that day. I have also been talking to my colleagues and spent a decent amount of my time consulting with my Principal about it. After a great talk with him I have decided to give Toontastic another try. Armed with new knowledge, my students and I will tackle Toontastic the way we would tackle any other major learning in our class - a learning goal and success criteria! Here is the chart we agreed on:

Toontastic & Writing Learning Goal and Success Criteria

It seems so obvious to me now, but this is not how we had been learning/working with the technology. Nevertheless, they are showing me what they need and I am providing them with the structure that has led them to success. We now have the learning goal and success criteria. They know what the goal is, what they need to show me, what they need to say, how they need to say it, and how they need to connect it.
Now that this has been established, anchor charts will be created to guide them to successfully meeting their goal. Stay tuned to see how this plays out. I am so happy that our failure, I mean learning, occurred a short while ago because without it I don't think my students will have gained as much as they are going to gain. I will continue to update you regarding our experience with the Toontastic app to create an animated retell of our First Communion preparation.

Feel free to comment as you wish. I welcome the feedback.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Challenging the Myths of Autism - Acquiring Professional Knowledge for Practice

Part of our TLLP involves learning about the characteristics of students with autism. Although every child is unique, there are commonalities and we hope that acquiring knowledge about them will provide us with insight that will inform our practice.

I spent the day at a seminar entitled "Challenging the Myths of Autism", which was sponsored by the Geneva Centre for Autism and Kerry's Place Autism Services. Jonathan Alderson, Ed.M. presented the myths and how to navigate the maze of autism treatment.

This PD was an amazing experience for me. I learned a lot and was able to connect what was presented to the context of our project. Integrating technology into my classroom has been, and continues to be, a fantastic learning experience for my students and myself. However, I have been looking for opportunities to gain a more focused understanding about how to work with our special needs students, particularly our students with autism.

Having advanced my understanding of autism today makes me feel like I have established a decent foundation from which I hope to build a strong mental structure of knowledge that will be used to support our students and my colleagues. I would like to take a moment and share with you some of my learning and how I envision it being used to support our students as they use the touch technology to enhance their learning.

Jonathan Alderson presented the following myths of autism:

1. Autistic children lack affection
2. Rituals are dysfunctional and should be stopped
3. Autistic children lack intelligence
4. ABA/IBI is the only evidence-based treatment
5. There is a limited 5-year "window" for the development of autistic children
6. Socialization of autistic children happens best with peers

For each of the above mentioned myths, Jonathan provided us with evidence to challenge the myths. For a neophyte like myself, I was in awe of the information he presented. He had great personal stories and kept things interesting. It was a treat to listen to him speak.

My learning:

Autistic children can show affection, it is a matter of not irritating their sensitivities. What can I change about my approach with them that won't offend their sensitivities? We need to meet their needs like any other student to make things work. I think the technology can be used in a variety of ways that won't offend their sensitivities. We need to build a trust with them, to be curious, to tell them what we want, and share stories of affection. I look forward to seeing them smile when they use the touch technology.

Autistic students have rituals and they are not dysfunctional and shouldn't be stopped. There are many reasons why children with autism have rituals and repetitive behaviour (RRB's). It's important to consider biological & sensory causes (help them de-stimulate), stop judging them as bad, and try to join in or imitate. Knowing this, I think that I should be patient and understanding if the students we are working with feel the need to demonstrate RRB's when using the touch devices. It is part of who they are and I should respect their differences like I would any other student.

Autistic students don't lack intelligence. How are we measuring IQ? There are many intelligences, so why would we focus on one way to measure it. Do we do that with other students? The touch devices can be a tool to help students with autism demonstrate their intelligence, just like it is being used with the students in my class who are excited and engaged in their learning because of technology.

ABA/IBI are not the only evidence-based treatment for students with autism. Listening to Jonathan speak about navigating the maze of autism treatments was a breath of fresh air. He talked about the principles of multi-treatment designs and that we can learn from different approaches. As a teacher I am open and try different things to reach my students. Granted, I am not doing therapy, but I am a practitioner who has the option of using technology to teach my students and have them demonstrate their knowledge. Is it not a moral imperative that I do what I can to reach ALL my students?

There isn't a 5-year window for development in autistic children. There isn't any scientific evidence that shows that learning slows down after 5 years of age, science confirms that the brain remains 'plastic' throughout life, and we really shouldn't interpret 'early intervention' as intervention only works early! The technology is a tool, it might meet the needs of the student and it might not - no harm in trying it out as I would any other teaching tool.

Socialization of children with autism doesn't necessarily happen best with peers. The social skills that are evident in neurotypical children are most often 'missing' with kids that have autism. Autistic children have low eye contact, lack social motivation, imitation, understanding, and generalization. If you want autistic children to socialize with other children it would be more effective to teach them the above mentioned social skills. Examples of how this could be done are through 1:1 facilitated play dates and adult play and instruction. In the second phase of our project we will be inviting our autistic friends to visit our classroom. While they visit, I was hoping that they would sit with one of my "model" students - confident, compassionate, and capable with the technology. I am open to introducing the technology to the autistic students in a variety of ways - it doesn't have to happen the way we envisioned it. It should play out in a comfortable way for our visiting students.

We need to continue to challenge the myths. We need to be more accepting, curious, and take an active role in rewriting how to work with children who have autism. Soft eyes, open heart, and an inviting mind can take people places they have never been before. I am looking forward to the journey.