The Tablet in the Room: Tablet Technology in Kindergarten

iPad in KTablets, most often though not exclusively iPads, are fast making their way into the class.  I’ve often been asked whether they should be put in the hands of kindergarten children and, in my answers, I sometimes find myself skating around a variety of key words that include play, 21st century, meaningful, and, key of keys, the Quebec Preschool Education Program.

So, I thought I’d try to put a bit of order in my thoughts.

Technology is ubiquitous in the lives of our students. Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. As preschool educators, we should rather ask questions such as “Can a tablet help us… and if so, how?” and “What practices will enrich the Preschool classroom environment in keeping with the preschool mandate”.

One thing is certain, the tablet’s portability, long battery life, ease of use, and multiplicity of specialised apps/tools make it a game changer as compared to computers, even laptops.

So, how could we use it?

Heart1smLet’s be clear: it’s not the tablet we’re talking about but rather the apps that we’ll be using and how we will be using them. So, before judging apps, I decided to establish a reflection grid to help decide whether an app can fit into our activities and our class organisation in a way that is in keeping with the Québec Preschool Education Program. The preschool mandate is the first item. Note that it is NOT one of formal instruction and subject areas.  Then, I made 4 columns which highlight four key aspects:

  • The central place of PLAY, i.e. meaningful activities and various forms of play to master reality.
  • its DEVELOPMENTAL rather than instructional approach which fosters the emergence of strong foundations for future schooling. Learning activities should foster the motor and psychomotor, emotional, social, and cognitive dimensions of development.
  • the CLASS ORGANISATION that supports play and active participation in stimulating environments in and out of the classroom (gym, school yard, community, nature, etc) which invite children to observe, explore, manipulate, etc.
  • and finally, its PEDAGOGICAL EVALUATION through the observation and analysis of the children’s attitudes, behaviours, processes, strategies and productions to document their progress and inform our interventions.
    (QEP p. 52)

Just one more tool

The easiest first step in using a tablet is to find a few applications that we can add to the list of tools that we already use.  So, when asking the children to make a picture in the context of an activity, some might use paint, some crayons, and others could use a Drawing app. If you’re setting up a math center with sequencing games, you might include the tablet with an appropriate app.  A Book app (that’s an app that displays a book and includes interactive features) can be used to listen to or read an animated story in a large group, immersing the children in a large screen experience You will still stop, ask questions, ask the children to anticipate, and use all the strategies you normally use when reading to them from a picture book. Later, the children can read or listen to the story in the reading corner and use its interactive features on their own.

Do your activity differently

But be forewarned. Using the app as an added tool in your usual way of doing things usually leads to discovering that the functionalities embedded in the app let you go a step further and imagine new aspects to the activity, enriching it with new twists.

The built-in still and video Camera app is perhaps the easiest and most versatile first tool to use. The camera can be used to create traces of learning, included in the child’s picture portfolio with ease, and brought out when assessing or meeting parents. The children could record their own reflections. They can use it in many other ways, for example

  • Take pictures during a visit to … (fill in the blanks).  Back in class, you project them and together, retell the story of the visit.

With pictures readily available in the Camera Roll it is easy to use them in a variety of contexts.

  • The Camera app, in conjunction with a simple Video Creation app can be used by the children to retell a field trip, to present a science project’s observations (hatching monarch butterflies, germinating  seeds, etc.)
  • With experience and a good Book Creation app, you might help the children create a book from the pictures, a book which can be posted and shared so it can be viewed at home where the children can retell the activity/story in their own words. Some book creation apps allow voice recording.  They all let you write text.  Can you begin to see the possibilities over time? Imagine the children making an alphabet book from pictures they take, pictures of themselves shaping a letter. It would include text and voice. That book could circulate at home as well as be viewed in your reading corner.
  • The email sharing functionality in most creation apps lets you imagine an activity in which an Audio Recording app is be used by the children to make an audio greeting card which they send by email.

Are we still within our evaluation parameters: constructivist, real-life, developmental, conducive to our observing a rich collection of attitudes, behaviours, processes, strategies and productions to analyse and assess? You bet!

Open-ended and creative

There are many applications that allow the children to create in electronic media. You would use them in a variety of contexts, within a meaningful activity or learning situation, just like you use all the other media in your class. But what is new is that, over time and with experience, you can now imagine projects with a scope that was impossible to imagine before.

  • Your school has a policy of inviting next year’s crop of K children to show them the ropes? How about making a video to show them the school, to present the adults they’ll get to know (interviews), to show them what they will be doing in kindergarten and how much fun it is (videos and pictures)? This would be a major end of year project that targets all the competencies.
  • And what about opening the class to the world: talk to buddies in other countries using the Skype app – we may have cows in our fields but they get to see kangaroos or whales or … (fill in the blanks).
  • Extend their reading experience by meeting the author of their favourite book on Skype; then create your own book to send to the author.

Do not judge an app by its colour

By this I mean, it may look game-like, it may sound joyous, be animated but that doesn’t mean it fits into the kindergarten classroom play-based environment of discovery, experimentation and development. Many apps on the market have little or no pedagogical value.  You’ll find books that are the equivalent of their paper version, instructional apps, the alphabet/counting/spelling/make-a-genius-out-of-your-child type, that are really just enhanced drill and practice.  If you are looking for “games” to play on the tablet, look for apps that focus on cognitive abilities: logic, memory, strategy games, puzzles, games that can be played in pairs to encourage talk and problem solving. These will enrich the collection of materials you already use in class and they are in line with the Learnings Related to Cognitive Development (QEP, p.68).

Based on teacher experience, the LEARN Kindergarten Web site is building a list of a few apps that have been used in the K class and pass the Evaluation Grid test. And so, in the end, it all comes down to starting with an understanding of what makes our preschool classroom unique and bringing in the tool in a way that preserves that essence.

Further reading

  1. Recit du préscolaire: La tablette tactile
    http://recitpresco.qc.ca/node/1035
  2. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development: Play, what can be done.
    http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/en-ca/child-play/what-can-be-done.html
  3. Child Development Institute: “Play is the Work of the Child” Maria Montessori
    http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/
  4. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development : School Age Children Development and Parenting Tips
    http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ages-stages/school-age-children-development-parenting-tips/
  5. Blog: Play Based Classroom. A preschool educator shares her experiences.
    http://play-basedclassroom.blogspot.ca/

 

Always Learning – possibilities and practicalities

possible
Photo by Chris James, shared under a CC license

The beginning of the school year always has me energized. I’m ready to learn new things and switch around the way I do things. I’m no longer in the classroom, but I love to share with teachers. There has  never been a better time for teachers to have the opportunity to learn from the experts – other teachers, consultants and people in the field in a variety of capacities. There are so many possibilities.

Then there are the practicalities. How do you learn best? Face to Face? Online? How much time do you have to spend on your personal PD? Here are a few of the many offerings coming up.

tabsumTablet Summit

(full disclosure – LEARN is organizing this along with the local RECIT)
October 21, 2013 in Laval
http://www.learnquebec.ca/en/content/professional_development/workshops/Tablet2013/

One face to face opportunity coming up is the Table Summit which will feature teachers in the field who are using tablets (iPads, Chromebooks…)  in the classroom. Wes Freyer will be the keynote speaker. His site: Mapping Media to the Common Core has many suggestions for using tablets for creating (narratives, radio shows and so much more) It’s easy to find web sites that list a myriad of apps, but they can be overwhelming. I like to learn from people who contextualize  – pedagogy first and then the apps that support it. There are lots of sessions being offered. And face to face sessions allow you really to connect with people.

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Sometimes we can’t get away from our classrooms or get the funding needed to go to conferences. There are so many opportunities to attend online conferences and workshops at no financial cost. When you are unable to attend synchronously (while it is happening) you can watch sessions later as they are usually archived. Here are a few of the many possibilities for learning from and with educators around the world. I’ve written about some of these before – but a refresher is always handy!

webeventlogo

LEARN Web Events

(full disclosure – I help to organize them) http://learnquebec.ca/en/content/professional_development/webevents/index.html

These hour long events are held in zenlive (a kind of online classroom)  and are open to Quebec teachers. They are held once or twice a month, usually in the evening, on a variety of topics. It’s a great opportunity to get in touch with Quebec teachers who are teaching the same curriculum as you are.  Who knows? You might meet someone in the chat who is dealing with the same kinds of issues as you. They could become part of your learning network. You have to register for events. You can check the LEARN site for announcements of upcoming events, or sign up to get emails announcing them.

k12online-logo

K12 Online Conference

(full disclosure: I am on the organizing committee)
http://k12onlineconference.org/
The opening keynote will be available on October 14
In Week One (October 21 – 25) two sessions a day will be unveiled in each of the following strands: Open Learning and Outside Learning
Week 2 (October 28 – November 1) will feature the same number of sessions in the following strands: Leading Learning and Building Learning.

This is the only totally asynchronous (all sessions are pre-recorded and archived – most of the last 7 years of presentations are still available) conference of which I am aware. The focus of the conference is on pedagogy and technology. This has been a great source of  learning for me. These sessions are created by educators in the field, many of whom are classroom teachers. There have been presentations by people from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, as well as by teachers from International Schools from around the world. This is an opportunity to learn from the best.

EduSlamNew-300x134EduSlam

http://eduslam.me/

You only have a few minutes at a time to devote to learning new things? Tanya Avrith (from the Lester B. Pearson School Board) and Holly Clark, from San Diego,  have been interviewing educators about their practice. Meet EduSlam. The segments are short, around five minutes, and you can find many ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. These little nuggets are short in terms of time, but long in terms of value!

Classroom 2.0 Live!

http://live.classroom20.com/class20
Saturdays at noon Eastern Time

Each week focuses on a specific topic with invited guests. With a lot of action in the chat, you learn from both the presenters and the attendees.  All sessions are archived along with a myriad of links in a Livebinder to help you learn about the week’s topic in greater depth. Here’s a sample

Steve Hargadon helps to organize a series of online conferences. Here are the upcoming events. These conference take place 24 hours a day over a few days with speakers from around the world.

stemGlobal STEMx Education Conference

http://stemxcon.com/
September 19-21, 2013

From their site: “STEMxCon will be a highly inclusive and engaging event that will encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) students and educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching. “ Science and math teachers as well as generalists will find sessions of interest. Not available during the conference? Pick one archived session and watch it – you may get hooked.

connectedConnected Educator Month

October
http://connectededucators.org/

This initiative out of the US offers a myriad of events, tweetchats, webinars and opportunities to connect with other educators. Powerful Learning Practice has created a document: The CEM Starter Kit, for teachers who want to participate. There are great tips on how to become a connected educator.

globaledThe Global Education Conference

http://www.globaleducationconference.com/
Monday, November 18 through Friday, November 22, 2013

If last year is any indication, sessions are held 24/7 as there are speakers from around the world. The focus of the conference is global education. In addition to hearing top notch presenters, it is an opportunity to connect with educators from around the world and to find teachers who want to collaborate on global classroom projects. When I last visited the site, speakers had not yet been announced.

Here are a couple more online conferences to check out:

The Reform Symposium RSCON
October 11-13, 2013

Library 2.013 The Future of Libraries
October 18-19, 2013

Then there are online courses, tweetchats

It may seem overwhelming, so pick and choose at your comfort level. There is no shortage of possibilities for learners of all kinds to learn, connect and renew. And in today’s world you can do that practically anywhere!

Happy Happier New Year!

Creative Commons Attribution license - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlcastle/
It’s the journey…

(Disclaimer: Some of you may find my use of exclamation marks in this post to be a bit excessive. My apologies, but I wanted to infuse this blog post with Woo hoo!)

Welcome back! My post at around this same time last year was about setting goals for the upcoming school year. This year, my resolution is to  work consciously to make my 2013-2014 school year very happy, thereby hopefully making the year happier for those around me too!
As an educator, it has always been easy for me to be happy at the beginning of the school year. I am excited to start fresh. The halls are shiny. Students are enthusiastic about learning, and parents love to ease back into the routine that back-to-school brings. Then things happen over the course of the year that can make us feel less happy: stress, the daily grind, struggling to find balance, disappointments, and waning interest.
I started thinking about my own happiness, and its impact on others, a few years ago. My work with students and educators from across the province makes it very important for me to be happy. I want to work with positive, engaged and happy learners, so I feel the need to be a positive, engaged and happy principal.

Chief Happiness Officer

I read and enjoyed The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, but I wasn’t always feeling Zen. I needed practical and fun ways of looking at daily happiness at work. Last May, I had the good fortune to attend WorldBlu Live conference. When I noticed a workshop entitled “How to Bring a Bit More “Woo hoo!” to Your Workplace”, I knew I had to check it out.
The presenter, Alexander Kjerulf, is the Chief Happiness Officer (great title!) of Woohoo Inc. and the author of the international bestseller Happy Hour is 9 to 5. Alex’s enthusiasm for making/keeping work fun is contagious! We spend a large chunk of our waking hours at work, so it is vital to find happiness in our jobs.
At the beginning of the session, Alex asked us all to think back on a time when we were very happy at work. So please indulge me, and take a minute to picture a specific time when you were really happy at work. (Hopefully it won’t take longer than a minute to remember one!)
Now think back, way back in my case, to when you were a student… How will you create those memorable happy moments for your students at school this year?

Most of our happy moments at work or school (work for children!) fit into one of the categories that Alex then outlined. In all the examples shared in the session, what made people happy at work was related to relationships, results, freedom (self-determination) or a combination of factors. So, to be happy at work, it just makes sense to foster positive relationships, to recognize and celebrate successes, and to create opportunities that allow for choice.

Here are a few other takeaways from his session:

Take the time to properly greet co-workers and students. This means making eye contact, calling people by name, and maybe adding a little personal comment about a shared interest or a compliment. Example: “Hey Dianne! Happy Friday! You look great in blue!” or “Good morning, Mark! Did you see the game last night? Go Habs Go!” It takes a few seconds to add a personal word or two, but it sets the tone for a happy day and stresses the importance that should be placed on relationships.

Create a culture of praise. I love this idea because I will use any excuse to celebrate. However, this idea goes beyond birthdays and asks us to focus on the meaningful positive things about our students and co-workers when we see it and really highlight the good we do! At the end of a project, create a party atmosphere and celebrate a job well done. (In the spirit of the culture of praise, I want to give a shout out here to the amazing educators I work with at LEARN and across the province, the fabulous students who make this time of year so exciting, and everyone at LEARN for making everything run smoothly! Woo hoo! *Insert high kick here!*)

Share successes. Do a round table at a staff meeting to give colleagues the opportunity to share something great that happened in class this week. Ask students who had breakthroughs to share their work on a bulletin board, class blog, or in a sharing circle.

What practical ways will I use this year to be my happiest self?
1 – I will celebrate the positive at work! I will express my gratitude face-to-face, and by using our office Appreciation Station and our organization’s Random Acts of Appreciation wiki space. Taking the time to recognize all I have to be grateful for makes me, and the appreciated colleagues, feel happy.
2 – I will bring Woo hoo! to my workplace! (Thank you, Alex!) Sharing jokes, surprising colleagues and students with little treats, just because, make life sweeter. I love some of the ideas from Alex’s blog.
3 – I will focus on my happiness at work at least once a week! For the past few weeks, every Friday, I have been tweeting three things that made me happy at work during the week. Another great idea from Alex! Just looking back and naming specific things makes me happy and encourages me to focus on the positive.

Please join me this Friday using the hash tag #3happythingsatwork on Twitter (see my Storify) or just write your three happy things in the comments below. Wishing you great happiness this school year!