iLearn from my Students

This post is about one of the many ways that iLearn from my students (Get it? Give it a minute.)

So many teachers ask me, 'Hey Jennie, how did you get your kids to be so good at using this technology? What did you do?'

My answer is: 'Very little.'

Yes, I did have the day where we sat down and had our iPad rules and iPad101 with a doc cam and a projector. Yes, we went over the whole, 'Do not use an inappropriate app or go on an inappropriate website - under pain of death.' Yes, I have my iPad rules poster up in my classroom. Yet this whole spiel was about 2-3 days in the making. I spent longer teaching my kids math centers.

Now, 8 months later, my kids - many of whom rarely typed in their lives - are typing entire essays in a few periods, creating Keynote (the Apple version of Powerpoint) presentations, zooming in and out on webpages, cutting and pasting text and photos into their documents, using auto-correct (that squiggly red or green line under misspelled or grammatically incorrect words/phrases) and more! Did I teach any of this to them? Not really. So how do they know how to do it with such ease and efficiency?

I gave the kids explore time. I allowed them to use their 21st century in-born technology know-how to problem solve, make mistakes, find solutions and learn the systems. I found that by doing it this way, my kids not only more deeply understood how to navigate the ins and outs of the iPad, cloud file system, and other applications -- but they found neat tricks and taught them to me!

Teachers often feel like they have to follow the age-old "I do, We do, You do" for every lesson. This just isn't so. As with teaching math and science, I love to pose a problem and let the students loose on it. I'm consistently amazed by the solutions with which they return. Even when they make mistakes - or go down the completely wrong path, we have learned as a classroom to discuss those mistakes and learn from each other.

In this case with the iPads, I am constantly "goofing up." I have lost student work on the iDisk (cloud file sharing system). I have gotten waist-deep into the lesson only to realize that the video I created and loaded didn't properly download onto all iPads. I have made even more grave mistakes, but the students are so patient with me... because I'm patient with them. We all know that this is new technology. We all know that this is an exciting frontier on which we're traveling. Therefore we explore together, we fail together and learn together. All in all, more often than not, the students show me better ways to do things that I could have ever imagined or lesson planned. The student has become the master, indeed.
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Dear Google, I love you. Will you marry my iPad?

As I first began to use my iPads in the classroom, I found that there were a few issues. First and foremost was getting content on and off of the iPad. To solve this, I tried many avenues:
- iDisk
- Dropbox
- Syncing
- Emailing
- Google Tools

I'll go through the pros and cons for each of the first four methods in a later post, but this post is purely a love letter to Google.

Oh Google, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

1) Google Sites. It's free, it's fun, it's easy. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I use this platform to share almost all of my content with my students (with the exception of the mini lesson videos I create or find... again, another post another time). This is one stop shopping for my kids - here they can find exit tickets, do now prompts, pictures, webquests, announcements, weblinks, resources, calendar, our math blog, my contact info, and more! But wait - there's more! It's so easy to use that my residents (full year student teachers) can get a quick tutorial and they're on the site adding content, checking student work and navigating this virtual learning environment themselves! See for more Google Site fun.

2) Google Forms. Hello, where have you been all my life? Gone are the days of post it notes all over my teacher bag. Gone are the days of half sheet exit tickets with student handwriting I can barely read. Gone are the days of passing out and picking up papers (sadly, I had to downsize and retire the second of two "paper passer" classroom jobs. It will not be missed). Google Forms allows me to create open response, multiple choice, check box, scale or grid answer questions to pose to my students. Responses are automatically and immediately generated into a Google spreadsheet (much like an excel spreadsheet). Then I can use this data to create differentiated math groups for same day or next day targeted instruction. I can use the "sort" function to quickly sort answers, then read student explanations to understand more deeply their misconceptions. So cool.

I also use Google Forms to take student surveys, pre-assess and do our morning mood check in. The students in our community often come to school upset about something that happened at home, on their way to school or a more prolonged personal issue. By checking in on their emotional state first thing, I am able to put out fires before they get out of hand (ie, student-to-student conflict, a child feeling ill, someone who is dealing with a troubling issue at home, someone who is in need of wellness support, etc.). Students also are taught that teachers want to know how they are, and are safe to speak to. I have kids writing in about all sorts of issues, both happy and sad... which makes my relationships with each of them even more rich.

3) Customized Search Engine.
Want to do a web-based research project with your kids? Want to make sure that students don't get into inappropriate or "junk" websites? No worries! Just use the Google Customized Search Engine -- a customized Google search where you specify the sites that will be covered with your search term. How simple yet how useful....

So, yes, I love Google. It makes my iPadding in the classroom a more wonderful experience. My only qualm with Google is that it isn't intrinsically embedded into the iPad iOS... So come on Google & Apple -- why can't you marry and become an omniscient computer superpower? Imagine the possibilities....

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Well here I am

I've been encouraged by colleagues to start a blog (to write about my exploration of technology in the classroom). However I kept thinking: a) I have no time to blog, b) What if people think what I'm saying is crazy/'stupid' c) Who would even want to read this?

Well I guess we'll see... so here goes nothing:


First off, let me tell you a little about myself. I am currently a 5th grade math, science and writing teacher in an urban school district -- teaching at a PK-8 school with a student body that is predominantly high needs and African American. I have been teaching here for 6 years and have loved each one - thanks to my kids. I feel like this school is my family now and don't know how I could ever leave. After 'growing up' as an educator with this school, teaching in the same 4-5th grade band for several years, I was beginning to feel like I was hitting my stride. I thought, OK -- I got this. Then, my world was completely changed thanks to a grant approval for 32 iPads.

When I heard that the grant had won, I cried. My husband said, "Ohhh... how sweet! You're so happy!" I replied, "Nooooo! I'm crying because I'm scared now... I have to actually do all those things I said I'd do in that grant!" Oh dear...

Although daunting, I took on the challenge with a deep breath and willingness to try, fail and try again. I received the iPads in August of 2010. Since that time we've been working to integrate them into our daily instruction. So far we've been fairly successful. If you were to walk into my classroom on any given day, you will see them out and being used throughout each subject - math, science, writing... even a little social science for good measure. These shiny little devices have single handedly transformed my differentiation, assessment and outlook on what can be done in the classroom. On a daily basis, I think wow -- is this really happening?

We've received much positive feedback from parents, colleagues, administration, district personnel and even the kind folks at Apple. Yet the questions I keep asking myself are - how effectively are we using them? What could we do better? How can I push both myself and my students to use this technology more efficiently, effectively? In this blog, I'll be exploring the ups and downs, ins and outs of answering these questions....
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