Sunday, September 18, 2011

A New Horse

When I wrote my professional goals for the current school year, there were two main themes:

  • to increase my knowledge of current technology tools and integrate them into instruction, and

  • to promote healthy, life-long habits for my students, including a greater awareness of healthy food options.

A personal goal was, and has continued to be to explore the many ways I am a writer. I continually try to carve out time for creative writing projects, but when the iPad came my way, it seemed like an opportunity to contribute to the blogosphere and see where that led. So over the summer I posted my musings and the results of my foray into the world of apps.

Now school has started and while I am trying to find ways to incorporate the iPad into my classroom life, what I have been truly jazzed about at the end of each of these first three weeks of school are the cooking projects we have started in my classroom. One co-worked donated some kale, another one brought me a bag of basil (hello pesto!). Another one dropped off a box of pots, pans and other cooking implements along with the offer of a secondhand microwave. A fourth one gave me use of a mini fridge! Best of all, the kids are reading about, talking about, and eating new and healthy foods.

So I am putting this blog on hold and switching horses mid-stream (something my dad always warned against, usually in the context of switching lanes in a traffic jam). You can check out my culinary adventures with a chatty group of fifth and sixth graders at

I may stop in here now and again as I figure out the practical applications with the iPad, but for now, I'm following my blogging bliss. I hope you'll follow me on this new exploration...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A happy surprise at the app store

In late July, I had a friend who works in educational publishing contact me asking me for recommendations of reading apps. At that point, all of the reading apps I'd seen seemed to fall into two categories: 1) early literacy apps that help kids learn about letters and letter sounds in an interactive way or 2) crappy or borderline crappy books with crappy or borderline crappy illustrations that a child can read or follow along while it is read to them. The first category seems relevant and appropriate to early childhood educators, which I am not. The second category feels reminiscent of books my mother used to find at the dollar store. Not damaging but not of high literary/educational quality either.

I started to wonder: am I missing something? Is this all there is out there in reading apps? Then one new app caught my eye.

A Shakespeare in Bits app just came out for Midsummer Night's Dream but also have been available for Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Each app includes an animated version of the play which you can watch while simultaneously following the text which is highlighted as it scrolls down the right hand side of the screen. There are many other features including a character relationship map, bios for each character, a synopsis for each scene and notes on each scene. Of course a quality app comes at a price; each play is $14.99. Romeo and Juliet is also available in a free lite edition, which I downloaded. The free app has the prologue and first scene of Act 1, so you can get a good sense of the features before deciding to spend $14.99 for the full play. Next year I will be teaching Shakespeare as part of my every other year, multi-age curriculum, and our class will put on one of the Bard's plays in the spring. Once I've chosen which play we are performing, I will consider shelling out for that app.

I hope as I dig around in the app store, I'll keep finding gems like this one. I would love to hear about any reading apps others have found that are worth the time and money.

First week of school

The beginning of the school year is always exhausting. It is so important to be intentional at every turn with a new class of students. The first weeks are all about carefully establishing routines that will (hopefully) carry us through the year. This fall is especially challenging for me: after nine glorious years teaching part time in a job share, my youngest child has started Kindergarten and I have returned to full time teaching. I was so lucky to be able to work in my chosen profession and have time at home with my small children. Now it's the beginning of a new era for me professionally...

We had three days of school this week. I used the iPad instead of an oldish classroom digital camera and took pictures while my class was doing community building activities. I have always included photos in the Friday News I send home each week to parents so taking pictures is nothing new. Given that the camera I was working with would take what seemed like an excessive amount of time to process one photo before being available to take a second, the iPad is a refreshing improvement. I also won't have to deal with batteries that don't hold a charge, etc.

Getting the pictures "off" the iPad was a bit of a drama. I know there are other ways to do it, but I really wanted to stick with strategies I am comfortable with for now and email the photos to myself so I could download them. Also, I like the idea of a student having the ability to email a photo they take or are featured in to their parents so I wanted to work any kinks out of this process. The challenge in emailing pictures came because I switched my email password a couple weeks ago and even though I tried to update it in my iPad settings, the iPad wouldn't accept the new password. From talking with others, this seems to be a glitch with the iPad for unknown reasons. The problem was solved by deleting that account and setting up a classroom email account on the iPad. I had already been planning to do this. Now, if a student gets into the mail app when using the iPad, they won't have access to either my personal email or my school email that may contain confidential info.

In the next two weeks as community building continues in my class, I plan to have students take pictures of each other for an as yet unplanned class display. (Unplanned because I have just switched grade levels. I taught third and fourth grade for the past five years and am now teaching fifth and sixth. The good news is I don't feel locked into the curriculum as I've taught it for the past umpteen years. On the other hand, I can't just pull out what I have been doing and do it all over again.) This will be the opportunity to introduce the iPad to the class and teach everyone how to take photos with it. I would also like to enlist their help taking photos and documenting our year together. First I have to teach the kids how to handle this new gadget and make sure no one is going to drop it on my uncarpeted floors. Wish me luck!