Saturday, December 22, 2012

All it Takes is a Willingness to Engage and Learn

Anyone who works in an elementary school will tell you that their days are "full" and that there is always more that can be done. I have to admit that from time to time I get caught in the 'work' wave and go an entire day without having a decent conversation with any of my colleagues. Sad, but true.

As I was getting my students ready for afternoon recess, an occasional Educational Assistant came up to me and had some technology questions. She was told that I was the school's iPad "expert"! This was a nice way for us to break the ice and led to a moment of laughter. She told me that she would be in for a few days working with a student who is part of our project. She had already spent some time observing and supporting the student with the use of his iPad.

As an occasional EA, she is in different schools quite often and because of this fact she carries her RIM Playbook tablet with her to use with students. She wanted to know how she could download some of the iPad apps she saw our student using in order to support other students in numeracy and literacy. After a brief conversation about the iTunes store and the differences between the Playbook and iPad she realized why she couldn't load the apps that she had seen on the iPad. At that point I informed her of some of the benefits of using a Playbook rather than an iPad with students. I asked her if she was aware of the Ontario Educational Resource Bank (OERB)  - an online repository that offers a growing number of free digital learning resources to teachers and students, from K-12. She was vaguely familiar with the OERB, that is to say that she had heard of it.

Recess was underway so I asked if she was free to chat and perhaps we could sit down at a computer with her tablet and explore the OERB together. She had the time, so we proceeded to navigate the Ministry based site and brainstormed/discussed how she could use her mobile device in combination with the learning objects to benefit the students she works with - no matter what school she finds herself in!

Our short collaboration was well spent. She left with enough knowledge to 1) access the OERB,
2) search for learning objects based on the needs of the student(s) she is working with, and 3) ideas to engage her student(s) and have them demonstrate their learning using her tablet.

If it weren't for her willingness to engage me in a discussion around how she could use touch technology with students, the great dialogue we had would not have been. I was more than happy to pass on what I have learned about using the Ministry's digital resource site to support our students and she was 'all ears' during our conversation.

I'm glad that the 'business' of my day didn't interfere with the opportunity to support one of my colleagues, especially one with such passion to assist her students using an interactive and blended approach.

I need to make the effort and time to engage my colleagues in meaningful conversation at least once a day. There is so much that can be gained outside the four walls of my classroom that can benefit myself and my students.

I welcome your feedback! Please feel free to comment here or email me at if you want to engage me in converstion about what I have written.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Needle in a Hay Stack: Finding Great Apps for our Learners - TLLP

As I wrap up another 'formal' session of searching for appropriate apps to be used with our TLLP students, I can't help but reflect on a task that sounds so easy, yet can be so frustrating. I am constantly learning about apps that may be of benefit to our students. Google searches, the App Store (iTunes), and my Twitter feed keep me busy. There are lots of good apps out there, but for our purposes many of them get filtered out because they don't appear to be directly aligned with the needs of our students.

The lens with which I look through as I search for, and read about apps, is that of an IEP. When I see/read something that resonates with one of our TLLP student profiles/learning goals I will take a closer look at the app. I want to see screen shots of the app, how it might work, and how closely it fits with student program goals and learning expectations. From that point forward I will examine other factors like complexity, price, and how well it might integrate across curriculum, etc. For some apps, this process ends up being lightning fast and for some other apps the process is as quite slow. I will even seek the opinions of members of my Twitter PLN who seem to have extensive knowledge around educational apps.

Most of what I have described above occurs in isolation, within my mind. The true test occurs when the students interact with the apps. I am informed quite often whether an app is a good fit or not - this makes for some great learning. With our grade 4 student we recently discovered that the Mathopolis math operations app engages him, but for all the wrong reasons. In his case, this app renders itself useless. With our grade 5 student we have an app that allows him to record his thinking visually and orally. He loves the way it works and it is invaluable to him. The app can be used with almost any learning expectation in his IEP. It is proving to be a powerful app that integrates nicely across his IEP.

Finding the right apps involve time on my part and experience on the student's part. Just when I begin to think that there is a science to this, I realize that it is also an art. It usually feels like I am looking for a needle in a haystack! Nevertheless, I journey forward on this learning & leadership experience knowing that everyone involved benefits - especially our students.

Your comments are welcome! Please feel free to respond to this post or email me at

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Student Progress and Learning - TLLP

Our "iProject" students continue to grow and learn with the iPad. Here is an update based on the journals that our EA's are keeping.

Our Grade 2 Student:
  • Routine and expectations are now established and the student transitions to the device without too many difficulties/distractions.
  • Letter School App is helping her identify and trace numbers and letters (Math & Language). This app provides repetition for the student, requires her to follow instructions, and encourages her to take her time. It leads to some frustration but also leads her to the awareness that she has to take her time in order to be successful (tracing).
  • Currently using the "iLearn With Poke: Seasons" app to assist with the measurement strand in Mathematics. The student encountered difficulties at first - she simply started dragging icons on the screen without listening to instructions. With explicit and simple directions provided, the student was able to work productively and successfully. The "iLearn With Poke: Seasons" app also allows the student to apply and demonstrate her understanding of temperature by identifying clothing that are appropriate for the weather conditions.
--> important to explicitly teach the student (step by step) how the app works and what the expectations are
--> new apps are to be explored first. Important to let the student explore the app, to discover the workings of it on her own in order to establish some knowledge/familiarity.
--> Allowing the student time to explore apps before formal instruction seems to allow for a more productive/successful experience because a) the student will have already had time to explore/discover apps and b) will prime the student to make connections (to the prior knowledge acquired from initial exploration) as she learns.

Our Grade 4 Student:
  • In Mathematics the student is working on multiplication. His EA reports that he initially works well with "Space Math" when he answers the questions correctly but becomes easily upset/frustrated when his answers are incorrect.
  • It seems clear now that our grade 4 student is easily distracted by the graphics in some of the apps. When using the "Mathopolis" app - a fire fighter themed app where addition/subtraction/multiplication/division questions must be answered correctly in order to put out fire in buildings - the student will purposely answer questions incorrectly in order to watch the building be destroyed and burned. The graphics are distracting the student from his learning and his demonstration of learning.
  • In Language we found a "Cursive Writing" app for the student - he loves this app and states that "this is cool". It engages and focuses him in writing.
  • He makes attempts to use the more "primary" apps.
  • In Reading, he frequents the same texts. It is very difficult to get him to engage in other texts - he likes to do the same activities over and over again.
  • The iPad continues to be used as a reward for the student.
--> Our grade 4 student is easily frustrated/upset when things don't go his way. I wonder if this is an issue when using the iPad or the norm for him as he lives his day-to-day life.
--> He requires constant supervision when using the iPad. If he is left unattended he will disengage from his learning and venture into other apps not appropriate for that particular time.
--> When it is time to transition from the iPad to something else the student still experiences difficulty.
--> We will start to look for apps that are not too visually stimulating. For example, for multiplication type apps, it may be beneficial to have simple flash card activities that are made from simple graphics (e.g. few colours, animated visuals).

Our Grade 5 Student:
  • Continues to engage in and focus on his learning using the iPad.
  • The student uses and engages in a variety of apps each day. His EA reports that he is finding success and joy from using the device. It is difficult for him to use paper and pencil, the iPad allows him to learn without the paper and pencil.
  • In Language he has been using the "Story Time" app in a number of different ways (e.g. creating sentences).
  • His EA wonders whether we could print some of his work --> I need to teach the EA how to take a "screen shot" which can be emailed to a desktop computer and then printed :) - I have a feeling that this will open things up and set the student on a new and exciting path.
--> The grade 5 student appears to be making the best of the apps on the iPad.
--> He remains engaged and is doing well with the challenges posed to him by his teacher/EA.

Your feedback is always welcome - I would love to interact with you to hear what your thoughts are. Please feel free to leave a comment on the blog or email me at