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We’ve “Flipped” Over Handwriting


With the advent of RTI and Common Core State Standards, I have experienced a growing sense of urgency in my teaching. My goal is to teach my first graders to be independent, creative, deep thinkers. I want to guide them as they set goals and help them track progress towards their goals.
In the past, an absent student would miss out on that day’s learning. Access to technology has changed this completely. An absent student can immediately continue along their learning path upon their return to school. On the flip side, a motivated student can complete lessons at their own pace in the elementary classroom.
I have always struggled to fit handwriting practice into the school day. Teaching students to analyze texts, infer, predict, and provide evidence for their thinking has been a priority for me. I strive to teach my students strategies to comprehend math and explain their thinking. I always thought, “Where does handwriting fit in to all of this?” We would be “fitting in” handwriting instruction right down to the last few weeks of school!
QR codes and the app “Show Me” gave me the platform to create videos illustrating correct handwriting formation. Students then were instructed to set a goal (completing at least 1 page per day), and then were given sheets where they could track progress towards their goals. Since the winter olympics were just starting, becoming an “olympic hand writer” was our theme.
The results were awesome! Students shifted their thinking from just trying to complete the page to trying to do it well. Many students chose to complete more than one page a day and they used any free time to complete the work. They are no longer dependent upon me to teach the whole group lesson. The learning is student driven and at their own pace.

Math Journals Enter 21st Century with Mobile Apps

connected mcgraw hill_Much of what I do is on my iPad. My husband (and our school custodian) call me obsessed. Call it whatever you like. My iPad is a tool that just makes sense to me and the opportunities it provides for me to organize, share, and evaluate student work are endless throughout the day. When I learned that our new math program (McGraw-Hill’s My Math) has a mobile app, you could say I was intrigued. I jumped in, and with my students’ help, we were able to figure it out and integrate it into our math workshop. Students have the choice to complete their daily assignments using the traditional paper math journals, or they can do everything digitally right on the iPad. Once you learn the apps ins and outs, it works out pretty well.
The “My Math” program has many digital tools to support teaching and learning (found at http://connected.mcgraw-hill.com). The iPad app is a mirror of what you (or your students) see when logged in. The coolest thing is how you can check each child’s work. They no longer have to come up to you, stand in line, and wait for you to look over their answers. You have the capability to check each and every child’s work without ever having them come to you. The “student review” function allows you to select each child’s account and evaluate their work while they are working. You can catch inaccuracies before they are practiced and ingrained. Pretty cool, huh?
You see the “student review” button on the mobile app as well. I have used it and have been able to see what my students are doing. However, you don’t have the capability of writing on student pages and giving corrective feedback. You do have the ability, however, when you log in to connected.mcgraw-hill.com and click on the student journal. Students will be able to see whatever you write.
I have attached the handout that I prepared to share with staff members at my school. You might find the handout handy if you also use McGraw-Hill’s ConnectEd “My Math” program. Enjoy!

ConnectEd mobile app user guide

Reflection and Engagement

Reflection time…that’s what today offers me. The last month has been bursting with new iPad applications and my students have been loving it. I have been loving it. Our first snow day was the first week of December and I couldn’t help but feel let down. After the roads were plowed and school was back in session, I was greeting my students in the hallway at 8:15 a.m. “Mrs. Rengo,” one little boy said. “There was no school yesterday.” “I know,” I replied. “It was a snow day.” The boy went on to say, “I was so disappointed.” I could relate and that is when I knew that technology not only increases student engagement but teacher engagement as well.

What has been happening in my classroom to keep me so engaged? The answer is simple. AR (Augmented Reality). I had the privilege of attending an iDesign workshop by Naomi Harm. As usual, she delivered a rich presentation. (A link to her blog is found in my blog roll.)

As a first grade teacher, I am accustomed to teaching a skill to a group of 6 and 7 year olds and having some of them “get it” the first time and some not. (Some need even a second, third, or fourth exposure). Aurasma is the perfect remedy for this. I learned that I could transform my word wall and math vocab wall and make it interactive. My students could record videos of science experiments, word work lessons (anything really) and watch them again later.

Once you understand the process, Aurasma is simple to use. It involves capturing a short video, pairing it with a “trigger image,” and then publishing it to a channel to later view on demand. I began by making my own Aurasmas and then moved on to teaching my students how to make their own because I just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Teaching my students how to make their own was one of the best things I have ever done (instantaneous ownership).

Another favorite app of mine is Layar. Layar allows me to take posters that I create using the app Pic Collage and move beyond 2-D. I can add links to YouTube videos and pictures to reinforce a concept.

What was the first thing I made with Layar? Several years ago I made a poster to teach different letter sounds to help students understand bossy e, double vowels, etc. in reading. It was a hodgepodge of hand drawings and clip art but I was pretty proud of it. I thought “What a great way to teach sounds in reading.” That was then and this is now. Now, my students take the amped up version of my sounds poster and use Layar to view different YouTube videos that show reinforce the spelling rules though song. How engaging!

The bottom line is that I now have the tools to help my students practice important skills independently (making the best use of their time AND mine. Yeah!)

(Pictured below: A sound chart and reading strategy poster that I created using Pic Collage on the iPad. I then used Layar to add various videos to illustrate important concepts.)



Using Technology to Promote Independence During Independent Learning Centers

Click on the link below to view an Animoto Video about Aurasma.

What can you do with Aurasma?.

Want to learn more about Aurasma and Layar? Click on the following link to view a handout illustrating the implication of these apps in the primary classroom!

Teaching Time Words

Time Lesson Plan

Time…we are all bound to it. As teachers, we know every minute counts. Two minutes left in our prep? We can get a LOT done in that two minutes! Some children have an understanding of time, and some, to put it plainly, don’t. How do you teach time words? The new CCSS require students to be very clear in their writing and put to use descriptive words. With so many different time words, how do you teach them to children so that they truly understand them? “The Word Lady” has shared her lesson plan with us. No matter what she teaches, she tries to give children something to hold. Watch the video below to see how it is done!

Creating a Climate for Responsible iPad Use

I have been getting teased a lot lately. I should say a little more than usual. In all honesty, it is because I told my principal that, aside from my wedding day and the birth of my four children, the day we went 1:1 with iPads was the happiest day of my life. In my defense, it really was. It is invigorating to me to constantly learn something new. That goes with the territory when it comes to tech.

I am learning and adjusting as I go. “What have I learned?” you might ask. (Aside from the obvious, which is new apps that seem to constantly be emerging). I found that kids get really excited to have an iPad. Sometimes they are so excited that they just can’t help trying out all the apps on their device before I have the chance to teach and introduce them. I have learned that kids need to be taught how to listen and follow directions before they start doing. I have learned that kids need to understand that using an iPad is a privilege and an immensely powerful learning tool. In order for students to learn and grow, they need to be on-task and not just engaged while working.

That is what led me to create an iPad contract that I discussed with my class and then asked them to sign. In doing so, they understood that signing the contract signified a promise. Kids truly understand promises and know how it feels when someone breaks a promise to them.

The next, natural step, was to talk about what should happen if they break their promise. The following poster is what the class decided on as a list of consequences. Taking time to do this was immensely worthwhile since we use our iPads all the time. Stopping my teaching to ensure that children are using their iPad as a tool and not as a toy makes my job as a teacher very difficult. There needs to be a flow to any lesson. Asking students to take responsibility for their actions was one of the best things I could do.



Facilitating Asking Questions

All the great reading gurus talk about questioning as an important comprehension strategy that individuals use to help them understand their reading better. We teach students to generate questions before, during, and after reading. We teach students to search the texts they are reading for answers. Sometimes our answers are found in the text itself and others are found in outside sources.

Children are innately curious. My daughter is a prime example of this. She probes me with questions every opportunity she gets. Her questions are insightful at times and borderline weird at others (such as “What are toenails made of?” or “What would happen if you had no lips?”)

Our goal is for children to think deeply and to stretch themselves. We want quality questions which require higher order thinking and so we teach that not all questions are created equal. We draw an analogy between a sandwich. “Which of your questions are thick? Which ones are thin?” we say. (Thick questions require us to dig deeper. The answers are not found right there in the text. Thin ones, on the other hand, are “right there.” “How does questioning help you as a reader?” we probe.

Despite our best efforts, we sometimes have students that struggle with generating questions. They may write down a telling when they are asked to record a question that they have. What do you do then? “The Word Lady” has the answer.

It is actually simple. Take a box. Place an object inside. (Don’t let the students see what you put in.). Say to the class “I have something inside this box. Ask me a question to try to figure out what is inside.” This is where the fun begins! Your first question may be “What is it?” This is where you work your magic as a teacher. You help shape student responses and mold them in to questions. Based on student responses, you might say things such as: “Ask me a where question. Such as “Where is it found?” Ask me a how question. Like “How do you use it?” You can build a concept of categories and teach students to ask if it is an animal, a type of clothing, or a plant.

This is a fun activity that you can use while kids are lining up or during snack time. Give it a try. You will be amazed at the transformation and the types of questions your students begin to generate!