Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Project Based Learning Explained

I've heard a lot of buzz about Project Based Learning (PBL) lately.  Other bloggers, Twitter, and Facebook seem to be talking a whole lot about this method of teaching, and it just so happens that my school district is the recipient of a large grant to explore PBL.  To date, I have had some formal PBL training, as well as exploring this curricular model on my own.

What is PBL?  The Buck Institute (the PBL gurus) define Project Based Learning as "a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge."  You can read all the gory details of PBL here, but the big components of a true PBL project are quality content, 21st century skills, inquiry, a solid driving question, need to knows, voice and choicerevision and reflection, and a public audience.  

How does all that fit into kindergarten, you ask?  Well, it's definitely possible.  It's a lot of planning on my part, yet it's also a lot of letting go of some control and giving students freedom in their learning.  I'm all about that!  I will admit, although my class has completed what I feel like was a very successful project, I do not claim to be a PBL expert.  I am planning on attending a national summit next month that will help me to better understand how the encompassing PBL model fits into a primary classroom.  I will make sure to keep you up to date on my findings as I learn them.

Where does technology fit into PBL?  While technology is more methodology and PBL is more curricular, the two can stand alone, but they compliment each other so well.  Technology lends itself to voice and choice, deepens the level of inquiry, opens a world of choices for a public audience, and definitely utilizes 21st century skills.  

Anyway...  Onto our PBL project...

The event that got our project rolling was our President's Day unit.  Snowmageddon 2014 caused us to not spend as much time on that unit as I would have liked, but we went on as planned. Since my students had knowledge of some of the Presidents (mainly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln), I began one of our meetings with a discussion reviewing these two famous Americans.  After discussing for a few minutes, I asked the kiddos if any of them had been to a museum.  The results were about half and half.  I showed the kids this video from the Smithsonian Museum of American History:

After watching the video, I posed the question to the kids, "How can we, as museum curators, teach our peers about famous Americans throughout history?"  (I will admit--it didn't happen quite that smoothly... I had to answer some random questions, have some random conversations, and lead back to the topic at hand before posing the question.  Tis the life of a kindergarten teacher...)

The following day, we created our list of Knows, Need to Knows, and Next Steps.  This is a critical component of PBL.  Here is our finished (and rewritten--blame it on my horrible penmanship) anchor chart.

After we finished the top part of our chart, I sent the kids to work in their groups (which I selected) to come up with a first and second choice for their topic.  As you can see, the kids chose a wide range of people to study!

From there, we spent the next few days in workshops.  The workshop consisted of a combination of direct instruction, watching videos on BrainPop Jr. and Learn360, and reading books on MyOn.  

Here is a peek inside one of our workshop days.  The kids used the MacBooks to watch BrainPop Jr. videos to research their American.

A wonderful resource I used to guide some of my instruction was this little product from Teacher to the Core:

While I did adapt this to meet the needs of our class and project, it has so many FABULOUS resources.

After workshopping was over, we began working on our final steps of our project.  We created posters of each American to display next to our projects.

We went outside to make our posters... It was 70 and sunny.  After the winter we've had, who can blame us?!?!

The kids decided (with A LOT of input from me) to create iMovies as their displays.  One partner would dress the part of the famous American, while the other held the display (the iPad).  

The students were required to find at least 4 pictures of their American, and write 4 facts.  We created the entire project on the iMovie app, which is extremely kindergarten-friendly.  It took about 2, 1 hour work sessions to complete all ten iMovies from start to finish.  I told you, it's extremely kindergarten-friendly.

Our presentation day came, and  These kids blew me away.  I don't know how many times I said, "We are acting like professionals for our audience!" (may as well had my voice recorded saying it), but it stuck.  Here are some pictures from the public performance.

Abraham Lincoln

Jackie Robinson

Johnny Appleseed

Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Amelia Earhart

George Washington

Betsy Ross

Overall, I feel as if this was a successful attempt at Project Based Learning.  As I said in the first paragraph, I am extremely interested in learning more about how to integrate PBL into ALL subjects. While we used our literacy and math skills in this project, I would love to see what I learn at the Elementary PBL Summit next month.  

Our next project has already started!  We will be creating a pocket park in our city with the local Street Art Initiative.  Before spring break, we had our entry event; check back later this week for more details of what we will be doing next!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Integration 101: Basics Make you Better

So someone just came and dropped off 20+ iPads in your classroom, or you just heard that next year your district is going 1:1 with devices.  

Did you just jump for joy or groan with fear?

Congratulations!  Your students have an opportunity that most of the world’s children do not...connection beyond the classroom.  It’s powerful.  It’s engaging.  It’s sometimes...scary!

We’d like to kick off a series of posts covering the basics of integrating technology successfully into your classrooms.  Within each post, we will share photos, management tips, project ideas, and student work.  

Let’s get started!

Rule #1:  Don’t panic.  

On the first day of school when you cover all of those beautiful routines, procedures, and guidelines with your students...include this one for yourself and your students.  Don’t panic!  Technology is amazing, but it isn’t perfect.  Dropped networks, blank screens, spinning wheels of death happen to the best of us.

What matters is how you deal with it.  The way we see it, you have two options.  

1) Panic, shut everyone off of their device, lock them away, and go cower in the corner as far away from the devices you possibly can.  Be sure to tell everyone how terrible technology is, how it is too difficult to manipulate, and buy a t-shirt that says, “Down with technology.”
2) Laugh and then teach the student how to work through problems as you discover together how to resolve the issue.  When in doubt, Google it. Many quick fixes can be found through a simple search, and you get the empowerment of learning something new. Sometimes it means calling in the big dogs.  Those people that are the “they” of the district.  The ones wearing superhero capes, carry large backpacks, and can fix all of your computer woes- often from a remote location.  Sometimes it also means humbling yourself enough to ask the techie teacher next door.  Chances are, they can help fix it in a snap all while showing you how.  Double bonus!  

The greatest difference between the two options is attitude.  In the first option, the students sense your panic and frustrations and that WILL rub off on them.  Don’t we spend our entire day teaching our students about having a good attitude, learning from our mistakes, and embracing tasks that sometimes we just don’t want to do?

What do you want to see reflected in the mirror of your students?

What about you?  Have you messed up?  Have you been guilty of Option 1?  That’s ok.  Today is a new day.  Start afresh...and don’t panic!

The smiles make it all worth it...we promise!

Set the Stage with Proactive Management

There are many questions you need to ask yourself before the first day with students.  If you have already started, it’s never too late to retrofit new ideas and routines!  You will just need to practice, practice, practice with the students to change habits.

These are the top four management issues we have faced in our classrooms and our tips for successful management.

1. Where will the device rest during idle periods?  

Techie Teacher Tips: Corner of the desk, seat pockets, book bins, cubbies, or even power carts if you have them.  Desks are often dangerous territory unless you have strict desk organization rules!  They need to be easily accessible, but safe! 

2. What is the protocol for student tech questions/problems?  
You will pull your hair out if you don't have a system in place. May we recommend...

Tiffany Tip:  In my third grade classroom, they must try these basics before coming to me. 
1. Ask a friend. Most of the time they can work through their own problems. 
2. Try refreshing the app/program.  In our district, they may need to "authenticate" by logging into our filter system.
3. Restart the app/program.  
4. Try restarting the device and logging back in. Many times this fixes the problem. If the device is frozen, they may need to complete a hard boot. (iPad: Press home and power for several seconds until it shuts down. Then re-power. Mac: Hold the power button until the computer powers down.  Restart.)  This is a last resort, and should only be used after the previous two have been tried.  

If the program persists in a freeze, they may bring it to me to fix.

Brittany Tip:  In my kindergarten classroom, I have a computer technician for a classroom job. They are able to help with basic issues that we encounter. The reality is that most kindergarten kids don't have the skills necessary to fix big issues.  Use the adults in your room to the fullest. Aides and parents can be wonderful resources!
3. What is the procedure for carrying/holding the device?  Expensive equipment in little, uncoordinated hands...could spell disaster if you let it!
Graphic courtesy of

Techie Teacher Tips: Two Hands on Deck, Hands at “10 & 2,” No More than Four (devices at a time), etc.  Come up with something catchy to say because you will inevitably find yourself repeating it! Decide how many devices can be carried at one time.

These Kinder-Kids have Two Hands on Deck!

4. What are the repercussions for being on apps/programs other than what is permitted at that time?  What about devices that go home and do not return?  What about inappropriate photos? Be sure your school has a firm policy in place, but you also need your own classroom guidelines! Know the policy in and out.

Techie Teacher Tip:  BE PROACTIVE AND STAY FIRM!  Whatever you put into place, enforce it!  If you don’t, you will have constant issues throughout the year.  Don’t be soft.  It won’t kill them to complete paper/pencil tasks while their classmates continue along.  Trust us, they learn pretty quickly! Be an active monitor of students.  Students are much less likely to stray if you are holding them accountable.  Our district uses LanSchool to help monitor student Mac screens from a single location. The lesson here is to not use student tech time to prop your feet up, relax, check your Facebook, read a magazine, or otherwise check out!

These third grade ladies work together and stay on task!

Wrap it Up!

Share with us! What are your biggest management issues in your own classroom?  What basic integration tips would you like us to share with you?

And don't forget...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Meet the Teachers

By now you know that we are 2 Techie Teachers, but who are the faces behind the name?  We will answer our most frequently asked questions in today’s blog.  

Meet Brittany

Hi!  My name is Brittany Banister, and I am 1 Techie Teacher.  I have taught for 7 ½ years.  I taught first grade for half a year, and then was moved to the wonderful world of kindergarten.  Although there are days when I would love to change to another grade, kindergarten is where my heart is.  I am excited to share my techie adventure with you!

What made you want to become a teacher?

In second grade, I moved to a new school.  I was the kid who loved school because of the social scene, so this move was rather difficult for me.  My teacher helped me adjust and set me up with new friends, making me love school for reasons other than who played with me at recess.  She also used meaningful, engaging activities to meet the needs of every learner. Ms. Butler, was and remains my favorite teacher of all time.

What are your favorite apps?

I’m not a big game person.  Sure, I was addicted to Candy Crush for a minute, but I don’t like to waste my time on meaningless activities.  I feel the same way about apps in my classroom.  The technology is not a babysitter, although it is great to use as a “what to do until the kids are finished” activity.  I tend to lean toward creation apps over game apps, even if they are educational.  My students do use Starfall ABC quite a bit at the beginning of the year, and I do believe it helps with letter/sound recognition.  My favorite math app, by far, is the Todo Math app.  It is FANTASTIC!  

When did you realize you were a Techie?

I have been a fan of technology since the Number Muncher days, but the fact that I need technology like I need air hit me in college.  Back in the day, Facebook was just for colleges (what?!?!).  I was so jealous of my friends who went to Indiana University, because they were the first school around to get it.  About six months passed, and I was torn up, but one day, Facebook opened up to the University of Southern Indiana.  I skipped every class that day to play on it.  Now that I’ve made myself sound ultra pathetic, we shall move on.

If you could give a new teacher advice about technology in the classroom, what would it be?

PLAN.  Planning ahead is crucial to the success of any lesson, but using technology requires it even more.  Be prepared for glitches, dead iPads, and updates needing to be ran.  Don’t stress out if things don’t go great at first, because they most likely won’t.  But don’t give up.  It’s far too important for the kids.

Why technology?

I’ll tell you why.  This little guy right here.

Meet my son.  He is five years old and will start kindergarten in the fall.  He is my first baby, and he is my pride and joy.  He is seriously the smartest kid I’ve ever seen.  He just gets it.  As a baby, he was immediately intrigued by technology.  We are a techie family, so it was bound to happen.  By 18 months, he started playing letter recognition apps on one of our iPads.  By two, he knew all 26 letters and sounds.  By 4 ½, he was solving addition problems to ten.  Now, he’s beginning to read EVERYTHING.  I know what you’re thinking…  I’m a kindergarten teacher.  I have worked with him on all of these skills and drilled it all in his head.  


I give quite a bit of the credit to technology.  His brain is just geared that way.  He is a natural learner, curious, and creative.  Paper bores him.  He couldn't care less if he colors in the lines.  He just sees the world differently.  Give him technology though, and he can create anything.

It’s not just the technology.  He is the most creative little person I’ve ever seen.  He can take a pile of Legos and build anything.  He watches Bob Ross every Saturday morning on PBS.  However, I see a fire in his eyes when he is using technology to create.  Recently, he and his daddy have started creating iMovies for his Lego creations.  He goes step by step in the process of how to create sets, and also makes silly videos with tips on Legos.  

Now, think about how an activity like that could apply in the classroom.  How does that stack up to a pile of worksheets?


Hi! My name is Tiffany Copple, and I am the other half of this duo.  I’ve been a teacher for nearly 10! I just can’t believe it!  I am a placement bouncer by choice, a lover of all things change, and driven as I’ll get out.  I got my start as a teacher of inclusive special learners.  This wasn't exactly something I ever considered I would be doing with my life, but when God opens a door, I take it!  I still to this day draw from the life lessons those dear kiddos taught me, and I hold a very special place in my heart for the underdog.  My classroom is an open door for all types of learners.

From there, I spent four years stumbling my way through first grade.  I still wonder why they kept inviting me to come back and teach from year to year.  Whoa.  Kidding aside, I needed those years of professional struggle.  If I didn’t have those years, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today.  

Finally, I landed here at Scottsburg Elementary School teaching third grade where I’ve been rockin’ for four years.  Instantly I felt different.  Something inside of me that had laid dormant for far too long clicked.  I was a teacher, and I was good at it.  

What made you want to become a teacher?

Some years back, I came across a drawing and writing prompt I did when I was in fifth grade.  The prompt was obviously, “What I want to be When I Grow Up.”  There was a picture of me in a long jumper dress, turtleneck, and a teacher pin clearly over my heart. To sum up my writing, I wanted to be a fifth grade teacher.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I’ve yet to teach fifth grade.

It’s easy to see why I wrote that.  My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Funk, was in her second year of teaching.  She was young, pretty, sweet, and fun.  My first recollections of a teacher reading aloud to me...Mrs. Funk.  My first recollections of using technology in school...Mrs. Funk (Oregon Trail, Carmen SanDiego anyone?).  Fast forward twelve or so years, I became her teaching partner next door in first grade.  Her influence has been dramatic in my teaching life, and I could never thank her enough.

I was also very fortunate to live in a family full of teachers.  I loved listening to them talk about lesson plans, student woes and successes, and all of the thick, neat binders full of unit activities.  They amazed me, and still do.

What are your favorite apps?

This is a tricky question.  I’d love to make a t-shirt that says, “Tools NOT Toys.”  I’m very careful and picky about the apps I choose to use because I like to use apps to create and enhance.  You will soon learn that I feel very passionately about how iPads shouldn't be used.  Soapboxes aplenty to come.

You will note that there is NOTHING fancy about these apps, and I utilize many apps for specialized purposes such as MyCreate or ToonTastic.  You will see glimpses of these as we go along together.

These are my all-purpose, down and dirty 5 MUST HAVES.

1.  KidBlog- My students blog on a daily basis.  POWERFUL stuff.
2.  EduCreations- Basically a whiteboard with recording powers. Endless possibilities. Buh-bye
ugly lined paper and half-eaten pencils.
3.  iMovie- Movie trailers, weather forecasts, commercials...we turn writing into productions!
4. Google Drive- Gives my students the ability to save and share their work.  Time saver and
great management tool.

This one is technically a web app, but add it to your students' home screens!
5.  Kahoot- If you haven’t used this in your classroom yet...DO. Gamification Heaven.

When did you realize you were a techie?


I always loved technology, grew up in a house that embraced it, and had amazing opportunities in high school.  I had no clue that most others did not.  I ended up tutoring other education students in our Computer Education course, and I even had professors ask me if I’d ever considered a career in computer related fields.  I told them laughingly, “NO!”  I firmly believe that God carefully orchestrated all of those opportunities to prepare me for teaching in the 21st Century.  I’m the go-to girl for quick computer and iPad fixes, and admittedly, I am married to one of our district’s amazing Network Administrators.  Let’s just say I have a few lifelines on tap when needed.  I have a LOVE of solving technology problems, and REFUSE to allow my husband to fix them for me.  He shows me; therefore, I learn.  

He makes me call him “The Master.”  Not kidding, but he has deemed me fit enough to be “The Apprentice.” Computer nerds….sigh.

If you could give a new teacher advice about technology in the classroom, what would it be?

Don’t panic.

If it can glitch, it will.  If you can get the spinning wheel of death, you will.  If the principal is coming to observe you, something will inevitably go wrong.  

Pretend.  Smile.  Do anything BUT put the notion in their little spongy minds that technology is the devil.  Then blame the computer nerds silently under your breath.  

Why technology?

Why not?  Sure kids today miss out on the intoxicating aroma of those blue-lined dittos, the allergy inducing chalk clouds of yesteryear, and the satisfaction it brings to bang those erasers together.

Truth be told...I'm thankful for the way I learned growing up. I have no ill side-effects of completing a pile of worksheets, or from the above-mentioned blue ink (at least I don't THINK I do). I do wonder where I would be now if I had access to what my students have at their fingertips.

I don't want my kids to learn the same way. This isn't 1990 anymore, and thank goodness for that. My children (three beautiful, little techies), literally teethed on iPhones. My 7 year old son, Jonah is a mini-me of his true-techy father. At the moment he is creating the McDonalds Golden Arches in his Minecraft world. Who thinks of that?

I want my stories of education past to amuse and entertain my children just like those of my own parents who told of theirs. Some day, my children will take their turn to share their educational history with their own. Time marches on.

That is the very essence of change and innovation. I love it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Welcome to Our Techie Adventure

What happens when 2 Techie Teachers get together to start a blog?

Four hours, more brownies than we are comfortable admitting, a sweet tea and diet coke later...a beautifully created header that was, well, wonky.   

We aren’t the most seasoned teachers on the block- yet we aren’t the greenest.  Heck, we aren’t even the greatest techies in the world...nation...state...county...or district even.  It took us an hour, after all, to center a heading.  

But we dislike being defined by what we aren’t.

We ARE...





Once upon a time, ten years ago when the first of us entered the teaching world, technology meant a computer lab all lined up in neat rows of desktop PCs.  It meant playing on educational websites once a week for forty minutes.  It meant completing DIBELS testing on PALM Pilots, scan-tron bubble sheets, and shared document cameras.  Communication was a phone call, an email, or a paper-copy newsletter.

Fast forward to 2014, and technology for us now means Macbooks and iPads on demand, multiple program licenses, and apps coming out of our ears. Communication is Social Media, text messages, and electronic copies. Technology has gone mobile, and our teaching has been revolutionized.

We understand the joys of watching students discover, create, and own their learning.

We understand the defeat of a “flopped” lesson, but value the learning that it brings.

We understand that the praise for being a tech leader...often comes too far and in between.

We understand the frustrations of feeling confined to a status quo and standardized set of rules and laws.  

We understand that not everyone will like what you are doing.

Ever experience any of that? All of it? We hope that you will find both inspiration and comfort as we share the daily happenings in our tech-integrated, elementary classrooms.  

You have found friends and kindred spirits.  Welcome.