Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Digital Zoo Gone Wild!

Primary is a zoo sometimes, and it should be.

We recently completed our Living Zoo Project in the classroom, and there were many moments that I felt we were one monkey sound away from going quite literally bananas.  In those moments, it's good to have a primary friend or two who understands the crazy reasons why we do what we do...because it's just that worth it.

I've done an animal project for years in both primary and intermediate grade levels.  It's interesting to see the evolution of this project over the last 10 years as our technology has improved.  Back in the day, the extent of this project was a poster board with photos!

Though many of our daily activities revolved solely around animals (everything from literacy centers to math had an animal theme), I'm going to stick with the project applications only.

Come and take a walk on the wild side with me and see what we've been up to!

Step 1:  The Entry Event

We are fortunate to live about 40 minutes from the Louisville Zoo.  Students had a scavenger hunt of animals to check off as they toured the zoo.  It was a perfectly overcast day, and the students had much fun.  Many of them had never even been to a zoo.  If you aren't as fortunate, be sure to check out webcams from our National Zoo.  They have many to choose from!

Click to check out some great webcams at our National Zoo in Washington DC!

Step 2:  Digging into the Standards

First grade standards in Indiana revolve around an animal's habitat and how that habitat provides the animal with it's basic needs.  Technology makes learning so easy.  

Here are just a few ways we explored animal habitats.

1. BrainPop Jr.  If you don't have this resource, beg.  The kids LOVE it for it's animation, but I love it for it's meaningful information and comprehension quizzes.  

2. AfriCam  Explore the African Savannah, Watering Holes, and More in real-time.  I kept this running all day, and we would check in on various cams to see what animals were around.  We took notes of what features we saw in each habitat that would draw the animals in (i.e. water to cool off or drink).

3. MyOn Reader  This is our district's eReader program that gives us access to 1000s of books- most of which are informational/nonfiction.  I have the ability to set up "Booksets" and assign them to students for reading.  A great feature is that these texts have an audio component for your nonreaders.   Students used MyOn texts in addition to paper book resources to narrow their selections and learn about various habitats.   

Step 3:  Research, Research, Research

In primary grades, it's extremely important to have adequate support in the classroom for research.  I am lucky enough to have "big kid helpers" who strategically come in throughout the day to work for me.  Isn't that awesome?  I put these kiddos to work during this project, and I think it was a great, mutual learning experience for both littles and bigs.

Our go-to research module is KidRex.  It's a kid-safe search engine powered by Google that helps narrow and eliminate things we don't need.  

Students were required to complete their research graphic organizer (we did paper/pencil to balance the tech and fine motor skills).  From there, they completed a Research Notebook (again, paper/pencil, but if we weren't tackling a much bigger digital component...we would've done Book Creator).  My friend across the hall went with a Book Creator Research Notebook and did a more hands-on project with dioramas.  

"Bigs" helping "Littles" research their animals using KidRex.

Step 4:  iMovie Presentations

iMovie can be more intimidating for the teacher than the student.  Don't let that stop you!  The key to working with this massive program is to take it slowly and model, model, model.  We use the Reflector App to walk through new applications/programs.  I choose a trustworthy and tech-savvy student to be the "presenter."  This is a GREAT HONOR.  I could write an entire blog post on iMovie creation in the primary classroom, but that's for another day.  

First, students had to select and save photos to their camera roll.  We again revisited KidRex.  I taught the students how to save photos (easy, peasy...hold your finger on the photo and choose the SAVE PHOTO option from the pop-up box).  

Saving photos is as easy as the touch of a button...literally!
Then, students chose a theme of choice from the basic iMovie options.  Since this was our first movie project of the year, I encouraged them to choose a pre-made theme for ease.  

From there, students learned how to drop their photos into their movie reels.  This is where the kids blew me away.  I thought we would drop their photos, add a title, voice over the research information, and call it a day.  No way!  These kids were adding text to their photos like pros in no time.  The rule in our classroom is that once you become an expert on something, you become the teacher.  There is nothing that makes this teacher's heart happier than to see the excitement when they learn something new...and teach it to their friends!
Students learned how to drop photos into their reels.  

Students brilliantly added their own text to their photos.
Another option is to add voice-overs for younger learners. 
The power of student-driven learning.
Students shared tips and tricks with each other throughout the iMovie process.

Student Example

Step 5:  Building a Zoo and Setting the Scene

Digital projects completed (after edits with me), it was time to build our zoo.  This is where a little old-fashioned, roll-up your sleeves and get dirty type of work comes in.  Students had to decide which habitat environment they would belong it.  Animal groups worked in teams to decorate their habitats.
In addition to drawing their scenes, we brought in fake plants, played zoo sounds on the classroom speakers, and created habitat signs for each group.  I can't stress the use of the ever-versatile plastic tablecloth.  These $1.00 purchases can be everything from a waterfall to a desert floor!

Students really put their learning into action as they designed their habitats.  The classroom really looked unique and very much like a zoo!

Step 6:  Presentation Day

We sent out an invite to parents, friends, classmates, and administrators to come and see our Living Zoo.  We were very pleased with the enthusiastic support and love from our families, friends, and peers.  Our superintendent even took time out of his very busy day to come and check out what we had been up to!

Visitors to our zoo walked around and viewed our iMovie presentations, asked us questions, and complimented our efforts.  The students were very professional and did a great job!  Many students went out of their way to dress the part of their animal which added to the event.  I am very proud of what we accomplished together.  It certainly took a team and support system, and I am thankful to work with such amazing co-workers.  

Enjoy these photos from our Living Zoo Experience!


Our Superintendent interacted with our animals!
Gator alert!
Scary snakes!
Monkeying Around
Brrr....the Arctic Exhibit!
Forest Animals
The Grasslands Exhibit 
Playful Penguins
What a sweet, pink flamingo!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Get Moving!

Remember a few years ago when the standard for excellent educational technology meant gleaming rows of PCs confined to the four walls of a computer lab?  Better yet, what if we travel back 25 years ago to the all powerful classroom PC with neat files of 8 inch floppy disks just BEGGING for a child to play a quick game of Oregon Trail?!?  

Oh, the memories! Can you begin to imagine what memories today's learner will look back fondly upon when they reach their thirties?  

The single most amazing feature of today's technology is that it is mobile.  Sure, the speed and memory capabilities of today's devices are extremely important, but only because they are needed to keep up with the abilities of the most important factor in any piece of technology:  the user's hands.  An iPhone 5 (already outdated) in a two year old's hands is already more powerful than if that same device were in the hands of someone much more senior touching it for the first time.  For a digital native, it's innate and seemingly wired into their DNA.

So what does this have to do with the classroom?  While the trend toward 1:1 is ever increasing, it's important to remember that sometimes the most simplistic, is the most relevant.  

iPads were designed to be mobile.  

Duh, right?

Let's think of it this way.  The car was also invented to be mobile.  It would be incredibly crazy to buy a beautiful new convertible and limit its use to sitting idly in the driveway listening to the radio.  Not only are you missing out on the amazing ability to feel the wind your hair, but also completly missing out on the discovery of new places.  

Why then do we have these amazing, powerful, beautiful devices that sit idly on our students' desks; therefore, limiting their use and the element of discovery?

So, get up!  Get moving!  As you lesson plan, or better yet- open yourself to the flexibility of teaching in the moment, think, "How can I teach this same concept, but with movement?  How can we get outside with this thing?  How can we move beyond these four walls to create a more meaningful learning experience?"  When you begin to think this way, you will find that the ideas suddenly begin to come easier and with less thought.  Creativity, which is born in all of us (yes, ALL of us) will flow freely.

So still stumped?  Let's start with something basic and classroom tested for both primary and intermediate. We promise you'll like them, and you may even love them!

Scavenger Hunts

These can be spur of the moment, or can be elaborately planned activities that allow your learners to visit other areas of your school's campus.  Primary kids will enjoy looking for colors, shapes, numbers, nouns, etc.  Intermediate kids can get more technical as they look for science and math concepts in the real world.  Looking out for everything from inclined planes to geometrical shapes can be made so much more fun by getting mobile!  Use one of the most powerful tools on your device...the camera!

This student is using the camera to find nouns in the cafeteria.

Trekking through the library. 

Have fun!  This student wanted me to take a photo of them taking a photo while we moved through the art room. 
      Companion Tools that Work:
  • PicCollage or other Collage Apps: Perfect for primary kids or intermediate kids just getting started, these apps allow for simple display and classification of objects found on a scavenger hunt.  Kids can personalize their work through fun fonts, clip art, and backgrounds.  Easy peasy.  They've all likely used this app on their parent's iPhones before and can most likely teach you a few things (they did me!).  
  • Popplet:  This is a bit more technical, but still doable for primary kids.  This graphic organizer app allows for more professional looking classifications and displays.  The lite version allows for limited personalization, but students can add photos to their mind maps in addition to text or doodles.  
    This student uses photos collected during a noun scavenger hunt to classify them into  four categories:  person, place, thing, or animal.  Yes, we traumatized a teacher friend's fish as 20 kids crowded around for a photo. 
  • QR Code Hunts:  Do a quick search on TeachersPayTeachers, and you will find 100s of these already made and ready to use.  Word of caution:  always preview materials before purchasing and/or implementing in the classroom.  
  • GooseChase:  This is one of many apps that allows you to create more elaborate scavenger hunts for your kids.  Upload picture clues that they have to find around the school campus.  Students use their devices to document their findings.   This would be great for older students, but younger students could handle simple hunts (Easter Eggs anyone?).  
Above all, keep it fun and keep it mobile!

On the move, 
-Two Techie Teachers

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Slow and Steady

1:1 is now our reality, and we couldn't be happier!

The moment finally happened.  Boxes full of iPad minis were delivered to our classroom nearly three weeks ago, and it may have very well been one of the happiest moments of our teaching lives.  The world of 1:1 is now our reality, and we couldn't be happier.

You might say we've been chomping at the bit for quite some time, and suddenly we found ourselves at the starting gate ready to go.  

Whoa, girls.

I think we all know the old parable of the turtle and hare, and how the arrogance and quick-pace of that old rabbit turned out to be disastrous in the end.  We've learned very quickly that initiating 1:1 in the primary classroom has much to be learned from the moral, "Slow and steady wins the race."

You see, this summer we filled our little minds with as much new and exciting edtech knowledge as we possibly could.  It's so easy to become renewed and refreshed throughout those learning months, and then the reality and exhaustion of putting those ideals into action becomes increasingly clear from day one!  As Dave Burgess says, "It isn't meant to be easy.  It's meant to be worth it." 

Oh, Mr. Pirate Dave- it has been!

Here are a few of our reflections from the past three weeks of fully implementing a 1:1 classroom of iPad minis into the little and capable hands of our primary kiddos.

  • steps!  You don't have to do everything at once and you shouldn't.  Start small and let them get comfortable with the device.  We strongly believe the camera is the most powerful tool on any digital device your students have.  Let them engage in meaningful play.  Really.  We let our kiddos make as many silly faces as they needed to in that photo booth to get it out of their system.  The grins and giggles will have you smiling in no time as well.  Then move on.  Challenge them a day or two at a time.  Reflect.  Which apps are most important to your classroom routines?  For us, apps like KidBlog, PicCollage, and DoodleBuddy were easy places to get the students started.  They also allowed us to quickly use these apps in station activities as well as whole group learning.  Check out our classroom blog links below to catch up with what we've been doing.  

PicCollage is an easy way to personalize our learning.
This first grade student shows off his character map complete with describing words and a mustache!  Below is an example of a kindergarten color scavenger hunt completed in PicCollage.  The possibilities are endless when you open your mind, but the key is to focus on student creation. 

DoodleBuddy has a 1001 uses.
This first grader uses it to share a rough draft sentence for Writer's Workshop.

KidBlog allows the students to become published authors with a large audience and take ownership in their writing.  First graders and kindergartners alike are both fullycapable of sharing experiences through blogging.
  • Follow your district's policies and procedures.  They are there for a reason.  This will save you, your students, and your busy tech department from many headaches and lots of time.  
  • Be flexible.  Glitches are a guarantee at any time of the year, but especially in the beginning as the kinks get worked out.  Have a Plan B, and always- always stay calm.  (Even if you feel like a mess on the inside!)  
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN and REJOICE!  The world is now at your students' fingertips, and you have unlimited resources at your disposal.  What isn't awesome about that?  

We hope that this year's blogposts are helpful to you as we travel this race together.   Be sure to check out our classroom blogs as well for even more glimpses into our techie classrooms!  

-Two Techie Teachers


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tiffany's Reflections of ISTE 2014

So I've had a full day to digest ISTE 2014 in beautiful Atlanta, Georgia.  For those of you lucky enough to have experienced it at some point in your life, you know that it is complete and total overload.  Granted, it's brain freeze of the best kind... to be completely and totally surrounded with over 14,000 educators with a positive mindset, is awe-inspiring.

Here are my TOP 5 take-away's from ISTE.  I hope you can learn from them as well.

1. It's NOT about the technology.

I know, I know.  What's a "techie teacher" thinking when she says that it ISN'T about the very thing she blogs about?  What every presenter, tweeter, keynote speaker reverberated was that it's about using technology as the fuel to EMPOWER students to CREATE, EXPLORE, ASK, PLAY, and ultimately curate their OWN LEARNING.  I was completely inspired by the stories told through two amazing individuals who have allowed life to take them to new and exciting places....simply by being bold enough to ask, "Why not?"  Check out George Curous and Kevin Carroll.  These men epitomize everything that we as educators should stand for.
"Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable. " 
-William Pollard

My new class motto inspired by my learning at ISTE. 
 Learning should ALWAYS be an action verb!

2.  Project Based Learning is worth it.
Though I've dabbled in the PBL world, I leave ISTE with the resolve to implement this brand of learning into my classroom as often as possible.  It's model encourages the critical thinking skills necessary for students to open their minds to new ideas, innovative solutions, and the world beyond their classroom doors.
"If anyone’s thinking we can’t do real things with kids, I’m telling you you’re wrong."  
-Rich Lehrer, Brookwood School, MA 

Here are a few resources I gleaned from a couple of sessions:

  • ScoodleJam- $2.99 app that will aid in student creation throughout the PBL process.  Limitless possibilities
  • Data Literacy Skill development - curates data sets. Web site includes an “ASK” button and you can ask for data that you need for a project. 
  • Tiny satellites in space that allow your students to zoom in on the Earth.  Created by NASA astronauts!
  • Historical timeline that shows you what was happening around the world at the time you are studying.  

3. My colleagues are pretty awesome.
I guess I expected to go to ISTE and be blown away with the innovation occurring around the nation.  Don't get me wrong because there are some amazing, incredible educators who presented at ISTE.  I just propose that I happen to work with a district full of highly motivated, forward thinkers who could easily showcase their talents at this level.  Walking away with a sense of validation is always a good thing in my book! 

I also happened to learn a great deal about my colleagues while at ISTE, and I feel encouraged and refreshed in part because of them.  I had a particularly challenging year, and this was just what I needed to renew my faith that there is purpose in this profession.  It's good to be reminded that it's AWESOME to have passion for what we get to do every day! 

To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you can make a connection to the mind.

4. The world is clamoring to be a part of this tech revolution.
The EXPO hall was ENORMOUS.  I'm not quite sure that one word can sum it up adequately.  It's obvious that some of the world's largest companies have caught wind of this great movement in education.  Here's the take away...we have no excuses.  If we can imagine it, someone can provide us the support to do it.  It was a powerful example to me of the influence we have in industry.  Awesome.

5. Twitter is a formidable ally.
If you are an educator and aren't tapping into what Twitter has to offer, you are truly missing out.  Throughout the conference, #ISTE2014 remained at the top of the trending list as well as the somewhat humorous #notatISTE2014 hashtag.  Educators have literally taken over Twitter! 

Here are some things that have happened to me in the last week ALONE because of Twitter:
  • Met some of my favorite tweeters and bloggers in person (Matt Miller, John Spencer, Matt Gomez, George Curous).
  • Met some amazing folks from my home state via the INeLearn hashtag while at the conference, and enjoyed a special meet-up just for us!  How cool is that?!?
  • Connected with educators from around the country and set up Skype events for our students. 
  • Shared and received valuable knowledge from sessions and keynotes.  Even if you weren't at ISTE, you could catch much of what was happening via the #ISTE2014 hashtag. 
If you have been afraid to test the water of Twitter, check out this BRAND-NEW app, TweechMe! It is basically a step-by-step guide to Twitter.  Dip your toes in, and I bet it won't be long before you drive in headfirst! 

Final Thoughts on ISTE 2014

My brain feels full, my heart is happy, and my resolve has been reenergized.  ISTE 2014 reiterated the same thinking over and over...

that it's absolutely not about the technology, a device, or program. It's about having a mindset that we have a job to do empowering kids to think and learn in the ways that will serve them best in their future endeavors. We absolutely cannot allow negativity to become a toxin in our lives to the point where we become jaded to our mission in life...the mission to love kids so fully that we are willing to do whatever it takes to not just engage them, but to empower them.


Brittany's Reflections of ISTE 2014

For the last few days, I've been trying to figure out how I could possibly sum up the weekend I spent at ISTE 2014.  ISTE's (International Society for Technology in Education) annual conference is basically the biggest edTech conference known to man.  People come from all over (literally) to immerse themselves in all things technology.  My school district received a grant that allowed several teachers to attend this year.  Of course, I jumped on the chance to simply be among those lucky enough to go.  

I was not disappointed.

This year's conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia.  What a beautiful city!  I stayed about a mile away from the conference itself, and this was the view from my window.

Yes, we were that high up.  33rd floor to be exact.

I attended quite a few sessions on PBL, Genius Hour, and basic eLearning stuff.  In all of the sessions, one thing that stuck out to me was that nothing was really specific to technology, but instead to student creation.  

I've made it no secret that I believe students learn best when they make an investment in their learning.  They have to be passionate about what they are learning, whether it's letters and sounds, Worksheets are not an investment or engaging.  

If I had to have just one takeaway from this weekend, it would be that our students deserve this.  Technology is a fantastic tool in giving your students all of the resources they could possibly need to attain their goals, but technology is definitely not the end all, be all.  Good teaching is still the most important thing.  

In the Genius Hour session, Vickie Davis (@coolcatteacher) encouraged us to focus on three takeaways from the conference.  Here are my big three:


I missed out on his session, but I'm an avid reader of Mr. Curous' blog.  This quote from his session (taken from Twitter) resonates with how I've felt about technology as of late.  It's not about the technology; it's a mindset change.  Technology is a tool that can enhance and transform your teaching.  Key words--YOUR TEACHING.  How can I best exude this to my colleagues?


I have written about my love of PBL before, but this year, I really want to expand on it.  I would love to give my students more opportunities to show their genius.  Even though they are five, they have passions and interests that need to be honored.  I hope I can do that for my students.


Of everything ISTE had to offer, Kevin Carroll's keynote on day two inspired me more than anything else I've encountered in a long time.  Carroll told his story of being abandoned by his mother at a young age and working his way through life, eventually working for major companies such as Nike, and having all kinds of crazy cool life experiences.  

In his keynote, he inspired me to make sure to work hard, play harder, and inspire hardest.  I choked up more than once in his keynote, and I'm not a cryer.  When school starts, I want to inspire those around me to give their students the very best experience they can.  I want them to realize they are the biggest asset to their classrooms, not the technology.  I want to encourage them to use the technology, of course, not because our district has invested time and money into it, but because that technology gives students experiences we could have never imagined at their age.  

My want to is strong.  My passion is ignited.  I am ready to get to it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer of eLearning Tour

Two blog posts in a week's time... We should get a medal!

Anyway...  We've been a tad busy over the course of the last seven days.

A few days ago, we were given the opportunity to share our tech knowledge at the Couch Conference in Danville, IN, as part of the Summer of eLearning Tour.  If you live in Indiana, you should check it out.

Our Quick Thoughts About the Couch Conference

The keynote speaker at the Couch Conference was the ultimate pirate himself, Dave Burgess.  Folks, if you haven't read his book, run (not walk) to Amazon to buy it.  He is by far the most inspirational keynote we've heard in our career, and we've heard a lot of keynotes. :)

Here we are with Pirate Dave himself.

In case you don't know, "pirate" stands for Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.  While his keynote had nothing to do with technology itself, it had everything to do with technology.  

This keynote validated everything we have been thinking for a long time now.

Our part in the Couch Conference was to present on tech integration at the elementary level.  While this was not a huge conference, we met many teachers who are excited about the opportunity to use tech tools with their students.  

We also got to meet one of our Twitter heroes, THE Matt Miller.  If you're on Twitter (and you should be), you can follow him @jmattmiller.  His website, Ditch That Textbook is also a fabulous resource.  

On the personal side of the conference, we were majorly impressed with the hospitality of this conference.  They treated their people very well.  From the yogurt bar (major props for that) to the smoothies at the end of the day, no detail was left untouched.  Bravo, Danville Schools, and Tim Kasper (@timkasper) and Morgan Walker (@walker8208), for putting on a great conference!

The next week brought us right back home to Scottsburg, IN, for our district's eLearning conference.  Digipalooza is our annual "jam session," where people from all over come to learn about tech integration.  We offer a little bit of everything, from primary specific sessions, to sessions for the administrator, to sessions about products.  Over 250 people traveled to our small little city, including John Spencer (@edrethink) and THE Matt Miller (again, @jmattmiller), to share their knowledge about all things edTech.  

Our Thoughts on Digipalooza

Call us biased, but we think Digipalooza is a top of the line conference.  Digi offers a wide variety of sessions for each level of learner and for each type of edTech position out there.  

John Spencer kicked us off with a keynote that reminded us the importance of humor in the classroom.  

On the first day of Digipalooza, we presented the same session we did at the Couch Conference.  We focused on creation apps for the elementary classroom, and we hope that we inspired teachers to think beyond the app or "staring at a screen all day."  

Day 2 kicked off with Matt Miller delivering an inspiring keynote.  He was fun, engaging, and dynamic.

On the second day of Digipalooza, we presented separately.  We both presented a break out session on Workflow, focusing on the Book Creator app.  Have we mentioned that we LOVE Book Creator?  We are excited to use it in the fall with our students and share with you all of it's functions.

Tiffany then shared on Building Digital Curriculum.  She focused on the SAMR model and finding and evaluating quality resources for curating curriculum.

Brittany shared two sessions.  The first was on PBL in the Primary Classroom.  During this session, teachers were given the bare-basics of PBL components and actually completed a mini-projects.  The second was on Social Media and the many functions of it for the teacher.  In this session, teachers were given information on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (the "big three") and given helpful tips for using it as a means of parent communication.

All in all, we are very proud to represent such an innovative school district that is leading the way through empowering its students with technology as a tool for their learning.  We can't say enough about that.  

If you are in Indiana, make sure to check out one of these amazing conferences during the summer months.  You won't be sorry!

Monday, June 23, 2014

So it's been a few weeks...ok maybe even a few months since our last blog post.  One might be tempted to think that maybe, just maybe these Two Techie Teachers have been relaxing with drink in hand, and toes in the sand.  Don't we wish! (Well, there WAS that Disney cruise back in May...but that's another story.)

Instead, it's been an incredibly busy few months for us as the school year wound down and summer picked up.  We've both found that we've been almost busier since the last day of school!

Here's a snapshot of what we've been up to:

PBL Projects

Brittany worked tirelessly with her students to complete their Famous Americans digital wax museum.  Check the previous post to read all about that.  If anyone wants to say that little kinder-kids aren't capable of digital creation, be sure to share that post with them.  Super work!

Tiffany's third graders wrapped up their Plant Power PBL unit with some kid-driven stop-motion animation shorts, a variety of guest speakers, and a final trip to share the love of plants with a local residents' facility.  Below you will find a student created stopmotion animation using the MyCreate app.  We highly recommend this creation application for it's kid-friendly set up!

End of the Year Project Insanity

Who is crazy enough to start major projects three weeks before the end of the year?  Two techie teachers, of course!  Tiffany's third graders wrote, filmed, and produced a full-length feature film to demonstrate their learning of fairy tale elements.  The classroom was transformed into a movie theatre setting complete with popcorn machine, and five movie trailers (courtesy of iMovie).  In the words of Dave Burgess (Teach like a Pirate), "It's not meant to be's meant to be worth it!" It certainly was!

Personal Life

Teachers do have a personal life, though sometimes it's hard to find the fine line separating it from their professional ones.  Baseball season was in full swing, dance recitals, anniversaries and birthdays celebrated, and Tiffany found out she is expecting baby #4 this coming December.

Whew...makes us tired just reliving it all.
This techie teacher is expecting baby #4!

So now we are pretty much up-to-date minus our adventures together in presenting at the Conference on a Couch in Danville, Indiana.

To be shared very soon.

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!