Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Power of Podcasting with Kids

Kids are amazing.  Powerful.

That's exactly why we love technology so much.  When you put two great powers together, the results are often beyond what we as teachers can dream up.

This past fall I finally put a dream into action and started a tech club at my elementary school.  They are deemed the Tech Ninjas.  Why Ninjas?  Think about it.  Ninjas are highly skilled and pretty, um, awesome.  Our most recent project has me really excited.

Except the thought of this project wouldn't have excited me much a few years ago.  Podcasting always seemed like something boring people did while they drove long commutes (sorry, honey).  This past summer; however, my eyes were opened to the new possibilities podcasting could bring to the classroom.

So this past week, we began our adventures in podcasting.

Like all good projects should, it started with a driving question.

How can we share timely, relevant, and interesting information with our peers and school community?  

Not only does this question beg students to think about the how, but it forces students to think about what is "interesting" and "relevant."  THIS is the definition of kid-empowerment.  We just used the podcasting format (technology) to FUEL their creativity.  It also brought great discussion about the best ways to share with our peers.  Thankfully, our principal has agreed to include the link in our weekly newsletter.  

So after a great brainstorming session (we used GoogleDrive to share our thoughts and notes), students broke into teams to write their scripts.  Students chose which group based upon what they felt most passionate about.  We also talked bout how this project would be fluid.  That it should evolve over time as our knowledge base and expertise grows.

This is the "weather" group working on their script. 

Now for this "pilot" edition of our podcast, I knew it wasn't going to be perfect.  THAT'S O....K...!  When you step back and allow kids to learn on their own, you have to have realistic expectations.  As time goes on, I will expect that scripts are fully researched and edited.  This first session was more about "getting pen to paper" and building excitement.  (By pen to paper, I really mean they used a note-taking app of choice!)

What I did want to do for them was model good voice.  So we sat in a circle on the floor together.  I modeled for them what a good "radio" voice might sound like.  I also modeled what a terrible voice sounds like.  This is extremely important with podcasting.  It's also a good opportunity to make kids laugh (robot voice, squeaky get it).  

Then it was time to record.  I'd like to say that we did it so right on the first time, that we ended the club session early that day.  Nope.  Not even close.  In fact, the one who messed up the most?  Me.  Yes, I admit it.  

I am still playing with different audio apps.  For this session we used Voice Record Pro.  I have access to GarageBand on my Mac, and I plan to try it out next time.  Not only will this be an evolving process for the kids, but for me as well.  I have no gripes with VRP.  I'll let you listen and see what you think! 

So I encourage you to think about podcasting in the classroom.  

Here are a few ways you might incorporate them.

  • Pretend to podcast live from a specific time period or event in history.
  • "How To" do almost anything (would tie great with "how to" writing).
  • Reviews of movies, games, toys, etc.  
  • Biographies of famous characters or Autobiographies
  • Travel casts that provide information and persuade viewers to visit
Get recording!


Friday, January 23, 2015

It's Not About Us

I'm what you might call a "change junkie."

This past Sunday, the sermon coming from the pulpit was all about change.  Now I know the preacher was talking about change within the church, but this week it's really got me to thinking.

The fear of tech integration isn't really about the technology.  It's about the fear of change.

It's been said time and again throughout my ten years of teaching, that all things go in cycles.  For example, when I was a first grader back in the late 80's, teachers were gung-ho about the concept of "whole reading."  When I got to college, I had no clue what a phoneme was let alone a diphthong.  That word just sounded...well...wrong!  Even I in my shortish teaching career have seen theories and methods come and go.

But the one thing that has stayed constant- the thing that has kept education moving forward- is change.

Now I don't expect everyone to get the same thrill I do about new concepts or techniques.  Like the preacher said, if everyone was an ignitor of change, then all we'd be doing is sitting around THINKING up great ideas.  What we truly need, is a collective agreement to work together to try new things.  Explore new concepts.  Tackle what seems impossible.

Because here's the thing.  It's not about us.

I was sitting here today watching my two year old on my iPad which is something I've done every single day of this maternity leave.  However, what I stumbled upon today while watching was the incredible ease with which she was problem solving.  Sure, she can manipulate apps, swipe to turn it on, etc.  For a moment, a small glitch occurred.  Something that must happen a dozen times a day in the classroom full of iPads.  What did she do?  I watched as she tried multiple ways to get the device to cooperate.

Will hitting the home button work? No... What if I double click then swipe the app closed?  Ahh...yes!

She's two.  And a half.  (I'll give you that.)

She didn't panic.  She didn't scream for mommy to come help.  She just worked with it until it did what she wanted it to do.  Simple as that.'s not about us. It's about them.

Them.  The ones who are sitting in our classrooms every single day who go home and spend an hour or so on a device.

Them.  The ones such as my daughter who have never known anything other than a touch screen.

Them.  The ones who will someday fear the newness of what technology will bring in their lifetime.

So we need to set ourselves aside.  Look at change from a new perspective.  How would I want my students to see something new I present them?  Would I want them to protest or refuse to learn?  Would I want them to quit? Give in? Cross their arms and throw in the towel?

Of course not.  I want them to be challenged.  To embrace learning.  They don't always have to love it, but neither do we.

What we do have to do, is try.  Have an open mind.  Who knows?

We may just end up loving it...even if we won't admit it.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Snow Much Fun with ChatterPix

Hi there!  Notice anything new?  Our new blog design is up and running, thanks to the amazing Megan from A Bird In Hand Designs.  We love our new look, and we hope you do, too.

My kindergarten class has been studying states of matter this week.  We've been working hard to learn about solids, liquids, and gases.  We've utilized BrainPop Jr. for some fantastic resources on the topic.  Today, we used PicCollage to show the states of matter in our environments.  We were even so lucky to have a heat wave (if you would call 40 degrees a heat wave) to go outside and find some objects that fit the bill.

Here are some examples of student work.

In reading this week, we read one of my favorites, Sneezy the Snowman.  Each week, we use our interactive reading notebooks to document our comprehension.  To create these, we use the app Book Creator to compile our work.  Side note--If you don't have the Book Creator app, get it.  It's worth every penny.

Earlier in the week, one of our district's tech people introduced me to the app ChatterPix Kids (free in the iTunes store).  From what she described, I knew I would love the app.  My wheels started spinning, and I thought we could easily integrate it into our reading notebooks, especially with a book as relevant to this time of year as Sneezy.

After revisiting the story, I instructed the students to open the DoodleBuddy app and draw a picture of a Sneezy.  Cuteness ensued as they drew incredibly cute pictures...  Since DoodleBuddy doesn't have an export option, I had the students take a screenshot of their picture.  

Then the fun began.  We opened ChatterPix Kids for the first time.  I gave them an example using a selfie (which they ALWAYS think is hilarious...).  Then, I walked them through the process of creating their video. 

After creating our ChatterPix Kids and enjoying watching our creations, we uploaded our videos to our reading notebooks.  

For your enjoyment, here is an adorable example of one student's work.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Connected Maternity Leave

You might say I am a maternity leave pro.  After all, I'm on my fourth leave in ten years of teaching.

When I began my first leave eight years ago with my son (wow- is he REALLY already 8?), I was admittedly more focused on the task of becoming a mommy than being a connected educator.   Sure, I popped in now and again to the classroom to check in and say hello.  That was the extent of it.  When I returned, I remember feeling extremely disconnected from my students.

Fast forward to baby #4.  My how things have changed!  While I still get to snuggle at home with my sweet new baby boy, I also get to stay uber-connected with my kiddos at school.  In fact, I've received a bit of criticism about my desire to check in frequently with "work."  I get a lot of, "Just relax and enjoy that baby" or "Work will be there when you go back."  Sure.  I get that.  As a mom of four kids, I know as much as anyone that babies certainly don't keep, and that time flies by all too quickly.

That being said, I also know that what I do isn't a "job."  It's certainly not something I do for the abundant paycheck or sweet 8:00-3:00 hours (HA!) 10 months a year (HA HA HA!).  My kids at school have a time-share in my heart, and I think about them around the clock.  I am responsible for their well-being as much as their academic growth.  How could I check out of that responsibility for three months?

Admittedly, I am also a Type A control freak with a dash of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on the side.  So there's that.  My poor sub!

So how does a teacher in the year 2015 stay connected from the comfort of her own couch (PJ clad and covered in baby puke)?

iHeart Apple.  No, truly I do!  From iMessages to FaceTime, I can talk nearly all day with my substitute.  It's a free flowing conversation ranging from, "Where's the spelling template?" to funny kid stories.  I can help guide behavior management decisions and receive important information about changes in after school transportation.  Eight years ago when I was on my first maternity leave, it was still a cardinal sin to text in class.  Now, the teacher's phone has become as integral a tool in the classroom as chalkboards were in their hey-day.  Tomorrow I will be FaceTiming with my class to give a pep talk concerning grading period reading and math goals.  How awesome is that?

Speaking of math and reading goals, I can see real-time academic progress using any device in my home.  Just last evening, I loaded my students with new online assignments and objectives.  It's amazing how much you can tell by looking at a computer screen.  Little "Johnny" has obviously decided to take a vacation while Mrs. Copple is away.  That's an easy fix!  I can also check progress in our online grade books, assign new levels in our many programs (i.e. ReadingEggs), and share or grade work via eBackpack.

That's all well and good, but what about the human side of teaching?  Thankfully my little bloggers (we use KidBlog) keep me informed of their weekend adventures, new pets, and who their BFF is at the moment. These little treasures warm my heart each time I check in on their posts.  When I make a physical drop-in, it's easy for me to pick up a conversation with a kiddo. I can also comment on their posts much to their delight.

Technology has also blown the doors off of parent communication.  I still receive text or Facebook messages from parents every day. I also frequently use Remind to keep parents in the know about classroom or school news.  I think this helps parents, especially parents of little ones, feel confident that I am still invested in their child's growth and well-being.

The greatest part of all of this, is that I can do it while holding my little one.  I am quite the one-handed typist.  In fact, I'm blogging one little letter peck at a time!

Perhaps staying this connected isn't for everyone, but how wonderful is it that the opportunities are there?  I know that when I step back into my classroom in March, the transition will be much smoother than ever before.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a sweet baby to snuggle!

Photo courtesy Capture Photography by Christy Semmont.