Let the Learning Come to You

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Is it possible that we have been going about this teaching thing all wrong? In our genuine attempt to help our students learn are we in fact a roadblock to their success?

After teaching grade one for the past 9 years I have been given a new opportunity and find myself on the other side of the classroom door. I now have the freedom to take a step back and consider what we are doing in our classrooms and the impact this has on our learners. What I have seen in Surrey after just one week as a Helping Teacher, is a dedicated community of teachers who are working incredibly hard yet missing exceptional opportunities in their classrooms everyday. I am not suggesting teachers do not notice these opportunities, they are just working too hard, doing what they believe is their job, to capitalize on them.

A key question must be addressed here? What is our ‘job’ as teachers? The answer will be different depending who you ask of course. The union, administrators, parents and even our students likely have a different opinion. I am interested, however, in what an individual teacher thinks. Actually I am interested in more than what they think. What do individual teachers truly believe is their purpose? What drives your daily decisions and guides your practice? This is a key consideration for all educators as we navigate though the significant challenges we are faced with in our classrooms and the various changes that we are constantly encouraged to make. Furthermore, what we believe is often undermined by our desire to do our job as seen by others. This is where I believe the missed opportunities occur.

I invite all teachers to step back from the unions description of our job, from the prescribed learning outcomes and from anything that clouds whatever it is that guided your career decision in the first place (now, I do not like to impose, but I just have to say, that if kids did not factor somewhere in that decision it may be time to consider a career change). For me, I believe that my role is a facilitator of all things good, anything and everything that will help formulate a world that is better than the one we live in today. I want to help all of my students believe that they are powerful in making a difference and pursue their best life possible. And here lies the quandary for me. These beliefs prevent me from teaching the way our current system is designed. Although my role may be to provide a roadmap for my students and guide learning intentions, I can not justify teaching to an exhausting list of prescribed learning outcomes established almost twenty years ago. Thankfully I am employed by a forward-thinking district and I no longer have to, I can capture previously ignored opportunities and let the learning come to me in authentic and meaningful ways. Moreover, I can share learning and my observations, in real-time, with parents and involve students thanks to advances in technology and digital platforms like FreshGrade.

The Surrey School District has launched a pilot project titled Communicating Student Learning where participating teachers are encouraged to explore innovative ways to replace the current summary based report cards. I eagerly jumped on board and chose to explore an electronic avenue with a web based program called FreshGrade. Finally I was free from the confines of dated, generic, prescribed learning outcomes and stifling report cards. Honestly the feeling of a weight being lifted was almost tangible. I am a hard worker and always thought I was doing best by my students. My job was to choose from a list of learning objectives, plan lessons, teach, assess and repeat. And by repeat, I mean term after term, year after year. The results for my students were okay. I think most of them learned and no one ever complained. The issue for me is that okay and most are just not good enough anymore.

Having the freedom to trust myself as a professional educator and make decisions in my practice to support my students as unique individuals has revealed a plethora of opportunities I have been missing all along. Well, I have seen many of them, I have just not recognized their potential in truly supporting the individual learning needs of my students. All my years of planning and then watching my students for evidence that they understand one narrow concept blinded me to so many amazing things.

Okay so let me share a few examples to make this revelation, which was quite astounding for me, more clear. My grade one classroom this year was a very busy, social and creative group. From day one they constantly asked me to share structures they built or games they had created during free play time (basically my version of centres) or recess break with the class. Although social and creative times are an essential component of the primary classroom we do have an extensive number of learning outcomes to cover and often we simply do not have the time to accommodate such requests. Feeling less pressure this year to cover learning outcomes by a deadline I was able to give my students more sharing time and adjust not only our day plan but our entire learning path. The amazing result was when the learning just came to me, unprescribed!

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We all gathered around as a student shares what he built. I am not distracted by timelines or what I will be teaching next and just fully engaged in the moment with my students. By the end of this sharing session I have become aware of this particular students interests and extensive knowledge of penguins. As he explained the blocks he taught the other students about habitats and needs of living things. His classmates asked interesting questions and I was able to assess who my curious students were and who would need support to ask questions and share ideas in the future. I did not plan this lesson. I created the space for learning and simply took note of the variety of knowledge and needs showcased. From here I guided discussions and collaborated with my students about what we wanted to learn next . Needs of living things is actually part of the grade one curriculum yet it was not my intention to introduce it that day or that term but my students were fascinated. They wanted to learn more, how counterintuitive is it to put that engagement on hold and follow a predetermined plan?

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There are many PLO’s related to cooperation with others, respect for school belongings and social responsibility. As teachers we often create wonderful lessons and walk around with our notepad or clipboard and assess who is meeting expectations. An alternative, and one that I have found much more time efficient and rewarding is to be engaged and aware and take notice of learning as it happens. Let the learning come to you. I took this picture as I watched three 6 year old students complete their class job as a cooperative and responsible group. Again I was not following up on a lesson about treating school property with respect, I saw evidence that these particular students meet that expectation and I captured it.

While participating in this pilot and collecting evidence of learning by building ePortfolios I continued to plan lessons to address learning intentions. I am in no way saying we let go of learning objectives or teaching plans. I am simply sharing my experience of loosening the reins and being open to the possibilities that creates. Teachers are often the only adult in the room with up to thirty students and simply can not do it all. For example, my students worked on a letter to Santa where we set our criteria for what meeting expectations looks like. As with most classrooms I have students of varying abilities. My intention when I walk around to check in as students work is no longer specific to that criteria alone. I have established the criteria with them to provide direction and now I want to be in the moment and truly observe what my students are showing me. For some of them I may see a great example of working independently to meet the criteria and make a note or take a picture. For others I may notice an awkward pencil grip or struggle to write neatly on the lines. Perhaps I notice someone is finished very quickly and ready for a challenge. Essentially all those things we notice as teachers and know are important can be captured and become part of that particular students future learning intentions. If you give yourself permission to guide the learning of each individual child rather than focus on checking off the same learning objective, at the same time, attached to the same lesson, for every student you create the environment for everyone to find success and establish the next step in their journey. All the notes scribbled in a book or on a sticky note that teachers make could become that students new learning objective from that lesson, these are the things we should include in our conversations with students and parents.

I realize that this type of assessment and data collection may not be as straightforward as a list where we can put checks or numbers, in fact it can be quite messy at first. The learning will not come to us at the same time from all students. I empower all teachers to let this be okay. Consider the possibilities. Try on the belief that our job as teachers goes deeper than conforming all students to have the same knowledge base and skills by a particular age. When I consider my own children I do not want their learning journey to be comprised of checks and numbers charting how they measure up to some preconceived idea of what they should be at a certain age. I want them to be in a space where multiple learning opportunities are facilitated and their individual needs and interests respected.

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Returning to the student mentioned above who has a strong knowledge base and interest in penguins. How can we capitalize on this interest to facilitate growth in multiple disciplines? He is hooked and engaged in this subject area. Is it really my job to create a new lesson for the whole class to build his writing skills, presentation skills and so much more? He is involved on his own accord, why would I push him out and take lead of what he learns? Why would I limit his learning to grades where Penguins are part of a science unit? The answer now is that I won’t. It does not make sense to me to teach the same thing, determined decades ago, every year. I am committed to facilitating learning in a way that builds on individual needs and interests. Teachers and students are doing amazing and wonderful things and it is time we celebrate that hard work. I believe we can transform education through assessment to make this learning visible and valuable and I encourage all teachers to take a risk, get a little messy and enjoy the learning as it comes to you.

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Engaging students and parents in authentic assessment with FreshGrade

I enjoyed presenting at ERAC IL4K12 today with Wendy Hall and Laura Warkentin, here on some of the thoughts I shared:

Thinking about how much teaching, learning and the world has changed over the last decade I am honestly shocked that we have not seen a universal and radical shift in the way teachers communicate with parents and engage our learners in their own education.

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I look at these report cards from 1915, 1985 and 2013 and wonder how much has really changed? It is still a summary report written by one individual about another individual and passed on to a third party who presumably reads it. We do not know how they interpret it and questions need to be asked at a later date where the author of the document will attempt to validate their evaluation with notes and assignments that could be months old. 1915-2013… almost 100 years. We do see improvement for sure but is it enough? Given the technological advances, and the amount of research done in the field of education, I argue absolutely not. It is not a significant enough change for my students or my children. Especially when I consider the world they will be living in and the skills and qualities that will define a successful adult at that time.

In my consideration of the changes in report cards I decided to ask my grade one students a question. I asked them, “what are report cards and why do we use them in school?” Hands shot up immediately and many kids were eager to share their answer. Most of the responses included words like “bad” and “good.” Most of them agreed that “report cards tell my parents what I am doing good and bad at.” This really broke my heart. It makes me sad to think that these 5 and 6 year old innocent little beings come to the big world of school full of hope and with complete trust in us as teachers to help them and end up thinking that it is all about what they are good or bad at. I never want my students to think that after months of their hard work, and I believe they are all doing the best they can with the skills they have, all their drawings, creations, thoughts, all the ways they have grown and contributed to our classroom community will be summarized on a piece of paper ranking their level of good. I want to change that perception.

My personal motivation for change came last year when my children in grade one and two brought home their report cards.¬†Although my son has always been a very bright and curious boy, school has never been on the top of his favourite activities. He would much prefer to be fishing or exploring the world around him, as is the case for many boys. Learning to read was a struggle for him and although he made a good effort it would take two years of LST support and getting eye glasses before he was reading at grade level. The first few months of grade two he worked incredibly hard and we saw wonderful progress. My daughter on the other hand has always been incredibly studious and like many girls loves to learn. She started her first term in grade one reading and writing well above grade level expectations. Before opening their term one report cards I asked my kids about what they learned. My son was able to talk about reaching new reading levels and learning to read and spell new words. He was quite proud of his progress and rightly so. This changed after we opened the report cards. After comparing all the ‘approaching expectations’ boxes checked on his report to the many ‘exceeding expectations’ checked on his sisters he was very frustrated. Although I read the comments highlighting his progress he was left with the impression that he did bad and his sister did great. The reality is that my daughter really did not learn anything. This is not a reflection on her teacher but the reality that she entered grade one already meeting the prescribed learning outcomes. My son learned a great deal and made excellent progress yet this was not reflected in the report card. I could almost see the confidence leave his little body. He was absolutely crushed and discouraged. He could not look past those check marks. He just looked at them and said “oh great, I am still only half as good as everyone else.” Again, this is not necessarily a reflection of the school or his teacher, rather it is, in my opinion, the result of an inadequate reporting system.

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My daughters report card highlights all the learning outcomes she had met before school even started.

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My son’s report card is not an accurate reflection of his achievements and growth as he is still not meeting prescribed learning outcomes.

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So what are the possibilities for change. For example what can a reading assessment look and sound like? Using a digital portfolio like FreshGrade I can track an individual students reading progress and provide meaningful feedback to parents and students.

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The pictures above represent video recordings of a grade one child reading to me. Parents can read my comments and suggestions for support but they can also hear the progress themselves.The videos for reading assessment are just phenomenal. I believe it really takes our comments as teachers to another level. When I talk about expression or fluency it makes so much more sense to parents when it is tied to a video where they can actually hear what I am talking about.

An unexpected bonus I just realized is that it is also providing me with an opportunity to model guiding reading to a parent. Although sending home suggestions and decoding strategies may be helpful for some, it is so much more valuable for parents to hear how teachers help emergent readers and then they can use the same strategies. I love the consistency that offers my students.

I appreciate the depth of my comments and suggestions on FreshGrade. An important example for me is in the realm of social responsibility because I believe social and emotional learning are the foundation for academic success. As teachers in BC, we are required to make one social responsibility comment in each report. It usually becomes a frame sentence repeated for everyone. Your child is ‘learning to follow the classroom rules and expectations,’ for example. How well does a statement like this really inform parents and students? In my mission to be a confidence builder and encourage a love of learning, I appreciate that with FreshGrade I can pair what is perceived as negative with some genuine suggestions and a positive picture.

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This is a sample from a portfolio of a boy who is ‘learning to follow classroom rules and expectations.’ He is a boy who has a lot of energy and is learning to use self-regulation during group conversations and work time. The positive side to his energy and imagination is the many amazing things he builds with his peers during creative times. With FreshGrade I can share this with parents and students. I can also provide meaningful suggestions with an image to clarify if necessary. We can not assume that parents understand the many terms that become common place to us as educators. The wiggle seat mentioned in the comments above, for example.

So what do my parents think about this new way of communication and FreshGrade in particular? Someone asked me a few months ago if I had considered the idea that a digital portfolio is too much information for parents and perhaps they do not want to become partners in their child’s education. First of all, I disagree and find that no one is more invested in their child’s success than parents. Unfortunately teachers often put up a wall and fail to utilize the valuable resource parents can be. Furthermore, when you become a parent it is your job to facilitate the growth and development of your child so sometimes teachers may need to rise up to our role as advocates for our students and get those parents on board in whatever capacity they can. This is an email I received after sharing a FreshGrade video of a student reading.

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I truly believe it is time for educators to re-evaluate our goals. We need to consider the world our students will be living in, and are living in, and how we can best support their growth into successful and fulfilled members of society. We can start by replacing term end summaries that encourage comparison over personal growth with a tool like FreshGrade where students are empowered and all of their successes recognized.

There are several excellent educators in Surrey that are happy to share more on FreshGrade.
Find them on twitter:
@mrswendyhall
@_mswarkentin
@KLirenman

Also check out http://learningandsharingwithmsl.blogspot.ca for another great blog post about FreshGrade

Visit http://web.freshgrade.com for more information

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Alternative Reporting

I always dread report card season. I do not find it to be a terribly difficult task, actually after eight years of teaching the same grade it has become quite easy. The issue for me, as I am sure it is for many teachers, is how to summarize the progress, highlight strengths and make meaningful suggestions for future learning for each of my unique students in one small box? Do parents actually read the report card and have a discussion with their child? Do parents or students feel informed in a way that would benefit future learning? I honestly do not know but I have never been satisfied with the current reporting system as a parent or a teacher. This year when my children brought home their report cards for their first term in grade two and one respectively I realized how much our current reporting system falls short.

Although my son has always been a very bright and curious boy, school has never been on the top of his favourite activities. He would much prefer to be fishing or exploring the world around him, as is the case for many boys. Learning to read was a struggle for him and although he made a good effort it would take two years of LST support and getting eye glasses before he was reading at grade level. The first few months of grade two he worked incredibly hard and we saw wonderful progress. My daughter on the other hand has always been incredibly studious and like many girls loves to learn. She started her first term in grade one reading and writing well above grade level expectations. Before opening their term one report cards I asked my kids about what they learned. My son was able to talk about reaching new reading levels and learning to read and spell new words. He was quite proud of his progress and rightly so. This changed after we opened the report cards. After comparing all the ‘approaching expectations’ boxes checked on his report to the many ‘exceeding expectations’ checked on his sisters he was very frustrated. Although I read the comments highlighting his progress he was left with the impression that he did bad and his sister did great. The reality is that my daughter really did not learn anything. This is not a reflection on her teacher but the reality that she entered grade one already meeting the prescribed learning outcomes. My son learned a great deal and made excellent progress yet this was not reflected in the report card. Again this is not about his school or his teacher rather it is, in my opinion, the result of an inadequate reporting system.

This is the reason I decided to take on the opportunity to formally report in a different way in my own classroom. I teach grade one at Pacific Heights Elementary in Surrey, BC. I am privileged to be part of a forward thinking school district and thankful for the freedom to explore a new approach to connecting with and informing parents. As my first attempt I decided to host a student led conference during the school day and I am thrilled with how successful it was.

Although student-led conferences are not new this was my first experience facilitating them during the school day and using the experience as a means to report student progress. The first step for me was to let my parents know that I was interested in sharing their child’s learning with them in a new way. I had no idea if parents could or would commit to spending 30-45 minutes of their day in our classroom. I had a discussion with my class and they all agreed that bringing their parents to our classroom was a great way to share our learning. I drafted a letter and sent it home. The next day 15/21 students returned the notice with a commitment from their parents. It was amazing to see how excited the students were to return this notice to me. Within three days of sending the notice home I had a commitment from all of my parents. The kids were absolutely thrilled! The last notice I received was from an ESL student who shared with me that her parents were nervous to come as they did not speak English. I talked with the student and her older sister and explained the concept of students leading the conversations. I was very touched by the enormous smile on her face when both of her parents, who had never been to our classroom, showed up for the conference.

Parents were invited to come to our classroom in the morning, after recess or after lunch. It was nice to know in advance when to expect parents so students could be prepared. I booked our school iPads for the day and organized my students for a day of independent work with our literacy and math centres. I really wanted to give parents a glimpse into grade one and make this a very natural meeting. With the class functioning as per usual when they arrived, parents could also see how their child works in a class setting. For me a few moments watching their child move about the room or work at a table is much more meaningful than one sentence about work habits on a report card. When a child’s parent arrived at the door they would stop what they were working on, greet their parents and take them on a QR code scavenger hunt visiting five stations throughout the school with their iPad. I decided to use QR codes and iPads to make it more fun and highlight some of the students skills using technology. Some of the stations asked students to share projects on their iPads or take pictures of completed tasks.

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I had five stations set up: science, math, language arts, physical activity and student choice. Students randomly scanned QR clues until they had taken their guest to all five stations. Once completed they found me, returned their iPad and I gave them a 3 stars and a wish form to fill out with their parents and with my support if required.

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The science station was an example of a typical grade one activity where we might make and test predictions. At the fitness stations students demonstrated some of the yoga poses and exercises we practice as part of our daily physical activity. The final station was a student choice activity. The day before the conference students were invited to choose what they would like to share. Most students wanted to share their scrapbooks and poems duo tangs. As part of this stations students invited their parents into our classroom. Yes I had parents floating in and out of the classroom all day while students went about their learning. It was not as distracting as one might think, the student leading a conference would simply walk their guest around and show them our classroom. Everyone else went about their business as usual. This was a great way for me to see how articulate some of my shy students can be when they are surrounded by the comfort of family. A favourite moment was watching one girl have her parents sits criss cross at the carpet at she rang our chime and taught them about mindful breathing. It was very interesting to see what parts of the classroom or activities students were excited to share.

At the math station I simply placed the various games we play at Math Centres and invited parents to play one with their child. It was incredibly informative for parents to see the value of dice and card games in building number sense. I connected with parents at this station to answer questions and ensure they understood their child’s understanding of the math concepts we were learning. Students also shared various math apps and math projects on their iPads at this station.

As Language Arts is so critical in grade one I included performance standards and other points of reference for parents at this station. I think that as teachers we often forget that most parents really don’t know what it looks like to be reading or writing at grade level expectations. The feedback I received from parents was very positive and the opportunity to compare their child’s reading level and writing abilities was much appreciated.

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Overall I feel that the student led conference was an excellent way to involve parents and students in the reporting process. I feel that parents left much
more informed than with the traditional report card. This process was informative for me as well as I observed students with their guests. When I sent report cards home I did not fill out the comment box but simply referred to the student-led conference. I did attach the prescribed learning outcomes as I honestly did not have time to adjust them this term. In the next term I intend to look at an alternative to the exhaustive list of PLO’s. Many of my parents have thanked me for the experience and were very happy to have student-led conferences in lieu of a comment box. All I know is that this was my first attempt at something new and I am very pleased with the result. The only problem I have now is I don’t know if I can go back to the old way of reporting. There are so many ways to make assessment meaningful, to involve parents and to engage students in their learning journey, I am excited for the possibilities.

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Using QR Codes in Grade One

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QR is short for Quick Response. A QR code is a digital image that can be scanned, much like barcodes. Once scanned with a smartphone or mobile device the code will direct your device to a website or reveal a text or voice message. I have been using QR codes in my grade one classroom for the last year and have loved the experience!

The possibilities are endless! In some situations the QR codes simply increase student engagement or just make a lesson more fun. Although I am always looking for new and meaningful ways to incorporate technology in my classroom, I am not sure when it became a negative to get kids excited about learning. While it is true that we can have our students participate in a scavenger hunt with written or picture clues or simply give them a web address to type in and get them to a specific website why not make it more fun with QR codes? They truly are simple to make and kids love scanning them. QR codes have many other uses as well, many that are really opening new doors and giving students, parents and teaching a whole new experience.

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So what tools will you need to get started using QR codes?
– to scan a QR code all you need is a free scan app from the App store
– to create a QR code on an iPad you can use QR Creator or any other QR generating app
– to create a printable QR code you can use a free site such as Kaywa

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Here are a few of the ways I am currently using QR codes in my classroom. I have many other ideas and hope to learn about even more as I know there are some fantastic ones out there!

Sharing Photos
One of my favorite uses of QR codes is to give my students access to the many photos I take with my iPhone or iPad. Once photos have been uploaded to an online site such as Dropbox you can make a QR code from the link. Students then scan the code and can save the photos to their own device. I leave QR codes from field trips and various activities up on a wall and students use them for various things such as making books or writing journal entries on an iPad.

Easy access to websites and information
Asking primary students to type in a long URL is very time consuming and can be exhausting for the teacher as we rush around trying to help those who missed a letter or added an extra space.
If you have a website such as Canadian Geographic Kids that you would like all your students to go to, simply copy the web address in a QR generator. You can do this on a computer and print a QR code for students to scan. If you have a projector you can make the QR code on an iPad and students can scan it directly from the screen.

If you have a school or class website, blogs or any site that your parents visit posting a QR code in the window or sending home a copy of a QR code makes it easy for parents to access sites.
QR codes can be scanned with any smartphone or mobile device.

A fun way to give your parents a sneak peak into your classroom is to record an activity such as shared reading or painting, upload it to an online site then create a QR code with the link.
Parents can scan the code and have a look at their child during a school activity.

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Scavenger Hunt
A QR code scavenger hunt is a great ice breaker activity with big buddies and a fun way to help younger students explore their school. I challenge students to take pictures of certain things with their iPad. I create QR codes to reveal clues such as ” this is where we go to read books” and have students take a picture of the library. These pictures can be used for various writing activities later on. All students love this activity. It is a great way for buddies to get to know each other and their school.

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Add voice to non digital work
There are a few ways to create a QR code that will reveal a recorded video or message.
If you use an app like Audioboo or a site such as Croak it you can copy the link into a QR generator.
If you record a message using your camera you need to upload it to a site such as Dropbox and get the link from that site. You can also use an app like QR voice to type a message and create a synthesized voice message.

After reading Aaron’s Hair by Robert Munsch I recorded a short video of students describing their work, uploaded it to Dropbox and created a QR code to the link. The QR codes are attached to their work in the hallway and can be scanned by parents, visitors and other students to reveal their video.

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This is just a few ways I use QR codes and this is how I make them :

Creating a code on an iPad from Dropbox
If you have something such as pictures and you want to create a QR code, open Dropbox and upload pictures. Open the file on Dropbox, copy link to clipboard and the paste in QR Creator.

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Printable QR codes

There are many QR generating sites but I prefer Kaywa. It is a free site with options to upgrade so you can save your codes.
If you want to link to an online source you need to copy the link, paste it in the space provided and click on generate. If you have trouble printing try clicking permalink and print from there.
If you want to type a message click on the text option, type your message and click generate.

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I would love to hear how you are using QR codes in your classroom. Happy scanning!

iPad in the Primary Classroom – Go for it!

I feel very fortunate to be teaching at technology rich school. In my grade one classroom I have a document camera, projector, apple tv, teacher iPad and access to a class set of iPads several times a week. Although technology is not an area that I have ever been particularly fond of or knowledgable in, it has become an integral part of my teaching over the last two years. I have found the iPads in particular to be a very useful tool.

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I value differentiated instruction. Having students that are engaged and active participants in their own learning is important to me. I cringe at the thought of teaching a lesson that will frustrate some, bore others and hopefully meet the needs of at least some of my students. Handing out the same math questions or reading response to 24 individual people and expecting it to be meaningful to everyone is just not realistic. That being said there are only so many hours in the day and as a working mom I have always struggled to find the time to meet the individual learning needs of all my students, all the time. This is what sparked my passion for integrating technology into classroom learning. I embraced the iPad as a tool and have found it allows me to provide each learner with activities suited to their learning needs. It also allows me to do my job more efficiently. I find myself spending less time creating and managing activities and more time with my students.

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When the Surrey Primary Teachers Association asked me to host a workshop dedicated to the use of iPads in a primary classroom I was quite surprised. I really did not consider that some teachers had access to iPads and were not using them. I was curious to know what teachers would be hoping to gain from an afternoon at my school so I sent the participants some questions using Survey Monkey.

The results are very interesting. Teachers who are obviously passionate about their craft (since they have registered for an after school workshop) are not using all the available tools to enhance their lessons.

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Technology is such a new concept for so many people and it seems like people worry they do not have enough baseline knowledge to bring it into their classrooms. I honestly believe that teachers wanting to explore iPads need to make a shift in their thinking. As teachers, we do not need to know everything about iPads. You can bring them into your classroom knowing very little, as I did. Our role is to provide the learning environment and curricular goals, from there we can simply facilitate and learn with our students. Using technology such as an iPad is not a new ‘subject’ that we need to teach. It integrates nicely into all areas of the curriculum and serves to facilitate the learning process. It is quite a powerful experience to learn alongside a 5 or 6 year old. Just put an iPad in their hands, give them a few guidelines and watch as they explore, create and learn.

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If you are a teacher who has been hesitant to bring iPads into your classroom I really do encourage you to just take the plunge and go with the flow. For those who need a more structured approach here is a play by play of how I get iPads going in my grade one classroom and some of the things we do with them.

~ I bring iPads into my classroom during the first two weeks of school.( We have a cart that holds 30 iPads and is shared between 13 classes. All teachers sign up for one 45 minute block per week and open blocks can then be reserved on a weekly basis.) At first, an adult will be responsible to take them out of or put them into the cart but I eventually pass this on to my students. Before I hand out iPads for the first time we meet as a class to talk about our experiences with iPads. This year almost all of my students had used an iPad at least once and many had one at home. We talk about taking care to only touch the screen with the pad of one finger and other considerations such as no water bottles on desks with the iPads and carrying them with two hands. The only thing I talk to them about the first time is the home button and tell them they can touch it to get out of an app. Other than that for the first couple of times we use the iPads it is all about exploring and sharing. Allowing the students to explore on their own gives me time to assess their comfort level and knowledge of the technology.

~ One of the first things I introduce to my class is the camera. They love taking pictures with the iPad and once we get into creative apps knowing how to take and edit pictures is very useful. When I do have something specific to demonstrate I do so before students get their iPads and use my iPad connected to my projector (this is now a breeze with apple tv). The iPad cover can sometimes make it difficult for kids to take a picture so I show them how to fold it up and hold it or advise them to ask a friend to take the picture as they hold up the iPad. I take a picture with my iPad and then show them where the edit button is. I show them where the rotate and crop buttons are and then give them time to take a few pictures and practice editing them. We also learn how to take a screen shot.

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~ The second thing I like to have kids practice is working with the keyboard. Here is one simple introduction to the keyboard that also uses their new camera skills. Using Skitch I ask students to take a picture of a classmate (with their permission) and write the sentence “This is my friend …”

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I find the iPad keyboard to be very user friendly and students need minimal directions before they feel capable to type on their own.

~ From this point I usually introduce one new creative app a week such as Scribble Press or Book Creator. Although we use the iPads to practice our math and language art skills I find these apps to be very self explanatory. Apps that are in the folder I label ‘creative’ can be used for a multitude of projects and we visit them throughout the year. I like the kids to feel comfortable with these apps because later on they can demonstrate their learning using whichever one they want. Here are a few examples of books my students made using Book Creator:

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For teachers sitting on the fence and waiting to take the plunge with iPads in their primary classroom – just go for it! I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you will learn with your students and what this wonderful tool can bring to your classroom.

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