Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Collaborating with Simplenote

The upper grade students at Burley have a number of opportunities to communicate and collaborate electronically -- student blogs and wikis, education-focused social networking, iChat, and so on -- and we often remark on how engaged and focused students are with this type of communication. Students have told us that they like the opportunity to participate at their own pace and to read the ideas of others before chiming in. They say they participate more because they can share their ideas when they have them, rather than waiting to be called on or for someone else to finish.

Simplenote is a free app that allows students to collaborate in real time using the iPad. Each iPad is set up to access a single Simplenote account. As students create their own notes, a left-hand note navigation list displays all the notes in real time. Students can pull up one another's notes to get ideas and then return to their own note to do their own writing. The teacher can access all the notes (in real time, or after the lesson) by logging in to

To make this work with the students, we developed a lesson to model effective collaboration using Simplenote. We begin by talking to students about how they usually share ideas with one another. Students say that they turn and talk, or talk in their learning groups, or listen to other people when the teacher calls on them. Then we explain that the iPad can give them a new way to share their ideas with one another. Using a document camera and projector, we demonstrate how to create a note in Simplenote. Then, we have a student use another iPad to create a note. Students notice instantly that the student note appears on the teacher's screen. The teacher then goes in to the student's note, reads it, reflects on a new idea, and then incorporates that new idea into his or her own note. We explain that the purpose is for everyone to generate ideas about a particular topic, but at the end of class, we want students to be able to share one idea they got from another student's note. We also make it clear that they can only write in their own note and talk about how it would negatively affect our ability to work together if people don't follow that rule.

As the students work, we circulate and prompt students to check one another's notes for new ideas. We ask them what ideas they have gotten from their classmates. At the end of class, we gather on the rug and view the list of notes in the web browser at Student volunteers share the ideas they got from one another as we display the notes on the screen. In this way, students can concretely see the flow of ideas from one note to another and think about how this tool can help them work together.

It's pretty exciting for the students to be able to brainstorm with continuous and ongoing collaboration with the entire class. Students who have a hard time getting started can start by reading ideas of others. Students who are eager to jump in and can't wait can begin immediately and then expand on their initial ideas after reading classmates' notes. An additional benefit is that students are building early digital citizenship skills and, of course, applying their developing writing skills in a meaningful way. We're looking forward to applying this tool in student inquiry as students generate questions and brainstorm project ideas.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

102 iPad Action!

My first graders enjoyed using the iPads for their Poetry Assembly peformance! They used the whiteboard app to enhance their images and alliteration lines.
Our class continues to use the iPads during literacy and math centers. We are beginning to use them in the content area as well. We used them to research questions we had about the solar system and will continue using them for research during our upcoming Native American unit.

Audio Recordings Promote Fluency

This week we used Recorder HD in guided reading groups to monitor our fluency. For the past few days we talked about how good readers practice reading a piece over and over to make it sound nice and smooth. One group of students read It's Super Mouse! by Phyllis Root during their guided reading groups and as a supplemental text during their independent reading time. To celebrate this text prior to moving on to a new book, a small group of students created an audio recording of It's Super Mouse. Now, all students have access to the text and audio recording at our classroom listening center. The small group of students who recorded the text debriefed on their recording and made plans for enhancing their fluency in future recordings. As they shared the recording with the class, it was obvious that the group gained confidence as readers. They were excited to hear themselves read the text and share the stories with their friends. Using the iPad to create audio books or as tools for children to self-reflect on their reading fluency is easy and fun! I can't wait to increase the opportunities for my kids to use this in the future.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In the loop

One of the key details that an iPad school has to iron out is the content loop -- how to get stuff on to the iPad, and how to get student work off the iPad and into the hands of a teacher, peer editor, or other audience. Thanks to our Apple Professional Development leader, Dr. Bruce Ahlborn, we now have a plan for how we're going to do just that.

We had considered using the free DropBox app, which seemed like a great way to get content on to the iPad -- but maybe not so smooth at sending content back to the teacher. We have decided to use a MobileMe iDisk as our shared space. Each teacher will be able to access the iDisk from their Mac's desktop. This makes it possible for teachers to manage certain types of iPad content over wifi, rather than waiting for a manual sync.

Within the iDisk, we created folders for each teacher. Within each teacher folder, students will find a TO and a FROM folder. The TO folder is where students will submit their work. The FROM folder is for PDFs, templates, graphic organizers, pages of links, etc. that the students will receive from the teacher. We labeled the TO folder with arrows and asterisks to add some visual emphasis that we hope will help our young students navigate the iDisk effectively. Unfortunately, adding colors to folders in the Finder does not result in colored folders on the iPad; that would certainly be an improvement. Eventually we plan to add a third folder where students can exchange work and create content for one another.

We are spending a planning session next week further testing and streamlining the process for using the iDisk, and then we'll be introducing it to the students. Our iPads all have Pages installed, and we plan to create templates and graphic organizers and share them via iDisk for student use. The teachers are also preparing some PDF resources to guide student learning. We discovered that when PDFs are in the iDisk and then opened in iBooks, they remain on the bookshelf -- the student does not need to navigate back to the iDisk app to access that content later. We anticipate that having our iDisk content loop in place will enable more fluid access to content (with less frequent need for hard-wired syncing), and it will also enable students to begin creating content and publishing work using the iPad.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spelling practice, math, and word study

Second grade teachers were ready for more options in their morning literacy centers, so the students have begun using three apps to practice their weekly spelling words. Our spelling program is individualized, and each student works on his or her own list of words each week -- no small management task! The iPads are enabling students to have independent practice opportunities with their words. They're using the iPad's built-in Notes app, Whiteboard lite, and ABC Magnetic Letters Lite to write and type the words -- all free apps. At no extra cost,we now have a multimodal spelling center up and running in a matter of a day!

Last week, my colleague Kristin Ziemke Fastabend brought the whole cart of iPads to her room for her math lesson. Using Whiteboard lite, students wrote number sentences on the screen as Kristin modeled the problems with manipulatives on a projector. Students were fully engaged in the process of expressing their math knowledge -- if you've never heard students beg for more math problems, then you should have been there with our first graders!

Afterwards, Kristin remarked on how easy it was for her to help students as she circulate around the room. If a student forgot an equals sign, for example, she could use her own finger to show the child where it should have gone. The activity was more engaging and easier to manage with the iPads. Even the simple difference of starting with a "blank slate" by erasing the screen each time made it easier for Kristin to assess and check for understanding as she went along, and it enabled students to focus only on solving the problem at hand.

Another whole-class iPad activity took place in Begoña Cowan's room and was similar to the lesson that our Reading Specialist, Sally Tajkowski, wrote about in an earlier post. Each student sat on the rug with an iPad carefully on his or her lap while Begoña challenged them to sound out and spell certain word families using letter patterns they are studying. The students were fully engaged, and using virtual magnetic letters was the only thing that made this activity possible -- rather than digging noisily through a bucket of plastic magnetic letters, students were finding the letters they needed in the alphabet and focusing on the letter sounds themselves. I'll be posting a video in the next few days.

This week we will have our first visit from our intrepid iPad coach extraordinaire, Dr. Bruce Ahlborn. We can't wait!