Non-Fiction Unit, with iPads

Last year I taught a fourth-grade reading class.  One of the units we worked on was Non-Fiction.  I have to say, this might have been the most painful unit I taught last year.  For years our school has used a basal reader and last year we switched to a reading workshop model of teaching reading –  and that was a HUGE change!  I think one of the greatest areas of weakness in a basal reader has got to be the non-fiction section.  Actually, in our basal readers, I don’t remember a section on non-fiction!  That means the only area that the students received instruction about non-fiction would have been in science and SS class!

Because we were basically starting from scratch and our students did not have a large knowledge base on the subject matter we started very slowly!  Our first few days were spent on trying to help the students understand that when we read non-fiction we have to take a “Sit up and learn” mentality, rather than a “Sit back and relax” mentality.  I read a lot on how to teach non-fiction from Lucy Caulkins and her Units of Study.  I took this anchor chart directly from her materials.  I used this anchor chart over a couple of days because it is a lot for students to transition to non-fiction reading.  I wanted them to be excited about learning new content!  We bought a variety of non-fiction books so that students could choose a book to read that was interesting to them and was on grade level.  The students could choose to read one book or all of the books during the genre study. 

Anchor Charts P13After we spent a few days on revving ourselves up for reading non-fiction I started teaching about text features.  I wanted the students to understand the setup of a non-fiction book.  I used this anchor chart to teach text features.  I apologize for the poor picture!

photo (3)After we talked about text features we had the students go on a text feature scavenger hunt!  I gave the students the list of text features and they used the iPad app Strip Designer to search through the non-fiction books and find examples of the text features.  The students took a picture of the text feature and put it in comic strip.  Then, they labeled each text feature they found.  I think when I do this activity this year with my third-grade students I will have them also tell me how to use the text feature.

Below is an example of one of the pages from a students work.  This activity allowed me to see if the students understand the different types of text features in a variety of different books.  The camera on the iPad makes assignments like this so easy!

Ben's Text Features 


iPad Carts, Year 2

Last year we introduced iPad carts into our offered technology for the classroom.  We had a mass push to give all of our teachers iPads, allow our students to bring their own technology to school, and put iPads in the hands of our students.  We choose iPads very specifically.  We thought about many different technologies, however, at the time the iPad was head and shoulders above the rest.  The main reason we chose iPads, especially in the lower school, was because of the iTunes store.  We felt it was extremely important that the apps we use and the devices we put in front of the students have an extra level of security on them.  The security I am referring to is the fact that the apps have been rated and approved by Apple before being put in the iTunes store.  For android devices, anyone can post an app to the store – we wanted the assurance that if a student went to the app store and downloaded an educational game, that the game would really be educational and not something we didn’t want our students to see.  As students move into middle and high school I could see an argument for android devices – especially in programming classes.  For our school the iPad was the best choice – although if our students bring their own device, they may bring whatever device they have.

We started last year with three iPad carts.  I used the Apple Configurator to setup the devices, along with the Volume Purchasing Plan for apps.  I have had many frustrating moments with the Apple Configurator and I managed to erase student work many times last year with the configurator.  I know their are other ways to monitor and deploy iPad carts, but right now this seems to be the best option for us.  The configurators latest version, appears to be much more user friendly and I have reimaged and deployed four iPad carts this year with ease.  I am hoping that Apple has decided to put a little more effort into the configurator and the software will continue to improve.

A few notes about the configurator – DO NOT unplug a device while it is updating with the configurator – even if it appears to be in a loop – this will erase the device (I know from experience!).  The configurator also automatically loads the last setting for the device you are updating when you plug in the device again.  Be sure that after you have updated your device, BEFORE you unplug the configurator that you put the settings where you want them to be next time you plug in the device.  For example, if you are loading an image that restores a previous iPad, make sure that you change the setting to “Don’t restore Backup” and apply those settings, before you unplug the cart.  This way, next time you plug that cart in the configurator won’t erase everything the students have put on the iPads.  I only know this because I have had to explain to little second-graders that I erased their Puppet Pals creations.  Nothing can make a person feel worse than explaining to a 7 year-old that you made a mistake and cost them their work :-(.

Image 8 20 13 at 7 21 AM

This year we added a 4th iPad cart and I haven’t had any of the trouble with the configurator I did last year.  During last year I stopped updating the iPads because I was worried I was going to erase more work! Over the summer the I restored all the iPads to a “backed up” image, to erase them and begin fresh.  I added Tony Vincents backgrounds to our iPads, so that as soon as the students open the iPad, they know the iPad slot number and the cart.  I used sketch, to add the iPad cart letter (our carts are labeled A-D) so the first iPad on the cart A, has 1A as the background.  Inside the cart, I also number each iPad slot with sharpie and each cord that connects the iPad to the cart.  This helps the students put the iPad back in the correct slot.


One of the best posts I read on the Apple Configurator is, Oh Apple Configurator, I will Not Be Defeated!  If you have used the Apple Configurator you understand that the title of that post is extremely fitting!  In my next post I will post examples of all of the FABULOUS work our students have created with the iPads.

Reading Workshop Discovery

Wow! It has been a long time since I last posted, but blogging gets away from me during the school year when the focus is so immediate and pressing in the classroom! Over the past year my role in the school has changed and grown to include Curriculum and Technology. Now, I am responsible for coordinating the curriculum and the technology in the lower school. The model really makes sense, because we know that we want students using technology inside the curriculum, enhancing the curriculum, rather than in insolation. My job is to help teachers become aligned with curriculum and to show them how to embed technology meaningfully into their curriculum.

Last year and continuing on through this year our focus as a school is reading. We are also working through a new math program, which I will post about separately. Our reading model has changed drastically over the past few years. We have completely done away with a basal reader and worksheets. We have moved on to Reading Workshop. We run a slightly modified version of reading workshop, one that fits our school and our goals and I think it has worked fabulously! My dream is for all students to love reading as much as I do. I think that as time has gone by we have somehow forgotten that to teach students to read, maybe we should let them read as much as we can! Our new reading program does just that – the kids are reading all the time!!!!

In K-2, we focus on guided reading with our students. We still use a workshop model, where we teach a mini-lesson, read a read aloud to model the mini-lesson focus, and then the students go to guided reading where we reinforce the skill again. The students in k-2 also work in literacy centers while guided reading groups are pulled. We utilize our reading specialists and our teaching assistants in these classroom to try and pull all of our guided reading groups each day! That way our students are growing as readers and getting the support that they need each day. We have also implemented independent reading time each day. During independent reading our students are reading a just right book and the teachers are conferring with the students. The students must have 20 minutes of independent reading each day, with the teacher conferring. We have set a goal that a teacher should confer with their entire class at least once every three weeks – struggling readers should be conferred with more often.

In 3rd-5th we have implemented a core/choice novel model. We feed into a traditional middle school, so we alternate the core and choice novels. The students will read one novel that the entire class reads, and the discussion is teacher directed. Then, they will alternate to a choice novel, where the teacher teaches a mini-lesson, models the skill with a read aloud, and then the students work with the choice novel they are reading. The students are LOVING the choice novel units. We usually give the students a choice of 5-8 novels to read and they are able to read as many of those choices as they can. We have had numerous occasions where the students read all of the choice novels available in the three week time frame we give for the novel. The kids love being able to choose a just right book and being able to read what they want to read.

Right now as we kick off the schools the teachers are busy with running records. We require 3 running records a year for our students – one at the beginning of school, one in January, and another at the end of the year. We have seen tremendous growth in our students through the transfer to this teaching model. It breaks my heart to see students all reading the same book in class and doing worksheets, when there is a better way to teach reading. For anyone interested in learning more about this model of teaching I recommend reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Growing Readers by Kathy Collins. Also, if you search the web you will find a lot of information on running reading workshop.

Over the next couple of weeks I will post example lessons from K-2 and 3-5 of how we are using this model at my school.

Do you feel the iPads are making a distinct difference?

Do you feel the iPads are making a distinct difference.  I had a friend ask me this question today, after sending me an article that Bill Gates is featured in discussing why tablets aren’t a good solution for education.  A direct quote from the article is, “Rather than a tablet, Gates envisages “a low-cost PC that’s going to let them be highly interactive” as more effective in education.”.  My first reaction is that, of course Bill gates is going to say that a small pc would be better served in the classroom, but then his above statement reminds me that Bill Gates is not an educator (as much as he has given to education and put himself into education – he hasn’t actually spent time teaching in a classroom) and therefore, really isn’t one to speak about student engagement and tablets.


My response to my friend was that the response I have seen from students has been amazing!  The students are excited about their iPads or iTouches in class.  They are excited about using the technology that they use every day at home and the results of what they can do is amazing.  In my opinion, student engagement is much higher with the tablets, than with the PC’s.  Our students could pick – do they want to use a PC or their own iPads – all but 3 students chose to use an i-device.  The students want to use the tablets because they can do most of what a pc can do, but it is all in one neat package – they have their music, their camera, their video camera, and the software all in one place!

We read Hatchet in fifth-grade this year and had the students use their devices to make a book trailer about the book.  The students had to figure out the theme of the book and pick music, pictures, etc. that fit the theme.  The results were amazing.  I was able to tell from the book trailers that the students really understood what was happening in the book.  AND – the students repeatedly asked to stay in from recess to work on their book trailers – that is student engagement!  The students were so in to creating something that they didn’t want to leave their task!  Click the below link to go to the website that gives all of the instructions and documentation I used for creating book trailers.

book trailer

So, my answer to my friend was that YES, I feel that the iPads are making a distinct difference.  His point to me what that we shouldn’t use technology, just to say we are using technology, which I completely agree with!  I think that the iPads will make a huge difference, but I also think that difference could be made with most any device.  However, the argument for the iPad also has to be, it is our job to prepare our students for the future and the future definitely includes iPads!

Skydrive Vs. Dropbox

              dropbox_logo       Skydrive-Logo-640x440

We are having a hard time at my school deciding which cloud service to introduce our teachers to.  I LOVE Dropbox and have been using it for about 1 1/2 years.  However, the problem is that our school uses Windows Live which comes with a free subscription to Skydrive.  We are rolling out iPads to our teachers which further complicates the issue.

Most iPad app’s are fully integrated with Dropbox but not Skydrive.  I have only found ONE wordprocessing application that allows users to link completely (both download and save to) to skydrive.  The app is Office2 HD.  We will be using this app for our teachers to access their documents on their iPads.  However, just having a wordprocessing storage site does not solve the problem in integrating skydrive with the ipad.  So many of the ipad apps do not save to or export to skydrive that the cloud storage is really useless. 

I would like to see the iPad link more with Skydrive in the future.  I am hoping that it is not a competition type situation where Apple won’t let Skydrive be a player because it is the competition.  From what I can tell Skydrive has all of the same bells and whistles as Dropbox. 

Here is a Comparison:

Dropbox Skydrive
Desktop Sync Yes Yes
Ability to Hyperlink Files Yes Yes
Folder Sharing Yes Yes
Price 2GB free 5GB free
Online Document Editing no* yes

*Dropbox files can be edited using iPad apps like CloudOn (free app).

My preferene is Dropbox because of the wonderful iPad integration.  I don’t mind paying $9.99 per month (for 50 gb) for the access and convenience of being able to access my files anywhere I am (using my phone (droid), iPad, or my home or work computer).  I share photo albums with my family and take advantage of extra free storage space every time someone signs up for Dropbox using a link I shared.  I would use Skydrive if the iPad integration were the same, but I would still be out of space, even with what my school would give me for free (I am almost maxed out with Dropbox).

You may notice that I didn’t mention Google Drive.  I am careful what I put on Google because of their privacy policy.  If you don’t mind your data being mined then Google Drive may be the choice for you, however, I do not want my information open to Google (and their advertisers) so I do not use their storage option.

The Daily Five – Book Study

I subscribe to a lot of teaching blogs (I know they aren’t on my blogroll – one of my to do’s this summer is to revamp my blog!) and there is a lot of discussion around the book The Daily Five.    In my school we have been working on reading workshop and moving away from the basal reader and the dreaded WORKSHEET!  I spent a lot of time in classrooms during the second half of the year (we didn’t fully get our brains wrapped around workshops until Dec!) showing teachers how to use a read-aloud and have students use readers notebooks.  My principal and I are both going to The Teachers College Reading Workshop at Columbia University this summer and I am so excited about that!  And NOW, I have found The Daily Five!  I am a participate book study posted on several blogs – Today’s posts are from Teaching with Style and Seusstastic Classroom Inspirations.

I decided to use a Reader’s Notebook approach to this book study because 1) I have to take notes when I read to help maintain my focus and memory and 2) I like things to be neat and pretty :-).  Below are my pictures of what I put together for the first chapter.  I wrote down the quotes and ideas from chapter 1 that jumped out at me.

2012-06-13_14-21-53_2402012-06-13_14-22-02_1052012-06-13_14-22-09_3642012-06-13_14-22-15_9582012-06-13_14-22-25_925    2012-06-13_14-22-34_4952012-06-13_14-22-39_728The part of the book that stuck out the most to me was, “The way teachers structure the learning environment and the way students spend their time influences the level of reading proficiency the students have attained at the end of the academic year”.  This is SO BASIC, yet for many years in my teaching career I missed the mark on this one! 

During the last year or two while I have been learning everything I can about reading workshop I realized that the one aspect of the reading program I was teaching that was missing was READING!  It is amazing to me that we think we are teaching out of a basal reader, one story a week, and we think we are doing a great job teaching reading!  The “Just Right Book” concept blew my mind and I know that The Daily Five is going to have a similar effect. I love independence in the classroom and have always taught that way, so I think the D5 is going to be a wonderful addition to my reading class (I get to teach a 4th grade reading class this year).

Here are a couple of other links to The Daily Five book study:

Mrs. Freshwater’s Class – grades 1-3 book study posts

Live Love Laugh – Kindergarten D5 Book Study

Dilly Dabbles Doodles – Grades 1-3 book study

We Read, We Blog, We Teach – Upper Grades Book Study

My Favorite Student Apps

Below is a list of my favorite student apps.  When I say “favorite” I am using that term loosely because new apps come out every day that are awesome and there are so many GREAT apps!  These are ones that I love and have used a lot in my classroom!  The pictures are linked to the app store.

1. Puppet Pals $ – I LOVE Puppet Pals. It may be one of my favorite apps! This app can be used in so many different ways. The students can use it to explain a process you have been learning in class, the students can use it to review information before a test, the students can use it to illustrate a process, etc. This app has limitless possibilities!


2. Page Send (free) – Page send is an online collaboration app. The students can invite each other in to collaborate on documents. The students can also record what they are doing in a document and save it for future reference or send on to friends.


3. LAZ Leveled Readers ($) – This series of books is a leveled reading series. The book are leveled using Fountas and Pinnell. The app store has levels aa – R. I will be sending out this app based on your grade level.


4. Doodle Buddy (free) – This is a great drawing app and it is FREE! You can use this to have students illustrate a scene in a book, to make infographics (very cool!), and to illustrate any writing work they have completed. Students can import pictures, add text, and add shapes.


5. Read2Go ($)– This is an amazing app for our dyslexic students. The students can apply for a free account if they have a qualifying text disability at The app will link to their book share account and allow students to have access to thousands of free books (textbooks as well), that can be read to the student. The app is pricey, but you may want to recommend the app to students with a learning disability.


6. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore ($) – An excellent app that tells a wonderful story about the love and care of books!


7. Scribble Press (free) – This is a free book making app! The students can write a book and illustrate the book all in this app! The book can then be purchased in hardback form and shipped to the student. The students can create a book to be shared or printed. The app comes with story starters or blank books.


8. Rover (free)– Rover is another browser (like safari), but it will play flash content for education.


9. Bluster(free) – A vocabulary game that works on adjectives, rhyming words, prefixes, suffixes, and synonyms. You are able to pick the grade level. Free App.


10. SpellBoard ($) – An awesome spelling app! The app allows you to load in spelling lists and th students work through spelling the words in quizzes and practice. The students can complete a word scramble or word search as part of their studying.


11. Verses Poetry (free)– refrigerator magnets type poetry mixer! Gives a variety of words to “mix-up” into a poem.


12. iWrite Words ($) – Handwriting app. The app does not allow the letter to be written the wrong way – i.e. starting at the bottom or going backwards.


13. Cursive Practice(free) – This app allows cursive practice.


14. Math Racer ($) – a math fact game.


15. Splash Math (Grades 1-5) ($) – Math Practice by unit and additional practice.


16. Google Earth (free)


17. Star Walk ($) – An awesome app that lets you see exactly what is in the sky above you at any time!


18. Frog Dissection ($) – I LOVE this app and I hate dissection! This app will allow you to virtually dissect a frog and see the body systems. Also, the app will teach you about each organ and it’s function in the body.


19. Stack the States and Stack Countries Lite (free) – Great apps that allow students to practice US and World Georgraphy.


20. iCard Sort – Sorting app ($)– Load in anything and have your students sort – spelling words, vocabulary, math problems, etc.


21. voice Plus ($)– Have your students practice fluency by recording themselves or practice their spelling patterns by telling stories. The students can change their voices and listen back to the audio file. They can also email the files to the teacher!


22. iThoughts HD ($) – One of my favorite apps! Use for mindmapping and as a graphic organizer for students!


23. Strip Designer($) – Comic Strip Maker – have your students create comic strips for any content area! Allow students to use their creative side to show what they know!


Reward Coupons

I love to use reward coupons in my class!  I also like to give rewards that don’t cost anything – aren’t those always the best kind?  I searched and searched a few years back for reward coupons that I liked but I couldn’t find any, so I made my own!  I did “borrow” some of the ideas from other places and resources but, it was so long ago I don’t remember where I found them (so if they are yours let me know and I will give you credit!).

I give these away as part of my chance ticket drawings each week and I also give entire coupon packs away as Christmas gifts for the kids – they LOVE the reward coupons more than anything else I could give them!  One of the kids favorite rewards is the “Chew gum in class” reward.  The rule in my class is that the kids can’t travel with gum and they have to show me when they spit it out Smile!  I have never had any problems with gum in the carpet or under the desk.  The kids also LOVE to sit in the teachers chair!  I hate it when I have to give up my chair but, the kids love it!  Click on the picture below to download the coupons!  I think the best coupon, that I I would use all the time, is “Listen to Music in Class”. 


If you would like an editable version click HERE for the MS Publisher version.  I liked to edit my border and pictures based on the season.  Especially at Christmas, I would change out all of the icons to be Christmas icons.  I didn’t save them that way, although now that I am typing that I realize how much easier my life would be if I just saved all my various forms for future use!  I guess I will do that going forward and post them for you as well!

iPad Basics Training

This is the training presentation I made for my teachers on the basics of their iPad.  The teachers had had their ipads for a week before I gave them the basics training.  I think that was a really good plan because the teachers were ready to learn how to use their ipads effectively.  They had been using their ipads, but showing them the shortcuts helped them immensely!  I don’t think the teachers would have been ready for the basics training the same day they got their ipads  they would not have been focused on the training.  HERE is a handout I gave the teachers that goes along with the presentation.

One of the most pressing questions from the teachers was, “How do I use pinterest!”.  I am not a huge fan of the pinterest app so I use pinterest in safari.  I also found a website that gives directions on how to add a “pin it” button to your iPad safari browser.  Also, along those same lines, after I showed the teachers about Evernote in our productivity training (I will post that later), they wanted an Evernote Clipper on their safari and I found a website that gave those instructions as well.

My Favorite Apps for Teachers

These are my favorite apps that make a teachers life easier!  The pictures are linked to the app in the itunes store.

1. Kindle/iBook

Use these apps to highlight and takes notes on the books you are reading in class. You can pull up all of your notes in one place and display your highlights and notes up on the board for your students.


2. Dropbox

Keep all of your files in one place and have access to them wherever you are!


3. Nearpod

You can create presentations and quizzes and send to your students ipads. They can follow along with your presentation, ask questions during class, and take quizzes all in one place. Best of all, for now, this app is FREE! You will need to sign up for an educators account, but this is an excellent teaching tool! You will need to have the students download the app (we will put it on the cart) and register for an online account.


4. Fluency Timer

Setup the time for one minute and give the students a passage. Then allow the students to rotate through on their own. When they are finished, you can go back and listen to the recordings and mark their fluency. Additionally, the students could mark their own fluency and make their own goals for their reading. A great way to keep electronic reading records.


5. Groovy Grader app

Grade your papers without worrying about having the paper, sliding grader!


6. Teacher Assistant (Lite (free) or Pro)

This is a great little app that lets the teacher keep anecdotal records in one place. The teacher can quickly and easily keep notes on each and every students. Very handy to have all of the information in one place and the ability to link reports to dropbox. A great way to keep information for parent conferences or permanent records.


7. Stick Pick Pro

This is a wonderful app for teachers! The teacher can load in her students and it is like she is pulling a stick to see which student to call on to answer a question! What is even better is the app allows the teacher to keep up with the questions asked and determine how far up Blooms Taxonomy the students can go with their questions. The teacher can keep notes on each students answers, as well as, knowing which student to call on next!


8. Explain Everything

Screen casting app. Teachers can import word docs, pptx, pdfs, etc into the app and annotate over the apps and record yourself. When teaching the lesson you can record yourself teaching and then post to websites so students can access the information for extra review or for absent students.


9. iTunes University

This is a great app just for continuing education for teachers. Browse college courses in your subject area for free!


10. Evernote

This is an amazing app for keeping all of your clippings from webpages in one place.


11.Good Reader

Used for annotating PDF’s. A good way to work on students papers and assignments (receive the papers using “Drop it to me”. Can annotate and comment right on the paper and send back to the students – all electronically!


12.Brain Pop

Play Brainpop movies right from your iPad!


13. Reading Remedies

Great app that allows teachers to assess reading. The app also suggests follow up activities based on students’ performance.