Writing In The “Palm” Of Your Hand

When I first started teaching at Ancaster Meadow School, all of the teachers were given a Palm Pilot and a wireless keyboard to use. I kept everything on my Palm: from my daybook to tracking sheets to contact numbers for parents. I thought that it was great! Then I got a laptop computer, and it was always easier to store this information on my laptop versus on a Palm Pilot.

As somebody that loves using technology in the classroom though, I thought that it might be fun to try using Palm Pilots with my Grade 1 students. I spoke to my principal about this idea, and I managed to get four Palm Pilots to use at a literacy centre. The students enjoyed writing on them so much that my principal contacted a Board representative, and she was able to get me 20 Palm Treos to use in my class.

These Palm Treos no longer have phone capabilities, but everything else works. On Tuesday night I managed to charge all 20 Palm Treos — it almost took a Scavenger Hunt to find them all — and on Wednesday morning, I put them out for our morning writing routine instead of the usual journals. I told my students that the Palm Treos were going to act as an electronic portfolio. I made a video to show the students how to use them, and they started writing on them. I was amazed! All of my students were completely engaged in this writing activity. When I told them that it was time to tidy up, one of my more reluctant writers commented, “Why does writing time need to be over?” I was thrilled!

My students helped me put together this short slideshow of our first Palm Treo Writing Activity:

We’ve now been using the Treos for a couple of days, and the students continue to love writing on them. Today, I allowed them to take their Treos to the literacy centres with them, and I gave them the choice to complete any writing activities on them or on a piece of paper. All of my students chose to write on the Treos, and what they produced was incredible! These students were motivated to write, they were helping each other write, they were editing their work, and they were consistently producing their best work.

Until three days ago, I didn’t know how to turn a Palm Treo on, or even what one looked like, and now I can’t imagine not having them in my classroom. My students are willing to take risks and try something new, and I think that it’s important that I do too.

For other teachers out there, have you used Palm Treos in your classroom? How have you used them? What feedback can you give me on them? For parents of students in my class, how do your children feel about using the Palm Treos? What are your thoughts on using them? Thank you for sharing your ideas and opinions with me!


Feeling the Power of Global Connections

This week, I am really feeling the power of global connections. It has been a very exciting week in my room! On Wednesday, my class had a Skype call with @jgriffith2‘s class: a Grade 2 class in Randolph, New York. Both groups of students introduced themselves, and then we exchanged information about favourite places in our community. Students learned about the similarities and differences between these two communities in a very meaningful way! Below is a Photopeach Slideshow Presentation that I created as a follow-up to this Skype call:

Mrs. Griffith’s class created a Wordle after our Skype call, and here is a link to the picture of the Wordle.  Her class used the information that we told them to make this Wordle, hence demonstrating their learning to us.  It is clear that her students listened well and learned a lot!

Then on Friday, my class had a Skype call with @atkauffman’s class from Goshen Indiana.  We discussed the Winter Olympics with his class, and we’re making a collaborative Wallwisher where students can demonstrate their learning.  I love the fact that even though we’re in Canada and they’re in the United States, that we can learn together!  Check out our Wallwisher below:

These Skype calls and follow-up activities have certainly made this week a very exciting one for me!  It showed me that I offer more to my students when I let them learn from the world and not just from me. 

For other educators out there that use Skype to connect with other classes, what do you see as the benefits of this social networking tool?  Have you experienced any drawbacks with this tool, and would you continue to use it?  For parents that are reading this post, how do your children respond to our Skype calls?  What benefits or drawbacks do you see in using this tool in the classroom?

I am looking forward to your feedback!


And Then … Success!

I am used to teaching younger students.  I taught Kindergarten for eight years, and this is my first year teaching Grade 1.  When you teach younger children, you quickly become used to providing them with a lot of support, even as you strive to teach them independence.  When I talk to many of my colleagues at other schools, they are surprised that I use so much technology with my students, as they don’t know how I’m able to offer them the support that they need to be successful.  As I tell these other teachers and as I will tell you too, “My activities that involve technology are the ones that I worry about the least.  There is rarely a problem with these activities.”  I mean this too.  It’s incredible, but somehow or other, these activities are the ones where my students do seem to show the most independence.

All that being said, it was this week that I saw just how independent Grade 1’s can be when using technology.  Not only can they use these tools, but they can problem-solve using these tools too.  It started off on Tuesday afternoon when I took my class up to the computer lab.  My students were creating Wordles on living things.  I allowed them to print the Wordles that they created.  One of my students came to me with a problem though.  She just printed her Wordle, but somehow some of the words down the right-hand margin were cut-off.  I told her that I thought that this was about as good as it was going to get.  This student didn’t like what I had to say though, so she came up with her own solution.  She opened up the Notebook software on the computer, took a screen capture of her Wordle, resized it, and exported it as a large JPEG file.  Then she re-printed … and success!  Oh my goodness!  I would have never thought of this solution, but this six-year-old knew what to do, and used the technology available to her to solve the problem independently.

Now let’s move ahead to Wednesday.  My students were beginning a new blog post on the SMART Board, and they ran into a problem.  One student thought that a particular word was a compound word and another student did not.  The two students came to me and asked if they could use Google to solve the problem.  I was sceptical, but I said to give it a try.  They typed the word into the Google search bar, looked on Google images, and found from the bolded words underneath the images that this word was not a compound word – problem solved!  The power of technology is unbelievable.

The final amazing moment came on Thursday though.  I just began new math centres with the class on Thursday, and one of them was a Wallwisher activity on measurement.  While I’ve used Wallwisher many times before, I was running into major problems getting the students to post sticky notes on the wall.  Error messages kept on appearing.  To problem-solve, I had the students use Google Docs to type in their posts, and at home that night, I copied and pasted their ideas onto the wall.  I just finished doing this when I got a tweet from one of my Grade 1 students.  She went onto Wallwisher and made her own wall on Valentine’s Day (embedded below).  This student told me to just sign-out of my account and try posting a sticky note then.  I tried … and it worked!  Using this same method, my class then added sticky notes to this student’s wall on Friday, and many of them, added more sticky notes on Friday night.  I love it that the Grade 1 student was the one that solved my technology problems for me!

I’m sure that I’m not the only one with these technology success stories though.  Please share your own here too.  I would love to hear them!


Contemplating Assessment And Evaluation

On Thursday, I had a very interesting conversation with my principal after school.  We are always talking about the use of technology in the classroom, and more recently, we have been talking a lot about how you assess or evaluate activities that students have completed using the SMART Board or various computer programs.  

Until recently, I have not spent much time thinking about this, as I’ve always used the same tools to assess and evaluate these activities as I do pencil and paper activities that my students complete.  Checklists, rubrics, anecdotal comments, and portfolio assessment are just a list of some of the tools that I use.  After Thursday’s conversation, I will continue to use these same methods for assessment and evaluation, but with one difference: I will be cognisant of the fact that I am assessing the activity and not necessarily the use of technology.

In Grade 1 it can be hard, as there is a difference in what most students can write on the computer as compared to using a pencil and paper.  Many young children are still developing their fine motor skills, so making uppercase and lowercase letters on the computer is much easier than it is with a pencil.  Students just need to learn where the Shift button is on the keyboard, but now that they know this, most students are far more consistent at using conventions when word processing as compared to when writing.  Many of the children also enjoy using the computer more for writing activities, and this motivation also plays an important role in what they produce.  I think of myself as an adult, and if I want to do something, I am more likely to do a good job at it, and students are the same way. 

With improved conventions coupled with the same good ideas that students were writing about with a pencil and paper, what they’re writing is significantly better than it was before, and this does tend to result in higher marks on any rubric or checklist that I may use. 

Do not just take my word for this though: have a look at some of the summaries that my students completed on Friday for their Friday Journal.  All week, we read The Hat by Jan Brett.  For Friday’s activity, the students needed to write about the main ideas in the book.  They are supposed to use this summary to help retell the story using the puppets that they made on Wednesday.  Students were provided with a copy of the book to share with a partner, and they could also use the Word Wall, their dictionaries, and the Wordle that we completed on Thursday to help them write their summaries.  To prepare them for future writing as part of DRA (the Developmental Reading Assessment), they were given the format of first, then, next, and finally to help with the retelling process.  While almost all of the students wanted to write their summaries on Google Docs, I only had eight computers to use, so I chose eight students to write them on the computers, with the promise that the other students could do this next week if they wanted. 

This was one of the biggest writing activities that we have completed so far in Grade 1, and the results were amazing.  It is incredible to think that most of the students are now using punctuation, capitals, and spaces correctly.  While before they were writing using predominantly initial and final sounds, now many of them are using conventional spelling or close approximations.  I know that I can’t attribute all of this growth to technology, but my students seem to be far more consistent when using the computer to write, and I do need to take this into consideration.

For others out there that use computers and/or SMART Boards for writing activities, what do you find?  Are your students better writers when using technology?  When assessing or evaluating what they complete, are you able to separate the technology aspect from the writing aspect, and if you so, what do you find?  I know that I’ve suggested here why I get these results, but does anybody else have any thoughts on why you get the results that you do?  I would love to hear what you have to say!