Chrome Squad – Elementary Edition (Part 2) Selecting Your Team

What is a Chrome Squad?

Just to give you the big idea here, in my building, you will see random students called “Chromies” proudly wearing a colorful Chrome Squad name badge with sparkling gems showing their “Acts of Chromie Kindness” that are earned when helping others to increase their tech skills in any capacity.

So, what if each of us had a trained “Chromie” in our classrooms to support us using our new Chromebooks? In this post, I am excited to share with you, my new ebook resource coming out in June 2017, Training Your Elementary Chrome Squad that may help you get started with your own “Elementary Chrome Squad” and provide content that is appropriate when introducing Google to our younger students. I feel very strongly that our primary students need to see early on that tech can be a fun learning tool before they can only see it as a toy.

Among all of the wonderful Google resources out there, it has been a challenge to find primary material that is relevant and scaffolded correctly so that our elementary kids have a solid foundation to build on. We cannot teach kids to use Google Docs to write a story when they do not know what a paragraph is and are still learning to write a sentence. In my own journey, I have tried to not only learn how to use G Suite for myself but to have my “Primary Teacher Lenses” out in the process so I can transpose what I learn for myself into relevant material for my students.

Selecting My First Elementary Chrome Squad Team

For me, selecting our 3rd-grade team this first year was fairly easy. I hand-picked them myself and began with a small group of 10 kids from my own 2nd-grade classroom from our previous school year. I already knew these students very well and had developed a trusting rapport with their parents. My Chromies needed to show certain traits that I later wove into our goals listed below: Respectful, Trustworthy, a reasonable amount of Self-Control (Remember, these are 6-9-year-olds) and a higher level of technological prowess than typical peers.  Next year, we will go through a more formal process with more classroom teacher input through a nomination process.

I believe that when beginning a program that has the potential to benefit and affect so many others, it is important to begin with your “Why?”. I felt that spending 25 years with K-3 children in a public school setting gave me a unique perspective for my “Why?”. With my experience, I understood what we were expecting our 21st Century students to learn and seeing that gap widen between expectations and what the kids were actually learning, I had to ask myself, “Why is this happening and what can I do about it?” “What if I skipped over the training of our beloved, overwhelmed teachers and focused on training a small group of kids to support classrooms instead?” If we wait until all of our teachers are trained to use our Edtech resources, we will be wasting so much time and besides, are any of us truly experts when technology is always changing and evolving? Our time is better spent learning alongside our students, modeling our growth mindset.

So, why am I doing this?

The answer was three-fold:

1. To help expedite the Edtech learning process for my fellow teachers and our students.

2. To give students an opportunity to work hard as a team to develop life-long Edtech skills.

3. To teach students to have an “Outreach Mindset” by reaching out to others with the valuable skills they learn.

With these three leading goals in mind, I needed to put together specific goals that were clear and kid-friendly. Together, we recited these 6 goals every time we met those first few weeks together.

Goals and Focus:

  1. Have a growth mindset.
  2. Help others to learn more about using technology in meaningful ways.
  3. Be respectful and respected.  We are all learners!
  4. Be diligent but understand when others have trouble
  5. Be problem solvers and creators
  6. Be awesome! 🙂

*Any printables you see in my posts like badges, suggested emails, or templates will be available in my upcoming ebook in June. 🙂

In my next post, I will share how we got started, soliciting administrator’s support, informing classroom teachers about our purpose so they knew how to help me with upcoming referrals and communicating with parents. Hint- Learning Management System!

 

 

“Chrome Squad”- Elementary Edition (Part 1 Intro.)

Ask Me, I Am a Chromie!

Are you teaching young children to use “G Suite”, formerly known as Google Apps For Education? With Chromebooks taking over as the device of choice for most districts, we as classroom teachers have an exciting yet challenging role to play in this transition to integrate technology into our classrooms. Most of us are in the process of learning how to use Google Suite ourselves, so teaching our young K-3 students what G Suite can do and how to use it in meaningful ways can appear to be a slow and daunting process. However, since no one can truly be a tech expert since technology changes so rapidly, we need to model a humble “Growth Mindset” and learn alongside our students or we will greatly inhibit the learning process for us all.  I am far from being an expert on Chromebook use in general, however, I am willing to share my insights and experiences as I am in the process of learning in hopes that my failures, successes and overall process will expedite yours. If you have read over any of my other posts, you will see that most of my G Suite experiences have been on iPads. That is about to change!

As I thought about how to best help my fellow teachers and students make confident gains toward learning Google Tools, I wondered if I should just start with teaching a few kids in each classroom to mentor others instead of training the teachers first like we have done so often in past professional development opportunities. It was then that I read an interesting post on Kasey Bell’s blog- “Shake Up Learning-Student Chrome Squad”. Her post was exactly what I needed! The post was actually written by a colleague of hers, Mr. Cody Holt from Royce City, Texas and was about how this former high school teacher, now a Digital Learning Specialist had developed a mentoring program to help manage his district’s 1:1 Chromebook program with a select group of high school students that he later called “The Chrome Squad”. My idea would take a more primary form of Cody’s Chrome Squad but I believed I was on to something!

Being a primary teacher, it is second nature to take a great learning opportunity that upper grades are participating in such as this and scale it down to a level that can benefit our younger students. I asked myself- “What if I took the same basic program that Cody began and made my own elementary version of it?” Student expectations would certainly look different but the overall goals would be the same. Students using what they learn to in turn help others.

I began my journey with 10 third grade students that I had in my class as second graders the year prior. I already knew the kids and the parents trusted me. (Scary thought, I know!) I selected my “Little Chromies” rather quickly as I kept in mind how Cody had selected his Chrome Squad.

In my next post, I will begin to walk you through my setup process, the attributes I looked for in our Little Chromies, our specific goals and how I began our first few sessions. As always, you can and should adjust your program given your own building variables.

 

 

7 Digital Handwriting Resources

7-digital-handwriting-resources

Handwriting in Our Digital Age- Controversy or Compliance?

 The topic of teaching handwriting in our schools today finds almost as loyal of followers as a hot political issue. Some parents and teachers are adamant that it is highly necessary, while other relent to the notion that our students will not spend their academic careers writing with a pencil in hand but typing on or speaking into a device. I would argue that we need both.

  As a Tech Integration Specialist and classroom teacher, I would be remiss to take a hard stance that teachers need to spend hours of class time giving instruction on proper grasp and strokes of letters, which I have done in the past. However, we forget that there is still a need to be able to read a variety of content that is handwritten. Reading someone’s writing is just as critical whether it be an important historical document in cursive or the favorite recipe printed by a special relative. Without some formal writing instruction, these treasured forms of communication are lost.

What Can You Use?

 I have seven great digital resources to share with you that I have used in my own classroom. Hopefully, they will make teaching handwriting much more engaging, efficient and meaningful for your students as well, without taking up an unreasonable amount of class time.

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  1. INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO- Proper grasp instruction  –  “Pinch & Flip Method” video from Sara McClure From Happy Brown House.com 

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2. INTERACTIVE HANDWRITING SITE –

Lowercase ManuscriptLowercase Cursive by HandwritingForKids.com I absolutely love this resource because I can open this page on the Smartboard, click on the letter I am instructing during a quick transition time, like a restroom break and it loops through the strokes like a GIF file, actually showing each stroke as I circulate the room for instruction. (A little hint, to make the image larger on your computer, use the keyboard shortcut- “COMMAND” and the “+” to enlarge and “COMMAND” and the “-” to reduce size.)

3. APPS-

iTrace –  itrace-app  ios $3.99 – Kid friendly interface and options to customize and track children’s progress.

Writing Wizardwriting-wizard-app ios  $4.99 – Students trace letters using stickers, animation and sound effects

Cursive Writing HD – cursive-hd-app ios $.99 – This cursive app teaches children upper and lowercase strokes and how to connect letters in words.

Letter School- letter-school-app ios $4.99 – This is my favorite app because the visual and audio effects are so cute!

4. SPELLING CITY PRINTOUTS-

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Vocabulary Spelling City is one of my all-time favorite classroom resources (Web Tools and App) and gets better every month! I could write multiple posts on this awesome online tool for language arts but for the purpose of this post, I want to share the option for you or parents to print out handwriting papers for whatever word lists the kids are working on in either manuscript or cursive! Isn’t that awesome? You go to the list that you have either imported or created yourself and click on the “Handwriting Worksheets” tab as illustrated above.

Do you have great handwriting resources to share? I would love to add yours to my collection. 🙂

3 High-Tech Formative Assessments for Fact Fluency Data

3 Fact Fluency Resources

It is the time of year that we are trying to not only get to know our students personally, but to learn more about where they are in our assigned academic areas. To do this, we use an arsenal of varied formative assessments to gather the data we need but a big concern for teachers has always been the laborious task of finding, copying, administering, collecting, grading and reporting that information. We live in exciting times, my dear teachers! We have access to so many digital resources that have the ability to make this task easier and engaging for our students. We are hearing more and more about how we need to have a more personalized learning environment in our classrooms and that require more frequent formative assessments in order to group kids into their personalized leveled groups. In this post, I am focusing on three suggested resources to help you with one curricular area, Math Fact Fluency.

Below are three very valuable resources I have used and LOVED in my own classroom not only to give my kids skill and drill practice but to have them participate in high-tech activities that actually teach them new concepts and gather data at the same time. We can then use this data to track progress and share with support staff, parents and most importantly, the kids! Each of these resources give immediate feedback in some sort of “Gamified” format. As we know, our students take greater ownership in their learning outcomes if they are involved in the goal setting, feedback and tracking of their skills.

Many teachers and parents are so accustomed to paper-pencil timed tests that totally stress children out! The digital resources I have to share, alleviate most of that stress because of the privacy of their stats.

Of the three resources, one is an app and only available using an iPad but the other two are web tools and can be used on either an iPad server app like Chrome or Safari or using a Chromebook/laptop.

timed test arcade

#1. Timed Test Arcade– $1.99 iPad and iPhone versions. There is a free version that only tracks addition facts.

I love this app for so many reason but the biggest reason is that it is a way to fully customize students’ math fact fluency timed test from addition and subtraction to multiplication and division and grade them right away for immediate and private feedback on their score. These scores are saved in the app to track progress and can be emailed to parents.

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Just select or add new student, set up the testing parameters, like operation, digits and time then click “Go!”.

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The app can collect data on multiple students, just remind them to make sure they have logged in as themselves.

#2. Mobymax.com is one of my absolute favorite go-to digital resources for all curricular areas! It is considered an “Adapted Learning Platform” or affectionately known as an ALP. In my opinion, it is a powerhouse for math instruction and data collection. This site has been around for years as “Moby Math” so math is certainly it’s strength. For fact fluency, Mobymax has a tab that gathers great data on the specific facts that students know. It does not have a time test element like the previous app but it does average how long each session took.

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There is a free version of Mobymax to try for as long as you like and for as many kids as you like but the true power is in the data collected as the kids go through each lesson. At the time of this post, a Teacher Pro license is $99 unlimited students and a School Pro Unlimited license is only $1300. Mobymax has more features than I can possibly go into due to the topic of this post but I HIGHLY recommend that you click on the link above and check out all of the other wonderful tools Mobymax has to offer! You will be so happy that you did. My coworkers and parents were so impressed when they saw all it can do and the developers are continually adding more usable features.

#3. Xtramath.org – A free web tool but $4.99 ios app.

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This is a great tool for quick and easy assessments that also track and report fact fluency progress to parents. I used this after recess everyday as the kids took a restroom break so as not to take up any instructional time. Parents really liked having it to use at home as well. The link above has a nice little 1 minute video overview for you.

I hope these resources are as helpful to you as they are to me and become a valued part of your fact fluency arsenal of formative assessments. 🙂

*BTW- If you are interested in a more extensive list of math apps, I have another blog post that breaks my favorite apps down into stages of number sense. Just click on the Math Category to your right.

Reading Log with Written Response Choices and Leveled Book Links

As I began thinking about getting ready to set up my classrooms this year, one of my goals for this summer was to make some adjustments to my students’ weekly reading log.  The main changes were to post a link for “Just Right” book lists since I often get the question- “What books should my child be reading and where can I get them?”.

I plan to share this Reading Log with parents via email in a Google Doc for parents to upload and print for themselves at home. I have my finished “View Only” Google Doc link below . You will need to make a duplicate/copy if you need to make changes to it. Hopefully it is helpful to you and many parents. 🙂

Weekly Reading Log with Written Response Ideas and DRA Level

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My Top 55 “Must Have” Apps & Webtools for a Personalized K-3 Classroom

55 Must Have Apps

After four years of implementing a personalized classroom environment, I am often asked about my favorite apps and web tools to match our Common Core subject areas. This is just like asking a teenager what their favorite song is or asking an 8 year old what their favorite movie is. We are always evolving and changing our “Favorites”. So, I was finally able to narrow down a list in a clickable Google Doc below that includes my top 55 “Must Have” apps and web tools. This is by no means a conclusive list. It took me hours to prioritize my original list of 112. I know, I have issues! 🙂 I cannot help myself, I absolutely love finding and trying out new technology that will make our jobs easier and engage our students. Enjoy!

Here is my View Only link:

55 Top Elementary Tech Resources Used in High-Tech K-3 Classrooms

Coding for Young Children- Not Just for Big kids!

Teach Coding To Young Children- Loopimal

Loopimal- This App Will Be Your Favorite, Too!

Loopimal App

I just had to write about my favorite coding app for young children PreK-2nd- “Loopimal” by YATATOY, available on iTunes for $2.99. It basically introduces sequencing, necessary to coding skills by allowing children to assign patterns of hilarious movements and music to each animal highlighted on the screen. Up to four adorable animals can be dancing at once. I guarantee that you will be anxious to try it out on your own children or grandchildren and even for yourself! I played with it for over an hour the first time I opened it. 🙂

The “Geeks With Juniors” Blog, has a more in depth review along with a quick one minute video demonstrating what the app looks and sounds like.

They have recently updated the app with even more choices of cute animals- Mammoth, Yeti, Octopus, Bear, Bird, Pig, Sloth, Hippo and a Panda.

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I would highly recommend YATATOY’s suite of other creative apps-

Drawnimal app          Miximal App

Drawnimal- iTunes- $1.99                Miximal- iTunes- $1.99 – This app is not only great fun but teaches kids syllabication.

Personalized Reading for Elementary Students

Personalize Learning for Elementary Reading Using Booster App #2

A New Way to Personalize Reading- Place, Pace and Path

The only thing I love more than finding a great resource that fits a Personalized Learning Path, is sharing it with other teachers! So here it is, Reading Comprehension Booster app by John Stump for $3.99. My class has been using this app for a few years now and is one of the few apps that I keep going back to. This blog- Ideas For Educators.com has some great screenshots and a video to show the kids how to navigate through the app.

Students select a “Just Right” book, and follow the series of Bookmarks to track student comprehension skills. As you can see in the image above, my student selected a “Little’s” book and recorded the story elements as she read through the book. We used paper books and ebooks, like Epic! or Farfaria. (See other posts in my blog feed for many other awesome digital reader resources.) She had the option to type and even record her voice on each Bookmark page. I love this because it holds the kids accountable as they read and allows for differentiation including non-readers. My students were so engaged and eager to share their “Booster” with each other. All I did was monitor those that had trouble selecting a “Just Right”book, funny how it is always the same kids, and helped a few kids answer questions. It is truly amazing to watch our little digital natives navigate through digital resources intuitively! I learn from them everyday! Each Bookmark page, shown below records- Prediction, Characters, Setting, Story Sequence, Main Idea and extended responses like Connections and Create Your Own Story.

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Recording in a noisy classroom can be a challenge but we used a “Chatterbox” Portable Recording Booth (Also shown in the image above) that you can find on Amazon. This allows the kids to stay in the room where I can monitor and support them more easily. My students used to ask to leave the room to find a quieter place to record. Is that even possible in any elementary school? I think not! 🙂

I would love to answer any questions or comments you have, so please leave a comment and possibly your email address.

Using Spelling City with Gifted Spellers- A Two Week Study Plan

Spelling City- Gifted Students Blog Post

Help with Word Study Differentiation? Yes, Please!

It would be very difficult for me to fully express how much I love using Spelling City in my classroom because this digital resource (App and web tool) alone has truly made differentiating word study for my students so much more manageable for me and more engaging for them. Those of us that are implementing the “Words Their Way” word study program by Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, have found a variety of ways to manage the daunting task using station activities and paper resources, which I do use as recommended in their book. As primary educators, we know that hands on activities and opportunities to work collaboratively are extremely important, especially for our “At-Risk” students. They need more targeted and frequent practice along with solid phonemic instruction, which Spelling City offers plenty of digital support for these students.

I used to use the free features for Spelling City but when I saw the advantages of the premium subscription, I was hooked and better yet, so were my kids! Right now and subjected to change, Spelling City’s yearly subscription is about $55 for up to 25 students and prorated after that but so worth it! I cannot imagine running my personalized learning stations without it. Spelling City gives my students independent opportunities to practice their own individualized list at school and at home using engaging activities that model necessary language skills in context, take practice tests with immediate feedback to monitor their own learning behaviors and allows parents and I “real-time” results to see progress! 

The focus of this post however, is to specifically address how I use Spelling City to enrich and motivate my higher performing students in the area of Word Study. At the beginning of the year, many of my students were performing beyond the “Primary Inventory” level and ready for the “Elementary Inventory” level skills. They quickly mastered the Within Word and Syllables & affixes stage. By mid-year, they needed more vocabulary development and their engagement level needed to be revived. Our standardized test scores also showed vocabulary development as an area of deficit for all of our kids.

That was when I decided to allow my advanced level word study group of five students to select their own words to work on, each student selecting five words. The engagement level and skill challenge increased 100%! It was fun to watch them at first, selecting the biggest words they could find and smiling with pride as they presented them to the group as optional words for their two week study. They quickly realized that not only was it was too hard for them to keep up with the expectation of spelling all 25 of those words but it was also a huge challenge to have the added expectation of knowing their definitions as well. Experience truly is the best teacher. 🙂

Here are the steps we came up with and have happily followed ever since. Basically, students spend two weeks on a list so the first week they select their words and spend the first week on vocabulary development/meaning and week two on actually spelling those words correctly, ending the week with a digitally administered test.

Day 1- Students Select Words- Students collaborate, select and write down their five words from various resources, mostly paper and digital dictionaries. I also ask them to try to choose at least one challenging word from our content units like “investigation” or “evaporation” depending on our current Science or Social Studies unit. You can see the actual picture of my students’ written list on the picture above with their words under each student’s name. I then check over the list to see if it is ready for Day 2.

Day 2- Day 5- Words Entered Into Spelling City & Begin– I train one student to enter the newly selected words into a new list on our class Spelling City account for me. From there, they happily train each other to complete the next list. Day 2 also brings the first day of developing student vocabulary acquisition of the words on their list through the Vocabulary and Language Arts activities located on the “Activities and Games ” page in the rows on the bottom right hand corner of the premium section show below. Looking over the menu of activities, they are sorted by content areas, Phonics, Spelling, Writing, Vocabulary and Language Arts.

Spelling City Vocab. Screen Shot

Here is a screenshot of one of my favorite matching activities from the vocabulary activites:

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Day 6-Day 13-  Students select from several activities to practice by hearing their words in context, sorting spelling patterns and applying what they learn. All activities are monitored in “Real Time” (Okay, I just keep refreshing my browser) by percentages in the “My Records” tab for Parents and the “Results” tab for myself. Day 13 brings a practice spelling test which we have affectionately called a “Gray Button Practice Test” that can be taken as many times as they want but students can only take one final “Red Button” spelling test on Day 14 that can only be deleted and retaken if the teacher deletes it so the student can retake the test for a better score. I require my kids to pass with an 80% before considering them to be ready for the next list.

Day 14-  “Red Button” test day! The beauty of using Spelling City on this day is that the kids get immediate feedback on their score and a huge time saving feature for me. Now, reverting back to the belief that our young kids still need to handwrite their work, I alternate a digital test with a written test every other list, so grading a paper word sort once a month is so much better than twice a month. In my initial picture above, you can see a student playing his auditory list on his iPad and writing the words sorted in the correct columns, also a huge time saver for class time. Kids do not need to wait their turn to hear me orally give four to five spelling tests. Pretty amazing!

I have received a great deal of positive feedback from students, parents and my colleagues on this study plan. I would love to hear your story as well! 🙂