Tag Archives: tech tools

Using Tech to Ground & Engage Your Classroom

Often times, technology is touted as either a solution to the problems in education or a growing concern we need to address as students spend more and more time in front of a screen. I want to touch on the idea of tech as neither a solution or a concern, but simply a tool, and a great one to have in your classroom when you want to create a positive environment.

I have found technology to be invaluable tool in helping me keep track of tasks,  organize my schedule, and maintain a good work-life balance as an educator and a professional. Apps like Lift, Headspace, Wunderlist and Supercal, provide support in building new habits, meeting goals, being more mindful and keeping track of everything that’s involved with coordinating technology at my school. I think it’s important to introduce similar, developmentally appropriate, tools to our students to help them see how they can use technology as a tool in their school and home lives to stay healthy and organized.

GoNoodle Brain Breaks

Hurdle Stretch

Stretching Before the 100M Hurdles

I recently learned about a new tool called GoNoodle that offers a variety of free brain breaks that you can use in the classroom. It’s ideal for elementary students but I think some of the activities could be used with middle or even high school classes that need a break or some exercise. One of the things I love about the tool is that it provides different types of breaks (e.g., calming, energizing, focusing) and most of the activities range between 2-5 minutes long. This means that I can easily squeeze a GoNoodle activity into my Maker Club agenda after school or even during a short thirty-minute tech time with students.

Since GoNoodle is web-based, I can access it from any computer, regardless of what classroom I’m in and it really seems to help students get ready for work, especially after recess, when they’re a bit wound up, or at the end of the day when they’re starting to feel tired.

GoNoodle allows you to set up a classroom (or multiple classes if you teach more than one) and choose a Champ to act as your class character/avatar. The champs grow as your class completes more activities, motivating students to participate and try new brain breaks.

Champ_1

GoNoodle has been particularly helpful with my Maker Club students because at ages 5-8, they’ve already had a long day when they come to see me after school and as much as they want to dive into making, they’re often feeling restless, wiggly, and tired. We often do activities with Maximo, who guides the students through yoga poses and helps them focus, or we do one of the Zumba activities to get everyone up and moving! If you have a longer block of time or indoor recess (we have had a lot of them this winter!), you could easily combine a few activities together and get closer to increasing your class champ level.

Using GoNoodle Video

Since I have also been exploring mindfulness for the past year, I really appreciate the “Airtime” break because it helps my students gain an awareness of their breath and take time to just breathe. A number of classes at my school have started using GoNoodle for brain breaks and I’m excited to see each class grow their own champ and begin to develop their favorite brain breaks, just like they have favorite greetings for morning meeting.

GoNoodle is also running a fun contest this month on Pinterest where every week, a teacher will win a GoNoodle Madness classroom pack! To enter, you can pin an image in this post or anything from GoNoodle.com and then tag your pins with @GoNoodleBreaks and #GoNoodleMadness!

Stop, Breathe & Think

If you want to go deeper into mindfulness with your classroom, the Stop, Breathe & Think app is another wonderful (and free!) app that you can use. It prompts students to first stop and assess how they’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is something older students could do independently or younger ones could do with the guidance of a teacher.

You can choose up to five emotions from an extensive list, organized on a spectrum from happy to angry, and then the app provides a list of suggested mediations in response to those emotions. Each meditation is between 3-9 minutes so if you’re short on time, you can always choose a quick one from the list.

The app provides an audio-guided meditation that eases the listener into and out of the meditation with student-friendly language. Similar to leveling up with the GoNoodle champs, you can earn stickers as you complete more meditations in the app. If you can sense a certain mood with a specific student or among your class, you can also go into the app and choose any of the meditations from the list without filling out the self-assessment.

I think the app could be great to use as a whole class in the morning or after lunch and it could also be nice as a center or even for individual use, if you have devices available that a child could take to a corner to find some “headspace” if they’re feeling unsettled.

What kind of brain breaks and activities do you use in your classroom?

Do you have a favorite tech tool you can share to help teachers engage their classroom and create a positive learning environment? 

Frustrations with Flip Books

To close out the first week of my digital storytelling explorations for #etmooc, I decided to try two new tools. I’ll talk about one in this post and the second in another post because (while writing) I realized each one requires a fairly detailed explanation. The first is FlipToon, which is an iPhone app that allows you to create flip books. I downloaded it as a free app a few days ago (it’s now 99 cents) and when I started thinking of ways to create and share digital stories, I realized it could be a fun medium to try.

To begin, I looked over the basic how-to screen before starting in on a test story. It took me a little while to figure out how I could manipulate images within one page with the copy/crop feature and how I could start with the same image on the next page with the “previous page copy” button. Having all of these options always on the screen means that the icons are quite small and the workspace is also pretty tight. I struggled to get my drawings to look how I wanted and thought more about how valuable a stylus might be for this type of activity. Have other people found them to be helpful for writing or art projects?

fliptoon howto

After I finally felt comfortable with all of the tools and capabilities of the app, I thought about what I wanted to animate. I tried a few different sketches in color and black and white and finally settled on the idea of drawing a dancing ballerina. I realized that with my limited drawing skills, it would take far too long for me to add color to every page if I wanted to use different images so I stuck to black and white and began sketching.

After a few pages, I decided to make my closing image have a touch of color and I used the pink pencil to add some color to the ballerina’s tutu. Then I put on a cover page and added a title: A Ballare (which means to dance in Italian). The idea I had in my head of the dancer gracefully flowing and twirling reminded me of the flow and cadence of Italian, which I love.

Unfortunately, once my story was finished, I started running into problems. First, when I went to create a movie of my book, I realized that I had added an extra page at the end of the book. I went back to edit but couldn’t find a way to remove it. I worked for a while, adding one final, “final” page so the story wouldn’t end with a blank page and then returned to try to make my movie. Next, I tried to add some music for my ballerina to dance to but the player kept freezing and a few times after selecting a song, it was silent when I played my movie. Luckily, along the way, I saved one copy of my story to my photo album because then the most frustrating development occurred … the app froze to the point that I had to shut it down and close it and when I re-started it … my story was gone!

There’s no ability to save your story within the app as you’re working on it (aside from leaving it open in the app … assuming it doesn’t freeze). This means that you can’t return to edit a story you were working on earlier or re-open an earlier story and add more to it or re-import your story if the app freezes and you lose your work! After all of the time I spent working on my drawings, I couldn’t bring myself to start again so instead, I took the earlier copy I had saved to my photo album and sent it to my computer. Then I put it into iMovie and added my music there, with a little title slide and uploaded it to Vimeo so I could share it with all of you.

A Ballare from Maggie Powers on Vimeo.

While I love the idea of making flip books on mobile devices and being able to share stories this way, I’ve deleted FlipToon from my library for now. I’m guessing and hoping there are other apps out there with similar capabilities but I don’t want to run the chance of my own (or my students’) work being lost because of the app limitations.

Building an Infographic? Begin with a Blueprint.

infographic data

Recently, I had the chance to design and create my first infographic for some survey data collected on technology use in early childhood education. I was excited by the opportunity because it presented a new challenge and the chance to expand my tech skills in a new area.

I began, as I often do, with research. I reviewed some of my favorite infographics that I have saved on Pinterest to get a feel for what I was  looking for in my design. Then, I did a few Google searches to see what the top hits were for “creating infographics,” “designing your own infographic” and similar keywords. I was surprised at how old many of the top hits were, especially with sites like visua.ly recently launching their “create” function.

Still, after some digging I was able to find some good resources. There are a number of different sites that can help you create your own infographic. They vary in price and functionality and since I wasn’t interested in the $2,500 starting price for a custom infographic at visual.ly and needed to do more than pull data from Twitter or Facebook, I searched for other tools. I found infogr.am, which lets you choose from a few templates and then upload or add your data but there wasn’t an easy way to add my own icons, which was important for my design plan. Next, I discovered Piktochart and found that I could have a lot of flexibility with the colors, fonts, icons, and charts I used, even with their free service. Another platform, easl.ly, looks like it could also be promising but it’s still in beta and I found it after I had made my infographic and had some trouble with it freezing. Finally, this post on creating infographics just came out on 6/12 and has a number of additional resources.

Since I knew I wanted customized icons to clearly represent my data, I chose Picktochart as my platform and began to explore what was possible with the site and how to arrange my data. I quickly discovered that before I could make progress with my digital infographic, I needed to revert to old-fashioned pen and paper and sketch out a blueprint of my idea. In order for the content to be organized and flow methodically, I had to work out the connections between each piece of data and which ones were best displayed via a graph versus icons versus text. Ultimately, I used the key questions of: Who?, What?, When?, How?, and Why? (and why not?) to structure the flow of the data. Then after outlining everything on paper, I returned to Piktochart to put my blueprint into a digital format.

I adjusted the theme colors and fonts and then began searching Icon Archive for symbols that would represent my data (e.g., a smartphone). You can upload a maximum of 5 images under 1 MB using the free version of Piktochart and I have to say that when I ran into trouble deleting images (the trick is to delete them under Manage Uploads), their customer support was very responsive and helpful! After adding all of my icons and creating a systematic way of presenting each of my big questions, I reviewed my infographic in its entirety and asked a few colleagues to check it over. A second pair of eyes is always helpful to make sure the information will flow and make sense to another audience.

After that, I downloaded my infographic as an image (if you have the paid version you can also download the HTML) and now it’s ready for the world to see! You can find a small clip of it below and the full version is available on ecetech.net.

infographic

Tech Tools for Parent Engagement

This week during #ecetechchat we discussed different tech tools that can be used to help create and sustain parent engagement in your early childhood program. I think there are a number of great tech tools (many listed below) that are available today to help teachers easily connect and engage with their parents on a regular basis. And as we discussed during the chat, engaging with parents and building those relationships is vital to creating a strong, connected class community because it allows for a whole new level of home-school collaboration.

One of the key points I took away from the chat was the power of tech tools to help teachers engage parents in starting a cycle of engagement that facilitates learning at home and can then replenish the classroom community with new energy. Basically, by engaging parents, you are providing them with new ideas and activities for discussion with their children at home. Parents are then able to engage with their children about what they are learning at school and talk about new topics and ideas, which children can then bring back into the classroom, completing the cycle.

To get that cycle started, it’s important to check in and survey the parents in your classroom to learn about their existing tech knowledge and comfort. Something emphasized in the chat was to provide multiple venues for engagement (e.g., phone, email, social media) and to meet parents where they already engage. So if all of your parents are on Facebook and that site is allowed at your school, look into creating a private group for your class that you can update with pictures and notes about your classroom activities throughout the day. @Matt_Gomez shared a great piece about using Facebook with his Kindergarten class.

For parent engagement to be sustainable, especially through technology, we agreed that there needs to be support from the administration so they can model appropriate engagement and endorse the use of specific tools or websites. Unfortunately, many schools have blocked social media sites and other online spaces that make sharing easy. One way to work with that issue is to talk to your administration about creating an Acceptable Use Policy as @cybraryman1 suggested and think about what type of specific Social Media Policy you want or need for your classroom. With young children, you cannot be too protective of their privacy, so think carefully about what permissions you set on any social media sites you use and before you create a social community for your class, build a social (personal) learning network for yourself so you become comfortable with the tools and online spaces.

That said, social media and other tech tools will likely be foreign to some/many administrators, colleagues, and parents so you may experience some push-back from trying to introduce something new. Take calculated risks and if you believe the tool will help foster meaningful engagement, ask your administrator if you can at least have a trial run. Some parents might just be afraid of the technology, which is why teacher-parent tech nights can be a great way to build strong relationships with your parents while also helping them learn some new skills. During #ecetechchat we also discussed this idea as a way to help bridge the digital divide and help parents learn and use technology that they may not have access to at home. Another idea is to invite volunteers from a local college or organization to come teach the children, parents, and/or other teachers about new tech tools they can use to engage with one another.

Ultimately, the teacher-parent relationships are the most important piece and technology remains just one tool to facilitate the development and support of those relationships. So, make your engagement proactive instead of reactive and contact parents in as many ways as possible, as often as possible, to share child photographs (worth 10,000 words when it’s your child), videos, notes, work, and more with parents!

Here are some of the tech tools we discussed to engage with parents. If you have more ideas, please add them to our shared #ecetechchat Google Doc!

Tech Tools for Parent Engagement

  • School Website – post updates about your class
  • Class Blog – post about classroom activities and pictures/videos
  • Social Media
  • YouTube – upload videos of children in the classroom
  • Voicethread – digital slide show tool, allows parents to comment
  • Podcasts – of children working, classroom activities, etc
  • Music Playlists – send playlists home of songs you listen to in class
  • Digital Photographs – posted on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, child portfolio, etc
  • PhotosCaps & Skitch –  let you caption your photos and quickly share and save them
  • Evernote – create individual child portfolios to share with parents
  • Skype – video chat with parents
  • Symbaloo – share mixes with sites for children to play/practice skills
  • Tungle.me – schedule meetings with parents
  • Digital storytelling tools (e.g., Storybird) parents can view or make at home
  • Email 
  • Text Message
  • Phone Calls