Kindergarten Teacher

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Gripcase: iPad Case for Young Kids

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Gripcase and LetterSchool app

I often get asked what case I use in my classroom for the iPad. Until recently I didn’t have a favorite and would send a link to a cheap and simple case from Amazon. At the end of last year Gripcase contacted me about trying out their case. Full disclosure, they sent me one to try for free but the case is typically $40. I checked out the product online and agreed to try out the case without any promises. Now that I have had time to use this case in my classroom and see who it works I am happy to say it is a wonderful case for young kids and kids with special needs. I especially like the available stand for this case and the kids enjoy using it.  **Every time I show an iPad picture on my blog someone asks about the app so I will go ahead and share that they are using LetterSchool app. This is one of the first academic apps my class uses. It is fun, creative and does help with learning letters. If you teach kids that are learning letters it is a must have app.

Highlights of Gripcase: 

– Very easy to “install” and has never come out of the case

– Easy for kids to carry, the handles on all sides makes it perfect for small hands to hold

– Most cases that offer this level of protection are very bulky. The Gripcase does increase the “footprint” of the iPad but it is not bulky.

– It really does protect the iPad. Regardless how it falls the iPad is protected. Especially the corners, and yes I tried.

– The material is soft yet not fragile.

– The stand is wonderful (separate purchase)

– All the ports are easily accessible (see headphone concern below)

Concerns for Gripcase:

–  Headphone port access might not work for all headphones. I wish the access point was a little larger but it has not been an issue for us thus far.

– The case might not fit into charging stations

Check out the video below if you want to see a video review and I have also posted a few more pictures below the video.

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Online Visual Timers: Powerful Tool for Young Kids

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These timers are a major part of my classroom management. Young kids do so much better when they understand when things will happen next and the timers give them the ability to monitor their work and be prepared for a transition. I show one of these timers for almost all of our centers. Today I introduced them to the class and was reminded how much the kids like being able to know when something is going to happen. I was amazed how over half the class starting cleaning up on their own as the timer got near the end. The best part of these is they all show the kids  the countdown in a visual way. I typically use the candle, countdown, bar or egg timer in my room. There are others that I use for special occasions on the site but they tend to get the kids over excited. As with any new tool you show in the class the kids watch (or obsess) over the timer a lot in the beginning but because we use them every day all year that novelty wears off fast.

Online Visual Timers

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Be Brave Logo for the Classroom

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I am excited so many people have taken the “Be Brave” rule in my class (read more about it here) and modified it to work for their classroom! I wanted to share an image I created using the font from the movie Brave. I photoshopped the “b’ and “e” to create “Be Brave.” Use as you wish in your classroom but please don’t include this in anything you plan to sell. I hope everyone has a Brave year!

Download the Be Brave .png file here

Download the Be Brave .jpeg file here

Download the name tags I created here

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Technology in the Classroom, What is the Focus?

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This is a repost from last year. I think this is a good time to share again as many prepare for the start of school (or for those just beginning) 

In college I remember learning about how important it was to always mention the child first when discussing special needs. They are children first so it was important to say a “child with autism” rather than an “autistic child”. I had never thought of the importance of that before discussing it in class but that really hit home with me and I have always tried to make sure not only mentioned the child first but made sure to recognize the child before the disability.

That lesson came to mind this week when I was asked about technology goals. Someone mentioned to me their goal was to use more technology in the room and asked what I suggested. This teacher is doing great things in the class and we chatted about ideas to increase the technology in her room. After the discussion I began to wonder how often teachers have that goal: “Use more technology in the room.” This thought concerns me because much like the child with a disability we should always be thinking of the learning first when discussing technology. I love technology and strive to incorporate it in my classroom daily but my goals are never about the technology themselves. When I see a new tool I don’t try to incorporate it simply because it is new and cool. It is important that I see an opportunity to encourage, foster or enhance learning with that tool. So I came up with the top reasons I use technology in the class.

Click each one for an example:

 Helps my students connect with the outside world

– Helps us document learning

 Allows us to do or see things we couldn’t without the tool

– Encourages creativity

– Provides novelty to a learning goal (especially for struggling kids)

– Gives my students a voice in their learning

  Allows my students to create stories without letting writing ability slow them down

– Encourages parent engagement or helps connect home/school

– Makes learning meaningful

 Provides constant feedback for the kids (virtual teacher)

– Helps me manage things

What would you add to this list? Have other examples, please post a link in the comments!

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Be Brave: The Only Rule In My Kindergarten Class

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This year will be my third year with a one rule classroom. Be brave! That is our only “rule.” I wish I could put into words how powerful this rule has been in my class but really there is no way to for me to articulate it. Be brave is the perfect theme, motto or “rule” for any class. It helps with bullying, friendships, tying shoes, monkey bars, missing Mom, touching worms, tasting new food, etc. Be brave is exactly the type of attitude needed for young kids. Every day they are faced with challenges as they grow up into this big world. If the only thing I teach them is that they can “be brave,” I have succeeded. (Find the logo and name tags I created here)

Without rules my room must be a crazy mess, right? Well maybe sometimes but that isn’t due to the lack of rules. I have expectations in my class. I expect the kids to treat each other with respect. I expect them to carry the iPad correctly. I expect them to clean up their messes. I don’t have rules. What is the difference? Rules are restricting and demanding. In my mind, rules tell the class that I am in control of their behavior and my goal is they realize they are in control. Beyond that, I have learned that by removing the rules I have the freedom to handle every situation and every child in a unique way.

I also do not use any rewards or a behavior management system in my class. I have written about my reasoning and journey to remove rewards from the class (read here) and it really has been a journey. I started with sticker charts and a treasure box just like most teachers. I also have used many different forms of behavior charts. My friend Miss Night does a great job of articulating the reasons I avoid using these systems on her blog post “Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior management: relationships not systems.”  The big “light bulb” moment for me was when I realized that most behavior management systems are a form of control. The teacher is the one in control and I want my kids to learn to be in control. They learn by practicing and through mistakes not by being managed. I think Miss Night sums it up perfectly, “I have relationships, not systems.” I may have to work a little harder without stickers and treasure digs but in the end the relationships built and ability to customize how I handle every situation has led to a much healthier environment and happier classroom.

I might just add these words from Christopher Robin to our class this year: “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”

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Teachers Pay Teachers- The Sequel

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Valentine’s Day- decorate the teacher

So my last post did what I intended, it made people think. Way more people than I EVER imagined but obviously it was a topic many had opinions about from both sides of the aisle. I tried not to attack but it is hard to question a person’s thinking without that happening — not impossible, but difficult. Before I get into “the sequel” post let me tell you a little about me…

I am an early childhood educator. Teaching kids is all I have ever done. I taught swim lessons as my first ever job, worked at a daycare through high school and paid my way through college working at another daycare. I graduated with an early childhood degree and my first and only job has been teaching Kindergarten. This coming year will be my 14th year teaching. My journey was not that smooth. I never quite fit the mould of the Kindergarten teacher and was actually told by my professors I would be “the worst teacher in the history of teaching.” Why? Because when I turned in my final end of teaching unit it was in a plain three-ring binder. No glitter, colored pages, feathers, cute font, or perfume spritz all over it. It was simply a binder and my lessons. Great lessons if you ask me, I worked HARD on those lessons to meet the needs of the kids I was teaching. Yet, I got all C’s and was told I would fail as a teacher. Despite that I held firm that the key to teaching was relationships, and that those relationships would make me a success in the classroom. Then I walked into my first class the week before school started and I panicked. What if parents judged me day one based on the room, what if other teachers talked in the workroom about my lack of decorations, what if the kids noticed… I went home and asked my wife to help me decorate. I fell victim to the pressure of cute.

Much has changed and I am more confident now. I have my own style. I want other teachers to feel like they can have their own style and if they don’t have one to be able to build that in a way that is genuine. Teaching is a field full of passion. That is what the TPT post showed me more than anything. We are a passionate bunch and it warms my heart.

So here is my main question: How can we help teachers (especially new teachers) sort through all the resources? Since TPT is the only online resource I am aware of (apparently there are many) that is what I focused on. Where on the site is the discussion and passion that I saw in the comments? Those defending TPT: how do you help teachers find the best materials on the site and get across that they are not the end all be all? I had so many great comments from those that love TPT and I want the wonderful views you had to be part of the site. We can all agree there is junk on the site mixed in with awesomesauce. I heard many times that teachers need to search for the great content on TPT but that seems to go against the notion of it saving them time to use the site. Where is the dialogue happening and how can we make it better?

My second question: How can we bring together Team Cute and Team No Cute? For those of you selling there was an overwhelming response about the cute and I hope you were listening. Sounds like there is a market for a toned down version of what you are doing along with a market for the cute. I mentioned cute because I wanted to “air out” the pressure (see what I did there) that teachers often feel about making their room fit the primary grade standard. The pressure is real and many teachers feel it. My hope is that both teams can see the value in teachers doing what feels most comfortable to them. If you love cute and design is your thing go for it but be conscious of how you react and discuss rooms with others. If you despise cute you must also be conscious of how you react and discuss. We must all keep the focus where it belongs — the children — and I doubt anyone needs a reminder of that. My last point about cute, though, is: What about the boys in your class? Many approaches to cute, themed classroom decor have a very feminine look to them. Everywhere I go I am told we need more males in the classroom yet we all know that is not going to happen. What we really need is the female teachers to work to offer the things they feel a male teacher provides. Beyond that, what about the girls? What message are we sending the girls when we place so much emphasis on appearances?I understand that you spend 36 weeks per year in your classroom and you want to be comfortable, but the reality is: our rooms are not for us, they are for ALL our students. Balance is key.

This blog is a reflection of my thoughts. I love that people view it but the bottom line is I post how I feel. It is how I reflect on what I am doing and my attempt to be a better teacher, nothing more. I hope that you will comment, I appreciate thoughts that pushback against what I post as long as they are civil. Dialogue is valuable and welcome on any of my posts! I hope everyone has a wonderful summer and great start to the school year.

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