Thursday, December 19, 2013

The One Where We Showcase our iPads

Yesterday I invited parents to our class for an overview of the iPads (which includes our district philosophy regarding them) as well as a question and answer session. During this time, the students were out of the room at specials.

When they returned, students shared with parents some of the amazing work they have been creating in class. Their projects, which included a Skitch/Tellegami/iMovie App Smash involving Reading Vocabulary and a "Geometry in the Real World Scavenger Hunt" which involved Skitch, Photo Booth, iMovie and (for some) Garageband, were simply incredible and (as my colleague Brent Catlett noticed) the kids were SO excited to play their creations for them - most of them turned their heads to watch their parent's reactions to what they had made. Very inspirational!

After the sharing, I gave an assignment to each parent/student team. The assignment was given to them much the same way I now communicate many assignments with the class - as a shared doc in Google Drive. Basically - the families were asked to use Tellagami and iMovie to create a child/parent interview. Children used Tellagami to ask their parents a set of 4 questions (for example, "What is a special memory you have of elementary school?"). Children then recorded their parents in iMovie sharing the answers. They then spliced together the Q&A from each source to make one movie. It really gave the parents a nice understanding of what the children are capable of and how they are continuing to become technology leaders in our school.

One of the questions a parent had that we spent some time talking about was "Digital Citizenship". While it is a topic that I have covered off and on throughout this whole experience - it is definitely something that we will delve deeper into as the year progresses. We heard several parents voice their concerns with their kids at home when they play games online (Like Minecraft and Clash of Clans) with people they don't know and accept them as 'friends' in the game. This worries them. As a parent of three boys myself (ages 4, 9, and 11) it concerns me as well. As we enter the 3rd quarter I will be developing more lessons with the students on what it means to be a good Digital Citizen.

All in all it was a great day. The highlight for me was watching the students lead their parents (and grandparents) in the planned activity. Hosting this also gave me a good idea of the concerns and comfort level of parents of child in a 1:1 iPad classroom.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The One Where We App Smash Our Reading Vocab with Tellagami

My 1:1 iPad Tech Specialist, Brent Catlett, recently introduced our class to a "New-to-Us" App called Tellagami. Tellagami allows students to make an avatar and place it in front of a premade digital background OR any picture of your own. Once the picture is placed and your avatar is made the avatar stands in front of the picture and can speak (in your own voice or in several digital voices) about whatever you want to. One nice feature is that the app only allows you to record for 30 seconds so if challenges students to be thoughtful and precise in their creation.

After we had our discovery time with the app, our class was asked to think of ways we could use it within our curriculum. One great suggestion given was to use it to demonstration knowledge of reading vocabulary. We tried it out this week for the first time and below and a few of the results.

Here is the process each student had to go through:

1) Look up the definition of each word.
2) Find a picture (or take one of yourself) the "shows" the meaning of the word.
3) Put each picture in the app Skitch and write the name of the vocab word that matches the picture.
4) For each word, put the picture you chose in Tellagami, create an avatar for yourself and then yourself A) saying the word, B) defining the word, C) Using the word in a sentence and, D) describing the word in the picture behind the avatar.
5) Export each Tellagami video file into iPad camera roll.
6) Open up iMovie and create a single video file with all 8 Tellagami videos. Bookend the Tellagami clips with a video of the student introducing the project.
7) Upload the video to our classroom YouTube account.

Whew! As with anything practice makes perfect. For their first time doing this, I was amazed at what they came up with! We also also working on being original (which may include being funny) in their work. In the first example below - I loved how the student used that comical picture of the owls in the house to illustrate what the word overwhelm means. It was definitely memorable and that is one of our main goals in doing this - making memorable experiences that they can recall from later.

For all of my students, this experience will be something they remember much better than if we, say, just talked about the words and definitions at the board or had them do a worksheet about the vocabulary words for the week.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The One Where I Truly Differentiate Math Instruction

Updated on 3/11/2014 - Check notes at the bottom

Have you seen the newly revamped Khan Academy website? Most of us know of The Khan Academy as "That place with all those Math Videos". While it still has those easily accessible - the site has completely re-imagined the way in which math can be taught.

When you go to you sign up and then add your students (or own children). Each student then logs in and takes an 8 question math test. Some of the questions are very difficult and some are relatively easy. If one is too hard for them, they click a button that reads "I haven't learned this yet." and then it asks them an easier question.

Once the test is finished, it "levels" the student at where they are in general math knowledge. From that point, students work at their own pace through thousands of lessons. In each lesson, it will ask them a series of questions about a certain topic. If they are confused about the topic, they have the option of watching a Khan video during the lesson to help them with the concept. The site has a depth and breadth unlike any Math site I've seen. As I told my own sons when I signed them up "It is a marathon, not a sprint".

One of the reasons I like the site is that it "scores" the students equally. Meaning my lowest students that are taking Khan lessons on concepts like 2 digit addition are scored the same as my gifted students that are studying concepts like dividing with decimals and scientific notation. Each student can earn the same amount of points for correctly answering questions. About a week in, I discovered a way to sort the students by number of points they have earned (they earn skills points each time they get a question correct). When I sorted the list, the top 5 names were of the five best math students in my class. No surprise there. However, the 6th name was of my student who struggles the most in Math! When I read the list of the top 6 names aloud - #6 almost jumped out of his seat. I'm pretty sure his name has rarely ever been associated with the top math students in his class - but today it was! The excitement all over his face was truly priceless!!!

Another reason I like the site is that it works on multiple platforms, not just on a PC-based web browser. It works 100% on the iPads, iPods, Laptops, etc. Having 1:1 iPads in my class helps with this because each student has complete access to Leveled Math Content whenever they need it. There is NO downtime in my classroom!

I also enjoy the site because of the amount of data it gives me on each student. For any given student in my class, I can see:

  • Skills they have mastered
  • Skills they are struggling with
  • How much time they have spent on the site during school hours
  • How much time they have spent on the site at home
  • Each individual question they answered in each lesson
  • How many seconds they spent on each question
  • How many attempts they gave on each question
  • If they used any built in hints for the lesson
  • If they watched the Khan Video to help them in the lesson
  • and SO MUCH MORE!

I also use Khan at home as a parent of two school-aged boys. When they want to play their video games, I ask them to do 5 lessons on Khan first. We have repurposed our laptop (which has been rarely used in the last couple of years) and have it set up at a table in the dining room with Khan Academy ready to go!

Finally - I have seen my student use Khan for the last few weeks and it is amazing to watch how it differentiates for EACH student in the class. It is truly amazing and - if I haven't mentioned before - it is completely FREE! I would be glad to help anyone get started with their class or own children.
Updated 3/11/2014

Does Khan work? I think so, I had (nearly) all of my students improve significantly on their Winter MAP Math test. The two student I have had using Khan the longest (and had already had extremely high scores in the fall) earned scores of 251 and 258! Not bad for 4th graders.

If Khan isn't working or if you want a change of pace, try the App Front Row Ed Math or IXL Math.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The One Where I Try to Teach the Apps

My classroom is one of three K-6 classrooms in our district that has been asked to use a class set of iPads this year. That number will hopefully grow in a couple of months as several more K-12 teachers will receive sets. These teachers each went through the rigorous "Apple Foundations Training" and then have to apply to be considered. 

Over the first couple of weeks the biggest challenge had been training the students with the thought of iPads are "Tools, not toys". At home, most of my students only use their tablets to play games. While I am a big supporter of all the skills games can help us practice and strengthen, we were going to be using them primarily as part of our workflow. 

I had reminded them of the concept that "iPads are Tools, not Toys" so many times the first few weeks - I'm sure they were ALL sick of hearing it. 

Each iPad has roughly 50 apps on it. However, my plan was to have them become masters of 10 or so before we moved on to any others. The Apps we use the most are: Keynote, Google Drive/Docs, gMail, Kidblog, Keynote, Notability, and Strip Designer.

Time management was also a big struggle those first few weeks. Truth be told, it still is. While the students are quick to pick up how to use the different Apps, they still need some basic instruction before they are set off with them. I've used three different approaches to this, each with various success. 

1) In the beginning, I taught them each App and how to use it. This method worked ok, but I had a feeling it was slowing them down. I used this method with several educational games like Free Flow, Chicken Coop, and Chocolate Fix.

2) Next, I tried to have them teach themselves a few Apps. This worked ok, but I found they all had varying degrees of success with those Apps. There ended up being a lot more questions I answered then I would have if I just taught them the app in the first place.

3) The third, and most successful method I used was Self-Teaching with Peer Help. KEYNOTE is a good example of an App we tried this with. In this example, each student figured out for themselves how to learn Keynote and how it works. They did this while making a presentation to show their parents at conferences regarding what they learned in the 1st quarter. If a student had a question on how to do something, they asked several classmates how to do it. 

This worked for many reasons. First of all, it allowed students to be teachers and many of them relished in this role! I have seen sooooooo much pride on the faces of students that have been able to help others in the class. It has really boosted the esteem of several students who really "Get" technology. It also allowed for them to get their questions answered so much quicker than if they had to wait for me. As a result of that, it allowed the work to proceed at a much quicker pace!

I'd love to hear from others that use iPads in their classroom and how methods you have used to instruct your students in how to use each App.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The One Where I Introduce Myself

Let me make this short and sweet. My name is Garrett Sims and I teach in a 4th grade classroom At Fairview Elementary School in Bellevue, Nebraska (right outside of Omaha). 

I have been teaching since 1995 and teaching 4th grade since 1997. I offer summer classes in Robotics and I started a Science Camp in our district several years ago. During the school year, I coach a competitive robotics team as part of the First Lego League competition. I have 24 students and recently I was selected for the fantastic opportunity to use 1-to-1 iPads with my students this year. 

Last year I worked with Lego Education to work with a new product they were piloting for teachers that are new to the concept of Legos in the classroom. I am also a Teacher Liaison for The Space Foundation in Colorado Spring, Colorado. 

My class website can be found at:

I also maintain a Weebly site where teachers can look at other teacher Weebly websites across the world. The link to that is:

My Twitter handle is @GTwitSims and my eMail is

This blog is going to be dedicated to our experiencing using iPads in the classroom. My experiences are mostly going to revolve around our 1-to-1 model, but from time to time I will be sharing some things we have done with just a single iPad. I Love comments and questions and would be glad to answer them whenever I see them. 

Bottom Line: I hope this Blog is useful to you and can help you with using iPads in your own classroom.

My Family