Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Flexible Seating Mini Posters

Are you implementing flexible seating this year in your classroom space or library area? I utilized flexible seating last year in my first grade classroom and LOVED it! I don't think I could every go back to everyone having an assigned spot. 

This year in my new position I don't have a classroom space, but I do have a library space in both of my buildings that both utilize flexible seating to some extent. One of the libraries was just restructured and decked out with new furniture over the summer so the students have not yet experienced it. Not only have they not experienced the new furniture, but they haven't met me yet either- so one of the first things I want to do is introduce myself and the expectations for the new space. I want students to to take ownership of this space and don't want to bog it down with tons of rules so I came up with what I hope will be 4 simple expectations that I plan to go over with each class as they come and visit.

For those that are interested, I created the mini posters to fit in these awesome little, 2 sided, 4 x 6 inch frames that I got from Michael's. IKEA has similar frames called TOLSBY frames. I love that I will be able to stand these up on some of the tables as a gentle reminder of the expectations.
If you are interested in a set of these posters you can find them on my Teacher's Pay Teachers store for free. There are 8 mini posters all together with 4 different boy and 4 different girl clips.

Click here to go to my store to download.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Creation Apps Are Where It's At (1st grade )

Over the years I've had many people ask me what apps I have on my devices or which apps I feel are the best for (insert content area here). Back when I first started using iPads there were far too many to share as I was a self-proclaimed "App-aholic!"  Over the years though, I've become much more critical of what I feel is a quality app and what I'll put on my devices for my students to use. 

This year, I felt I was finally in a place that I could say I was happy with the apps that I had on my devices and could share the purpose for each of those apps. 

Before turning my iPads in this summer, I spent some time taking screenshots to share with you. I'll start by saying that I spent a fair amount of time setting over the years up my devices so that apps were organized and categorized in a specific way to make it easier for my students to find what they needed quickly so we didn't lose any valuable learning time. Altogether, I have 4 pages on my devices-

Page 1- Creation apps

Page 2- Daily 5 apps

Page 3- Math apps

Page 4- Hidden apps 

Below you will see my main page or what we called our Creation page. This is truly where we spent a majority of our time so it only made sense for it to be the main page. For the most part I have the apps ordered in order of how I introduce them (no, I'm not so structured as to say this is exactly the order we always go in, but it seems that more often than not, Drawing Pad and PicCollage for example are the two that we always start with and so they get top spot.  

I won't go into specifics about each of the apps as you can easily go into the app store to take a closer peek and you've likely heard of many of these but here is a bit of info for you. 

iDress (by Phyllis Brodsky an ADE I met last summer who is passionate about assistive technology) was inspired by her desire to create assistive technology that would lead to great levels of independence for individuals with disabilities. This is not a creation app but rather a great tool for students to better understand how the weather correlates with what they should wear outside. My students enjoy checking the app and have become more independent in knowing what to wear out for recess rather than asking me and then grumbling because they didn't like the answer I gave them. Another nice feature is that you can customize the clothing in the closet to better align with what's appropriate in your region. There are several other great features and ways to customize as well. You can read about them on the iDress for Weather page of Pebro Productions

Drawing Pad is a great drawing tool with a lot of functionality but not too difficult for 1st graders to easily grasp and maneuver around. We used this for drawing our mental images, text-to-self connections and even students doing their own drawings for their informational text books.
Mental image from My Father's Dragon
done in Drawing Pad
Students took pictures showing
the forces of  pushes and pulls
PicCollage for Kids is one of our go-to apps. A great app when needing to use multiple pictures and then label them. Skitch works in a similar way although you are only able to use one picture at time.
Skitch- Labeling the
parts of a penguin 
Book Creator- Love this app! My students used this to create their information text projects as well as during Work on Writing to create their own stories. We also used Book Creator to create our plant journals and journal about our Mystery Skype sessions. Students are able to add text and pictures but they can also add their voice. Book Creator is a versatile tool and definitely worth the money.

Explain Everything and Doodlecast Pro are wonderful apps that work like an interactive whiteboard and you're able to also add audio to both. We used these apps quite often in math to explain our thinking. My kiddos loved the laser pointer in Explain Everything.

Popplet is a mind mapping app. We often used this for our Words Their Way sorts or showing how things were inter-related. I found this to be a wonderful tool to track my reading groups as well. 

ChatterPix Kids and Sock Puppets Both of these apps give students the ability to make things talk. In ChatterPix, students take a picture or use on from their camera roll, add a line for a mouth (all done in the app) and then record what they want their object/picture to say. Sock Puppets is great for collaborative work. Students can choose their sock puppets, you can use more than one, and then act out a social skill scenario or describe a concept.

Down on the dock I keep the apps that we use daily or weekly. The Dog Blog is my classroom blog. I use this as a portal for students to get to certain sites so they don't have to type in url's. For example, when we are doing our research projects and students need to find copyright-free images, they go to The Dog Blog to access the Links for Kids area to go to Pics4Learning. This has been an easy way to get students to various sites and also gets them excited about going on The Dog Blog at home to share things with their parents. It's a Win! Win!! scenario.

Seesaw is by far our most utilized app. Not only do we upload all of the things we create from the apps above into Seesaw, but using Seesaw also allows us to record our voice to apps that don't already have that feature built in (like Popplet or PicCollage) so that students can explain their thinking and what they have learned. Seesaw also allows students to annotate on pictures, has a drawing feature, and so much more and it's FREE. Best of all though, is the ability for parents to be connected to their child's work in Seesaw. Students now have an authentic audience and that is a GAME CHANGER!! 

If you have questions about any of the others or how I use them, feel free to ask.

In my next post, I'll share my Daily 5 page.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Totally EPIC update you don't want to miss!!!! (#EpicPals)

Collaboration is a WONDERFUL thing and Twitter is an amazing platform to bring those collaborative efforts together. 

I've had some amazing people reach out to me this summer and have created some fantastic connections to help me in my new position. One of those people is Bobbi Hopkins (@bhopteacher), a K-6 Instructional Technology Coach from New York. We've had multiple conversations over the past weeks, but yesterday after posting this month's #EpicPals info,  Bobbi contacted me to ask if I would mind if she would put together an intermediate version of #EpicPals. We tweeted back and forth and came up with a plan that we hope will allow more students at multiple grade levels to benefit from this collaborative project!!

So here it is....

Bobbi will be following the same format and will be putting together books for intermediate readers along with the coordinating Padlet boards! We're collaborating on the same Google doc so both projects will be in the same location- 
Click pic to access the GoogleDoc

1 click now = 2 choices 
(a primary and intermediate version)

The primary version will mainly be geared toward 1st and 2nd grade readers and the intermediate version will be geared more for  3rd and 4th grade readers, however, we want you to pick what you feel is best for your individual students as we all know that just because you're in 3rd grade doesn't mean you're a "3rd grade reader".

The format will look and function the same way so if you need to utilize both versions in your class there won't be a noticeable difference for your students.

I'm totally pumped about the collaborative effort behind this project and am so excited that it's able to be rolled out for the new year! 

We hope that you will be too. If you have any suggestions regarding book genres, titles, etc, please don't hesitate to reach out to myself (@smalchow) or Bobbie (@bhopteacheron Twitter with the #EpicPals hashtag.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

EpicPals September is ready to go!

EpicPals is back and ready to go! For those of you who participated with us last year, things are still set up the same way... for now. Just click on the link or the picture below to access this month's Google doc. I did add one read aloud selection this month to give students a bit more support as we start the year out.

*Updates for the near future*
Epic Books is making some wonderful upgrades that will eventually make this project even more user friendly! They recently released the ability to create collections which means that I will be able to put all of the books for the month in a collection, title it ("#EpicPals September" for example) and you will be able to search the collection title and then assign it to your students! This means kiddos will no longer have to type in the title of the book. I did create a collection for this month, however, Epic has not quite released the update which will allow you to search for specific collections. Currently, it just randomly shows up in the collection area... so if you're lucky enough to spot it... grab it and give it a try! Collections are also able to be pinned to Pinterest so I've also created an #EpicPals Pinterest board.  Both of these will be great tools to make the project more efficient however, they are both still in "beta mode" and aren't quite ready. Epic has told me that they are working on it and hoping to have it running more smoothly after the back to school rush settles down. Once it goes live, I will be sure to blog about how to best utilize it! So excited for that to happen!!

Brand new to the project? 
Click picture to access Google doc to print

Here's what you need to know....

First, decide how you want to use the project with your class. Seeing as it's the beginning of the year, you may want to use this opportunity to model finding books on Epic and enjoy them together as a class. Then model how to use the QR code to get to the Padlet board and model how to leave a quality response. (You may also want to cover some digital citizenship skills by reminding your students to only leave their first names and state abbreviation on their Padlet posts.)

As the year goes on, many have used this project as a way to challenge their higher level readers or as part of a guided reading group, or even as a weekly whole group read-aloud and then have students leave their own comments on the Padlet.
*NEW* Intermediate Version thanks to Bobbi Hopkins!!

After you know how you want to utilize EpicPals, click on the picture to the right to access the Google doc and print it off for your classroom wall or make multiple copies for your class or 
specific students. Starting this month,  you will be able to choose from a primary or an intermediate version depending on the reading abilities of your kiddos. Feel free to use one or both with your class depending on individual student need.

When students are done reading the book selection, they will scan the coordinating  QR code on their sheet (no url's for our young learners!). This will take them to a Padlet board specific for the book they read. If you'd rather push this sheet out to your students on your blog, Google Classroom, etc the url's shown are clickable and linked to the boards as well.

As your students begin to post on the Padlet boards, please don't be overly concerned about spelling. This is meant to be a place where kiddos can read and respond to text authentically. I do check the boards every few days to double check content and any questionable phonetic spelling. (The links to these boards are not public or searchable- you must have the link to access them)

How students should respond on the boards?
That's really up to you. What's best for your learners? Are you learning about text-to-self connections, retelling, summarizing or simply writing complete sentences to share your favorite part?  Be creative, utilize the boards to match your learning objectives. Feel free to have your students include images or screenshots or create and upload video reflections- the sky's the limit. Most important, have fun with this!  I will at times put a question on the Google doc or on the Padlet for students to think about but these are simply springboards if needed and are NOT required.

Do we have to read the books on Epic?
If you have access to any of the books in another format, feel free to utilize ti. Books do not have to be read on Epic although I will say my class is so completely engaged when using Epic know that they have the ability to also earn badges for reading (using iOs devices). Gamification is a wonderful motivator and engagement factor!

Do we have to do all of the books and do we have to do them in order?
No, you can do any or all of the books and there is no particular order. Let your students' interest gauge where they start.  Again, make this fit your schedule and your learners. 

Have fun! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. You can email me at 
or catch me on Twitter-@smalchow

*You can also contact Bobbie Hopkins with any questions regarding the intermediate version. You can reach her on Twitter as well @bhopteacher

If you've not used Epic Kids Books, it is free for educators- so run, don't walk, to check it out!! If you're interested in learning how to set up individual student accounts, click here to access some screen shots that will help you through the process.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

ROLLing into tech integration

The new year is just around the corner (T minus 5 days and counting!) and I'm excited to get started and meet my new colleagues. Although I'm planning to go around and introduce myself and chat with everyone individually, I also wanted to have just a little something to give the teachers in my buildings to start those conversations. After going up and down the candy aisle multiple times looking for the just right treat, I decided upon Tootsie Rolls, because let's face it, what teacher couldn't use just a tad bit of chocolate during these first few days?!

I had these great little jewelry-sized bags that I bought for a project at some point and never used. Finding them in my now "stored in the basement" classroom totes was an interesting endeavor, but I found them and they couldn't have been more perfect. I placed 3 Tootsie Rolls in each little bag and then created the iPad tag to attach to each one. I'm planning to put them in each teacher's mailbox on the first day back and then follow up with my personal chit-chats. 

If you're interested in the cards,  you can access them here or by clicking on the picture. There are two different options to choose from. I printed mine on cardstock, cut them out and stapled them to the bags. The cards are approx 2" x 3".  If you need bags, you can find a variety of them on Amazon, click here.
Click image to access the printable pdf

I'll turn the arrow on this board
to show where I am
One other project that I've been working on is finding a way to let the staff in my buildings know where I am if I'm not in my office (Ok, that just seems so weird to say- I've never had a job with an office before, and quite honestly, I don't plan on spending much time in it either) That being said, the 1st grade teacher side of me will never be gone and I plan to embrace it in my new position as well (watch out everyone!) so I repurposed the "Where Am I?" boards that I used in my classroom last year (hence the dog theme). I'm going to hang these outside of my office space so that if a teacher comes to see me and I'm not there, they know if I'm in there building or not and if so, where I may be. There's nothing more frustrating than having a bit of time to catch someone only to find out that they're not around and you nave no clue if they'll be back in 5 minutes or the next day. With being in 2 buildings on alternating days, I want to be sure that I am as transparent as possible so teacher's can utilize me to the fullest extent. 

On this board I'll move the circles
to the top spot by the arrow
The boards are simply made from cookie sheets from The Dollar Store that I modge-podged some fabric on to. I created the various pieces, printed and laminated them and the hot-glued magnet strips to the back. The arrow has a fatter magnetic circle so that it pops up over the other pieces. I then used E-6000 to attach some extra fabric to the back for the hangers.  The rectangle cookie sheet has neon green Duck tape around the edges.

Friday, August 12, 2016

New paths, new adventure

This summer has been a summer FULL of 
                                         growth and
                                                     lots of prayer.

It all started in May with making the decision to try something new and shake up my world just a bit by deciding to move my 1st grade classroom to a new building in the district. For those that know me well, I am extremely flexible, but a lover of big change I am not. Despite my typical personality traits, I was excited for the new adventure. I dug in and began packing my classroom, digging through age old resources and pitching what I hadn't used or even looked at in eons. It was amazing what I was holding on to and for what reason?
No clue!

The week after school was out, I finished boxing up the last of my things and my husband and 2 sons came to school with the trailer and we began the daunting task of hauling everything out of my room, loading it on to the trailer, driving 9 minutes down the road and unloading it all into my new room. Over the course of the next week I began unpacking things into the cupboards when I got word that I would be moving into a different room due to a resignation. 
No problem... I stopped where I was at and decided to wait until the cleaning crews were done to move things to the new room which was just one room over. 

Fast forward 1 month and one life altering email later and I am once again packing up my classroom, but this time, to bring it all home and store it in my basement. 

Yes, I am taking a leap of faith and am leaving the classroom to take on the role of a Digital Learning Specialist. This is a new position in our district and one in which I can help to impact the technology usage of many teachers and students, not just my own classroom of 21. 

This decision did not come easily, especially since I do love the classroom and the connections that you are able to make with students and their families; but sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to continue to grow, see the magic, and reignite the passion and dreams that you have for yourself. Coming from someone that is not a risk-taker in a lot of ways, changing my career path in this way is not something that too many people probably saw coming! The image to the right really hit home for me and helped me to take the plunge. 

I am so very excited to see where this new position will take me, but even more so, I am SUPER excited for what this position will be offer to the students and staff of the 2 buildings I will be working in! 
So- here's to a new year and BIG changes! I will be continuing to blog about the things I am doing, but the posts will be covering a wider-range of grades now, not just 1st grade. I hope that you will continue to follow along on my new journey!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer PD and beyond

Summer always seems to go by way too fast! There's NEVER enough time to complete all of the items on my bucket list (clean out the basement, redo the gardens, clean out the boys' closets)

or maybe,

 just maybe,

my goals are a little too lofty, OR I'm procrastinating since none of those projects really appeal to me even though they all need to get done at some point.

One goal that I do make sure to accomplish each summer however, is a little bit of Personalized Summer PD. What better time than a couple of rainy, super duper humid days to surf the blogs you love to read, explore a new site or 2, connect with, I mean really connect with members of your PLN, and find the time to read a few books while sitting in the air conditioning wishing it was a little bit cooler out? Or better yet, sitting on the patio watching the kids swim in the pond while sipping on a cool glass of lemonade with this view as your backdrop??

 Ahhh... the joys of summer PD!

As usual, I purchased more books than I was able to read this summer, but hopefully I'll have time to continue reading over the next couple of weeks and even once school starts (that's debatable and never seems to happen, but I'm going to try hard this year for my own sanity)Many of the books that I purchased had a common theme- integrating digital literacy into the classroom and for anybody that knows me, that's no surprise. 

My favorite book of the summer is one that wasn't even on my "Gotta Read" list as it literally was just released in July.  Innovate With iPad by Karen Lirenman and Kristen Wideen (both Apple Distinguished Educators working with primart aged students) is an absolutely fantastic resource for K-4 educators looking for practical and meaningful ways to integrate technology into the learning environment. Once I read the info about the book, I knew that I needed to order it and move it to the top of my "Gotta Read It"list. I was super excited when just a couple of days later my mailman came walking up with a package from Barnes and Noble. I knew right away what it was and I was like a kid in a candy store as I opened it! 

As I began to page through it I was excited to see that the ideas are presented in a very easy to follow format. The book is not set up as your typical "read it from cover to cover" format but rather is set up in a way that you can take what you like and leave what you don't. Looking to take some baby steps this year and want specifically for math? Go to the math section and peruse through the ideas. Keep in mind though that as you look through the other sections and your creativity starts to perk, you'll find ideas in the other content areas that you'll be able to tweak and bring into math as well.

Example of a beginner level literacy lesson
What I love most about this resource is that even the most novice tech users will find this book to be a great resource! The lessons are not overwhelming as they are laid out in a very easy to follow format. Check out the example to the right. 

Each lesson includes the following information: 

  • grade level (easily modified for any grade), subject area
  • iPad comfort level (ideas from beginner to advanced- don't worry, there are PLENTY of examples for beginners!)
  • suggested apps
  • quick tips
  • lesson extensions and... 

downloadable task cards for immediate use! 

Shared with permission from Karen Lirenman
To the right you will find the task card that aligns with the lesson shown above. Each of the task cards are set up with easy to follow directions and are basic enough that you can easily use them and make your own little tweaks. For example, I could easily use the task card below with my class but at the end I would also let my class know that I also want them to upload their final project to Seesaw.

 The task cards are available on the Innovate with iPad site and are simple to access with the code included in the front of the book. When you access them, you will be taken to a Google Drive folder to view or download. A couple of thoughts on the task cards- you could easily display these with a projector, include them in a SMARTboard document (easy way to then add your extra tweaks) or print them off for groups of students to use.

This book has a variety of examples from multiple content areas including math, literacy, science and social studies. As I said, this book has many practical, easy to implement ideas and is one that you can look at today, do a bit of brainstorming to make it fit your curriculum, and walk into your class the next and implement the idea. If you want more information and student examples check out the the Innovate with iPad website

Final thought-
I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking to increase their knowledge of meaningful technology integration in the elementary grades. I guarantee you it will be one of your well-loved, dog-eared books by the end of the year!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

It's been a long time coming...

When I started this blog, back in 2011... yup, WAY back in the day, I didn't put much thought into my blog title. To be honest, this blog was supposed to just be a way for me to reflect on my teaching and digitally document some of the things I was doing in my classroom for evaluation purposes.

 Little did I know all those years ago how important this blog would truly become to my growth as a reflective educator. Who would have thought that others were actually interested in what I had to share and had questions about what I was sharing. I have built some fantastic connections with educators from around the world, in part, because of this simple little blog. It's nothing fancy~I haven't paid big dollars to have someone create a template, it's just been 'lil ole me playing around with the settings to create what I like (boy have I screwed things up and learned a lot from all the experimentation) Plain and simple, this blog has simply been a labor of love.

With all good things though, sometimes we need to reframe, rebuild, or remodel and that's where I am at after all these years. For several years now I've wanted to redo the look of the blog and change the name, but the inspiration, creative juices and TIME just weren't there. ( the red, traditional, teacher and apple motif just wasn't cutting it!) This summer though, much has happened and I am entering a new chapter in my career as an Elementary Digital Learning Specialist. This change prompted me to find the time to update the blog and after a lot of reflection, I even came up with a new name. The purpose and target audience of this blog has twisted and turned and turned like the bends in a river over the years but the main theme has always revolved around digital innovation so it seemed fitting to me to re-title the blog, 

"Digital Meanderings"

I'm excited about the new look, title, and general feel of the blog and am excited to continue sharing what I learn as I make this transition to my new position! 

Here's looking forward to another 5 years of connected learning!

Monday, August 1, 2016

It may not be New Years, but...

It may not be January 1st but it's a new SCHOOL year and with that comes time to reflect and do some goal setting. It's always about this time of year when I've had just enough rejuvenation that I begin to get super excited about the adventures that the new school year will bring: meeting a new class, seeing former students, chatting with colleagues that you haven't seen in a couple of months, the excitement of new school supplies- you know- cool new pens, maybe a new piece of decor for the classroom... it all makes me happy!!

Along with those things, I always begin to ponder what goals I want to make for myself. How will I stretch myself to become a better educator? I love the Sketchnote below by Sylvia Duckworth that lists 15 things every teacher should try. I've shared this on Twitter a couple of times over the last year but have never shared it here on the blog so here it is!

For some, these ideas may seem overwhelming and for others these may feel very basic, but so many of these ideas can be personalized to where you are at as a learner and your technology comfort level. Without even realizing it, many of these ideas probably already have some overlap into what you are doing in your classroom. For example, my classes have participated in many of Jen Wagner's, Projects by Jen activities which fully encompasses #5 above. If you're a novice tech user, you may want to check out her site for some super projects that will not stress you out but will enable you to bring great collaborative learning to your classroom. The great thing about many of her projects is you can put as much or as little as you want into them depending on your class, the time you may have and your comfort level. On the flip side though, you can really let your creativity run wild with some of the projects as well and they tie very nicely into the curriculum.

Along with many of these projects you will have the opportunity to connect with another class via Skype or Google HangOut 
There's #6!

Connecting in this way allows your students to see that students around the world are no really no different than they are. My community is not very diverse at all and so this opened doors to us that many of my students may never get to experience. In addition we were able to authentically increase our geography skills as well. Doing a GHO or Skype session is really quite painless and the benefits are phenomenal to say the least.

How many of you are using Kahoot? This is a great way to gamify your classroom. Not everything all day every day has to be gamified... just spice things up a bit with a Kahoot game here or there. We use them in my class to review math concepts, practice math facts, comprehension questions after a good read aloud, and even for our iPad License quiz at the beginning of the year. They are super easy to create and kids LOVE them... It's a no-brainer 

You've just covered #10!!

By no means am I trying to check off as many of these items as I can, put find one that puts you a little bit out of your comfort level, stretches your learning just a bit and make it your goal. Your students will thank you for it and you'll have accomplished adding another tool to your toolkit or even better- you'll have  found another way to embed meaningful technology into your curriculum.

As for my goal... last year my kiddos used Seesaw (absolutely phenomenal, game changing, can't say enough about it) as I worked to create digital portfolios. Overall I would say it was a very successful year and something I want to continue to refine. This year though I want my students to branch out just a bit more and share their learning through blogging. So my goal this year is going to revolve around #4. The best part is, Seesaw offers the ability to blog right in the app! This should make the workflow easy and allow me to help my students hone their blogging skills. I'm excited to see what we'll be able to do with this and the connections that may come of it!!

What's your goal going to be this year?