Saturday, September 5, 2015

ClassDojo Now Allows You To Share Your "Class Story"

In education, the discussion about the social media presence of the school, teachers and staff is a tough one to have. Student privacy is no joke, and pictures or information on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can reach A LOT of people in a very short amount of time. It's wonderful to have an online presence, where parents and families can be constantly be updated about changes on the school calendar or be given a small glimpse into their child's classroom. The problem is that, with sharing and re-posting, tagging and hash-tagging, there is no way of knowing who else, besides school families, will see it.

This past week, ClassDojo released their big new update out into to the education world. This update included a major addition to their classroom management tool: Class Story. Operating like a simple hybrid of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (which doesn't really sound simple at all), teachers are able to post pictures and information for their class community to view. This community is made up of families that the teacher has invited to participate, passing out individual codes to students. Once families have joined the group, they can still see little Johnny's behavior details (as has always been the case), or send Johnny's teacher a message, but now they can see pictures from Writers Workshop, or from the field trip last week, or the guest reader from Friday. They can also see posts giving a link to the next online book order, with the due date. Anything that the teacher wants to share, the families can see, and "like" by clicking the little heart symbol in the corner.

I feel like I've seen this setup before...
Sound familiar? It should. It seems that ClassDojo tried to implement everything that people love from the Social Media Giants, while simplifying it (and safety-fying it) for the classroom. The best part is that Class Story can only be seen by the teacher, or the families that have the student codes. There is no sharing, there is no commenting, there is no tagging or hash-tagging. These missing components (which are not really missing...they just aren't an option) make Class Story a simpler and safer way to share classroom information with families. The pictures and information posted stay right in your class community, and can only be changed or added to by the teacher. Yes, screenshots can still be taken, but I'm not sure there is any way around that (I did notice that pictures can't be saved to the camera roll on your phone, but can be saved by right-clicking on the website). Overall, ClassDojo made Class Story as safe as they possibly could for classroom use (which shouldn't surprise anyone...they take it very seriously).

Something else that I valued: Class Story fits right in with the rest of ClassDojo. It operates seamlessly with every part of the app. I can go back and forth from Classroom Behaviors to Messages to Class Story with no problems at all, and I can post pictures or information without clicking a million other buttons to get there. The layout and colors are clean and simple as well, giving it a feeling of being fresh and new.

ClassDojo had a wonderful product that many teachers used faithfully in their classrooms. Now, they've just made that great product even better. I'm sure there will be updates and changes to come (as there are with anything new), but this new update makes ClassDojo a must have for schools and classrooms everywhere.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Letter Practice and Concentric Circles

I think that five and six-year-olds have a strange desire to destroy's the same desire that makes them want to tear paper into small pieces. As you know, taking things apart and tearing things apart can greatly help the development of a small child's fine motor skills.

As I watched my Pre-K daughter poke holes into a piece of cardboard I came up with an idea for a new kindergarten station for this past week. I returned home that night to cut several pieces of cardboard into manageable-sized pieces. I wrote my students' names on them, and then had them poke holes over the top of each letter in their name as practice for writing them with a capital letter first, followed by lowercase letters.

Poking a pencil into cardboard must provide the same feeling as tearing paper or breaking something (I mean, even I found it appealing), because my kids loved it. I wrote their first names only, twice, on the piece of cardboard. They carefully poked a pencil into the cardboard, tracing their names with small holes. Perfect practice for forming letters, writing names, and fine motor skills. I can't wait to use this practice method with sight words, too!

Kandinsky's original
"Concentric Circles" painting.
Also this week, my teaching partner and I (our kindergarten team at John Rex is phenomenal, by the way) worked together to create a massive piece of kindergarten art. Our classes were studying shapes, and we wanted to do a piece of artwork involving basic shapes, that was similar to a piece of classic artwork. We decided to do a John Rex Kindergarten version of Kandinsky's "Concentric Circles".

We gave each student an 8 1/2" x 8 1/2" piece of watercolor paper and watercolor paints. We showed them Kandinsky's piece, asking them to identify the shapes that they saw. We then asked them to paint one square of the painting, using any colors they wanted. They're five, so their circles weren't perfect, and their painting was messy, which made their individual paintings look so good. We then taped the squares together, making one huge piece (about 3' x 5'). The end result looked so good, and the kids were so proud of what they had created by working together.
"KINDERcentric Circles"

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Back In Business

Wow. It has been quite awhile. In kindergarten terms, it has been quite literally forever since my last blog post.

There is a reason, though.

I moved.

I could bore you with details of the transition itself, but I won't do that. I'll just tell you that I was given a wonderful opportunity to teach at a great new school, and I went for it. My family and I packed a U-Haul truck (could've packed for home and one for school) and we moved 12 hours away. Throughout the entire transition I decided not to post on here. I still had work to do at my old school and there was always a chance that something could go haywire in the transition process. But now here I am, a John Rex Rocket, starting another school year in kindergarten.

My new teaching home...John Rex Elementary,
nestled right in the middle of downtown OKC.
The first week was full of procedures and the kiddos getting used to me. This is a long process, with many kids wondering why they have the "boy teacher", but it's fun to see their little attitudes change when they see my personality and how much fun we can have.

Of course, they had to be introduced to my friends Dot & Dash (our robot friends from Wonder Workshop), and they were beyond excited to drive them around and get to know them. Seeing their excited little faces as they realize that they can actually operate robots never gets old. I actually used Dot & Dash on "Meet Your Teacher Night" as a kind of ice breaker. The kids loved them (and some of the parents enjoyed playing with them, too). It really helped calm the atmosphere a bit in my opinion. Of course, I may have been the only one in the room who felt like it was a little stressful in the first place.

We also worked on a few "About Me" projects. My kindergarten team wanted to measure the kids, marking their height with a rocket that they colored (since the school mascot is a rocket). I had a random, long, piece of white board that I dragged with me in the move. It was a leftover piece from when I had some custom white board cut, about five feet tall, and a couple of inches wide. I'm sure the guy at the hardware store thought I was crazy when I wanted to keep it (and I'm sure that Mrs. Kindergarten Guy was cursing me throughout the move for bringing it along, but she had plenty of her own teachery items...I'm sure we can call it even). We ended up turning this piece into our own custom "measuring device" (tip of the cap to one of my good friends at TES), using a dry erase marker to mark each unit. We used chart paper to list various non-standard forms of measurement: pencils, blocks, cups, plates, cakes...the usual. We settled on (with some expert guidance from yours truly) using markers as our unit of measurement. We then used our custom ruler to measure the kids heights on the dry-erase wall in the hallway. That's right...the walls are dry-erase...can't wait to see all the ways I can use that!

I'm looking forward to sharing all of the new, creative and fun things that we will be doing in kindergarten this year, so check back in.

I'm back in business.

Friday, March 6, 2015

This Blog Just Ate My Robots

I write this post with a sore right arm from throwing playground balls and soccer balls around a gym. At indoor recess (for the bazillionth time this winter) I found that the kids loved chasing balls that I threw. I just threw them. They would retrieve them. They begged for it. I literally had a line of children waiting for me to throw a ball that they could chase. It had to look ridiculous to anyone looking through the gym windows.

Gotta love working with kindergarteners.

As mentioned in the beginning of last week's blog post, this week we used Dash to "build" teen numbers. We set up six empty SOLO cups as bowling pins, and used a tennis ball as a bowling ball. Using Dash, we bowled the ball toward the cups, knocking some of them over. On the whiteboard, we had a full ten frame and an empty ten frame. In the empty ten frame, we drew circles corresponding to the number of cups knocked over. We then used the ten frames to figure out the new teen number.

Kid Lit:
Interactive books are so fun to read aloud. The kids get really into them...they'll even respond to questions or comment on things going on in the book. They love them. This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne is on our list of favorite read-alouds. Bella loses her dog as he walks across the gutter of the book. Help arrives in various forms, but suffers the same fate as the dog. Bella needs the reader's help to escape the gutter of the book. It's a really fun read that draws kids into the story, and they love how it ends. My class begged to read this book over and we did.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Smells Like Teen Numbers (KidLit and EdTech, Too)

This week in kindergarten-land was a crazy one. Between my being out a good portion of the week with sick kids, and all of our two-hour delays, it was hard to find any consistency, but we still managed to have a lot of fun learning.

Math this week was all about making teen numbers. We had already filled a ten frame, and now needed to use that knowledge to help us make teen numbers. As with everything else I teach, I try to change things up, finding different ways to to introduce a concept. We used base ten blocks and straws as manipulatives, we made anchor charts together and we used the lesson from our math series. We'll use the robots to practice the concept this week.

Dot and Dash:
We used Dot and Dash (our Wonder Workshop robots) to explore our new sight words for the week. Over the past couple of weeks, we performed a Control Challenge, where the kids practiced controlling the robot, moving him from one spot to another while learning the controls. We also performed a Precision Challenge, where the kids used Dash to push a tennis ball to a given sight word. This week, we combined the two challenges, as the kids had to drive to a given sight word, turn Dash around and push a tennis ball back to the starting point. This was really hard for them, and we'll probably try it again this week.

I love that by watching the robot, you can almost see the kids' brains working. Also, I thought it was really neat to hear the kids encouraging one another throughout this challenge. They really want each other to succeed, and try to help each other out as much as I will let them. It makes me feel like we've done a good job in Room 6A making the kids feel like they're all a part of a team.

One thing that I didn't get done this week was an activity practicing teen numbers. It's a pretty neat one that I thought of while looking at Make Wonder's challenge for the week: using Dash to go bowling. This week, students will start with the number 10 (showing a 10 frame on chart paper), and use Dash to "bowl" toward bottles or cups used as pins. They will add the number of "pins" knocked down to the 10 that they started with, telling me what teen number they made. More on this next week...

New Apps:
I don't have a full classroom set of iPads, but I do have enough for a couple of small groups, so I am always on the lookout for new iPad apps (some are actually new, while some could be considered "newly discovered"). These usually get tested on the kids at my house before they are introduced at school. I'll talk about a couple of them here:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

EdTech as a Motivator and Vessel of Knowledge

There's this girl in my class. She is an underperforming student, who has had a number of absences (a startling number, actually), and who is very shy and backward, with little self-confidence. As you know, due to my obsessive social media posts and my blog entry last week, we have recently received Dash & Dot robots in our classroom.

She. Loves. Them.

Not only does she love them, but she is good at them, and she knows it (I mentioned this in last week's blog post). I can see her confidence growing as she drives the robot around, making it perform whatever challenge we have lined up for the week. The thing is...she's learning the sight words while she does it. Also, (and there may not be a correlation here, but I like to think that there is) she is performing better in every subject. She's taking off. It's awesome. I feel that the educational technology in our classroom is what motivated her. The timing is right, and I can see the look on her face when she uses that robot...that's it. That's what got her going. She's having so much fun learning.

She's been tricked.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dash & Dot Rule My Classroom: My Experience With DonorsChoose & Two Adorable Robots

"Hey, Mistew Dicken."
"Can I dwive that wobot?!"

The smallest and youngest little boy (usually unengaged, and without a single care in the world) in my kindergarten class was beyond excited. I had just introduced my kids to Dash & Dot, Wonder Workshop's pair of blue and orange robots, designed to help teach young kids the concepts of coding. I showed them a YouTube video to announce that we would be getting a pair of the robots for our classroom. Clearly, the video had created a buzz of excitement, as very few (if any) of my students had seen a robot before, in the Gears? Whatever.

I had read about these robots while looking through Twitter, and then Googled them and read some more. New to the education scene, the robots were getting good reviews among educators who were incorporating coding into their classrooms. I knew that I could not fund the project, and I knew that the school could not fund the project, so I decided to try out

It was Saturday, and I filled out the required information on the website, wrote the essay, answered some questions, and selected the items that I wanted. By Sunday night, they had posted my project, titled, Dash & Dot Are the Secret to Kindergarten Coding. By Monday afternoon my project was fully funded (thanks to two generous donors). That evening I answered a few questions to confirm the materials list, and the following day the items were ordered and shipped from the seller ( It was then that I showed the kids the video, and mentioned that they would arrive in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Why Don't We Just...Play? (My classroom, and Global School Play Day 2015)

Global School Play Day was today (2/4) and my Kindergarten class got to participate.

I first heard about GSPD on Twitter, where I found numerous posts with #GSPD15 at the bottom. After finally following the link (see what I did there?), and watching the video, I realized just how much my kids missed out on unstructured play. They needed the chance to play without my providing the material (educational...usually tied directly to a standard that I am focusing on), and the rules, guiding their play. I asked. Permission granted.

An entire day of play seemed like a bit of a challenge. We played during the afternoon, after working hard throughout the morning, going outside for recess ( had been SO LONG) and getting to run around in PE. Heading to the gym, the kids were SO EXCITED! They all had toys in their backpacks, waiting to be unleashed. Upon returning to the classroom, getting toys out and talking about the two rules (Rule #1: Don't get too loud. Rule #2: Don't do something that could hurt you, or someone else.), we were off! 24 five and six-year-olds in a room full of toys (some from their homes, some from mine, some from school). Chaos would surely ensue, didn't.

I was amazed at how well the class played, and absolutely enjoyed watching them be a little community. They were never loud. They never ran in the classroom, or jumped chairs, or wrestled each other (things that they try to do on a daily basis). Four students approached me with small tattles at the very beginning of the afternoon, and I just told them to work it out or talk about it (I had vowed that I wouldn't step in and handle it for them...this was a skill that could be practiced on a day like today). After that...they handled it all. Play-Doh creation accidentally destroyed? Apologies and understanding. Lego building accidentally destroyed by a passer-by? Apologies, understanding, and help rebuilding. They governed themselves, for the most part, and it was glorious. Sharing. Helping others. Including others. I was so proud of my kiddos for working together as a community.

This was a cleansing of their little souls. Play time that was void of a hidden agenda (from the teacher) or an impending assessment. A chance to be a kid, and play with other kids...just for fun. A chance to be a part of someone else's game, or pretend story, or car race, or Lego architecture, or role playing, or board game, or drawing class, or Play Doh party, or...whatever. It was just awesome.

These kids could use a GSPD every week.

At least.

Things that I saw during GSPD15:
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Planning and execution
- Caring for others
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Innovation
- Communication
- Creativity
- Leadership
- Joy...pure joy

Things that I heard during GSPD15:
- "Can I play with you?"
- "I'll help you."
- "Let's play _____!" (fill in the blank with any toy or game)
- "Did you see that?!"
- "Let's put these together to make a ______." (fill in the blank with the random name of a crazy contraption)
- "Thank you for letting us play." (a bazillion times...usually as they were moving to another toy or play area)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Decomposing Numbers and Collaboration

We've been working on decomposing numbers this week in kindergarten. Decomposing numbers involves how to break numbers into parts (5 breaks down into 3 and 2, or 4 and 1), and turning those into addition problems (3+2=5, 4+1=5). I have to admit...this is not something that I felt confident teaching. Using our math curriculum gave me a vague idea of how to teach it...but not a great one. It seemed like a very difficult concept for the kids to learn and understand, and I needed to make sure that I was presenting it to them in the simplest way.

I turned to Mr. Greg, from Kindergarten Smorgasboard, who had some great ideas on how to teach decomposing numbers. Using some of Mr. Greg's ideas, I developed a Bubble Guppies math activity that used some of the kids favorite characters from Nick Jr., as well as one of their favorite snacks (Goldfish crackers) to break down some numbers and convert them to addition problems.

Many of my students took off with the concept as soon as they got their hands on the edible manipulatives (the best kind!), and started moving them around the bonds, breaking down numbers. There is a portion of my class that is still struggling, but I have no doubt that with more practice, they will get it.

It made me think about how great it is that teachers can share and collaborate with each other. I knew that I wasn't able to teach this lesson properly (in my opinion), and that I needed to find some help. Other teachers posted their ideas and experiences online, which helped me put together a lesson plan that fit my class and my students. Collaboration between teachers, at its finest.

Speaking of collaboration, this lesson made me realize just how much I allow my kids to "cheat" on their work. I read an interesting WIRED article this week on why students should be allowed to cheat. Kindergarten is so different from other grade levels. Putting the emphasis on learning the material (and being able to retain it), I find myself oftentimes encouraging kids to look at the paper of the student beside them, or even ask that student for help. There will be time later on for me to check for individual understanding.

This has also helped to create a sense of community in the classroom. The kids love helping each other, and they trust each other enough to ask for help. It's funny...I don't even hear "She's copying me!" anymore. The kids understand the end goal. They know that grades aren't going to be affected, and they know that everyone needs to learn and understand the material. They can't verbalize that, of course, but I can tell. Most importantly...they're learning.

I call it collaboration.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wear the "Cape". Save a Student.

"I like your cape."

This is one of my favorite quotes from this year, from a five-year-old boy looking at my red and blue, striped tie. This same student would choose to buy me a tie for Christmas (which I thought was awesome, by the way). It made an impression on him...on all of my students, actually. They like my ties, my shiny shoes, and my socks (Batman, Ninja Turtles, Super Grover...I am a Kindergarten teacher, after all). 

I'm working at a school that is in a low-income area, with a very high percentage of students on Free and Reduced Lunch Plans. Many of the students at my school have no exposure to the world of resumes and cover letters, budgets and bills. Lately I've been thinking about how necessary it is to mix some real-world experience into lessons and projects. Scouring Twitter the other night, I came across the idea (on of having students write resumes for main characters in books as an alternative book report (I think they could also be used as reports for historical figures). This made me try to think of other ways that real-world skills could be brought into an elementary classroom.

I feel like the idea of creating resumes for fictional characters or historical figures is a great one. What better way to give kids their first experience resume writing than with practice on characters or famous people who have done many things that could be included? They won't run out of material, and they'll be discovering how to develop their own resume when it's time. I thought that teachers could use the concept of creating a budget or paying bills to help teach math. Addition, subtraction, multiplication,'s all there. Opportunities for mock interviews or presentations would be great experience. Encouraging the kids to dress up for those presentations or interviews could help as well.

These are just a few skills that kids in today's world may not see being modeled at home. They may not know that bills exist, or should be paid. They probably don't know how that affects a budget, if they even know what a budget is. They may not have seen someone wear a tie, or "dress to impress" at an interview.

If we want to "save" students, or just help them to become a part of the workforce, and successfully contribute to society, we have to help them build the skills that are necessary to do so. Now, I just have to think of some practical ways to mix this into my kindergarten classroom...

Got any ideas? How can you work real-world skills in your elementary classroom?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Busy Weeks aren't as Bad as You Think...

Quick thoughts from our first full week back in the classroom since December (no delays, no snow days...just me and a bunch of five-year-olds).

  • Martin Luther King Day was on Monday, and while we talked about him multiple times this week, the bulk of our discussion was on the actual day. I introduced Dr. King to my kiddos with a BrainPop Jr. video talking about his life and what he stood for. It was a great choice. The video hit on the serious talking points about MLK and his life, but did it in a cartoony way that the kids loved. While they enjoyed Moby and Annie, the room was pretty silent as they were taking it all in. I would stop the video every now and then to simplify some main ideas, and draw comparisons or try to draw out some background knowledge. Afterward, we read a book, The Crayon Box That Talked, where the crayons don't like each other at the beginning because they are different colors, but work together in the end to make a beautiful picture. The kids made the connections very quickly. Then we did this journal page, where students told what their dreams were:
Upper Left: "My dream is that my family could always be together." Upper Right: "My dream is that everybody would share." Lower Left: "My dream is that everybody would have food." Lower Right: "My dream is that everyone would share their toys."

I left school on Monday believing that, (contrary to what I think sometimes after a high school tennis practice), the future of our nation does not look so bleak after all. Every kid provided an answer that gave me a glimpse into their giving and caring hearts. Five-year-olds are awesome.
  • I have been reading so much about coding in the classroom recently, and I wanted to give it a try. Setting up an iPad station, I introduced my kiddos to the game Kodable, which teaches them the basics of computer programming. According to numerous articles, coding can help develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. It also provides opportunities for collaboration while helping them develop some computational thinking skills that will inevitably be necessary for the future. I was unsure of how my group would take to it, but they loved it. By the end of the week, they were working pretty independently, using trial and error to navigate characters through the levels. Some of them were very successful with it. I was glad that I could bring coding into my classroom, and expose my kids to it.
  • I started using GoNoodle in my classroom this week. GoNoodle ( is a website that helps teachers find and compile videos for brain breaks to be used in their classroom. It is very user friendly, and it has a great collection of videos on it already. As a teacher, it's nice to have a website where I can show my students videos, and not worry about the advertisements and junk surrounding it. The Koo Koo Kangaroo! videos are our favorites so far, but it will let me show videos from YouTube as well, so Big Block SingSong videos are coming...
  • Thursday of this week was our 100th day of school this year. It's hard to believe that we are already 100 days in, and it's hard for me to believe how much these kids have grown, and how much they've learned. We are definitely on the down-hill part of this year's journey, and we have a long way to go, but it's been a blast so far!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Allowing My Kindergarteners to Code and Create

I've been reading so much about the Hour of Code (coding in the classroom) and The Maker Movement in education, that it has me wondering what my Kindergarten students really think about our daily routine.

We focus a lot of our time on reading, writing, math, letter identification and letter sounds...all major pieces of the state standards. I know that NOVELTY is an education buzz word right now, with teachers saying that the best results from their kiddos come when the presentation of the material is switched up, generating more interest and keeping them engaged in the subject matter. The material is stuff that I have to cover. I try to make it interesting, I've taken some risks (some that did not pan out), but it's still the information that I have to cover. It's important. It's very important. But I'm not sure that, as a five or six-year-old kid, I would be enthusiastic about attempting to learn it four or five hours a day, five days a week.

Lately, I've been interested in giving my students something else to be excited about. Opportunities to learn in different ways. I want to give them a chance to make something or create something. They are kindergarteners, so it would be hard for them to complete a step-by-step project, creating something that they will write about or make videos about. I think I'd like to try, though.

First came the interest in the Hour of Code, where students spend time in their classrooms coding. This is the first step in communicating with a computer or robot and getting it to do what you want it to do. This will undoubtedly be a life skill necessary for my students to be successful in the real world in the next 10 years (maybe earlier). There are several apps and websites (check out this Edutopia article) that provide games for students to practice this on a basic level (if you check me out on Twitter @WesDicken, I retweet and post several articles about it). I watched my five-year-old play some of the apps at home this weekend, and I'm convinced that my students would enjoy it, and eventually be good at it. She loved Run Marco and Kodable, both apps that have students move a character throughout a level, step by step, by providing instructions. She found the games fun and engaging, and they were both very user friendly. Within minutes, she was asking me to stop helping her, wanting to play the game herself.

Also at the forefront of my mind is just allowing my kids to create something...anything. As I watch my own kids mess with cardboard and paper to create different objects, I am convinced that cardboard tubes and boxes could serve as building blocks for kids. With some direction and encouragement, they could make some pretty cool things that might even complete an objective they've been given. I read an interesting article on Edutopia talking about kids using cardboard and wanting to build and create, and then watched a video on kids creating Rube Goldberg projects using random materials. In the video, the project was student-led, giving them the chance to communicate with each other and work as a team to create something together...very valuable real-life lessons.

I know that my students will love these opportunities. I just have to make them happen.