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Highland’s Kindergarten Students Drive Learning with Technology

If you were to pop into the Highland Kindergarten classroom today, you would probably hear one of Diana Hewitt’s serious five-year-olds comment to a classmate, “That’s a great piece of work, you should upload that to your Seesaw journal!” That’s right, you won’t hear them talking about Dick, Jane and Spot as you might have 50+ years ago.

The new Seesaw e-Portfolio program that Mrs. Hewitt and Technology teacher Michele Daniel-Shenk are piloting in Kindergarten definitely makes it a 21st century classroom, which is an important reflection of the Highland mission. 

What is an e-Porfolio?
For those who may not know what an e-Portfolio is, it is a student-driven digital portfolio that empowers students to document independently what they learn at school. Many people may conjure up an image of the “old fashioned art portfolio,” which was basically a large cardboard folder that contained a collection of a student’s artwork. An e-portfolio is an electronic file that encompasses a collection of many types of student work. It might contain photos, videos, drawings, various education apps, text notes, and math problems among other things. 

Technology puts emphasis on needs of each student
At Highland, the new iPad program is taking Kindergarten by storm and is changing the culture of teaching in the classroom. “The new iPads enrich my students and expand their learning,” Mrs. Hewitt declared recently. “It gives enormous support for those needing additional learning opportunities and I can use applications to target very specific, individualized needs, both with enrichment and remedial tasks,” she continued. “My reward is to facilitate my students’ learning by setting up experiences and then watch them discover the concepts on their own,” she said proudly. “I am creating problem solvers and critical thinkers who collaborate and teach each other.” 

By no means is the technology a substitution for writing manually in their paper journals or using manipulatives for math. “We build upon what we already do and then connect it to the technology,” Mrs. Hewitt explained. She clarified that Seesaw and the use of iPads are tools that the children use—“Starting with pencils, markers, crayons and then iPads!” Mrs. Hewitt exclaimed, “iPads are not toys and the children do not play games on them.”

By no means is the technology a substitution for writing manually in their paper journals or using manipulatives for math. “We build upon what we already do and then connect it to the technology,” Mrs. Hewitt explained. She clarified that Seesaw and the use of iPads are tools that the children use—“Starting with pencils, markers, crayons and then iPads!” Mrs. Hewitt exclaimed, “iPads are not toys and the children do not play games on them.”  

A distinct advantage of using e-Portfolios is that they connect parents directly with their children’s educations. “We communicate with parents routinely through a personalized window,” Mrs. Hewitt said. Parents can open their own child’s folder to see what they do at school each day.

Using this as one method in the classroom connects the child with the parent, connects home with school,” Mrs. Hewitt said. “It is thrilling to see.”

Why Seesaw? Mrs. Daniel-Shenk said she has always liked the idea of students keeping portfolios of their work. “As a parent, I love the idea of being able to look back at my child’s work and see how they have progressed over the years,” she said. She sees the program as an invaluable motivational tool too. “Students can record what they are doing and over time will be able to see how they improve.”

Students can share classwork instantly
Mrs. Daniel-Shenk believes there is no better tool with which to share schoolwork with parents. “Students of all ages often say they did nothing in school when asked by their parents. Seesaw allows us to take snapshots of the child’s day and share it with parents.” For instance, she can record a song they’ve worked on in music class or share how the children programmed a robot in technology class. 

 “I feel like the Seesaw website gives me the opportunity to view my daughter’s accomplishments on a daily basis,” says Khadar Ahmed, Amira Mohamed’s father. “I’m in Monrovia, Liberia, and I have to say Seesaw is amazing. I just spent an hour going through the pictures and audio.” The program keeps Mr. Ahmed actively involved with Amira’s work when he is so far from home. 

Every Kindergartner has an iPad
Each Kindergartner has his/her own iPad this year. “My favorite aspect is that the students take ownership for their own learning and with one-to-one devices, their learning has blossomed into far more than I could have imagined at the Kindergarten level,” Mrs. Hewitt added. “With Seesaw, my students have a place to showcase their work and they have no limits on what they can share with their families.” 

Even though the Seesaw program is designed for grades K-12, it is a child-friendly, safe program that only parents can view. Privacy is of the utmost importance and the teacher is always in control and has to approve all of the work that the children upload to their individual folders. Mrs. Hewitt adds information each day on what the class is doing. For instance, on a recent field studies trip, she took a picture of the group when they arrived at their destination and posted updates so the parents could see what they were doing. Each time there is an update on the site, parents receive an alert on their telephones. Mrs. Hewitt receives a report each week from Seesaw that shows how many parents have gone to their children’s folders and she reads comments that the parents leave when they “visit” their children’s folders. 

During the first week of school the students learned all about the buttons on their iPads and each week in technology class they learn new applications and technology terms. The beauty of the program is that the iPads are mobile and can be taken anywhere. For example, students took them to science class one day and photographed the new chicks that had hatched. Students are able to voice record on their posts too and as they become more advanced at writing, they write observations, stories and comments.

Reflecting on their own work adds to students' ciritcal thinking skills 
The goal of the program is to start with Kindergarten and build on the foundation each year. “As a teacher, I get to see the development process, which is very exciting,” Mrs. Hewitt volunteered. Another important component of the process is that it gives students a chance to regularly reflect on their work. By reflecting on what they have learned and figuring out how they plan to build and improve upon their work, children become better critical thinkers, which in turn, helps them with their writing and multi-media skills. Students’ learning is advanced by organizing, archiving and displaying their work.

It isn’t unusual for Mrs. Hewitt or a student to suggest that the children should post something to their folders. “The children love the program and really like going through their e-Portfolios to see what they have done,” she added. 

The idea to use one-to-one iPads in Kindergarten was hatched by Mrs. Daniel-Shenk and Mrs. Hewitt last year. They applied for a Faculty Fellowship Proposal because they wanted to write and pilot a new curriculum that integrated hands on learning activities with iPad applications. They liked the idea of being able to adapt learning to the individual student’s learning style. They attended workshops and visited other independent schools that use iPads in similar ways. Their goal was to “Create and implement a technology enhanced Kindergarten framework that promotes an educational philosophy in which technology is integrated into the curriculum through active, student-centered learning.” 

Mrs. Daniel-Shenk’s dream is “To see the iPads program expand to having 1-to-1 iPads throughout the Lower School.” She and Mrs. Hewitt have taken additional training in the use of the Seesaw program and have officially been named Seesaw Ambassadors. As such, they have spoken at other schools and share their experiences on social media. They have presented workshops at the Teachers Leading Teachers Conference, as well. Having been a former Kindergarten teacher before joining Highland, Mrs. Daniel-Shenk and Mrs. Hewitt make a great team and were the ideal pair to introduce this pilot program to the Kindergarten class.

Thanks to Lora Mackie for writing this article, which originally appeared in the fall issue of Highland Magazine. Check out the complete issue here.


Sender Image Posted by david in Student Stories, Academics on Thursday January, 28, 2016
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