Alina Bitter (@meetmissalina) is a Kindergarten
teacher in Orange County, California
Jillian Mendoza: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Alina Bitter: I’m a first year Kindergarten teacher. I just completed my 4+1 Master’s and credential program at Chapman University. I was so excited to complete my degrees in California, since I see the state as a very progressive place for education. My degree is in Integrated Educational Studies, and my Master’s is in Curriculum and Instruction. I was so excited to be in the 4+1 program since I got to be with kids in the classroom as soon as possible!
Jillian Mendoza: Did you do any student teaching before this school year?
Alina Bitter: I did my student teaching while I was still in college, and I learned so much since I was teaching for the first time during COVID, when everything was online. I think coming up as a teacher during the pandemic played a big role in how I integrate technology into the classroom. I learned about what kind of technology is suitable for kindergarten.
JM: So what are the best uses of technology you discovered during COVID?
AB: The biggest surprise to me was how adaptable Kindergarten was during COVID. Everyone talks about kids being like sponges. I had kindergartners during my student teaching who taught me things about the iPad that I didn’t even know about! This generation of students is truly a group of digital learners.
I think my favorite learning last year was how different technology platforms can help with different student needs. I love Seesaw for science, and I use Google Classroom to help weave all subjects together to create a dynamic learning experience. One really cool thing about technology is since we have not returned to in-person instruction, we got to continue using iPads in a significant portion of our lessons.
JM: Do you think there is such a thing as too much technology for students?
AB: I do find that we need to balance screen time with time spent learning offline. Technology can make lessons so much more dynamic, but we need a healthy balance of technology centered and non-technology centered lessons. It is a learning curve for all of us this year.
JM: What do you find is an appropriate amount of screen time for your kindergartners?
AB: Honestly, I am still figuring that out! In my class most students did not complete TK so it is their first time being outside of the home. We didn’t even use iPads at the beginning of the school year, some of my students have grown up with tablets but some have never used one before.
We spend a lot of time learning how to handle devices, practicing how to treat them with care, and general rules and procedures.
JM: So as your students are learning how to handle the responsibility of 1:1 iPads, how are you able to incorporate them into your lessons?
AB: The first year teaching is so hard! I have 32 five year-olds and they aren’t all independent. I like with the iPads that I can be floating around the classroom providing support while some students are able to keep learning at their own pace. I use iPads for individualized learning opportunities, I can differentiate instruction for each of my students.
For some students I am able to send out more challenging activities, and others I can provide more developmental activities. The technology gives me the time to give special instruction to students who need it, without slowing down anyone’s pace of learning.
JM: What kinds of tools do you incorporate for offline learning activities?
AB: I am currently teaching a lesson with hands-on manipulatives using blocks. The iPads are only being used for extensions or for practicing application of the learning objectives to real-life scenarios.
JM: How do you use technology to support your English Language Learners?
AB: First, I model for my class what I would like them to do. I embed the model for students in the iPad activity, so they can reference it throughout the lesson. I have 21 students who are EL, and so I also use iPads to help incorporate speech practice. I have students record themselves saying their numbers and counting out loud. When students submit their work, they also submit an audio recording.
I really like the routine of recording their thinking, they make quick voicemails counting to ten and it is really great to incorporate English practice in math. During the fall we counted candy corns and pumpkins, which they love. I know that language acquisition is a big hurdle in kindergarten so it’s great that we can use technology to help them grow.
JM: Do you use technology for assessments?
AB: I would consider everything I do to be an informal assessment! Anything I collect digitally can be used during conferences or IEPs. I use data from our district diagnostics which helps me identify my students’ strengths and areas of need. We base our school goals on diagnostic data, then personalize goals for students.
I also do digital quick checks, and I love using programs with text to speech so that students can have the problems read aloud. For some students I still need to paraphrase the instructions, but it is extremely helpful to have the option for students to try listening to the directions first. I also have an instructional aide who is great with helping students to understand questions being asked.
JM: How do you innovate with technology in the classroom?
AB: With the holidays coming up we are doing more fun festive stuff. The biggest hit this fall has been candy corn. I can take any mathematical topic and make it about candy corn and the kids love it! I like to teach through all five senses, which especially helps my students who are English Learners. By incorporating touch, taste, smell, etc. it helps to make connections to the content.
JM: How do you involve students’ families using technology?
AB: I love for parents to be involved, it is so valuable to establish a connection between home and school. I always tell parents we are on the same team, and to take that perspective with everything we do for their students.
For many first time parents, it is scary to send their kid off to school for 7 hours a day. Parents want to know what their kids are doing, some parents are busy or have limited English but they still really care about their child.
At the start of the year I sent out a Google form to parents to share more about themselves and only 1 parent responded. So then I used a QR code to share it out and instantly I had over half of the families complete the form!
I share assignments with parents so that they can see what their kids are up to and support the learning that happens at home. I share a timeline with parents that shows them what is coming up, so they know what the class is working on. Parents really appreciate the transparency and the ability to send and receive feedback to each other.
JM: That’s great! So you feel that parents are partners in the learning process?
AB: Exactly. For specific activities, it is great to show parents their kids have a grasp of the concept. When parents can’t be on campus or are busy, they can still see clips of their students’ learning and what activities they got to be part of. I’ve had parents follow along our updates and pick up candy corn, to practice counting with their kid at home. It’s awesome to see the love for learning and how parents and students can bond over what I am teaching in class.
Continue the conversation with Alina by connecting with her on Instagram @meetmissalina.
For new teachers and seasoned veterans alike, Magma Math is currently accepting applications for our Educator Innovator Lab, Cohort 3. Click here to learn more.
Jillian Mendoza is an international math and computer science educator. She is passionate about math equity and loves thinking about unsolved math problems.