The Digital Math Book Project, part four

This is the fourth in a series of reflective posts I am writing about my Digital Picture Book Project (see post one, post two and post three). Today, I want to share some of the finer details, from a teaching stance, and give some pointers if you are considering such a project.

First of all, here is the basic plan that I follow. It obviously has more details to it in practice, but this gives you some idea of what it looks like:

  • Week One: Come up with a concept and target a specific audience. Develop a storyboard with sketch drawings and frame story ideas. Invite in an author/illustrator to talk about the process.
  • Week Two: Write a rough draft of the story in Microsoft Word and proofread. Begin work on the computers.
  • Week Three: Work towards completion of pictures and words; Consider adding multimedia elements such as audio narration, slide and image transitions, etc. Classmates read and critique the developing picture books, providing authentic input for revisions.
  • Week Four: Invite students from younger grades to tour the classroom in round robin format, reading and/or listening to stories and asking questions of writers; reflect on process and experience.
  • Week Five and beyond: Publish the picture books to the Sixth Grade Weblog (for families) and print out two copies of every book (one for writers and one for school library), if budget permits. Teacher grades projects.

I use a scoring rubric, which I share with my students at the start of the project that covers such areas as the story, the math concept, the design of the book, and spelling/grammar issues. (you can view the rubric here, if you want. Feel free to use it, adapt it or whatever).

We do regular check-ins as a way for me to monitor progress, but also as a way for students to reflect upon what they are doing. These check-ins begin as writing prompts and then move into a classroom sharing and discussion. I find that at these moments, many of the students who have a good grasp on technology emerge as leaders. They will often share some tricks they have discovered and offer to help others. I love those moments, particularly when the not-so-cool kid suddenly becomes very cool indeed.

I am noticing the quality of books are getting better each year (this is the third year of this project) and that may be that I have more models from previous years to show students. It may also be that I am giving them more time, even though some continue to feel rushed when the deadline emerges. The use of storyboarding and graphic organizers are crucial to keep focus on the story before a computer is even booted up, and while the story may change as they move along in a natural way, the outline they have created keeps them on track.

Here is something else I love: having my students share their books with younger students at our school. We set aside periods of time when younger grades can visit our classroom, or join us in the library (where our librarian is a partner in this project) and view the books on the computers. My kids become truly published writers and the younger students see some possibilities of technology. They are usually in wow-ed by the books. And anything that brings older and younger students together is something I am in favor of.

Finally, I should relate some of the technical aspects of what we are doing. Along with Powerpoint, we use a classroom Weblog (The Electronic Pencil) to showcase the stories for parents. I save the books as Powerpoint Shows, upload and share with my Box.net account so that kids can download them at home, if you want. Box.Net also allows me to track the number of downloads. And the blog allowed students from all four classes to be able to view the math books from friends in the other three classes, to their great delight. They also left some quick comments on the blog about the books they read.

I tinkered with using Slideshare, but then found that the books were flattened out (although the links to the web worked, so that was a plus). In the past, I have also made the books into PDFs, but I did not do that this year (although I offered to do that for any student who did have access to Powerpoint or Microsoft’s PP viewer software).

I turn the books into videos using some software I purchased called PPT to Video (by Wondershare). It’s quite easy to use and allows the animation to work, which is crucial. I wish there were a free service out there that would do the same, but I use the software for other projects, too, so it was worth the cost that I paid for it. I also turned to web-based Animoto this year to make a compilation video of various slides from everyone’s books. The kids LOVED seeing parts of their stories turned into a music video. (And Animoto has a service account for educators that allows you to make and then download a video file for free, which is a wonderful gesture on their part. You can also upload automatically from Animoto into YouTube for sharing on blogs, etc.)

Here is the final video collection of picture books:

Thanks for reading the posts and watching the books. I hope you try it yourself, and if you have a similar project, I hope you will share your own reflections with us.

Peace (in pictures),
Kevin

PS — I have to share this picture that one of my students did of our math teacher in front of the class, giving a pop quiz. It cracks all of us up to no end.

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