Just One More Book Review

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I have another podcast review over at Just One More Book, which is a great site for learning about picture books and loving the genre. And they are welcoming to anyone submitting their own reviews of picture books. So, go ahead: give it a try — you can send them a written review, an MP3 review or even call their special phone number and leave your review on their answering machine.

This time (which I guess is now my fifth review there), I reviewed Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco — a book that deals with the idea of books and literacy in a very interesting way. I love the ending, in particular, as the children lead the way to literacy.

Go to Just One More Book to hear my review.

Peace (in podcasts),

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),

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.

The Digital Math Book Project, part three

This is the third part in a series of posts in which I am sharing and reflecting on my Digital Math Picture Book Project in which sixth grade students (ages 11 and 12 ) use MS Powerpoint to create original picture books with a technological publishing aspect. (See post one and post two for more information).

Today, I want to share some of the reflections that my students wrote as they completed their books. Along with taking the survey, whose results I wrote about yesterday, my students had to write a few sentences about things they liked about the project and ways that I could improve it for next year. I also ask this question because it gives them some power in how to shape a project and I often do make changes based on their reflections.

Some common themes in their reflections is the aspect of time (mostly, not enough time, even though we spent weeks on the project) and freedom to choose the topic (I force them to use math — or science, last year — as the underlying theme of their books so that we can tie it into the curriculum and our district’s huge pressurized push to boost math skills).

Here are some of what they said:

  • I enjoyed the math book project. One thing I would change would be to give less time. I know some people take a while to do the project, but I was done fairly quickly. Maybe it should be done independently because a lot of people are more efficient when working alone.
  • I think you should have different learning topics. Learning and teaching (some subject area) should still be part of it, but if everyone did different topics then it wouldn’t be the same thing in a different story or form for the audience. If we had different topics, like science or social studies or writing, then it would be better for the audience and for the writer. The writer would have more topics to choose from.
  • What I would change about the project is the deadline. I think you should give kids way more time. That way, kids would be able to spend more time on their pictures.
  • I think doing math kind of ruined it. It would be better if you could pick your own topic.
  • I really liked how we could draw our own pictures. But I think next year, kids should be able to have about two or three pieces of clip art in their stories.
  • I enjoyed using Microsoft Powerpoint to make a book. I think having it based on math was enjoyable. I like math a lot and it was fun to make a book around it. This was so fun I didn’t want to stop.
  • One way I think you could improve the project is to have a key or sheet on how to do certain things (in Powerpoint). There should be a paper that tells us how to do backgrounds, fill effects, animation. Then, you won’t have to go everywhere in the room and people don’t have to wait for you with a question. People could still ask questions if they are confused. I know I would have liked a key instead of always raising my hand.”

I think that last comment — on creating a sheet of paper with some basic technology instructions — makes a lot of sense and now I think, why didn’t I do that? I was running around the room quite a bit, helping out individually and doing mini-lessons here and there and everywhere. A sheet with some basic instructions would have freed me up. Great idea.

The comment that “math ruined it” is an extreme expression of a reaction that I got at the start of the project, and which quickly faded for many of the students as soon as they had a story idea in their mind and the laptops open. It’s true that math is not the most engaging theme, but it does allow me to justify the time spent on the project, allows students to think about math in a different way, gives them a chance to write for an audience (of younger students), and pushes them a bit outside of their regular comfort zone.

The first comment about having too much time on their hands was the only one of its kind in the stack of student reflections. I do have a series of bonus activities and different layers of the project for a variety of learners, so most always have something to keep them going. Last year, we even tinkered with embedding video into the books, but we did not get to that this year. But we do have students use audio to narrate their books, add hyperlinks to game and resource sites on the web, write biographies of themselves as published authors, and other activities. Even so, some kids cruise through and some are move slow (one of my students is still working on his book, which is looking great but it has been in progress now for almost five weeks).

Here is another video collection of the books:

In my next post, I will share out some thinking on what I will do next year based on my experiences from this year.

Peace (in pictures),

Digital Math Book Project, Part two

This is the second part of my attempt to share out a month-long unit in my classrooms around creating digital picture books that center on the theme of math. Yesterday, I shared some of the links to the books themselves and one of the movies that I made by converting the Powerpoint files into video. (see part one) I will be sharing another movie with each of these posts.

By the way, this idea of digital picture books is also the topic of a chapter I have written for a book I am co-editing that centers on the concept of how technology may be changing the way we look at writing in the classroom, with a special emphasis on how teachers are handling the assessment of such work and balancing these changes with the increased state and federal push for standardized testing. (We’ll be sending off the book to our publisher in the coming weeks!)

At the end of the project, I have students take a quick survey as a way for me to gauge how things went overall (I have 80 students in four classes) and also write a quick reflection. I will share out some of the written reflection in the next part of these posts. But I gathered up the results of the survey and turned some of the questions into graphs. I had about 75 students take this survey.

Some things I find interesting:
  • I always hope this project might spur more students to see themselves as authors and publishers of their own books. Last year, the numbers did not show this interest but this year, more students indicated they might be willing to try to self-publish their own book in the future. This means that writing has value to them. Yeah.
  • It’s clear that the technological aspect to the book creation has drawn their interest and made them invest more energy into this project than if I had given them paper and pencils. I see that in the classroom, but it is nice to see it reflected in their own reactions, too. They were very engaged for few weeks on this project. Every day, the question from their mouths: Are we working on the books today?
  • The question of whether their book would be different if we had not used technology is an interesting one. Last year, the numbers were high in the column of “yes” but this year, there were a lot of “not sure” responses. I wonder if this is because we could not print them out and they could not see the flat version of their books. Almost everyone used some sort of animation within Powerpoint — moving characters, shifting scenes, etc.
  • I ask the Comfort Level question because at the start of the year, only a handful of my students had ever used Powerpoint before. The software has many drawbacks, of course, but I like to show them how to use programs in creative ways. I like to think that I am sending them forth with some knowledge that not everything has to be used as it was designed for and that it is OK to play around and dig deeper into technology to discover possibilities.
Here is another video collection of picture books:
Stay tuned for Part Three, where I share out some student reflections.
Peace (in pictures),

The Digital Math Book Project, part one

My students have finished up their Digital Math Picture Book Project and I am going to share out some of the work and some reflections over a few days. The basic premise of this project is that students use MS Powerpoint as a platform for designing and creating a digital picture book. They can’t use any clip art. And the theme that must woven into all of their stories is math (last year, it was science). Some students go deep into Powerpoint and animate their stories in pretty neat ways. Others spend a lot of time on the illustrations. Everyone is fully engaged in the work during the entire unit and many students emerge as leaders and helpers of others.

Typically, this project takes a good three to four weeks, including planning time, rough draft writing and storyboarding, and then working on the computers. The final results are shared on our class weblog for families and shared with younger students at our school. Some years, we have money to print out hard copies of all the books, but not this year. Which is unfortunate, because there is value in their perceptions of their books from the digital canvas to the printed page.

Here are some samples of the books from this year, including a few that I experimented with my converting into a video. It’s not perfect — some frames move too fast and some of the writing is too small. I need to keep working with the software and figure out a better method. But I like turning the books into little movies, however.

I’ll share out the three little movies that I made as part of this series of posts. I would include them all here but the new Edublogs platform seems resistant to more than one embedded video media.

Here some links to download and view some books in Powerpoint mode:

I am now in the process of grading all of the books (more than 50!) and I am pleased with many of the results. This weekend, I’ll post out the results of a survey I gave to students and then I will share some of their written reflections on the project. The reflections provide an interesting insight into the process from their viewpoint (hint: why math? is a common thread).

Peace (in picture books),


Getting a Glimpse of Digital Math Picture Books

My students are hard at work with their Digital Math Picture Books and some are now starting to panic about some deadlines that I have set for next week. But I think most of them will be OK. They need a little fire under them to reduce some of the social chatter during class and focus in on their work. Some of the books are just amazing. Others are going to need some significant work. But everyone — from the strongest writers to the most reluctant — are fully engaged in what they are doing with this project.

I grabbed some of the pages from books and went back to Animoto to see if I could create a fun little overview of some of their work. Here goes:

Peace (in pictures),