Some final thoughts on Digital Science Books

You know how when you are in a group of teachers, talking about ways that you could boost student achievement, the topic that always comes up is: time. We need more time. More time to engage our students, more time to go deeper into the topic, more time for play. We all suffer from this lack of time, I think.

As my 75 students worked on their Digital Science Books on the theme of an adventure story with cell mitosis (see past posts for examples and other reflections), I once again was caught with moving deadlines for completion of work. The original deadline was a Thursday, then the Friday, then the following Tuesday and finally another Monday. The deadline kept shifting as I kept careful track of where they were with their projects (which involved using Powerpoint as a publishing platform).

And even now, there more than a few students who would have loved another week to work on it. But, in the end, we had to move on. And there is nothing like a deadline to capture the focus of young learners. With the project over, I still have two incomplete books and I need to make more time for them to finish, and I am not sure how I will do that.

Looking back, I can see a lot of great success this year. The stories were pretty engaging and full of surprises as they really used their creativity to get at the stages of cell mitosis (not an easy task, given the vocabularly involved). Each day, they had their science study guides out, making sure they were using factual information. I believe most did quite well on their Cell Unit test and I would like to believe that the work on these digital books played a part in that.

My students also showed me a thing or two. One group of boys wanted to do a comic-book style of project and after I showed them how to create comic speech bubbles, they quickly discovered how to embed audio into each individual bubble, so that when one bubble fades out and another appears, the audio narration kicks in automatically. Very cool.

This year, the audio component was big, and I was smart to purchase a dozen Dual Headphone Jacks so that teams could listen to the audio together. This was great because it eliminated much of the background noise that often invades audio projects. I love those little white adapter jacks! I thought more groups would take me up on the use of video, but only two groups did. One created a Mitosis Rap song that was wonderful and another used a video of a genie coming up out of a bottle. Video is tricky, though, but again: more time would have led to more innovation, I think.

A crucial element to this project continues to be storyboarding, story mapping and also, a checklist that keeps the projects in focus. These three resources were incredibly valuable for all the groups, and I kept reminding them: Where are you on the checklist? Do you have everything you need? Are you following your storyboard? (Storyboards often change, which is fine, but it should form the skeleton of the story).

On the day the students shared their books (with other sixth grade classes), there was so much laughter and discussion and revision. The beauty of the digital book is that editing can happen automatically, so a peer review comment can lead to instant revision. I love that aspect of the project.

I’m a bit disappointed that we could not print out the books this year, but given budget cuts and the cost of color books, I could not justify it. Plus, the books need to be revamped if they are to be printed. The animation that makes the books digital makes it less conducive to printing out paper copies. Many students took the books home on flash drives (another valuable tool) and I will burn on discs some of the books for others, if necessary. I may also set up all of the books on a Box.Net site, so they can download the books at home. I want to provide as many options for them to gain access to the books as possible.

So, all in all, it was a great project, with lots of learning (tech, writing and science) and lots of engaged students over a three to four week period.

Here are a few final comments from my students after I asked them to write about how I could improve the project for next year:

  • I would have the kids who do this project to make a movie on mitosis and one about anything that they want. I think that would make the experience a lot more fun. Also it would let the kids learn even more things that Microsoft Power Point is capable¬† of.
  • ….GIVE US MORE TIME!! and give an instruction sheet on how to do things like adding links and sound.
  • I think that you should have a contest to see who can make the craziest story that still gets a scientific/what ever concept through.
  • I’m not sure because I don’t know what kind of technology were going to have in the future years¬† to come. but I would recommend anything popular or good to use in the “to come” stories. =]
  • I would say to give the kids more freedom with their creativity. Let them branch out on their story ideas, or have one of the Harris Burdick story be the PowerPoint. That would be awesome.

Peace (in the books),

  1. Pingback: Telling Our Classroom Stories | BlogWalker

  2. Kevin,
    I just added your digital science book site to the list of resources for my Tinkering with Technology:Web 2.0 Converging Media 2 day class that starts June 23. I get Bonnie’s DS resources from the same site.
    Mary in Missouri

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