Thursday, 19 February 2015

Creating eBooks To Collate Group Work

Creating Books with Book Creator
Book Creator is an app that many have been picking out in their top choices for educational apps recently, and it's for this reason that I decided I needed to trial it in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the main app itself isn't completely free. However, you can trial it (and create one free e-book) by using the free version of the app itself on the App Store. I decided to elect for the latter, mainly because I wanted to check that I truly believed in the app before I started lobbying the head of school to spend money on an iPad app that will go underused.

The Idea
I decided to trial the app with one of two (mixed ability) Year 8 groups.  Both groups are currently studying dystopian fiction: I've spent a half term going over examples of dystopian writing and what the genre entails before they start their own creations in the lead up to Easter.  We'd done this by looking at how writers created dystopian settings and characters, and how they used language, in extracts from works such as '1984' by George Orwell. For the final few lessons before the break, I was keen to get students to work on a range of extracts, before collaborating on resources that would sum up their findings as a class.

The first step was to set the students into ability groups.  Each group had a different extract to focus on (from 'The Hunger Games' to 'A Clockwork Orange') and each student within the group had a different focus area: setting, character or the use of language.  Through a set of prompt questions, students read the extract and made notes on their expert area; we used a similar approach (as a class) when reading '1984', so this was familiar territory.

In the next lesson, students got placed into mixed ability groups, each looking at the same expert area but with a different extract from the initial stage.  The idea was they would then collate their ideas (ready to share their learning with the rest of the class) and produce answers to the following questions:
How have dystopian writers created character/setting or used language in these examples?
How will we create dystopian characters/settings or use language when writing our own dystopian fiction?

Sugar Paper and Marker Pens
At this point, I changed my approach between the two classes. One class used sugar paper to create a series of notes to answer their core questions and collate their findings.  At the end of the lesson, envoys went around to other groups and take notes on their findings, before sharing their notes with the rest of the group.

This 'low-tech' and frequently used method was definitely successful.  The movement around the classroom, as well as the strict time slots to share ideas in, engaged students and I found that students were transferring notes from the sugar paper into their exercise books (so what was recycled was not lost).  The work on sugar paper also made it easier for me to observe each group's findings; I could then use questioning to push them further as I circulated and get them to put together some clear instructions for using their learning in their own writing.

iPads and Book Creator
With the other class, then, I used the same process to create mixed ability groups of three or four students.  Again, each group was made up of students who had focused on the same expert area, but has applied it to a different text.  However, they would be collating their learning (as a group) to produce an eBook.

Students were initially very excited about the prospect of the trial and the guide on using the app (which comes as an eBook that you can edit and experiment with) did a much better job of explaining the features than I could have, as well as proving a handy reference.  In addition to this, I used Apple TV to project a group's work onto the board whenever they were trying something new; this included taking pictures of their own notes/illustrations to including in their book and copying images across from Google images to illustrate the pages.

Yet there were some teething problems that became quickly evident.  Having one iPad for each group became problematic, and as the class set of fifteen had somehow dwindled to ten there was no way for me to rectify this.  This meant that the atmosphere became a little fractious in some of the groups when a student was accused of taking more than their turn.  However, I was able to stop other students becoming disengaged in the meantime, as they focused on drafting what they would write or writing it out on paper before taking a picture to put into the eBook.

Time was also a problem, as it was obvious that one lesson would not be enough for students to learn how to use the app as well as creating their eBook. It was for this reason that I gave them an extra lesson, which also gave us time to ensure that all projects were uploaded to a cloud location and saved securely.  This being said, my students felt that this would not be as much of an issue next time, as they felt much more confident in using the app now they had tried it.

Despite these issues, this approach did have some notable advantages.  The biggest is that students have produced resources that they can all refer back to.  I'm going to include QR links to the eBooks in the classroom.  I was also able to quickly collate the projects into three main eBooks (one for each of the expert areas).  This will make it easier for students to access them, for reference purposes, when creating their own dystopian fiction.  The use of the Apple TV also gave a great platform where students could share their learning throughout the process.  Furthermore, because students were using the internet to find images for their work, they were also able to make visual links to the settings/characters that they had been working on.  

Student Feedback
As I mentioned, the extra lesson gave me a little extra time to play with: this allowed me to get some student feedback on the app using a quick Socrative quiz.

Students said that they enjoyed the fact that the activity allowed them the chance to work independently (by allocating each other pages to work on) as well as giving the chance to work in groups.  They also stated that the access to the internet was beneficial and that creating the eBook was a 'cool new way of collecting notes.'

The main disadvantage students identified was the fact that groups of three or four had to share one iPad: something that I had already recognised during the process.  Next time, I'd get students to work in pairs to create their pages before collating the class' pages into one big eBook.

The other areas for change students identified were more concerned with features they hadn't discovered this time (for example, the ability to crop an image they'd taken from Google images).  I would create an 'FAQ wall' next time, that would allow students to ask each other questions about how to use the app and then the answers could be posted around the help station in my classroom. 

My Verdict
I accept that some teachers will probably prefer the low-tech method, and I will certainly continue to use activities like this to share learning as it's an effective and engaging way to do so.

However, when I want students to create something permanent that they can refer back to, I'd definitely be inclined to use Book Creator to do this. The fact that they are working to publish a resource for the whole class to use creates a sense of responsibility, and the app gives their work a professional finish that aids this.  On top of this, it's fairly easy for students to use (I gave very little guidance in how to use the app itself), which meant that I could focus on questioning student learning (as I did with the sugar paper group).  

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