DIY Textbooks With iBooks Author

» 22 January 2013 » In Ed Tech, Guest post, History / DBQ's, How To, Leadership, Publishing, Teachers » 2 Comments

textbook screenshotA recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caught my eye. “North Hills Teachers Write a Textbook for Online Curriculum”

In eighth-grade social studies classes at North Hills Junior High School, there’s no sleeping through videos, no hiding in the back of class to avoid being called upon and no student excuses about forgetting the textbook, notes or class materials. That’s because just about everything students use for class is online, including the textbook, which was written this past summer by social studies teachers Rich Texter, Joe Welch and Larry Dorenkamp. It was edited by reading teacher Jill Brooks, who made sure it was written at the appropriate reading level. The result is the students spend their class time multitasking with technology… More

The best way to motivate our students was to get rid of traditional textbooks.

I invited the Rich Texter, one of the project teachers / textbook developers, to do a guest post on the project. He kindly supplied some screenshots and the following post. (Note: the textbook is not available on iTunes). Rich on Twitter

Textbook sidebarTwo years ago, Larry Dorenkamp was thinking about how cool it would be to teach in a classroom that enabled him to teach his students about Social Studies, and have the kids excited about learning it. In his opinion, the best way to do that would be to get rid of the traditional textbooks and jump on the technology train. So, Mr. Dorenkamp approached the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Assessment and Special Programs, Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, about the possibility of using a classroom set of MacBooks, instead of a traditional textbook. It turns out that Dr. Taylor was very intrigued by making the 8th grade social studies classroom a digital learning environment. After the initial meeting, we–the three 8th grade social studies teachers (Mr. Richard Texter, Mr. Joseph Welch, and Dorenkamp)–sat down with Dr. Taylor and the building principal, Beth Williams, for an informal discussion. We discussed our vision of how this digital classroom would look and how it would function. Dr. Taylor wanted to ensure that the learning needs of the students would be met, as well as–if not at a higher level–than in a traditional classroom. The vision was that this would allow the students to more freely explore the 8th grade curriculum, increase student engagement, enhance understanding, and critical thinking skills. Dr. Taylor had discussions with the school board about a pilot program of a Digital Based social studies classroom. The board approved the program and purchase three classroom sets of MacBooks and iPad 2’s for our classroom. The three social studies teachers collaborated, throughout the school year, to create activities that would engage students, while allowing them some options in choosing what they do. We also worked to build assessments that would allow students to do more than just measure memorizing dates, places and facts.

We can tailor our book to regional history. Plus, we can update it whenever we want.

When Apple came out with its iBook Author, we decided to write a 8th grade text that was custom-made for OUR students. We liked the idea that the book would be aligned to our curriculum at North Hills, and that it could be aligned to the state-specific standards that we need to cover, in Pennsylvania. Instead of using a book that was written to be marketable to big text book states like California and Texas, we wanted to provide the students with information that was more pertinent to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania; we wanted to engage our students.

iBook builder allows you to make your textbook interactive; students can mark up the text and add their own notes. Bold words can be touched for an instant definition. If a student is struggling to pronounce a word, the book can speak the word for the student. Interactive maps and charts can be placed in the book, in addition to videos. We placed Keynotes, in certain sections, to highlight important information from a section. Interactive checks for understanding, that give the student immediate feedback, are at the end of each section and Unit.

The iBook continues to be a work in progress for us, we will continue to update the book to meet our needs. That is our favorite part of iBooks author as we need to update the book we can do it very quickly. So instead of waiting 5 to 10 years to be on cycle for a new textbook we can edit and update ours when ever we see the need.

textbook screenshot-1

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Romney vs. Obama Wordle Smackdown

» 06 September 2012 » In Commentary, Leadership, Visualizations » No Comments


Here’s text visualizations of the Romney and Obama speeches to their conventions. Interesting comparison of the top twenty words in each speech as represented in a word cloud.

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14 Provocative Questions for the Faculty

» 25 July 2012 » In Commentary, Ed Policy, Leadership, Reflection, Teachers » 3 Comments


It’s back to school time. Get ready for that opening day faculty meeting where you sit and listen, while wishing you could be getting some actual work done in your classroom. Here’s few disruptive questions you could pose to subvert the status quo in your school. Let’s begin with who’s learning, who’s not, and what are we doing about it?

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Excellent Sheep and Our Crisis of Leadership

» 21 February 2012 » In Commentary, Leadership, Reflection, Students » 3 Comments

Excellent sheep featured

Test prep courses, admissions coaches, private tutors. … So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. …They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.”

We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place.

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Schools Making A Difference: Films and Discussions

» 08 February 2012 » In Commentary, Ed Policy, Leadership, Students, Teachers » No Comments

Lessons from the Real World- featured

The Portland City Club is continuing its educational series “Schools Making A Difference: Portraits of Excellence, Engagement and Equity” – films, panel discussions and participant dialogues

Though economic realities pose significant challenges for our education system, when schools and communities work together with a clear vision and heroic effort, they can achieve stunning results. Exemplary schools provide high expectations and opportunities for all students to succeed. They also provide real world learning experiences that prepare students for college, careers and citizenship in the 21st century. They do this through an engaging curriculum that recognizes the diverse talents and needs of their student populations. Join fellow citizens, educators, and students for any of four evenings of films, panels, and participant dialogues that offer portraits of such schools in our region and around the world.

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Why Johnny Can’t Search – a Response

» 23 October 2011 » In Commentary, Ed Policy, Leadership, Literacy, Students » 21 Comments


Clive Thompson wonders “Why Johnny Can’t Search” (Wired Magazine Nov, 2011). I note that schools contribute to the problem in two ways. In an effort to protect students from offensive online content many schools respond by sequestering students behind an information firewall. That sets Johnny up to fail in our “wild west” of information. Every day he walks into a sanitized information landscape with the expectation that anything he finds behind the school firewall is acceptable.

Schools inhibit the development of critical evaluation skills in another way – the relentless (test prep) focus on mastery of facts. Johnny can assess the validity of information because he’s awash in a sea of text without context. Critically evaluating sources requires a deeper understanding of author and purpose. That’s developed with an inquiry-based approach to learning. No time for that – we have to “cover” content for the test. In the relentless march to the exam, Johnny gets well acclimated to quickly stuffing his head with facts. No wonder he’s willing to take up Google on the bet that “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

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Learning Walks: The Power of Teacher to Teacher PD

» 22 September 2011 » In How To, Leadership, PD, Reflection, Teachers » 4 Comments


Learning walks (also known as classroom walkthroughs) create opportunities for teachers to reflect on their craft. Here’s how I helped Lebanon Community Schools (Oregon) create a powerful teacher to teacher professional development opportunity. While visiting we kept our focus on watching the students, not the teacher. It moves “PD from lecture to the lab” in roving Socratic seminars – engaging participating teachers in observation, reflection, and discussion. Isn’t that the perspective we want to foster in our students? – thoughtful learners who are reflecting on their progress.

Typical PD takes place in the isolation from the students. Herd the teachers into a large lecture hall and let some consultant talk at them. Too often the consultant is viewed as a person with a PowerPoint from somewhere else who wants to sell you the solution to your problem. Learning walks can be lead by teachers and move the discussion to the reality of the classroom. More importantly, instead of treating teachers as a passive PD audience they are active participants in staff development.

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The Future of Schools – Three Design Scenarios

» 16 May 2011 » In Commentary, Ed Tech, Leadership, Social Web » 3 Comments

Control featured

“What proportion of the activity called ‘learning’ will be located in the institution called ‘school’?” The availability of relatively cheap technologies offering direct access to knowledge of all types creates opportunities for students to experience a dramatic increase in the choice of what they learn, with whom they choose to learn, and how they choose to learn. How will the institution called “school” survive in this environment?

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Jerry Seinfeld: History Teacher – Observations in the SNL Classroom

» 14 February 2011 » In History / DBQ's, Leadership, PD, Reflection » No Comments

Last week I used this classic Jerry Seinfeld piece from Saturday Night Live as part of an administrators’ workshop. We had lots of fun. Here’s your chance to borrow the idea. Goal: I was working with a team of principals and district administrators who wanted to provide more consistency in their teacher observations and look […]

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Eight Look 4s When Observing a Classroom: What the Teacher Teaches – What the Students Learn

» 06 February 2011 » In Leadership, Strategies, Teachers » No Comments

look for featured

“Look 4s for School Leaders.” It’s a succinct guide for principals, instructional leaders and can be used as reflective prompts by teachers. Put these in your toolkit and don’t forget they are all critical aspects to Common Core mastery.

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