Monday, March 30, 2015

Evaluating E-Book Apps for K-12

Toady's blog is written by Paula Hollohan, the Doucette Library's Instructional Technologies and Information Specialist.She writes the blog Doucette Ed Tech. 

Student-teachers often ask us what our opinions are about e-books so I asked Paula to provide a few points to consider when selecting e-books. The Doucette Library has the book apps mentioned here available on iPads that can be loaned out to students from the Werklund School of Education here at the University of Calgary.

By Paula Hollohan
I've been looking at e-book apps for almost a year now and I have to say, evaluating them is an involved process. It is getting easier but e-book content is evolving at the same time.  Here is some advice for evaluating e-book apps for a class set of iPads:
1. Find an e-book that you feel exemplifies what you are looking for. Many evaluators  look at  Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night for a great non-fiction e-book app that exemplifies great augmentation while not being distracting.
2. Strike a balance between the basic book as a hard copy and the enhancements of the e-book app.  Are the add-ons truly enhancing the reader's experience or distracting from the enjoyment of the book? In this case, you must know your reader or the kinds of readers in your classroom and the amount of interactivity present in the app.  Test out Even Monsters are Shy to see activity, music, and a story. I thought this e-book was mostly balanced but, depending on your readers, it may have too much going on.
3. Are you looking for an e-book app that you can be embedded in your curriculum or are you looking for technology to check off in the :"I am a technology forward teacher" box?  Adding an e-book app is great if it means that the book is an embedded part of your teaching. Many students learn differently and an enhanced e-book app may reach some very visual students.  For example, Water by Edward Burtynsky can be used across many curriculum areas and grades. It is very visual but has interesting information embedded for units on climate change, environmental responsibility, global citizenship and many social studies and science topics.
4. Think about how you choose great books for you classroom library. Most of the same criteria apply to e-book apps.  Do you love the illustrations? Can the story be used to model writing? Is it interesting enough for students to go back to again and again.? I would be extra careful with e-book apps. I would experiment with many and read reviews but the ones that you feel are keepers for your classroom may differ from what the critics say.  Can you see yourself recommending an e-book app over and over to different students? Then it is a winner. Do you need one copy or a series of copies on ipads throughout your classroom? That is more expensive and may need to be refreshed from year to year.

5. Have fun! Experiment! Download apps for a panel of students to try.  They are so experienced with technology, you will find out pretty quickly which e-book apps are engaging and which ones are not. And like a hard copy book, an e-book app has a lifespan within your classroom and can be deleted when students are no longer using it. There is no shortage of new apps appearing each day.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I am who I am

Red: a crayon’s story by Michael Hall is one of ‘those’ books.  You know, the books you read and go “Oh!” then a few goose bumps race up and down your arms. Your brain is telling you that this book is going to be great in the classroom!

This is a story about Red.  He’s a crayon who is red.  Except he isn't very good at being a red crayon.  Everything always turns out blue. Red ants are blue. Strawberries are blue. Cherries, hearts and foxes all come out blue.

Even with help from his parents, teachers, and friends, all his pictures turn out to be the wrong colour.  No one quite knows what to do but all have an opinion as to why Red is the way he is.  Some crayons are more understanding than others.  He becomes very frustrated when practice and hard work doesn't make a bit of difference
But wait! 

A new crayon hits the scene and asks Red to make a blue ocean for her boat.  And, voila! A perfect ocean is drawn by Red. He does a good job.  No one criticizes him or makes excuses.  It  is easy!  So is making blue birds, blue berries and blue whales.  He has finally found out what he was good at doing.

This is a terrific book that looks at identity and individuality in a fun way.  No one has to be stuck with a label.  Finding what each person (or crayon) is good at changes the game and allows for everyone to shine.

Recommended for preschool to grade 3, but why stop there?  Take it to any level and see what happens.

Books to think about pairing with:

Ten Birds by Cybele Young is also about labeling.

This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris about following your heart’s desire and not letting anyone but you in a box.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt keeps with the crayon theme though the story is about appreciating things we take for granted.

All recommended for the primary grades.

Monday, March 16, 2015

World Water Day 2015 - Sustainability

This Sunday, March 22 is World Water Day. This is a day designated to celebrate, raise awareness, and change the way we think about and access water, especially for those in the world who suffer for lack of clean water.  This year's theme is sustainability.  Visit the official website to learn more and get posters and banners to display in support.

A very timely arrival into the Doucette Library is Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior good for the primary grades.

It's about a group of children given the important job of collecting water for everyday household use such as drinking, cooking, washing dishes, or cleaning teeth. Anna, the youngest, is frustrated because she hasn't picked up the knack of carrying her water container on her head like the others. She does eventually overcome her lack of ability. They collect the water from a fairly fast moving, clean-looking river. The landscape is full of green hills, pastures and trees. This is a day-in-the-life kind of book, that would raise the question as to why children have to go a collect water from a river. It's not focused on accessed to clean water.

The story takes place on an island in the Caribbean.  It just so happens, that last year, I spent a little over two weeks on the Caribbean island on Carriacou part of Grenada and came across a similar scene as the opening in this book -- a group of children carrying large plastic containers of water, though not on their heads. Essentially, there is a wet season and dry season here.  I was there in April towards the end of the dry season and things were pretty dry; brown, dry grass, leafless trees and no standing water for wildlife or domestic animals.  There are few wells and no rivers.  Water is collected during the wet season using household catchment systems. When water runs low, people and animals do without. 
Water is at the core of sustainable development. Water resources, and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. From food and energy security to human and environmental health, water contributes to improvements in social well-being and inclusive growth, affecting the livelihoods of billions. -- from
Another terrific nonfiction book that ties in perfectly with World Water Day is Every Last Drop: bringing clean water home by Michelle Mulder. Here you will learn how people throughout history have obtained, used and disposed of water.  Current practices for water use around the world are found in the second half of the book with a smattering of information about sanitation - the often overlooked component of the clean water initiative. I recommend this for the middle grades as a way to delve further into the issues about water.

In last week's blog, I mentioned an enhance e-book app that was also a recent acquisition for the Doucette Library.  Water by Edward Burtinsky is well worth looking perusing as it looks at water issues through the eye of an artist.  This is best used at high school levels and up.

Happy Water Day, Everyone!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Surreal industrial landscapes to the culture of stewardship

Wasn’t I the lucky camper last week when I attended a talk by Edward Burtynsky at Mount Royal University?  The correct answer: YES!!!

Edward Burtynsky is a photographer who looks for patterns in human behavior that have a huge and lasting impact on the landscape.

Think about the huge open mining pits in Ontario, British Columbia, or Utah.  Or the oil fields in California that cover vast areas of moonscape-like terrain. Or areas he calls ‘urban mines’ that encompass colossal mounds of tires or pyramids of stacked cubes of crushed scrap metal.

None of these are landscapes that I’d go looking for to photograph. But Burtynsky’s work captures a terrible beauty while informing us about the undeniable impact humans have on this planet.  His photographs don’t chastise but let us draw our own conclusions about the need for oil extraction, water use, transportation and our methods of production, consumption and disposal of waste.

Cover:  nickel tailings, Ontario

Manufactured Landscapes, both the over-sized coffee-table book and the DVD, draw us into our world in new ways, giving us new perspectives, whether he’s at ground level or taking aerial shots.  No one would ever argue that these are small problems but seeing these images on such a large scale, certainly and scarily, brings home this point.

Cover: Xiaolangdi Dam, China

The book, Water is available in the Doucette Library as an enhanced e-book app. Many of the images included in this book, I was lucky enough see and hear the photographer discuss in his talk last week.  But as an app, you, too, can hear the artist as he speaks to the images.  The e-book includes pop-up maps and zoom capabilities, as well. This is an intriguing format which is worth a look, but for me, it took away from the images as an artistic statement.

One question posed by an audience member at the talk, was about how he keeps going after photographing these kinds of images for over 40 years.  There is a sense of being overwhelmed by how much humans take without real consideration for short or long-term impact.  He ended on a positive note; saying that he thinks we are moving into a time when we will become better stewards of the planet and sees young people, concerned with their own healthy living, becoming more aware of quality of air, water, and food when it impacts them directly.  They will become better advocates for the environment.

Using Burtynsky’s work in a classroom would work at many levels because the images are so compelling.  Reading level is appropriate for high school and up. The images could be used in a teaching context in upper elementary and junior high school.  The e-book version of Water where sections are read out loud would be a great advantage for struggling readers.  Great opportunities for integrating content areas connecting environmental issues with social, political, geographical and scientific thinking.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Curriculum connections

From There to Here by Laurel Croza and Matt James is a terrific picture book that would pair perfectly with the Alberta curriculum for the grade 2 social studies unit about communities.  It’s the sequel to I Know Here that also fits well with this curriculum topic.

In both books, our protagonist is an observant little girl who looks at the community where she lives.

In I Know Here, she revels in the community she’s a part of in rural Saskatchewan.  Her father has been building a dam and all the members of this community are involved in the same project. She loves the forest that’s behind her trailer: the wild animals that she hears and encounters, the dirt packed road lined with trailers of her neighbours, the school with a very understanding teacher and of course, the other kids she’s come to know.  It’s a great place to live and to have adventures.  When the dam project is completed the community will disperse to pursue employment elsewhere.  Our little girl is anxious about the move to the city of Toronto.

In the second book, From There to Here she’s learning about this place and making comparisons between her last home and this new one.  There are many differences: her father doesn't come home for lunch, everyone locks their doors, the roads are paved and there are few trees. When living in Saskatchewan all the children played and hung out together doing the same thing because there were so few of them.  In Toronto, the protagonist’s brother is off with his friends to some kind of exhibition which she’s too young to attend.  Though all these differences are noted and let us know how discombobulated the little girl is, it’s when there’s a knock on the door and new-friend-to-be-made, Anne, is there waiting, that we know that life will be okay.

I did think that the first book’s description of the little rural community very evocative and could feel the girl’s pain about leaving this place behind.  The description of Toronto is less suggestive of what it’s like as its being compared to what was left behind.  The illustrations give us a better look at this neighborhood in the big city.  The second book is about the differences between the two communities but also about resiliency and adjusting to new situations.  A new friend will be a big part of this little girl’s new life in Toronto.

A word about the illustrations – wonderful.  Very childlike drawings and fanciful use of colour help convey different feelings between the two locations. 

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