I thought of my fifth grade classroom as a web publishing organization. Whenever it seemed appropriate, we shared our artwork, writing, videos, and other projects on our website, Planet 5th. If I was teaching fifth graders today, we would be crafting our own learning materials, including writing our own textbooks. That's exactly what Andrea Santilli and her seventh graders at Woodlawn Beach Middle School have done. Their eBook, Creatures, Plants and More: A Kids Guide to Northwest Florida, is a top seller in Apple iBookstore. Here's the description of what's in the free eBook's 133 pages:
Creatures, Plants and More is an interactive field guide of Northwest Florida. The stories and photos are a collection of what students from Woodlawn Beach Middle School have compiled for everyone to enjoy. If you are interested in visiting Florida's Best Kept Secret, look no further, the answer lies within the pages of this book! Enjoy fascinating interactive photo galleries and videos that will AMAZE you!
Andrea and her Advanced Life Science students used iBooks Author to create their highly interactive eBook. All of the photos in the book are ones in which students took themselves. The same goes for the book's videos. The students did a great job. It's not a professionally produced book, but there are lots of things other aspiring iBook authors can learn from these seventh graders. Andrea tells me that currently the book has had over 2,700 downloads from 23 different countries. Those numbers serve as validation of her students' hard work.
Mac Life wrote an article titled Super 7th Graders Publish Their Own eBook to the iBookstore. It explains the project in more detail. "Each student has to choose an organisms they wanted to study and were required to submit their topic for approval. Afterward, students had to write informative – but entertaining! – articles about their organism."
Andrea collected work from 69 students and entered it into iBooks Author. iBooks Author is free but only works on Macs running 10.7 Lion or higher. I'm not sure how Andrea did it, but I would have students layout their pages in their own iBooks Author files, collect their files, and copy and paste the pages into a master book.
iBooks Author is a fantastically powerful tool. Although it is similar to Pages, Keynote, and Numbers for Mac I find it slightly complicated to use. Luckily, you can find some great iBooks Author tutorials and helpful websites:
- Apple iBooks Author Tour Video on YouTube
- Publishing with iBooks Author: An Introduction to Creating eBooks for the iPad
- Create an Interactive eBook for the iPad Using iBooks Author: The Complete Guide
- iBook Creatives: The Community for iBook Authors
- Class Widgets: Custom iBooks Author Widgets
There are some disadvantages to using iBooks author for crafting your own learning materials. The biggest issue is that iBooks Author books can only be read on an iPad in the iBooks app. You can't even read the eBook on an iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, or PC. iBooks Author will export your work as a PDF, however, the PDF will lack the interactive table of contents, photo galleries, videos, and other hands-on elements. While I love the format iBooks Author provides, I think that I might still publish a student-made textbook as a website so that it is accessible on all devices and computers. It's just that what you can make with iBooks author is so slick and impressive. Another plus for iBooks Author is that by going through an application process you can have your book listed in the iBookstore.
Check out what Andrea and her students say about writing their book. Fox 10 News filmed a story about the students' publishing efforts that aired May 9, 2012.
I think the comment by CNEBBY in the Customer Reviews of Creatures, Plants and More sums up the project well: "This is an awesome example of what kids can do when they are properly motivated by a skilled teacher."