Welcome to Jennie Magiera's Technology in Education Blog:

Redefining the (digital) Classroom

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cracking Open Digital Textbooks

I used to be anti-digital books. Then one day I broke down and bought a Kindle right before a trip to Europe. Walking through the Borghese Gallery in Rome with Rick Steve's travel guide in a searchable, digital form helped me see the benefits of digital texts. I returned to Chicago eager to try using digital books in my classroom. I found that not only was the medium totally approachable for my students, it created new opportunities for my kids to interact with the text. Suddenly they were able to write in their books! Unheard of practice with our aging textbooks  - even a punishable crime! Using the iBooks or Kindle App, the kids could highlight directly in the text, bookmark, write notes, comments or questions, search keywords, even hear the text read to them. Pictures could be zoomed in, and some newer books even offered integrated video! I thought to myself - that's it. I'm going all digital texts, all the time!

The problem became acquiring these books. Penny poor and thus unable to purchase 30 digital copies of textbooks, I began creating all of my own digital textbooks: finding articles online, scanning photographs, etc. -- and compiling them all into a PDF file to sync to my iPads. Not fun.

Then, I had the joy to sit in a room full of tech-loving teachers at Apple's offices in downtown Chicago. Leading the pack was the hilarious and sage Bruce Ahlborn. He shared - to my immense elation - great resources for FREE digital textbooks. I learned about libraries of free texts and how to make my own textbooks in less than 60 seconds. (I also learned the powerful lesson: When something isn't working well - ask for help!)

First off, CK-12 FlexBooks. CK-12 is an amazing organization that offers free digital textbooks. Currently the iPad texts are mostly high school level math and middle/high school level science. However, it looks like they are slowly expanding their library. I downloaded the Earth Sciences text that - at first glance - seemed to be geared solely to middle / high school level students. However, upon further investigation, I saw that many of the topics and readability were ripe for my 5th graders! So go ahead - download a few to try. Why not? They're free!


Oh no! CK-12 doesn't have the topic you're looking for? Or the reading level of the text is way too high? Not to fear! Wikibooks (and WikiJunior) is here! Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. Wikipedia is not always the most reliable source for educational texts. Well, thanks to many of Wikipedia's recent fact verification safeguards, it is becoming more and more so. Wikibooks offers open source textbooks and manuals for the public. Should you still not find the textbook of choice in the Wikibooks collection, you still have yet another option. Wikipedia also offers Book Creator - a create-your-own-textbook tool from Wikipedia's website which allows you to create PDF file books using Wikipedia's articles as chapters.

To use Book Creator, simply find the article you'd like for your students to read, and click on "Create a book" in the left hand navigation bar. (You may have to open the "Print/export" window first by clicking on the arrow next to this tab.) Once you click on "Create a book", you will be asked to start Book Creator and will be taken through several steps. Eventually you will have a PDF file ready to go that can be easily opened on iBooks.
Tip: If you do this all on your iPad, you will get an option to open the file directly in iBooks!

WikiJunior is a sub-site on Wikibooks on which all of the articles are written at an elementary student readability level. Searching for articles here will yield shorter, more kid-friendly texts that can also be added to your Wikibook.

Another great idea shared with me by Bruce: have students create their own textbooks. Give students a general topic, link them to Wikijunior and allow them to create their own resources. Then have them share these resources with one another or utilize them for a research project. What an amazing student-led learning opportunity!

Armed with these new tools and sites, I have already created a rich new library for my students to explore. I know I'll be finding many more ways to access and acquire digital texts. Soon I'll be experimenting with "checking out" digital texts from the library using iBooks or Kindle. As I find viable methods and platforms, I'll be sure to write about them on this blog.

AND, as always if any of you know of other sites or tools, please share in the comments below as well!

Happy digital reading!

2 comments:

  1. I love the idea of students creating their own resources to use!

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  2. I’m impressed!! Really informative blog post here my friend. I just wanted to comment & say keep up the quality work. I’ve bookmarked your blog just now and I’ll be back to read more in the future my friend! Also nice colors on the layout, it’s really easy on the eyes.

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