The grade 6 students at YIS are writing with a purpose with a unit on developing a picture book for an authentic audience, our kindergarten students.

A few years ago we attempted a very low-tech, yet high design-thinking approach to this unit. We abandoned computers completely, stocked up on bags full of Daiso* supplies and worked through the design cycle with the students. Our goal was to create a physical book that addressed the kindergarteners kinetic approach to learning. While the kinder students enjoyed reading the books with their grade 6 peers, the books were quickly tossed aside as they fell apart (it turns out Daiso materials might not be the best choice for book creation). However, more importantly, the grade 6 teachers and I doubted the actual impact to learning.

This year we decided to change direction for this unit. Our primary goals were to address these shortcomings in how we did it in the past:

  • Our grade 6 students were less concerned with the content of the book and were spending a vast majority of the time on the design (this was especially concerning as this was an English unit)
  • Our kindergarten students are just learning to read and most student could not read our books independently, which meant their use was further limited.

The change was also supported due to our change in device allocation in the elementary school. We went from having a mixture of ‘hand-me-down’ MacBook Air’s and iPad Mini’s to every student in elementary having their own full-size iPad (the specifics of this would require a completely new blog post). So, now our kindergarten students have access to their very own iPad that they use for learning as is authentic in their classes.

With the device allocation change and our shortcomings from the past in mind, we decided to investigate creating an eBook instead of a physical book. We explored using iBooks Author on the grade 6 laptops for creation and the iBooks app on the kinder iPads for reading, but the tools could be different based on the tech situation.

eBooks offered these advantages:

  • They are easy to create – while none of our grade 6 students had experience with iBooks Author, we build on their prior learning and conceptual learning and had them running with it in 20 minutes.
  • Illustrations for the books built on the student’s digital design unit from MYP Design class. Most our students worked with Wacom tablets and Mischief, but we were easily able to adjust the illustrations due to ability and desire. We has some students using Storybird and others using help from AutoDraw.
  • We could distribute all our grade 6 eBooks to every kindergarten student using the iBooks app.
  • Our grade 6 students could narrate their books due to the multimedia ability of eBooks. Each student placed a MP3 of them reading each page

Copyright David Lee (@davidleeedtech)

We structured the learning experience for the students using input from Stanford’s d.school and some amazing Design Thinking resources from David Lee. We developed an essential question that helped drive our students thinking and design ideas. We empathized with our audience by visiting kindergarten, reading with this and studying children’s books. We defined our goal by creating problem statements unique to each student’s goal and passion. We ideated and then prototyped on paper then with digital tools. And finally, we will test our products with the kindergarten students next week.

The grade 6 teachers are amazed with the focus on learning and how the technology has contributed to its authentic success. I look forward with sharing a few of the books next week when they are published.

* Daiso is a 100 Yen store – a Japanese dollar store, yet so much more. If you haven’t visited one yet, it’s a must on your next visit to Japan.