The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Our Own Incredible eBook Project

Several months ago I read a blog post by Pernille Ripp, a teacher I have never met in person but have closely followed online and come to greatly admire. Ms. Ripp used to teach fourth grade but now she teaches middle school. I have frequently taken her ideas and looked for ways to apply them to my classroom. The topic of this post was about an “epic nonfiction project” using Google Slides to develop eBooks. As I read through her post, I knew I wanted to try it out with my class.

I initially thought about trying to do it with our Learning Buddies this year, but Miss C and I have already reached our max on the number of projects we can take on. So instead I decided to do what I have been doing all year: I used my class as a pilot for my idea.

I had the students form six groups of three or four and then we started talking about the Westward Expansion period of American history. We did some whole-class research on the period and identified some of the major routes used to settle the West: the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Transcontinental Railroad, the Pony Express, and the Lewis & Clark Expedition. (Technically, the last three were not routes used for settling, but they had a huge impact on our nation’s expansion westward and so I included them.) Each group selected one route to study, ensuring that every group would have at least two options. (The one left over ended up being the Pony Express.)

Over the past several weeks, the groups have been reading about their trails, learning about life in the 1800s, using their online research skills to find appropriate pictures and maps, and discovering famous people from their routes. They received training on how to use Google Slides. One group found a picture in two different books that claimed to be describing two very different situations and so they wrote an email to the Denver Public Library and asked for clarification.

After nearly six weeks of work, it is time we move on, so today was the last day for groups to work. Some of the groups had eBooks that were thoroughly researched with lots of information and pictures. Some groups struggled to find some of the most basic information. But all of the groups worked hard, stayed focused, and persevered. It shocked me when students would voluntarily work on their project together during indoor recesses and during our read aloud.

Now, I’m not going to say that this process was without frustrations and confusion, because it certainly wasn’t. There were times that students accidentally deleted all of their work and I had to show them how to revert to an earlier version. There were times when group members got upset with each other and refused to work together or would start changing what others had done. There were times that students were not working on the project when they were supposed to.

But for the most part? This has been a great learning opportunity for my students and for me. I am definitely wanting to try this project again next year. I know what I will do differently and I know what I will do the same.

And now? We have a three day weekend and then we are going to start tackling an awesome science project that I have been waiting all year to start! Have a great weekend!

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