Reflections on Working with iBook Author

At the core of the creative process is the willingness to step back, reflect on what you’ve accomplished, ask how it’s going and then get back to working on it some more. So after a few weeks of using iBooks Author (IBA), I thought it was time to practice what I preach. I’ll use this post to explore my initial reaction to working with IBA framed with by thoughts on the reflective process. A good warm up for a keynote I’m giving on the reflective process in a few weeks.

I got my first iPad recently (I skipped versions 1 and 2) and was very excited about using the new iBook Author program to create an iBook. As I took a closer look at IBA, I realized that while it presented some interesting opportunities, IBA had some notable shortcomings. On the plus side, it’s very easy to create an engaging mix of text, images, recordings, and videos. Perfect for my first IBA project – a document-based history iBook. I had already posted lessons on the homefront in World War II and realized there was a wealth of government films, posters and other artifacts that all fell within the public domain. So I got very excited about making an iBook that embodied my approach to empowering the student as historian.

Stay tuned for my finished iBook on Homefront USA. If you’d like to be notified when the book is finished, leave a comment below or send me a tweet @edteck. I’ll be offering a free sample for my beta testers. Here’s a sample of some of the great content that’s available. (1942) Walt Disney made this short film for the US War Production Board

Find patterns
While IBA supports a more interactive reading process – searching text, adding bookmarks, highlighting text, defining words – at the core IBA is designed for traditional instructional methods. For example, iBooks built-in note taking feature is designed to create flashcards (don’t you use flashcards to memorize stuff?). Its built-in test feature can only be used to create an objective questions – not the tools I was looking for to support critical thinking skills. There doesn’t seem to be away to copy and paste text from my books author into some other iPad program. I don’t see ways for students to share their thinking without leaving the iBook.

Videos are very interesting components of iBooks, but here’s the challenge. The more videos you put in the book, the bigger the file size of the book. Not only does iTunes place a 2 gig limit on the size of an iBook, but in practical terms no one wants to fill up their iPod with your book. One option is not embed the videos, and instead, link to them with a YouTube widget. That keeps your iBook’s file size smaller, but it means your reader will need to be online and not in a school network environment that blocks YouTube.

Ask for help
I spent a lot of time on Apple discussion groups reading IBA-related threads, and posting questions of my own. I posting a poll on Twitter to ask educators what they thought about the YouTube link vs embed the video question. Results – nearly 90% of them voted to embed the videos into the book. Reflection can be a social experience. Framing questions and sharing your progress forces you to construct models that capture what you’ve accomplished and better define the tasks that lie ahead. Hat tip to my friend and colleague Mike Gwaltney who took a look at my concept iBook and offered great feedback.

Share what you’re learning
As I found online resources for using IBA, I posted them to a collection I started at My Publishing with iBooks Author began to attract viewers, many of whom proved to be great resources for me. As I tweeted out my new online resource finds, more leads came in and I found myself connected to a group of educators exploring the same topic. One contact, Luis Perez, made me realize that I wasn’t taking full advantage of the iBook’s accessibility features. He’s also working on ways to compress video size, and still be able to have caption videos for accessibility.

Motivate yourself with design thinking
Open yourself up to the cycle of planning, execution, reflection you might expect to see in an artist’s studio – it’s addictive. I find myself thinking about and working on this iBook all the time. (that’s why you haven’t seen any posts from me in a few weeks) The self-directed project provides all the essential elements of motivation. I chose the content, process, product and was doing my own evaluation. Through it all, I was exploring the frontier of what I knew and what I didn’t know. After all – this is why project-based learning works.

5th Graders Write, Illustrate, Publish Their Own iBook

Recently, in an iBooks Author post, I noted “I look forward to the day when a student asks a teacher if it’s OK to turn in that project as an iBook.” Not long after, I received a comment from Jon Smith, a 5th grade teacher at Gibbs Elementary School in Canton, Ohio. He noted “I have used iBooks author with my special education students. We were able to publish the book in the iBooks store a few weeks back.” Download the free iBook here. After you download a “The Two Kids and The Desert Town,” send along your comments via iTunes or Jon’s Twitter account. The students will love to hear from you.

I wrote back to Jon and asked him for more information that I might share as a guest post with my readers. I’m pleased to see that he packaged his student reflection as an iMovie for all to see.

Jonathan noted that

We need to globalize our teaching. Kids need to understand that there are other people in this world who care about their work than just their teachers. Special Ed kids are much more capable than people give them credit for and I wanted to show that to people including the kids. … We wanted to squash stereotypes about special education students and showcase their successful work. … Our kids are really touched by the fact that nearly 400 of their iBooks have been downloaded by people from all over the world .. and they’ve received great comments on their work via Twitter.

Title: The Two Kids And Desert Town
Platform: iPad only
Cost: free
Download: here

Of course I couldn’t close this post without a book review and some screen shots. [Spoiler alert]

The Two Kids and the Desert Town is the heroic tale of Marvin and Ashley, a brother and sister who responded to a digital distress call for help. Bravely they set off to Desert Town to use their language skills to rescue the residents from a variety of linguistic perils.

Among their accomplishments – they settled a long running conflict at the intersection of Antonym Avenue and Synonym Street. At the Simile Cafe they lectured customers on the power of positive similes. Before leaving town they even manage to instruct the mayor and assembled town hall meeting on how to properly use abbreviations. Triumphantly they return home to big hugs from their anxious parents. The book is fully illustrated with hand drawn images, photographs and engaging video clips. I look forward to the sequel.

Using iBooks Author: A Video How To

For years, I’ve posted pdf versions of my lessons and made them available for free. Here’s some screenshots of a document based question (DBQ) I’m working on that explores the American Homefront in WWII. To see more of my free pdf lessons click here

Click to enlarge thumbnails

I’ve download iBooks Author and I think it’s time to turn some of my PDF lessons into iBooks. Apple’s new authoring program, certainly lowers the barrier for doing that. I look forward to the day when a student asks a teacher if it’s OK to turn in that project as an iBook.

While searching the internet for some how to guides, I found this great video introduction to the process made by Jeremy Kemp.

For more guides and tips, see my resource collection Publishing with iBooks Author

Homefront America – Engage Students with Document Based Essential Questions

Update: October 2012: While this lesson is still available as a pdf (see original post below) an expanded version – Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion - is now available at iBookstore It includes 43 historic posters, 13 rare films, plus numerous communiqués, photographs and recordings. Plus student “stop and think” prompts based on CCSS skills. 

Ride-hitler Recently my post: Essential Question: Who is the Teacher in Your Classroom? drew a response from a teacher looking for a more scaffolded approach to document based instruction. Here’s my response …

Homefront America in WW II (PDF) is designed to improve content reading comprehension with an engaging array of source documents – including journals, maps, photos, posters, cartoons, historic data and artifacts. (One of the central goals of the Common Core standards).
I developed it to serve as a model for blending essential questions, higher order thinking and visual interpretation. I intentionally refrained from explaining the documents, to afford students the chance to do the work of historians. A variety of thinking exercises are imbedded in the lesson to support reading comprehension. Graphic organizers support differentiated activities to assist the students in extracting meaning from the documents.

Hopefully this lesson serves as a model of how to infuse support for literacy into the more typical educational goal of content mastery. But more importantly, it is designed to demonstrate how student engagement can be “powered” by an essential question. 

Instead of attempting to teach the American homefront experience during WWII via the memorization of historical facts (like “victory” gardens), this lesson approaches the same subject through a more timeless question “How did Americans change their lives to support the war effort?”

This essential question invites the students into the material as they draw from their life experience to construct a response. Guiding questions direct students to construct comparisons between the American experience in WWII and the Iraq / Afghanistan war. Moreover, since the events of September 11th, the very notion the “homefront” has been redefined by new perceptions of terrorism and homeland security. 

Instruction is not simply an act of telling, it should instead be centered around creating learning experiences that provoke student reflection. In this lesson, source documents and literacy strategies combine to simultaneously teach content and comprehension. But more importantly, an essential question serves as a springboard to engage students in a deeper reflection on the notion of sacrifice in the historical context and in their own lives.

Scaffolding questions include …

Pre Reading / Think Before You Start: 

Before you begin this lesson,think about and discuss in small groups the following questions: 

  • What resources are needed to wage a war? 
  • How could people on the home front help to supply these resources? 
  • What would you be willing to contribute to a war effort? 

Post Reading / The Question Today: 

Civilians have always been impacted by war and they are frequently called upon to contribute to national war efforts. Since the events of September 11, 2001, the United States has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

  • How have Americans on the homefront contributed to the effort? What have they sacrificed?
  • How do those efforts compare with the home front in WWII? 
  • How did the attacks of September 11 change the nature of the “homefront?”