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When 2012 rolled around, Andrea Santilli, a teacher at Woodlawn Beach Middle School in Gulf Breeze, Florida, wanted to find a new way to challenge her 7th grade Advanced Life Science students. She wanted to help thems develop relevant lifelong skills in addition to their regular studies, so Santilli set out on a unique quest.
"I wanted to give them the opportunity to be published so they could use this as part of their academic resume and to make what they learn have real meaning," says Santilli. So she turned to Apple.
After the launch of iBooks Author in January, Santilli immediately recognized the potential of the powerful new software and jumped on it. Instead of simply looking at the app as a way to expand the students' digital skills, Santilli saw it as an opportunity to have her class become the first group of 7th graders to publish a digitally interactive book, and to have their work available not just locally but to anyone around the world.
Fortuantely, the class managed just that. The book is an interactive field guide of Northwest Florida titled Creatures, Plants and More!, and was released in the iBookstore on April 26. The response has been tremendous: the book has already been downloaded 1,000 times.
Make no mistake--because this was a student-driven product, it was graded. Each student had to choose an organism they wanted to study and were required to submit their topic for approval. Afterward, students had to write an informative -- but entertaining! -- article about their organism.
69 students submitted projects for the publication and Santilli, a self-avowed "die-hard Mac girl", entered each student's work into iBooks Author. She also used iMovie to make videos from the students' projects, and Toon Camera on the iPhone to create animations from their photos. Students had to create special introductory "skits" for each section and a designated "editing team" helped students make improvements to their projects. Santilli worked with each student to make sure the formatting of their work was correct, and then each student got to approve the final layout of their work.
"Throughout this project, I saw talents in my kids that I don't think they saw," sys Santilli. "I have awesome photographers, story-tellers, actors, actresses and I can also see a couple of them doing voice-overs for Pixar!"
Encouraging students to engage with cutting-edge technology is something Santilli believes can make a huge difference in the classroom. "Technology has evolved the way kids communicate and interact with others and as teachers, we really need to embrace the change. There is so much we can do with our students using iPads. The possibilities are endless."
These students are the first 7th graders to publish an interactive digital book. However, Santilli's goal for this project has grown beyond just helping these kids; she would like to see the book "go viral" so that other teachers will be inspired to push the technological envelope. "I want more teachers investing in the future of our students and making the learning experience real," she says.
So, what is next for Santilli and Woodlawn Beach Middle School? Since the inception of this project, the school has established a Digital Education Fund to help get iPads, digital microscopes and digital media in their classrooms, and Santilli would like to reach students all over the world with their next project. "There will definitely be more books. This experience has made me more passionate, and I hope my students who were part of this project use the tools they learned to reach their dreams. The sky is the limit with them."
Santilli adds, "They are superstars, you know."
We couldn't agree more.