YALSA Digital Equipment Grant Winner: Teens Take Ownership of Books

Though I spent years as an elementary school teacher and school media specialist, then as a children’s librarian in a public library system, it was with YALSA that I really found my niche as a librarian. I love working with teens, and I’ve learned so much from my peers.

Now when I see an email from YALSA, I’m quick to read it. I believe the collaborative grants YALSA has with Dollar General are some of the best. When I read in the spring about the $1,000 Digital Literacy Equipment Grant, I knew it was just what my school library needed.

We have some great makerspace tools in the media center, but a number of them would be more useful with digital apps. Our one iPad, however, was too old to install apps, and it only came with the basics from however-many-years-ago. I knew we weren’t getting enough from the technology we had.

I would have used my personal phone and/or iPad mini, but the district no longer puts employee devices on the wifi network (a ban since lifted). Our media center is directly in the middle of the school—and on the first floor. It’s a dead zone for any Internet-based technology not on the network.

Cue the hero music–I knew just what we could use with that $1,000 grant opportunity! I’d solve both problems with a couple of the most recent iPad minis (I like the friendly size of the minis), get sturdy shockproof cases for both, and give the students practice with an Apple pencil, too. This was cutting it close to the $1,000 limit, but I figured if I went over budget, I’d chip in the rest. Teachers are always paying out of pocket for students and I’m no exception!

School was out in mid-June when I discovered that our media center was one of the libraries selected for the grant. Oh, and I was reminded that we’d need to do a project, using our new grant equipment, to promote the Teens’ Top Ten book awards. I was actually in Arizona on vacation when I had to sign the paperwork before the deadline (thanks, Mom, for printing the contract for me!).

While awaiting the funds, I thought through the best way to create the project. It was going to be difficult—school would be starting, and the teachers were getting to know their students and establishing routines. The start of a school year is always busy, and I had new responsibilities, too. What I also have, though, is a supportive school administration, a great working relationship with an understanding English Language Arts teacher who always puts reading first, and my regulars: students that frequent the media center (even multiple times a day) for books to read.

I notified YALSA that we would make a digital book about the Teens’ Top Ten nominee titles, using the Book Creator app, and that it would incorporate the use of green screen pictures and videos using the Green Screen by Do Ink app.

First, we created the basic digital book in Book Creator. After considering—and trying—a few options, we kept it simple: an image of the cover along with the title and author on the left side of each two-page spread and a video for that book on the right. With 25 nominated books, that meant a 52-page book with the front and back covers!

Then we used the Green Screen by Do Ink app. The app uses layers to create the composite image. One layer is the main part of the video: we used videos of students standing in front of the makerspace’s green screen. The middle layer is the background image or video—the part replacing the green screen. Although we didn’t do this, another layer with animation or other features  could be added.

After a few failed attempts, we decided to prerecord one video for each nominated book using the iPad’s installed Camera app. I gave each student an annotation for a nominated title. The students practiced reading their annotations—and discovered how difficult it is to speak when you’re in front of a camera!

We selected an image or a video to be used as the background layer for each book’s final video. It had to match the feel of the story. It was fun trying to decide the best way to capture the theme of each book. Pixabay is a great source for images that can be legally used. Some artists allow free use of their videos, too.

Once we finished editing the final videos (images had to be repeated in the Green Screen layer order to maintain the background we selected, while videos often had to be trimmed down), we had our finished versions. Those were each saved back to the Camera app. Once there, it was easy to upload each one to the appropriate page in our digital book in Book Creator.

A little fine-tuning ensued. We added colors to the pages in the book. The students’ names were listed on the back cover, along with information on where to go to vote for this year’s Teens’ Top Ten books.

While much in both apps was intuitive, it was helpful to print out the manuals from the website. Since I couldn’t pull the students out of class repeatedly, we kept things as simple as possible and didn’t second-guess ourselves. While we didn’t get a chance to try it, we also purchased Do Ink’s Animation & Drawing app as part of a package, so we’re excited to try that next time.

We can read our digital book within the app. The book can be exported, too. It can be sent in epub format to Google Drive or Dropbox, both of which allow for shared group work. I was unable to open it in Google Drive, however–the file was too large. I also exported it as an epub document in the iPad’s Books app via Apple’s Air Drop from one iPad to the other. This worked smoothly. If epub isn’t an option, the book can be sent in pdf format, although I didn’t try that. I set up a free teacher account in Book Creator, which only allows me one digital book at a time (within the app itself there is no limit), but by doing so, I could share a link to the book so students and staff could read it online. This was only moderately successful, though–for our student on their Chromebooks, the book just appeared as a black screen, and staff was also frustrated by it. I had to reload the webpages on my desktop computer in order to view some of the videos.

The Apple pencil was fun for the students to try, but they were really more comfortable with using their fingers as they do on their phones. Had we tried something intricate (such as the Animation/Drawing app), the fine point of the pencil would have been more valuable. I know we’ll use it more in the future. It pairs easily with the iPads.

I am sharing our finished digital book on both iPads in the media center to promote the Teens’ Top Ten book awards. I still have it in the Book Creator app, and that will be a great way for students to manipulate the parts before creating their own books. For now, though, I’ve got it open on both iPads in the Books app at the circulation desk, where students can page through it and watch the video book trailers of their choice.

As for the participating students? They loved making this project and are proud they participated, but cringe at their own individual videos (“My voice was cracking,” “Don’t show mine to anyone!”). On the bright side, they have also taken ownership of those 25 books, telling each other, “I want to read my book!” I just stand back and smile. What a fun ride it was—and I can’t wait to do more!

—Janis Fox, Library Media Coordinator, Thomasville Middle School; Thomasville, NC

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