iBooks Author Widgets Coming to Book Creator App

According to this blog post, it looks like the Book Creator app is bringing support for iBooks Author widgets AND Bookry AND BookWidgets!?

While this is huge for those using Book Creator, it begs the question,
“Why would one choose to use iBooks Author?”

Knowing both programs very well, I can see the divide and features which make the choice a bit more clear cut.

Table noting the differences between iBooks Author and Book Creator app

Created on 9-14-14 after the announcement that Book Creator will begin supporting iBooks Author widgets

From the beginning, iBooks Author was presented as a way to replace the standard classroom textbook. The program and accompanying iBooks Store was launched at an education focused event on January 19, 2012. In my opinion, the most brilliant component of this program was the open door to widget creation available through the HTML 5 widget. This alluring option is what helped create Bookry, Book Widgets, and now the option for other apps to utilize iBooks Author widgets in their apps.

The ability to embed iBooks Author widgets into the Book Creator app makes the line between choosing what program to create an interactive, digital text easier. I believe there is a time and place for each program. If I’m making a digital textbook for my students to replace a tangible, paper text I would easily choose iBooks Author. If I’m teaching K-5 students how to create a short digital text with multimedia to demonstrate their knowledge of a curricular topic, I’d probably choose Book Creator.

On a typical day in the elementary school setting, I predict most educators have and will continue to use Book Creator. If users can create a simple digital text with all the same interactive widget that make iBA so alluring and powerful and they can do it on the iPad?

It begs the question, “Will there ever be an iPad version of iBooks Author?”

They’ve already opened the door to course creation through iTunes U for the iPad and iBooks Author files can now be read on both iPad and Mac. Who knows what the future may hold, but for now this announcement is a win-win for students and educators using iPad!

My Top 3 OER Image Sites

My #OER Peeps,

I’m happy to report that there are many oer image sites available for students & teachers to use! At the time of this post, I currently have at least 46 image sites on my Legally Reusable Media wiki site which can be utilized for noncommercial use. If I was only given three sites to use for school and/or student projects and needed a wide variety of images, I would turn to these three sites (below):

Morgue File provides free photos with license to remix. The Morgue File photo collection contains thousands of images that anyone can use for free in academic or commercial presentations. The image collection can be searched by subject category, image size, color, or rating. Morgue File is more than just a source for free images. The Morgue File also features a ‘classroom‘ where visitors can learn photography techniques and get tips about image editing.” —from Richard Byrne


unsplash.pngUnsplash adds 10 public domain / CC0 images every 10 days. This amazing site clearly states, “Free (do whatever you want) hi-resolution photos.” –from home page. The only challenge is the stream of images. There are no searching capabilities.



FreeRange Photography

Freerange Stock was formed with the goal to provide quality stock photos for commercial and non-commercial use. For free. We feel that free stock photos can be good photos. Freerange is an advertising revenue supported photographic community – photographers get paid when users click on the ads that appear next to their submissions. Images on the site are either shot by Freerange Stock, drawn from Freerange archives, or contributed by a talented community of photographers. We feel that the images want to be seen and good photos should be available to everyone – so we give the collections away with the hope that they will be useful and be enjoyed.” –from about page

There are many more! Stop by my Legally Reusable Media wiki page to see the diverse collection.



Reinventing the School Library

We’re literally on the cusp of some serious overhaul for our school’s library media center and (thankfully) my ideas/voice are included in the conversation. As I continue to craft my Reinventing the Teacher-Librarian multi-touch book, my side project is to help bring the needs of our patrons and community to life in our school library.

My goal is to 1) create “spaces” in our current LRC (library resource center) for multimedia, ideas, and innovation; 2) explore the community as collection development, & 3) add mobility wherever possible.

Multimedia Nooks

Our students NEED places to record high quality audio & video for their projects. We also need the amazing digital tools to teach editing and finalizing of multimedia projects. One of the spaces I’d like to create are the multimedia labs that many high schools and junior highs are starting to build in. Glass walls for line of sight, studio lighting, green screen, etc.

The Chicago suburb, Bollingbrook, has features like this built into their recent public library remodel:

Maker Space

Another trend catching on quickly in public libraries is the space to actually create or make something. Many are centered around 3D printing (like Chicago’s Public Library), but I would like to expand on that and build in unique tools for programming and creating.  Time is always the key (and something I often lack), but having students using programming tools like MIT’s Scratch, iPad apps like Codea, etc. to create in math class or as an after school club.

Unique Items to Checkout

I don’t know about you, but kids can get eBooks, games, audiobooks, and movies pretty much anywhere and for a lot less hassle than the library. With publishing companies still messing around with number of checkouts, number of downloads per device, and the horrible pillaging companies like OverDrive “offer”, I’d much rather NOT focus on these resources (see ILEAD USA group’s recent video demonstrating this plight of the patron).

“What tools would our students like to use, but wouldn’t purchase?”

[Caution: Mr. Neilburger uses rather colorful language to drive home point.]

With Eli Neilburger’s brilliant explanation in mind, I’m going to start investing in creative STEM tools to get students invested in tinkering and inventing. Products like Makey Makey or Sphero are things most of them would not typically purchase on their own unless they actually had some practical experience. I liken it to a home improvement project. When I need to borrow a power washer to clean my deck, I don’t go out and purchase one. I borrow it from Ace Hardware or Home Depot. What are some tools our students would like to use but wouldn’t necessarily go out and pick one up?

Community is Our Collection

Once we do this by bring in experts from our community to teach and share, we need to promote. I think about all the students who stop by weekly and share some of the amazing things they’re doing. We need to be promoting this work and I’m going to start this fall with our new web page format.

The concept of community as collection is expertly explained by R. David Lankes in his recent address at the March ILEAD U session:

The community is our new collection and we need to promote their expertise & learning!

There’s LOTS to think about here, but I needed to get it out and I thought my blog would be a good place to start. Please share your thoughts, reflections, and ides/examples from your end!

Snapguide in the Classroom

Admission: I only do three new book talks a year.

This may come as a shock to some teacher-librarians or library media directors.  I do not see the need to slow down the Teacher-Librarian Quadfecta of 1) curriculum, 2) information literacy, 3) literature appreciation, 4) technology integration.  Don’t get me wrong, literature appreciation is an important component that, like technology integration, I weave into everything I do.

New Book Talks:

When I do a new book talk, I seek to engage my patrons in the same way I do during my weekly curricular lessons.  I research each book on TitleWave, read a portion to familiarize myself, and see if there are any #curricular or #realworld connections.  If I can provide an environment where students make connections to their life, play games connected to the curriculum, and replicate experiments or crafts the books will fly off the shelf!

For example, to connect my Technology in Ancient Greece purchase I referenced the 2008 discovery of an ancient Greek computer.  When I purchased the Who Was…? biography series, I highlighted Jim Henson (due to the proximity of the 2011 Muppet movie) and showed a portion of his original show, Sam & Friends (via YouTube on SafeShareTV). When I purchased the Super Simple Science series from ABDO, I used the Things to do With Pressure book to crush a can.

Technology Connection & Modeling:

For my second new book talk of the 2013-14 school year, one of the series I purchased was Pam Scheunemann’s Cool Trash to Treasure series.  I did this because my students LOVE the arts & craft section, drawing, and origami books (Dewey 745ish).  In order to highlight the crafts, I modeled one from the Cool Plastic Projects involving an old keyboard and a picture.

To share this craft book and elicit interest from staff and student, I used the free, online site SnapGuide to create a how-to project. By weaving in existing apps and websites during my lesson, I model ways to use web-based or mobile app based methods to demonstrate student learning.

Modeling use of SnapGuide:

Check out How to Create a Keyboard Picture by Josh Mika on Snapguide.

How Can I Use SnapGuide?

How can’t you use SnapGuide?! Every educator can use this tool to demonstrate and/or provide an outlet for student created how-to/instruction writing.  SnapGuide accepts pictures and video, so even the most difficult steps can be visualized.  The app (iOS) is just as easy and guides can remain anonymous for student safety.  Here are a few ideas I brainstormed after creating my keyboard picture SnapGuide:

  • Demonstrate how to use a new app/program
  • Show new activities for physical education
  • Administration demonstrates procedure
  • Step-by-step problem solving for any STEM activity

How are you using SnapGuide in the classroom?

Make Your Own: Choose Kind Video Pledge

[NOTE: This explanation is a follow-up to my March 2013 post…just a bit belated in publishing.]

Our Naperville Reads 2013: Choose Kind pledge video was an instant hit with the students, parents, and the author!  I worked with the host committee to have the video running in the background of the theater when we arrived.  Personally, I wanted the students to have the reward of seeing themselves and the impact of their words.  I had hoped this would drive home the message of the Choose Kind movement and at the same time solidify the pledge they visualized instead of wrote.

What I didn’t expect was the author’s reaction.  Ms. Palacio called me up on stage in order to thank me for our work.  After sharing the vision and discussing the beauty of each individual student’s pledge, she blindsided me.  “Can I have it?” she asked.  Unfortunately, my reply was a simple and blunt, “Uh…no.”

A quick picture of R.J. & I when we debuted the Choose Kind video pledge in early February.

For that very, uncomfortable moment, I would like to reflect on just how this video came to be and help others to prepare for amazing circumstances just like this!

Prepare the Audience
Whenever an author visits our school or a grade level is selected to travel to Naperville Reads, I do my best to prepare our students, teachers, and community.  I do extensive online research to find out about the author and/or illustrator so our students can identify with their life and work.  R.J. did not have a ton of information due to this being her debut novel, but our district put together a solid PowerPoint of information, multimedia, and other digital resources.

Screen shot of the presentation I gave to 5th graders to prepare them for Ms. Palacio’s visit.

How Can We Make the Author Feel Special?
My final two slides for any author prep ask: 1) what informed questions can you ask an author/illustrator that will help you in your writing; & 2) how can we say thank you?  Our district could be one of the luckiest out there to collaborate with Anderson’s Bookshop, which often provides us with invaluable author visits throughout our school year.  As a thank you to the company and the visiting author, I always ask the students how we can give back and make the authors feel special.

I brainstorm a few ideas myself, but I often leave this up to the students and they come up with great ideas!  (e.g., Sharon Creech – book of recipes for Granny Torrelli Makes Soup; Mike Lupica – autographed football for The Underdogs, etc.)  We don’t often have a ton of time to prepare for an author visit, but if we do (as in the case of Andrew Clements) students have performed scenes from an author’s work which we show as an introduction for the visit.  The feedback from the authors, publishers, and Anderson’s has been nothing short of amazing and is a major reason we continue to host authors every year.

Set-Up Photo Studio
While the author thank you idea for R.J. Palacio did start with me, I could not have done it without the combined support of the students, staff, & parents.  Based off my limited knowledge of photography, I set-up a make shift studio.  My wife purchased a few yards of muslin which I propped up in front of my custodian’s work lamps to diffuse the light.  I watched YouTube videos about three point lighting to help me position the lamps and counted on the overhead fluorescence to count as my third.  I picked up a king size, black flat sheet for $15 at the local discount department store and hung it on the existing projector screen using black butterfly clips.

Attempt at three point lighting in our computer lab area.

Coordinate the Sessions
Once the setting was prepared, I corralled fifteen dry erase boards and markers.  These were delivered to the classrooms an hour or so before students were to arrive in our library for the photo shoot.  Teacher rotated three to five students down with their signs and the students had predetermined their poses.

Student demonstrates writing their #choosekind message for the photo.

Student demonstrates writing their #choosekind message for the photo.

I had our school’s permissions/denial list at the ready and had prepared many students ahead of time if they couldn’t be in the picture.  A cooperating teacher came up with the simple idea of placing the board in front of one’s face if they did not have permission.  We found the abundance of preparation to be very efficient in taking the pictures.  There were very few retakes.  Title and concluding slides were created in PowerPoint and exported as JPEG images.  The video was prepared by doing a batch import into iMovie, changing the images to black and white, adding the transitions, and exporting to Vimeo.  I found copyright free music on Freeplay Music and tried to keep a serious, piano theme to set the mood.

Probably the easiest reason I informed Ms. Palacio  she could not have our work was the strict permissions we have in my district surrounding students’ images/video/names.  In retrospect, I should have foreseen the potential for this to become a bigger work and either 1) had everyone do a second picture with their message in front of their faces, or 2) collected public release permission first.

If it weren’t for spring conferences and the cooperating teachers handing out the public permission slip I doubt we would have had the number of participating families.  This extra step, however, did create a community buzz and I was approached by many families who thanked me for the work.  They were also excited for the final video to be posted so they could share with their friends/family.

Moving Forward
I hope this collection of insights help you to create your own Choose Kind video or something of the like.  I learned a lot from this experience and will definitely focus more on permissions and social media publishing next time I undertake such a project.  At the same time, however, if it weren’t for interest from everyone involved, I don’t know if I would have continued to pursue publishing this publicly.  I owe everyone involved a huge thank you!

Retweets and reflections on Beebe's Choose Kind video project.

Retweets and reflections on Beebe’s Choose Kind video project.

The feedback from our school community, the Choose Kind movement, and the author has been nothing short of rewarding.  I can see this being a great One School, One Book theme with the culminating video at the end.  Hmmm…I think I’ll email them right now. 😉

Naperville Reads 2013

I’m a huge fan of Naperville Reads.  The collaboration between Anderson’s Booksellers, District 203 & 204, and the Naperville Public Library has brought some amazing authors to our community.  The chance to listen and learn from these talented individuals has proved inspirational for our students, teachers, and parents.

The 2013 selection of R.J. Palacio and her debut novel, Wonder, was an exciting announcement!  Many classes were already reading this story since it was on our district Battle of the Books list, but Naperville Reads brought it to a whole new level.  Myriad classroom teachers choose to read aloud and had rich discussions surrounding Auggie’s experiences.

A national movement behind the book inspired the Choose Kind web site encouraging others to pledge kindness.  In order to welcome the author to our district, the committee suggested we create a poster and have students/teachers sign a “choose kind” certificate.    This is where our story diverges.

I don’t know about you, but signing a sheet of paper and making another poster seemed like an empty promise and a disposable thank you.  This book speaks to your core.  This character wants what everyone wants, acceptance.  Part of my drive could be all the similarities I could draw from my brother’s experiences with Down Syndrome and the conversations we’ve had about his struggle to fit in.  I felt we could do more.

I believe in the Choose Kind pledge and wanted our students to sign up, but I needed a more powerful and lasting way for them to remember and reflect on what kindness really means.  Inspired by the work of Robert Fogarty and the countless others who’ve previously demonstrated the power of photography + words, I finally had my method.  Students would write down their pledge and we would document it visually.  Thus began our Naperville Reads 2013: Choose Kind video pledge:

ChooseKind from Josh Mika on Vimeo.

*Next installment I’ll share how I made this happen and how you too can do this at your school. 🙂

School Librarians, “Okay, how do I step up?”

It’s easy to call for teacher librarian reform, but not as easy to give colleagues the tools to remedy.  Many progressives call for change but fall short of this crucial transformative step.  I want to make this happen and I thought my first step in demonstrating this change might be to promote my Apple Distinguished Educator work.

During the summer of 2011 I teamed with four other amazing educators who all believed that teachers and students needed online, digital research support.  We created an electronic booklet (ePub) to support this endeavor and provide best practice guidance along the way.  I encourage you to utilize this resource and take the lesson plans and guidance towards digital research into your K-12 district.

There are many more ways to support and engage learners as a teacher librarian.  I will continue to blog about those.  In the meantime, however, I thought it helpful to promote/share/distribute the work I collaborated on towards this goal with my ADE team.  Please download the free activities and guides and begin implementing these as soon as you can!

School Librarians, Step Up!

It’s been about three years since I’ve written a blog post on my site, but a recent request from a colleague prompted a thoughtful response that I reposted below.  The role of school librarians/media specialist, or any title of the like, has changed.  About the time I created this blog and posted regularly was when I started developing this blended role.  After sharing my thoughts with my Apple Distinguished Educator colleagues today, I realized I needed to document my thoughts, make it more open, and ellicit feedback from the community.  Below are my thoughts:

“I see the librarian/media specialist going around to these resource areas and working with students in research, etc. as well as being a resource for teachers.” –Taken from April email request for clarification on school librarians’ role in today’s schools.

It’s difficult to ignore the tumultuous future of the print industry and I whole heartedly agree that the role of school librarians/media specialists are in flux.  In my opinion, the classic image of the librarian should not exist in today’s schools.  I actually cringed when a colleague of mine said she aspired to be the lady behind the counter who stamped the due date.  That’s so not our job.

In attempt to answer your overarching question about the future of libraries I’ve outlined what I strive to do in my job as the LRC Director in a K-5 elementary school.  I’m not about to claim this is “the way” the job should perform, especially on a listerv with such a renowned group of progressive educators!  It is, however, a collection of my personal insights supported by research and modeling from other progressives in the field.

I believe school librarians should be:
  1. Collaborative Teacher – you are a teacher, first and foremost.  Teaming and/or co-teaching with the classroom teacher is more effective to infuse digital literacy and information fluency into curriculum than teaching weekly lessons in isolation.  “School librarians have to know and understand CCS and not stay back and wait to be asked to help or participate. They have to be assertive and let teachers and administrators know what they can do to help teachers work through the standards. They need to make sure that they are seen as teachers and educators not just book purveyors” (Kramer, 2011, ¶ 13).
  2. Media Specialist – students need guidance navigating information in the digital age and today’s librarian specializes in information (Long, 2009).  Students require the tools to find information effectively and efficiently using print and digital media, discern credible information, and cite their sources.  “Information fluency skills and strategies are an integral part of learning in any subject area.  They can be most effectively taught by the librarian in collaboration with the classroom teacher, so that students are using these skills to learn essential content” (New York City Department of Education, 2010, p. 1).
  3. Technology Integration Specialist – One common theme emerges from Dewey’s Democracy and Education, Costa and Kallick’s Habits of the Mind, Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the Common Core State Standards, and myriad other credible sources: “…students need to leave school equipped with a set of capacities and skills for functioning effectively in a complex world” (Caine & Caine, 2011, p. 40).  Good instructional strategies remain the base, but with the constant evolution of technology educators need support adopting new hardware/software and determining best practice when integrating.
  4. Instructional Coach – you should be a master of the curriculum and support teachers with instruction.  Lets be honest, standalone instructional coach positions are awkward for the classroom teacher (e.g., defensive educator commonly thinks, “Why do I need coaching?”).  Teachers will naturally gravitate to an effective school librarian seeking resources.  This is an easy opening to create those student-centered coaching opportunities!  In order to coach and support instruction, modern school librarians should have solid knowledge of the curriculum.  This is critical in the 4/5 of our nation following the Common Core State Standards.  “Librarians need to be the gurus of CCS. They need to know the CCS inside out” (Kramer, 2011, ¶ 14).

The best will weave these roles seamlessly in what they do…but I guess you could say that about any educator. 😉

Stepping down from the soap box,

Josh Mika
LRC Director
Beebe Elementary
ADE, Class of 2011

P.S.  Doesn’t matter what you call the position (some educators get bent out of shape if you call them a librarian), it’s more about the right work for the students, staff, and school community.

Works Cited:

Caine, R. N., & Caine, G. (2011). Natural learning for a connected world: education, technology, and the human brain. New York: Teachers College.

Kramer, P. (2011, September/October). Common core and school librarians. School Library Monthly. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/articles/Kramer2011-v28n1p8.html

Long, C. (2009, October/November). Beyond the stacks: the school librarian in the digital age. NEA Today, 26.

New York City School Library System. (2010, Fall). Information Fluency Continuum: Benchmark Skills for Grades K-12 Assessments (New York, New York City Department of Education, Office of Library Services). Retrieved December 29, 2011, from http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/27A1E84E-65EB-4A54-80DF-51E28D34BF4F/0/InformationFluencyContinuum.pdf

Audiobooks Made Easy

Last school year, I told our Student Council we’d be working on getting iPod Shuffles for the LRC to checkout with our minimal audiobook collection.  However, the lack of LCD screen to guide a reader is as irritating as the file format issues (an audiobook in iTunes needs to be an .m4b file).

Other schools in my district are using the Creative Zen and other MP3 players which have a bookmarking feature.  While I am interested in this, I have already invested lots of time and money getting audiobooks onto iTunes and synced up with our iPod Classics.  Unfortunately, the remaining host of audiobooks on CD have sat in a bag waiting for “time” (I don’t have) to change them over.

An early December post from CNet, however, gave me new hope!  Taking an audiobook from CD to iPod is now quite easy with iTunes 8.  Using their photo guidance I practiced with personal copies of Shel Silverstein audio CDs that came with books and I was up and running in minutes!  As a result, my wife transferred all of my daughter’s audiobook CDs onto her old iPod Mini this morning.

This is the crucial, simplified step when making files an audiobook!

iTunes/iPod can Bookmark…sort of

While the bookmarking feature is useful and one Apple should integrate, there are many benefits to using audiobooks with iTunes:

  • Audiobooks are automatically bookmarked: if you stop an audiobook in the middle and play something else, then go back to the audiobook, it will start playing where you left off – even after resynchronizing your iPod.
  • The main menu has a direct Audiobooks entry.
  • You can play audiobooks faster or slower than normal speed.
  • Audiobooks can have chapter stops within them.
  • Audiobooks are automatically skipped during all music shuffle.

(These ideas and direct quotes taken from Ed’s Tech Tips)


Regardless of what route you take, I think the following are useful ideas:

  1. IF you’re using an MP3 player with a simple LCD screen, it can be helpful to label your tracks with information about the book: title acronym, series number (if applicable), chapter number, and chapter title/description (e.g. Ranger’s Apprentice, Book One: The Ruins of Gorland by John Flanagan = RA_bk1-ch00-Prologue).
  2. If you’re using a video capable MP3 player, I’d add “artwork” for the cover of the book.
  3. If a chapter is several tracks long, you might want to combine the tracks into one file.  This requires another program to manage, but in iTunes, you can highlight the tracks then choose Advanced menu → Join Tracks

Enjoy! 🙂

Share Music

I completely miss making mix tapes for people, so I have been ecstatic to find that there are sites which allow you to draw from existing music and mix it like I used to back in the 80s & 90s. The multimedia capabilities of today make me wonder what mixed media I would give a friend or girlfriend if I were in high school today?

Unfortunately, sites that allow such online compilations try to keep Kosher with copyright laws, but at the same time…can’t. An exciting site called Muxtape halted service (lengthy explanation on the front page of the site) due to pressure from the recording industry. I’m hopeful MixWit won’t fall to the same, but after looking for popular artists and creating my own mix (below), you’ll see that copyrighted music is very easy to find and add.

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

I’m not proud of this effort in it’s ease to find and compile major label artists, rather, I see it as yet another message to the music industry. Times have been a changin’ and we need to work together to create a way that this can exist and artists can be paid for their work. Muxtape failed in that, but maybe MixWit can succeed?