The Common Core standards call for more reading and writing in the content areas, so our science department has been working to create one authentic writing assignment each trimester. For the first trimester, we decided to reinvent an old project that had students research a manufactured object during our Properties of Matter unit. In the past, students could choose the format of their final product. This year, we had all students write a magazine article, complete with pictures and a bibliography. Each teacher used different resources for researching, writing, and publishing, but we all agreed the final product would be some type of digital magazine.
The Research Process:
I shared a Diigo list with students to get them going that included relevant sources of information. I also shared this Diigo list with a collection of “middle school science research tools”. It includes media center resources, online magazine archives, and search engines that are better suited at student research than Google.
Each teacher chose a different way of having students take notes. We subscribe to Noodle Tools, but I am not proficient with it myself. After speaking with students, they like it for creating their Works Cited but not for taking notes. I decided to give them a few note-taking options:
- Noodle Tools (a few did choose this)
- Google Sheets notes organizer (read Derek’s post about this method here.)
- Any other app that I deemed appropriate
I recommended students used the Google sheets organizer because that’s what they will use in ELA class. Most used it and seemed to like it.
The Writing Process
Students had about five days to take their organized notes and write a magazine article. In case they weren’t sure what that looked like, I had my latest copy of Popular Science in the front of the room for them to look through. I highly recommended that students used the Pages app because it has more formatting options than Book Creator or Google Docs. Pages also has a lot of pre-made templates, which mades the design aspect a little easier. Just about all of the students used Pages and worked from a template. A few students did choose to use a different app, and I allowed them to make that choice.
The Publishing Process
I was clueless about this part, so I reached out to Greg Kulowiec of EdTechTeacher on Twitter and asked for his advice. He recommended for students to export their final article to me as a PDF. I could then merge the individual PDFs into one class PDF and post the final magazine online using a site such as Issuu or Flipsnack.
There are a few apps that can easily merge numerous PDF documents into one single file. I have used both Notability and PDF Expert 5 (which is what I used this time). I created a magazine cover for each class period using the Phoster app. This paid app ($1.99) saved my final design as an image, so I had to use another app, PDF Converter by Readdle ($6.99), to convert the cover image into a PDF. (I should probably note I don’t actually pay for these apps. They were all offered for free at one point or another on the Apps Gone Free app.)
The most time consuming part came next. I wanted the magazine articles to be organized in a clear way for the reader, so I ordered them alphabetically by the object that was researched. When I made the first magazine, I did this part in PDF Expert 5, as I was merging them together. That was the wrong way to do it! For the other three classes, I organized them first in Google Drive and added a number to each document so they were organized alphabetically. When I added them to PDF Expert 5, they were already in the correct order. I also created a table of contents for each magazine so the reader could easily find an article that interested them.
I merged everything together and had four final magazines. I chose Issuu as my platform, and uploaded the four magazines. You can view the final products here.
What I Will Do Differently Next Time
I’m pretty happy with my first attempt at having students publish their work for a real world audience. The only part I plan to change is the publishing process. Frankly, it just took way too long for me to organize the articles, create the cover and table of contents, merge, and upload. Next year, I think I will have the students upload their magazine article directly to Issuu using my credentials. I also like the idea of giving them the option to design their own cover. Issuu allows you to have “stacks”, so I could simply make a project stack for them all to add to. It would cut down on my workload tremendously and also give them experience with publishing work. Another idea came from Kate Lewis, who suggested I have classroom editors, who would be in charge of collating and merging all of the class PDFs into one polished magazine. That idea sounds appealing as well!
One of the drawbacks to Issuu is that it does not give visitor statistics, so I don’t know how many people have read the magazines. However, it did provide me with an easy way of sharing work with parents, which was my primary goal. If any of you have published student written work and have any suggestions, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear what others are doing.