Technology Archive
Summertime Apps

If you’re a parent, I’m sure your children have had the iPad (or other tablet) in their hands this summer.  Even Lincoln loves to look at the photos on ours and see pics of our family back home.

I’ve stumbled upon a few fun (but educational) apps for kids this summer.  I’ll be sharing them in small doses, so today, you only get a small sampling of a few.

Farfaria

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I love this storytime app.  Children can choose from a variety of “lands” to visit and read stories from.  They can choose to read the text by themselves or they can use the audio version.  Plus all of the books are leveled so that you can choose a book that’s just right for your child.  (Ages 2-9)  This app does require a $3.99 subscription fee, but the first month is free for you to try out.  As a teacher and a parent, that 4 bucks would totally be worth it.

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Toca Boca

Toca Boca is a company with lots of apps but my favorites are the real-world situations that your kids can plan in.  From hair salon owner to tea party coordinator to chef and clothing designer and even a doctor.  I just can’t say enough about them.  Plus each app offers a “free” and paid version.

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Their mission is simple:

What we believe in

We think digital toys and games for kids often lack many things that you as a parent should be able to expect. Therefore we have six guidelines that we use to make sure all our products are as good as they can be:

1. A balance between the different needs that kids have
Kids have many different emotional needs, and we believe that digital products should try to address a wider spectrum of these than just playing games or teaching ABC. Used correctly, digital products can be an amplifier or synthesizer of kids emotional development too.

2. We think it is important to play. But not just games
We believe we can make digital products that can be a part of, and facilitate, different types of play. On screen, and away from the screen too.

3. Products that allow you and your kids to play together
Far too often, digital products are used as pacifiers for kids. We believe there is a place for digital products that allow kids and their parents to play together. More fun for both of you!

4. A positive view on technology
We believe that the development of technology is something positive, and that it should be embraced and used for good.

5. A safe digital environment for your kids
We believe safety should come first when your kids are using our products. That’s why we don’t have banner advertising or in-app purchases for kids in our products.

6. You will like our products, but your kids will love them
We make products for kids, and our highest wish is to make them smile. When we develop products we test and co-create together with children to make sure that they like everything about them. No matter what the purpose of the product is, we believe that it should also start with a smile.

Hope you all are enjoying your summer!

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I’m Bored!
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[All images Copyright © Debbie Ridpath Ohi, unless otherwise noted]

How many times have your students said this?  How many times have YOU said this?  There were certainly times in the classroom when I was bored with something I had to teach (and 100% of the time it came from a teachers manual), but this lesson is not one of those lessons!  The book I’m Bored was written by comedian Michael Ian Black (The State) and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.  Here’s an except from the NY times review of the book by David Small:

“As the story begins, the girl tells us she is bored. A potato is the only thing in sight. But, as she says while throwing the potato up in the air, “what can you do with a potato?”  The potato falls, strikes her on the head, then declares, “I’m bored!” The talking spud claims it’s bored because it only has a little kid to play with. (It would rather have a flamingo.) Offended, the girl begins explaining to the potato why children are fun: they can play games, walk on their hands, pretend and so on. To each suggestion the potato replies with one word: “Boring.” (Once, its response ­varies: “Snoring.”) Unable to convince the potato of her own worth, the girl walks off in a huff.  Enter a flamingo, static and probably plastic, minus a lawn, just as the potato is minus its couch. The potato is excited to meet it, only to be told by the stiff pink bird: “I’m bored.””

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Some very fabulous teachers, Sarah and Laura did a great lesson with this book for K and 1st grade students.  After reading this story with their students as a readers theater, they passed out potatoes and had them brainstorm all of the things they could do with it!  The kids came up with some pretty creative answers (see below).  They offered an incentive to those students who were the best behaved by letting them take the potato home with them and do something creative with it.  One student made it into a mummy!  You can read more on Laura’s blog here.

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Other Lesson Ideas

The illustrator of this book, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, has some great resources on her blog.  I especially enjoy the section for young writers and illustrators.  In my class, after sending all of them home with potatoes, I think I’d have them write their own “I’m Bored” stories, BUT not just any old stories… comic books!  My students always loved graphic novels and I had some great ones for young readers in my classroom library.  Debbie has an entire section on budding cartoonists on her blog and even provides some great templates for your students to use as well (click below to check it out).

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There are also some great technology resources for students to use in bringing their comics to life.  I’d love to have students illustrate on a storyboard using pencil and paper then have some older students help them bring the comics to life using the laptops or school computer lab.  This is such a different way to approach writing workshop and not all students are “writers”.  This is a way to put the emphasis on the art and the illustrations and try to reach your learners in a different way.  Below are just some examples of a few student-friendly comic sites:

Graphix by Scholastic – I like this one because of the connections to other graphic novels such as “Bone” and “Bird & Squirrel on the Run”

Comic Master

Make Beliefs Comix

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And here are some comic book apps for the iPad too:

Comic Book! ($1.99)

Superhero Comic Book Maker ($1.99) – One of my favorites!

Rosie Comics Maker ($1.99) – I like this one too!

The Fridge Comics Maker ($1.99)

Have a wonderful (hoppy) weekend!  I’ll be back on Tuesday with a week full of new posts.

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Create boundaries.
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[Lara Casey wrote this amazing post about creating boundaries and inspired this post about my former boundary-less self.  If you aren’t a teacher, you can read on and I’d click on her post to read about how boundaries are needed in your life too!]

When I saw this above graphic on Lara Casey’s website, I immediately replaced the word “client” with the phrase “parent of a student” but you may use “colleague” or “boss” or whatever stresses you out.  Because how many of you are afraid of your teacher email?  I was.  Every time I opened it up, I feared another meeting to add to the schedule, a “disgruntled” parent email, or something else that would cause me anxiety.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of it was bad!  Most of it was good, but would add to my “to-do’s” and that stressed me out.  I formed some fabulous and amazingly supportive relationships with my colleagues and the parents of my students.  But I created a “cycle” from day one that I couldn’t break.  Read on…

My first year of teaching, I made myself available 24/7 to my colleagues and the parents of my students.  I was answering emails around the clock and I even gave out my cell phone number!!! (what was I thinking?!?!)  So imagine my surprise when I had a parent call me on that cell phone at 9 pm on a Friday night to gossip about another parent or 5 am on a Tuesday morning to let me know their child was sick.  It was terrible.  So I quickly learned my lesson and stopped giving my cell phone out after the first year of teaching.

But what replaced that immediate cell phone communication?  Email.  Parents would contact me via email and expect, sometimes demand, an immediate response.  I was answering emails at all hours of the day and night.  Because I was always so available, parents would come to expect a response from me, usually within the hour of the initial communication.  I felt that if I didn’t answer them right away, they’d be “mad” or they would speak ill about me at the next birthday party (gasp!) and it was tough.  Now I’m not saying every parent was demanding… sometimes the emails were as simple as “can we bring cupcakes tomorrow?” but I felt pressure to answer right away.  And every time I opened my inbox, my heart would pound.  So many times, the parents (or I) didn’t realize that by answering their in-depth emails, I was spending time away from their children.  I wasn’t being the best teacher I could be when they were expecting me to respond during the day.  So after year two of teaching, I started to say “I wouldn’t be answering email during school hours, except during planning”.

Well, that kind of backfired in my face.  Again, most parents were cool with this because their emails didn’t need an immediate response.  But when do you think the parents that wanted immediate communication expected me to email them back?  Yep.  After school and on weekends.  I’ll never forget a particularly challenging parent relationship that I had one year.  This parent was very demanding of my time and constantly questioned my experience, training, and all decisions I made in the classroom (we all have at least one of these relationships in the classroom every year).  This parent would “request an electronic receipt” of when I read my email so that she could see the exact time that I opened it up.  If I didn’t respond within the half hour, she would email me again in a very disrespectful tone.  If I still didn’t respond, she’d call the school in order to speak with me.  Typically her emails were very detailed and they took a lot of time and the proper PC wording to compose and respond to.  She was a school administrator in a neighboring county and used this “authority” to intimidate me… and it worked.  As a non-tenured teacher, I was quite fearful of losing my job because of a parent complaint, so I was always trying to please her.  One particular night, I heard my phone buzz with a new email at 3:30 am (email being linked to my phone was another mistake).  It was from her and I opened it, thus sending her a receipt that I read it at 3:32 am.  She was emailing about something trivial, but I had opened it!!!  Ugh!  My heart started to pound and I woke up, drug myself half asleep to the computer, to reply.  My husband had had it.  When he woke up for work at 6 am, I was still awake, worrying about whether or not my response was satisfactory to her.  He explained to me that this had to stop and I had to do something about it.  He was right.  I was exhausted and a crying mess.  But I had let her do this to me.  I had essentially given her the permission to email me at all hours of the night because I had proved that I’d be at her beck and call, by ACTUALLY RESPONDING AT 3 AM.  So, that same morning, I sent out an email to all the parents in my class letting them know that I would no longer be answering my emails before 7:30 am and after 4:30 pm, period.  If they had an emergency, they needed to contact the office.  Then I took my work email off of my phone and started to leave my school laptop at school.  I removed my school email bookmark from my computer and absolutely stopped looking at my email after 4:30 pm.  To my surprise, everyone was fine with it (well almost everyone).  They respected these new boundaries I set and respected that my school-time was for their children, not email.  I realized I should have done this way sooner!  [Oh and what happened to that difficult parent?  Well, she did come storming into my principals office, having a fit over my new email policy.  She shouted to my boss that I be available to her “at all times” because if I wasn’t then obviously I didn’t have the children’s best interest at heart.  Luckily I worked for the most amazing principal who backed my decision 100% and politely told her that she supported me.  I was not reprimanded by my administrators for my decision whatsoever.  That parent never discussed anything with me again and in the summer, she pulled her child out of our school system all together.]

So, what’s the point here?  My email inbox was affecting my teaching and my marriage because I didn’t know how to set boundaries (and I didn’t even have children yet – imagine what I would’ve been missing out on in their lives if I did).  I let other adults and their emails run my life both in and out of the classroom.  Although it took a pretty big wake up call, my policy never changed from there on out.  And each year, parents were more accepting of this policy and actually appreciated that once I left school, my mind was on my family and not on my inbox.  I was a better teacher for it.  My heart didn’t pound any more when I opened my inbox and I didn’t feel the need to respond right away or even at all to some emails.  So what do I suggest you do if you’re in this constant heart-pounding, anxiety producing cycle?  Read on.

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I’ve heard Lara say this to me twice now.  Every time you open your inbox, you have to make decisions.  Will you respond?  Delete?  File it away?  Or let it sit there and bother you every time you open your email?  Let me offer some inbox tips here.

1. Make a Snap Decision.

Don’t treat your mailbox like a to-do list.  When an email is read, make a decision about it immediately – respond to it, delete it, archive it, snooze it – just do something (see “Mailbox App” below for more information on this).  And only check your email when you have time to make these decisions.  If you don’t have ample time to respond, then don’t check it.  Do I still get emails that leave me feeling anxious or nervous?  Sure.  But now I have a plan.  Once I get an email, I immediately do something with it so that if it is a difficult email, I take care of it and move on.  Make that your policy from here on out.

2. Schedule Your Emails.

Sometimes you may have to get to your email after school.  But you don’t want to establish that habit of sending emails at all hours of the night, right?  That’s when you need to use an email scheduling system.  I like Boomerang or Follow Up Then.  Both of them provide a scheduling system for you, so that you can write an email at night and schedule it to send in the morning.  That way you’re able to work outside of your boundaries on your own time, without tipping off the recipient of your email.  Both systems can also remind you of an email that you may not to deal with at the minute, by taking it out of your inbox and re-delivering it at a scheduled time.  For example, get an email about the school book fair in a month?  Feel too overwhelmed to deal with it now but don’t want it crowding your inbox space?  Then schedule it to show back up in your inbox in 4 weeks.  Done.  The same thing can be said for the Mailbox app on your iPhone.  I do NOT advocate putting your school email on your phone, however, if you feel you must, this app will help you manage it and get it down to zero.  Just beware… there’s a waiting list to gain access to the app and it only works with Gmail.  But hey, maybe it’s better suited for your personal inbox, right?  That’s what I use it for.  (Another tip for email on your phone is also to turn off “auto-load”, that way the little red notification circle isn’t calling you to click on it at all hours of the day.  This feature is turned off on my phone and I really forget my mail is on there half the time.)

3. Streamline Your Emails

Create folders to hold all of your email correspondence.  It’s always smart for teachers to leave a paper-trail.  Every time I had a disgruntled parent to deal with, I usually had a he said/she said battle that ensued as well.  When I was able to pull up an actual documented email to show them or my administrators, the debate ended immediately.  For example, I had a parent who claimed not to be receiving my newsletters that were delivered by email, thus not getting important class information.  As it turns out, she had replied to one of my newsletter emails and I had saved it.  That gave me a direct paper trail to her inbox and even showed that she had to open the newsletter email to respond to me.  Slam dunk for the teacher!  But in order to recall these paper trails, you need a place to put all of those emails.  That’s where you need to create folders.  Organizing your inbox is as important as organizing your classroom.  Here is just a sampling of the folders I have for my C. Jayne Teach email:

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My teacher inbox had folders for each child so that I could quickly recall an email that was in regards to a particular student.  You can even color code your email in some platforms.  By creating folders, you’ll be able to recall information quickly and gather emails up if they need to present themselves.

4. Respect The Boundaries You Set

If you don’t live within your boundaries, no one will.   As I said before, change is hard but so worth it.  It may feel uncomfortable to only make yourself available from 7:30-4:30, especially if you are an involved teacher, but respect the boundaries you set.  Don’t make email access easy for you.  Fill your free time with the people you love and the things that fire you up.  If you’re feeling burnt out during this school year, examine where the root of it is coming from… it may be your inbox!  So decide what you’re boundaries are, stick to them, and don’t look back.  Because once you send the message that “I’m sending emails at 9 pm again”, the cycle will start all over.  So try it out.  You’ll feel more energized, restful, and more dedicated if your mental space isn’t filled with anxiety and fear of what’s lurking in your inbox.

You can do it.  Ready, set, go!

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Laura Vaccaro Seeger Author Study
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[Images seen here are © Laura Vaccaro Seeger]

In the spirit of St. Patricks Day, I thought I’d post about another new favorite book of mine, Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger and some author study ideas you can do in your classroom [more about Green in a minute].  Laura is an amazing author and illustrator/painter.  Her website has lots of resources to use in the classroom including a great PDF of some lesson ideas and an interview with Laura herself.  I’ll highlight a few other ideas below, especially for her most recent work, Green.

Books and Lesson Ideas

I fell in love with her books when I read First the Egg to my first graders.  I used her books to show the students how she used her illustrations to create illusions for the reader, essentially making the text interactive.  The book evokes plenty of discussion about things that come first, including the age old question about the chicken and the egg.  We also discussed change, life cycles, and how things in our world evolve and change over time.  With such a focus on non-fiction in the classroom to align with the CCS, this book is a great jumping off point for some non-fiction reading and discussions about time and change in our lives.

Dog and Bear is great for younger students (K, 1).  In the beginning of the year, I’d introduce this story to them with a simple Readers Theater.  I’d also have them author their own Dog and Bear stories to share with the class.   If you want to use Dog and Bear with older students and you have access to a flip camera (or other editing technology), you can have them create a short Dog and Bear film or work with the younger students to do the same.  Laura’s son Dylan did this with the real dog and bear and it’s posted on her website.  Click here to see the short 1 minute film.

In the beginning of the year with my first grade and also with my kindergarteners, I’d make a class book of The Hidden AlphabetShow students the movie here then discuss how they can hide illustrations within their text.  Each student is assigned a letter, and creates a page for the book (I’d illustrate whatever letters were left over).  You could even collaborate with the art teacher to have them paint their illustration.  We’d keep it in our class library for the remainder of the year.  I’ve also used Walter was Worried to show the students how seamlessly text and illustrations can work together.  Much like we did with The Hidden Alphabet, you could create a class book of this story with the younger students while discussing feelings and emotions.

The book, What If, is a story with multiple endings.  The concept is to think about what would happen if each situation were altered in just a slightly different way.  I would do one of two things with this book.  First, you could present the first part of the story to first graders then have them come up with their own alternate ending during writing workshop.  Only after they had finished their stories, would I share the endings that Seeger illustrates in the book.  Or you could split them up into three groups and have them each write a continuation of one of the three storylines in the book.

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I had to give this book it’s own section because I love it so much.  Everything about it is beautiful – the text, the illustrations, the message – and I hope you’ll find a way to use it in your classroom.  There are a few interviews that Laura has done about Green and you can hear/read two of them here and here.

Green is another concept book by Seeger where the reader is taken through the pages of lush green illustrations with hidden cutouts that relate to the next page of gorgeous green illustrations.  Haven’t read it yet?  See the entire book here or click the picture below.

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The text allows students to interpret and use their schema to understand various forms of green, such as a stop sign (“never green”) or a snowman (“no green”) or an inchworm (“slow green”).  One of my favorite lesson ideas for this book is to have the kids create their own color concept books.  They could create books of their favorite color and use magazines, newspaper clippings, or a digital camera to find things in that color.  Laura even has her sketchbook on her website so you can see her thinking process through the brainstorming stage of the book.  This would be great to show students during Writing Workshop so they can see how real authors use sloppy copies too!  If they are creating their own color book, they can find some inspiration of all the different color names in the Pantone Colors book for kids.  Below is a picture of the orange page [© Pantone].  Don’t you love all those different names for “orange”?!

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Back to Green.  Another idea is to play with color mixing.  There are so many shades of green used in this book, it would be interesting to have children use paint to try to match some of the images in the book.  You could even use an online color mixing program like Color with Leo or Curious George Mix and Paint.  And of course this book would be a great compliment to any Earth Day lesson.  There are plenty of discussions that can begin with this book that center around the environment and ways we can keep the Earth “green”.  You could even create a class book about what color the Earth may turn if there was no green anymore.

If you have any other Laura Vaccaro Seeger lesson ideas, I’d love to hear about them!  Oh and a big thank you to Heidi from Swamp Frog First Grade for featuring my site in her “garden of blogs”!  If you haven’t checked out her site, please do.  It’s filled with lots of great ideas for firsties and was a favorite of mine when I was in the classroom.

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UDL Book Builder

I’m writing this post to specifically focus on literature and technology and show you a way to reach all learners in the elementary classroom.  When I was in graduate school, I worked with this program in one of my literature and technology courses.  This program is Book Builder, where teachers can author and illustrate a text or an adaption of a text based on the principals of “Universal Design Learning”.  This program was developed by CAST, an educational research & development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning.  “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a flexible approach to curriculum design and implementation that offers all learners full and equal opportunities to learn. Based on research on the diverse ways people learn, UDL offers practical steps for giving everyone the chance to succeed.” [Cast.org] Learn more about UDL here.

How Book Builder Works

I’ve outlined the program features below, but if that’s too overwhelming then I think Book Builder is best understood by seeing an example.  Let’s start by viewing The Tortoise and the Hare adaptation as a guide for you to get to know the program.  Click here or on the picture below.

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Program Features

Audio Feature

As I mentioned in the previous post, listening to reading was an important part of my daily curriculum.  Book Builder allows for the text to be read to the student so that they are able to comprehend difficult text and focus on the meaning.  “Struggling to decode words is a barrier to understanding text. Using text-to-speech can support decoding and let readers ‘dig into’ the meaning of a book. And for many students, hearing text read aloud is much more engaging than reading the words on the page.  Broaden your book’s reach by adding audio ‘read alouds,’ sound effects, mood-setting music, and/or audio prompts. Audio files make your book accessible to a wider range of readers by representing information in non-textual ways. In addition, when used effectively audio is a powerful tool to engage your audience with your book.” [Cast.org]

The Coaches

“Because you might not be able to sit next to every child who reads your online book, Book Builder’s coaches can provide students with support right when and where they need it, individualizing instruction for each learner. When used effectively, coaches can support student background knowledge, highlight important content and skills, and prompt readers to think about and engage in the book content. The coaches engage students, provide students with support that draw them into the text, images, or audio or images and help them think critically about the content.” [Cast.org]

On the right hand side is Terry the Giraffe with “Terry’s Tips”.  This is where information for the educator is written.  When you design your own text, you can write notes to yourself about the story, probing questions to ask your students, or even definitions and new vocabulary for your students.  It’s also helpful if you share your stories with other members of your teaching team, so they know what tips can better help them teach their students through this text.

In the bottom left hand corner, you see the three comprehension coaches.  These “comprehension coaches” talk and interact with the students to ask them varying degrees of comprehension questions throughout the story.  When you begin your book, select up to three of the coach characters.  You can choose a variety of “coaches” with different voices and languages (English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese) and you may also upload a picture to create your own coach.  The coaches all have a digitally recorded voice and can sound a bit “robotic”, but Book Builder allows you to record your own voice for each one of the coaches instead.  Coaches can also be “hidden” for those students who are distracted by this feature.

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Student Response

The student response box in the bottom right hand side allows students to interact with the story.  “Enabling the student response area and inserting a prompt encourages and engages readers in reacting to and extending their thinking about a text. Use prompts to engage students, provide information processing supports that draw them into your book and help them think critically about the content.” [Cast.org]  This is particularly helpful when students are reading this individually.  The teacher can monitor their interaction with the story and see their thinking as they read.

Glossary

Book Builder has incorporated a glossary into their text features to allow students to gain new vocabulary right from the program.  “Recent research confirms that building vocabulary is essential for comprehension. Book Builder’s built-in glossary feature helps you support readers’ understanding with definitions of important terms right when they need them—in the book. The most effective vocabulary development reaches beyond the classroom to focus on words that occur frequently—in and out of school. When you create a glossary, make sure to include words that occur frequently outside the classroom, are somewhat difficult, and are important to know for a rich vocabulary.” [Cast.org]

In the image below, you can see that “distracted” is underlined.  By clicking on the word, the glossary pops up and the students are able to see a definition as well as a photo depicting the word.

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Glossary example:

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There are additional model books that will help you explore the features of the program, as well as “library” books that other users have submitted to the site.  And this doesn’t have to tie into just language arts – your stories can be about math, social studies, science, anything!  Also for the older groups, the students would be able to use this program to create their own text.  By seeing the way they use their “coaches” you can gauge their level of comprehension.  Some really great higher-order thinking skills can be assessed through using the program in this way.

If you are a little computer savvy, this program won’t take time at all for you to learn.  Because you will be using the books for your own personal use, you can use scanned, uploaded images or Google images for your illustrations and you can use adapted text from your favorite stories.  And if you’re interested in the book I created on Book Builder while in grad school, you can see it here.  Also, please don’t laugh at the graphics – I used my little PC and the Print Shop to design them – HA!  (If you are have worked in the Adobe Creative Suite, you are cringing right now.)  I’d love to see any creations of yours, so feel free to share below.  Also if you have questions about the program, please let me know.  You can email me at chandra[at]cjayneteach[dot]com

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