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Reading and STEM Skills Combine for Audiobooks Project at the Hollys

Emily Stout had an important message for a group of third-graders at Holly Hills Elementary School.

The students were working on making their own audiobooks, digital versions of published works that would be available to schoolmates in kindergarten and first grade at Holly Ridge Primary School. The third-graders recorded the text in their own voice, they selected photos and musical snippets. They even chose sound effects to accompany key parts of the stories.

Stout, the technology coordinator at Holly Hills and Holly Ridge, wanted to make sure the students knew they were making these projects for a very special group of underclassmen.

"I told them, 'You're making books for our kindergarten and first-grade students to be able to listen to," Stout said. "Some our students even dedicated the books to their little brothers and sisters."

That personal connection made the project all the more important for the third-graders who learned how to manipulate the subtle features of the program iMovie. The group had a real stake in the quality and depth of the project, Stout said, as did the younger students who were at the receiving end of the effort.

 "A lot of our students have little brothers and sisters, so a lot of them were making stories for their siblings," Stout said. "I can't express the excitement on the face of the kindergarteners when they found out that a book was dedicated to them. It was very exciting."

That excitement came only after a good deal of hard work on the part of the students and the project coordinators themselves. When Stout first tried to kick off the project, she didn't have enough headphones to create a properly focused work environment. Third-graders working with iPads were distracted by the noise coming from their peers' machines; the working environment was too hectic to truly progress.

That's when Stout decided to take advantage of the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation's Educator Initiative Grants. The grants are designed to provide funding opportunities for all students in the Cherry Creek School District in innovative ways and to help build partnerships within the community, and Stout's application fit the criteria.

Within a short time, Stout and her students had access to headphones, resources that helped each student focus on their own audiobook and see the project to a successful end.

 "When they saw these headphones, they thought they were the fanciest things they'd ever seen," Stout said.

The entire project offered valuable opportunities to teach both basic reading skills and important STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lessons to all of the students involved. The third-graders learned the intricacies of a complex software program to record their books and finalize their individualized programs, while kindergarteners and first-graders learned how to bring up a specific book with QR codes.

At a more basic level, the project gave young students a new access point into the magic of reading. Exciting, compelling stories came along with musical cues and colorful images. The words came alive through the voices of older Holly Hills students the kindergarteners actually knew and respected.

"They are very excited, especially because the stories are being read by people they know," Stout said. "The third-graders added music and other elements, so when you watch the students reading the audiobooks, they're dancing and enjoying it. They're having a good time, and they want to know when they get to learn how to read and put something like that together."

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