How Dr Craig Roble teaches with iPad.

“I want my students to make connections between our history and their own lives, because they are part of that story.”

Dr Craig Roble, Heritage E‑STEM Magnet School, West St Paul, Minnesota

Tapping into history.

Imagine opening a history book and diving headlong into the past. A video pans across the faces of workers in an early 20th-century factory. You pause to read a handwritten letter from aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright, and swipe through a photo gallery of early US currency to see how today’s imagery evolved. Each page of the book is enhanced with rich, interactive content that expands on the text and brings history to life.

Dr Craig Roble creates interactive books like these for his social studies classes at Heritage E‑STEM Magnet School, a secondary school in West St Paul, Minnesota. In addition to including his own writing, he gathers text, images and other materials from the Library of Congress, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the Minnesota Historical Society and other sources, and assembles the materials using Apple’s free iBooks Author application.

“I got into teaching because I like stories,” Roble says. “I want my students to make connections between our history and their own lives, because they are a part of that story.”

A cohesive curriculum.

Heritage E‑STEM Magnet School combines STEM concepts (science, technology, engineering and maths) with environmental initiatives like a year-long prairie restoration project. Students use iPad for classwork, homework and fieldwork.

Roble’s Multi-Touch books help support the school’s interdisciplinary focus. Using built-in widgets in iBooks Author, he adds interactive elements that highlight the connections between social studies and other topics.

For example, a chapter on the Brooklyn Bridge includes a flyover video, historical images and a 3D rendering of the bridge, which students can manipulate to gain a better understanding of its design. “At the same time in science class, students work on an engineering project where they construct a bridge out of spaghetti and marshmallows,” Roble says. “And in maths, they’re learning about the calculations used to build the bridge.”

The curated classroom.

Roble’s ideal classroom isn’t really a classroom at all — it’s a place filled with historical papers, photos and objects that students can explore freely. “I want my classroom to be like a museum where you can walk around and actually touch things,” he says.

However, many of the artefacts Roble wants to share with his students are available only in actual museums. “We worked around it by making paper copies of things,” he recalls. “But that wasn’t the engagement level we see with iPad.”

With interactive books, now Roble can illustrate his lessons with digital assets that students can examine up close. “I’m always on the lookout for text, artefacts, resources and websites I think are going to be relevant to my students,” he says. “iBooks Author gives me the tool I need to take these materials and put them on iPad, so they’re immediately accessible and engaging for students to interact with.”

Connecting with the past.

Roble has noticed dramatic results from sharing these Multi-Touch books with his students. Since bringing iPad into the classroom, students are twice as likely to complete their homework assignments, and unit test scores are 11 per cent higher.

“Students have told me the biggest difference in the way they’re learning is that they’re active,” Roble says. “They’re participating. They’re highlighting, they’re tapping, they’re swiping to a different page. It helps sustain their mental effort and their interest in completing the homework that’s assigned.”

But perhaps most meaningfully, Roble’s Multi-Touch books help his students link lessons about the past with their own lives.

“They can look at a map from the late 1800s, and on the bus ride home they’re seeing street names and say, ‘Oh, that street is named after the farmer who used to live in this area’,” he says. “They’re learning about people and places, and they’re learning about events that have taken place in our history. But they’re also learning about themselves.”

“Students have told me the biggest difference in the way they’re learning is that they’re active. They’re participating. It helps sustain their mental effort and their interest in completing the homework that’s assigned.”

Tips from Dr Craig Roble.

Use iBooks Author to share stories.

“iBooks Author allows me to share stories in ways that encourage my students to make personal connections. I can go beyond text to include primary sources, artefacts, interactive elements and web links that bring history alive. It gives students easy access to more information than I was ever able to provide before.”

Customise widgets for your content area.

“Use widgets in iBooks Author to give students hands-on learning experiences in any subject. In social studies, a scrolling sidebar can become a timeline. An image gallery might display a historic document, its transcription, and a photo or painting from that era. Maps with call-outs help students trace historic journeys, while popovers provide more background. And 3D objects let students manipulate artefacts in virtual space.”

Collaborate with local organisations for content and resources.

“Make connections with institutions that have resources students can’t access easily. I added maps, documents and images from the Minnesota Historical Society to the Multi-Touch books and iTunes U courses I created. It really helped my students understand how the history of our state was just an earlier chapter of their own stories.”

Help other teachers create Multi-Touch books.

“Once you’ve created a book yourself, share your expertise by demonstrating the features and benefits of iBooks Author at a staff meeting. Give your colleagues access to the books you’ve created so they can see how great they look on iPad. Then share your iBooks Author workflow to help them start making interactive books of their own.”

Ask students which learning materials resonate most.

“Students learn in different ways, and they’re great at giving feedback. So give them books with engaging, interactive content and then ask them to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Fortunately, it’s easy to make revisions in iBooks Author, whether it’s editing text, inserting or resizing an image, or adding a new widget to the book.”