Enhanced Ebook “magic act” engages students in fun science lessons about sound and light

When Rebecca Olien set out to write Sound All Around, The Amazing Light Show, an NSTA Enhanced EBook+, she knew a thing (or 20) about elementary schoolchildren, the book’s target audience.

Olien was a classroom teacher for 20 years and understood that science education, for younger children, works best when it’s taught through fun and engaging storytelling. Her book follows Liz and Sam, who put on a magic light show to investigate what happens when light encounters different objects and surfaces.

In the first “act” of her book, Olien invites readers to question, observe and investigate the phenomenon of how some materials allow light to pass through it while others block it completely. Elementary school-aged students must use mathematical reasoning (scale and production) to analyze and interpret how both the size as well as the shape of shadows changes depending on the direction and distance from a light source.

In act 2, students investigate another phenomenon, reflection, as they study the effects of light bouncing from smooth, shiny surfaces. They are required to build explanations and create solutions as they assist the characters in the story, including a cat, to solve reflection puzzles by using mirrors to redirect the light beam.

“I kept asking myself how I could ‘show’ what happens when light interacts with different surfaces and objects,” Olien said. “How can I help the kids explore through inquiry? That’s very tricky because regular print books do not allow for that. Most are straight non-fiction and are very information-driven.”

Olien is no stranger to the publishing world. She’s a prolific author of science education books. One of the first things that she wrote was an article for NSTA’s magazine, Science and Children, about an inquiry-based lesson that she taught. Olien remembers her classroom as being “filled with so much laughing and so much fun.”

“My goal as a teacher was always to help my students to see science all around them–to be constantly seeing new things, learning and exploring,” she said.

“Science education has been a driving force in my professional life,” she added. “I just see sparks ignite in children when they learn something new. And as adults who teach them, we get to learn/see/rediscover it all over again through our students’ perspectives.”

Olien’s decision to become an NSTA Enhanced Ebooks+ author was exciting because the format aligns with how she would teach. The opportunity to write, “in a totally different way” was very interesting to her. “I got to be so creative in my approach to the subject matter. That made it necessary for me to think way outside of the box. The challenge was fun!”

Students who use Enhanced Ebooks+ like Sound All Around, The Amazing Light Show, are given the concept that they need to know/come away understanding. but teachers “cannot give them the information,” Olien said. “The students have to explore to find it themselves. They know the concept that they are expected to learn; however, the students have to explore the digital book to find the answers themselves.”  

Olien raved about the book’s 3D aspects.

“There is so much interactivity and manipulation that the students themselves control. “Students can enter into the environment with the characters. They become part of the book and that’s very engaging.”

Olien emphasized the benefits of each Enhanced Ebook+ being accompanied by “a really great teacher guide!” that takes educators through all parts of the NGSS standard that is being utilized as well as fun classroom activities. Students can seamlessly transition from independent online learning to hands-on group projects that the teacher can lead the students through, thus bringing the Enhanced EBook+’s learnings to life.

Never one to let grass grow underneath her feet, Olien said that she is already at work finalizing another Enhanced Ebook+.

“And two more are on the way!”

Learn more about NSTA’s Enhanced Ebooks+.


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