Thirty-eight EXCEL students at Oak Grove Lower Elementary School just made a splash in the local literary scene, documenting their travels around Hattiesburg and “publishing” books about their adventures.
The second-graders recently took part in a semester-long interdisciplinary project, during which students had a choice of making two friends: a robot friend or a “flat” friend inspired by Jeff Brown’s “Flat Stanley” series of books. The children then took their friend to interesting places around Hattiesburg – including Ed’s Burger Joint and Camp Shelby – and wrote books about their sights and experiences.
“They learned what makes Hattiesburg such a great place,” said second grade EXCEL teacher Nadine Amaya, who created the program eight years ago. “In their book, they used their imagination to write about the adventures they had at each place, and they did research about each place.
“They had a minimum requirement of two facts that they needed to find for each of the places that they included in their books.”
After the excursions, rough drafts of the books were revised and edited, with students using voice typing with Google Docs rather than traditional typing. That was then copied and pasted into StoryJumper – an online digital book creation program – and students added photos and finalized layouts and backgrounds for their pages.
Each student received a copy of their own book, with sponsors through a Write-A-Thon helping to fund the purchase of the books.
The project culminated late last month with an Authors’ Celebration in the school’s multipurpose building, with more than 200 in attendance. Students shared information about their books, signed autographs, performed a student-led presentation and sang the “50 States That Rhyme” song.
“They went to stand by their books, and met the guests and talked to them about their books and what they had learned,” Amaya said. “We had cake and punch, and just a good time with everybody celebrating their hard work.”
Four of the children received Outstanding Book Awards for their work: Morgan Caldwell for The Tale of the Lost Robot, Jordan Hodges for The Search for Jordan’s Favorite Animal, Kacen Smith for Amazing Places in Hattiesburg and Mason Williams for Robot Mason’s Time in Hattiesburg. The event was supported by the Hattiesburg Zoo, the African-American Military History Museum and the Mississippi Armed Forces museum, who provided prizes for the four winners.
“This book project not only helped me learn about Hattiesburg, but it also showed me the many steps involved in writing a book,” Williams said. “We learned about gathering information, writing paragraphs, proofreading and editing. We worked hard and we are all proud of our finished books.”
Amaya said other teachers will do “Flat Stanley” projects in which the students will send their characters around the world, where participating students will take pictures with the character and send them back. Amaya, however, prefers to keep her projects local.
“(With local projects), you learn more about where you live, rather than other places,” she said. “For second-graders, it’s important for them to understand more about the geography and the history and the uniqueness of where they actually live.”
That was certainly the case for Smith, who said the project may spur him toward future writing endeavors.
“Writing a book in my EXCEL class helped me learn so many things about Hattiesburg that I never even knew,” he said. “This project makes me want to write another book at home. I could name it ‘Amazing Places with Kacen’ and write about all the fun places I visit over summer break.”