A dedicated group of educators, tech wizards and parents encourage students to write on.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
On a rainy Saturday under an umbrella during a charity walk, BoomWriter was born. A parent (Chris Twyman, pictured) pitched an idea to his daughter’s teacher (Ken Haynes). Ken was looking to incorporate more technology into his classroom and loved the idea, and it just so happened that Chris, the CEO of a technology company, had the development team (Ian Garland) to make it happen. Ken tried it, and his students loved it. After some tweaking, BoomWriter is now used by educators worldwide. “I’d always had the philosophical idea that 20 writers working together would produce a better book than one writer,” says Chris. “BoomWriter gives kids an opportunity to work together to write and publish their best book ever.”
Victor: What’s in the name?
Chris: I came up with the name BoomWriter because I believe this program gives any child an opportunity to instantly become a published author. With BoomWriter, kids experience the fun of writing a book with their classmates and before they know it — boom! — they’re a published author!
Victor: What exactly is it? How would you specifically describe what it is?
Chris: BoomWriter Media is a digital education company that specializes in engaging children and educators in creative and collaborative storytelling through our proprietary web-based publishing platform. BoomWriter brings together passionate educators, technology experts, corporate sponsors, enthusiastic parents and students to promote creativity, writing, reading, and essential 21st Century skills. The company developed BoomWriter.com, an easy to use literacy website that is free for teachers and allows their students to collaborate with classmates to create and publish stories in a competitive environment. BoomWriter partners with professional and aspiring authors, celebrities and educators to provide story starts that spark the imagination of kids and gets them collaborating with classmates or with children worldwide to create stories and compete for an opportunity to get published. Teachers and students in over 1,500 schools spread throughout 20 countries have joined the BoomWriter community where kids read, write, compete and get published.
Victor: What does it do and what are some of the benefits?
Chris: BoomWriter serves as a highly engaging instructional tool. Teachers can apply BoomWriter across many areas of the curriculum and in a variety of educational settings (whole class, small group and after school). BoomWriter aligns directly with the Common Core State Standards, but most importantly BoomWriter delivers a challenging and engaging learning experience that has students creating and assessing written content in ways they’ve never done before.
Here’s how it works: Students are provided with the first part of a story selected by their teacher and written by a professional author. After reading this first chapter, each child writes what he/she thinks should happen next in the story. Students then read the anonymous submissions of their peers and vote on the piece that they like the most. The piece receiving the most votes becomes the next part of the story, and the process continues until the predetermined number of chapters have been completed and the story is finished. BoomWriter then publishes each story, and these books can be purchased from the site’s bookstore (http://boomwriter.com/Bookstore).
Victor: Anything interesting about it’s development history?
Chris: BoomWriter began on a rainy Saturday under an umbrella during a charity walk. I approached Ken Haynes, my daughter’s sixth-grade teacher at the time, who was looking for ways to increase the use of technology within his classroom. I interested Ken in testing BoomWriter with his class. Ken tried it, his students loved it, and after some tweaking of the product, BoomWriter is now in thousands of schools spread throughout the world.
Victor: Where did it originate and where can you get it now; how much does it cost?
Chris: BoomWriter originated in Brookline, Massachusetts. Teachers can visit the BoomWriter website: www.BoomWriter.com and sign-up their class for free. It is free! BoomWriter is free for teachers to use in schools. Once teachers complete a book with their class, BoomWriter will provide them one free copy of the book to share with their students. Additional books can be purchased for $9.99 + $4.00 for shipping and handling at BoomWriter’s book store: https://boomwriter.com/Bookstore.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Chris: One extremely applicable and helpful way to use BoomWriter in the classroom could be when teaching the Reading: Literature Standard that relates to the unfolding of a story’s plot in a series of episodes as well as how characters respond and change. BoomWriter’s story starts are always well crafted and provide interesting and well constructed story elements. The teacher can begin by breaking down these elements in the story start with the entire class. The teacher can then continue teaching the components of this standard one chapter at a time using the winning chapters that were created and voted on by the members of the class. When the kids are responsible for developing how the story unfolds and how the characters respond, their levels of investment and engagement in the piece is that much greater, which then undoubtedly has a positive impact on their levels of learning.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for?
Chris: BoomWriter encourages creative writing among 9-16 year-olds.
Victor: Your thoughts on education these days?
Chris: There is certainly a lot going on these days in education as it relates to technology, and there seems to be a lot of data supporting the positive impact of technology on learning. However, I’m concerned about how much technology is actually making its way into the classroom and helping teachers and students alike. It’s one thing to talk about all the cool new ways kids can learn thanks to technology, but is it actually happening? That’s why we created the BoomWriter Technology Heroes Program, which develops partnerships between school districts, corporate sponsors, and BoomWriter in an effort to get kids using technology to collaboratively create published books. Each participating student then receives a free copy of the book they helped to create. We’re hoping this program will help inspire more teachers to incorporate more technology into their instruction.
Victor: How does BoomWriter address some of your concerns about education?
Chris: As previously mentioned, although in some schools technology has become part of the educational process, too often it is separate and not integrated into the learning experience. Experts agree that technology should be integrated, not as a separate subject or project, but as a tool to promote and extend student learning on a daily basis. Furthermore, experts agree that technology, when integrated into the curriculum, revolutionizes the learning process. The challenge, of course, is in finding ways to use technology — and to help students use it while not taking time away from core subjects.
BoomWriter addresses this need by helping teachers incorporate technology into classroom learning. BoomWriter is a great way for schools to combine curriculum and technology to create an engaging learning experience for students through a platform that prepares them for the future with 21st Century skills.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Chris: Well, having two children of my own I prefer to be optimistic. The experience of creating and championing for BoomWriter has shown me how much innovation is out there in the education technology space. I just hope the schools themselves can adapt and evolve to provide students the most appropriate and beneficial education to prepare them for the working world they’ll be entering some day. I agree with the concept of accountability, but I just hope that our government soon starts putting as much emphasis on identifying creative and beneficial ways for kids to learn and develop 21st Century skills as they do on testing kids these days.
Victor: Could you share a quirky or funny anecdote (around the office, or dealing with customers, or at a tradeshow or in a school, or a book you read, or something you saw online, in a conversation, etc) that our readers would find interesting?
Chris: When we first piloted BoomWriter, we had a group of 6th grade students working on a book in the school’s computer lab. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, but I thought nothing of it because I’m not a teacher and I thought that was the norm. The school’s technology teacher who was working at her desk then stopped what she was doing, looked up at me with a somewhat confused look on her face and said, “I’ve never, ever heard the computer lab this quiet.” That’s when I really knew we were onto something with BoomWriter.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of BoomWriter? What makes you say that?
Chris: I’d like all teachers and administrators to know that, in addition to BoomWriter being an immensely engaging and beneficial learning experience for kids, one of its greatest attributes is the ability to be used by so many different teachers in so many different roles throughout Education. Classroom teachers, technology teachers, literacy coaches, special education teachers, gifted & talented/challenge coaches and before and after school program directors can all easily incorporate BoomWriter into their teaching. Plus, in addition to enabling teachers to incorporate more technology into their instruction it’s also firmly aligned with the Common Core. BoomWriter should not be viewed as an add-on, but rather as a hugely beneficial and vital instructional tool.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Are you an edtech leader, trendsetter, or the creator of a cool edtech tool? The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards extended entry period runs until October 18, 2013. There is still time to enter. For full details, write to: [email protected]