During the past school year, Lisa Emond, a District 91 primary mathematics specialist, participated in an all-staff in-service focused on technology. The goal was to facilitate the integration of technology in the classroom.

During one of the workshops Emond attended, Megan Ford, a first-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary, gave a presentation on StoryJumper, a free online publishing software program.

The program, as she put it, “sparked my interest.”

Originally from New York City, with 20 years’ experience as an educator in the city’s public school system, Emond came to D91 last year. Unlike the schools where she previously worked, students in Forest Park transition to a new school after completing second grade.

“I felt like because children in second grade leave and go on to an intermediate school, I wanted them to have some sort of culminating artifact to leave the school and the incoming second graders,” Emond told the Review. Her idea was to have her students at Betsy Ross Elementary and Garfield Elementary use StoryJumper to publish a book full of word problems. Each student would author an individual word problem using second grade curriculum concepts like addition, subtraction and fractions and also provide a supplemental illustration.

Emond works primarily at Garfield, assisting each teacher once a week with math instruction. However, at both schools, she also works with a select group of students in a math enrichment program. Children are chosen for that program using a combination of test scores and teacher recommendations, and they meet with Emond twice weekly for 30 minutes.

Her enrichment students were immediately enthusiastic about the publishing project. The ambitious undertaking required more time than the in-school sessions would allow, so she organized an after-school workshop. During the spring, groups met for a total of five hours over two weeks. A quick software tutorial allowed the students to get “comfortable and familiar” with StoryJumper. The program, she said, is user-friendly.

Emond provided guidance, “but the ideas you see in both books are completely the children’s.” There were also a few rules. Each child was required to be able to solve their own problem and had to ask permission before using a peer’s name in their work.

“[To see] each of their individualities coming out … that is the cool thing. … It was wonderful to see what the children came up with,” she said.

There were challenges along the way. One student inadvertently deleted all his work. Other students wrote difficult problems that required a significant amount of time to solve.

Aside from providing a memento for the outgoing class, the project also served another purpose.

“When you are doing mathematics, it is not necessary just working with what I like to call ‘raw numbers.’ It is within the context of something,” Emond remarked. “I’ve always been interdisciplinary. … It is not just math class. It is math in context. When you contextualize math and make it real for them, that is how they best make sense of it. … Everything is in the context of a word problem.”

In order to produce a book for each student, the children at Garfield organized a fundraiser. “We sold popcorn on two different Fridays,” she said. “They practiced making change; they took turns being the ‘set-up’ and ‘sales’ people.” 

In the end, they raised $172 which helped subsidize the cost of a $24 book for each of the nine students. Betsy Ross covered the cost of publishing. Ultimately, funding decisions were made by each of school principals.

Emond described the administrations as “very, very supportive” of the project. “I can’t make any of these ideas happen without them and their support. … It is really a community effort.”

Calling the inaugural project a “great experience,” Emond told the Review there are plans in place to make the assignment an annual event with the goal of expanding to include more students.

A copy of each book will be at the Forest Park Public Library, each school’s library and in every second grade classroom at Betsy Ross.