Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Big Universe

At the end of last year, my principal asked me to look into adding eBooks to our library's collection because she wanted to give our students some practice with reading online since our state has moved to online testing.  I did some asking around to my media specialist colleagues and did some researching on my own when I was contacted by Terri Marsh of Big Universe. After speaking with Terri and watching the video about what Big Universe offers, I passed along the information to my principal.  She decided that we should give Big Universe a shot and it has been such a BIG HIT!

We started using Big Universe at the end of November and our students are really enjoying it so far.  Some students even read books over the break!  Our teachers have also been excited about what Big Universe means for our students to have access to high quality, high interest books, even when the library might not be available.  Our county purchased another reading site for all the elementary schools, and although that other site offers lesson plans, printables, and some other teaching and assessing resources, the books on that site aren't as interesting and fun as the books offered through Big Universe.  Our students want to read books on Big Universe and even ask to do so when they finish their work in class.  They weren't asking to read books from the other site.

Our county is 1:1 with Chromebooks in 3rd grade and up so our 3rd-5th graders have easy access to Big Universe while at school and those that have Internet at home can use their Chromebooks to access Big Universe.  Our K-2nd grade classes have access to a Chromecart for each grade level and use the Chromebooks in their classroom to access Big Universe.  Because Big Universe is web based, they can also use their desktop student computers and classroom iPads to access Big Universe.  

Students use Big Universe to access books when they need something to read.  Sometimes it is used in small groups. Teachers can assign specific books for their class to read, so it makes it easy to do reading groups.  All of our classrooms have ActivBoards, so teachers could project the book assigned to the class on the board and have all students read along on their individual devices.

Big Universe also has a writing tool that allows students to create and publish their own books.  This was especially appealing to our teachers as it gives students a way to practice their keyboarding skills which are more important for students to develop now that our state has moved to online testing.  The students love being able to create books of their own and to share them with their friends through Big Universe. Teachers have even talked about using the writing tool as part of a student's work portfolio or as a culminating activity.

We use Accelerated Reader at our school and many of the Big Universe books are AR books.  Because of this, teachers do not tend to use the Big Universe book quizzes, but do allow students to take the Big Universe quizzes if they so choose.  Students can see their score after they quiz and they can also access all of their quiz scores from their "Stats" tab.  

Big Universe sends teachers and administrators a weekly email so that you can see how many books are read for each class and for the school, how many books have been assigned, and how many quizzes have been taken.  You can also get current information about your school's usage in the admin account.

One thing that we wished Big Universe had is the ability to download the ebooks so that students who do not have Internet access at home could download their books to their devices before leaving school. This can be done, but only on the iPad.  Not very many of our students have their own iPads.  We also ran into a little issue with younger kids having access to books that weren't age appropriate. This was easily fixed by changing the settings to allow only books for grades K-6 to be accessed, rather than the default K-12 setting.  The Big Universe tech support staff was a great help in working with us to resolve this issue quickly.  They contacted me by email and phone to tell me any books that might be of concerned can also be individually blocked if needed.  However, this is an all or nothing kind of setting.  If it is blocked for one student, it is blocked for everyone.  We would love to see the ability to set a book level for each class so that it can be more customize to what our students' reading needs are.

Overall, for us, Big Universe was a good investment.  After researching other companies that offer eBooks, we found that Big Universe was by far the best for us economically.  We are a Title I school with limited funding, so we wanted to be sure we were spending our money in the best way.  With Big Universe, we get access to over 10,000 ebooks for $2,000.   There is no way we could purchase over 10,000 paperback or library bound books for just $2,000.  Plus, Big Universe allows our students to have easy access to high interest books.  That was worth the investment to us. 

Do you use Big Universe or any other eBook site?  If not and you'd like to know more, just send me an email and I'd be glad to put you in touch with our Big Universe rep.

Full Disclosure:  I was not paid for my review of Big Universe.  It is simply an awesome site that I want everyone to know about.  =)

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