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Hands-on learning: School founder writing interactive books

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Janice Sinclair, founder of Branch Christian Community School, now called Gerard Preparatory School, is also the creator of an educational method called the Branch methodology. Sinclair has already written three books that can be used with a document camera to provide an interactive reading experience for children. Students can hear the story read aloud, and when spots in the book are touched, the characters will come alive on a projection screen.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Janice Sinclair, founder of Branch Christian Community School, now called Gerard Preparatory School, is also the creator of an educational method called the Branch methodology. Sinclair has already written three books that can be used with a document camera to provide an interactive reading experience for children. Students can hear the story read aloud, and when spots in the book are touched, the characters will come alive on a projection screen.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Amos Alligator is late for everything and puts things off until the last minute. Ollie Orangutan has a hard time following directions. Edie Elephant gets upset when others make fun of her enormous ears.

Janice Sinclair wrote short stories with characters like these for each letter in the alphabet. At the request of a technology company in Lawrenceville, she's now writing full-length children's books based on her characters.

Once completed, the books can be used with a document camera to provide an interactive reading experience for children, Sinclair said. Students can hear the story read aloud, and when spots in the book are touched, the characters will come alive on a projection screen.

Sinclair is creating the books using the same educational methodology she developed. The Branch methodology is a multidimensional learning approach based on neurology, learning styles and student-centered teaching.

"The Branch method uses all modalities to teach, so having our own reading program made sense," Sinclair said.

The Branch approach was used at Branch Christian Community School, which Sinclair founded in 1989 in Lawrenceville. When Sinclair was tapped to write the books, she and the school's board decided to separate the name of the educational method from the school. In August, students will attend classes at Gerard Preparatory School, founded on the Branch approach to education.

"I'm not writing books based on the school," she said. "I'm writing books based on the educational method."

Sinclair is working with a team that includes software developers to produce the series. Logical Choice Technologies in Lawrenceville will publish the books.

The company has already produced a kindergarten reading program called Letters Alive, which features technology called augmented reality. The interactive program uses Sinclair's animal characters that can not only move and make sounds, but answer questions formed by students, make comments and respond to student actions.

"The true two-way interaction between the animals and students is mesmerizing to children," said Cynthia Kaye, founder and CEO of Logical Choice Technologies. "Add in the sounds and motions of the animals and it's just a whole lot of fun for the kids. Our phonics-based curriculum is effective because it reaches children on so many sensory and emotional levels."

In the past six weeks, Sinclair has finished three of the books. She said her work has been scoured by reading and writing specialists, and that the material was designed to meet the new Common Core Standards, educational objectives being adopted by states throughout the United States.

Sinclair said the technology helps provide a truly engaging reading experience for the children. But she said it's not the product that's capturing the kids.

"The kids are falling in love with the characters," she said.