Monday, September 27, 2010

Pump up the Volume!

As a librarian-in-training, life-long reader, and mother, I think everyone should read, and read more. At our house, we go to the library two to three times a week and have a minimum of 30 books checked out at any one time. In the evenings, instead of watching TV, we all sit in the family room and read. I am fortunate that my children not only love to read, but are good readers.

But let's face it. Not everyone is a good reader. Some don't enjoy reading, while others have difficulty reading due to visual impairments, attention disorders, reading disorders, dyslexia, or developmental disorders. Does this mean they have to give up on enjoying a good story? Does this mean they will never appreciate fine literature, or keep up with the best sellers? The answer is a loud, resounding NO!

Audio books are more widely available, and in more formats, than every before, and are an affordable, enjoyable, and fun alternative to those who find reading difficult, for whatever reason. Options include Playaways, books on tapes or CDs, and down-loadable books. And here's the good news: listening to audio versions of books
  • increases interest in reading
  • increases comprehension
  • improves reading skills and literacy, especially when students follow along in the book, alternate between the book and tape, or read the book after listening to the recording
  • increases motivation to read.
Preschoolers and kindergartners can get a jump on reading when you let them listen to books of their choosing while freeing you up to help older kids or make dinner. Older kids who struggle with reading can keep up with their friends' latest reading craze, whether it be Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Children of Djinn.

Playaways are digital recordings that come complete with battery and ear buds. About the size of a credit card (but about 1/4 of an inch thick), Playaways have control buttons (volume, play, pause, etc) on one side, and the book cover on the other. Although they are currently fairly expensive, they have the cool factor, and are available from many vendors including, Borders, and all major booksellers, as are the more traditional books-on-tape and CDs. Many libraries are beginning to carry Playaways. Check them out.

Many books are available as wav or Mp3 downloads online. The Internet Archive has free downloads of books, poetry, and alternative news programs. Other sources include Project Gutenberg, Bookshare, and Accessible Books. Both Bookshare and Accessible Books provide free text-to-speech software for those with qualifying disabilities. All of these sources are reviewed in an earlier blog: More Accessibility: Free Audiobooks Available Online.

So, go ahead, pump up the volume, and let your kids do it too!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Moon Girls-- A Wonderful Resource for Tweens

My daughter, now 13, has been receiving New Moon Girls magazine since she was 9, and absolutely loves it! When the newest issue arrives in the mail, she drops everything and reads it cover to cover, and then reads it again.

New Moon Girls "provides innovative, safe, respectful, and advertising-free spaces online and in the magazine where girls develop their full potential through self-discovery, creativity, and community" (from the magazine's inside cover). Overseen by the Girls Editorial Board, New Moon Girls has articles written about, by, and for girls from around the world. The goal is to empower girls with positive self-esteem, a healthy body image, and a strong voice. You won't find any dating advice, popularity contests, or dieting advice within the pages of New Moon. Instead you'll find poetry, short stories, articles on topics from world politics to the differently-able to sleep disorders, interviews, art, and projects.

The Web space offers everything the magazine does and chat, video, and articles in a moderated, educational environment. My daughter has been participating online for several years and has made some excellent friends. She has posted information and has been published in the magazine. During a developmental period that can be very confusing for girls and fraught with pitfalls and traps, New Moon Girls has helped to sustain her, build her self-confidence, and open her eyes to an exciting world of possibility.

To learn more about New Moon visit their website:
Read an interview of New Moon founder, Nancy Gruver at
Read/join Gruver's blog for parents about raising strong, healthy girls:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway

Recently, I picked up Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway by Wendelin Van Drannen for my 5th grade son. The cover looked interesting (yes, I sometimes judge a book by its cover), it looked about the right length, and it was at the right reading level. About half-way through the book, my son said he wasn't really interested. Turns out Sammy is a girl, and although she really rocks, my son just wasn't interested in Sammy's date for the middle school dance.

So I read the book, AND I COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN!! In fact, my husband went up to bed saying "Don't stay up too late reading." Several hours later, way past my usual bedtime, much to my regret, I finished the book. It was that good! And the whole time I was reading, I kept thinking "I know this style. Have I read this author before?". Turns out, Van Draanen is the author of the infamous Shredderman series and their spin-off, The Gecko and Sticky, books my son absolutely loved (and so did I)!

There are currently 12 Sammy Keyes books, the most recent entitled Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash. Sammy is a forthright, outspoken seventh grader, is willing to stand up for herself. She faces life, and its mysteries (she seems to find many) with her own indomitable style. Her character is one of the best developed I've encountered in quite some time. The books are fast-paced, engaging, funny, and real. I recommend these books for middle schoolers, and not just girls: Sammy might just challenge some guys' preconceived notions about girls.

Shredderman, about a elementary school kid who stands up to the school bully by becoming a superhero and creating his own website, is a must for kids grades 3-5.

Be sure to visit Van Draanen's website (

Learn more about Sammy, solve a mystery, and download a song from Sammy's page

Visit Shredderman's page at

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Protecting Your Privacy Online

Over the past several days, the Wall Street Journal has run a series of articles "What They Know" about how Web sites and service providers collect information about users. This information is sold to advertisers so they can target advertising to you, based on the sites you visit. Below I summarize some of the key information from "The Web's new goldmine: Your secrets" byJulia Angwin, and "How to avoid the prying eyes" by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries. Both articles were published in the Weekend Journal July 31, 2010. You can see this information at

According to the study by the Wall Street Journal,
  • the top 50 Websites installed, on average, 64 pieces of tracking technology on users' computers
  • tracking technologies include cookies, flash cookies, beacons, and third party tracking files
  • individual's profiles, constantly updated each time you use the computer, are bought and sold on stock-market like exchanges, mostly for advertising.
The vocabulary:
Cookies: text file put on your computer by websites and marketing firms, usually to remember your preferences and log-in information (passwords); however, they can track you across sites.
Flash Cookies: files placed on your computer by Adobe's Flash software. Flash is the most common way to show videos online (think about how many times you've been to Youtube!). They are also used to remember preferences, but can also track you online, and can reinstall cookies you have previously deleted.
Beacons: software that can track your web surfing and online activities, including mouse clicks and keystrokes.
Third-Party Tracking: A cookie or beacon installed on your computer by an ad network or research firm that can track your activities across websites.

The worst offenders?,,,,,,,,, and (how many yahoo groups do you belong to?).

How to protect yourself:
  1. Check and delete cookies: all major browsers let users view and delete cookies. On Firefox, go to tools, click on clear recent history, in the drop-down box choose time range, click on details, and check the boxes to delete. Click "clear now". You can view the cookies by going to tools, clicking on options, and clicking on the privacy tab. Click on the "show cookies" buttons. You have the option of deleting the cookies on in the cookies window. On Internet Explorer, go to tools, pull down to "Internet Options", and choose an option under the "general" tab. Caution: you may have to renter passwords or other login information the next time you go to a site.
  2. Adjust your browser settings: Allows you to surf the web without saving any information on which websites and pages you have visited. Firefox private browsing does not save information like visited pages, form and search bar entries, passwords, and download lists. Cookies and cache (temporary files) are deleted when you turn off private browsing. You can also go to tools, click on options, click on privacy, and set-up your privacy preferences including browsing history, download list, searches and forms, cookies and third-party cookies, and set up clear history. Internet Explorer allows similar options. Look under Tools/Internet Options/Privacy.
  3. Monitor Flash cookies. Go to the Adobe website: Identify flash cookies on your computer and adjust settings.
  4. The Better Privacy plug-in for Firefox ( allows you to set rules for deleting third party-flash cookies.
  5. Ghostery ( helps you control beacons by alerting you when there is a beacon on a page you are viewing. With Firefox and Internet Explorer, you can then block the beacon from capturing information.
For more information, visit the Wall Street Journal Online.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Online Accessibility

Again, I am indebted to Ira David Socol. His article "The Unhappy Place: What Libraries Can Do to Welcome Kids Who Struggle with Print" in the May 2010 issue of School Library Journal has many ideas for making libraries and computers more accessible to students with learning difficulties. You can read his article online at

Microsoft Word can be customized for students who need help with spelling and grammar. In the Word program, click on help (or the little question mark in the top right hand side of the screen). Type"spell check" in the search box, and click search. Look for the following heading: "Choose how spelling and grammar checking work". Click on the link and follow the instructions. For help writing math equations, click on the insert tab, and then on equation (right next to symbol).

You can add the WordTalk plug-in to Word for free! WordTalk is software that will speak and highlight text as the student writes in Microsoft Word. It is customizable and has a talking dictionary. You can convert text to speech and then save it as a .wav or .mp3 file so you can replay it on your iPod or mp3 player. The web address is

Users of Windows Vista or Windows 7 can install free voice recognition software. Windows Speech Recognition enables users to dictate documents and emails and to use voice controls. The web address is:
Other Windows accessibility plug-ins, including onscreen keyboards and magnifiers, are available on the Windows accessibility page or

Here are some other free tools identified by Mr. Socol:

A Graphing Calculator, indispensable to anyone taking Algebra II, Trigonometry, or Calculus, available from GraphCalc (

A talking calculator is available from myZIPS (

(, free text-to-speech with natural sounding voices. Can read any text and convert it into audiofiles, and you have a choice of voices!

PowerTalk ( speaks the text on PowerPoint slides.

Click-N-Type Virtual Keyboard ( is an onscreen keyboard. Type using your mouse!

Here's one my kids like to use: Create A Graph ( Enter your data and make a pie, bar, or line graph.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More Accessibility: Free Audiobooks Available Online

To follow-up on my last entry about making the Internet more accessible to people with visual or reading difficulties, I thought I would highlight online sources of free audiobooks. Most of these are included on the libraries page of my website: The School and Home Library: The Online Library for Home Schoolers.

Free audiobooks from the public domain (public domain works are creative works that are not protected by copyright and may be freely used by anyone. In the U.S., this includes books published before 1923, works for which the copyright has expired, books for which the author failed to establish a copyright, and works by the U.S. government). You can receive books in thrice-weekly podcasts, download complete books from the catalog, or subscribe through iTunes.

Bookshare Free accessible books and periodicals for individuals with print impairments (loss of sight, visual impairment, physical disability, learning disability, developmental disability and ESL). Free reading software and Braille options. Others may join; however, registration and annual fees apply.

Project Gutenberg Over 32,000 free books to download to your computer, iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, or other portable device. Human-read and computer generated audiobooks. Sheet music. All materials are in the public domain.

Accessible Book Collection High interest, low-reading level digital texts (formatted for individuals with visual disabilities) for qualified people with disabilities. The html text can be used with text-to-speech software. Subscription required.

Internet Archive A free digital library of Internet sites (active and archived), downloadable software, movies, audio, live music, ebooks, and texts including children's books, fiction, historical texts, and academic books. Software is available to convert text-to-speech for users who have blindness, low vision, or learning disabilities.

For text-to-speech software, see the last entry in this blog or consider:
  • vozMe Install a speech synthesis bookmarklet into your browser. Then, just click the vozMe button to listen to the text. Free!
  • Humanware Hardware and software for individuals with blindness, low vision, and learning disabilities.
  • Don Johnston Software for a variety of learning disabilities or impairments including autism.
Members of Bookshare (see above) may obtain Humanware VictorReader Soft Bookshare edition or Don Johnston READ:OutLoud software free with their membership.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Making the Web Accessible with Firefox

Mozilla Firefox has many free, easy to install, add-ons and extensions that make the Internet more accessible to users with disabilities, particularly visual disabilities and print impairments. To find them, visit the Firefox Accessibility Extensions page. Here are just a few of the many useful tools available:
  • CLiCk Speak With the click of a button, CLiCk Speak will read any text you have highlighted or can automatically read the contents of any web page.
  • Fire Vox A text-to-speech talking browser extension that reads web pages and the Firefox user interface including menus and sub-menus. Keyboard shortcuts are customizable.
  • FoxVox reads highlighted text. It can also be used to create audiobooks in mp3, ogg, and wav formats and can turn blogs and articles into podcasts.
  • Quick Dictionary Lookup Press shift + right click on any word; get a pop-up with definition, usage, and audio pronunciation.
  • Readability Remove unnecessary page elements to reduce clutter and make the page more readable (reduces distractions).
I am deeply indebted to Ira Socol whose article "The Unhappy Place: What Libraries Can Do to Welcome Kids Who Struggle with Print" in the May 2010 issue of School Library Journal brought the Firefox accessibility add-ons to my attention.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Information Literacy: Teaching Your Kids to Evaluate Advertising

In my last post, I discussed the importance of teaching your children to evaluate the information they find on the Internet. Equally important is their ability to evaluate the barrage of information that confronts them every day: Advertising!

Advertising is insidious and crops up everywhere, all the time. You can't seem to escape it. From commercials on TV and the radio, to ads in newspapers and magazines, pop-up ads and paid advertising on Web sites, billboards, posters in shop windows, toys in fast-food meals, on the fronts (and backs) of people's t-shirts, and the packaging of almost every product you buy, advertising (like poo) is everywhere! (Adam on the Discovery channel's MythsBusters once famously said "Poo is everywhere!" My kids loved it, and now apply that little chestnut whenever possible).

Since it is as ubiquitous as it is inescapable, it must be addressed. We need to teach our children how to understand it: how to decode it, evaluate the messages, and gain control over the manipulative forces. is an online game sponsored by the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission. The goal is teach children to recognize and understand advertising in all of it's forms. Read a New York Times article about the game.

My ten year-old son took the game on a test drive for me. He said the game was fun, but needed a little more action. He recommends it for children ten and under. He claims that he ignored the information about advertising, but then spent the next two days pointing out ads to me. Although the game may not have all the bells and whistles of commercial computer games, it is a good teaching tool.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 and Information Literacy may be useful for homeschoolers but not as a source of accurate historical information.

Creating timelines is popular among some homeschoolers, followers of the Well-Trained Mind in particular. This website does not include timelines as most people conceive them: A long line noting important dates and events as history unfolds. Instead, the website highlights specific dates in history and organizes them by category such as assassinations, great sports moments, or battles in the American Civil War. The home page focuses on "This Week in History". This is the week of June 14, 2010. Important events include
  • June, 14, 1777, the Continental Congress Approves the First American Flag
  • June 14, 1967, Thurgood Marshall is the first African-American appointed to the Supreme Court, and
  • June 15, 1804 the 12th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified.
However, some not so important and possibly profit-driven events are included. Today's headline event, for instance, is the founding of Pizza Hut on June 15, 1958.

The Importance of Information Literacy!
Users need to beware: Some of the information on may not be accurate! As a school librarian in training, I always caution students that they need to carefully evaluate sources of information for authority, accuracy, and credibility, especially information they find on the Web. So many people, not just students, assume that everything and anything on the Web is fact, but we need to use good judgement. Anyone, anywhere with access to the Internet can post any information, true or false. Just because we find it on the Web does not mean its true. is a socially-constructed website. Information is posted by individuals who register for accounts. These individuals may or may not be scholars or experts. Most likely, they are not. Take a look at this page: about a battle fought in the Crusades. The information is posted by Aimee Lucido and her information source is Wikipedia. Who is Aimee Lucido? Beats me. I've never heard of her, but here's her profile: We still don't know anything about her, but note some of her other contributions to entries about popstar Justin Bieber and actress Dakota Fanning. Is Ms. Lucido a historian who specializes in Medieval history and popular culture? I guess its possible, but I doubt it. (I found a facebook account for an Aimee Lucido, student at Brown University). As for her information source... Ms. Lucido has lifted her decription of the Battle of Anatolia almost word for word from this Wikipedia article: First Crusade (scroll down the page to the third paragraph under the heading Situation in Europe.

Putting the problem with plagiarism aside, I hope that all of you know by now that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. Like, it is created by users who may or may not have expertise, can submit any information without substantiation or citations, and can alter and edit others' contributions. Only use information from Wikipedia if you can back it up with other, more authoritative sources (such as a standard encyclopedia article).

So What's the Bottomline?
While I would not use to obtain historical information, I would use it to construct some excellent learning experiences about information literacy, knowledge construction, and participationin online communities. Try out these ideas:
  • Have the student choose a event and research it for accuracy, authority and credibility. You will be teaching your student important evaluative skills in very meaningful way.
  • After studying an historical event, have your student create and submit an original entry citing reliable, authoritative sources of information and using good grammar and composition.
  • Have your students use to find news events that occurred on their birthday. See if they can find other sources of information (newspaper archives, microfilm or microfiche at your local public or college library, encyclopedias and almanacs, other online sources) to corroborate these stories.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More: What to read next?

Here are some more great ways to find books you'll love:

What Should I Read Next? "A database of real readers' favorite books" with over 70,000 titles. Enter a few details from a book you have read (Jane and Rochester for Jane Eyre) and receive recommendations. Register with the site to build your own favorite's list.

What Do I Read Next? Search by author, title, series, genre, character, topic, or time period. (I have found that the embedded link to this website does not always work. If this happens, just google "What Do I Read Next?" and you should be able to find it.) Search for books and movies by title, author, character, plot, setting or genre. Book reviews are available.

LibraryThing Book Suggester Type in the name of a book you have read, click on the appropriate title, and receive a list of read-alikes and books by the same author or with similar themes, settings, or plots.

For lists of award winning books and suggested reading, visit my website The School and Home Library.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

That Age Old Problem: What to Read Next?

Finding a good book is always a challenge. At our house, we find an author or series we like and read every available book, only to feel stumped by the eternal question: What to read next? Perusing the library shelves sometimes feels like a directionless waste of time and effort. Much to our disappointment, the old adage "you can't judge a book by its cover" proves to be all too true.

Author Rachelle Rogers Knight comes to the rescue with Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers" (and I would add home schoolers). With over 185 pages of reading lists, the Journal will help voracious and reluctant readers find a good book. Lists include award winning fiction, literature, mysteries, thrillers, crime, Westerns, folklore, graphic novels, poetry, biographies and autobiographies, college-bound, nonfiction, science, social studies, and books from other countries and cultures. The lists are inclusive from date of origin to 2009 (with space to write in 2010 and 2011 publications) and suggest the lowest age at which each book should be read. Space is provided to make notations about each book. The rest of the book consists of pages for journaling with sections for noting books to read, writing about books read, and recording recommendations.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Announcing The School and Home Library!

Here it is at long last! The School and Home Library, (
a virtual library for home schoolers, complete with
  • a reference section,
  • databases,
  • places to download free books, newspapers and magazines,
  • search tools,
  • resources to supplement the curriculum,
  • suggested reading lists,
  • information for parents,
  • online museums,
  • information literacy, and
  • Web 2.0
I am currently working on a new page for the site: About Home Schooling. This page will contain information and links about some of the major (and not-so-major) approaches to home schooling.

Please visit the web site, bookmark it, share it with friends. I am eager to receive feedback about what you find helpful, not so helpful, links and resources I should include, and other suggestions.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Free: HistoryThroughArt

Gerome, Jean-Leon. (1868). Bonaparte before the Sphynx. Retrieved from Free HistoryThroughArt at

So, what do you make of this enigmatic painting? What is Bonaparte doing? What is he thinking? What wisdom is he seeking from the Sphynx as his troops muster in the background? What can we learn about history from this painting? And, how does our knowledge of history influence our interpretation?


Then visit Scott Powell's HistoryThroughArt webpage, and listen to a couple of free lectures in which he discusses this painting in depth. Currently, he explores five paintings (with two lectures each), and plans to add another painting each month. He begins the series with Norman Rockwell's Young Lady with a Shiner, which does not have any particular historical significance but is a wonderful example of how a painting can tell a story. He uses it to teach students how to look at art, take it apart, and think about it in order to understand the artist's message. Later lectures place the paintings in historical context and require the student to draw from their knowledge of history.

The lectures are recorded live with Mr. Powell's upper elementary History At Our House class, delivered via teleconference. Mr. Powell interacts with the students and encourages their participation, while they view an image of the painting on their home computers. He instructs them on note-taking, asks them questions, and prompts critical analysis. Although these lectures are directed toward students in 4th through 6th grade, students of all ages will learn something.

To learn more about Mr. Powell, History At Our House, and HistoryThroughArt, visit his website at To hear free sample lectures, go to

Back to Blogging! Watch for my new web site: The School and Home Library!

I'm Back!!!

After several weeks in which I did not post anything to this blog, I am back and ready to go! I've been working on my website The School and Home Library: A Virtual Library for Home Schoolers which will be published to the web within days. It has everything thing from reference (including Ask-a-Librarian services), to sources for free down-loadable books, databases, search tools, museums, information literacy and Web 2.0, all in a user-friendly, well-organized format. Be on the look out for it!!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Virtual Choir

Here is the penultimate example of the power of Internet for collaboration and creation, and for pushing the boundaries on the possible. Eric Whitaker created a choral piece with 185 singers from 12 countries, each singing their part to musical accompaniment while he conducted, and then combining their video and audio. Amazing!

Here is the link to Eric Whitaker's blog where he explains how the recording was made. This is the potential we offer our children when we teach them how to use technology to explore their own interests, to connect with others, and to participate in the creation of new knowledge!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Coming soon: School and Home Library Web Site

I realize that my posts have been few and far between in recent weeks. Everyone is busy, yet I claim that as my excuse. Between home schooling, taking classes at the University of South Carolina, teaching a home school class on water rights using online technologies, and writing a book with my professor, I find that I have little time for anything else.

I spend most of my free time working on my School and Home Library web site. I am creating the web site to fulfill a graduation requirement for my Master's Degree in Library Science. It is supposed to be a school library web site; however, as I plan to make my career in home schooling, I have obtained permission to create a virtual library site for home schoolers. The site will be a portal to free, online tools and applications including reference, databases, search tools, digital libraries, curriculum materials, information literacy, and Web 2.0. I hope to have it up and running within a month. So, please, bear with me during the interim. I have not forgotten home schoolers, and I am constantly search for ideas and technology to expand our curricula and to benefit our children.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bookshare: Free Downloadable Books for Individuals with Print Impairments

Bookshare is a wonderful resource for individuals with "print impairments"-- loss of sight, visual impairment, dyslexia or other learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, or learners of English as a second language.

At Bookshare, you can download free books and periodicals, free software for assistive reading technology (i.e. screen readers), and Braille embossers. Bookshare offers more than 60,000 books, textbooks, teacher-recommended readings, newspapers, and periodicals. Books include best sellers, Newbery Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, and winners of the Hugo awards and Edgar Allen Poe awards.They also have over 1,000 Spanish language books.

Free memberships are available with documentation of disability and includes access to 100 books per month, downloads of Humanware's Victor Reader Soft Bookshare edition, Don Johnston's READ: Outloud Bookshare edition, other software and hardware options (like an Mp3 download), and BRF format for Braille embossers. People without reading difficulties may also obtain a membership for $75.

Visit the Don Johnston web site to learn about assistive technology for students with learning disabilities, including writing software for individuals with dysgraphia, and for individuals with Autism. (Please note that these products are not offered on the Bookshare website and are not free).

Friday, February 26, 2010

World Maths Day

World Maths Day is next Wednesday,March 3, and it's not too late for you and your home school children to join the fun! Visit the World Maths Day web site to enter the competition:
  • Students play at home and at school against other students around the world in live games of mental arithmetic. Each game lasts for 60 seconds and students can play up to 500 games, earning points for each correct answer. The students who answer the most questions appear in the Hall of Fame. Students cannot select their level but will move up as they progress (quoted from the web site).
Registration is free and only takes few minutes. The competition last for 48 hours, the amount of time that it is March 3 somewhere in the world. You can even play with your iphone or itouch! All participants will receive a certificate and winners receive prizes. Last year 452,681,681 questions were answered correctly by 1,952,879 students from 204 countries! Hurry, registration ends March 1!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rich Curriculum Resource from the Annenberg Foundation

Annenberg Media, created by the same people who work in partnership with public television to produce high-quality educational programming, have free online curriculum for high school, college, and adult learning. Teacher education courses are available for curriculum topics in grades k-8. Go to to take a look.

Curriculum is available for the Arts, Foreign Languages (Spanish and French), Literature and Language Arts, Science, Mathematics, Social Studies and History.Most courses includes free video streaming which can be used on its own, with purchased printed materials (textbooks, etc), or in conjunction with another curriculum. Courses which do not include video streaming (and those that do) have DVDs or Videos available for purchase. Teacher guides and continuing education courses for educators are also available.

I viewed the introduction to Algebra, the first of 26 half-hour algebra lessons, which explained the importance and relevance of algebra. The video was high quality, kept my interest, and I actually learned something. I also viewed the first Spanish lesson of Destinos, An Introduction to High School and College Level Spanish. The 52 half-hour video lessons use a telenovela to immerse "students in everyday situations with native speakers and introduces the cultures, accents, and dialects of Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Puerto Rico" (quoted from the web site).
Lessons include speaking, listening and comprehension skills.

The material for grades k-8 are aimed at helping teachers to better understand student learning, facilitate classroom activities, and increase the understanding of curriculum concepts. The videos are not meant to be viewed by the students, but parents may be able to use portions of some to illustrate important concepts or ideas.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Creating Comics

Those of you who enjoy graphic novels and comics might enjoy making your own comics. Kids especially will enjoy these online applications for comic creation which, believe it or not, have educational value. Creating online comics can increase their information literacy and media literacy, enable them to participate in an online community, foster creativity, and provide a fun way to demonstrate learning. Just think about it. They could use a comic to summarize a book plot, illustrate and explain a scientific concept, summarize an historic event, or create their own story. Creating a comic requires planning, sequential thinking, artistic ability, and a sense of humor.

The following are some of my favorite comic making applications. Most are free; I think one of them has a 14 day free trial and then charges $1 per student for 30 days. ReadWriteThink's Comic Creator is straight-forward and easy to use, and provides backgrounds. Results can be printed. MakeBeliefsComix is free, can be written in Spanish and some other languages, and has information for teachers and home schoolers. Pixton has the 14 day free trial, and of the sites I'm previewing here, has the most creative flexibility. I used Bitstrips to make the comic below after registering for a free account.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Soomo and Too Late to Apologize

This satirical video Too Late to Apologize:A Declaration was created by the guys at Soomo publishing, the creators of online educational resources for high school and college. Lessons are created by college professors and include primary sources, videos, interviews, and assessments (multiple choice and short answer), all available online! I took a test drive of their Americans Governing course with my 12 year-old daughter who urged me to make an account immediately so she could start using it!

Unfortunately, I was unable to create an account because I am not a professor affiliated with a college. I called Soomo's corporate office and shared my frustration that I was unable to use this fine resource as a home schooler. The representative I spoke to assured me that there was a way for home schoolers to use it-- A home school association in Pennsylvania is using it. She took my name and number, and promised me that me area sales rep would call me. I sure hope so, because I would definitely like to use their materials!

Soomo also has web resources for: International Relations, Comparative Governments,
and is developing classes for writing, political science, Spanish, biology, business, and history.

Take a look at these Soomo and let me know what you think! I would love to be able to tell Soomo that home schoolers are interested. Better yet, if you like what you see, contact them yourselves, and let them know that home schoolers are a potential market for their products.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Graphic Novels and Mangas

Last week, I attended a Library Media Connection webinar on the "Best of the Best" Graphic Novels for 2009 with Michele Gorman. Michele is an expert on graphic novels, having published at least 3 books on using graphic novels to promote literacy. As I pointed out in an earlier post, graphic novels are a great way to engage reluctant readers, introduce the classics, and expose children who have difficulty reading to good literature. Graphic books are also tackling nonfiction topics like history, biography, and science. In the books that Michele recommends, the artwork is often exemplary. And besides, graphic novels are just fun to read!

Michele reviewed 10 books each at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Here, I share some of her recommendations. Please keep in mind that I have not yet read any of these books, but they are all on my reading list. (I usually only endorse books I have already read, but given Michele's expertise, I feel fairly comfortable sharing her recommendations.)

"Best of the Best" for Elementary School:
  • Babymouse #11: Dragonslayer by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm. Random House Books for Young Readers. Michele's comments: Incorporates Math into the plot. Focus on empowering young girls.
  • Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press. Michele's comments: Very funny, solid story.
  • Fairy Idol Kanon, Volume 1 by Mera Hakamada. Udon Manga. Michele's comments: Manga for kids, especially kids with older siblings who enjoy manga. Theme of empowering girls.
  • Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith. Toon Books. Michele's comments: Little mouse gets dressed. Great for toddlers, preschoolers, and beginning readers.
  • Sticky Burr; The Prickly Peril by John Lechner. Candlewick Press. You know those sticky burrs that lurk in the grass and get stuck on your clothes? Michele's comments: Smart.

"Best of the Best" for middle school:
  • The Chronicles of Arthur: Sword of Fire and Ice by John Matthews and Mike Collins. Aladdin. Based on the King Arthur legends. Michele's comment: Great art and great story.
  • A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel, translated by Lorraine T. Miller. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Award winning. Developed in cooperation with the Anne Frank House/Resistance Museum. Jeroen's grandmother believes her father, a Nazi sympathizer, delivered her best friend to the Nazis.
  • Gettysburg: The Grahic Novel by C.M. Butzer. Harper Collins. Nonfiction. Michele's comments: Illustrated in shades of blue and gray. Depicts the impact of the battle on the town. Gettysburg addressed told through imagery.

"Best of the Best" for high school:

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Olympics and Science

The 2010 Winter Olympics will be coming to us live from Vancouver next Friday night (February 12), and what a great opportunity for all of us to learn, regardless of our interest in sports.

Visit NBC Learn for videos and lessons related to the games. From the NBC Learn web site:

"NBC Learn interviews athletes, coaches, and scientists in this original 16-part series, and unravels the physics, biology, chemistry, and materials engineering behind the Olympic Winter Games. The Science of the Olympic Winter Games is made possible through a partnership with the National Science Foundation." (NBC Universal. 2010. NBC Learn. Retrieved February 5, 2010, from

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The National Science Digital Library

Ever get stuck trying to explain a science concept to your 12 year-old? I do, all the time, but now I've discovered The National Science Digital Library. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) provides organized access to high-quality Web sites and digital resources in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Advanced searches can be fine-tuned by grade level, subject, and format (e.g. audio, video, interactive, text). Resources are available for students preK through college. Professional and research collections are also available.

Why is NSDL better than google? Well, when NSDL identifies an online resource, you don't have to worry about whether the science is accurate. Also, none of the web sites are .coms, which means that you won't have to pay to use a resource. NSDL enables you to do a more targeted search, so you won't have to wade through pages and pages of irrelevant hits. And you don't have to worry about accidentally stumbling on inappropriate content.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Roman Mysteries

My son's obsession with Greek mythology led us to the serendipitous discovery of The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence, a series of 17 stories set in Rome, 79 AD. (An additional 7 books support the series.) Flavia Gemina, 10 year-old daughter of a Roman sea captain, solves spine-tingling mysteries with her three friends; Jonathon, son of Mordecai, one of the first Messianic Jews; Nubia, a former slave; and Lupus, an orphan they have befriended. Incorporating both Greek and Roman mythology, The Roman Mysteries are meticulously researched and incorporate historic events, people, and architecture. Each book includes a glossary of Latin words, names, and places, and brief description of the historic event central to each story.

My son loves these books and has waited impatiently for each to arrive through inter-library loan. My 12 year-old daughter reads them just as eagerly. A BBC television series is based on these books,and the DVDs for the first two seasons are available Also visit The Roman Mysteries web site for more information about the books, their author, school-related activities, audio samples, the author's blog, and instructions for making a Roman costume.

Recommended for ages 7-14. If you are studying Ancient History, be sure to include these books in your child's accompanying reading.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Here's another great online resource for home schoolers: Shmoop! It provides lessons, background, summaries, and analysis for literature, poetry, history, civics, biography, music, and bestsellers. All of the information is written by the faculty, PhD students, and Masters students at Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford and other universities in an easy to read, conversational tone. In their poetry section, they have a guide to reading poetry, a glossary of poetry terms, and study guides for 77 major poems! Full texts of the poems are also provided. I wish I had known of this resource when we were studying The Rime of the Ancient Mariner last week, and we will definitely use it next week when we study Wordsworth and later this spring when we read Pride and Prejudice.

Almost all of the content is free! Teacher lesson plans can be purchased for $5.99 per lesson, but home educators will find sufficient information and resources without making any purchase.

Check it out:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Black History Month

Although I believe that African-American history should be taught part and parcel with American history, February is Black History Month and today is Martin Luther King Day. In honor of the men and women who have contributed so much to our country, and who deserve to be included in our national consciousness of who we are--not relegated to one particular day or several weeks--I am sharing a number of wonderful resources well-worth exploring. Please note that my list is not exhaustive, nor does it provide a complete history, but it is certainly a good place to start.

Please see my wiki whitneyswikiways for a list of picture books, chapter books, poetry, videos and websites.

Below are a number of excellent web sites.

Civil Rights Legislation

Civil Rights Center
FindLaw for the Public

A collection of articles and resources on the topic of Civil Rights. Links lead to legal definitions, specific types of discrimination, and a timeline of significant events. Information is provided from a legal perspective, and links to relevant Constitutional Amendments, federal and state law, and litigation are included. The site is very easy to use and written for the lay person, providing both depth and breadth of information. For those wanting detailed information about a specific subchapter or section of a law, links are provided to FindLaw for Legal Professionals.

Primary Documents/Curricula

Teaching Documents/Lesson Plans
The National Archives

This website, part of the National Archives Education service, provides detailed lesson plans that are correlated to National History Standards and National Standards for Civics and Government. All lesson plans are based on primary documents and can be accessed by clicking on “Lessons by Era 1945 to 1970s” or one of the bulleted topics (“Civil War and Reconstruction” or “Postwar United States”). Lesson plans are available for specific topics, such as the arrest records of Rosa Parks or letters and telegrams to the President from Jackie Robinson. Background information and pictures of relevant documents are provided along with creative, thought provoking teaching activities and suggestions for using the documents. All necessary worksheets are provided as PDFs.

The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail Resources for Teachers
The National Archives

Part of the Never Lose Sight of Freedom project, this website provides detailed lesson plans along with teaching materials, historical documents and photographs, transcripts of speeches and personal histories, and the text of associated laws and court decisions. An online video of the March is also available. Links to other websites, including the Spider Martin Photo Gallery of the 1965 Montgomery Voting Rights March and the National Voting Right Museum are provided. All lesson plans include all necessary materials in html and PDF versions, and were written by Alabama teachers whose qualifications are provided following each lesson.

The King Papers Project
The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University

Since 1985, the King Papers Project has been editing and publishing the works of Dr. King. The site includes transcripts and some audio of Dr. King’s sermons and speeches, excerpts from his autobiography, and numerous scholarly articles about Dr. King. A comprehensive encyclopedia of the Civil Rights Movement and an inventory of Dr. King’s sermons, speeches, letters, publications, notes and outlines are also provided. The website provides the Liberation Curriculum, an educational resource for high school teachers which includes lesson plans and classroom resources.

Virtual Tours

We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement--A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary
U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Transportation, The Federal Highway Administration, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

In addition to a brief history of the Civil Rights Movement, this site provides a map and a list of places associated with the movement. Links lead to a page for each place on the map or list. Each page includes pictures of the place and people associated with events at that location, and an explanation of the location’s significance in the Civil Rights Movement. Internal links lead to biographies, explanations of events, and other historic places. Links to the National Park Service and the National Register of Historic Places are also included. A bibliography of histories, biographies, autobiographies, reference sources and other web resources is provided.

Voices of the Civil Rights

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Library of Congress

This site chronicles the Voices of Civil Rights Bus Tour which retraced the route of the 1961 Freedom Riders, and includes videos from stops and events along the route. Voices of the Civil Rights collected thousands of personal stories and oral histories of individuals involved in the Civil Rights Movement. These stories will be housed at the Library of Congress, but are available from archives in the website. A timeline of events, music, video, introduction to new activists, and evaluations of the civil rights movement in the present and future are included. Links are provided for other oral history projects, websites and other online resources, and books.

Online Exhibits/Museums

National Civil Rights Museum
National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN

In addition to providing information about the museum (hours, location, etc.), this website has an online exhibition which includes pictures and written material about major events and brief biographies about people in the movement. The museum’s annual Freedom Awards, honoring people who have made significant contributions to the advancement of civil rights nationally and internationally, are archived and include brief biographies of the recipients.

African-American Oddyssey

The Library of Congress

This website is an online exhibit based on a 1998 exhibition at the Library of Congress which showcased the Library’s African American Collection in all three of the Library’s buildings. The exhibit divides the history of African Americans into nine sections which include Slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Depression. The ninth section focuses on the Civil Rights Movement which presents documents, artwork, and photographs of people and events along with descriptive narrative. The site includes a complete list of objects included in the exhibition with links to items found in the online exhibit and to the LC division where the item is housed.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Seattle Times

In addition to providing links to articles and commentary about Martin Luther King, Jr., published in the Seattle Times, this website includes a photo gallery and biography of the Civil Rights leader. A timeline details significant events in Dr. King’s life, as well as in the Civil Rights movement. Links are provided to audio and transcripts of Dr. King’s speeches and written work, including “I Have a Dream” and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. A study guide, quiz, and list of resources are also included.

If you have gotten all the way through this list, don't forget to look at my wiki where you'll find all kinds of picture books appropriate for all ages (nobody is ever too old for a read aloud).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

The Lightning Thief , the movie, is due out in February, and my kids can't wait!

The movie is based on the five-book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. My 9-year old son read all five of them last fall in about 2 weeks. I couldn't tear him away from those books! Ever since, his all consuming interest has been Greek and Roman mythology. I think he has read every book the library has on Greek and Roman mythology, and has branched out into Norse mythology. Any home schooler basing their curriculum on The Well-Trained Mind knows that mythology is required reading.

The gods still rule--from high atop the Empire State Building in New York City-- and they still fall in love with humans with whom they have children. Children who are demi-gods: half god, half human. Percy is one such child, although he doesn't know it until he is attacked by a school teacher turned Harpy and fights off a raging Minotaur!

I'm reading the books to my children, and they are enjoying them just as much as the Harry Potter Series. The boy I take care of after school, who doesn't particularly like reading and wasn't interested in having storytime, asks if we can read another chapter as soon as I pick him up every afternoon. These stories are page turners, and every child who has ever been the underdog or picked on by other kids will laugh out loud when Percy turns the tables.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Manga and The Merchant of Venice

Last year, we studied The Merchant of Venice with history rather than with English literature. In history, we had been studying European trade, the city-state of Venice, and the reconquest of Muslim Spain by the Catholic Spanish (which led up to the Inquisition). We augmented our studies with The Atlas of Great Jewish Communities: A Voyage Through History by Sondra Leiman, Unit II, Sephardic Jewry. The Merchant of Venice seemed like the perfect way to sum up and review some of what we had learned.

I always try to use books written during or about the time period we are studying, and just by chance, I discovered the young adult novel Shylock's Daughter by Mirjam Pressler. Based on Shakespeare's play, Shylock's Daughter presents the story from the perspective of four different characters: Shylock, his daughter Jessica, an adopted daughter raised as Jessica's sister but now Jessica's maid, and the housekeeper (the last two characters are Pressler's creation). Through Jessica, the city of Venice comes alive and the Ghetto becomes both a sanctuary and a prison. Through each of the major characters, we get a different perspective of Judaism. Shylock represents the importance of the Law; his housekeeper maintains the rich traditions and superstitions. Jessica rebels against her faith but cannot abandon it entirely. Amalie, the adopted daughter, struggles to make Judaism her own in a dangerous world that is constantly changing. Amalie, perhaps, is the daughter of the title. At the story's end, she begins a journey to Palestine, carrying the hope and promise of Judaism in her heart.

After reading Shakespeare's Daughter, we moved onto Manga Shakespeares' Merchant of Venice. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a highly interpretive and abridged retelling, with definite anti-Semitic overtones. Shylock, for instance, is depicted as evil, and has an almost demonic appearance. Critics have debated whether Shakespeare was anti-Semitic. My daughter and I certainly debated it, and had some wonderful conversations about bigotry, prejudice and hatred.

Finally, we watched a DVD of the BBC 1980 production Shakespeare's Comedies: The Merchant of Venice starring Gemma Jones as Portia (she was excellent). My daughter was able to follow the play and really enjoyed it. In this production, scenery is quite spare, and the story depends on the actors' abilities and on Shakespeare's words. The beauty of his words lives on!

A quick word about the 2004 movie starring Al Pacino: My husband and I watched this and really enjoyed it. Al Pacino is fantastic as Shylock and gives a truly masterful performance. The casting and scenery is excellent and the movie really makes Shakespeare very accessible. Despite the fact that the DVD comes with a teacher's guide, this movie is R-rated for a reason! The relationship between Bassanio and Antonio takes on a decidedly homosexual nature (which may or may not have been intended in the original, but certainly helps to explain Antonio's depression and motivation). One scene occurs in a brothel, and shots of bare-breasted women are interspersed throughout. We were very disappointed that we could not share this fine drama with our 11 year old daughter; as always, you must decide for yourself.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Teaching Shakespeare

Recently while lunching with home school friends, one of the children said something abut reading graphic novels. I mentioned that last year, we used mangas to introduce Shakespeare's plays. My friend responded "What a good idea!"

Well, I was a little surprised, because I didn't think we did anything special. Surely, others have considered the use of mangas and graphic novels to introduce classic literature; within the library world, mangas have been a hot topic for some time now, and many libraries are quickly adding them to their collections. See the American Library Association's Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Titles include biographies, science, history, and fiction.

Mangas are basically a Japanese comic book. They have a very distinctive artistic style, and they are often made into anime (cartoons). Graphic novels are a Western version, and even old standards like the Hardy Boys mysteries are being adapted. Manga forms of Shakespeare are generally abridged versions of the original, and the art work is highly interpretive. For instance, in the Manga Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is given an evil, elfin appearance (to which I take exception--its very antisemitic). (Manga Shakespeare is a registered trademark for a manga publisher. I avoid their web site: It shuts my computer down every time! The publisher I prefer is Amulet Books.)

With their limited text and lively illustrations, mangas appeal to kids in general, reluctant readers, and those with reading problems or learning disabilities. And let's face it, Shakespeare is not easy reading, especially for a middle school student. So mangas are a wonderful way to introduce Shakespeare.

We started with Much Ado about Nothing, one of my favorites. The DVD starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson brings the play to life. Beautifully filmed in the warm Italian sun, Branagh and Thompson make the play incredibly accessible and fun to watch. My daughter loved it and watched it twice! The Manga Shakespeare was not available at that time (it was published in August, 2009).

Othello was much more challenging. We started by reading Othello, A Novel by Julius Lester (better known for his picture books). His retelling from an African-American perspective focuses more attention on the racial aspects of the story. Considered Young Adult literature, the book is very readable. We then took a look at the Amulet Manga, and read the play. I wanted to use the 1995 movie starring Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Fishburne, but its rated R. My husband and I watched it and enjoyed it, but we agreed that it was not appropriate for middle schoolers. Upper-level high school students might enjoy it, but parental discretion is advised.

The last play we studied was A Midsummer Night's Dream. My daughter found the Amulet Manga a little difficult to follow, so I would advise telling your students the story first, so that they are familiar with the plot. We then watched the movie version starring Calista Flockhart, Kevin Kline, and Michelle Pfeiffer. This is a very goofy, silly adaptation, set in the Victorian era, which uses bicycles as a major prop. A Midsummer Night's Dream is Shakespeare at his bawdiest (afterall, he appealed to the masses--as I explained to my daughter, his plays were like our blockbuster movies), and this adaptation lives up to it. Very silly, but fun. Rated PG-13, use your discretion.

On my next post, I will talk about The Merchant of Venice, which I taught with history, rather than with our literature studies.