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.