Free Databases

Welcome to another week of working from home. As you already know by now, most of the Internet, while fun and entertaining, is not meant for use in school. Luckily, many creators of educational materials and services are using this COVID shutdown as an opportunity to get their wares into our hands … many times for free. Below you will find links to some of these, along with descriptions mostly lifted from their sites

Gale Cengage is one of the providers for the Massachusetts statewide databases, and for the time being, they are also offering free access to the following resources that are not usually available to us without a subscription. These databases are not set up the same way as our Gale databases. If you get asked for a password, use “open” (no quotes).

  • Miss Humblebee’s Academy – an interactive kindergarten-readiness program that introduces children ages three to six to key concepts in math, science, social studies, language and literacy, art, and music. It’s as challenging as it is fun!
  • Gale In Context: High School – supports student papers, projects, and presentations while empowering the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills with content aligned to national and state curriculum standards.
  •  Online Health Information toolkit – authoritative information on the full range of health-related issues including high quality digital content and interactive 3D models.

Another trusted and credible resource familiar to many educators and students is ABC-CLIO. To help support virtual learning, they will be providing open access for middle and high school students. The student site features learning resources such as video lessons, quizzes, inquiry activities, and more all aligned to your class assignments for spring topics in American History, American Government, and World History. These will be free from now until June 30, 2020. https://www.abc-clio.com/students/

If you like what you see at these free databases and are interested in exploring more of ABC-CLIO’s resources, I have signed up for a free month educator preview that expires on May 7, 2020. You can use the following credentials to get in and explore.

Username: haverhillhighschool-student
Password: mfxmzpq

Thank you for stopping by and keep on learning.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2020. All rights reserved

 

 

Distance Learning Resources

While the sudden move to online education has caught much of the nation by surprise, the truth is that we have been slowly moving in that direction for at least half a century. In a past post, I wrote about a 1966 report called Learning by Television, which summarized its findings as, “Whether measured by the numbers of students affected, or by the quality of the product, or by the advancement of learning, televised teaching is still in a rudimentary stage of development”.

Of course, that was before the advent of home computers, the internet, broadband and so many other technological advances that have come into existence over the last fifty years. At first, schools were slow to adopt any of these tools into the classrooms, but eventually the technology became so ubiquitous (and user friendly) that schools were forced to adapt to the sweeping cultural changes. Whether we liked it or not, cell phones and wireless technology made it possible for everyone to carry with them their own personal entertainment/ communications systems in their pockets.

This was a double-edged sword, of course, given human nature. Sure, this new technology made it possible to communicate instantly with anyone on the planet, listen to the brightest minds lecture on their fields of expertise, learn independently via videos and gather reliable information from the most respected and reputable think tanks on the planet. It also ushered in the era of phone apps, cat videos, six second Vines, Memes, emojis, a Presidential Twitter account and the resurgence of flat earthers … all contributions of dubious worth.

I write all this to say, the technology is not what matters, but how we use it. Especially during our time in quarantine, it will be up to each of us as individuals to decide what we do with the time we spend in front of our screens. For my fellow educators, I hope that you are not drowning, trying to reinvent the wheel. I recommend that you use the resources that are already available online to help you shore up your lessons.

With that in mind, here then are three places you can go for help and/or ideas, along with descriptions lifted straight from their “About” pages:

  • What Works Clearinghouse: The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programsproductspractices, and policiesin education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question “What works in education?
  • Annenberg Learner Foundation: As part of its mission to advance excellent teaching in American schools, Annenberg Learner funds and distributes educational video programs – with coordinated online and print materials – for the professional development of K-12 teachers. Many programs are also intended for students in the classroom and viewers at home, with videos that exemplify excellent teaching.
  • PBS Learning Media: is your destination for direct access to thousands of classroom-ready, curriculum-targeted digital resources. … Resources are aligned to Common Core and national standards and include videos and interactives, as well as audio, documents, and in-depth lesson plans.

Good luck finding useful resources and thank you for stopping by. Stay safe.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2020. All rights reserved

Weekend reading

One thing you should have while in quarantine, is time to do some in-depth, thought provoking reading. During my time as a librarian, one of my greatest laments is that people of all ages have given up reading newspapers and magazines. Unlike televised reports, which rely on sensationalism for attention, highlight information in bullet points for efficacy and tend to focus more on the personalities involved, written articles can be more nuanced and in-depth, giving us a better understanding of the complex issues that dominate our times.

Let’s just take for example the Coronavirus Pandemic that we are all confronting right now. This one news story alone is about a virus, how diseases are transmitted, economics, health care, social infrastructures, government preparedness, international politics, personal isolation, and much more.

Nowadays, most students instantly turn to Google when doing “research”, but this strategy may lead them to online resources that are questionable at best, and/or propaganda at worst. One thing I have adopted over the years is to be sure I name my sources for my students when I am talking about something. This is especially true when I am talking about information I have read in a newspaper or magazine. Many young people today have very little experience with or exposure to print sources, and so they can’t be blamed for not knowing the names of reputable magazines.

You don’t have to be a subscriber to have access to many quality articles from print magazines that offer their content online. Some sites use cookies to limit you to four or five full access articles per month, but many are also available without such restrictions. While you might be tired of hearing about Coronavirus or COVID-19, below I offer a handful of articles that offer a different perspective on what we are dealing with.

Take a moment this weekend to read. And stay inside.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you find something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2020. All rights reserved

November Quick Hits

  Every once in a while I find a bunch of interesting things that aren’t necessarily related, and I don’t think I can write a whole post about any one of them, so I bunch them together and share them as my “Quick Hits” post.

Kids and “Screen time”

            CNN’s Kristen Rogers’ report, “US teens use screens more than seven hours a day on average”, was an eye-opening review of the 2019 Common Sense Census; a report of 1,600 eight to eighteen year olds and their use of computers in all forms and formats. Anyone can download the full 70-page report for themselves here, which includes the questionnaire used to gather the information. For me, the most salient line in Rogers’ article is,

            “Despite the creative opportunities technology offers, young people devote very little time to creating their own content. No more than 1 in 10 in either age group say they enjoy ‘a lot’ activities like making digital art or graphics, creating digital music, coding or designing or modifying their own video games.

            In my experience, I find this to be true. Even while the number of tools available to students continues to expand, I don’t see many students incorporating them into their school work. Nowadays, a slideshow presentation, for example, could easily include embedded videos, audio, three-D models, a livestream connection, and various other media instead of the static, poorly cropped images students still use.

            I also find that students never pick up a newspaper or magazine even though I have them prominently displayed in our library at the circulation desk. In fact, we get twenty free copies of the Haverhill Gazette daily and the only time any student looks at it, is if they happen to be on a team at the school, and there is a story about them or the team.

National Geographic, WOMEN: A century of change

            When I was a kid, the yellow bordered magazine was always a favorite of mine. Stories are told in long-form narratives, interspersed with pullout maps, and rich, beautiful illustrations that show cutaway and multi-level views of exotic places or ancient civilizations. National Geographic continues to be a visual treasure that often features pictures that become icons in the culture.

            The November 2019 issue is dedicated to chronicling the ongoing story of more than half the people on the planet. Full of both archival and contemporary pictures, the issue is also a patchwork of quotes and profiles of women, young and old, changing the planet.

A little from online, a little from print

            While we are on the subject of magazines specifically, and reading in print in general, one of the tables that caught my eye while I was reading the 2019 Common Sense Report is on page 15. This table breaks down how students read nowadays, whether electronically or otherwise. According to the self-reported data, students claim to spend about an hour and eleven minutes each day reading books in print. From my personal experience, I find this hard to believe, unless students are reporting time in class spent reading from textbooks or handout materials copied from textbooks.

            Having observed students’ reading habits for the last two decades, I can state confidently, that their sense of what constitutes legitimate information has shifted radically online and has all but abandoned what we once considered traditional or mainstream avenues. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of this shift has been print magazines, many of which still offer insightful, intelligent and reliable reports.

            Recently, for example, I overheard a health teacher talking to her class about viruses and the curious position they hold somewhere between complex organic chemistry and living organism. After class, I shared with her a link to Journey to the Microcosmos (even though they don’t have a video about viruses) and PBS EONS’, “Where did viruses come from?”. A few days later, I was flipping through the July/August 2019 DISCOVER magazine, “Everything worth knowing about …” Issue, where they cover a variety of scientific and technological ideas, including a three-page spread on viruses! Of course, I shared this too, with our health teacher, and reflected on how great the information available to students nowadays is.

Edward Snowden on Joe Rogan

            One of my guilty pleasures is the Joe Rogan podcast. For those not familiar with Rogan, he is a standup comedian and was the host of Fear Factor, as well as being an announcer for some MMA events. On the side, Joe Rogan has also become one of the most popular podcasters with guests ranging from his comic friends (Eddie Bravo, Joey Diaz, Bill Burr) to actors (Edward Norton, Dan Ackroyd) and a variety of others (Whiz Khalifa, Alex Jones, Rob Zombie, Mike Tyson, Reggie Watts) including serious scientists and thinkers like Brian Greene, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Dr. Cornel West and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

            Recently, Rogan invited Edward Snowden to his podcast, and he accepted. Whether you consider Snowden a traitor or a patriot, he is a thoughtful and insightful individual who knowingly risked his freedom to follow his conscience. The three-hour podcast is mostly Snowden talking about his backstory, relating how he got to be in the position he was in at the NSA and weaving together both personal anecdotes and historic court cases to reveal how the world got to where it’s at. (Not in a good way).

Earth Currents

            Finally, the last thing I will share this week was passed on to me by science teacher, S. Niraula, who in turn got it from science teacher, C. McQuaid. It is another example of what can happen when information gathered by our public science institutions such as NOAA and NASA are turned into tools available for free to the public. Using the tools available, one can monitor and track ocean and air currents, carbon dioxide hotspots, and dust storms. Users can decide what layer of the atmosphere they’d like to see by changing “height” and they can change the “projection” style for the map displayed (Conic equidistant, orthographic, equirectangular, etc.). Click on the map below to go to the link. Worth exploring.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved.

I’m back (to posting here)

Part I: I talk about coming back

            Happy day-after-President’s Day to everyone. I hope you are surrounded by people you love and make you happy. After a 13-month hiatus from posting here, I am back. I hope to continue sharing not just useful online resources for school, but interesting insights about living and learning. I miss having a place to not just share my thoughts about the work I am doing, but actually documenting the ever-evolving role of the school librarian.  

            With that short re-introduction done, let me begin by saying that I am excited about relaunching this project that I began way back in December 2007. The things that have changed in that decade are huge, yet incremental, and therefore, sometimes difficult to note as you are living through them (see my previous post for some numbers).

            As with the original launch of this site, this is still an experiment in online librarianship. I view this blog as an opportunity to collect and connect. More than ever before, I hope that this page can be a launching point for teachers and students looking for reliable, fact-checked sources appropriate for school projects. Over the coming weeks, I will be rechecking and reorganizing the pages, links and recommended sites found here, making sure that they are all working, up-to-date and still worthy of your attention.

Thanks to the Way Back Machine (also known as the internet archive) there is a digital “snapshot” of what this blog looked like in its early incarnation. The post from October 2008 shows that Hulu.com wasn’t yet a subscription streaming service. How the times keep changing.

Part II: I recommend some Crash Course lessons

            I am always delighted when I am asked, mostly by our English teachers, to come into class to discuss how to do good academic research online. My presentations have changed over the years to reflect the evolution of the web and to address the particular needs of my audiences. No matter how much I may try, I always feel like I am leaving something out … because I have to.

A slide from my 2005 presentation shows that I was still recommending videotapes from our collection. We have since weeded out about 90% of that collection (mostly duplicates and programs taped from television).

            What began as a curiosity and a marginal technology, has grown into a ubiquitous and all-encompassing force in our daily lives. The web is where we do everything nowadays, but it wasn’t intended to be used mostly as an academic tool, and it shows. During simpler times, it might have been enough to look at the website URL, its domain extension and the About Us page to determine the reliability of the site. Things have gotten a little more complicated, nowadays, and I rarely have enough time to really cover everything you need to know to do good academic research online.

A slide from my 2014 presentation reflects my growing concerns with “aliteracy” (people who can read, but don’t) and the growing amount of bad information.

            Enter Crash Course, a YouTube channel I have recommended and talked about in the past, and even include on my Video Resources page here on this blog. In December 2018, they announced that they would be filming a series called, “Navigating Digital Information”, which I highly recommend to my students and teachers. In the roughly two-hour-long series, I expect that they will cover much of the same information I have presented over the years … checking URLs, using primary sources, avoiding sites that don’t credit their creators, references or link to other sites, etc.

            The fact that Crash Course, and their sponsors (which they prominently reveal and discuss), find it useful to create a series about dealing with online information as a student (and a citizen) speaks to the need we have for good online content that educates us about online content. I know, it begins to feel a little like a conversation in Inception, or with Russian nesting dolls (for you older folks in the reading audience). Prior to this release, Crash Course had a whole series on Media Literacy, which I also recommend in general, and specifically episode 4, Media and the Mind. This episode focuses on the relationship between people and their devices, and how we shape our technology and it reshapes us. I especially recommend the video since it discusses the intersection of psychology and technology, two areas of study that play out every day in our schools.

            In the past month, I have recommended these two series of videos to a handful of classes and hope they will turn to it as an online resource. I have also been advising my students to return to the print resources we have available in our library media center (LMC) collection.

Part III: I remind people of the HHS OPAC

            I will use this last part as a public service announcement to remind people that the HHS LMC OPAC (what a string of letters meaning our online catalog) is available at the bottom of our school’s Launchpad. Once you have reached our OPAC’s home page, you will find a simple search engine to look through our collection.

            I always remind students of the difference between a Keyword Search (general) and a Subject Search (specific), but lately, I have also been focusing on the Series Search to introduce students to a very specific kind of print resource. Many teachers have students write a persuasive essay, where they are able to pick a subject that interests them and research a position on that issue or idea. We have a number of book series that have short, pro-con type essays on a variety of subjects and, unlike information students may find online, these articles are all fact-checked, reliable and appropriate for school work. The series titles are:

  • At Issue (160 titles)
  • Contemporary Issues (20 titles)
  • Current Controversies (52 titles)
  • Issues in Focus (24 titles)
  • Opposing Viewpoints (185 titles)
  • Reference Shelf (104 titles)

Part IV: Closing thoughts and Bonus Find

            As you can imagine, I have more to say about doing online research, but I will save that for next time. If I don’t stop writing this post, I’ll never get it online … and that was one of the reasons I stopped posting for a year; because I never knew when or what to write or how much or for who, if anyone, I was writing. But I do like sharing this information, and so I will try to post every other week here, until the end of the school year.

            In the meantime, let me share one last video series I found on YouTube called “Blank on Blank”. This series’ homepage says it all, “Famous Names. Lost Interviews. Animated Shorts.” Amongst my favorites is Aldous Huxley on Technodictators. Enjoy.

 

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something interesting and useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved

Reviewing Online Research Skills: Part Two

Google Scholar, clustering search engines, citation generators and more

…………Last time I mentioned that most students begin their online research by turning to GOOGLE, and that usually leads to at least one WIKIPEDIA entry. Both of these sites are covered in my last post, and there’s plenty to discuss about them, but with only fifteen minutes left in my presentation, I quickly turn to GOOGLE SCHOLAR.

…………Despite its pedigree, Google Scholar is not a search engine in the traditional sense. Search engines, like Bing, Yahoo Search and Ask retrieve web pages based on algorithms that rank popularity and links to other pages. Google Scholar weeds out most of that noise and focuses on finding obscure hits that are academic, research based papers, publications and other resources that won’t make anyone’s “most popular” list. In this case, that’s a good thing.

…………It’s important to note that many of the finds that Google Scholar returns may be resources that require subscription or purchase. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find useful research material that is free. Included in Google Scholar’s search is the power of Google Books, which often allows users to preview whole sections of books. This is a great resource, especially for high school researchers, whose school libraries cannot keep up with purchasing published materials that are current, reliable, and appropriate for doing academic research.

…………Google Scholar also finds case studies, research publications and other public documents that are published by universities, individual researchers and private think tanks. Many of these resources are not only available for free, but can be downloaded as a PDF. Best of all, if you do find something that you can use in your research, Google Scholar provides the citation information in MLA, APA and Chicago formats. This alone, will save the student researcher valuable time in the end. google scholar Clustering Search Engines

…………With just a handful of minutes left, I finally get to talk about sites not named Google or Wikipedia. (And that’s okay, because it’s important to discuss when and how to use both of those ubiquitous and powerful Internet tools.) I usually have the class brainstorm with me the ways they begin their Internet research, so I return to the list we’ve created. Most times, this list includes other popular search engines such as Bing, Ask, Yahoo Search, maybe Dogpile or Webcrawler. These other sites are also search engines that use different algorithms to search for and sort the finds. They will basically return many of the same websites in different orders, and I don’t have a preference for one over the others.

…………Instead, I introduce students to YIPPY, a clustering search engine. Like the other search engines mentioned, Yippy has a traditional search field where you type in your keyword. Unlike the other search engines, Yippy divides the kind of returns it finds into several categories including what kind of site it came from (.edu, .gov, .org, etc.) and when the site was updated (past week, past month, etc.). Additionally, Yippy also offers a column of related search terms that both expand and narrow the keyword.

…………So, for example, if a student searches “steroids”, Yippy will find the typical Wikipedia entry, all the current news stories dealing with the topic and the sites selling, advertising and talking about steroids. The bonus for student researchers is that the clustering search engine will also divide the websites into meaningful categories such as “Side Effects of”, “Medical Use”, “High School”, “Bodybuilding” and so on. These “clouds” (as they’re called on Yippy) give students other words that could help them narrow or expand their research idea.

yippy2 Citation generators

…………During the final minute of my presentation, I introduce kids to a couple of the great online citation generators that exist to make their academic lives a little easier. I understand that there are still some teachers that insist that their students gather all of the bibliographic information on their own, but I find that most citation generators are imperfect anyway and will demand the students’ attention to correct or complete the information.

…………These online tools are also very useful, I believe, because the amounts and kinds of information that are available to today’s student researchers is ever changing and we could all use a little technical assistance with such matters as proper documentation of sources. The two citation generators I usually recommend are Easybib and Son of Citation Machine. Both of these tools are free and easy to use and require minimum training for learning how to generate proper MLA style citations. (Easybib requires a paid “upgrade” to create APA or Chicago style citations) son of Closing Remarks

…………Just before the bell rings, I remind students that the world wide web is an incredible collection of information, but that most of it isn’t really appropriate for school research. In fact, what most of us know as the “Internet” is really only the tip of the information iceberg that exists online. Stored in private and subscription databases is a whole other world of information that not even Google can reach. If they seem interested in learning more, I’m invited back. If they’re not interested, at least they’ll have some pointers to start with.

…………I hope you found something worthwhile. Next time I’ll discuss the databases available through the Haverhill Public Library and other useful sites for student researchers. As always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

Reviewing Online Research Skills: Part One

This time of the school year, I am invited to visit classes working on research papers to discuss with students how to use the sources available online. Most of the times, teachers are pretty open to allowing their students to pick their own topics to write about. This encourages students to research and share information about subjects, issues and ideas that keep them interested. The teachers work with the students to hone their ideas and develop a thesis statement, and then ask me to come in to their classrooms to talk about where to go online to find reliable information.

Starting Points

Although I’m always pressed for time during my presentations (there really is so much we could talk about), I don’t like to begin by assuming that students don’t already have resources they use to get their schoolwork done. After a quick survey of topic ideas (abortion, women’s rights, illegal immigration, GMOs, internet surveillance, etc.), I ask students where they begin their online searches and inevitably, they respond almost unanimously, “GOOGLE”.

This is a good starting point for discussing what Google is (a search engine) and for taking a look at the kind of results we get when we type a keyword into our search box. Rather than using a Powerpoint presentation during my talks, I use the Polyvision board and a live Internet connection to demonstrate doing online research in real time.* Using one of the suggested topics, I do a Google search that almost always has a WIKIPEDIA hit in the top five returns.

This is when I ask the students what they know about Wikipedia and we talk about how they should and should not use this indispensible online resource. The most common reasons I hear for why they shouldn’t use Wikipedia for academic research is because, “anyone can edit the entries” and “it isn’t reliable”. While the former statement remains only partially true (many articles on the site are locked and can only be edited by certain members of the Wikipedia community), the latter is no longer a legitimate reason for staying away from Wikipedia for school research papers.

In fact, multiple studies have shown that Wikipedia is as good as most traditional print encyclopedias when it comes to accuracy, especially on technical, mathematical or scientific topics. Entries that deal with pop culture, religious and political ideas and/or other issues subject to bias or interpretation, can be more contentious on Wikipedia, but even this can be used as a “learning moment” online.

Using Wikipedia for Research

Most research papers that students write nowadays can be described as argumentative or persuasive. That is, they have an issue in mind that is “debatable” or “controversial” and they have an opinion that they have to support. In order to do good research, the students should also know what the other side is saying about the issue, and this is where Wikipedia’s reliability can be discussed with the students. Topics such as “fracking” or “legality of cannabis” may have an introductory note explaining that there are polarizing views about the subject or that the entry is not considered neutral; and it’s worthwhile to discuss this with students.

In the end, the real problem (for me anyway) with using Wikipedia as a primary source for high school research papers is that it is only an encyclopedia. Just as I wouldn’t allow students to use print encyclopedias such as Britannica or Colliers, I discourage my high school students from thinking of Wikipedia as a primary source.

Instead, I teach them to read the articles for background information, including important dates and names associated with the subject. I also recommend that students look at the REFERENCES section at the bottom of the article. This is where Wikipedia really serves students best as an online research tool. Here they will find links to the articles and information used to write and research the article above. Often, the references have links that will take you to the source, and then the whole process of evaluating that source (for reliability, accuracy, bias, etc.) begins anew.

Hidden treasures of .gov sites    

After spending some time clarifying how to use and not use Wikipedia, I go back to the original Google search and explore the other search finds. This gives me a chance to talk with the students about the different kinds of top-level domains (TLD) that exist on the Internet such as .com, .gov and .org.

There are important differences between who can and cannot have a website in certain domains, but nowadays most web users ignore these distinctions. For students doing research, .gov sites are an excellent source of reliable and accurate information. Here is a handful of .gov sites that I recommend during my presentations:

  • Library of Congress: The largest library in the world with a collection of rare and unique audio, visual and text documents.
  • National Institutes of Health: A great resource for researching diseases, disorders and other health related topics. A search on this site will return government studies and publications on the topic.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Like the NIH above, the CDC is a valuable and reliable online source for health related topics.
  • CIA World fact book: Just as Wikipedia replaced the need for print encyclopedias, this online resource has replaced the library’s need for a print Almanac. Up to date information on the world countries’ population, type of government, economy, geography and so on.
  • NASA: Space exploration continues even if we are no longer sending people on the grand search. The telescopes, rovers and other tools available via NASA should be enough to inspire another generation of stargazers.

By this time in my presentation, I usually stop to ask if there are any questions, and I look up at the clock to realize, I still have a lot more to share, but only about fifteen minutes left to talk. Next time, I’ll discuss Google Scholar, clustering search engines and online citation generators.

I hope you found something useful, and as always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.


 

* Of course this can backfire for many reasons and I do have a Powerpoint presentation ready in case of such an event.