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

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 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.

Free Apps from HPL

The Haverhill Public Library (HPL) is a great resource, not just for students but for everyone. Just as technology has transformed the way we do everything else, it has changed our relationship with the library as well. When I was a kid, the library was just a building that warehoused books. Today it is still a great place to find printed material, but it is also a place on the internet that gives us access to valuable digital information.

Our good friends Nancy Chase and Rachel Gagnon, librarians from the HPL, visited on Thursday, November 13, 2014 to introduce us to some of the digital resources available. They spoke to Ms. Quinney’s, Mr. Lavieri’s and Mr. Rossetti’s classes and plan to return in the future. Here’s a brief introduction to the services they spoke about:

  • Free legal music: Downloading music from unauthorized sites is still considered piracy nowadays, even though there is no high profile site like Napster in the news any longer. Freegal Music is a great alternative and it is free and virus free (which is always a big deal). While library users must deal with a weekly download limit, all songs do have a sample clip which lets you preview the songs. All songs are in MP3 format and videos are in MP4 format; there is no DRM content. The mobile app is free and available at the Apple App Store and through Google Play.

 

  • Hoopla: Someone paid the copy people at this company good money to sell their service, so I’ll let them speak for themselves as to what this app is all about.“Freedom starts here, now.Bringing you hundreds of thousands of movies, full music albums, audiobooks and more, hoopla is a revolutionary digital service made possible by your local library.From Hollywood blockbusters to best selling artists and authors – not just the hits, but the niche and hard-to-find as well – you’ll soon discover that hoopla provides you the freedom you’ve been searching for to experience, explore and enjoy what you want, when you want, and where you want.Simple to access and use, without the hassle of having to return the items you’ve borrowed, all you need is your library card, a web browser, smart phone or tablet to get started. The freedom you want is here, now. Sign up today!”

 

  • Overdrive: Another great app that every student and avid book lover should have. Overdrive allows you to download books, audiobooks and some videos to your smart devices. They have a good, brief introduction video here and like the other services above, content is never overdue since it “disappears” from your account and your devices when it is due back. Overdrive is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms.

 

  • Zinio: Like newspapers, magazines and other periodicals have seen their print subscriptions plummet since the advent of the internet. For a while, these print sources simply offered their content online for free, but those days have passed. Nowadays, you’ll need a subscription to access most of the content of these sources. Fortunately, the public library offers you a great alternative to buying all those magazines. Through Zinio, you are able to access all the magazines that your local library subscribes to, including back issues. You can download content to read while off-line, and like with other digital services, the content disappears from your device when your time expires.

All of these apps are free to download and use on any of your devices. Highly recommended for both teachers and students, and anyone else who wants to get the most from their public library. Hope you find something useful and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

Late July Quick Hit

Sure I am on vacation, like the rest of you. I hope you are enjoying your summer surrounded by loved ones and getting your energy and creative juices ready for the new school year. Where I am, there is very little internet connection (and that is so awesome) but I have been able to log on late at night when there are fewer active users. Just wanted to take a moment to share two related sites with you all. The first is an article at Scientific American, one of my favorite sites and magazines, discussing the expanded role of data in our schools, “Scientists Bring New Rigor to Education Research“. In the article, the writer, Barbara Kantrowitz, mentions the What Works Clearinghouse site which is where all of this new data is being collected and categorized for all of us interested in education. I must admit that while I have heard of the site before, I have not delved into the contents yet, and I have added a link to the site on my blogroll. You will find it listed at “Q” just below the “Getty Images” site (another place I have yet to really explore). So much to see and discover online, that even with help I sometimes find it overwhelming. Luckily, summer vacation is only half over, so we have plenty of time to meander. Hope you find something interesting in your journeys. Good luck and thank you for stopping by. 

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Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

Online resources for research

Hello all. It’s been a while again, since my last blog post, and I apologize for the absence. I’ve been presenting to English classes as they prepare for their research projects. I generally start by introducing the HHS OPAC so that our students will know how to get around their college libraries once they get there, and then I ask them where they start their online searching. Without fail, every class has mentioned Google and Wikipedia. Then our real discussion begins. Depending on the topics, grade level, and amount of research the teachers are expecting of the students, we discuss different strategies, online tools and databases to use. Everyone gets introduced to the Haverhill Public Library databases and I reinforce the importance of having a library card.

But no matter how much I stress the value of databases, I still see students returning to the internet to complete their academic research; and I don’t blame them. There are many wonderful and useful sites out there, and today I’d like to share with you a short list of my favorite online tools and websites for doing academic work and research:

  • CIA World Factbook: An indispensible collection of intelligence gathered from countries around the world including the best, most current data on population, economics, religion and other social and financial information.
  • Newseum: Part curiosity, part digital archive, the collection at this website is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, you can see the front page of over 1000 newspapers (yes, they still print those) from 89 countries. Second, you can see the front pages as they appeared on a few recent historic days (think 9/11, Katrina, final shuttle launch, 2004 Tsunami, etc). Third, there are also a number of professional development opportunities that teach how to incorporate the news in the classroom such as “The Photographic Revolution: The Ethics and Impact of Seeing the Story” and “The Media and the Cold War”.
  • Bartleby.com: No relation to Melville’s scrivener, this website is one of the original and best compilations of “classics”. Here you will find Bartlett’s Quotations, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Oxford’s Shakespeare, and other reference works including anthologies of TS Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Emily Dickinson & others.
  • Getty Images: I haven’t completely explored this website, but I do know that there are more than 3 million pictures available and that makes for a fantastic resource for any project. Unfortunately, you can’t save the pictures without purchasing them (unless you don’t mind a large watermark crediting the photographer … which sometimes, I don’t). Even if you don’t include the pictures in your paper or presentation, the photographs in this collection are still useful for looking at primary documents from different periods to examine fashion, architecture, living conditions, etc.
  • Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab): a great resource for anyone who is writing a research or academic paper of any kind. For me, this site basically replaces my old desktop, spiral bound copy of Diane Hacker’s Writers Handbook. Whenever I teach academic writing I always use the sample papers available on the site to show students what a paper should “look like” … presentation counts, after all.
  • PaperRater: Sure, whatever word processing program you’re using already has a built-in spell correct and grammar check feature, but this web site offers just a little bit more than that. PaperRater tells you up front that it can’t tell you a lick about your content, but it is pretty good at looking at things it can quantify, like sentence length and words per sentence. It can also make some guesses about your writing by looking at your vocabulary, capitalization, and punctuation. That’s really good feedback for free.

This is by no means a complete or comprehensive list of all the resources available online for doing research, but it’s a start, and I hope you find something useful. Thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.