Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More Money, Less Energy

By Rachel Amico, Fall 2011 Intern

When I was in high school, I remember the lights being on all the time, never shutting down the computers, and enduring sweltering temperatures through the whole winter. While this allowed my school to be bright, active, and warm, energy expenditure made up a large portion of the school’s budget.
But recently, according to the New York Times, schools are beginning to see the light—figuratively that is. With the growing momentum of “green” movements, schools are attempting to minimize their energy consumption through creative and efficient means. Turning lights off in unused classrooms, shutting off rooftop exhaust valves, evaluating the energy used in swimming pools and cafeteria ovens, replacing old fixtures with energy saving models, using solar panels, and—in the case of Mount Sinai School District on Long Island, NY—appointing an “Official Energy Manager” to police the halls of the schools, are all methods working wonders for the budget and the environment.
The appointing of an Energy Manager has reduced Mount Sinai’s utility costs by 30% since 2007, and simply keeping an eye on expenditure in New Jersey’s Holmdel Township has cut gas and electric by about half since 2009, saving $1 million annually. In addition to cutting costs, the benefits to the environment are equally impressive. The Holmdel Township schools use 3.5 million fewer kilowatts of power, and 240,000 less therms of heat annually.
Recognizing the benefits these practices create for schools, the Bloomberg administration in New York City created a month-long competition in which the schools that voluntarily decreased energy usage were awarded $100,000.
By being more energy-conscious, large schools can save, and occasionally earn, money to be better spent on improving class materials and quality of education for students while also helping reduce the energy consumption that affects global warming. Because schools are comprised of large buildings that foster hundreds of people at a time, their positive impact—especially when united—can be great.
If more schools around the country (and other large establishments) begin to monitor their energy following the examples of Mount Sinai and Holmdel Township, everyone—including students, administrators, and our ever-so-fragile atmosphere—will benefit immensely.
If you’re passionate about the environment and want to try “greening up” your school or school district, check out The Green Schools Alliance. The organization provides a “toolkit” of ideas and suggestions on how to improve energy conservation, while also hosting competitions and events for schools across the country to participate in.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Recess for Everyone!

By Tracy Brickman, Fall 2011 Intern

I may no longer be able to recite the Gettysburg Address from memory and I doubt I still remember the finer details of Lewis and Clark’s great expedition, but one important lesson I do remember from my elementary school days is the proper strategy for picking team members for a game of Red Rover. And I bet I’m not the only one! Recess was an important part of my school day not only because I got to spend time having fun with my friends, but also because it allowed me to get outside and, though I was unaware of it at the time, experience the many benefits of physical activity. For that very reason, today some Chicago public schools, starting at the preschool level, are working towards re-introducing recess into their school day.
Over a decade ago, Chicago public schools removed recess from their day, in favor of a 20-minute lunch period for students and lunch at the end of the day for teachers. Now, however, along with the Chicago Department of Public Health’s push to have students spend less time in front of a screen and more time being active, parents and advocacy groups are working to include a 90-minute recess period in students’ days. Starting in November, only 60 minutes or less out of the school day can be spent on computers or watching TV, while at least 60 minutes will be spent in physical activity.
At the moment, this push for a longer recess period is only occurring at the preschool level. However, the hope is that encouraging children to be active early on will have a positive impact later in students’ lives. Like so many other areas across the country, Chicago is a city riddled with childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases, and parents and teachers alike hope that measures taken now will help reinforce and promote healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to lengthening recess, many schools will not serve milk that has more than a 1% fat content and will only serve 100% juice. 
Although not every school or district may be too keen on the idea of taking away from active learning time, this incentive is something that schools should seriously consider. In light of the obesity epidemic troubling Americans of all ages, schools need to start teaching healthy lifestyle choices to their students, and promoting more physical activity during recess is a great place to start. Not only will students get moving, reducing the risk of conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, but also they’ll have fun and expand upon their social skills in doing so.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bestselling, Brand-Name Authors

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

My mother loves to read Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel novels. They’re all pretty much the same in terms of plot and I’m not entirely sure how she keeps track of which ones she’s read as opposed to which ones she hasn’t. But every time I’m with her in a bookstore, she always picks up the latest one and scans the jacket before claiming that it sounds good.
Authors such as Roberts and Steel—not to mention bestseller list mainstays like Stephen King and James Patterson—have made a pretty good living churning out books that sell millions of copies, almost despite what their content matter is. People flock to booksellers to pick up the latest novel by their favorite author often before they even know what the book is about.
And it’s not just contemporary adult authors either. I’ll be the first to admit that I’d read anything J.K. Rowling writes, even if it was on a subject I wasn’t terribly interested in. She, like King, Patterson, Steel, and others, has become more of a brand than a writer. She will sell books solely because of her name.
Sure, these authors are brands for a reason: people enjoy their work enough to keep coming back for more. And while this is true in other forms of entertainment, it seems to be more pronounced with books. The New York Times bestsellers list often looks the same from week to week, with the same names always appearing, even with different titles attached. Readers find an author—or brand—that they like, and they stick with him or her no matter what, the same way people have their favorite brand of shampoo or coffee.
Just like the movie industry needs big-name stars for their feature films, the publishing industry needs these brand-name authors for their bestselling books. After all, how are we supposed to have the great debate over who will be the next J.K. Rowling if there is no J.K. Rowling in the first place?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Writing From Beyond the Grave

By Jorge Cortes, Publishing Intern

Have you ever wondered if you continued to read Harry Potter because it was a novel written by J.K. Rowling or because it was a Harry Potter novel? What if she had been forced to stop writing while the series was still ongoing and gave her blessing to another author to continue her work? Would you still read it?
While that didn’t happen to Rowling, for other authors the answer has been a resounding “yes.” There has been a trend developing in which new authors, known as continuators, take over an ongoing series when the original author dies or becomes otherwise unable to continue writing. And while some critics are against the idea, it appears that most fans continue to buy the books. For example, The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is a very popular fantasy series with a very devoted fan base. When Jordan passed away in 2007—as he was writing the final book of the series—it seemed as if it would be left incomplete.
Enter Brandon Sanderson. A longtime fan of the series and fellow author, Sanderson was asked by Jordan’s widow, Harriet McDougal, to finish what her late husband started. And what Jordan intended to be the final book ended up becoming three. And how did Jordan’s devoted fans react? The last six books in the series have all reached the number one spot on the New York Times bestsellers list. Two of those books are considered to have been cowritten by Sanderson and Jordan.
Obviously not all continuators are so successful. Many of them have a difficult time trying to respect the author’s wishes and adapt the characters to be their own. Despite these potential struggles, it seems as though different authors are continuing more series. Ian Fleming’s James Bond is set to appear in a new novel this year called Carte Blanche. Jeffery Deaver will become the second American to act as a continuator for the series. And perhaps one of the most famous continuators, Eric Van Lustbader, continues his work on Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series with the July release of The Bourne Dominion.
And we may be seeing more of this trend in the future. Stieg Larsson, author of the bestselling Millenium trilogy, left behind an almost-completed rough draft for a fourth book—and maybe even enough material for a fifth or sixth—when he died in 2004. His life partner may own the computer files that contain the partial manuscript, but it’s anyone’s guess if Lisbeth Salander will appear in a new book and continue to live on alongside James Bond and Jason Bourne.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Music School Education -- For Free!

By Tracy Brickman, Fall 2011 Intern

Although I admit it’s currently gathering dust in the corner of my closet, my cello really was a huge part of my grade school experience. Once a day, I headed to the orchestra room and learned to read and play music that sometimes felt like a foreign language. Playing the cello was fun but I also had to have the discipline to practice on my own at night and to keep my cello in good condition. This was a lot of responsibility for an elementary student, which I really liked. It also taught me a lot about the hard work that goes into perfecting an art and the satisfaction that comes from dedicating yourself to something you love.
Over the years, the educational benefits of early exposure to the arts and music education programs have been widely discussed. I was lucky to attend schools with strong music programs—and plenty of instruments available to use. However, not all students have had the chance to experience benefits, like orchestra programs, for themselves. In one area of uptown Chicago, parents are going to great lengths to change that. At the People’s Music School, parents camp out in line for up to 6 days to secure their children a spot at the school, which since 1975 has offered after-school music education, gratis, to low-income families. With only 25 free slots available on a first-come-first-served basis, parents certainly feel the pressure to be the first one in line at the school, which enrolls 200 students each year.
Once admitted to the People’s Music School, students, ages 5 to 18, study music theory and receive private lessons on any of a wide range of instruments. They are also required to maintain a solid attendance record and to demonstrate improvement throughout the course of the year. In exchange for the free tuition, parents must agree to 8 hours of service, per child, to the school.
Though some may view camping out on a sidewalk for nearly a week a bit extreme, these parents perceive it as a fair trade when they think of the wonderful, supplemental education the People’s Music School is providing for their children. Weighed against the potentially staggering costs of private lessons and the limited time that can be spent on music education in some public school systems, spending a few nights in a sleeping bag doesn’t seem so bad at all.
And now I ask this of my own parents—even though those first few years of listening to me practice were likely an assault on their ears—would you have camped out for a few nights to give me the chance to play the cello? I hope your answer is “Yes!”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Building Kindness Through Kindness Grants

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development
A small and seemingly insignificant article caught my eye recently. Amid the bickering, impolite outbursts, and near-violent protests that have filled our news, sports, and entertainment stories over the past several months, I noticed a puzzling headline: “Up to $15,000 to middle schools and junior high schools who encourage kindness.”

The Red Robin Foundation is sponsoring the U-ACT program (for Unbridled Acts, or random acts of kindness), a character-building initiative designed to teach 6th through 8th grade students about the value of being kind to others. The goal of the program is “to help foster and create a sense of neighborliness inside and outside of the school.” The foundation is awarding grants from $1,200 to $15,000 to schools that submit program binders outlining their efforts.

While I applaud the folks at Red Robin for this effort, I’m somewhat concerned and saddened that we’ve come to the point when we have to “teach” kindness. That sense of “neighborliness” has been fading for some time as we face political, social, and even climate changes. Let’s hope initiatives like U-ACT and other values education programs will help the next generation understand that we needn’t look at change as a threat, but rather as an opportunity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The New Burrito

By Rachel Amico, Fall 2011 Intern
I don’t think a single person I’ve ever met has loved school cafeteria lunches. In middle school, I saw classmates bounce meatballs off the table, and in high school I stuck to bag lunches—avoiding at all costs the ever-present grease-soaked hamburgers made in the cafeteria—A.K.A. the basement. I had hoped that my college “DH” (dining hall) would be different but sadly it’s not. It’s full of the same processed food that I’ve been trying to avoid since middle school.
While improving the cafeteria menu is an issue on many a concerned student government agenda, the ability for schools to actually make improvements has been difficult. Significant cuts in budgets, poorly equipped kitchens, and wariness regarding the preparation of raw meat—especially in the face of food-borne illnesses and consequent media frenzying—have lead to a huge dependence on the cheap, convenient, factory-made food that we all love to hate so much.
However, according to an article posted by the New York Times, schools are beginning to realize that cooking from scratch is healthier, tastier, and surprisingly more cost-efficient. For example, federal reimbursement rules can aid poorer schools in purchasing meat with serious discounts, and cooking on-site drives costs even lower.
In Greeley, Colorado, the process of re-vamping cafeteria food has already begun. Opposed to its factory counterpart comprised of 35 ingredients, the new burrito has only 12—subbing out strange inclusions like “potassium citrate and zinc oxide” for real cheddar cheese. But even though the ingredients are being updated to make a healthier and more delicious menu, classic menu items will remain. One Greeley school has no intention of eliminating a superstar like mac n’ cheese, but will replace processed with natural cheese—preserving the strange yellow color kids learn to expect with turmeric, an Indian spice.
Transitioning away from dependence on processed foods will not only lower costs for poorer schools, but combat youth obesity through providing healthier options with, undoubtedly, much less grease. These changes are starting in Colorado, but will definitely take some time to catch on elsewhere. According to Elida Martinez’s statement to the New York Times, as a kitchen worker for 32 years in the Greeley District, she hopes this process will “teach children how to eat again.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alternative Assessment vs. Choose "A," "B," or "C"

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

I recently read an article in our local newspaper (yes - I still get the print version) about a teacher in a local high school who uses alternative assessment in her classroom. Betsy Sidor's American Studies class at Upper Arlington High School outside of Columbus, Ohio, was arguing about the U.S.'s policy in Afghanistan. The students' sound arguments came from research they had done, and the passion with which they presented their arguments showed the teacher they were completely engaged in the material. This was an opportunity to show an understanding of content that went beyond a paper-and-pencil test. The article (http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/02/01/alternative_testing.ART_ART_02-01-10_B1_BCGFEHU.html?sid=101) went on to discuss the value of both alternative assessment and more traditional tests of rote memorization. Those interviewed seemed to agree that it doesn't need to be an either/or situation. Alternative assessment and traditional assessments that test memorization both seem to have a place in the classroom.

I went online to see the same article, in hopes of seeing some reader comments. I was not disappointed.

One commented: "Government schools are doing Outcome Based Education. The Feds are dictating it. And the kid are being trained to conform to the values of the government. They are made to be politically correct...The parents are so clueless." (Whoa! I'm not sure if this reader is arguing for or against alternative assessment.)

Another said: "The very expensive standardized tests forced upon schools rely on rote memorization because it makes them much easier and cheaper to grade." (Probably not the most sound argument in favor of alternative assessment.)

"This is outstanding!" commented another. "Real world problems are not solved by choosing A, B or C. If there were only one correct answer, life would be simple." (A good lesson both in and out of the classroom.)

And another said in response to a reader's comment: "Yet another example of either/or thinking that gets in the way of the education process."

I suspect most of us in the education field would agree with the last comment and see value in both types of testing. Face it - kids have to know their multiplication facts before they can solve word problems, and they need to have a knowledge of people, places, and dates before they can understand the significance of an historical event.

If you're developing assessment of any kind, contact us at Publishing Solutions Group. We'll help you find the right answers: Choose P, S and G.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Books with Bells and Whistles

By Jorge Cortes, Publishing Intern

Mark Cameron was traveling in Hong Kong when he noticed many commuters like himself, simultaneously reading e-books and listening to music. He also noticed the obvious disconnect between the two activities, as the music had nothing to do with what people were reading. It was then that Mark wondered if there was a way to combine the experience: to read an e-book while listening to relevant music, like a soundtrack. Mark shared his idea with his brother Paul and, together, they created Booktrack in 2010.
Booktrack is a new type of e-book: one with its own soundtrack. Booktrack hopes to improve the e-book experience the same way that movies use music to heighten tension and emotions. And like a movie soundtrack, Booktrack chooses music that fits perfectly with a specific book, character, or scene. Booktrack also allows readers to adjust the speed and settings of the music to their own specifications as they read.
By working with the author, Booktrack is able to further immerse the reader in the book. Imagine the background music starting very low but reaching a crescendo as with every sentence you come closer to solving the mystery in your book. Mark and Paul Cameron wanted the music to fit the scene. Sound effects are also added to the music so that the person can be part of the action. I can picture myself reading alone at night and hearing the creaking of stairs as an intruder sneaks about the protagonist’s house. It’d be so scary and exciting at the same time!
The first book featuring a soundtrack is The Power of Six, a young adult novel published by HarperCollins. Tara Weikum, an Editorial Director for HarperCollins Children’s Books, said she believed The Power of Six could work with a soundtrack because the book is “cinematic in scope.” The Power of Six has over 70 original compositions and Booktrack is already working with professionals so that every book has an original score. Weikum hopes to give more to readers who fall in love with the book.
Booktrack opens a whole new dimension to book reading, adding another sense to the reading experience. But this raises the question if the music industry—which has drastically changed in the last few years similar to the way the publishing industry has—will become involved in Booktrack. Will artists and bands write songs specifically for e-books the way they do for movies? Will there be another musician like Celine Dion whose song, “My Heart Will Go On,” became synonymous with the movie Titanic? Or is Booktrack simply a more expensive way to create playlists on iTunes and listen to them while reading? It will be interesting to see how this idea takes hold in the future!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Do Tests Tell Us How Teachers Teach?

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

Legislatures in New York, California and some other states have enacted laws that limit, to one degree or another, the use of student achievement data in teacher performance evaluations . Last year New York’s Legislature prohibited the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions. In a speech last month to Department of Education researchers, Education Secretary Arne Duncan singled out data laws in some states.

“Believe it or not,” Mr. Duncan said, “several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that’s simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why.”

Should test data be used to evaluate teachers? If not, then what measures should be used? And how should test data be used with our students? Shouldn’t the data be used to inform how we should be teaching? As a former teacher and the husband of an excellent teacher, I feel we need to have some kind of teacher accountability for the benefit of the students as well as the integrity of the teaching profession. There must be something measureable, such as student improvement and growth, that can be tied to a teacher’s evaluation. But there must also be other components, such as a teacher’s ability to inspire, motivate, and nurture, to enter into the evaluation.

And the debate continues.

Are the assessment tools in your programs used to help teachers successfully teach students? PSG can help you create effective assessments that measure success and inform how teachers can be more effective with their instruction. Give us a call.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Improving "Number Sense" to Make More Sense of Numbers

By Tracy Brickman, Fall 2011 Intern

As a Writing, Literature and Publishing major, the joke among my friends and family is how lacking my math skills are, and unfortunately, it’s somewhat true. I say, “Thank goodness for cell phone calculators!” A new study, reported in the journal Developmental Science, may partly explain why my math skills are deficient and what I could have done years ago that might have provided me with the title “math whiz.”
The secret, according to the study, is number sense: our intuitive understanding, without relying upon counting and regardless of our education, of the concept of more or less. Past studies have shown a positive link between number sense and overall math skills in teenagers, and this new study shows the same results in children as young as three. Preschoolers were asked to identify which of two groups of colored dots was larger in number. The images of the dots quickly flashed on a screen so that the children had to rely on their number sense rather than counting. Although too young to have had much formal education, the children who displayed a stronger number sense were also more successful with simple math problems such as reading numbers and counting.
Going forward, studies such as this can be used to strengthen students’ mathematical aptitude by demonstrating the benefits of improving number sense—whether that be early on, or later in education. Textbooks, games, and other study tools can be developed to level the playing field and improve overall student performance when it comes to math skills. With any luck, products such as these will be created in the very near future. Who knows, I might just become a rocket scientist yet!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kindling a Flame for Reading?

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

Electronic books are a hot topics these days, with owners of e-books like the Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook claiming they’re reading more because of the ease with which they can purchase and read books.

Many who read the New York Times article left comments, with some interesting points being made. Many loved it, claiming they now read more books each month than they did before using the electronic device. A second group said the electronic readers were OK, but with technical limitations like not being able to read the text in strong light (like at the beach) or not being able to make notes in the margin. Many “old-school” folks claimed they still like the look, feel, and smell of the paper and ink and binding of a printed book and said they would not give in to the hype of the “gadgets.”

I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more and more of these devices appearing in public, especially after the holidays. There is a movement to provide college students with electronic textbooks, cutting down on costs and weight of the traditional books. And that’s a good thing.

I’m old school about books, even if I do have several gadgets. (English majors are like that.) I like my basement bookshelves that hold much of what I’ve read in my adult life. They are in some way a measure of my journey through good literature, cheap “whodunits”, and an occasional non-fiction piece or two. But at the same time I have to admit I marvel at how we’ve been able to give old works a new “stage.”

PSG can help you prepare your content for electronic delivery on e-books or online. Give us a call and we can give you a quote (either in print or electronically).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Concussion Education

By Jorge Cortes, Publishing Intern
As a sports enthusiast—and especially as a professional football fan—concussion is one of those words that always gets my attention. There are about 300,000 sports-related concussions nationwide each year, and it’s believed that about 85% of concussions go undiagnosed. Concussions are dangerous even when diagnosed and treated with proper medical care. But if a concussion goes undiagnosed it can become even more dangerous, since most athletes are willing to simply shake their heads and go right back to the game. This can aggravate their condition and the long-term effects can get even worse.
Many great players have had their careers cut tragically short because of too many concussions. And even players whose careers never suffered because of them complain about many mental problems later in life. They get constant headaches, are unable to focus, and it’s believed some of them suffer from mood swings.
These professional players have medical teams dedicated solely to their health. Every possible concussion that occurs on television receives a lot of media coverage, and rules are always being changed to protect the players. But what about the people who don’t get coverage, the athletes that get hit and are told to “toughen up and get back out there”? It’s not just the big, tough, 300-pound linebackers that get paid millions of dollars for playing a game that do it. It’s also the high school students that play for a chance to get a scholarship to a good university and a miniscule chance of going on to play as a pro.
High school athletes don’t have medical teams whose only job is to make sure that they’re not too badly injured to keep playing. They don’t get state-of-the-art protective gear given to them by league sponsors. And they don’t get any type of neurocognitive testing to help detect and treat concussions. At least not until now. Dick’s Sporting Goods is working with a program called Protecting Athletes through Concussion Education, or PACE, in order to help protect high school athletes by donating one dollar for every pair of shoes sold in the stores or online to the program.
Dick’s also hopes that by using former pro athletes like Jerome Bettis, who suffered through many concussions during his career, to get their message across, kids will stop and listen. Besides staring in television commercials, Bettis also went to Dick’s stores around the country where kids could meet a role model who’s gone through what they have. Hopefully kids, their coaches, and their families will learn to notice the signs of a concussion and get treatment right away. Even though we still can’t prevent concussions completely, we can prevent them from getting worse.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Learning Management Systems

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

Learning Management Systems (LMS) are making their way into the K-12 space. It has been a long journey, but learning management systems are now gaining popularity in K-12 schools around the country. These systems were originally created for virtual learning. However, their popularity has transformed them into a tool to create a blended learning solution for the classroom for all ages of students. Teachers use LMS to do many things, including upload content, communicate with students, assess learning, and manage grades/attendance. There are a variety of systems from which to choose, and many states are adopting LMS platforms to run on state servers so that all schools can take advantage of the technology.

Check out Calcasieu Parish Public Schools and their implementation of an LMS at http://blackboard.cpsb.org/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp. Publishers and development houses are now creating cartridges for various states as they request content for these platforms.

PSG has the technology resources to prepare content for these systems. If your publishing plans call for an LMS component, give us a call and we can help build the cartridge for you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Handwriting on the Wall

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

I recently watched a piece on the CBS Sunday Morning show that featured a report on the current state of handwriting instruction. (Watch the piece here.)
The reasons this story of a seemingly antiquated skill caught my eye were:
• I used to work for Zaner-Bloser, one of the leading providers of handwriting instruction.
• Teachers today say they barely have time to teach the basic subjects like math and reading let alone cursive handwriting.
• I have pretty lousy handwriting.
In a world that sends out 294 billion e-mails and almost 5 billion text messages each day, you could reasonably assert that keyboarding and perhaps even thumb dexterity are more worthwhile skills than handwriting. Tamara Plakins Thornton, a history professor at Buffalo’s State University at New York, says that the disappearance of practiced handwriting skills did not begin with the popularity of the home computer, but with the arrival of the typewriter in the late 19th century. This device presented huge competition for handwriting, so Austin Palmer, an instructor at the Cedar Rapids Business College in the late 1800s, set out to develop a fast and efficient means to write and keep up with the typewriter’s keyboard. From this effort came the Palmer Method of Handwriting. Palmer was convinced that good handwriting, and the discipline it took to perfect the skill, would lead to better citizens overall. People claimed “penmanship could reform delinquents” and “assimilate immigrants,” said Professor Thornton.
While there are few today who argue that good penmanship can turn a delinquent into a model citizen, some researchers claim that handwriting is more effective for stimulating memory and language skills than keyboarding. Others disagree, but will concede that good penmanship is better than bad because people can form judgments on the credibility of a person’s ideas based on the handwriting.
So where does that leave us? Zaner-Bloser Publishers used to recommend that students spend 30-45 minutes practicing handwriting every day, but that recommendation has been reduced to 15 minutes per day, recognizing that teachers don’t have much time to spend on handwriting instruction, especially when it seems like an unnecessary skill.
As for me, I do a lot of business writing and personal letter writing via the keyboard, but I feel handwritten letters and cards are still the best forms of personal communication because of the time, technique, and personality evident through the ink and paper. When I re-read letters my parents wrote to each other while my dad was overseas, read a recipe card in my mom’s handwriting, or read notes my own kids wrote to me when they were young, I feel a closer connection with the writers than I would have if the pieces had been generated as text messages or e-mails.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unexpected Children's Book Authors

By Annette Cinelli Trossello

When you first read these names, you are going to think: actress, singer, comedian, actress. But the following celebrities have also written children's books.

Julie Andrews: Perhaps best known for her roles in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, this multi-talented film and stage actress and singer is also the author of children's books. Her books include Julie Andrews' Collections of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies, a collection of favorites selected by Julie and her daughter; Mandy, the story of an orphan who finds a hideaway in a cottage in the woods; and Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, about a professor and three children who search for the Whangdoodle, a wise, kind, extraordinary creature.

Madonna: The material girl has written several children's books in The English Roses Series. The first book is a picture book called The English Roses, a book about four schoolgirls in contemporary London. After a second picture book, Madonna then began to co-write with several different authors a series of 12 chapter books about the English Roses.

Jerry Seinfeld: One of my favorite Seinfeld bits is when he recalls hearing about Halloween for the first time. "I'll wear anything I have to wear," he said. "I'll do anything I have to do to get the candy from those fools who are so stupidly giving it away." Little did I know the comedian also had a book based on this bit, called, appropriately, Halloween. This picture book about rules, bad candy, and costumes appeals to children and adults alike.

Jamie Lee Curtis: At one time known as a scream queen, this actress has written several successful children's books. Last year Publishing Solutions Group read one of her books, Big Words for Little People, to second graders at a local elementary school as part of our PSG Reads program. The book was a big hit with our little people! The students picked up right away on the rhyming format and loved learning new words.

Authors, unexpected or not, often need editorial help, and PSG can provide just that. We can work with your in-house staff or directly with your author. Don't have an author? Our editorial services include manuscript writing! We also offer project management, art and design, production, translation, and e-product services.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Meet the Fall 2011 PSG Interns!

By Lori Becker, President and CEO

Publishing Solutions Group is excited to welcome three new interns to the team for the Fall 2011 semester. Rachel Amico, Tracy Brickman, and Jorge Cortes are all students from Emerson College currently working toward bachelor’s degrees in Writing, Literature and Publishing.
Rachel is currently a junior at Emerson and spends her time doing a variety of different activities, everything from writing poetry to performing in a cappella groups to studying the Korean martial art of the sword called Kumdo. She describes her dream job as anything at W magazine, which combines her passion for words with her love of fashion and eye for photography. With her helpful attitude and positive demeanor, Rachel is a welcome addition to the PSG team.
Tracy is in her final semester and will graduate with minors in both Philosophy and Marketing in addition to her BA in WLP. She serves as the Treasurer and Publicist of the literary magazine The Emerson Review and has also worked as the Publicist and Lead Designer for Undergraduate Students for Publishing. Tracy hopes one day to work as a cookbook editor.
Jorge is also in his final semester at Emerson. He moved to Boston from Puerto Rico where he studied at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon in Santurce. There, he worked as an English as a Second Language tutor and helped college students with their essays. Jorge also loves literature, everything from Shakespeare to Terry Pratchet, and hopes to one day work as a science fiction or fantasy editor.
Interns are an integral part of the PSG team, helping our project managers and our editorial, marketing, and production teams. We’re excited to help them learn about the publishing process and also for them to help us perfect our projects! Welcome, Rachel, Tracy, and Jorge!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The New Bachelor's Degree

By Jorge Cortes, Publishing Intern

As a senior expecting to graduate in December, there’s been one question that most people have been asking me: What are you going to do after you graduate? A few years ago, the answer would have been to look for a good job. Not many people continued school after their bachelors, the notable exceptions those going on to medical or law school. These days, however, it seems like a “good candidate” for almost any job needs a master’s degree just to be competitive. Whereas once a high school diploma was usually not enough to be considered for a good job, now a bachelor’s degree is becoming less and less impressive by itself on a resume. Master’s degrees are becoming a necessity in order to stand out.
Today, it’s not uncommon for college graduates—including about 75% of my Emerson College classmates—to be forced to move back in with their parents after graduating and work minimum-wage jobs in their hometowns. According to Richard K. Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University, unless you’ve graduated from an Ivy League school or an equally prestigious university, then you’ll probably need to get a master’s degree to stand out to potential employers.
The days of going back to school after a few years of work seem to be over. Now, earning a master’s degree is done immediately after your bachelor’s. And employers have become so selective about the people they hire that universities are forced to create programs so unique that it seems ludicrous to believe that they’re real. Recently, a friend was talking about getting an MS in Skeletal and Dental Bioarchaeology or an MA in Learning and Thinking. I hadn’t heard of either one until now.
Will we reach where all graduates hold master’s degrees in addition to bachelor’s degrees? Even now, companies like Welch Allyn receive so many resumes from people who have a master’s that they’re able to make a first cut based solely on that and eliminate about half of the candidates.
It also prompts me to ask another question: When will the PhD become the new master’s?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Education 3.0: Taking Teaching and Learning to the Next Level

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

e-School News recently reported how schools in New Orleans are coming back in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Not only are the school buildings new, but the technology and means of teaching and learning are new. Working closely with California-based technology company Cisco Systems, administrators and teachers are creating what’s called “Education 3.0 .” Where Education 1.0 was the traditional method of teachers lecturing students, the 2.0 version brought technology into the classroom as an additional tool, like a chalkboard or filing cabinet. Now Education 3.0 is emerging as way to seamlessly integrate technology with lesson plans, instruction, student research, and presentation that will help to motivate students in their learning.

It’s wonderful to hear more good news coming from a city and region that is still recovering from the devastating storm. Kudos to the school administrators, teachers, and city leaders who saw this recovery effort as an opportunity to create a 21st-Century educational environment for its students.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Linking Cultures with Digital Library

By Rachel Amico, Fall 2011 Intern 

Moving is almost always more difficult than predicted. Faced with the slightly-too-rough moving guys, the unpredictable extra expenses, and the rearrangement of your entire life in a new location, moving can be hectic, to say the least. But as adults we can make lists, budgets and schedules to wrap our heads around the change. Children on the other hand, have no such luxury—especially when moving to a foreign country.
The International Children’s Digital Library is hoping to make this transition easier for young children. Those responsible for the ICDL are hoping to gather a large collection of children’s books online (both historical and contemporary) that represent every culture and every language spoken on the globe. The goal of such a project is to allow children to remain connected to their heritage, while also exploring new cultures (especially when relocating) through “the riches of children’s literature.”
Founded at the University of Maryland, the ICDL is comprised of an interdisciplinary research team comprised of computer scientists, librarians, educational technologists, teachers, graphic designers, graduate students, and now, hundreds of volunteers around the world. The organization is non-profit, and users of the website are encouraged to volunteer their time or become members by donating.
The site’s users are extremely diverse; and 2009 the site was visited by 228 countries, and browse-able in 16 different languages including: Spanish, Persian, Mongolian, Croatian, Portuguese, Hebrew, and Thai. Director Tim Browne writes that the ICDL’s mission is “to prepare children for life in an ethnically and culturally diverse world by building the world’s largest online multicultural repository of children’s literature,” and clearly there have already been great strides.
With the ICDL, children and adults have access to some of their favorite books—and the favorite books of their friends—making the transition from one country to another slightly less intimidating. Sure, the house is in shambles and you don’t speak French, but at least you can curl up with hot cocoa and read Mother Goose stories. You can read them in English first, but when you’re finished, don’t forget the hieroglyphics version is waiting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Strong Leaders in Schools

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

We’ve seen notable examples of leadership lately—some strong and effective, others misdirected and damaging. All agree that strong leadership is needed to help the U.S. out of its economic troubles, so we search for the best political and business leaders to bring their talents and hard work to the fore. But where is the call for leadership in education?

An enormous amount of time, energy, and dollars are being focused on education reform—and with good reason. Our students consistently rank behind the students in other countries in academic performance, and in an economy that is more global than local, our graduates will be competing for the same jobs and opportunities with graduates from other countries. Many programs and initiatives address student performance, technology, and teacher training. But Bob Herbert, columnist for The New York Times, recently reported on an effort to get the best and brightest to turn to educational leadership. Harvard Graduate School of Education has created a new doctoral degree—the first in 74 years—focusing on leadership in education.

Herbert feels strong leadership in education is a critical part of being a strong and secure nation. Harvard seems to agree with Herbert’s assessment, as they are offering this program tuition-free. The university wants to reach out to the broadest possible field of candidates, and that can’t be done, according to Kathleen McCarthy, dean of the graduate school, “unless we remove all barriers to studying here.”

This is a huge step to addressing a complex and critical problem, and Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, should be applauded for its efforts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Evidence of Water on Mars

By Jordan Koluch, Publishing Intern

Part of me is a very rational, level-headed human being. The other part of me really wants to believe in extra-terrestrial life. Apparently, this is also tempting for NASA scientists, who are searching for any evidence of life-giving elements on Mars. And it seems that they may have caught a break.
Photos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show dark streaks on Mars’s steep slopes during the planet’s spring and summer seasons. Scientists believe that these streaks are evidence of flowing water currently present on Mars. Water, combined with carbon and an energy source, is a main ingredient to life as we know it. This means that Mars may currently be a life-sustaining planet.
Up until now, only dry riverbeds and ice had been found on Mars, leading some scientists to believe that water had once been present and was no longer, or that the planet was simply too cold to sustain life. Others hypothesized that Mars was home to the types of organisms that survive in very salty water, which freezes at much lower temperatures than fresh water and could therefore remain in liquid form at Martian temperatures. The types of salts that would facilitate this have been detected in solid form all over Mars. Still others say that if liquid water is only present for part of the year, which seems to be the case, organisms can remain dormant in the ice for extended periods of time.
Compelling as it is, the evidence is only circumstantial. The probe has been unable to detect any actual water, despite technology that allows it to do so. Scientists also cannot explain with certainty why water would darken the soil or why the streaks disappear in the winter. There are also only a few sites on the planet with such streaks and no explanation as to why water would only flow in those areas.
Further experimentation won’t be easy. The next Mars probe, launching later this year, will not land anywhere near the site of the streaks, nor is it equipped to navigate the steep slopes. According to Dr. Lisa M. Pratt, a biochemist at Indiana University, testing whether salt water can remain liquid and life can be sustained in the Siberian permafrost might be as close as we can get to actual experiments on Mars. Whether any of these developments points to real-life aliens remains to be seen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Punctuation Matters

By Annete Cinelli Trossello

A few weeks ago in a hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, I passed "A Exit." That's not right, I thought. "That's not right," my friend Kerry exclaimed. I was staying there with a group of college friends and half of us are English majors. We were all irritated at the sign. "It should be An Exit," said one, "or just Exit," added another. "Maybe it's supposed to be Exit A? Not to be confused with Exit B?" I mused aloud. As we were waiting for the elevator we saw "B Exit" to our left. We all agreed it would have been better to have the letter after the word "exit."

Mistakes in punctuation, spelling, and grammar always jump out at me; as a copy editor, it's my job to notice those things. While I don't act on these errors, I do enjoy reading about people who do! Jeff Deck, an editor currently residing in New Hampshire, and Benjamin Herson, a college buddy of Deck who works at a bookstore in Oregon, went on a road trip across the US fixing errors in signs. They tell of their journey in their book just released this past summer, The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time.

Armed with markers, correction fluid, chalk, and crayons, the duo edited misplaced apostrophes (womens' room vs. women's room), incorrect word usage (you're vs. your), and misspellings (restarant vs. restaurant). One of the signs they edited was a historic sign at the Grand Canyon. They "deleted" an apostrophe and put one where it should be. They also noticed a misspelling, but left that alone. These vigilantes, as some media outlets have dubbed them, were sentenced to probation, fined, and banned from national parks for a year.

On their website, www.greattypohunt.com they have a page where they invite others to share typos and subsequent corrected signs. On this page, they are sure to advise readers to always get permission before fixing a typo. Lesson learned!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Piecing Humpty Dumpty Together

By Mike Mishkin, Publishing Intern

Ever stop and think about how odd some of the phrases we use are? Take ‘happy as a clam’ for example. Are clams actually that happy? The phrase most likely derives from an older, now mostly unheard New England idiom, “happy as a clam at high water.” It could also be simply because an open clamshell resembles a smile. But, regardless of whether or not we know its true etymology, we say it anyway. As noted linguistic psychologist and writer Steven Pinker tells us in The Stuff of Thought, these literary relics are examples of how “most metaphors are dead metaphors…which most people would probably stop using” if they knew their origins.
As language and culture evolve, we lose touch with the original meanings of words and phrases. Most of us don’t usually think about a word or phrase’s origin when we use it, and, as anyone who’s heard “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” will tell you, the same goes for nursery rhymes, including one of the most well-known in the English speaking world, Humpty Dumpty.
Most of us know the story of Humpty Dumpty; he sits on a wall, has a great fall, so on and so forth. But where in the rhyme does it say anything about an egg? Sure, if an egg had a great fall from a wall, not even Fabergé himself could piece it back together, let alone all the king’s horses and men, but one could argue the same for porcelain vases. Pinker also tells us in How the Mind Works, “the mind couches abstract concepts in concrete terms,” a theory giving credence the notion (along with common sense) that there never was an egg-man enjoying a sit on a wall, and that it must represent something else. Recently I began wondering why, above all else, is Humpty an egg?
If we’re to answer that question, we need to go back to 17th century England, where a drink of brandy boiled with ale existed under the name humpty dumpty.. From the drink, it seems the term “humpty dumpty” became a colloquialism for a large, uncoordinated individual.
Around that time, in the same place, England was embroiled in its Civil War. During the siege of Colchester, the Royalist forces of King Charles I defended their stronghold fiercely with a large, powerful cannon. The cannon, big, and most likely clumsy, was named Humpty Dumpty. In a post by author Albert Jack, on the Penguin Group blog, the siege, and Humpty (the cannon) sat “on top of the church tower of St. Mary-at-the-Walls,” where “One-Eyed Thompson, the gunner, managed to blast away the attacking Roundhead troops with rousing success for eleven whole weeks…until the top of the church tower was eventually blown away, sending Humpty Dumpty crashing to the ground outside the city wall, where it buried itself in deep marshland.”
Seeing their chances of victory literally crash, the King’s forces tried to salvage the cannon to no avail. They were defeated, and soon, throughout revolutionary supporters, the original, and full version of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme, recounting their victory, spread:
In sixteen hundred and forty-eight,
When England suffered the pains of state,
The Roundheads laid siege to Colchester town
Where the king's men still fought for the crown.
There One-Eyed Thompson stood on the wall,
A gunner of deadliest aim of all.
From St. Mary's Tower his cannon he fired,
Humpty Dumpty was its name.
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
This rhyme was more literal than metaphoric in nature, but as it was repeated and passed down, the original context began to fade, the first two stanzas were lost, and it most likely became a riddle, to which the answer was, just as fragile as the cannon, an egg. The problem with this, however, is that there are no known manuscripts of the riddle being used, and it is not until Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass that we see the modern version of the rhyme, along with the iconic illustration of the egg-man atop the wall. It’s from Carroll’s story we get our current, permanent picture of Humpty Dumpty as an egg.
Perhaps warfare and sieges aren’t the best things to connect to a nursery rhyme, and for that reason, we can keep the Humpty metaphor as “dead” one, as Pinker puts it. But that’s not to say there’s no value in stopping and thinking about the things we say. The next time you catch yourself using a phrase like “straight from the horse’s mouth,” it might be worth looking up, because who knows what that actually alludes to? The question is, once you find the answer, will you, as Pinker suggests, stop using it?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Advanced Placement Courses

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

Advanced Placement courses are on the rise in American schools. There are 37 courses in 22 subjects sponsored by the College Board being offered in high schools around the country as well as internationally. More than 450,000 students passed at least one AP course in 2009. The College Board boasts that Advanced Placement courses help students get a jump on college-level work and may help students qualify for scholarships.

As publishers look to expand their offerings, AP textbooks are becoming a viable addition to the front list. Working with their college publishing colleagues, many school publishers are creating new AP titles that help college-bound students “hit the ground running.”

If you have not been to the College Board website, it is worth a few minutes to take a look at the courses for which publishers can create texts.

At PSG, we have experience working with our publishing clients to create Advanced Placement product. We have content experts who have written content, created assessment items, and edited and fact-checked AP content. If AP product is a part of your future publishing plans, be sure to give us a call for any resources you may need.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Secrets from the Far Side of the Moon

By Alyssa Guarino, Editorial Assistant
As a child, I enjoyed Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out, most especially because the moon was constructed as a ball of cheese. My understanding of lunar matters has thankfully grown, but the moon still holds many mysteries, including the asymmetrical pattern of its terrain. 
The surface of the moon has two distinct planar shapes: lowlands and high mountains. Unlike Earth, the moon does not have moving tectonic plates—which create volcanoes and earthquakes—to explain this difference in geography. 
But scientists are coming closer to understanding the far side of the moon, according to recently published work in the scientific journal Nature by Erik Asphaug and Martin Jutzi.  
Asphaug’s theory places the blame on a second moon that collided with our moon. This second moon would have formed around the same time as our moon, as a result of debris from the still-forming Earth. At this time, no life existed on Earth, as its molten crust was still too hot for anything to survive.
The second moon would have been very similar to our moon, rising and setting at the same time for millions of years. Perhaps the close proximity of their orbits would have led to the collision over time. 
The moon is full of craters from interplanetary debris that crashed into it. So why would a second moon have created such a different physical structure? Simply put, a rare set of circumstances would have made it possible for this “sister” moon to hit our moon and not create a hole. Instead, part of the sister moon’s debris formed into a mountainous shape.
Asphaug and Jutzi have successfully created computer simulations to find those rare circumstances, but there is not yet evidence for their theory. In order to prove the theory, rock samples would need to be collected from the moon’s mountains and compared to samples from the other parts of the moon.
As of yet, no missions are planned to test the theory, but scientists are excited about Asphaug’s innovative ideas. However, next month, a mission called the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory might reveal some answers. By mapping the lunar gravitational field, scientists may find out how likely the sister moon theory may be.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Great (and Early) Expectations in Math

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

"For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready."

When I read this in a recent New York Times article I was somewhat surprised to learn that this was the common belief among educators. Fortunately there is a rapidly growing base of knowledge regarding brain function that is leading teachers, authors, and curriculum specialists to change their expectations of when children can start to learn math.

This research suggests that infants can distinguish a single object from two objects, and two objects from three. Studies have found that at 18 months children can recognize geometric shapes. By the time a child reaches preschool age, the brain can handle larger numbers and will try to connect concrete quantities, say, five blocks, with the abstract symbol "5." Studies by anthropologists suggest that mammals' brains are "hard-wired" with a number instinct, such that cultures in remote areas with no formal education have a basic understanding of quantities.

The husband and wife research team of Julie Sarama and Doug Clements, both at the university of Buffalo, applied this and other research by developing an early math program called "Building Blocks." The program, developed specifically for preschool-age children, includes numerous math-based activities that draw on findings from cognitive science. Building Blocks has been used over the last four years in more than 400 classrooms in the Buffalo area, and the results are impressive. Preschool students in the program taking an addition test scored on average in the 76th percentile, while students not in the program who took the same test averaged in the 50th percentile. And a year after the program ended, when students finished kindergarten, children in program sustained their gains, scoring on average in the 71st percentile.

And to get help with developing your own math programs, give us a call at Publishing Solutions Group. You can have great expectations of us and our work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Breakfast of (Intellectual) Champions

By Alyssa Guarino, Editorial Assistant

Growing up, my parents enforced the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  One reason for that is that it is difficult to perform tasks, both physical and mental, without sufficient energy—which can come in the form of food.  Even now, I have difficulty being productive if I have not had enough breakfast.
But regardless of breakfast, the human brain, still one of the more intriguing organs in the body for scientists to explore, may have reached a stalemate.  Scientific theory has long differed when it came to the matter of how much of the brain we actually use. Now, some studies indicate that there is a limit to brain power and human intelligence has hit its peak. 
These conclusions come from recent studies analyzing how much energy the brain requires to function. According to the results of some neurobiologists, any further brain growth would require too much energy. Does this mean that no matter how much food I consume, I won’t be able to handle high-level activities? Even if I listen to my parents and eat a good breakfast in the morning, could it be that I still won’t be able to perform higher-level activities?
Neurological processes, just as any other processes in the body, require energy to work. The brain has many different types of processes, which each require varying amounts of energy. The more complicated a task, the more energy required to perform it. For example, one may feel slightly fatigued after taking a simple subject quiz during school. Only one set of skills is being tested here. However, one may feel exhausted after taking a more complicated exam, such as the SAT or ACT. Not only is this type longer, it is testing more than one type of skill over multiple subjects. 
Even within this idea of brain energy, there are differing viewpoints on exactly why our brains would need such a vast amount of it.
The brain can be thought of as a human computer, constantly sending messages and signals through wiring. This wiring connects to the whole body via neurons that send and receive signals. For example, if one touches a hot iron, the neurons in that hand send a message to the brain for the hand to pull away. 
Some studies have shown that more intelligent people owe their success to their brain wiring. We’ve all run into the problem of a slow-functioning computer. Brain wiring is similar; the better the wiring, the faster the messages are carried. This has led to the conclusion that faster processing leads to greater intelligence. Consider language: if one’s wiring is able to process more, it is likely that one can learn a language quicker, and be able to process and understand multiple languages. 
However, according to this idea, being “more intelligent” means one’s brain is consuming greater amounts of energy. Faster signals come at a cost.  It is just like exercise; walking only burns a small amount of calories, but running burns a much greater amount.  Based on this model, to dramatically increase brain function, for instance, the speed of wiring signals, would require greater amounts of energy and oxygen than we can produce. Our bodies would simply not be able to handle a “bigger brain.”
But the jury is still out on the brain: contrary to neurobiologists’s expectations, perhaps we will be able to evolve with bigger brains in the future. But, based on the projected amount of energy needed to handle a larger brain, this might require other evolutionary changes.  Along with a larger “dome” and speedier wiring, we may develop physical changes in the other parts of our bodies.  Maybe the size of the lungs will increase to contribute a greater amount of oxygen. 
However, scientists still aren’t sure we are using our brains to fullest capacity.  Perhaps maximizing the gray matter we already have will prove to be a more successful alternative.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Synonymy of Social Media

By Julia Hardy, Editorial Assistant

I don’t profess to be an expert on social media, but I know enough to understand what its purpose is. In recent years, the Internet has become a hotspot for social networking websites: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name a few. Websites such as these were designed for people to connect, network, keep in touch with one another, and promote events. To my mind, the only social media site that has kept this standard is LinkedIn, while others have become adorned with so many extras that their original intention is no longer their purpose.

LinkedIn was designed for business people to network and share resumés in order to make professional connections and find employment. Facebook and Twitter were designed for the general public with a similar principle. But here is where the differences begin to emerge.

When I first started using it, Facebook was only available to college students, and you had to prove you were a college student by submitting your college e-mail address. Countless mini-games have been created since the site’s inception, which only skew the purpose of social networking. If you’re too busy playing with the Facebook applications, how do you have time to connect with your friends?

As for Twitter, the idea to share a short status was fine at the outset. But this was not a new idea; Twitter was designed to be a text messaging website, similar to a texting application on a cell phone. Furthermore, 140 characters are too few to share a status without resorting to the ever-growing language of e-Speak.

One could argue that LinkedIn is different from Facebook and Twitter because the audiences are different: business people have LinkedIn profiles while members of the general public have other profiles. But is that really true? Anyone can have a profile on any these sites, regardless of career status or age. One could also argue that the purposes of the social media sites are different, but that’s not really true either. Anyone can use these outlets to connect, advertise, or promote. Their purposes have become the same.

So is there really a difference? Should Facebook be clogged with mini-games and applications? Probably not. And if they aren’t already, social networking sites will most likely become synonymous with each other in the near future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The New World of Magazines

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant
When was the last time you bought a magazine? For me, it was probably a few years ago, back when I could afford to drop $5 to read what was most likely one single article that I could find in some form on the Internet for free. I haven’t had a subscription to a magazine since I was in high school (when my mom paid for my subscription to Seventeen), and while I used to spend a lot of time at least glancing at the magazine racks in bookstores, I don’t even head over that way anymore. Aside from not wanting to pay for something I can get online for free, magazines—while shiny and beautiful with pictures waiting to be cut out and taped to my bedroom wall—take up space that I just don’t have in my tiny one-bedroom apartment. And when I was in college, there was talk in all of my publishing classes about magazines going the way of other things that no longer exist: dinosaurs, VCRs, print dictionaries.
Then came the iPad, with its sleek design and relatively large screen. Magazines began creating apps which allowed readers to access content directly on their device, which—unlike the iPhone or BlackBerry—was the perfect size for viewing graphics and written content. And while yes, a lot of that content is available on the Internet, it isn’t easy for taking on-the-go. Magazines are great for travel, for waiting in doctors’ offices, and for beach reading; laptops are not.
Recently, The New Yorker revealed that it has over 100,000 readers on iPad, making it the highest selling magazine app from Condé Nast, which publishes iPad versions of magazines like Wired, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Glamour. By the end of 2011, Time Inc. will have all twenty-one of its magazines—which include Sports Illustrated, People, and Entertainment Weekly—on the iPad. Time Inc. also will begin selling subscriptions on the Barnes & Noble Nook Color.
Like e-books, e-magazines are fast, easy to transport, and don’t take up extra room on our bags or homes. While I’m glad the magazine industry seems to have found a new way to keep up with the technology of today’s world and to stay out of the same category as the dinosaurs, I do wonder what will happen to pin-up posters of the latest celebrity and how teenage girls everywhere will decorate their bedroom walls.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Like Father, Like Daughter

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

My dad is an English teacher. He’s been teaching since the day I was born. When my dad started his career, things were different for both teachers and students. After nearly 30 years as the Andover High School English Department Head (yes, the very high school I attended), a move across the country and a short-lived “retirement phase,” my dad began teaching again. This time, it was “part-time,” at an online high school in Arizona.

When he started his new part-time job the hours weren’t exactly part-time. Once he added in teacher training, administering AIMS tests, 24-7 student interaction on Blackboard and supplying a highly-experienced, well-used shoulder to lean on (or cry on), he was back to 40+ hours a week.

A notable change is evident in what my dad and I talk about when it comes to our careers. For years, he wasn’t exactly sure what I did. Graphic design, desktop publishing, printing and “all of that stuff” he’d say. It wasn’t until he started working at the online high school that we really started talking about curriculum, assessment tests, psychometrics and the changes that today’s students and teachers are facing. My dad left Massachusetts before standardized testing and graduation tests were in place. He arrived in Arizona to find standardized testing staring him square in the eye – and his daughter behind the curtain creating the tests.

State-specific standards and the newly adopted Common Core State Standards have changed what both of us do. For me and my company, it’s finding creative ways to leverage existing, proven curriculum and assessments for use within the CCSS mandates without losing the state specific connections. Many of the publishers with whom we work still plan to provide both CCSS and state-specific assessment products, so we need to keep track of both alignments. For my dad, it’s a little harder. As a state, Arizona is generally under-performing in both math and language arts, which means that he, and his fellow teachers throughout the state in virtual schools and “brick-and-mortar” schools, have quite a bit of work ahead of them. Arizona teachers, like others across the country, need to evaluate the alignments among their state, the CCSS, and their curriculum to determine where the differences lie, dedicate professional and curriculum development hours to these programs, and then implement effective programs to increase student learning.

And, being active in the development of these systems at the local level, he should help provide some of the answers too. We won’t know the full impact of CCSS for some time, but I’m sure that my dad and I will have plenty to talk about along this journey.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Classroom Response Clickers

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

Classroom response systems (CRS), otherwise known as “clickers”, are gaining popularity in the K-12 market place. When they first hit the market, the higher ed space was targeted and textbook publishers bundled the clickers with individual textbooks. Now, these systems are being sold as site licenses and other custom arrangements to make it affordable for K-12 classrooms.

Clickers are promoted as a way to create equal opportunity for all students to participate anonymously and contribute in the classroom. Through the use of a receiving station, software, and a multimedia projector, students respond to questions by clicking their answers on the CRS pad. The results are instantaneous, and teachers can observe in real time responses to material that has just been presented. If “clickers” are a part of your technology plans for 2010, give us a call. Our trained experts at PSG can help you create presentations for Classroom Response Systems that meet your specific content needs.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

University Press Launches Facebook Serials

By Jordan Koluch, Intern

Serializing novels is an age-old method of reaching an extended readership, but University of Michigan Press is bringing the concept into the twenty-first century through the use of Facebook. Between July 18 and Labor Day 2011, the press will serialize chapters of two newly-published novels set in Michigan: A Spell on the Water (May) by Marjorie Kowalski Cole, a coming-of-age story; and Faithful Unto Death (June) by Becky Thacker, a historical mystery.

Each week, the press will post one chapter from each novel on its Facebook page, and Facebook fans of the press will be able to read for free. Heather Newman, the press’s marketing manager, says that the posts will be enough to give readers “a taste of these books” and will also entice them to purchase the whole novel. Newman hopes that the posts will go viral, gaining more visibility for the novels but also for UM Press itself.

Marketing budgets for university presses are notoriously small, and with budgets shrinking at even large trade houses, creative (and free) marketing goes a long way toward selling a book. As a result of this belt-tightening, lesser-known authors often receive little, if any, media visibility. Luckily for small presses, social media has shifted control of online content to users. And UM Press is taking full advantage. In this case, Cole and Thacker are authors “people might not recognize,” according to Newman, but of whom the press is “especially proud.” And it’s worked before. The Penguin Group took Internet sensation LOLcats, a website on which people post pictures of their cats and add witty captions, and turned it into a popular series of books.

While neither of these novels may become the next Harry Potter, a little exposure can’t hurt. When University of Michigan Press announced the campaign on July 14, it had 550 fans. By Wednesday, July 27, it had 1,148. Whether this serialization will increase sales or not, it’s too soon to tell. But with comments like, “Good for you UMP. Great idea!” and “good experiment,” it seems like readers are enjoying the new format.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is Social Networking Bad for Grades?

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Management

Is social networking harming students’ grades? The quick answer might be yes, because it distracts students from studying. And in fact, a 2009 study at The Ohio State University found that students who admitted logging onto Facebook several times a day to check status updates, correspond with friends and relatives, or join common-interest groups, had a GPA as much as a grade lower than non-users.

But a recent study at the University of New Hampshire tracked the site usage and grades of students using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn and found “no correlation between the amount of time students spend using social media and their grades.” This study seemed to support similar findings from another study done at Northwestern University. Chuck Martin, an adjunct professor at UNH contends that social media is being integrated with rather than interfering with students’ academic lives. Could it be that college students who have grown up with Facebook have become accustomed to taking short spurts to the site without derailing concentration on other tasks?

What are the affects—positive or negative—of social media sites like Facebook? Users contend it connects them with friends and family. Companies, groups, and charities with established pages say it brings in more customers, members, and donations. And we’ve seen in recent news reports that Facebook and Twitter have been used by citizens in countries with repressive governments to organize protests and spread news of government repression to the outside world.

Whatever your feelings about the growing popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, all must agree that these technologies are becoming part of the everyday tools of our students in all levels of our education system.

If you’d like to learn more about reaching your customers, call us at PSG. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter by searching Publishing Solutions Group.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is the "Glee Effect" Saving Music Programs in Schools?

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

A recent phenomenon known as the "Glee Effect" is taking this country’s school music programs by storm. Show choirs—song-and-dance troupes that saw their beginnings in the Midwest years ago—are quickly becoming the new groups in schools that everyone (or almost everyone) wants to join. These music groups have been gaining in popularity at many high schools across the country as a result of the popular FOX TV show “Glee,” now in its third season. This revitalized interest in musical groups comes at a time when most school administrators are trying to find programs to cut rather than finding new programs to support.

Before the show aired it was estimated that there were about 200 high schools with show choirs, and as any high school student could tell you, students who participated in the groups were considered “nerds.” Recent estimates put the number of schools with show choirs at 600 and climbing. Christopher Landis, a director of the show choir at Waltham High School in Massachusetts, says he had a record number of freshmen students trying out for his show choir groups at last year's auditions. Landis credits the "Glee" television show in helping to discourage the negative stereotypes that typically followed students who participate in bands and choirs.

While we can all agree on the show choir’s recent growth in popularity, is there evidence that school music programs are an essential part of a child’s education? The evidence may be anecdotal, but it’s strong nonetheless. Even before the popularity of “Glee” was being felt in school music programs, school administrators claimed that music programs improved the academic success of students. A study in 2006 conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that 96% of public school principals polled believed that students who participated in school music programs were motivated to stay in school longer, and 89% of the principals polled were in agreement that the programs led to higher graduation rates.

A recent report from the National Association for Music Education showed that participation in music programs has been shown to have a strong, positive correlation to higher academic achievement. The schools with active music programs experience higher graduation rates and standardized test scores.

Is this enough evidence to convince school administrators (and local taxpayers) to keep and support their music programs, or even start NEW programs? Perhaps. We’ll need to watch and see if the “Glee Effect” is as strong and positive as the performers on the TV show.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Hunger Games

By Annette Cinelli Trossello, Project Manager

I just finished reading the first book in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy. In this futuristic society, North America is now known as Panem and consists of a controlling government and 12 districts that each year, in punishment for their revolt 74 years ago, must choose a boy and girl to be sent to fight to the death; the last one alive is the winner. The children must fight for food, water, and supplies while their families and the rest of Panem watch in horror or delight.

The main character is Katniss Everdeen of district 12, a resilient teen who has helped her family survive by illegally hunting with a homemade bow and arrow. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games, taking her younger sister's place, and is dismayed that the male tribute is Peeta, a fellow classmate who once saved Katniss and her family. Things get more complicated when he declares to the world his unrequited love for Katniss.

One of the most interesting things about Hunger Games is that the games are aired as a reality TV show. With reality TV hitting new lows every season (I'm sure in the '90s The Swan, a show where women undergo plastic surgery to look more like society's definition of beautiful and then compete against one another in a pageant only to be told, "nope, you're still not good enough," would seem more like something from a futuristic society than an actual TV show on Fox), the idea of a cruel government televising the murder of its children doesn't give me as much pause as it once might have.

A refreshing aspect of the book is its heroine. I appreciate seeing a strong, independent female character, especially in a young-adult novel. Even in adult fiction there is a plethora of mindless female characters preoccupied with Gucci, guys, and going out. Katniss has sharp wits, courage, and a survival instinct that just may save her. With its social commentary, three-dimensional characters you will root for, and a plot that doesn't slow down, Hunger Games is a must read.

Working late and don't have time to read any new books? Let PSG take some of the load off!