Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Search Engines, Smartphones, & (Human) Memory

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

How are ever-prominent search tools affecting our brains? Clive Thompson set out to answer this and related technology questions in his recent book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. In an excerpt published by Slate, Thompson asks if modern dependence on search engines is causing our memories to retain information less efficiently: “The short answer is: No. Machines aren’t ruining our memory. The longer answer: It’s much, much weirder than that!” The longer answer begins with a discussion of transactive memory, an evolved tool for collective recall that humans are now adapting due to their use of machines. The concept of transactive memory was developed in the 1980s by Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner, who was inspired by the way married couples tend to divvy up the work of remembering important facts or dates. In this way, we store collective knowledge in a kind of joint memory folder that we can access by asking questions of the person who knows the answers or who can help us recall them. According to Wegner, transactive memory represents an indication of strong metamemory, or the ability to conceive the mental strengths and limitations of ourselves and others.

These concepts have been evidenced recently in research studies, including one by a team of Australian researchers who worked with couples married a minimum of 26 years to examine collaborative remembering. This particular study tested how well they could recall simple words as well as autobiographical events and names of acquaintances, both as individuals and as pairs. The researchers found that couples remembered names and events more effectively as pairs, especially when they engaged in cross-cuing, or prompting each other with memory fragments and facts, to aid each other’s recall. Other studies have demonstrated that people who work together to learn a task or recall information can do so much more efficiently and accurately than those who attempt it alone. According to Thompson, “Transactive groups don’t just remember better: They also analyze problems more deeply, too, developing a better grasp of underlying principles.”

He argues that we currently interact with search engines in basically the same way that the married couples played their memories off each other in the Australian study. Columbia University researcher Betsy Sparrow, a student of Wegner’s, recently conducted a computer-based study of transactive memory—essentially testing how much our brains rely on computers to store our information. Sparrow discovered that when subjects knew a piece of trivia that they typed would be saved to a generically labeled folder on the computer, they were less likely to remember the fact itself, but more likely to recall where it was stored. In a paper for Science, she concludes: “Just as we learn through transactive memory who knows what in our families and offices, we are learning what the computer ‘knows’ and when we should attend to where we have stored information in our computer-based memories.”

Thompson maintains that this is not exactly a change from the way human brains have always worked, but it does force us to think about our minds in a different way, because our minds and the computers aren’t nearly as separate as we may think. While it’s harder for humans to use machines the same way we cross-cue each other, because the programming is fundamentally different, we are more attracted to the wealth of information offered by search engines for our perusal than to a human peer who might be able to (verbosely) offer us similar facts.

The bottom line, short-short answer is: “you can stop worrying about your iPhone moving your memory outside your head. It moved out a long time ago—yet it’s still all around you.”

Did You Know?

Although our memories aren’t deteriorating just because we’re more accustomed to search engines and smartphones, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to exercise our minds. There are many different ways to strengthen your mind, from diet and life choices, to memory games. Here are a few tips:

1. Be active, not just with your mind. By participating in physical exercise, the oxygen flow to your brain increases, reducing health risks related to memory loss. Avoiding obesity and other health problems associated with a lack of exercise can also give you a better chance of avoiding memory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.
2. Catch some Zs. Sleep helps “knit” your memories together and can also make them last longer. Getting enough rest also decreases your stress level, which can diminish your ability to understand facts and retrieve them from your memory.
3. It’s the same thing health magazines profess all the time, but eating the right diet really can help not only your physical body, but also your brain. Certain foods with omega-3s and other nutrients can reduce the risk of dementia and improve the connectivity of your brain.
4. Practice makes perfect. Play certain memory games like repeating facts or names, chunking together facts (It’s easier to remember your social security number in pieces rather than individual numbers.), associating new information with the environment around you, and creating triggers to remind yourself of something. (My watch is on the wrong arm; what am I forgetting today? The dry-cleaning!) These tricks and more can allow you to reel in the memories you know you stored—you just need to remember where they are.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Salerno’s Salinger

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

The documentary aspect of a true multimedia project on the life of J. D. Salinger (A documentary was planned for release in theatres as well as in a companion book, with the film and book being released almost simultaneously in September of 2013.) is scheduled to air on PBS in January 2014. This final step in the project will include a long lineup of journalists, actors, writers, and biographers who paint a portrait of the man some have called reclusive. The filmmaker Shane Salerno, however, argues that “reclusive” is not the word. “Private,” perhaps, but Salinger, he insists, was not a recluse. The project aims to understand Salinger’s work by understanding his life—his service in World War II, his (failed) relationships, his years up North at a house in Cornish, New Hampshire, and other key aspects of his life. Whether the project does this, or merely represents the same kind of celebrity hype that Salinger walked away from, is a question.

Salinger chose to stop publishing after the enormous success brought to him by the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He left the world of publishing in New York City and moved to Cornish, New Hampshire, where he would continue to work and write—writing what some say are his actual masterpieces—and lock them in what has become known as “the Vault.” Fans who had experienced Holden Caulfield’s voice and demanded to have more, as well as photojournalists looking for a lucrative snapshot, followed him to the extent of camping at the end of his driveway or waiting days for a photograph of him checking his mail. Protective of his privacy till the end, Salinger blocked illegal attempts to publish his work, including his letters.

Salerno, known for his work on screenplays such as Armageddon and Savages, says he has been interested in Salinger, whom he regarded as a sort of “literary Big Foot,” since his childhood. His original idea was to make a full-length film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Salinger, but he later opted for the multifaceted project, preferring a documentary format. The many interviews included in the documentary range from acquaintances to even famous fans, including actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Salerno selected the interviewees based on their knowledge and admiration of the author, rather than their star power—a distinction Salinger surely would have appreciated on some level. The theatrical version was released by the Weinstein Company in September of 2013.

The project draws attention to Salinger’s service during World War II, where he served for over 300 days of combat, as well as after, when he was a member of the Counterintelligence Corps. During this time he was also working on The Catcher in the Rye. One piece of new information from the documentary is that he was briefly married to a German woman whom he brought home to the United States. Other things brought to light include letters written to ex-girlfriends and new perspectives on the effects of the war on Salinger’s writing.

Since his death in 2011, previously unpublished work held in libraries for research purposes has reportedly been leaked on the internet. These works include a companion piece to The Catcher in the Rye as well as two other stories. Additionally, Salerno and David Shields (co-author of the project’s Salinger, published just before the documentary’s theatrical release) have claimed that more yet-unpublished work is intended to be released within a timeframe of five years beginning in 2015.

Did You Know?

Shane Salerno, the director of the documentary and co-author of the biography, spent a decade researching and recording interviews about the man often called a recluse, intrigued by his story. Salerno spent two million dollars of his own money that he had earned over the years working as a screenwriter. According to several writers whom Salerno worked with in his project, Salinger left specific instructions on publishing the works he wrote while in hiding—noting a detailed timetable. These “new” works would be the first of Salinger’s published fiction since his story “Hapworth 16, 1924” appeared in The New Yorker. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

American Students’ Vocabulary Continues to Suffer

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

In its recent reading assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) included a measure of vocabulary comprehension “that aims to capture students’ ability to use their understanding or sense of words to acquire meaning from the passages they read.” The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a report last year comparing results from the 2009 and 2011 exams testing the vocabulary comprehension of US fourth and eighth graders. The report came to a concerning but rather unsurprising conclusion: American students scored poorly in both years, with no significant change in performance from 2009 to 2011.

“There is the expectation that students would know all of the words that were assessed. The lower the percentage of students who get these questions correct means they do not know enough,” said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the NAEP Governing Board. The Governing Board oversees the NAEP, which is essentially a neutral standardized test designed to represent a description of skills and knowledge that students should have acquired by certain pivotal points in their education. The Secretary of Education appoints the members of the Governing Board, which acts as an independent entity to determine the framework and specifications for the assessments. The NAEP is administered by the Commissioner of Education Statistics, who heads the NCES, the research division of the Department of Education.

According to the NCES Nation’s Report Card, in 2009 the NAEP compiled data from a representative sample of 116,600 fourth graders and 103,400 eighth graders. In 2011, the representative sample was comprised of 213,100 fourth graders and 168,200 eighth graders, showing an increase in the sample size—the number of students taking the assessments—but not in actual scores. The average vocabulary comprehension score out of 500 points for fourth graders inched down from 219 in 2009 to 218 in 2011, while the average for eighth graders remained constant at 265. Even fourth and eighth graders in the 90th percentile averaged only 266 and 311, respectively, in 2011—down from 269 and 314 in 2009. Basically, as Orr put it, students aren’t learning enough vocabulary. Educators should be especially alarmed about the implications of the report when considering the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which (in most states that have adopted them) is either already underway or will be within the next year or two.

Another distressing facet of the report is the effect of wealth and class as they correlate with students’ performance on vocabulary assessments. For example, of the fourth graders who scored below the 25th percentile, 73 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, and, of eighth graders who scored similarly, 68 percent were eligible.

So, what should teachers and administrations do? Sharon Darling, president of the National Center for Family Literacy, commented, “We need to look outside what teachers can do and look at out-of-school time in a new way. We need to look at activities that are fun and engaging.” However, according to Margaret McKeown, a learning research professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, there is an abundance of untouched literature and studies on teaching vocabulary. McKeown also notes that oftentimes the vocabulary words taught in classrooms are simply words that students already know.

Implementing Darling’s suggestion may produce a challenge, particularly with parents and guardians who hold multiple jobs or work long hours, or who aren’t home as often. It seems that the real problem lies in trying to engage children in learning about vocabulary in a memorable way beyond their current knowledge, and encouraging an expansion of that repertoire in the years to come.

Did You Know?

Unfortunately, the language gap between those of differing socioeconomic backgrounds can start as early as 18 months old. A new study published by Developmental Science and led by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, showed that by the age of two, children from homes whose median income averaged $69,000 had learned 30 percent more words than those whose home’s median income was around $23,900. These numbers are even more unsettling when it becomes clear that, according to the Southern Education Foundation, the population is low income in one-third of the states in the nation. Additionally, a study that tracked children from age three through middle school showed a strong connection between a student’s vocabulary test scores in kindergarten and his or her reading comprehension scores in later grades, showing that the gap tends to widen as time goes on. However, experts say that the more parents talk to their children, the more they can close this literacy gap and improve their child’s vocabulary, regardless of income status. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

RIF Provides 380 Million Free Books to At-Risk Youth

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

Since 1966, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), a nonprofit literacy-enhancing organization, has distributed 380 million new, free books to underprivileged children in the United States. RIF provides these books for children ranging from infancy to the age of eight. Their flagship program, Books for Ownership, allows children to handpick two to five books a year. Volunteers create engaging reading events, revolving around the joy and value of reading, for children and their parents.

While RIF is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States, it is not the only program providing excellent resources to children in need. LitWorld is a courageous nonprofit based in four different countries: the United States, Kenya, the Philippines, and Haiti. Created by renowned motivational speaker Pam Alynn, LitWorld believes promoting literacy is more than providing books and education to children and their families; it is also educating teachers who don’t have access to necessary materials. Going into classrooms in poor communities, Alynn and other volunteers work directly with teachers to grant children a well-rounded education, despite their individual situations. Many of these children stop going to school to help their families at home. LitWorld believes strongly “that all children have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.”

Like LitWorld, RIF also has a history of educators spearheading their program. Originally created by a group of teachers from Washington DC, RIF has, at its core, always been about creating a safe environment in every home for young children to learn and create positive connections to reading. Programs hosted by RIF are made possible by the charitable donations of individuals and many companies.

Macy’s has been aiding RIF in their pursuit to raise literacy in America for over ten years. In July, Publishers Weekly announced that together the two companies donated over ten million books since they began their partnership. Donors can contribute any time of year; however, during the summer months, when back-to-school shopping is at its peak, Macy’s in-store customers may donate three dollars directly to RIF when prompted at checkout, which also gives the customer ten dollars off of a fifty-dollar purchase.

The major department store is not the only one to make a difference. In 2012, Barnes & Noble College and MBS Textbook Exchange teamed up through MBS’s charitable program One Planet Books to support RIF. They place used textbook donation boxes for unwanted textbooks at every campus bookstore. For every carton collected, MBS donates ten dollars. The textbooks that are collected are taken to be recycled, keeping them out of landfills. According to the Barnes & Noble College website, students helped make a $53,010 donation to the nonprofit in the 2012 fiscal year.

Other donations come in the form of volunteer effort. Sallie Mae Fund employees have given thousands of hours of volunteer time since 2001. In a news release back in 2009, the Sallie Mae Fund reported 13 separate community volunteer efforts to help children and parents have access to safe and fun literacy events. Sallie Mae has also provided over one million dollars in donations, supplying new books for at-risk youth.

Educating our youth is an extremely important task that is not restricted to the classroom. RIF and programs like it strive to provide books to underprivileged youth, arming them and their parents with the tools necessary to ensure literacy levels across the world are on the rise.

Did You Know?

There is no shortage of charities that promote literacy: some donate books, others provide tutors, some help underprivileged families gain access to resources they need. The following organizations promote literacy in their own unique ways, from pairing with doctors to leading writing workshops.

Open Books, located in Chicago, offers both donated books and literacy programs to students in need. Books collected by Open Books are donated to a used bookstore that is run entirely by a group of volunteers. Any of the proceeds made in selling the books go to maintaining the store, running literacy programs in schools, or to seminars for writing, ranging in topics from nonfiction workshops for grades 3–12 to publishing experiences for teenage authors.

Reach Out And Read, the newest winner of the David M. Rubenstein Prize (an award from the Library of Congress recognizing literacy achievement), prepares young students to succeed. In doing this, they partner with doctors who “prescribe” books and encourage families to read as a group. According to their website, the organization serves over four million students annually through the 5,000 sites spread throughout the nation. Many medical professionals who have joined the program incorporate the importance of reading into their regular pediatric checkups, starting at six months and continuing until age five.

Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (LIT) is the only organization of its kind, working in New York to end illiteracy in incarcerated youth. LIT pairs with the New York City juvenile justice departments and the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) in the promotion of literacy. The nonprofit works to provide author visits and directed discussions, maintain curriculum-approved books for readers ages 8 to 17, and encourage enthusiasm for reading and books. LIT currently has eight locations on the East Coast.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Publishing Apps for Students

by Alex Garner, Fall 2013 Intern

With tablets becoming more and more popular, new apps for children’s education have developed, and teachers have even started using them in the classroom. According to Forbes, Apple sold three million of its new iPad during its opening weekend, with analysts expecting over sixty million of the tablets to be sold worldwide; ereaders are selling even faster than tablets. With so many different options, like the iPad, Nook, Kindle, Nexus and other devices, there are innumerable apps available to tablet owners. Nowadays, there seems to be an educational app for everything: language arts, math, science, civics, geography, history, astronomy, and even apps for special needs education.

According to The Mercury News, more than one-third of children under two years old have used a mobile device. Their survey also found that kids are more likely to watch educational programs when watching television rather than when on smartphones, and that kids are watching less TV and spending more time on tablets and smartphones. The rising number of apps geared toward children’s education is especially necessary, then; the CEO of Common Sense Media James Steyer claims, “The data shows rapid and profound changes in the 21st century in both childhood and learning.” Beyond educational tools, apps have even helped students turn the page on book publishing, enabling students of all ages to digitally create their own books.

Designed to help introduce kids to being active creators in storytelling, tablet apps allow kids to publish their own work even in their early childhood. For toddlers, there is Draw Along with Stella and Sam, which has a coloring and drawing interface, and also gives the option for the animations to become a movie. For elementary school kids, there are Little Bird Tales and Toontastic Jr. Pirates—these create easy digital stories for children. Little Bird Tales creates books with drawing and photo features, and children can record their own narration. Toontastic Jr. Pirates features cartoon pirates, mermaids, ghosts and princesses that can be manipulated to tell a unique story.

Going beyond children’s education, there are apps for high schoolers and adults specifically for publishing: Creative Book Builder, currently available for Android- and iOS-based tablets, lets students create original works in an ebook or epublishing format, letting them incorporate images, audio and video with their text. Some apps exist as guides to self-publishing. For example, there is the Kindle Self-Publishing Success, available from the Google Play Store and marketed toward writers who wish to live the dream as an established Amazon author. There is also iBooks Author, an app for iPads and Macs that makes digital publishing simpler with design layouts and templates. The app features galleries, videos, interactive diagrams, 3D objects and mathematical expressions. These apps are more developed with what users can do, making their projects seem more serious and unique.

Although teachers and parents have feared that touch screen devices prevent children from picking up and interacting with books, these apps make tablets educational and encouraging. If anything, it seems that children interacting with these devices is almost inevitable according to studies, so it is only beneficial for them to have educational apps. In the classroom, teachers have started using them—one elementary school teacher recalls, “It’s truly incredible that a five-year-old’s story can now be amplified using the iPad and creativity apps to a global audience. This is an exciting time for parents and teachers, but more importantly it’s a fantastic time to be a kid!”

Did You Know?

The availability of countless types of tablets for adults has long seemed clear, but what about options for kids? Many schools and parents may hesitate in having kids handle more advanced technology, but they can find a solution in the more kid-friendly options out there.

Two of the leading children’s tablets specifically geared towards learning are the LeapFrog LeapPad series and the VTech InnoTab series. The former comes with built-in apps, a camera, access to over 800 games, ebooks and other interactive media, and is built “kid-tough.” Its competitor also comes with a wide range of fun and educational apps as well as a camera and MP3 player, and has the option to text/message others with a tablet or smartphone through Kid Connect. Both devices and apps are often available in department store toy aisles, allowing adults (and kids with adults) easy access.

While these tablets are known mostly for their educational approach, there is also a huge amount of tablets built to be kid-friendly. From Toy “R” Us’s Tabeo e2, to Ematic Fun Tab, to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids, the choices span many different age ranges and can be used for both fun and skill-building. Regardless of choice, the learning and exploring potential is right there in a child’s fingertip.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Children’s Books, New and Old

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

From touch-and-feel genre books such as Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny, originally published over 60 years ago, to new interactive ebooks such as those hosted on Scholastic’s Storia, which come with text, audio, and games, children’s literature has taken on many forms. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. As interactive children’s stories are taken to a new level, classic children’s books are being reprinted in new editions as part of the The New York Review Children’s Collection. Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny belongs to this collection, among many others with voices that are reaching a new generation of young readers.

Begun in 2003, The New York Review Children’s Collection issues products from picture books to young adult novels in an effort to reward readers with a return of their favorite titles to a new generation of readers. They take classics written by one generation, aiming to deliver to another. The collection accepts suggestions for additions to their series, which includes authors whom many readers from a younger generation may have never heard of, such as Eleanor Farjeon, Russell and Lillian Hoban, Ruth Krauss, E. Nesbit, James Thurber and T. H. White.

Interactive children’s genres are not new. Touch-and-feel books used tactile response to teach children vocabulary through different textures a word describes. Interactive children’s books have existed as pop-up books, coloring books and game books. Some of these, such as the classic searching game Where’s Waldo, have moved their adventures online. Today, parents can monitor children’s reading activity with a variety of ebook applications, and children can use them to learn new words or interact with a story. For example, on a tablet or other electronic device, a child can simply touch a word on a screen to have it defined for him or her.

Meanwhile, new children’s novels and stories are coming out with increasingly diverse characters and plots.
Coming out in early 2014 are comics featuring Kamala Khan, a 16 year-old Muslim American superhero. She will be the new Ms. Marvel and possesses the power to lengthen her arms and legs and change shape. Creators say they wanted a character that young women could relate to in a superhero world that is often occupied by white male characters.
Any story is intended for interaction with its reader, but digital learning tools are allowing this to happen in all new ways. From old to new, children’s books are entertaining young people from one generation to the next.

Did You Know?

In September of 2013, The New York Public Library (NYPL) published a list of 100 children’s books they believed to be the best of the last 100 years, based on specific criteria: the book had to be published in the past century, be available in print and still boast popularity with neighborhood libraries. The books within the list were not put on a rating scale, but instead are listed in alphabetical order. The list spans everything from children’s books to young adult stories, including Charlotte’s Web, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, Green Eggs and Ham, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hobbit, Matilda and A Wrinkle in Time. The list notes each book’s author, the date it was originally published and a one- to two-sentence synopsis. The oldest book to make it on the list is Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, published in 1926, while the most recently published is Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin, published in 2012. The list was released in tandem with a free exhibition titled “The ABC Of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” hosted in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at the NYPL. The display, curated by children’s literature expert Leonard Marcus, features the importance of children’s literature by exploring its history and influence on society. It opened in June of 2013 and can be viewed until March 23, 2014. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Age-Old Uniform Debate

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

In the last several years, New Jersey school district attempts to reopen the uniform debate or instate uniform policies have been met with strong parental opposition. Bayonne parents filed suit over a uniform policy that requires students to wear navy tops and khaki bottoms, citing First Amendment freedom of speech protections, but a judge ruled in favor of the district in 2007. Parents in Clifton have protested uniforms twice in the last few years, arguing with both free speech and cost concerns, and managing to defeat proposals in 2009.

This year, however, Hoboken has instituted a uniform policy for all seventh through twelfth graders, and parents have remained quiet. Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback commented that the “goal here is to make the focus on academics more pronounced than the focus on clothing” as well as “to avoid any loss of instructional time while maintaining a good teaching and learning environment.” For this reason, flouters of the dress code—which includes black or khaki slacks as well as polo shirts in red or white for high school students and black or grey for middle school students—will not face severe consequences. Students will be given a chance to change into the uniform, and in the event that they cannot, school officials will give them a pass to display throughout the day. Disciplinary action will occur after rather than during school.

Superintendent Toback gave a comprehensive list of the pros of school uniforms in his commentary, including refocusing school time on academics. He added, “Uniforms will not only take pressure off students who feel that they have to fit in by wearing certain clothes, but also save administrators and faculty from having to waste time dealing with dress code violations.” Hoboken High School Principal Robin Piccapietra also noted that in the wake of last year’s Newtown, Connecticut shooting and similar tragedies, increased emphasis is being placed on security in American schools, and uniforms make it much easier to spot trespassers.

On the other hand, the question of uniforms usually sparks dissent among parents, with many arguing that uniforms unconstitutionally infringe upon students’ freedom of speech by refusing to celebrate diversity of expression. Other parents have sued over the cost, maintaining that a requirement to purchase school uniforms violates the agreement of free public education for taxpayers’ children. Uniforms are often costly and difficult to procure, especially when they must be purchased from a particular supplier. No matter what, a uniform requirement generally means parents must purchase new clothes for their children, which many lower-income families cannot afford, potentially causing embarrassment to their children. Students with medical or religious concerns regarding the uniforms mandated by their school district may suffer discrimination as a result of their more obvious differences in appearance. Furthermore, school uniforms often play into concerns about gender stereotypes—should male students be made to wear pants and females made to wear skirts? This particular concern is becoming increasingly relevant as parents are trying to broaden their horizons by encouraging kids to embrace what they are drawn to rather than all aspects of normative culture. Finally, some students also may feel discriminated against due to discomfort caused by sizing or clothing material, which could actually become a deterrent to education and focus.

However, the Hoboken policy appears to have taken many of these concerns into consideration; Principal Piccapietra assured parents that the school would organize a website with a list of locations where the clothing included in the policy can be purchased. New Jersey also has a law on the books compelling schools with uniform requirements to first hold a public hearing and give parents plenty of time to acquire the clothing. These schools must also provide uniforms to students of families with economic difficulties and allow students with medical or religious concerns to waive their requirement.

Did You Know?

One of the main topics of discussion regarding uniforms is the question of cost. Some schools require students to wear uniforms from specific companies or customized with the school logo. Despite the estimate that uniforms cost an average of $249 per year, more and more school systems support the ideology that they are still cheaper than regular apparel. According to a survey of principals and other school leaders, published in July of 2013 by Lands’ End School Uniform alongside the National Association of Elementary School Principles (NAESP), 86 percent of participants believe uniforms are more cost-effective. Not only do leaders believe they are more affordable, but they also believe uniforms are creating a positive impact on the student body. Of those surveyed, 86 percent have seen a positive impact on peer pressure, 44 percent have seen an improvement in attendance, 79 percent have seen enhanced student safety, and 64 percent have seen an increase in student achievement. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Taking Reading Beyond the Book

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

It goes without saying that kids’ attention is not focused where it used to be. Children are more apt to sit in front of the television screen watching shows or playing video games than to read or write. Luckily, there are many ways to incorporate television into educational activities, encouraging children to learn in fun ways. Many popular children’s shows were originally book series. Scholastic offers a helpful list of ten book series that they published. Random House is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their publication of The Berenstain Bears, which was later adapted into a popular children’s series. The television schedule for this and other PBS Kids shows can be found online. Other popular books that have their own television spinoffs are Arthur, Little Bear, Max & Ruby and Babar the Elephant.

How does reading and watching television build literacy? By sitting down with children and interacting with stories, educators and parents can provide a happy, healthy environment for children to learn and to grow their love for reading. Asking children to summarize a story hones their narrative skills and keeps them engaged in the characters and plot. In an article about increasing literacy in young children, Daniella Giammarino, a licensed speech-language pathologist, explains that “reading to children promotes communication and speech sounds, and it introduces many concepts. It builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills, and gives children information about the world around them.” These skills can be further emphasized when followed up with an on-screen adaptation.

When you read a book and then watch the show or movie, you naturally compare the two for differences in plot and narrative style. Children should be encouraged to do the same when reading and watching the corresponding show. By recognizing the differences, kids are building their comparative reasoning skills, something that will be instrumental to their education and careers. Watching the shows is also a great way to encourage children to write scripts of their own. Using their imagination and household or classrooms props, they can tell their own stories, expanding on the universe of their favorite books and shows. By interacting with the stories, they will be even more excited to continue to read about the many adventures of their favorite characters.

Picking books and television programs that relate to the season or holiday is another way to bridge the gap between reality and fiction and open children up to learning while having fun. When kids feel connected through experience to the characters, they will want to read more. Learning from the book can also go beyond television to other connected activities. Many children’s shows have websites with free games and printouts for activities. From there the possibilities are endless: acting out a favorite scene, even illustrating and binding their own book! One helpful website, Get Ready to Read!, lists these and many other helpful games kids can play at home or in school.

When young children are introduced to habitual reading, they can form early, positive associations with reading. The most important thing about reading with young children is that they enjoy themselves and the stories, and oftentimes television shows or other adaptations emphasize that enjoyment. While some may prefer to stick to reading alone, the approach is not really what matters in the end. It is more important that children have a happy and healthy association with reading so they can continue to improve their literacy throughout their lifetime.

Did You Know?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, as well as Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, were also so popular as to be adapted for the big screen. Although still meant for young readers, they are aimed at a slightly older demographic.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are characters in both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, causing many movie producers to combine the storylines of the books. The first was released as a silent film in 1917; it was titled Tom Sawyer and was intended as the first introduction of a two-part movie series. The second was released under the title Huck and Tom in 1918, setting up a third film for the trilogy, released in 1920: Huckleberry Finn. Paramount Pictures produced all three under the direction of William Desmond Taylor. The two most recent adaptations of the books took place in 1993 and 1995. Elijah Wood starred in The Adventures of Huck Finn, while Jonathon Taylor Thomas starred in Tom and Huck.

Finally, Anne of Green Gables had its movie debut with a silent film in 1919 and is now considered a “lost film,” meaning that it no longer exists in any archive. This was followed by two different black-and-white versions in 1934 and 1940, each starring Dawn O’Day as Anne Shirley—who changed her name to Anne Shirley after her involvement in the 1934 release. After that, many adaptations of the famous novels were hosted on television, as miniseries or made-for-TV movies.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Proposal for Broadband Capacity in Schools: Should All Schools Have It?

by Alex Garner, Fall 2013 Intern

The access of Internet in all schools across the country has been a pressing issue, with government programs intending for 99 percent of America’s students to connect with broadband Internet within the next five years. The average American school has the same bandwidth as the average American home, and current figures show that between 29 and 39 percent of America’s students have access to high-speed Internet at school.

By 2005, the E-rate program, started by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1997 to provide schools with Internet access, had successfully connected 94 percent of American classrooms. However, roughly half of E-rate schools access the Internet at speeds of 3 megabits per second or less—too slow to stream high-definition video or other teaching platforms. Limited bandwidth forces school administrators to decide usable programs and what grades or classrooms get them. According to the blog on the US Department of Education (ED) website, “Broadband holds the potential to address issues of educational access and equity of opportunity. Broadband connections are the building blocks of a digital learning environment. . . .” The government program intended to connect schools with broadband capacity, ConnectED, is asking the FCC to make Internet access cheaper for schools through the E-rate program.

A great example of what broadband capacity can provide for a school is the Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, North Carolina. The school district developed a digital learning program with high-speed broadband capacity. As a result, schools within the district have seen improved academic performance, student engagement and graduation rates—all while decreasing funds needed per pupil. Of the 115 school districts in North Carolina, Mooresville ranked in the bottom ten in money spent per student while ranking second in student achievement. The success of the school due to their broadband capacity triggered Barack Obama to visit the school in June of 2013, when he announced the Broadband-for-Schools Project. Other countries have also realized the importance of high-speed Internet in schools: 100 percent of South Korean schools are connected to broadband, and Uruguay’s primary and secondary schools have been connected through a national program, where every primary school student has access to a free laptop.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Dr. Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, propose in The Huffington Post that if it can be done in Mooresville, it can be done in every school district in every state. They suggest an aim that by the 2015 school year, every school should have access to 100 megabits per second, and by the end of the decade, 1 gigabit. The need for broadband in schools seems beneficial to not only prepare America’s students with skills to get good jobs in a digital age, but to also compete with countries around the world.

Did You Know?

Although it may be ideal that schools have access to 100 Mbps per 1,000 students, it’s also important to understand what this bandwidth will be used for. It’s necessary for webinars, video streaming and even online courses—but also for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) Deputy Executive Director Dr. Geoffrey H. Fletcher notes that bandwidth necessary for administering assessments may not be as much as what’s needed on a normal day, but that some schools may need to opt for only using their internal network for assessments versus other school functions. Denise Atkinson-Shorey, an educational technology consultant in Colorado and the former president and chief information officer for the Educational Access Gateway Learning Environment Network (EAGLE-Net), seconds this thought. Some schools and districts, particularly ones in rural areas, may not have enough access to connectivity to execute assessment school-wide. The capacity for transmitting data directly affects the speed, despite the investment in making the bandwidth available at the network gateway end. Schools may also have a hard time increasing their connectivity with budget cuts and competition in appealing for public funding. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Popularity of Audiobooks

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

Audiobook sales, the Audio Publishers Association (APA) reports, are at an all-time high. Their increasing use, however, is met by resistance from those who say that deep reading requires having the text in front of you. Readers of audiobooks claim that they enhance the pleasure of reading and invite more people to read. Regardless of the debate, over the past year the share of sales going to digital audiobooks has outpaced that of CD and cassette audiobooks, making the digital format a popular way of taking in information.

There are many reasons that account for audiobooks’ growing popularity. Being able to listen to a story while doing another activity—such as driving to work or exercising—is a boon to many readers with busy schedules. The convenience of having multiple books available to you on the go on a smartphone or portable digital audio device is matched only by ebooks. However, while ebook devices have the technology to convert text to speech, this doesn’t provide the same experience as listening to an actor’s interpretation of a story. A good actor’s interpretation can add to the sheer pleasure of having a story read to you and is even considered by some to be an art form of its own. In some cases, this is done by the author herself, but in others, the publisher will hire someone to read the text. Because the additional costs of producing an audiobook are reduced by the growing demand for digital audiobooks, which do not have the same manufacturing costs as CDs or tapes, publishers have more to spend on quality voice talent.

Some prefer to absorb information in an auditory way, and there are even educational and informational volumes released in audiobook format. On the other hand, having the text in front of you is useful to be able reread a line, or for reference in a classroom discussion. Then again, having the text read to you removes the temptation to skim. Critics argue that having the text before you is essential to a deep or slow reading of a text in order to better understand it. However, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of audiobooks being a legitimate form of reading is that audiobooks were originally made for the blind and continue to allow readers with disabilities to be part of the world of reading.

With a growing industry worth more than $1 billion, an increasing number of publishers who deal exclusively with audiobooks, and an expanding number of book titles being released in both hard format and as audiobooks, readers will continue to enjoy books in this format, which combines the benefits of new and progressive technology with one of the oldest forms of entertainment known to humankind—a good read.

Did You Know?

There are conflicting ideas on when silent reading was first introduced, as many believed reading aloud to be the norm in ancient history. According to Saint Augustine’s Confessions, he witnessed Saint Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, reading in his cell toward the end of the fourth century AD: “His eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.” Due to the proposed shock that Augustine felt upon witnessing this, scholars have interpreted Ambrose’s display of silent reading as one of the first. This was supported for years as the first instance of silent reading ever recorded in Western literature. However, several other references to silent reading have been discovered, both around the time of Saint Ambrose and much earlier.

In a speech called “On the Fortune of Alexander,” Plutarch notes that Alexander the Great read a letter from his mother silently, despite the shock of his soldiers, in the fourth century BC. Claudius Ptolemy is cited in Augustine’s book On the Criterion, written in the second century AD, as stating that some people read silently when they are concentrating to a great extent, as reading the words out loud would be distracting. While with his opponent Cato in the Senate in 63 BC, Julius Caesar read a love letter sent to him by Cato’s sister. Much, much later, in the year AD 349, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem suggested that women read to themselves as they wait during the ceremonies—although this was suggested to be closer to very quiet whispers rather than silent readings. Despite these occurrences, some still believe that silent reading wasn’t the norm until the tenth century AD.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Where Have All the Students Gone?

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

From the 1990s, American post-secondary institutions enjoyed a boom in enrollment that remained fairly steady until 2012, but the recent significant decline has some colleges scrambling to boost their numbers. Beginning a decade earlier, high school graduates were increasingly looking to further their education by attending college. The population explosion of the 1990s, the largest in American history, coupled with the prosperous economy, resulted in a huge jump in the number of college-age Americans—not to mention the growing popularity of American universities among foreign students. The New York Times reports that college attendance rose dramatically between 1999 and 2011, from 15.2 to 20.4 million students. When the 2007 recession hit, many Americans decided to go to school instead of taking their chances on a hostile job market, and community colleges in particular saw a surge in applications from “older” Americans.

However, the college-age population ceased its inflation in 2009 and has continued to decline since. As the economy slowly recuperates, university applications are taking a backseat to job applications. A report published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) earlier this year estimates that general enrollment fell by 2.3 percent from the Spring 2012 term to Spring 2013.

Two-year community colleges and four-year for-profit institutions felt most of the decline in enrollment. From Spring 2012 to Spring 2013, two-year public schools saw a decline of 3.6 percent while four-year for-profit enrollment took a hit of 8.7 percent. Colleges that depend more heavily on tuition revenue are particularly feeling the crunch, especially due to the recent trend of rising tuition costs and student debt, which may be discouraging people from pursuing higher education. David A. Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), said of the trend, “There are many institutions that are on the margin, economically, and are very concerned about keeping their doors open if they can’t hit their enrollment numbers.”

According to the Times, the most dramatic examples of this trend creating problems for schools are found at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Loyola University New Orleans. Both colleges found acceptances to be approximately just two-thirds of what they had expected upon the May 1 deadline, resulting in emergency budget cuts of millions of dollars. While many schools often boost their enrollment at this point by accepting waiting list candidates, St. Mary’s and Loyola had to take a step further and make a serious effort to reach out to prospective students. Loyola gathered administrators and professors who generally are not involved in the admissions process to join officials in making calls to applicants who had not accepted offers, hoping they would reconsider. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, reopened admissions; both institutions collected some additional students, but enrollment has remained relatively low this fall. Virginia’s Randolph College, in a similar situation, even mailed out letters this summer to prospective students who had not applied there, if they had a strong academic background to recommend them.

The decline of the college-age population is projected to last through 2016. Will for-profit schools continue to feel the pain? Is the end of yearly tuition spikes in sight, or will they find some other way to entice Americans into going back to school?

Did You Know?

Even though the amount of students looking to start a college education directly after high school graduation seems to be dropping, those schools still reining in applicants are doing even more than that—they’re maintaining them. U.S. News reported that the average student retention rate reported in 2012 was 75 percent: “Those rates reflect the four-year average of incoming freshman between fall 2007 and fall 2010 who returned to campus the following fall.” Based on data covering first-year students that entered college between the fall semesters of 2007 and 2010, Columbia University and Yale University, had the highest freshman retention rates of 99 percent. The University of Chicago pulled into third place with a rate of 98.3 percent, while Amherst College, California Institute of Technology, Harvey Mudd College, Princeton University and Stanford University all boasted a 98 percent retention rate. The survey received responses from over 1,800 colleges and universities that self-reported information about their academic programs to ensure a detailed collection. The full list of reported retention rates can be viewed online. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Little Free Libraries: Making a Big Splash in a Little Way

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

When Todd Bol built a miniature single-room schoolhouse, placed it in his front lawn and filled it with free books, he did not expect to attract a lot of attention. Honoring his mother, a lifelong school teacher, Bol built the structure (about the size of a large mailbox) and filled it with his own books. He hoped that some passerby would stop to take a look, or even take one home and replace it with a book of their own. This was the simple start of the now global nonprofit Little Free Library. Started in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, the ever-growing movement now stretches across all 50 states and over 32 countries. A lot of love and hard work went into creating this seemingly over-night success.

Rick Brooks, seasoned in creating and managing nonprofit projects, saw the structure and instantly fell in love. Partnering with Bol, the two began to build more of the libraries, placing them in areas high in foot-traffic and hoping to spread the love of reading. As more people began to use the little libraries, Bol and Brooks realized that people wanted to create their own. The miniature libraries started to pop up around their town and in neighboring ones. In response they built an online community, connecting the libraries and their owners around the world.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to set up a new library. It can be made out of any material and modeled to look like anything. Some people have crafted libraries out of wood from wreckages, others have modeled theirs after London phone booths; the possibilities are endless. Pre-made libraries are also available for sale in many different designs on the Little Free Library website. Registering a library only costs $35, which comes with great perks: creators become official “stewards,” receive an official Little Free Library plaque to mount on their structure and the addresses of all the registered libraries are added to a virtual map.

Anyone desiring to support Little Free Library, who is unable to have their own structure due to lack of location, can help host a library to be sent to those in need. On their website, Bol and Brooks offer a donation page to collect money for making and shipping fully stocked Little Free Libraries to countries and readers who would otherwise lack access to books. This program is a great way to help support literacy both at the community level and in places where people cannot afford to buy books for themselves or their children. Individuals or groups, such as high school and colleges groups, can donate as a team. Hudson High School in Wisconsin made twelve libraries for a partner school in Africa with students helping every step of the way. From the shop class to the art department, the school helped build and paint the structures. Media students ran stories about the effort, inspiring the community as a whole to sponsor the books to fill each library. Their support was felt throughout the process, and the school remained in contact with the African students once the libraries were officially set up.

It doesn’t matter if you are an avid reader or educator—Little Free Libraries have something for everyone. Supporting improvement in literacy for all ages, this nonprofit is making a big name for itself, demonstrating that good things can in fact come in small packages.

Did You Know?

Nancy Humphreys, a writer and librarian, notes that the most important goal of the Little Free Libraries is the encouragement of reading—making the world a better place for authors and readers alike. While the benefits for a reader may be more obvious (free books!), Humphreys notes some advantages that Little Free Libraries can offer authors. In her blog, Author Maps, she suggests that authors put a copy of their published book in one of the Little Free Libraries and observe how quickly it gets taken from the shelves. For those looking for reader feedback, she suggests creating a review copy that contains tear-out postage paid postcards. Whoever picks up the book may be more likely to submit a response if most of the work is already done for them—all they have to do is read the book, write a quick review, and pop it back in the mail. These suggestions may help circulate books around local communities, encouraging discussions and sharing. This word-of-mouth approach, Humphrey notes, is the best way to promote sales. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Encouraging Kids to Read: Letting Them P.I.C.K. Their Own Books

by Alex Garner, Fall 2013 Intern

With so many books to choose from, a child may find picking a book to be an overwhelming and difficult task. Selecting books is a valuable and independent skill for kids to learn, instilling an importance of books in their lives. Teaching children to pick books for themselves can be a simple step-by-step process with easy rules and guidelines.

Scholastic’s advice to P.I.C.K. creates an acronym for the process—P stands for Purpose, I for Interest, C for Comprehend and K for Know the Words. Walking children through these steps will help them think independently about books and aid them when they are on their own.

First, the letter P (Purpose) should trigger the children to ask themselves whether they are reading for pleasure, school or just to learn something. They should know why they are reading the book in the first place, which also reinforces the different functions of books. The question of purpose can emphasize the pleasure of books, allowing children to form their own relationships with books outside of school.
Second, the letter I (Interest) indicates to a child to look for books he or she is interested in. This can be done easily, whether by analyzing the front cover, reading the back cover copy, looking at chapter titles or flipping through photos and drawings in the book. By spending time in libraries or at home perusing through different books, children may also discover new interests they didn’t know about before. This can make kids excited about looking through new books!

Third, the letter C (Comprehend) signifies the importance of the child’s understanding of what he or she will read, and whether or not it is appropriate for their abilities. Children can determine this on their own by asking themselves whether they understood and remember what they just read, and whether they were able to read most of the words. A parent can also ask them about what they just read, which shows a child that the parent is interested as well.

Last, the letter K (Know the Words) helps figure out a books appropriateness with the “Five-Finger Rule”: zero or one unknown words means the book is too easy, two or three unknown words means the book is just right, and four or more unknown words means the book is too difficult. Always encourage a child to ask for help with unknown words—this gives them independence while also letting them know others want to help them further their reading skills.

Once they have developed the skills to choose a book, a great way for children to reflect on their readings is to fill out an analysis of their experience, with resources like The International Reading Association (IRA)’s worksheet. Activities like this are a great way for children to keep track of what they have read and learned, and there are many more activities to explore on their website. It is also important to let children know that it is all right if they do not like a particular book—let them know that they will be able to find others they will love. These independent systems are empowering and enable children to pick books for themselves.

The IRA also gives the advice to say “yes” as often as you can, even if the book seems too short, too easy or contains too many pictures—if a child wants to read a book, let them. And if a child wants to read something beyond their ability, parents and teachers can solve the problem by reading aloud together, which is also a great bonding experience!

Did You Know?

According to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) describes an essential link between reading, socioeconomic opportunity, and civil involvement.” Furthermore they note that reading for pleasure increases employment opportunities and even mathematic achievement. Reading is often seen as the connection to higher education success—independent from personal development, degree level or work goals. Despite these analyses, the National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES) reports that the national literacy level is declining. Not only that, but the NEA also notes that Americans’ “reading comprehension skills are eroding.” Twenty percent of students in the United States that complete a four-year degree and thirty percent of students that complete a two-year degree only have basic quantitative literacy skills. Even tasks such as calculating the total cost of a purchase order, or estimating the miles left in a tank of gas may not be easy for them. The general hope is that an increase in literacy levels will prevent such inabilities in the future. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Marketing of Ebooks

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

Publishers are finding innovative ways to market ebooks to a wide audience. Print and ebook retailing, while often done by the same businesses and for the same market, have differences in the ways the products are marketed and sold. The class of readers likely to read an ebook is the same as those who read books, but the type of distribution of the texts varies for ebooks and print books. Because of these differences, ebook publishers are developing innovative ways of distributing their titles.

One way some publishers are increasing sales of their ebooks is by marketing them as free of digital rights management (DRM) software: coding which restricts the number of devices ebooks can be read on without additional cost. Baen Books of North Carolina, for example, is a pioneer of this marketing strategy.

Another difference between ebook and print retailing is in the way publishers sell ebook forms of their products to libraries. Major publishers are worried that borrowing an ebook from a library database is as simple a process as purchasing one, and that thus more people will choose to borrow rather than purchase. But rather than not distributing these ebooks to libraries at all, some publishers are restricting how their popular titles are rented, to ensure access is fair for all parties—libraries, publishers and borrowers. This access is all the more important as public awareness of libraries renting out ebooks is increasing.

Other ways publishers are retailing their ebooks are through paid subscription services, which allow users to browse available material including books and videos before purchasing it. Reading Rainbow, the free educational app resurgence of the popular children’s television series on PBS, is an example of this paid subscription service. Now owned by RRKidz, Reading Rainbow claims that 46,000 books are read and more than 41,000 videos are watched on its service every week.

Some publishers are marketing interactive features to parents and educators. Scholastic’s free ebook application Storia allows parents to monitor the reading activity and progress of their child. It also offers ebooks with text, audio and games.

Aside from marketing for children’s literature, two other companies are doing big things with interactive media: Demibooks and Inkling. Demibooks has Storytime, which hosts interactive ebooks with animation, video and sound. All the books on Storytime have been designed with its special software called Composer, a subscription service that helps ebook developers create book apps ready for purchase. Similarly, Inkling, which hosts books on medical, business, fitness, cooking and more, has Habitat, which anyone can download and use to publish their ebook to Inkling’s digital storefront.

One final way a particular publisher is marketing its digital comic books is by advertising free copies for download. Dark Horse Digital, part of Dark Horse Comics, recently celebrated its anniversary by doing so, and recorded one million downloads.

From children’s educational media to developing book apps for consumption, these approaches show the variety of ways publishers and small companies are marketing ebooks.

Did You Know?

When people think of ereaders, the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook might come to mind. But neither of these were the first ereaders on the market—nor will they likely be the last. Sony was the first to produce anything reminiscent of an ereader. The company created the Data Discman, intended as a research device, which enabled people to access their encyclopedias and reference books in digital format on the go. This ereader predecessor, which originally cost $500, could be used at the time to read publications such as the King James Bible and USA Today. It was released in 1991—seven years before the first “battle” of ereader models took place. This initial battle, which took place years before the competition between the Kindle and the Nook, occurred among NuvoMedia’s Rocketbook and Softbook Press’s SoftBook. The original Rocketbook held 4,000 pages, but the Pro version could hold around 40 books. The SoftBook, on the other hand, could hold about 100,000 pages. The SoftBook cost $600 (even more expensive than today’s newest iPad) or gave the buyer the option to pay $300 up front, then continue with a $20 per month “content package” plan. The Rocketbook did essentially what the original Kindle did, apart from wireless downloads. But because there was not a market for it at the time, it fell by the wayside. Eventually both the NuvoMedia and Softbook Press were purchased by Gemstar Ebook Group—but even they were forced to pull back on their ereader operations in 2003. These devices were simply ahead of the market, a market whose customers would not see the benefits of an ereader for a few more years. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Are You Ready for Eye-D?

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

“Biometrics,” or the use of pattern recognition and algorithms to identify people based on physical characteristics often in a range of security programs, is all the rage in technology this year as people grow increasingly concerned about threats of hacking and identity theft. The newest trend is iris recognition, much more sophisticated than its fingerprint predecessor, as irises are even more complex and distinctive as individual identifiers.

Many schools are interested in the new technology as a supplementary or alternate method of identification and tracking to that easily forgotten, misplaced or stolen accessory: the ID badge. Security companies that manufacture iris recognition technology are anxious to plant their roots across a range of institutions, from elementary schools and universities to airports and high-security establishments like banks.

Blinkspot in South Dakota makes iris recognition technology for elementary school buses that look like binoculars, into which children look when they board and disembark. The machines will not only honk if the child is on the wrong bus, but also trigger a mobile app to send a message to the a parent’s or guardian’s email or phone with location, time and date. IrisID in New Jersey provides the scanning technology used by Winthrop University in South Carolina for the test run they conducted this June during freshman orientation. Another company called EyeLock manufactures the eye scanners that are currently in use in foreign airports, as well as at Bank of America’s headquarters in North Carolina.

This technology works by using an algorithm to find the best image of the iris from video footage, so it is a hands-free, simple technology that processes the images in less than two seconds. The image created is actually a small “encrypted digital template,” a 512-byte binary code representation of the biometric data, against which future images of the iris can be matched to verify identity. The encryption helps protect biometric data from being hacked and reconfigured to steal identities. Furthermore, the companies themselves do not store this information but provide it only to the institution that employs their technology.

While iris recognition is the latest in security technology, it is not, as companies have implied because of high levels of encryption and iris specificity, perfectly secure or unhackable. Companies producing this technology similarly insist, like this claim on EyeLock’s official website, that it “provides the most accurate identification and access control solutions available in the market,” which is likely true, but they provide no statistics to support that point. The digital template can be reverse-engineered to reconstruct an image of the iris, just as with encrypted fingerprint data. At a cybersecurity conference this year, researchers from Spain demonstrated a method of recreating an image from the binary code template, which they then stretched into a circle and fed into the iris scanner; they reported an 87 percent success rate because the scanner failed to recognize that the image was not of an actual human eye, an oversight that must be adjusted to protect this sensitive data from hacking.

If iris recognition technology is implemented in schools, communication is key. Because no laws currently exist regulating biometric data collection and what information institutions can share with the government, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests that iris technology may represent a grave invasion of privacy. Some parents in Florida have already spoken out against the unauthorized scanning of their children’s eyes by the school district and their recent security partner Eye-Swipe Nano. While the new security program might allay some fears about student safety, parents were outraged that they didn’t learn about the initiative until after data collection had already begun. Schools must educate parents and students on the security and convenience benefits of the technology, as well as how their biometric data will be used and protected, for the newly-accessible technology to have a proper place in school safety.

Did You Know?

When people hear “iris scans,” they may think of a system that scans an eye with infrared light. This, however, is different than iris recognition, which is a technique that takes a picture of the iris via video, solely used for identification purposes. According to Iris ID, retinal recognition is “the best of breed authentication process available today.” Unlike retinal scanning, recognition uses a method that does not require any contact and is much faster—it can be performed from distances as far as three to ten inches. It’s stable, because the pattern formed in an iris remains unchanged once a person is ten months old. The network of blood vessels in an eye is so unique that not even twins share the same configuration. Iris scans are also not limited to people with sight, as they are dependent on the existence of an iris, not on the ability to see. The method can work either by itself or in conjunction with existing security systems, but it’s reliable in the fact that an iris’s distinctive pattern is not susceptible to theft—using one’s iris for identification is much safer than, say, a password, ID or key. The systems that store the data, however, are not impenetrable to hackers, introducing one side of the argument against using the system in defense of privacy. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Surveying the Way to Better Education

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

What would you do if you were able to see into your child’s classroom? Many school districts around the country are conducting surveys of teachers, students and their parents to gather more insight on day-to-day happenings behind school doors. The state of Illinois began conducting one such survey, the first statewide education survey, in early 2013. The survey was taken by over one million teachers, students and parents, and researchers and educators hope to reach even more people in the follow-up surveys planned for every two years in the future. The purpose of the survey is to uncover any oversights and highlight concerns regarding  the public school system as a whole. Not only will the data from these surveys help prevent negative influences in schools, it will also help to enhance the education of students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The Illinois 5Essential Survey (5E) is backed by over 20 years of research from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR). The survey is meant to analyze the need for school reform and to make data accessible to parents of students so they may better understand the environment that their children are learning in. 5E is conducted o  nline and made accessible to all through a website that houses the survey and sorts the data. It is not mandatory for anyone to take 5E, although the percent of participants in each school determines whether or not the school will receive a detailed report of the collected data.

The Federal Race to the Top project currently funds the survey. The state of Illinois hopes to offer it every two years, to track progress and keep data current. The many questions on the survey are meant to provoke thoughtful and honest answers from participants. “How safe do you feel in the hallways and bathrooms of school?” This question is one of many asked of students to assess their perceived safety in day-to-day activities. There are also statements meant to provoke thoughtful responses from teachers: “The principal at this school is an effective manager who makes the school run smoothly.” This statement and others allow participants to respond based on how they agree/disagree with the sentence. Teachers’ concern for how the school is run can be expressed, which could both change policy and alert parents to issues that might not otherwise have been exposed to the public eye.

One major concern comes to mind when so many people and opinions are involved in changing the structure of education. The data is based on the word of millions of different people. This leaves room for human error, bias and conflicting opinions. 5E would be even more helpful to education reform if it were partnered with follow-up inspections to verify any findings. This would allow researchers to gather unbiased information to ensure that the changes to education are made appropriately.

Illinois is pioneering how education reform is conducted in the United States. Versions of 5E have been conducted in schools in several other states including Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Indiana. While there are still variables to consider, 5E provides invaluable information and insight into public classrooms in the United States today.

Did You Know?

The name 5Essential refers to the five qualities that schools need to be successful as described by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR):
• Effective Leaders
• Collaborative Teachers
• Involved Families
• Supportive Environment
• Ambitious Instruction
These five components all revolve around support: of learning and of students and teachers. The hope is that by understanding what each part looks like and how it should be implemented, schools will be able to identify a “strategic vision” for success. In fact, CCSR claims that schools boasting strong models of at least three of these qualities are “10 times more likely to improve student learning.” The creation and implementation of the educational surveys were inspired by the findings described in Organizing School for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago written by past and current CCSR members.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Books to Film: Upcoming Movie Adaptations

by Alex Garner, Fall 2013 Intern

Many upcoming films are adaptations of popular books, a large portion of which are based on young adult literature. From 2013 to 2014, at least a dozen movies coming out are adaptations of novels, both new and old. Based on popular books, the films will be sure to have fans of the original novels filling up seats.

One highly anticipated film adaptation is based on Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a novel about a woman who disappears on her wedding anniversary. A thriller, the book was number one on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list for eight weeks, and at other rankings for even longer. It has sold over two million copies both in print and ebook format, and the production company paid $1.5 million for the screen rights. The film will star Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck.

One of the most popular books read in elementary schools, Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel The Giver has sold more than 5.3 million copies. The film adaptation, set for release in August 2014, will star Jeff Bridges as the Giver, alongside Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard and Taylor Swift. Called a classic by the Huffington Post, the dystopian novel has also received the Newbery Medal, the most distinguished award given for American literature for children.

A more recent novel to be turned into a film, also geared toward young audiences, is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
—it was number one on the New York Times Bestseller list for children’s chapter books for seven weeks, and as of January 2013, nearly a million copies were in print. Set for release for June 6, 2014, the film will star Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Mike Birbiglia, Willem Dafoe and Laura Dern. The film also cast real teen cancer survivors to play parts in the support group that the main character attends in the story. Green’s book was also named the number one fiction book of 2012 by Time, so the film has a lot to live up to!

Also on the New York Times Bestseller list for a substantial amount of time, the movie version of Veronica Roth’s Divergent is scheduled to hit theaters on March 21, 2014. Like The Fault in Our Stars, it will also star Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, along with Kate Winslet, Theo James and Zoe Kravitz. Summit Entertainment has already revealed that a sequel, based on Roth’s Insurgent, is already in the works.

Other young adult books turned into films are The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Hunger Games series, Ender’s Game, The Hobbit, Delirium, Beautiful Creatures, and The Host. Choosing books for films has always been a popular decision among production companies, and it seems many readers—especially fans of young adult novels—will be excited to see their favorite books on screen.

Did You Know?
Movies adapted from YA novels­­­—or rather any novel­—have big shoes to fill. Usually, by the time a book hits the big screen, the writing has gathered a large following, looking for the movie to stay true to the original intent of the author. One of the most important components is ensuring that the movie maintains the emotional resonance found in the writing. Part of this lies in casting actors that portray character personalities and appearance, and finding a director passionate about the story is arguably equally as important. Before the advent of the Internet, there was much more mystery involved in adaptations. Films were made in a vacuum of sorts, where fans didn’t have access to details about the film until it was about to be released. Nowadays, moviegoers and book fans can view trailers, research the cast and read interviews before the movie is finished. This opens up the film to criticism, preferences and comments while still in production, forcing filmmakers to listen to their expectations while trying to remain true to their own artistry. Movie creators have to be even more creative and skillful as they attempt to aptly translate a book into a major motion picture. In some cases, such as with Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower, the book’s author will adapt his or her own writing into a screenplay. In this case, the movie was released thirteen years after the book was published. Chbosky wanted the film to appeal to the demographics of both those who read the book when it was first released, and those who read it when the movie came out. Chbosky had to self-edit and cut back on scenes that didn’t focus on central characters, balancing the emotion of the writing while remaining subjective. He called the process “the most gratifying and challenging work” he had ever done professionally, and his hard work certainly paid off when fans fell in love with his coming-of-age story all over again. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Public Schools in the 21st Century

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

Teachers, administrators and students are using social media in all new ways. How can public schools use social media? Schools have often relied on traditional ways of disseminating information such as town hall meetings or newsletters. But more and more opportunities are arising for public schools to get their message out using social media. There are many different ways educators and administrators are using social media to interact with their communities.

Facebook is not just meant for college students; it and other social networking sites have a wide range of ages for their users. According to Pew Research data, the percentage of adults using social networking is on the rise, with the number of responders saying they use a social networking site (such as LinkedIn or Facebook) more than doubling since 2008. With this increase in online users, some think public schools would be remiss not to reach out to community members, particularly when considering those who may have otherwise found it difficult to stay connected.

Amid budget cuts and other issues, many think it is especially important today for schools to be actively involved with their communities through social media. In some cases, educators from public schools have used social media to protest policymakers. In Florida, teachers used Facebook pages of more than 200,000 combined members to protest a bill they thought would have harmful effects. Because of their engaged online activism, the bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Crist.

Teachers are using social media to do more than protest bad policy. They’re also using it to teach. For example, Spanish teachers in a Baltimore school have been posting tweets in Spanish that they expect their students to respond to, or contain links to videos or other documents that the students are required to view. Students get the chance to expand their learning outside the classroom through this interactive approach.

With these developments, it is a wonder why high school or younger students have not used social media for ends other than socializing. According to a survey of middle and high school instructors throughout the country, a large majority of teachers say that social media is helping students express themselves creatively. What other uses might students be making of their social media platforms? With tools like Instagram making image sharing instantaneous, perhaps public schools could encourage students to share school-related events with the wider community. This would allow students to express themselves, and make their thoughts and perspectives known to community members. Social media can provide a voice to all ages, and a purpose for those who choose to use it productively.

Did You Know?

Mashable, a website that covers topics related to what they call “the connected generation,” cites the seven best ways to use social media to promote learning. Here are two of the most unique:
      1. The all-encompassing: Teacher Anna Divinsky created an iTunes U class at Penn State that she converted into a MOOC (a massive online open course). The 58,000 students enrolled in her class “Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques” were required to use social media in critiquing each other’s work. Some students uploaded pictures of their art to Flickr, others tweeted about it on Twitter or posted on Facebook. Each post required the specified “artmooc” tag.
      2. The mass-twitter questioning: According to a survey released by YPulse, 21 percent of 14–30 year-olds use Twitter as their main source for news. To capitalize on this, a professor at NYU encouraged students to live tweet their questions in a class of 200 during a speakers’ series of prominent journalists. In using the hashtag #IJNYU (investigative journalism New York University), the journalists were able to view and answer questions in real-time during their discussions. After the class, students had 24 hours to use Storify to create a summary of the tweets. Storify allows users to collect media data from the web and then publish it on their site which dually shares it with others and notifies the sources.
Other ideas include student-ran blogs, or using alternative outlets for hosting classes such as Google Hangouts, Edmodo and Second Life.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)