Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Don't Miss the Signs: Regional Accents in Sign Language

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

The first time I met my friend Ashley, we were playing a game in our speech communication class in which we assumed information about one another based on how we spoke. I figured out that Ashley, a native Arkansan, was from the South, and she could tell that I, a New Jersey native, was from the Northeast. If two deaf signers played the game, they would have the same results, because sign language has accents just like spoken language.

The idea of sign language accents is easy to understand once we think about what exactly an accent is: a distinct manner of expression of language, particularly among an isolated group of speakers. This group of people can be united by any number of factors, including geographical location, age, ethnicity and whether they’re hearing or deaf. There are over 130 distinct sign languages in the world; even within discrete sign languages such as American Sign Language (ASL), there are numerous accents.

Differences in accent within ASL can be measured by the speed of signing, much like the speed of speech in hearing accents—slower for Southerners, faster for Northerners. There are other clues as well. For example, New Yorkers are known to use more slang, and Southern signers touch their lower face and chest more. There are even words signed differently throughout the country, such as picnic and hospital.

Among the signing community, accents also signal a signer’s experience with sign language. Native deaf signers can often tell the difference between an interpreter, a native signer and a post-lingual learner just by their accent. According to Handspeak—a blog by ASL instructor and ASL literary artist Jolanta Lapiak—signers can even distinguish between hearing and deaf signers. “Hearing signers have a certain accent. It is rare that signing of a fluent hearing signer looks like that of a native deaf signer,” Lapiak explains.

Sign language accents also help people relate to one another within an ethnic group. Carolyn McCaskill, a professor of deaf studies at Gallaudet University, experienced this firsthand as a deaf black child in Alabama. In 1968, when she and other black students enrolled in an integrated school for the deaf, they realized that Black ASL was very different from the ASL their classmates were using. Entire words are signed differently, and Black ASL uses a larger signing space for bigger motions and increased body language. Many black deaf students today find Black ASL important to their identity as members of the black deaf community. “It shows our personality,” says Dominique Flagg, one of these students.

There is a common myth that there is a universal sign language that all deaf people can use to communicate with one another. But, like spoken language, there are many languages and many accents. Accents are important markers of experience and identity, allowing people inside and outside of different cultural groups to share information and make connections.

Did You Know?

Subcultures as small as a single family can share an accent! The Brown family of the popular Discovery Channel show Alaskan Bush People has lived in remote areas of Alaska for years, almost entirely isolated from other people. In that time, they developed a unique accent and dialect among themselves, including idioms that only make sense within the family!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Never-Before-Seen Exhibit Opens at the MFA

by Annemarie Tompsen
Spring 2015 Intern

For locals of the Boston area, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is a cultural hot spot. A recent exhibit has had myself and other Bostonians unable to keep our excitement contained: The Gordon Parks Foundation worked with curator Karen Hass to present a collection of photos from Gordon Parks, the famous African American Vogue and Life photographer. The exhibit brings forth 42 photos from a photo-essay originally intended for publication in Life magazine. 

The photos tell a story of segregation in 1950, a time before the civil rights movement had gained much ground and before Brown v. Board of Education. Faces of that era stare through each photo, representing parents, children, spouses and, most importantly, Parks’s own childhood friends. His goal was to start in Fort Scott, Kansas, where he grew up until leaving after the death of his mother. Intending to capture photographs of his former classmates, Parks soon found himself tracking down his old friends far outside Fort Scott.

The task of his photo-essay led Parks all over, to cities like Kansas City, Columbus, Detroit and Chicago. He found his peers, and, through the lens of his camera, he captured their lives and those he encountered along the way. Exhibited are such images as a father reading with his daughter, a couple standing in front of their house and an elderly woman sitting on her porch. These are the faces of a period Parks wants us to reflect on, people whose story Parks wanted to tell. And the MFA’s exhibit is finally providing that opportunity.

When he left Fort Scott, Parks developed an interest in photography after witnessing the power of an image through Norman Alley’s newsreel of the bombing of the USS Panay in China in 1937. At only the age of 25, he became a self-taught photographer and soon discovered the camera could be used as a weapon against social wrongs. He wanted to make a difference in the world. 

Parks expressed this idea in an interview with Richard Doud. When asked about it, Parks claimed, “I'd become sort of involved in things that were happening to people. No matter what color they be, whether they be Indians, or Negroes, the poor white person or anyone who was I thought more or less getting a bad shake. I, you know, thought I had the instinct toward championing the cause.”

Gordon Parks surely captured society in his photos, and they can be seen in this exhibit. These photos provide museumgoers with the previously unshown art of a talented man who cared about bringing stories of the downtrodden to the surface. Parks continued to work throughout his career to capture issues of social injustice in hopes that viewers could be enlightened. He completed over 300 assignments for Life in 20 years, tackling issues of segregation, racism and poverty. Thanks to the Gordon Parks Foundation and Karen Haas, the MFA’s exhibit was able bring an unpublished photo-essay to light.

Did You Know?

The Kodak #1 camera was one of the first major amateur cameras; it was created by George Eastman. In 1888, the camera was put on the market with the famous slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.” 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Intern Spotlight: Meet Shalen!

by Shalen Lowell
Spring 2015 Intern

From my various tattoos to my partially shaved hairstyle, you could say I’ve come out of my shell a lot since college. One of the first things people notice about me is my red hair, but I always leave a lasting impression of someone who’s hardworking, courageous and who overall loves life. I graduated just last May from Stonehill College with a degree in English literature, but my college days feel like light-years behind me.

I can talk your ear off about books—no question about it. I am a tried and true, typical book nerd, which explains why I excelled as an English lit major at Stonehill. I have read—and continue to read—any and all genres of literature: from postmodern fiction to early modern drama to Romantic poetry. I have several different futures in mind for myself; in one, I see myself back at a university as a professor in English, boasting a tweed jacket, complete with elbow patches.

The “What do you want to do with your life?” question has never come easy. My interests are so various that I can never seem to concentrate them into one career path. I currently work for a nonprofit environmental organization, the Watershed Action Alliance, as their head social media manager. I can easily see myself working long-term in environmental advocacy. Before college, I also worked for three years as a karate instructor after earning the rank of second-degree black belt. Unfortunately, I had to leave my dojo for college, but I long to get back into the martial arts, and within the year, I plan to join a new dojo.  

How did I find myself at PSG? In the wake of my postgrad confusion, I felt the pressure to immediately have a job, plan a future and figure out my life on the spot. But I woke up one day and decided to stop chasing after opportunities I did not want and rather to invest in the ones I did. The next week, I applied to and interviewed at PSG, and was eager to accept the internship! So far at PSG, I’ve enjoyed blogging and writing about industry trends and current events, as well as working on editorial assignments, fact-checking and managing their social media accounts. I’ve loved working on several long-term projects that make me feel I am truly a part of a publishing team. Feeling like a cohesive member of the team at PSG is empowering. I’ve always known I wanted to work in publishing in some capacity, whether as editor or copyeditor, or in writing content.

My biggest dream is to realize my full-time writing career, and I have every intention of achieving that ambition. My writing often involves environmental undertones, explorations of gender and sexuality, and an odd combination of harsh realism and magical fantasy. In a similar fashion, my favorite TV shows and genres are ones that work with environmental themes. One such show is The 100, a dystopian drama featured on The CW.

My writing style sounds pretty eclectic, but I see it as different and multi-faceted . . . just like me!

Little-Known Facts About Shalen

Shalen’s newest tattoo is of a muted post horn from Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49. Shalen wants many more literary tattoos, including Shakespeare’s signature and a quote from another of her favorite book collections, the Johannes Cabal series.  

Another little-known fact: One of Shalen’s favorite pastimes is attending anime conventions such as Anime Boston. She enjoys dressing up in costumes as various fictional characters, an activity known as cosplay, which is a portmanteau of costume play.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Poochie Power: How Dogs Are Helping Children Read

by Nick Persad
Editorial Assistant

The combination of dogs and reading may seem irrelevant, but it’s proving to be quite the opposite—specifically as a method for assisting children who have difficulty practicing this essential skill. Various dog reading programs are becoming exceedingly popular as their overall results show a great improvement in reader confidence and ability.
The main logic behind these programs is that children who are struggling with or feel insecure about reading can practice in a relaxed environment—and what’s more relaxing than hanging out with one of our four-legged friends?
Therapy Dog International (TDI) and Dogs On Call, Inc. are just two of the organizations transforming the way children experience reading. The former has introduced Tail Waggin’ Tutors, where select students—with the help of a trained TDI handler—can read to one of the many TDI dogs. TDI’s main objective is “to provide a relaxed and ‘dog-friendly’ atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading.”
By creating an environment that children view as fun and special rather than a chore spent outside of school working on reading, these programs allow students to simply enjoy the act of reading and gradually improve. They are less nervous and find comfort in the wagging tail or soft caress of a happy dog—which can translate to a job well done.
Dogs on Call, Inc. is involved in a Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program. The program launched in 1999 by Intermountain Therapy Animals and Dogs on Call, Inc. became an affiliate in 2004. The idea of the program is completely straightforward—reading to a dog. However, these friendly canines aren’t just your regular, neighborhood strays—they are trained professionals.
“READ dogs are registered therapy animals that volunteer with their handler as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children. . . . READ utilizes registered therapy animals that have been trained and tested for health, safety, appropriate skills and temperament,” as stated on their website.
Jumping on the doggie bandwagon, many libraries are coordinating with organizations like TDI and Dogs on Call, Inc. to have these doggie rendezvous take place between the stacks—where access to whatever book the child wants seems infinite.
Reading is one of the most fundamental skills. Besides being a necessary tool in the workforce, it allows you to escape into a world of fantasy through science fiction, drama and romance—or someone else’s reality through memoirs and autobiographies—and to be deprived of that is completely saddening. If children are too afraid to open a book, they will never tap into their true potential or be allowed access to the thoughts, imaginings, and words of lauded writers, poets and playwrights.
Adding a cute pooch to the mix can encourage more children to read—but more importantly, to read well. To that, I say, let the dogs out.
Did You Know?
A New York Times article states that reading for pleasure is on a steady decline among children. In a 2014 survey, 31 percent of children between ages 6 and 17 read daily for fun—which is a 37 percent decrease from four years ago. The survey recorded that children whose parents read to them consistently were more inclined to read on their own. The figures promote the idea that parents should continually read to their children—regardless of age—to keep the desire of reading for pleasure intact.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Learning a Second Language Should Start Young

by Dakota Damschroder
Spring 2015 Intern

J’ai étudié le français depuis six ans. Did I say that right?

Before coming to college, I took six years of French—and I have since forgotten nearly all of it. Most of the students in my high school didn’t even get that far, though. Foreign languages were only offered—not required—in middle school, and there was only a two-year arts graduation requirement in high school, which could—but didn’t have to—be fulfilled by taking a language course. After my sophomore year, half of the students in my French class left. From my perspective, it seems as if we were introduced to a new language too late in life, and my fellow students saw it as too difficult and simply not fun.

It’s become relatively accepted that it’s easier for children to start learning foreign languages at young ages, but there are also numerous cognitive benefits. Even at the kindergarten level, bilingual children perform better than monolingual children when it comes to attention and cognitive control. Interestingly enough, because they speak multiple languages, these children have to work harder to suppress one language when speaking in the other, which exercises control. And these are just the immediate benefits; early research suggests that the more developed cognitive systems that bilingualism creates can help protect people against Alzheimer’s, or at least slow its progress.

In order to take advantage of these benefits, many schools are implementing immersion language programs in which students speak, read, write and learn in a language different from their native one. In Moline, Illinois, for example, the Lincoln-Irving Elementary School has created a dual-language immersion program that not only teaches the kids Spanish but also makes them excited about it. “It’s making me smarter for English and Spanish both,” said kindergartener Xavier Aguilera. His mother also reports him speaking and reading in both languages at home.

Lincoln-Irving’s students receive about 80 percent of instruction in Spanish, starting at the kindergarten level. That number evens out to 50 percent by the time the children are in the fifth grade. Leslie Perkins, a kindergarten teacher, noted how she sees her students having to think more. By having to process the language they’re hearing, learning and speaking, they are putting more attention into their studies. The children are also learning more about other cultures as a part of the immersion program.

In this way, learning a foreign language early can provide lifelong benefits beyond the cognitive level. Bilingualism challenges students in the ways they learn, and the skills they develop can be carried into other areas of their lives. It also helps remove language barriers between students, both immediately and in the future, especially in mixed-language, multicultural communities. Immersion programs open the way for collaborative learning in this sense, allowing students to interact and rely on each other to find understanding in the lesson and in the language.

Did You Know?

While there are many distinct advantages to learning young, you can never be too old to learn a new language! In fact, the older someone is, the easier it will be to pick up a new language’s vocabulary due to the extensiveness of their native vocabulary. However, depending on age, it may be more difficult to pick up the syntax and grammar of that language due to the decreasing neuroplasticity of the brain. But the health benefits are worth it; studies have found that bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia, among other diseases.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Supersize When You Can Nanosize?

by Shalen Lowell
Spring 2015 Intern

A tiny energy source that packs a surprising amount of power, nanotech batteries are becoming smaller and more efficient every year. Nanotechnology includes the design of systems and devices on a nanoscale. To put into perspective how small the nanoscale is, one nanometer is a billionth of a meter; there are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch; and a nanometer is estimated to be about 80,000 times thinner than a human hair. With their small size and increased energy storage, nanotech energy products can improve conventional energy sources like lithium-ion batteries, as well as renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal energy. With green energy sources often relying on backups or producing intermittent energy, nanotech batteries could revolutionize the renewables industry. Renewables cannot yet provide a constant source of power and must store the energy for use at a later time. With the ability to store more energy than ever before, these batteries can provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel generation.

So what makes up a nanotech battery? These batteries consist of nanopores that produce an electric current. One battery developed by University of Maryland (UMD) nanotech researchers only takes 12 minutes to fully recharge. Gary Rubloff, director of UMD’s NanoCenter, addresses the need for increased electrical energy storage: “Conventional devices to store and deliver electrical energy—batteries and capacitors—cannot achieve the needed combination of high energy density, high power and fast recharge that are essential for our energy future.” Since nanopores are identical and can be maneuvered into a tight grid pattern, manufacturers can fit more of them into a smaller area, thereby optimizing both space and increased energy storage within the battery.

For example, cars can be made more efficient using lightweight construction materials made possible with nanocomposites. These lighter materials contribute to less fuel consumption because of the reduced drag created as the car overcomes its own inertia in order for it to get up to speed. Compacting more nanopores into a smaller battery space will also result in a more sustainable production process, with fewer materials needed for—and wasted during—production.

While the pros of nanotech batteries seem endless, developing these batteries comes with its challenges. Constructing these batteries on a nanoscale is too expensive in the current market, and lower oil and natural gas prices across the country have overshadowed the demand for renewable sources like wind and sun. It will be a while before these mini-sized batteries hit mainstream production. But imagine what that will mean for smartphone batteries—not only could batteries be much lighter, recharge time would be greatly reduced.

So while the fad used to be to supersize, scientists and researchers across the technology, energy and environmental industries are looking to nanosize their batteries and devices in order to make more compact, energy-efficient technologies.

Did You Know?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also studies and researches nanotechnology. The EPA cites that some of the benefits of nanotechnology used in the environmental sector include the following: enhanced use of renewable energy sources and cost-effective development of those sources; more accurate sensing and monitoring devices; and improved environmental remediation of polluted sites.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cracking the Code: How Anyone Can Break into the Tech Industry

by Dakota Damschroder
Spring 2015 Intern

Can you honestly imagine a world without technology? Well, some might have an easier time imagining it, but the fact remains that technology is so ingrained in our culture today that we wouldn’t even know how to live our lives without it. Despite this, most users don’t understand the foundations behind the programs and websites they use every day, though a consensus is slowly being reached that more people should have the opportunity. Our own Ken Scherpelz wrote a blog post about a nonprofit’s initiative designed to teach programming to students of all ages. United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Megan Smith believes schools should teach students how to write code as early as the second grade. And many seem to feel that students learning programming need not be limited to school-age individuals.

Why is the push for programming instruction generating so much interest? Much of it has to do with the increased job market for technology experts. Now that the economy has started to improve, companies of all types find themselves in need of employees with a background in coding. With this increased demand comes an increased need for code training, both for those seeking to get into the field and those who need to bring themselves up to date. As a result, some unique programs have started cropping up.

In the San Quentin State Prison (SQ) in California, the nonprofit The Last Mile has created a “coding boot camp” called Code.7370, where 18 inmates learn the skills necessary to become entry-level web developers. Many of them have been in prison long enough to have missed the start of the technological revolution or didn’t have access to computers before their incarcerations began. As such, some of the students go from having never touched a computer to being able to build a website. The program is meant to address the issue of recidivism, or a relapse into criminal behavior, which is at a national high of 61 percent. Upon parole, The Last Mile helps its former students get paid internships and, eventually, jobs.

Of course, SQ is not the only establishment offering coding programs. For years, online courses have existed that teach everything from making websites to using JavaScript. Most of these programs, such as Pluralsight, Thinkful and General Assembly, require a tuition that can range from $29 a month to several thousand dollars per course. However, because of the growing need to bridge the skills gap, many nonprofit organizations such as Codecademy and LaunchCode (partnered with PluralSight) have also been developed to bring the best courses to those who can’t otherwise afford them.

As seemingly necessary as technology is, it can also be incredibly intimidating when looking at it deeper than the surface level almost consumers use. But with all of the resources now available, learning to code can be affordable, fun and as easy as 00110001, 00110010, 00110011.

Did You Know?

As old-school as it may seem, coding can be learned non-electronically. There exist several tabletop games designed to help younger children learn the basics of coding. For ThinkFun, it’s all about figuring out what coding means for a preschooler. In the case of the game Robot Turtles, it’s “about sequencing instruction by instruction and then being able to recognize the consequences.” Another such game is Code Monkey Island. Both games help children develop their cognitive skills, learn how to apply logic and apply a mental framework.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Employee Spotlight: Meet Ken

by Ken Scherpelz
VP of Sales & Business Development

I have seen many changes in the industry since entering educational publishing in 1979. After teaching elementary school for five years—I was the big guy with the long hair and curly beard towering over the first and second graders—I moved to educational publishing, a typical career change for many teachers. I’ve worked for major publishers, including Scott Foresman (now Pearson), Zaner-Bloser/Highlights for Children and McGraw-Hill Education. I have also held management positions with several educational development houses.

I’ve been at PSG since 2006, the longest stretch with one company in my long career. I feel that PSG is the perfect fit for my experience, skills and personality. What we do here is important work when you realize the impact these products can have to help promote education and literacy. From my early days of teaching through my years in publishing, I’ve always been proud of the work I do, and I’m fortunate to be able to work in an environment that’s supportive, creative and even fun. I really enjoy my work, as well as the people with whom I work—staff and clients alike.

My wife, Martha, has been a classroom teacher for almost 20 years, and education has always been a priority with my family. Dinner table conversations between us have less to do with paying bills and painting the trim and more to do with Martha’s students and my projects at PSG. Our three grown kids, of whom I am immensely proud, have always been involved with and continue to work in the nonprofit sector, contributing to Habitat for Humanity, advocating for rights for the disabled, and volunteering to teach English in underdeveloped countries.

Born and raised in the Chicago area and the third of seven kids, I have deep roots in the Midwest. Although not really a farm boy, I’m more comfortable among the open spaces of America’s heartland than the mountains or coastal shores. I’m also a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, a curse inherited from my grandparents, who took each of their seven grandchildren to the beautiful confines of Wrigley Field when we turned five years old. Regardless if the kids became Cubs fans, the real goal was to make us fall in love with the emerald green ivy in the ballpark and not become White Sox fans. I hope to see a Cubs World Series game (Heck—even a 10-game winning streak would be nice!) during my lifetime.

Little-Known Fact About Ken

A huge fan of classical music, Ken once conducted the Butler University Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” His one and only time on the podium remains a highlight for him.

Ken is also a major fan of the Buckeyes (both the candy and the college football team) and was among many cheering late into the night when Ohio State won the College Football Playoff National Championship (CFP) on January 12, 2015.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Little Rooms, Big Benefits: Sensory Rooms for Students with Disabilities

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

Picture a dimly lit room with music playing. A chair pulses with the beat. A swing hangs from the ceiling. A lava lamp bubbles in the corner. Images of leaves, balloons and fireworks are projected on the wall. Everything in this room waits to be interacted with and morphed. This is one of the many sensory rooms being installed in schools across the country for students with disabilities.

The concept comes from a Dutch philosophy called Snoezelen, which is a combination of two words meaning “to explore” and “to relax.” The researchers who initially created the concept believe that the atmosphere of a room has an impact on behavior. They sought to create relaxing spaces for people with disabilities. The idea of a room filled with sensory objects was also initiated by Dr. Lilli Nielsen, a therapist known for working with severely disabled children through her philosophy of “active learning.” Because Nielsen believes that children learn through active stimulation, she created the concept of the Little Room, wherein children interact with sensory objects made of different materials. Some sensory rooms are built with Nielsen’s original Little Room in mind, like Terman Middle School’s room in Palo Alto, California.

A whole myriad of students can benefit from sensory rooms. In addition to aiding severely disabled students like the ones Nielsen’s Little Room was intended for, the rooms help students with sensory processing disorder (SPD). According to the SPD Foundation, SPD disrupts the daily lives of about 1 in 20 students. It is often found in people on the autism spectrum and people with other mental disorders and learning disabilities.

Entering a sensory room calms students, helps them focus on their schoolwork and diminishes aggressive behaviors. Many schools incorporate visits to the room into students’ daily routines, which helps them develop the ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors. Rebecca Edenfield, director of Rutland Academy in Athens, Georgia, says they have seen progress in many of their students. Students learn to calm themselves down in the sensory room, then return to class relaxed, focused and ready to learn. Edenfield said, “Some students already are recognizing when they're on the verge of a tantrum and have used swings or lights at their own homes to help cool down and collect themselves.”

Students also find comfort in knowing they can go to the sensory room when they feel overwhelmed. Andrew Smith-Hinson, an 18-year-old student with behavioral issues at the Felician School for Exceptional Students in Lodi, New Jersey, says he likes going to the room to relax and talk about his problems with a therapist. “I like seeing those fishes going in a circle. It helps take my mind off stuff,” he said about a projected image of colorful fish.

The beauty of a sensory room is that each student chooses to interact with anything they want. The fish that relax Andrew might not relax someone else at his school, but each student is free to explore the room in whichever way benefits them. In this way, sensory rooms provide a collective therapeutic experience that can be tailored into a uniquely beneficial regimen for each individual.

Did You Know?

You can create a sensory room in your own home! If you live too far away from a facility with a sensory room but think your child can benefit, read this helpful guide for constructing a sensory room on a budget. The author of the article, who is the parent of an autistic child, created her own sensory room with sensory stones, a ball pit and a swing. She also filled other rooms with repurposed sensory objects like tickly cat mats from a pet store. The most important thing about creating a sensory room is to be creative and flexible. Professional therapeutic sensory rooms can cost up to $1 million, but it’s easy to fill your child’s needs in your own home without breaking the bank.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Newsela: Common Core Standards and Current Events

by Annemarie Tompsen
Intern, Spring 2015

A Common Core–aligned website has taken on the uniquely twofold endeavor of getting students interested about current events while using a text-leveling process to ensure they’re meeting grade-specific reading standards. Newsela, founded by Matthew Gross, was launched in June 2013, and it publishes dozens of popular news articles daily. Topics include health, science, arts, sports and law. With the help of staff editors, current events articles from news sources like the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, Scientific American and Associated Press news feeds are adapted into a range of five different levels of reading complexities. Using the Common Core–preferred Lexile measure, each article has been re-tailored so that students with different reading abilities can read the same article in the same classroom.

Stressing the importance of nonfiction in the curriculum of Common Core education, Newsela allows students to become involved with nonfiction material through articles and quizzes aligned to the Common Core State Standards. These multiple-choice quizzes provide questions that suit Common Core expectations for critical thinking and close reading. There is also a Write function in which students compose a written response to a question. Additionally, students can make notes and highlight text using the built-in annotate tool. Newsela Pro, the paid version of the platform, takes this one step further: Teachers can use the annotation feature to highlight text and ask questions throughout the article to which students may respond. It is with these integrative interface options that Newsela can provide a unique experience for students.

With technology becoming increasingly important in the classroom, Newsela has become a popular educational tool that allows teachers to bring nonfiction reading into their curriculum. Not only can educators assign news articles with accessible quiz and written response functions; the site also allows teachers to record student progress, including assessment results and any annotations made to the text. Additionally, the tools provide a visual format that clearly shows student results, allowing educators to see how students are faring against their peers and against the Common Core expectations. The battery of tools allows teachers to adapt their curriculum to specific student needs, assuring that each student can successfully reach the required standards.

Parents and guardians are often encouraged to stay involved with the Common Core and their child’s progress. Newsela accommodates this by allowing parents to create an account that has the same functions available to them as a teacher. This allows the benefits of nonfiction reading to be brought into the home and to connect parents with the process. The parental account lets students and parents share the learning process, and this includes involving the parents [PDF link] in how the Common Core State Standards are being applied, as well as keeping them informed of their child’s learning strengths and educational progress.

When Newsela is utilized to its fullest potential, teachers, parents and students can work together to create a positive online learning experience. The integration of nonfiction articles with the Common Core, along with reading level flexibility and methods to assess learning, make this platform an exciting tool in the educational field.

Did You Know?

 Magazines are one fun and interactive hands-on way to bring nonfiction material into classrooms. One of these includes Time For Kids, which is an educational spinoff of Time magazine and has been produced specifically for grades K–6. Topics cover real-world issues while also bringing helpful features into the mix, such as prompts, special editions and test-prep sections, among other things. Most excitingly, they have begun to adapt material to the Common Core, indicating a commitment to integrating the standards into their material to assist teachers with their curricula.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How Exactly Does Closed Captioning Work?

by Shalen Lowell
Intern, Spring 2015

From old school VCRs to DVD players, HDTV, Blu-ray players and Netflix, closed captioning is all around us. But whether we use captions for foreign film translations or to understand TV dialogue, its variety of uses begs the question: What exactly is closed captioning?

Closed captions display spoken dialogue as printed words on a screen. Captions are often used by those with hearing loss so that they may participate with others also watching TV, for example. They are also beneficial for English language learners (ELLs) as well as adults and children learning to read. Subtitling differs from closed captioning in that subtitles are used specifically for translation of the dialogue and are often burned into a picture so that they cannot be turned off, whereas captions can either be burned into the video or a viewer can choose whether to turn the captions on or off.

Nicole Coffey of ESPNFrontRow.com explains closed captioning and its tie to the sports industry in an article that includes a video featuring Scott Pentoney of the ESPN Program Compliance Team, the group that organizes, tracks and reports all captioning on every ESPN domestic network. ESPN coordinates and schedules captions for all of their TV programming as well as their video on demand (VOD) system and ESPN.com. Caption writers program the closed captions and then send the captioning data to the network’s programming team. The programming team then embeds that data into the video signal to be broadcast.

Not two decades after closed captioning was popularized for TV and movie screens, Sony came out with a new innovation that changed the game for closed captioning. In 2013, the company released their Sony Entertainment Access Glasses, special closed-captioning glasses that enable more moviegoers who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to actually go to theaters. The captions are projected onto the glasses using a holograph and appear under the movie screen for the viewer to read. The glasses also come with added features such as audio adjustment levels for those who are hard-of-hearing as well as movie audio tracks for people who are blind. With their Access Glasses, Sony modernizes the captioning process and makes it more real-time. Certain theaters have these glasses available, including some Regal Cinemas across the country. Speaking of real-time interaction, Google’s famous Google Glass also has a fantastic new app for captioning conversations for those who are hard-of-hearing.

With over 36 million Americans having some type of hearing loss in 2012, the demand for captioning continues to be relevant. Thanks to dedicated captioning specialists as well as new and emerging technologies, hard-of-hearing Americans have more avenues than ever to acquire information and enjoy entertainment with less of a struggle.

Did You Know?

Sports programming is one of the hardest genres to caption because of its specific vocabulary, fast-paced nature and long rosters. People who program captions, particularly for sports and other live, real-time events, are usually trained as court reporters. Both court reporters and closed caption writers use a stenotype keyboard, and the captioning language is similar to texting in that it uses many specific abbreviations, acronyms and other shorthand styles. According to Scott Pentoney from ESPN, a typical captioner (also called a speech-to-text reporter) types about 200 words per minute for a one-hour live show.