The Write Start

This guide to writing for kiddos might just be worth the buy.

Yesterday I checked a copy of Jennifer Hallissy’s The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, From Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories from the library. Many of the people who follow my blogs know that my family unschools (we prefer “self-directed learning,” “life learning,” or my favorite, “autodidactic learning”—anything but schooling, which has little to do with learning) so I do get e-mails or questions from friends about why I still seek out books like this one.

You have to keep in mind that unschooling doesn’t mean “not using a book or curriculum.” In fact, many unschoolers use a curriculum at one point or another (and most use books quite often, of course). I check out lots of resources to run by my wood sprite, who gives them her yay or nay. This time, however, I checked out the book to help me prep for a new co-op class I’m leading about creative writing.I think this book will really help me out. It includes “52 playful activities,” which is enough for one a week—or maybe two per class, depending on how much time I’ve got. I’ve been teaching some classes already but I fear they’ve been a little too old for some of the kids. Hallisy’s book breaks down various activities for kids who can and cannot write yet, which is exactly what I need.

It really is the perfect how-to book. Every activity is prefaced with a list of needed materials, which always comes in handy. Then there’s a very simple how-to description followed by variations you can use for different kids’ needs. Four different variations are included: scribblers, spellers, storytellers, and scholars. Yes, it’s cute, but it also makes sense: kids who scribble, after all, want to be included just as well as the kids who spell a bit (the kids I’ll be teaching fall into these two categories for the most part)—and older kids will want to be challenged. Activities range from writing poetry to creating edible alphabet characters, so you know there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

I’m thinking that I’m going to need to buy my own copy because this book really does seem that helpful. Once the co-op starts going (we begin this Wednesday!) I will know for sure. Every other week, I’ll be teaching a conversational Spanish class as well; anyone have any ideas for that one?

Making The Grade: Everything Your First Grader Needs To Know

A book that offers cool ideas for learning outside of the typical classroom.

Though my family unschools, we do appreciate curriculum resources now and then. My daughter will select something out of Hirsch’s What Your First Grader Needs to Know every now and then for us to read together. So when I saw Making the Grade: Everything Your 1st Grader Needs to Know at the library, I thought I’d check it out—and I’m glad I did so far.

This book is so much better than the former that I mentioned! Not only is it much more fun to read and look at—it also has so many cool ideas for going outside the typical classroom and learning in your own community. There are a bunch of field trip ideas, as well as variations on different learning experiences to let children pick and choose how they want to learn. Not only that, there’s a key quote at the beginning of the book that makes my heart sing: “Follow your child’s interests, as it will making learning fun and valuable.” YES! That is the whole unschooling philosophy! I would scratch out valuable since we all know what society deems valuable (money) and write in “meaningful” if it were my book.

And it will be my book, as I plan on ordering a copy for us to use. Did I mention the pages are also perforated for easy use? You can pick and choose what you like and just tear out what you want! And though you will find worksheets in the book, they are far from simple worksheets; most are pretty fun, and on the back they feature extra fun activities. For example, while learning about ee, ea, and ie sounds, there is a worksheet with six simple sentences that kids may or may not wish to do. On the back, there are two fun activities to choose from or modify—including word puzzles you can make or a flashlight game you can play. Imagine if school were taught this way!

I don’t mean to suggest school is where learning should take place; life already exists for that, which is why schools are silly. But learning should be fun and meaningful, and if schools hope to succeed at all they need to focus on methods like this rather than pass/fail, teach to the test, and other ridiculous measures that have nothing to do with creating mindful, compassionate, joyful, fulfilled citizens. Of course, that’s not the goal for most schools—or the government in general—anyway, is it?

Old or New-Which is Acceptable?

It seems that textbook publishers are constantly updating college materials, which often means that students are required to purchase new books on a regular basis. This can be extremely frustrating if you had planned to use the book for more than one class only to find out that the edition has been updated in the meantime. You may actually be able to continue using an older edition of the book, so here are some things for you to consider:
  1. Try to compare the latest edition with the one you have currently. Often, there is only a minimal amount of new information added. Other times, the material may be presented in much the same way with the exception that new captions are added to photographs or the pages slightly rearranged. This is especially true of math books, which often contain the same problems in more than one edition of the text.
  2. What is the subject matter of the book? If it’s an English or Math textbook, chances are little has changed. If it deals with medical science or contains technical material, quite a bit of material may have been updated. In this case, it is best to shell out for a new book even though it might be tempting to use an earlier edition.
  3. When was the older edition published? If a publisher tends to update their editions yearly, this means the textbook you already have may still be very current. It can also be helpful to know which edition of the book your instructor is using, since many colleges do not always buy the latest editions for professors to use. If the teacher is using an older edition of a textbook, chances are you will also be able to do the same.

School Board Member Questions Textbook Content

 A California school board member is questioning the doctrine being taught in a history textbook after a parent brought the content of the book to her attention. Dr.  Leslie Bramson recently expressed her concerns that the seventh grade book titled “History Alive” spends too much time focusing on Islam and is also teaching incorrect material to students.

Bramson claims that Chapters 7 through 11 in this textbook are devoted to the geography of the Middle East as well as the history and contribution of Muslims to this part of the world. These chapters also contain some background on Muhammad as well as certain teachings of Islam itself.

 She’s also concerned because Islam is portrayed to be a very peaceful religion, and students are not told about some of the more violent aspects of it. Bramson claims that "They are being given a rosy colored idealistic picture of a narrow piece of the religion and culture of Muslims."  This is because parts of the textbook state that jihad is merely a “struggle against enemies”.

It’s not certain what will happen next. The state of California approves all textbooks, and the process can take up to three years to complete. It seems that some parents had earlier objected to anti-Christian material being taught. As a result, their children were exempted from it and allowed to complete an optional assignment instead. It seems the school board is very willing to work with teachers and children in order to make sure their religious views are not infringed upon, even if it is somewhat difficult to do so.

Open Source Textbooks Under Development

A break is coming for college students worried about the rising cost of their textbooks. Rice University as begun a program called Connexions which will be using open-source materials to produce free textbooks for students. These books will cover five of the most populous courses of study for college students.

Open-sourcing is an idea held by certain companies that means they believe in free redistribution of their research materials and end results. They believe that through their research and development they have the opportunity to benefit their industry and people in general, but sharing their work and allowing it to be built upon further.

Several philanthropic institutions, including the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation have stepped forward to offer their monetary support to the project. OpenStax textbooks will be competitive with those currently found in campus stores throughout the country, but will be able to save college students up to 90% of the costs of their textbooks for certain courses. In addition to saving college students money, the open-source model allows professors the ability to change the texts themselves to better suit the needs of their course.

This month, physics and sociology texts are due to hit the market. They will be followed by versions for basic biology courses, anatomy and physiology. These free books are going to be available free on computers, smart phones and tablets. Print Versions will also be available for a nominal fee. Upcoming partnerships to provide educators with testing and classroom materials are expected to be announced soon.

Are Children's Textbooks Promoting Socialism?

Could your child’s school be indoctrinating them into a socialist world view? Many feel that there are indicators this is actually happening. By slanting some of the instruction, children are being misled into thinking that the government owes them housing, food, and medical care among other things.

Talk radio personality Glenn Beck addresses a children’s reading book entitled “Building Fluency through Practice and Performance.” This book aims to teach children how to read by repetition and reciting certain words in the textbook. The words they are reciting relate to the Preamble to the Constitution; however, some of the text included does not exactly state the facts as they were written by our Founding Fathers.

The passage in question begins with the Preamble:  "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, established justice, ensure of domestic tranquility provide for common defense, promote the general welfare” and ends with “ people's basic needs must be met in a country." Directly after this passage, the book goes on to say that "needs for housing, education, health care overseen by the government system.”

 The last passage is definitely not a part of the Preamble, nor is it what our founding fathers intended when they stated “promote the general welfare”. Having our children believe that the government is responsible for providing everyone’s needs is a dangerous concept to teach our children. Even more frightening, claims Beck, is the fact that they are “chanted in song-like form in the class”. He urges parents to find out if this books is being used in their children’s school, and if so to work towards getting it removed in that school system.

Offensive Textbooks Banned in Tucson

Publications promoted racism and violence

The Tucson, Arizona school board recently released a list of textbooks that are to be banned in public school classrooms. These textbooks had been a part of the school system’s Mexican-American studies program until recently when ethnic studies were discontinued throughout the region. The school board claims these textbooks promote racism and that they were an “indoctrination” into Marxist ways of thinking.

The decision to ban these books did not come lightly. The Arizona Superintendant of Public Instruction personally visited classrooms where this curriculum was being taught. What he found was both shocking and amazing. He claims that the books explicitly claim they are modeled around Marxism and also promote hatred of whites. He claims that only one viewpoint is given in the Mexican-American studies curriculum and that it does not afford students the opportunity to think critically.

One of the disturbing things witnessed by the superintendant was a picture of Che Guerva on a classroom wall. Che Guerva was responsible for overseeing the death camps in Cuba during the Communist regime there. These death camps were ultimately responsible for the deaths of over 14,000 Cubans. While Che Guerva was portrayed as a hero, superintendant John Huppenthall claims he also overhead lecture which tended to promote Benjamin Franklin as a racist.

The banned books include “Rethinking Columbus”, “Chicano”, “Occupied America”, “Tempest”, and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Teachers have also been cautioned not to include other books that talk about oppression or encourage racism in any way. Meanwhile, the ethnic studies program is not likely to return to the Tucson school system any time soon.


Things to Know When Taking Online Classes

When trying to choose an online college, it is very important to find out what textbook options are available. This is because many students are unwittingly duped into purchasing electronic textbooks that they are unable to use once the semester is over. To add insult to injury, these books are just as costly as traditional printed materials are.

I am a campus-based student who recently decided to take an online course with my university. I had previously done so and each time was able to purchase my textbook from the college bookstore. Apparently, there has been a change in the school policy because when I registered for this online class I was told I would receive an e-book.

They didn’t lie. I did receive an e-book-along with an additional charge of $147.00. I was a little surprised at the cost of this e-book, because somehow I had assumed it would be much cheaper than that. For my fee of $147.00, I will be able to access this e-book only during the time of my 5.5 week course, and only by logging into my virtual classroom. Yes, you read correctly. I am accessing this textbook for only 5.5 weeks, which means in essence I am renting the e-book for this amount of money.

As a result of my experience, I have decided to make students aware that other universities may be pulling the same trick. When choosing online courses, find out if you will be required to purchase an e-book or if it’s optional to do so. You might also want to know whether it can be delivered via Kindle, so at least you can retain the textbook when the term is over.

The E-Reader Evolution

Having just received my first Kindle this Christmas, I realize I’m a little late to the e-reader game. However, even after owning it for such a short amount of time, I’ve become quite enamored. I can only think back to my college experiences and think, “Why didn’t they have this kind of thing when I was in college?” Not just for my general reading pleasure, but I can only drool over the fortune it would have saved me on textbooks.

Books are one of the most expensive parts of a college education and I learned to dread the day I’d have to walk a mile through the snow (Honestly, that’s how spring semester starts out at Edinboro University of PA) to buy $400, $500 or even $700 in books. Walking into that campus store was pretty much equivilant to walking onto a car lot. You knew that you could technically  sell your books back at the end of the semester and you might end up with enough money to buy yourself a beer or two before you headed home  for the summer.

Now that Amazon is testing the waters of e-textbooks, I can only imagine how the college students are rejoicing. Not only is one Kindle lighter and easier to carry than 12 books, but you never even have to leave the comfort of your dorm room (and that is the kind of thing that makes college students very happy). When I was in college, my only alternative to the campus store, was, where even though a book might be $15 cheaper, you still had to tack on $10 in shipping. (Not to mention not knowing if the person selling the book would manage to ship it before you needed it for your first exam.)

I think Amazon has found a gold mine here, which is just my opinion, but some of you out there might be inclined to agree with me.

Choosing Kindle Textbooks

If you’re tired of lugging around piles of books, you may want to think about getting them on a Kindle instead. Many titles are available in this format through Amazon.  You do not need to visit a bookstore, but you may search for your book by title and author directly from your device. Many times, these textbooks are cheaper than print copies are, and rentals are also available in some instances.

There are some disadvantages to buying books on Kindle though. For example, many professors do not allow electronic devices in their classrooms, so this could render your purchase unusable. It may not be possible to get all titles in electronic format, especially if your college has its own unique textbooks. Another question for you to consider is what you will do with the book when the semester is over. Unlike traditional textbooks, selling your e-book is not an option. This means you cannot recover any of the money you have spent for your materials.

A few high schools around the country have experimented with using the Kindle or other electronic media to download textbooks. Many of them claim this saves the school corporation over purchasing paper copies for their students. In many cases,  this can also be a relief for parents who are concerned about their children developing back problems from carrying heavy backpacks.

Only time will tell if reading Kindle textbooks will become the wave of the future. If so, it could mean the end of many publishing companies, especially those who produce educational materials.