Purchasing materials for a library collection that are both high-quality and meet the needs of the library's particular population is a key component of a librarian's job. Librarians often must review resources and decide the most appropriate ways to spend limited funds in order to provide the best materials for their patrons. I had the opportunity to evaluate several different types of resources to determine whether or not they might be appropriate for my library collection.
Selection Rubric: Audio Materials
Title: Sing and Learn Japanese
Source: Recorded Books
Cost: Available as mp3 files only (no manual or instrumentals) from Amazon for $8.91
Available from resellers; price varies, but it averages $18 - $20.
Length: 75 minutes
Format: Compact Disc
Subject Area: Foreign Language
Grade Level: Pre-K through 2
A compact disc and accompanying booklet that contains nine songs for teaching children how to speak Japanese. The songs are aimed at teaching basic vocabulary, including body parts, colors, numbers, familiar animals and their sounds, family members, days of the week, and other various words. The CD contains all songs in Japanese with both children and adult voices. Several different styles and rhythms are used, and many songs contain movement instructions within them (i.e. walk forward, walk backward, jump, etc.)
Standards / Outcomes / Objectives
Content standards may vary; no content standards for preschool children; no content standards for language immersion program.
Communication: Communicate in languages other than English.
Benchmark A: Ask and answer questions and share preferences on familiar topics.
Kindergarten 1. Answer simple questions about personal information and other familiar topics.
Grade Two 1. Ask and answer questions about likes and dislikes.
Benchmark C: Request clarification
Kindergarten 4. Respond to questions seeking clarification.
Benchmark D: Give and follow a short sequence of instructions.
Kindergarten 5. Follow simple classroom instructions.
Grade One 5. Repeat and follow a simple sequence of instructions.
Benchmark 3: Respond appropriately to requests accompanied by gestures and other visual or auditory cues, and follow directions
Kindergarten 6. Respond to simple requests.
Benchmark F: Identify people and objects based on descriptions
Kindergarten 7. Identify and/or match pictures relating to oral or signed descriptions.
Grade One 7. Identify people and objects based on detailed oral or signed descriptions.
Grade Two 7. Identify accurate and inaccurate descriptions of people and objects.
Benchmark G: Decode words, phrases and sentences using knowledge of letter/symbol-sound correspondences and contextual cues.
Kindergaraten 9. Understand new words from the use of pictures within a text.
Grade One 9. Identify and say alphabet and sound-symbol correspondence
Benchmark I: Dramatize songs, short stories, poetry, or activities
Kindergarten: Recite short poems/rhymes or sing/sign songs with appropriate body language.
No required prerequisities; the CD is aimed at children who do not speak Japanese. Students must be able to hear the music clearly, and would benefit from having enlarged visuals.
The program uses simple, catchy songs to teach. This is a huge strength, as what is learned musically is often retained for a very long time. The songs incorporate movement, and visuals are included with the accompanying material. Although the resource itself is predominantly audio, it can be used in ways to engage multiple learning styles. The resource comes with supplemental visuals. The songs are also included as instrumental tracks, allowing for modification of the songs as the teacher or students require. The resource is targeted at an age group still able to learn a second language extremely easily.
The songs are only in Japanese – children will need some sort of assistance visually or with teacher directions or explanations to learn what the songs mean. The accompanying visuals are very small and could not be used along with the audio for an entire class, meaning the teacher will probably have to prepare visual aids. This material is geared for very young children who often do not study a foreign language in school, making the resource only useful in certain specific environments.
Selection Rubric: Audio:
Recommended for Classroom Use: Yes (in appropriate classroom environments)
Ideas for Classroom Use:
This CD could be incorporated into a classroom in several ways.
Selection Rubric: Video
Title: Bill Nye, the Science Guy: Phases of Matter Format: DVD
Source/Location: Disney Educational Productions, www.Edustation.com
©Date: 2003 Cost: $29.99 Length: 26 minutes
Subject Area: Science Grade Level: 3 – 8
One of the highly popular Bill Nye series, this DVD teaches the three different phases of matter: solid, liquid and gas. To do this, Nye takes his viewers through a series of experiments, demonstrations, and real-world explorations, including the following: a visit to a steel mill, a visit to the Coca-Cola plant, boiling liquid nitrogen and water, freezing objects in liquid nitrogen, experiments with dry ice, making rock candy, a discussion of absolute zero, and a phases of matter rap and poem. Nye performs his science demonstrations and explanations with a zany, over-the-top approach and a lot of humor. Children often perform and explain demonstrations as well, many of which can easily be replicated in a classroom. The DVD also contains extra features including a recipe for fudge tied to the topic, a quiz, teacher use materials, and a brief explanation of some substances that do not fit into any of the three major phases of matter like liquid crystals and gels.
Earth and Space Sciences
Grade 4 1. Explain that air surrounds us, takes up space, moves around us as wind, and may be measured using barometric pressure.
2. Identify how water exists in the air in different forms.
3. Investigate how water changes from one state to another.
Grade 4 1. Identify characteristics of a simple physical change.
4. Explain that matter has different states and that each state has distinct physical properties.
The teacher will need a DVD player of some sort, a projector, and a projection screen to show this video in class. The students need very little background because the video assumes they do not know anything about the topic. It discusses the three states, what each is, and the various conditions under which each occurs. Some sections do mention atoms, so a basic understanding of an atom would probably be helpful; for young children, this could simply be something along the lines of “atoms are the tiny little bits that make up everything around us.”
The information is accurate and extremely well-presented. Bill Nye is a champion at making science fun, understandable and highly engaging. The information is presented in a wide variety of ways, many of which can be used multiple times or recreated in class. Nye engages almost all of the learning styles and uses humor and real-world scenarios to keep children engaged. The information is simple enough for younger children, but contains some more in-depth information for older students, making it an extremely versatile resource.
Nye does a very good job of providing a variety of examples of the states of matter; however, older children particularly may find this installment in his series somewhat repetitive. Nye’s series includes a video on atoms, which may be why that information is not presented here, but those sections of the video are slightly disjointed, and the concept of atom is not well addressed. The way Nye presents the topic makes this omission less significant than it might otherwise be, but it does still exist. The information in the video generally pertains to the fourth-grade standards, and also a first grade standard, but the video is not suited for first grade students, and some information, like the section on absolute zero, may not be particularly relevant to fourth grade students.
The video contains a bonus features section with a visit to the Coca-Cola factory, bloopers, a discussion of semi-liquid and semi-solid substances, a recipe for fudge, and a closer look at the steel factory. It also includes a quiz, a wallpaper and screen saver, and an extensive teacher’s guide complete with student handouts.
Selection Rubric: Video
Recommended for Classroom Use: YES
Ideas for Classroom UseShow as a whole for fourth grade students learning about the states of matter. Show segments as appropriate to other grades. Replicate the experiments in class, particularly the one in which a child demonstrates that gases have weight. It was impressive in the video, but would be even more so if children were able to see it in the real world, or even carry it out. Teach the rap segment to students as a learning aid. Give children the written quiz, and use the interactive version to go over answers with the class.
Multimedia Software Evaluation
Title: The Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth Format: CD-ROM
Hardware Required: Minimum 486 PC with Windows 3.1, runs well on Windows 7
Source/Location: Scholastic in conjunction with Microsoft
©Date: 1996 Cost: $12.97 Primary Users: Students and Teachers
Subject Area: Science
Grade Level: Listed ages 6-10 (1st through 5th), probably better suited for 3rd or 4th based on gameplay and content
Instructional Strategies: This software can be used in a variety of ways: teacher-led whole group instruction, small group learning centers or workstations, independent learning as an educational filler or in a computer lab. The content can be used for delivering instruction to some extent and certainly for expansion, supplementing and supporting textbook information or teacher-led instruction.
Brief Description: This is a CD-ROM based on the fact-packed Magic School Bus book series. Players begin the “game” in a classroom with several of the Magic School Bus children who have just completed their science reports. Each student has a display of their report and gives an interactive presentation on their topic. While moving through the classroom, we learn that Arnold’s rock collection is in disarray and several of his samples are missing. Players then head to the bus to begin their adventure. Once inside the bus, students can journey to six different zones of the earth: a canyon, a fault, a volcano, under the sea, inside a geode, and into a cavern. At each place, Magic School Bus kids talk about the features of the earth and players can collect rock samples. The interface is clickable, and often players can travel deeper into a zone or cause an event chain which produces a new scene and more information, such as a volcano eruption. Inside the bus, a TV screen gives X-ray options and will recall the classroom report associated with the zone the player is visiting. The transformer will test different rock samples and determine their uses, while the Geo-Table allows players to take unknown samples, wash them and test them to identify them using acid tests, hammers, streak tests, hardness tests and magnified views. The Earth Kitchen allows players to use recipes (which are often simple chemical formulae) and combine different “ingredients” like elements, salt, or swamp plants and bake them to form different rocks or minerals. A variety of mini arcade-style games occur throughout the larger world, most of which are also accessible on the bus control panel.
Ohio Academic Content Standards
Earth and Space Sciences Benchmarks
By the end of the 3-5 program:
B. Summarize the processes that shape Earth’s surface and describe evidence of those processes.
C. Describe Earth’s resources including rocks, soil, water, air, animals and plants and the ways in which they can be conserved.
Grade Level Indicators
Grade Three, Earth Systems
1. Compare distinct properties of rocks (e.g. color, layering, and texture).
Grade Four, Processes that Shape Earth
10. Describe evidence of changes on Earth’s surface in terms of slow processes (e.g., erosion, weathering, mountain building and deposition) and rapid processes (e.g. volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landsides).
Grade Six, Earth Systems
1. Describe the rock cycle and explain that there are sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks that have distinct properties (e.g. color, texture) and are formed in different ways.
2. Explain that rocks are made of one or more minerals.
3. Identify minerals by their characteristic properties.
NETS for Teachers
I. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
a. Promote, sup port, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness
II. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
a. Design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity
III. Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
c. communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital-age media and formats
NETS for Students
c. Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues
d. Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems
a. Understand and use technology systems
b. Select and use applications effectively and productively
Prerequisites: Students will need a basic knowledge of computer and mouse use; typing is not necessary because the interface is point-and-click. Although the content appears to be designed for someone who does not know much about the topic, students would likely benefit from a basic overview of the subject before beginning OR teacher guidance through the main content sections to allow for discussion and clarification, particularly if the software is used for third grade or below. Students may require demonstration as the interface is not always intuitive.
Strengths: Students will be engaged by the technology, the game elements of the software and the many entertainment-style additions. For instance, the bus both flies through the air and tunnels through the earth, complete with animations and sound effects. The children make corny jokes that eight- to ten-year olds will probably find humorous. The software is very inexpensive. Several of the simulations, particularly in the Geo-Lab are interesting and replicate real-life testing scenarios that might not be possible in the classroom. If they are possible, the software would be a great introduction to the process before children carry it out in the classroom. The software is packed with content that is still current in spite of the software’s age. The software could easily be inserted during introduction or coverage of the topics it contains as part of the whole class instruction and would generate more enthusiasm than a straight lecture. Other parts of the content could easily be used in small groups. The puzzle of the missing rocks requires some thinking, testing and use of the available tools to solve. Several other game features have ties to the objectives and could be used in learning stations or for children who finish their work early. The software is versatile and could be applied in the classroom in a variety of ways.
Limitations: Probably the biggest limitation is that the content really seems to be at a sixth-grade level; however, sixth graders may not be as engaged by the presentation. Though the older students will enjoy the games and possibly the puzzles, they may be turned off by the age of the graphics and the “Magic School Bus” theme. The software is also limited by its age. Although it runs perfectly well on Windows 7, it is old enough that it could easily become outdated at any time; further, game graphics today have advanced far beyond the ones in the CD. Another limitation for small-group use is the myriad of games in the program that do not have much educational content. Some do, but several do not, and monitoring would be necessary to make sure students stayed on track if this were part of a learning station. The games might be used as a reward though and turned to the teacher’s advantage if careful rules and boundaries were set out at the beginning. Another limitation is that the interface is often not intuitive. Though most screens contained “hot spots,” not all were defined by cursor changes, icons, or other popups, so might be easily missed or cause frustration. Some elements of the puzzle seemed to appear randomly, making it difficult at times to use any real problem-solving skills. Further, only four rocks were missing and two were able to be created in the Earth Kitchen, making exploration of all the zones unnecessary.
Special Features: Most of the content is accessible at various points throughout the game as it is appropriate, so if it is bypassed in one section, the chances are that the students will run into it again at another place. I thought the student reports in themselves were a nice feature; they appeared as reports with narration and pictures or videos at the beginning, then again on the television screen in the bus. Another feature that added content was a small tab at the top of every game giving information about the topic presented in the game. For instance, in the fossil puzzle, the tab gave information about fossil formation. In the cave painting activity, the tab gave information about cave paintings. The ability to cause random occurrences like earthquakes and volcano eruptions (by clicking the hidden hotspots) and cause the characters to respond was also a neat feature.
Selection Rubric: Computer and Multimedia Software
Alignment with Standards, Outcomes, and Objectives
High quality: The software is packed with information that aligns to the content standards at several different age levels, giving it some versatility.
Accurate and Current Information
High quality: The information is correct and up-to-date
Age Appropriate Language
Medium quality: The software specifies that it is targeted at ages 6 to 10. The content and vocabulary is well beyond that of a 6 to 7 year old, and some may even be appropriate for 13 to 14, well beyond the specified range.
Interest Level and Engagement
High quality: The storyline is engaging, and so are the testing and exploration labs inside the bus. The zones are full of resources, games and informational content narrated by children, which should interest students and give teachers a tool to deliver content without lecturing.
Medium quality: Though the interface is clickable and a variety of multimedia is included, the graphics are somewhat out of date and the software is designed to run on a much older PC than is currently available. While this did not cause problems with the latest operating systems, it could limit the longevity of the resource.
Ease of Use (User may be Student or Teacher)
Medium quality: For the most part the software was easy to use, with a point and click interface and clear signals indicating interactive components. Although some hotspots were hidden on purpose, many times necessary click points were difficult to find and promoted random clicking.
High quality: The software includes elements to appeal to both genders, and has major characters of several different races that appear to guide and narrate different parts of the player’s adventure.
User Guide and Directions
High quality: The guide contains easy-to-read visual maps to all the major game elements: the front and back of the bus, the classroom, the different experimentation stations, and the maps outside the bus.
Medium quality: The major puzzle in the game does require some thinking, experimentation, and problem-solving in order to discover the missing rocks. However, the designers could have really maximized this opportunity by providing fewer clues up front, lessening random happenings that made no sense, and matching solutions to clues more closely.
Medium quality: Collaboration is possible and certainly small groups of two to three students could discuss options and attempt to solve the puzzles together. Some elements of the software, such as the mini-games, are probably more appropriate for an individual user.
Practice and Feedback
Medium quality: Particularly in the experimental areas like the Geo-Table, correct choices and solved puzzles are rewarded by explanations and praise. Wrong answers, while given a signal that they are incorrect, often do not give much information about what went wrong, making it difficult to decide how to achieve the right solution.
Recommended for Classroom Use: Yes, with reservations. I would contact Scholastic to see if an updated version of these materials is scheduled for release or publication (No updates are currently available according to Amazon, although this is listed as the “old version.”) If one is not forthcoming, I might possibly look for a similar resource that is more technologically current. However, if I could not find anything else, I would probably add this to my collection for classroom use due to the wealth of information and interactive elements.
Ideas for Classroom Use:
I would use this software to either introduce or supplement whole-class instruction. I think, due to the story aspect, some of the content could get lost, so I would plan to review the textbook or my other instructional materials either before I used this software or after, most likely before as an overview. I would use the main zones with my entire class to watch, interact with and discuss. I would probably use this as a learning station later for small groups to search for the rock samples and experiment at the Geo-Table and the Earth station – depending on my classroom setup, my whole class might do it in groups or I would set it up as one learning station, with another being the testing and comparison of actual rocks, and others being other experiments related to the topics covered in the software. I would also keep it installed on my classroom computers to offer some of the mini games as a reward to children who finished work early. I see this software being most appropriate at fourth grade, although it fits the sixth grade content standards best, and sixth graders might enjoy the “break” from book work. Select pieces of it I might even be tempted to use at higher grades where it fits the standards (plate tectonics, geological events and forces, and Earth’s inner structure). The format is young, but seventh and eighth graders would also enjoy the “break” from school work, and, if used selectively, would still be learning content relevant to their academic standards.