Author: Jacqui

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

13 Websites That Provide Lots of Digital Books for Summer Reading

At the beginning of the 21st century, the definition of digital equity revolved around the provision of a digital device to every student. Usually, that meant desktop computers, iPads, and laptops, either in small groups or 1:1. As digital equity discussions matured and hyperbole became reality, educators found that those loudly-touted digital devices often became paperweights. The reasons were varied (teacher training, infrastructure, and professional support to name a few), but one of the most prominent was money. Good intentions to give all students access to the world’s knowledge were derailed by the cost of the websites and webtools that made that happen. Turns out — and not really a surprise — the cost of the digital devices was minor compared to the cost of the websites and webtools required to meet goals.

There is one bright spot in this story: Online books. Thanks to the efforts of many devoted professionals and the financial support of more, there are a wide variety of free/inexpensive sources for books that students can use for classroom activities as well as pleasure.

Here are a list of sites that offer digital books for kids to adults:

Bookopolis

Bookopolis is a large collection of fiction and nonfiction books for ages 7-12. Here, students can read, get ideas for new books, comment on books, and earn badges and points to reflect their love of reading. Educators sign up with a Teacher account and then set up classes and accounts for students. Students can practice persuasive writing, comprehension, and typing skills by completing reviews, reports, and reading logs online. Parents can sign up home accounts to help students keep track of favorite books. Available books include Newbery Award Winners as well as many other reader collections. Kids can even watch book trailers before making a selection.

Books can be read online or on most mobile devices.

Gutenberg Project

This site provides thousands of digitized books, audio recordings, DVDs/CDs from the public domain (or out-of-copyright). This includes Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, A Tale of Two Cities, Heart of Darkness, and more. These are great for all ages to not only read but research topics that might have been well-covered years ago but not so much now (like primitive tribes).

You can read them online, on a mobile device, or download them.

International Children’s Digital Library

The ICDL offers over 4,600 digital children’s books in over 59 languages that exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages, and ideas. Books are made available from a variety of sources including the Library of Congress. Readers search by title, author, country, or category (or several other options such as ISBN). By setting up an account, readers can add tags to books and organize them according to their preference. Many ICDL books are classified as “activities” meaning they are perfect for digital story times, scavenger hunts, and creative writing exercises.

Most books are only available through the website or a link to the website.

Open Library

Open Library is a curated list of over 20 million books (and growing) that are available worldwide to all age groups whether from the public domain or under copyright protections. Once you find a book, you access a scanned version (if available, say from Project Gutenberg) or purchase it at a linked bookstore. 

Access this catalog via the website.

Prism

Prism is a collaborative approach to reading books, poetry, and other written material whether for a class or personal entertainment. It includes thousands of books with comments, notes, and highlights from people who have read them. Notes are color-coded so readers can categorize them properly and readers know how many people contributed to the shared input. Resources include The Raven, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and The Road Not Taken.

Access this collection via the website.

Listen and Read

From Scholastic, Listen and Read’s fifteen non-fiction audio books are told through words, images, and sound. Elementary and middle school children can read the books or have them read aloud to them. The online activities can be used for one-on-one instruction using a computer, tablet, or class instruction on an interactive whiteboard.

Books are read on the website or a tablet.

Unite for Literacy

Unite for Literacy provides a variety of books that celebrate the languages and cultures of international communities with the goal of cultivating a life-long love of reading. Aimed at school-age children, categories include, earth, animals, STEM, family, create and play, know and learn, technology, and more. Some books are available in multiple languages and some are audio. The site is gorgeous, easy-to-navigate, with bright, visual, colorful books to entice readers. 

Books are read online.

World Cat

World Cat is a comprehensive curation of books, CDs, articles, videos, and more available at all libraries in a geographic area or around the world, for all age groups. This includes not only public libraries but colleges and universities. Once you’ve located a resource, you check it out from that local library. You can get help from a librarian, leave comments and reviews, even factual notes (much like Wikipedia). 

World Cat only includes libraries that have joined the World Cat group. 

Here are collections that require a fee, but much reduced from what it would cost to purchase the books:

Mighty Book

Mighty Books includes over 600 K-8 animated storybooks, games, songs, and puzzles that can be read online or on mobile devices. They are organized by age group and category. This collection is especially useful for ESL and special needs as students can highlight words that are then spoken to the reader. Many of the books include complete lesson plans and quizzes.

Books can be read online or on mobile devices.

RAZ Kids

RAZ Kids includes hundreds of K-5 interactive, animated leveled ebooks spanning twenty-seven levels of reading skill. Choices include fiction, poetry, and songs in English and Spanish (a limited availability). Titles include everything from My Body (for Level A readers) to Abraham Lincoln (for Level Z readers). Each book can be read or listened to by the student. Students can even record themselves to practice reading skills such as pacing and understanding punctuation. As a teacher, you can manage your class, track what’s being read, supervise equizzes, and more. Books are easily pushed out to students. When the students logs into the app, s/he only sees the books that fit his/her reading level.

Books can be read online or on mobile devices.

TumbleBookLibrary

TumbleBookLibrary is a curated database of over 1100 elementary age ebooks. It includes animated books, talking picture books, read-along chapter books, national geographic videos, non-fiction books, playlists, graphic novels, math stories, as well as books in Spanish and French. There are additional dedicated libraries for Middle School and audio books. Books include Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, and a collection from National Geographic.

Books can be read online or on mobile devices.

Thanks to this wide and varied collection of reading resources, no child should be consigned to the wrong side of the digital divide. Add “book collections” to the column of how technology successfully facilitates learning.

–Image credit Deposit Photos


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

memorial day

Music for Armed Forces Day

Many Americans celebrate Armed Forces Day annually on the third Saturday of May. It is a day to pay tribute to men and women who serve the United States’ armed forces. Armed Forces Day is also part of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyKfr8G04Qc&w=560&h=315] [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI-_wAX1tV8&w=560&h=315]

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

7+ Websites to Teach Financial Literacy

When kids read that America’s $30 trillion+ debt is accepted by many experts as ‘business as usual’, I wonder how that news will affect their future personal finance decisions. Do they understand the consequences of unbalanced budgets? The quandary of infinite wants vs. finite dollars? Or do they think money grows on some fiscal tree that always blooms? The good news is: Half of the nation’s schools require a financial literacy course. The bad new is: Only half require a financial literacy course.

I’ve noticed news stories about schools adding financial literacy to the High School course load (yay!). If your school doesn’t teach personal economics but would like to, there are many online sites that address the topic as mini-lessons. Some are narrative; others games. Here are some I like. See if one suits you:

Banzai

Banzai is a personal finance curriculum that teaches high school and middle school students how to prioritize spending decisions through real-life scenarios and choose-your-own adventure (kind of) role playing. Students start the course with a pre-test to determine a baseline for their financial literacy. They then engage in 32 life-based interactive scenarios covering everything from balancing a budget to adjusting for unexpected bills like car trouble or health problems. Once they’ve completed these exercises, they pretend that they have just graduated from high school, have a job, and must save $2,000 to start college. They are constantly tempted to mis-spend their limited income and then must face the consequences of those actions, basing decisions on what they learned in the 32 scenarios. Along the way, students juggle rent, gas, groceries, taxes, car payments, and life’s ever-present emergencies. At the end, they take a post-test to measure improvement in their financial literacy.

The program is free, takes about eight hours (depending upon the student), and can include printed materials as well as digital.

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How Minecraft Teaches Reading, Writing and Problem Solving

A while ago, Scientific American declared “…“not only is Minecraft immersive and creative, but it is an excellent platform for making almost any subject area more engaging.” A nod from a top science magazine to the game many parents wish their kids had never heard of should catch the attention of teachers. This follows Common Sense Media’s seal of approval.  On the surface, it’s not so surprising. Something like 80% of five-to-eight year-olds play games and 97% of teens. Early simulations like Reader Rabbit are still used in classrooms to drill reading and math skills.

But Minecraft, a blocky retro role-playing simulation that’s more Lego than svelte hi-tech wizardry, isn’t just the game du jour. Kids would skip dinner to play it if parents allowed. Minecraft is role playing and so much more.

Let me back up a moment. Most simulation games–where players role-play life in a pretend world–aren’t so much Make Your Own Adventure as See If You Survive Ours. Players are a passenger in a hero’s journey, solving riddles, advancing through levels and unlocking prizes. That’s not Minecraft. Here, they create the world. Nothing happens without their decision–not surroundings or characters or buildings rising or holes being dug. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. There’s merely what You decide and where those decisions land You. Players have one goal: To survive. Prevail. They solve problems or cease to exist. If the teacher wants to use games to learn history, Minecraft won’t throw students into a fully fleshed simulation of the American Revolution. It’ll start with a plot of land and students will write the story, cast the characters, create the entire 1776 world. Again, think Legos.

My students hang my picture in the Teacher Hall of Fame every time I let them play Minecraft–which I do regularly. Of course, I provide guidelines. Which they love. It’s fascinating that today’s game playing youth want a set of rules they must beat, parameters they must meet, levels (read: standards) they must achieve, and a Big Goal (think: graduation) they can only reach after a lot of hard work, intense thinking, and mountains of problems. Look into the eyes of a fifth grader who just solved the unsolvable–something most adults s/he knows can’t do. You’ll remember why you’re a teacher.

A note: Any time students use the internet, start with a discussion on how to use it safely. This is especially important with multi-player games like Minecraft (you will close the system at school, but that may not be the case in the student’s home). It is fairly easy for students to create their own servers (requires no hardware, just a bit of coding) and invite friends into their Minecraft world. Encourage this rather than entering an unknown server-world.

In case you must ‘sell’ this idea to your administration, here are three great reasons why students should use Minecraft in school: Reading, Writing, and Problem Solving.

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Top 10 Hits and Misses for 2021

Since we at Ask a Tech Teacher started this blog thirteen years ago, we’ve had almost 5.6 million views from visitors, about 10,000 followers who have read some or all of our 2,731 articles on integrating technology into the classroom. This includes tech tips, website/app reviews, tech-in-ed pedagogy, how-tos, videos, and more. We have regular features like:

If you’ve just arrived at Ask a Tech Teacher, start here.

It always surprises us what readers find to be the most and least provocative. The latter is as likely to be a post one of us on the crew put heart and soul into, sure we were sharing Very Important Information, as the former. Talk about humility.

Here they are–my top 10 hits of 2021 (though I’ve skipped any that have to do with website reviews and tech tips because they’re covered in separate posts):

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See you January 3rd!

I’ll be taking a few weeks off–December 19-January 3rd–to edit/format my website, work on projects with a deadline, prioritize life, and wish my two adult military children could come home to visit. I may drop in on you-all as you enjoy your holidays, but mostly I’ll be regenerating.

I wish you a wonderful season, safe and filled with family.

See you in a few weeks!

Here’s the sign-up link if the image above doesn’t work:

http://eepurl.com/chNlYb

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11 Ways to Update Your Online Presence

For regular readers of Ask a Tech Teacher, these are yearly reminders. For new readers, these are like body armor in the tech battle. They allow you to jubilantly overcome rather than dramatically succumb. 

11 Ways to Update Your Online Presence

For most teachers I know, life zooms by, filled with lesson planning, teaching, meeting with grade-level teams, chatting with parents, attending conferences (to stay UTD), and thinking. There are few breaks to update/fix/maintain the tech tools that allow us to pursue our trade.

That includes your online presence and all those personal profiles. But, that must happen or they no longer accomplish what we need. If they aren’t updated, we are left wondering why our blog isn’t getting visitors, why our social media Tweeple don’t generate activity, and why you aren’t being contacted for networking. Here’s a short list of items that won’t take long to accomplish:

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