Archive for May, 2013

Weird Workday Discoveries: Animals I Want to (But Probably Shouldn’t) Keep as Pets

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Over the course of our workday, we editors often find ourselves learning all sorts of strange and amazing information about history, science and literature. We’d like to share some of our favorite finds with you. Today’s post is brought to you by Wikipedia and editor Jody Amable.

I’ve always known that the animal world is an extremely diverse place, but it wasn’t until I came to that I got a sense of just how diverse it is. Even posting coloring pages to the site requires a quick Google search in order to write a competent blurb, and that invariably leads to falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, so to speak, of articles on the furry and the feathered; the slimy and the scaly.

I’ve fallen in love with quite a few animals here at my desk. I like to imagine a world where I could fall asleep with a snow leopard curled up at my feet, but I’m adult enough to know why that’s a bad idea. Nonetheless, I continue to dream. Here are my top five (very impractical) picks for exotic pets:

5. Marmots

I usually end up on this page while looking for information on Groundhog Day.


Freelancer Spotlight: Alycia Aragon, Photographer

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

While the Redwood City office is our official HQ, also employs a large team of freelance writers, designers, artists and photographers from all over the country. In our Freelancer Spotlight series, we pay tribute to our many beloved freelancers. Alycia Aragon

Our first spotlight goes to photographer Alycia Aragon. Alycia began taking photos for us in mid-2011 and has been a solid source of gorgeous, sparkling images for both our Activities and Science Fair sections ever since.

Name: Alycia Aragon

 I’m a: Photographer

I live in: San Jose, California

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a (fill in the blank) when I grew up. Artist!

How I became interested in photography: When I was in college, I started the graphic design program. Part of the curriculum was a beginning photography class. Upon seeing my work, a few professors told me that they thought I belonged in the photography department. I agreed with them since I felt at home with photography! I changed my major and never looked back.

 My proudest moment as a photographer: I have a few including being published online and working with wedding gown designers, but most recently it was getting scouted for the upcoming San Jose RAW: Natural Born Artists art show!

 My favorite thing to photograph is: People! I love to take photos of people being happy or conveying emotion.

My favorite children’s book: Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite books when I was a kid.

 My favorite thing about working for is: Working for is fun and it allows me to actually learn things! Not only am I learning the science behind the projects I do, but I am also learning how to photograph certain objects which is really cool.

 Why I love photography: I love photography because it’s an art form that can really be explored through many avenues. I’ve never gotten bored with it and I am always learning something new.

 View some samples of Alycia’s photos, as well as samples of her personal photography, below. Find out more about her professional work on her blog.

Weird Workday Discoveries: The Librarians of Congress

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Over the course of our workday, we editors often find ourselves learning all sorts of strange and amazing information about history, science and literature. We’d like to share some of our favorite finds with you. Today’s post is brought to you by The Library of Congress and editor Candice Abellon.

Did you know we’re only on our 13th Librarian of Congress? He was appointed in 1987.

As it turns out, our official Librarians of Congress are a pretty stylin’ bunch. In honor of how much we rely on the LOC around here and in keeping with the spirit of Historic Preservation Month, we’d like to salute all thirteen librarians and their stylish ways. Check out George Watterson, appointed in 1815, rocking the fauxhawk nearly 200 years before David Beckham made it famous:

George Watterson

See the full list of librarians here and watch how, though they’re all in suits and ties, the fashion evolves. Note the moustache makes a strong showing in the late 1800s.

Common Core State Standards Support Real Learning

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Teacher Helping Students

Most people would agree that it’s a good idea for educators to work from a written plan that is focused on students learning important knowledge and skills. Writing a set of standards is a way to create such a plan.

In the district where I taught for 20 years, teachers, parents and administrators worked together to write standards for language arts. There was a tremendous sense of ownership, and for five or six years those standards were alive and well in K-12 classroom. Then what happened? Teachers retired and new teachers were hired. Administrators moved up the ladder of responsibility. Interestingly enough, parents were the most stable element of the group, many remaining closely involved with the schools as one child after another reached kindergarten age and entered the system.

The natural turnover in education makes it necessary to revisit standards for them to remain viable. About the time that our language arts standards needed a visit, several other sets of standards competed for attention. When different directions are coming from multiple sources, the natural response is to shut out the confusion and rely instead on what is most familiar. Under such circumstances, teachers reach back to what they experienced in school, modulated somewhat by what they learned in teacher preparation programs. In other words, confusion about standards tends to reinforce the habits of the past and impede progress toward the future.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have the potential to clarify what’s important in a 21st century education by establishing shared standards in all states. (At this writing, four states have declined to adopt the CCSS and one is using only the language arts standards.)

There are essentially two approaches to writing standards. One is to list every skill and concept that a child should learn by grade level, K-12. The problem with this approach is that teachers may feel the need to race at a breakneck pace through the long to-do list, sacrificing real learning for covering the curriculum. The other approach is to decide on a small number of essential skills and concepts that students will be working on throughout their years of school, and to back this list up with more detailed information about what mastery of the essentials looks like at each grade level. This approach gives teachers permission to limit the number of topics covered and focus on individual needs and strengths. This is the approach taken by CCSS.

As long as I have been involved in education, people have worried about national standards and national tests. The typical line taken is that parents, teachers and administrators want local standards and local control. In a society as mobile as ours, it’s a huge responsibility to prepare students for college, careers and, we hope, fulfilling lives given that they may eventually live in a wide variety of regions and settings. The responsibility gets even huger when we think about how rapidly our knowledge base is increasing, along with the technology to share and store that knowledge.

In my opinion, we need to “think globally and act locally.” All learning is local because it can only happen in a specific, personal context, but those who guide learning need to have a larger perspective. The CCSS offers that larger perspective to parents and educators nationwide. It’s important to note that a recent poll of members of the American Federation of Teachers shows 75 percent support CCSS. Teachers recognize the value of shared standards, but they need some time and support to do a good job of integrating them in their long-term plans and in their day-to-day work with students.

Jeanetta Jones Miller taught for 25 years in public schools in Albany, California, and Newtown, Connecticut, serving as English department chair at Newtown High School from 2001 to 2011. She specialized in curriculum development and served on committees that developed interdisciplinary reading and writing standards.

Zombie Workbook Errors Fixed

Monday, May 13th, 2013 Zombie

The zombies have arrived at Fast ones, slow ones, nice ones and no-ones. (Sorry — we went on a department field trip to a Dr. Seuss exhibit last week; it is clearly still with me.)

We recently published a new batch of workbooks, and Zombpocalypse was one of them. We were so excited! And then, technical issues. It happens sometimes. Anyone who downloaded the workbook early on will know that two of the pages showed up mysteriously blank:  in the middle of a history of zombies and between the anatomy of the brain and emergency survival tips.

Luckily, we’ve fixed it. The text and images are now in their proper place and the zombies are here to stay. Users who downloaded workbooks with missing pages may try downloading again.

Don’t Take the Imagination Out of Literature

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The middle school book club I teach on Saturdays just completed a piece of fantasy literature: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. The book functions on the premise that Alice in Wonderland is real — but Lewis Carroll distorted Alice’s story while she was here on planet earth. The real Wonderland is a realm of violent warring factions who wage battle using sophisticated magic and technology. It’s a cool concept, and was definitely a nice break from the tougher stuff I tend to give my middle school class (This Boy’s Life was met almost unanimously with groans and I spent way too much time in class explaining why Toby can’t simply be dismissed as “a bad kid”).

The Looking Glass Wars was definitely a fun book, and Frank Beddor (the producer of There’s Something About Mary) basically basically wrote it as a blueprint for a Hollywood film. The book itself loaded with some befitting tropes: characterization happens really rapidly, people in the book embody the classic hero and villain archetypes, and themes like the power of imagination are delivered in a pretty in-your-face manner. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it presented me with a cool opportunity to get kids thinking about the elements of a Hollywood movie and common Hollywood character types.

But then there was this: the publisher inserted several glossy pages featuring very detailed “concept art” in the middle of the book. Upon seeing the illustrations, one of my students exclaimed, “They’re all white!”, a comment that elicited a chorus of giggles from her peers. (more…)

National Historic Preservation Month…and Why History Isn’t Boring

Monday, May 6th, 2013

May is National Historic Preservation Month. Did you know that? I didn’t until my coworker told me a few weeks ago. But now that I do, I’m excited! History is totally my jam.

I know, I know: History? Really? I’m well aware of the reputation that history, especially as a school subject, has gained over the years. Luckily, working at this place has allowed me to indulge my love for history, preservation, and all things old. For instance, I produced this workbook here and had a blast doing so. The development of this series was really just an excuse for me to dig around in some archival photos. I visit the Wikipedia pages of certain historical figures so often that I’ve rechristened them with friendly nicknames (Susie B, G-DubG-Dub C). Though it’s consistently at the low end of favorite subjects for the majority of kids, I’ve always been amazed and astounded by history.


Kid Literally Expelled for Doing Science

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Early in the morning, on the grounds of Bartow high School in Bartow, Florida, Kiera Wilmot conducted a science experiment by mixing some common household chemicals in a plastic water bottle. The chemical reaction produced a small explosion that caused the top to pop off and some smoke to rise out of the bottle. Nobody was hurt, and no damage was caused to school property.

In addition to being expelled from school, Wilmot is being charged for “possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds” and “discharging a destructive device.” There’s a chance she will be tried as an adult.


Brevity rules, verbosity drools

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

My favorite class in high school was the one where I wrote boring essays to fill arbitrary length requirements. I learned valuable lessons. I learned to use two adjectives that mean the same thing. I learned the art of the go-nowhere tangent. I learned that passive voice created longer sentences than active voice. I learned to say the same thing twice. I learned to repeat myself. Courier New was everyone’s favorite font. It turned one and a half pages and a C+ into two pages and an A.

Those were the days. I was rewarded for bad habits.

These days, I love concise language. Everyone does. Making clear points quickly is a 21st century skill that should be taught early. It’s a career skill, a conversation skill, a life skill. Nobody has time for wordiness, from the kid taking your lunch order to the head honcho at your workplace. (more…)

No thank you, said the editor to the ad.

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

“You’re worthless.”

Did that ad just tell me I’m worthless?

As an editor I’m constantly clicking through—finding articles, checking on new worksheets, looking at content much like one of our members might. And like anyone on the Internet I’m moving fast. So I was already waiting for the next webpage to load when I read that.

I laughed and joked to myself, I think I just got bullied by our website.

A week later I saw it again. It might have told me “Everybody hates you.” This time I was ready; (more…)