Chromebook School: Reading

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul.

by Emily Dickinson

I learned to read when I was 3. I’m pretty sure that, in those ancient days of the 1980s, digital apps didn’t play a significant role in that adventure. As with a lot of things, digital tools aren’t essential; they may even sometimes be detrimental. But they can also be quite helpful–I’ve spent the last few days in a state of amazement at the power that’s available, just waiting to be unlocked, in digital tools. As with some of the other “Chromebook School” subject-specific posts, this one will evolve.

Starting to Read

  • First, an offline resource: the book Doodling Dragons (introducing single-letter phonemes), from Logic of English, has been a read-aloud from early in our family’s life. I think this made a big difference, especially for our eldest daughter, in reading readiness.
  • Our eldest daughter learned to read primarily through Reading Eggs (AUD 80/yr), associated with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She’s currently on lesson 100 of the 120-lesson core, but already spends hours a day with her nose buried in a book. She enjoyed trying Reading Eggs on occasion, but at about age 3 and a half was when she first enjoyed the program and “got it”. We haven’t pushed her, but she quickly progressed from there. Reading Eggs includes a library of digital (and some print, if you want to buy them) “books” for kids to read, printable worksheets, if desired, and offers spelling and a more advanced reading program as well. They recently introduced “Reading Eggs Junior”, intended to teach pre-reading skills to younger children. It needs some parental supervision, especially in the first number of lessons–but offers a lot of interest. One downside: it seems to lean fairly far in the direction of “scripted” vs. adaptive. If a child forgets a certain element, you’ll just need to go back and repeat the relevant lesson or forge ahead.
  • Our youngest daughter just began with Teach Your Monster to Read. Though she’s always enjoyed doing Reading Eggs, it often seemed the learning didn’t “stick”. TYMTR seems, thus far, to be doing much better at adapting and helping her review.

Reading Practice

  • LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary  (USD 40/yr, ages 2-9) includes a lot of children’s books (all with read-aloud option) and mini-“field trip” videos.
  • GetEpic.com (USD 8/mo, ages 0-12) offers a wonderful-looking selection of books and audiobooks.
  • Newsela (free at basic level) is a terrific site that re-writes news articles each at a number of different reading levels for grades 2-6, then quizzes for comprehension and adjusts the default presentation level appropriately. Kids can browse, or (parent-)teachers can assign articles.
  • ReadWorks.org (free) provides student-targeted articles as well for K-12, leveled and with a lot of scaffolding to support reading and learning.
  • News-O-Matic (USD 4/mo) is an app (also available on iOS) I came across while looking for general child-oriented articles to read aloud at the supper table. I think it will be useful for that, but also for the kids to directly read and explore as they get a little older.
  • Readorium (USD 120/year, grades 3-8) looks like a brilliant idea. It’s a library of science books, with content written at multiple levels (like Newsela), lots of support to support comprehension and develop both reading skills and scientific knowledge.
  • The various Ranger Rick magazines are available digitally (USD??) and in print–I have fond memories of them as a kid.

To be continued…

This list will continue to evolve. In the meantime, what do you use to support your kids’ reading? (Besides, of course, the obvious–shelves stuffed with lovely, wonderful paper books, and reading to your kids!)

 

Audible kids’ sale: 5-7

So, Audible has a sale through 27 Nov 2017 on hundreds of children’s audiobooks. Below, find a list of books that caught my eye in the Ages 5-7 category. There’re many other great ones, I’m sure, and I’ve varying levels of interest in the ones listed. And I’m not taking the time to linkify them. Frankly, this list covers a lot of the books in the sale! One of the caveats with books for this age–many such books include great illustrations, which obviously aren’t included in an audiobook. I’ve left some books off the list just because they lose too much in this medium. Also…while I love the audiobook medium in part because of the scope it gives voice actors to enrich the experience, I also want my kids to get a lot of practice in reading, with the joy of reading enjoyable texts as an intrinsic motivation!

The list:

  • A Child’s History of the World – recommended by others, haven’t yet read/listened. An older perspective, I’m assuming with positives and negatives.
  • Ada Twist, Scientist. I’m always looking for STEM/girls books. The loss of pictures is a substantial loss.
  • Aesop’s Fables – self-explanatory.
  • Rabbit Ears books – stories from many different cultures. Gold.
  • A Bear Called Paddington – classic kids’ book
  • The Black Stallion – classic.
  • Brave Girl – child worker protests treatment of workers in early-20th-century New York. Power to the people!
  • Cam Jansen stories – kids’ mysteries (fun if I remember correctly) starring a kid with a photographic memory.
  • Hank the Cowdog stories – fun stories about a full-of-himself farm dog.
  • Catwings series by Ursula K. Le Guin. A matriarch of fantasy. Not sure if I’ve read more than her Earthsea series.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Classic.
  • A Child’s Garden of Verses. Innocent verses by Stephenson.
  • Clementine books – looks like a fun exploration of a school-age girl’s life.
  • The Courage of Sarah Noble – A classic–but I don’t remember much about it.
  • Happy Little Family (and other books in series) by Rebecca Caudill. Looks like an innocent older book about a bygone era.
  • Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. I have good memories of reading Cleary books as a kid. I’ve recently seen criticism of them as fairly misogynous and encouraging obnoxious behavior–this doesn’t surprise me a lot, but I’d have to re-sample.
  • The Hen Who Wouldn’t Give Up – perhaps a good growth-mindset read.
  • I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote – Girl power FTW! A little trepidation–it sounds as though the illustrations are a big part of this book.
  • Hurricanes! Again–illustrations?
  • Johnny Appleseed
  • Various books by Jean Fritz. Well-told bios, probably well-infused with American mythology.
  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [illustrations?]
  • Lincoln And Douglass An American Friendship [illustrations?]
  • The Matchlock Gun – Revolutionary War hist. fiction
  • On Sand Island [illustrations?] – values hard work, goal pursuit, cooperation. A boy builds a boat.
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Illustrations add a lot to this book. Lovely story of a girl with leukemia from the atomic bombings of Japan. Sweet but sad.
  • Scaredy Squirrel – growth mindset, anxiety
  • Jesus Storybook Bible – great children’s bible that weaves together a narrative. Not the moralistic or the fragmented approach that many take.
  • The Story for Children – a storybook bible
  • The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit – apparently “translated” into a contemporary context. If I understand correctly, this may be less likely than some versions to evoke !?!?!? reactions on race perspectives than other versions–but do your own investigation.
  • Treasury of Egyptian Mythology. Yum.
  • The War with Grandpa. Looks like fun.
  • Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. A shame to miss out on the illustrations, but audiobook reviews are good.

Chromebook School: The Best Learning Games

A great set of lists of “The Best Learning Games” from last year by the CEO of Lightneer, a company that’s making the learning game Big Bang Legends. (Which looks fascinating, but which I haven’t been able to try out yet.) He comes across as optimistic, but realistic, about the potential of learning games.

Chromebook School: Dragonbox Math

I’m already adding to the Chromebook School: Math post–this time, with a great discovery via The Homeschool Scientist, who recommends their app–which purports to teach algebra to kids from age 5 on. In addition to “Algebra 5+”, they have a number of other apps for building number sense, or learning geometry and going to higher-level algebra. (Later, after having my daughter play the first few levels: great mechanics, horrid aesthetics! Use at your own preference.)

Chromebook School: Math

This is a Chromebook School post, about a few math-related web apps that we are using, hope to try, or just find intriguing.

  • MathSeeds, (AUD 60/yr, ages 3+), from the same company as Reading Eggs, has proven a great introduction to math. Our almost-five-year-old is well into the “first-grade” portion of the program, which has a nice progression and a variety of games and exercises. I recommend it. Downsides include the fact that it’s quite scripted rather than adaptive, and their early introduction of “number words” assumes some early-reading ability, an assumption that seems unnecessary and un-helpful.
  • XtraMath.org (free) is a completely-free site to help kids review and build fluency with math facts. It’s not flashy, but seems effective. It adapts to a child’s particular needs.
  • Reflex math (USD 35/yr, grades 3+) also works to build math-fact fluency, along with some helpful teaching methods. It involves a number of fun games, with extra “hazards” thrown in besides the solving of math problems. Our 4-year-old daughter, who has a high aversion to failure, found some of these challenges too challenging–and it also requires keyboard input, which was a barrier for her. For the intended grade-2+ market, I’m guessing it’s likely to be a hit. (The site uses Flash, though I believe they intend to transition away in the next year or so.)
  • Redbird Math (USD 80/quarter, K-12) at GiftedAndTalented.com looks amazing, though we haven’t yet tried it out. It’s an adaptive curriculum, based on Stanford University’s research into methods of educating gifted students–which they’ve found actually benefit students across the spectrum. It weaves in a lot of STEM video content, connections with real-life, digital manipulatives, digital projects, coding-related content…wow. As noted, we haven’t tried it yet…but I suspect it will be hard to resist the pull.
  • DragonBox Math (USD 5-8 for several apps, Android/iOS) looks like a lot of fun. I discovered it through The Homeschool Scientist, who recommends their app–which purports to teach algebra to kids from age 5 on!  In addition to “Algebra 5+”, they have a number of other apps for building number sense, or learning geometry and going to higher-level algebra. (Later, after having my daughter play the first few levels: great mechanics, horrid aesthetics! Use at your own preference.)

For future reference

I’ve come across a few sites that I’m guessing will be useful a few years from now. No experience with them yet, except for the wonderful Khan Academy.

  • ExploreLearning Gizmos covers grade 3 to college, with online math and physics simulations.
  • Uzinggo.com looks interesting for math and science from grades 5-12.
  • Maths-Whizz (K-8? GBP 99/yr) looks interesting, an adaptive curriculum.
  • Khan Academy (free), of course, has a collection of good video explanations–along with practice problems, a content map, and a brilliant spaced-repetition system to review at just the right time.
  • Beast Academy takes an interesting comics-based approach to math in their print version, and promises an online version in 2018.

Offline

I can’t resist tossing in a few offline options:

  • We plan to use Math Mammoth. (We’re now in the very earliest stages.) Inexpensive, conceptual, mastery-oriented but with good review. Purchasable as PDF.
  • Judging RightStart Math by a video I just saw from someone associated with it, I’m intrigued!
  • We’re dabbling in Miquon Math, which uses Cuisenaire rods and a fairly discovery-oriented approach.  (Available in PDF from CurrClick.)
  • We’re planning to try out MathTacular–haven’t done so yet, but it looks like an intriguing supplement.
  • …and finally, I love the idea of “literature-based math” that drives Life of Fred. Some people love it. I’m not completely sure, based on samples, about whether I–or, more importantly, my daughters–will love it as well.

Do you have other great resources to share? Add them in comments.

Chromebook School

I studied at home through 12th grade, and we’re planning to teach our daughters at home as well. I loved the experience (including the memory of getting up at 6 AM to do math with my dad), and love the idea of helping our daughters wake up to the world of knowledge. That will involve a lot of hands-on teaching, and a lot of learning woven into real life. I’m also realizing that it’s likely, unexpectedly, to include a fair amount of “screen time”. This is partly because we live where it’s hard to ship paper curriculum, partly because of schedules…but partly because the selection of digital resources is so rich! We’re getting the kids Chromebooks (for educational apps, reading, music, and audiobooks) soon. Some of the Web apps they’ve been using on Mom’s and Dad’s computers will migrate over, and a world of new ones will become options as well. I’ll share a few of the online resources I’ve found in various posts, and try to index those posts here.

Bear in mind that I do see “Chromebook school” as a fairly impoverished approach, if that’s all one’s doing. I don’t, however, have any intention of this being all we do with the kids. I expect the future to hold lots of lovely books, free and creative play, table games for the sake of play or with an academic goal, household science experiments, Lego robotics, art, music, emotional/social intelligence, fun exposure to languages and cultures…and, yes, math worksheets, writing assignments, and all the other “3R-y” parts of school. Activities involving wandering through the woods or tossing a ball also seem like lovely ideas, but living in a flat in a megacity may limit some of these possibilities. (Though I’m sure we could come up with some great nature studies re. particulate matter concentrations in the air, or of the behavior of crows!) As part of a holistic approach to school, though, I’m ecstatic to have online curricula and educational resources available!

Note that there’s a bit of irony in this series: as I’ve researched the various apps available, it’s become apparent that while many apps are available both in Android and iOS flavors, a number of interesting apps are iOS-only. And so…while I still prefer the ethos of Android, a Chromebook or Android tablet may actually not be the best device if you’re looking for kids’ educational apps.

Posts

The Coding Game

codinggame

I started whetting my taste for computer programming when my family didn’t have a computer. We actually had had one earlier, a Radio Shack TRS-80 that my dad had purchased, and upgraded to 768KB of RAM. I’d enjoyed playing Asteroids-style and other ASCII-graphics games on its green screen. Eventually, though, the TRS-80’s floppy drives gave out, and we were without a family computer for several years.

During this time, we loved going to the local public library. We’d go with half-bushel laundry baskets, and come home with them full of books. I loved browsing the shelves, finding mysteries, biographies, fantasies…and a few lovely books, designed for kids and filled with arcade-style graphics and BASIC code for simple computer games. When we finally got another family computer, a Packard Bell 486-DX2 66Mhz with 8MB of RAM and a 540-MB hard drive, running Windows 3.11, I was ready to go! With Microsoft’s QBasic language bundled with DOS, I had fun writing my own small programs–even getting as far as a visualizer for the Mandelbrot set (courtesy of A.K. Dewdney’s The Armchair Universe, also from the public library). And when I realized that Microsoft had even included the QBASIC source code for several games, Gorillas.bas and Nibbles.bas, I was thrilled!

The CodinGame site seems to do a great job of re-capturing some of that early sense of wonder at what one can do with just a bit of code. It uses dramatic graphics (such as the Space Invaders-like shot above), but has you write the code to solve each puzzle. It’s simple enough for coders just starting out, but also has more challenging puzzles–and support for many languages. If your niece wants to learn to program, if you want a nice set of C++ (or standard-library) kata , or if you’re an expert developer and want to learn Ruby, Swift, Go, or Rust…this may well be the game you’re looking for.

If the stories, graphics, and online environment of CodinGame aren’t doing it for you, also check out Project Euler, for a set of basic-to-challenging problems to be solved in the language of your choice.

Antagonists, enemies, and trust

I’ve been reading–listening to, actually–Marcus Aurelius Antoninus’s Meditations recently. He was a Roman emperor, and a Stoic philosopher. My worldview differs substantially from his, most significantly in my understanding of divinity and humanity. As I read his writings, however, I find much overlap in our philosophies, and much to learn from.

On those who oppose us:

In the gymnastic exercises suppose that a man has torn thee with his nails, and by dashing against thy head has inflicted a wound. Well, we neither show any signs of vexation, nor are we offended, nor do we suspect him afterwards as a treacherous fellow; and yet we are on our guard against him, not however as an enemy, nor yet with suspicion, but we quietly get out of his way. Something like this let thy behaviour be in all the other parts of life; let us overlook many things in those who are like antagonists in the gymnasium. For it is in our power, as I said, to get out of the way, and to have no suspicion nor hatred.

But being on guard against everyone isn’t a great option either. Simon and Garfunkel described this poetically in their song “I Am A Rock”; C. S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, says this:

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

I won’t try to integrate these thoughts right now…but both are gems of wisdom.

Ten Years In The Tub

Farnam Street reviewed Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books. I haven’t read it yet, but definitely will–just read this paragraph cited in FS’s review!

Francis Wheen’s book and Paul Collins’ Not Even Wrong were advance reading copies that arrived through the post. I’m never going to complain about receiving free early copies of books, because quite clearly there’s nothing to complain about, but it does introduce a rogue element into one’s otherwise carefully plotted reading schedule. I had no idea I wanted to read Wheen’s book until it arrived, and it was because of Wheen that I read Lewis, and then Not Even Wrong turned up and I wanted to read that too, and Buchan’s Greenmantle got put to one side, I suspect forever. Being a reader is sort of like being president, except reading involves fewer state dinners, usually. You have the agenda you want to get through, but you get distracted by life events, e.g., books arriving in the mail/World War III, and you are temporarily deflected from your chosen path. 

I already know I like the guy. Check out Farnam Street for the full review.

Don’t read this blog.

If you want to maximize your learning-per-reading-time, you should probably forget about my blog and read Farnam Street. I like learning about cognition, learning, and productivity; Shane Parrish at Farnam Street seems to live a life immersed in such learning, and does a great job of boiling it down for brief presentation. If you must stick around here, though, my WordPress stats will be thrilled–believe me, every page view shows up as a substantial percentage!

Scott H. Young and Cal Newport also will often be worth your time to read.