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Promote reading: Give a student a Kindle and access to 500 books for $40 a year!

Kevin Kindlefavicon Today I was doing some number crunching, and I calculated that the Kindle Classroom Project costs about $40 per student per year.

The money, donated by generous contributors, goes to maintaining the 156 Kindles and to building the 501-title Kindle Library via student requests.

But if you ask a student, they’d tell you a slightly different version of where the money goes.

This is what they’d say:

+ The money lets them read whatever book they want whenever they want wherever they want. Students get to take their Kindle home with them.

+ The money lets them reclaim their love of reading. Students read an average of 18 books last school year on their Kindle.

+ The money lets them learn about themselves and the world without depending on others. Students have access to 500 high-quality books.

+ The money tells students that people care about them and their reading lives. Students want people to believe in them.

I am asking you to join the Kindle Classroom Project by making a $40 donation to help a student reclaim their love of reading in 2014-15.

Would you like to?

If so, the easiest way is via PayPal, though there are many ways to contribute. Please click on the button below and make a generous donation.

Thank you for reading this post, and thank you for your contribution. Please feel free to leave a comment or a question. favicon
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Get Your Students to Love the News, #7: News360 helps students collect the news

news360_icon_playbook_largefavicon Today I’m back with a new installment to the “Get Your Students to Love the News,” which I think is slowly becoming a great resource for teachers. Today is the seventh installment. When you have time, be sure to check out the other posts, too.

So far in the series, I’ve avoided reviewing “news aggregators,” which collect articles from various sources based on user interests. After all, as I’ve written about, you want to make sure that your students understand that news comes from real people and real news organizations and not randomly from the air.

Once that’s solid, it’s OK, I think, to move to news aggregators because students can choose topics they’re passionate about and then follow them over time.

There are a ton of good aggregators, including Flipboard and Zite (which Flipboard acquired earlier this year). Flipboard is the most popular, and a lot of people like it, but I don’t, mostly because of its user interface, which involves, well, a lot of flipping. Zite used to be my favorite, but since its acquisition, I’ve been checking out News360 and am pretty impressed.

News360 has a website but looks better on tablets and phones. As I’ve said before, for students, the phone is where things happen.

To get a sense of what News360 does, consider its tagline: “Everything you want to read.” In case that’s confusing, News360′s website tells you directly the purpose of its service: “News360 is an app that learns what you enjoy and find stories you’ll like around the web.” OK, I get it. But what does that mean?

It means you first select topics you’re interested in, and then News360 goes and finds articles for you. You can choose topics large or small, specific or generic, local or international. For example, I’m following Music, Movies (both general), Running, Literacy (a bit more specific), and Amazon Kindle (very specific). You can also follow news organizations (like the New York Times), but I don’t think that’s best practice for a news aggregator, whose purpose is to offer new articles from sources you may not read.

After you choose your topics, you get a feed that looks like this (on your phone):


So that’s pretty good. But the best part comes once you start reading articles. You can vote an article up or down, and magically, News360 learns about your interests and gives you more or fewer of those kinds of articles based on your vote.

Let’s take a look at the Jon Bon Jovi article to see what it looks like:


See the thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons? The power to determine whether or not you view more articles about Mr. Bon Jovi is entirely in your fingers. (Additionally, you can share the article with a friend — or save it to your Pocket — using the share icon.)

But also take a look at the tags above the article’s headline. Let’s say that reading about Mr. Bon Jovi has really inspired you to learn more about opera (not exactly sure about why that is, but please go with it). Pressing on that icon leads you to this screen:


Yep, here you have more articles about the opera — and, by pressing on the + button up top, the ability to follow that topic, too.

These two features of News360 – voting articles up or down, and adding topics as a result of reading an article — offer you a nice balance of sometimes refining and sometimes expanding your reading interests.

Plus, News360 looks good, is simple to use, and I think will appeal to students. It’s not anathema like an RSS reader (Feedly, Digg Reader), but it’s also not too-serious = boring.

* * *
Using News360 with Your Students
I can see a lot of ways that teachers can use News360 with their students. Here are a few. Please add more in the comments!

1. Research can be fun.
Research shouldn’t be boring. It should be about following an interest over time and learning more about it. Sure, when students have to write a research paper, then things get serious again — with collecting evidence, paraphrasing, making sure you’re not plagiarizing, and citing your sources. But in the preliminary phases, it’s all about reading a ton. An app like News360 can help teachers send that message to students.

2. Current Events Roundtables.
One frustration teachers tell me about is that students may not have a wide sense of the news. To combat that problem, teachers can require students to follow a small number of topics on News360 and then select one article to share with a small group. This can be done jigsaw-style, where each member of the group has a different topic.

3. Philosophical Discussions about the Internet Filtering Effect
So News360 is one of many services that offer its customers an individualized, personal look at the world. To some extent, most online services do something similar. What’s in our Facebook and Twitter feeds, for example, is determined by whom we follow. I read Eli Pariser’s excellent book, The Filter Bubble, a few back, in which he argues that all this online filtering threatens democracy. What do students think? Engaging them on this topic may also encourage students to think about how they gather and interact with news.

All right, that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this installment of “Get Your Students to Love the News.” There are a few more posts left, including a doozy, so please stay tuned.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts about News360 in the comments, if you like! Do you think news aggregators are good for students and their news reading lives, or are they a sacrilege to journalism? favicon

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Why Kindle Unlimited isn’t a great match for the Kindle Classroom Project (for now)

Kindle Unlimitedfavicon Last week, Amazon unveiled Kindle Unlimited, its new book subscription service. A “Netflix for Books,” Kindle Unlimited lets you borrow as many books as you like for $9.99 a month.

Amazon hopes to compete against other (sort of) popular book subscription services Scribd and Oyster. At first glance, Kindle Unlimited seems like a perfect match for the Kindle Classroom Project.

The most crucial part of the Kindle Classroom Project’s success — even more important than the Kindles themselves — is that students have immediate access to high-quality books. If they want to read a book that is not currently in the Kindle library, they tell me, and because of generous donors, I purchase the title immediately.

The only problem with the current system is that Kindle books, on average, cost $9.99. That’s not too expensive, but especially at certain points of the year, student requests pick up, and my Amazon gift balance gets close to zero. As a result, I am always worried that eventually I will run out of money and have to tell a student, “Sorry, I can’t get that book for you.”

But what if my students could borrow an unlimited number of books? That would mean that I could ask 12 people to donate $9.99 per year (one generous donor per month), and all of my concerns would be solved! Right?

In theory, that’s true, but there are three things that prevent me from pursuing Kindle Unlimited, at least for now.

1. If you stop subscribing, you lose your books.
With Kindle Unlimited, you rent books. You don’t own them. (Some may argue that you don’t really own Kindle books even when you buy them, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another post.) Because you’re borrowing the books, once you stop paying the $9.99 a month, your books disappear. That just doesn’t make sense for the KCP.

2. The program is not meant for teachers or classroom libraries.
When you buy a book from Amazon, you can transfer the title to up to six devices on your account. That means when a book is extremely popular among my students, I sometimes purchase multiple copies. Kindle Unlimited is meant for personal accounts, and as far as I know, it would not be possible to borrow more than one copy at a time.

3. Most important: The selection is currently extremely limited.
There are currently 600,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited’s library. That sounds like a lot of selection, but it certainly isn’t unlimited. The library is particularly shaky when it comes to young adult fiction. Besides the big blockbusters (like Divergent and Hunger Games), there isn’t too much there. Of course, the selection may improve, but right now, it’s pretty middling.

Though I won’t be signing up for Kindle Unlimited right now, I’m not disparaging Amazon’s attempts to get into the book-subscription market. KU seems like it can save some money for heavy readers who don’t like to borrow e-books from the library.

Please let me know if you have opinions about Kindle Unlimited and whether you think I’m doing the right thing not to pursue it at this time. Also, if this post got you excited about making a contribution to ensure that students can always request books they want to read, please check out the Contribute page. Thank you!

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Kindle Classroom Project, news and updates: July 2014

This is a lot of what happens during the summer at the Kindle Classroom Project.
This is a lot of what happens during the summer at the Kindle Classroom Project.

favicon Hi there, loyal readers and supporters of the Kindle Classroom Project! It’s summer, which means that I’m resting and relaxing, but I wanted to share with you some quick updates about the Kindle Classroom Project.

After a donation slump that lasted several months, I’m happy to report that Kindles are again arriving. Even though there are more than 150 Kindles now in the collection, it’s still a wonderful feeling to receive an email (from the Donate Kindle page’s form) that someone wants to donate their Kindle to students in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m always very appreciative of people’s generosity, and it makes me especially happy when total and complete strangers find Iserotope on the Internet, decide that the KCP is a worthy cause, and ship their Kindle to me. It’s pretty great.

Also great is that the Kindle library is beginning to grow again. My goal has never been to accumulate tons of titles; after all, anyone can go on Project Gutenberg and download out-of-print classics that no students will read (even though we might want them to). Besides, you don’t want too many books: It’s confusing to students, plus you don’t want to go over the Kindle’s capacity (~1,000 books for some models). But Kindles themselves don’t do anything until there are good books on them. That’s why I’m grateful for all the donors who have purchased books, either via the Contribute page or by checking out my students’ Amazon wishlist.

The past few months, several people have contacted me to ask why I’m focusing more of my attention on physical books. “Isn’t that taking away your energy from Kindles?” I definitely don’t think so. My goal has always been to spread reading among students; I’m not really partial to any specific medium. That said, I do believe strongly in what I call “classroom library mirroring,” where students can see physical books in the classroom and then access them on their Kindle. Without library mirroring, there’s no good way for students to browse and to discover new titles they might want to try out. Therefore, I’ve been working with teachers (via DonorsChoose, mainly) to build physical classroom libraries. If you’re pro-physical book and would like to make a contribution, please let me know!

Coming Up: This Summer’s Projects

Summer is a great time to get ready for the next year and to work on big ways to make the Kindle Classroom Project better.

I’m happy to report that the KCP will be in five schools in August — two in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, one in Oakland, and one in Hayward.

One challenge I’ve had is to build a robust data-gathering system I can study (with some scientific accuracy) the effects of the Kindles on students. Last year, I tried, but it was not too successful for a number of reasons.

So this summer, I’m creating an easy way (via Google Forms) for students to track the books they’ve completed. That data, when compared to their online reading achievement scores, will help me answer more clearly whether students who use Kindles read more and whether they become better readers as a result.

I’ll need teacher collaboration and support, of course, to ensure that students are reporting their reading. No one, after all, likes to fill out a reading log. (The Form won’t be a reading log, promise.) The good news is that I’m working with teachers (and one school librarian!) who are wonderful and incredible and understand the importance of the project. I’ll be introducing them to you beginning in August.

What else? Oh, another big project is to — finally – publish the Kindle library online, categorized by genre. I have procrastinated on this project for too long (for some good and not-so-good reasons), and it’s time to move. It’s not going to be perfect — no cataloging system is — but I’m going to do my best (and maybe ask my librarian-y friends for help).

There are tons of benefits to this cataloging project. First, it’ll be easier for students (and parents) to browse books if the classroom library is not yet mirrored. One copy of the Kindle library will be on Goodreads, so students can check out the book’s summaries and reviews to determine whether to give a book a try.

Second, it’ll make it much easier to organize the books on the Kindles. Students have access to nearly 500 titles (as long as no more than six students are reading the book simultaneously, per Amazon’s policy), and my feeling is that students will more quickly find books they want to read if they’re organized by genre. (This is very similar to why school libraries over the past two decades have moved toward cataloging by genre vs. by author for fiction and by Dewey decimal number for nonfiction.

OK, wow, this is a long post, and I can go on for longer, but I’ll stop for now. Again, I appreciate the support and the enthusiasm that you all have for young people and their reading lives, and I’m hopeful that 2014-15 will be a strong one for the Kindle Classroom Project. Thank you! favicon

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What’s in my Pocket? Thanks, Pocket!

favicon I’ve written quite a bit about Pocket, my favorite read-later service. Examples: using Pocket in the classroom to promote nonfiction, using Pocket with Evernote for better article printing, and reading tons and tons on Pocket. (Here are all my Pocket posts.)

The kind folks over at Pocket apparently noticed my crazy enthusiasm for their wonderful service and contacted me for an interview for their “What’s in My Pocket” series! And of course I obliged.

Sim, the interviewer, asked excellent questions, listened carefully, and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say! She also did a wonderful job capturing my thoughts and paraphrasing them in a way that makes me sound (somewhat) articulate. Thank you, Sim!

Please check out the final product over at the Pocket blog! (For bonus points: Pocket the post!)

For those of you who need a teaser in order to head on over to read the interview, here’s a quick screenshot. Yes, it features my face.

Screenshot 2014-07-09 14.05.14

Really, let’s be serious for a second. I’m not really sure what people do if they don’t use a read later service like Pocket. Do people bookmark articles that they want to read later? Email them to themselves? Remember? Clearly I’m missing something.

This post isn’t meant to be an advertisement, but I’m going to continue for a little bit longer. Ever since I found Pocket (which lets you save anything with a URL), not only has my reading flow been more flowy, but I’ve also witnessed my students’ interest in reading nonfiction grow markedly.

Please check out the interview and let me know what you think! favicon

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Recommended Reading: “A Prisoner’s Reading List”

favicon I don’t hear the term “well-read” very often anymore. We all might be reading more, but it’s usually the various intermittent stuff online. If it’s a book, it’s likely about a topic we already care and know a little about.

With all this reading going around, going around, we might not be getting any smarter.

This article puts “well-read” back into proper perspective.

“I met Daniel Genis at a bookstore. It was March, and I was there to speak on a panel about Sergei Dovlatov, the comic novelist of late Soviet decay, and Genis came up to me afterward, wanting to talk about books. Books, it became clear, were something he knew about.”

Source: http://j.mp/1mvEWgD. You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Kindle library nearing 500 titles!

favicon One of my goals this year was for the Kindle library to reach 500 titles by June. Well, I haven’t quite reached that goal, but I’m happy to report that we’re coming close.

There are now 481 titles in the Kindle library!

The titles aren’t random, either: I’m not collecting books just to collect books. The books in the Kindle library are books that students really read. And many of the titles are directly from student requests.

For example: One perennial favorite author is Walter Dean Myers, who passed away last week. I’m proud that the Kindle library includes seven of his books, including the extremely popular Dope Sick and Monster.

cover      cover(1)

It’s important that the library also include students’ favorites. Here are a few of the most popular books this past year:

cover      cover(1)      cover(2)

One rule I have is that I buy books that students request. If a student wants to read a book, I buy it. This is possibly only because of generous donors. If you’d like to donate, check out the Contribute page (or my students’ Amazon wishlist)!

A big change I might make to next year’s Kindle library is not to display the entire library on every student’s Kindle. It’s a bit overwhelming for students. Plus, the search capability on Kindles (by typing in a title) is not particularly good.

Therefore, I’m thinking of switching things up — either by including only a small fraction of titles (the most popular ones) or by organizing the books into collections (very time-consuming, not easy to do).

There is a clear benefit to loading the Kindles with only the Top 20-30 books. Doing so would mean that more students would read similar books, thereby creating book clubs and reading communities. Sure, I’ll have to purchase more titles of the most popular books, but that’s OK.

After students read 2-3 of the most-popular books, then I can introduce them to the larger Kindle library, where they can browse, figure out their interests, and get really excited that there are so many titles from which to choose.

Which reminds me: I still haven’t put the Kindle library online! What’s wrong with me? My intention last year was to catalog each of the titles on Goodreads so that students (and potential donors!) could see what’s in the Kindle library. I still haven’t done that. Maybe that’s a project that needs to happen this summer.

As always, thank you for your ongoing and generous support, and I look forward to announcing soon that the Kindle library has surpassed the 500 mark! favicon

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This just in…

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Not easy: Getting books and Kindles back

kindlekeyboardfavicon The school year is almost over, which means it’s time for teachers to get their classroom library books (and Kindles!) back from their students.

Because everyone is so busy and tired, it’s easy to say something like this: “If I don’t get my books back, at least I know that they’re in good hands.”

This is the wrong approach! You have to get your books back! But that’s easier said than done.

Here are a few things to do:

1. Start early. May 1 is a good start date. Even though you want your students to read up until the end of the year, it’s a good idea to begin the book-returning process a month early.

2. Have a good circulation system. If you know which books are out, and if your students know which books they have, then getting books back is much easier. It doesn’t matter if you use a computerized system or a simpler paper system. The most important piece is that your system is accurate and dependable. Again, this isn’t easy to do. Some teachers employ student librarians to make sure everything is accurate. Other teachers have more elaborate systems. Whatever you do, it’s worth it to make sure that your check-in / check-out system is strong.

3. Don’t relent. Your students may say, “I returned that book.” Don’t believe them, but not because you don’t trust them. Often students don’t remember that the book is underneath their bed. The key message is that you’re following the records, and the account says that there is a book checked out to the student. It’s up to the student to take care of it.

4. Emphasize the concept of borrowing. Yes, you loaned all your books to your students, and you loved it when they became real readers. But they’re your books, not theirs, and it’s important that the books are ready for your students next year.

5. Take data, make deadlines, and remind often. Publicly display how many books are still out. Give students individualized reports about which books they need to return. Have deadlines throughout May, and after each one, remind students what they need to do. If necessary, call parents.

youngmanwithbooksHere are a few things NOT to do:

1. Don’t get angry. By mid- to late-May, you may become frustrated that you’ve reminded a student two or three times to return a book and nothing has happened. Instead of getting angry, have a plan. What are you going to do after the first reminder? the second? the third? Stick to this plan and communicate it to your students.

2. Don’t forget the public library. Make sure your students have a library card. Go to the library with them. Many students fear the library because they think the librarian is going to detain them for outstanding fees. As a result, many don’t have current library cards. At the end of the year, it’s important for you to help students make a transition between your classroom library and the public library. It’s the same thing, really, only bigger. If you help convince students that the public library is a safe place, then they’re much more likely to grow their identity as readers.

3. Don’t wait too long to do book bills. Fill them out a week or two before the end of school. This will give time for students to find the book or come up with a different solution. Often, students don’t begin looking for books until there is a penalty fee attached.

There’s my list. Good luck getting your books back! Do you have other ideas about how to encourage students to return books? If so, please leave them in the comments. Thank you! favicon

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This just in…

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