Danville Express

Newsfront - November 9, 2007

Social studies textbooks come with CD-ROM option

Electronic reading materials offer students more ways to learn

by Natalie O'Neill

Some students lug around five-pound textbooks on their backs all day. Here in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, they have more options than that.

New social studies books are giving students the chance to study at home via CD-ROM, a pocket-sized electronic textbook that weighs about as much as a pack of gum.

The compact disks are a supplement to the traditional textbook, a bonus both school board members and curriculum directors say caters to more styles of learning and gives teachers freedom with learning assessments.

Students can access the textbooks through a computer, where an electronic voice will read sentences aloud as they follow along.

"It's an excellent recourse for kids who are auditory learners - it's a huge benefit," said Marie Morgan, district director of curriculum.

The books, published by Scott Foresman, are part of a trend textbook companies are picking up on nationally. In the age of computers - and immediate gratification when it comes to accessing information - younger generations are no strangers to reading electronically.

"We live in a world of technology, and for a lot of students this matches their way of learning. Some kids are motivated by technology," Morgan said.

The disks come with links to additional online info including the publisher's Web site, which provide quick definitions of words, quizzes and games to help absorb the material. They were adopted in grades K-12 throughout the district and each year a new subject will receive updated texts.

School board member Rachel Hurd, whose top priorities are literacy and catching learning disorders early on, said the disks help children who don't read well.

"It gives them extra access in classes where they aren't learning to read, but reading to learn," she said.

Next fall, students will have new science texts, followed by math and language arts. There is no additional cost to the school district for the technology.

The switch to electronic reading material has caused heated discussion in school districts nationally, particularly among parents who don't have computers or feel their child doesn't have enough access to one.

Parents and teachers in a Detroit school district said recently they believe the change puts lower income families at a disadvantage.

Here in the San Ramon Valley, district staff said since classic texts are still available, it's more of perk than a drastic alteration of curriculum philosophy. School board members indicated the district wasn't ready to phase out traditional texts completely, although the disks are far less expensive.

"It's kind of hard to sit at a computer and read at a screen - in terms of use all the time," Hurd said.

From a teacher's point of view, the Scott Foresman texts allow three teaching options: a group project, a traditional text book teaching path and the chance to use the CDs with additional Web links.

These three options work for different learning styles - students who work best in a group, those who work best solo, and those who work best with technology.

The current publisher's Web site has a social studies encyclopedia, where students can, for example, click on a president's biography for a quick reminder of who they were and what they contributed.

Teachers can also use the "item bank," which allows them to put together their own individualized learning assessment.

"It's a pretty cool tool," Morgan said.

Every seven years the district adopts new texts, and a list of publishers is provided by the state. Teachers are given a pilot period to test which books they prefer. The district then adopts the books in the spring and students receive them in the fall.

"This kind of technology is getting better and better," Hurd said.

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