What do kids make of the snippets of world news they hear, see on television, or read as headlines passing by magazine stands? While educators agree that producing informed global citizens is an important goal, few outlets present this information for young students.
News-O-Matic, a subscription app launched in June 2013 by Press4Kids, delivers news and human interest stories five days a week to children. The app, which is available for iOS and Android, has been downloaded in classrooms, libraries, and homes in 147 countries and has earned high praise from Teachers with Apps, the American Association of School Librarians, and other educational organizations. Its recent enhancements are bound to garner more attention.
The five daily stories, which are written between first to sixth grade reading levels (Lexile 450–1050) and average 200–300 words, are posted under such headings as “Kids in the News,” “Around the World,” “Wacky,” or “Discovery.” Features present information in a variety of formats, serving a range of different learning styles. Each article is accompanied by a variety of sharp color photos and reproductions and a map loaded with extras. Many of the articles include time lines and graphics, and links within the articles allow children to access additional photos, a related video, audio definitions, and an “actionable” suggestion (”Take steps in your life to go green. Try to use less energy, for example.”).
Recent stories have included “U.S. Troops Head to Iraq,” coverage of the NATO summit in Wales, President Obama’s September 10th speech (video clip included), Scotland’s independence referendum, and the People’s Climate March. The start of the NFL season, a dinosaur discovery, a “Volcano Warning in the Philippines,” and Malala Yousafzai have also been the subject of recent posts. Children can access up to 10 previous issues, or a total of 50 stories. There are no outside links or advertising, and each article is vetted by a psychologist.
In August, a Spanish-language option was added under the “Read-to-Me” icon in Android editions—and will soon be available for iOS and Kindle subscriptions. While the app has been used with struggling readers and exceptional learners through middle school, Lillian Holtzclaw Stern, founder of Press4Kids, notes that the Spanish-language option has been a boon to ESL classrooms and the global community Press4 Kids continues to build, particularly through its interactive options.
These options are one of News-O-Matic’s strong features, appreciated by readers who rate stories; submit questions, artwork, and letters to the editor; and participate in surveys designed to get them thinking about and debating such issues as “Should plastic bags be banned?” “Should France sell the Mona Lisa be sold to help reduce its debt?” and “Should the Redskins change their name?” (Thirty thousand reader interactions per week are the norm, and a number are published daily.) There are also daily jigsaw puzzles, a mystery word, and an event to consider and place in a time line.
A Teacher’s Guide is sent late in the afternoon for the following day’s edition. For each upcoming article, a Lexile level and a Common Core State Standard is offered, along with a multiple choice and discussion question and a vocabulary word or words. Worksheets (handy charts, organizers, etc.) are provided that will have kids answering simple questions related to individual stories. While not all questions or activities call children’s critical-thinking skills into play, they do allow for review and teachers may want to use them for a quick comprehension assessment.
Outside of the new Spanish-language listening option and MLA citations for each article, most of the app’s recent enhancements are designed for teachers. Educators can log in with Google+ or Edmodo Connect, create a class, choose reading levels for each student or group, and set up an analytical dashboard. Daily reading and comprehension assessments are embedded, which deliver data on students and classes. Teachers can also chat with the classroom. All of these options are available on Android and will be arriving very soon on iOS. What’s does the future hold for News-O-Matic? Both a parent portal and a middle school edition, reports Stern.
Weekly, monthly, and yearly rates are available for the app’s consumer version (free download and in app-purchase after 10 trial editions, iOS and Android). Site licenses are also available. The yearly rate for a school is $9.99. However, apps purchased through Apple’s volume program (VPP) are discounted 50 percent for more than 20 downloads.
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