November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Look Back and a Look Forward | Reference Online |October 2014

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SLJ1410w-Ref-CoreConcepts

These recent online databases, from Rosen and World Book, take on science and history, respectively. While Rosen’s Core Concepts: Chemistry is just the thing for budding young scientists, World Book’s Timelines simplifies history, allowing users to access and create specific chronologies.

Rosen

Rosen adds a third digital resource to its suite of scientific database series. Core Concepts: Chemistry offers a wealth of information in a straightforward, engaging format. Like other databases from the Core Concepts series, this one packs well-chosen articles, activities, and resources into a user friendly interface.

Grade Level 6 & Up

Cost Subscription pricing for Core Concepts: Chemistry is tiered, based on student enrollment or cardholder numbers, and begins at $595 per year.

Ease of Use and Visual Appeal As with previous databases from this series, Rosen proclaims this particular addition to be a “content-driven, visually stimulating, and media-rich online science resource.” And that it is. This easy-to-navigate site blends readable prose with an engaging format, moving users seamlessly from one topic to the next. The site includes a basic search bar, intuitive navigation tabs, and two centralized boxes, one featuring a spotlighted “Core Idea” (which at the time of this review was “Solid, Liquid, or Gas?”) and another containing a brief synopsis of an aspect of “Chemistry in Action” and brief video clip.

Users are given the option to search articles and topics by browsing alphabetically arranged hyperlinked items. Clicking on individual entries reveals a visually appealing, well-arranged layout complete with black font, a colorful photo or two, and numerous hyperlinked terms that work well for cross-referencing. One example is the article on “Nuclear Reactions,” which includes the subcategories “Inside the Nucleus” and “Nuclear Energy,” as well as a bibliography, glossary, and handy Periodic Table Reference Guide. Left side tabs enable users to quickly and easily navigate the various sections and additional resources without losing track. Each section also provides citations for MLA, APA, and Chicago formats. As with Rosen’s other offerings, this one includes the ReadSpeaker text-to-speech function.

Content The material is comprehensive and thorough. The navigation tabs on the landing page contain categories such as “Atoms and Molecules,” “Biochemistry,” “Chemical Reactions,” “Chemistry in Your World,” “Energy and Reactions,” and “Periodic Table.” By clicking on these tabs, users encounter brief write-ups about the topic and listing of subcategories with both a thumbnail image and “Read More” option. One example is the Atoms and Molecules tab, which contains subcategories, including “Matter Defined,” “Inside Atoms,” “Radioactivity,” “Element Basics,” and “Atomic Pioneer Lise Meitner.” Included within the “Scientist Biographies” section are a number of well-structured biographical sketches of pioneers in the field, such as Gertrude Elion, Antoine Lavoisier, and Michael Faraday.

The “Explore, Create, Learn” tab contains a wealth of tools for users to create a multimedia presentation, podcast, public service announcement, or social media campaign. Also in this section are the interactive time lines for contextual exploration, complete with embedded video clips that add interesting tidbits to the presentation. Another quality feature are the video galleries, opportunity to study with biology flash cards, and a number of other experiments and hands-on activities. The “Chemical Reactions: Moving Molecules” module lets users learn about chemical reactions by combining a chain of elements to either hydrogen or oxygen.

Resources for Teachers and Librarians In addition to supporting the national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education program, Core Concepts: Chemistry offers “Curriculum Correlations” for Next Generation Science Standards and other national sci-ence standards, state and provincial standards for science, language arts, and mathematics, along with Common Core state standards for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics.

Verdict A great companion to Rosen’s other scientific databases, this is a useful tool that is both highly accessible and packed with informative material presented in an unusually uncomplicated package. Recommended for middle and high school media centers supporting a chemistry curriculum.

Brian Odom, Birmingham, AL.

World Book Timelines

SLJ1410w-Ref-World-booksFull of promise but ultimately flawed, World Book’s new historical database offers users the opportunity to browse time lines categorized by subject and time period, as well as to create their own time lines. Though this is a creative and innovative approach to history, the execution leaves much to be desired.

Grade Level 3 & Up

Cost Part of a larger subscription to Student, Advanced, Info Finder, Online Reference Center, Discover, and Academic

Overview Users can browse ready-made time lines by categories such as arts, sports, history, geography, and science. They can also edit these existing time lines, as well as create and edit their own, by searching and downloading images and events from the World Book database.

Ease of Use and Visual Appeal The interface is sleek and elegant. The homepage features minimal graphics, and the focus is on the eight clearly delineated categories: “Art,” “Literature,” “Notable People,” “Parts of the World,” “Science and Technology,” “Society and Culture,” “Sports,” and “World History.” When users click on a category, subdivisions appear. Within each, users will find one or more time lines relating to the subject. For instance, “Parts of the World” contains the subdivisions “Africa,” “Australia,” “Europe,” and “Canada,” among others, and “Europe” contains time lines titled “European countries,” “European history,” “Ireland,” and “Notable Europeans.”

The time lines themselves are sparse and pared down, with a deep blue background. Users can zoom in or click on individual events. Most, but not all, of the entries are accompanied by a small thumbnail image.

How It Works In addition to accessing existing time lines, users can edit time lines and create their own. They can add to the text, upload pictures from the World Book collection, or upload their own images. For instance, students perusing Leonardo da Vinci’s time line can place an image of Rembrandt’s self-portrait next to da Vinci’s. Time lines can be saved and accessed later. There are a few features that, while purely cosmetic, will appeal to kids, such as the option to choose background themes and colors and a main image.

However, there are several aspects that aren’t particularly useful. Students can zoom in and out of a time line, but doing so doesn’t provide more detailed descriptions or facts. The ability to download events and images from World Book’s database to add to time lines isn’t helpful or reliable, as students aren’t given any guidance in order to conduct their search. Users with little to no knowledge of the subject or what World Book’s database encompasses may find themselves limited.

Students also have the option to search by keyword, but doing so is problematic. Searches for Vincent Van Gogh and Mary Cassatt yielded no hits, yet doing a search of the “European Paintings 1800s” time line does show both. Those relying upon a keyword search could potentially miss out on important information.

Content Each specific time line runs the gamut in terms of material, all of which is presented neatly and, of course, chronologically. Ronald Reagan’s time line, for example, begins with his birth in 1911 and lists major and interesting events: his first film, first political office, wedding date, and so on.

However, at the time this product was available for review, there were gaps—some quite big—in the content. Many topics, significant either because of kid appeal or because they are perennial curricula presences, are represented spottily or not at all. For instance, there are time lines devoted to only two visual artists: Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo. Similarly, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a widely read Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, does not appear on the American literature time line, though there is an entry on Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems.

This database contains plenty of content, but much of it is either incomplete or of questionable use to the average American student. The “Notable People” category is thorough enough to include time lines for “Notable Canadians” and “Notable Australians” but fails to list Frederick Douglass in the “Notable Americans” time line. Similarly, the “Inventions That Changed the World” time line shows the introduction of air-conditioning for large buildings (1902) but does not include the invention of the first mechanical cotton gin (1793), a significant part of students’ curriculum.

Verdict This database has so much promise, but in its current state, it is only marginally useful. Educators should give it a pass for now.

Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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