November 21, 2017

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Better Learning Through Ebooks: Rosen Digital’s Spotlight on Science and Social Studies | Reference Reviews

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1512-Reference-Rosen-HmpgRosen Digital’s Spotlight on Science and Social Studies

Covering subjects such as the 13 colonies and the solar system, Rosen uses helpful features, including time lines, multimedia, and primary documents, to shine a “spotlight” on a variety of cornerstone topics.

Grade Level 3-8

Cost Price is determined according to whether titles are purchased singly or as a series. Individually, the titles have a list price of $99.95 and a discounted school and library price of $74.95. The series have list prices ranging from $1,199.40 to $1,399.30, with the discounted school and library prices ranging from $899.40 to $1,049.30. Each title is available as a physical book. Each price reflects a one-time purchase.

Overview History and science are presented through a hybrid of ebooks, clickable chronologies, actor-narrated audios, expandable maps, and other features. The various series include “Spotlight on Space Science,” “Spotlight on Ancient Civilizations,” “Spotlight on The 13 Colonies: Birth of a Nation,” “Spotlight on American History,” and “Spotlight on Native Americans.”

Content “Space Science” describes the different features of planets. Expeditions into space are discussed insofar as they provided new information about the planets. Ebooks include Journey Through the Asteroid Belt, Journey Through Galaxies, Journey to Earth, Journey to Jupiter, Journey to Mars, Journey to Mercury, Journey to the Moon, Journey to Neptune, Journey to Saturn, Journey to Pluto and Other Dwarf Planets, Journey Through Eclipses, Journey to the Sun, Journey to Uranus, and Journey to Venus.

“The 13 Colonies: Birth of a Nation” chronicles how the Age of Exploration shaped the colonies, explores how the colonists lived, and describes the lives of key figures of the day. There are 14 titles: one for each of the colonies, plus one on the lost colony of Roanoke. American History focuses on events immediately before, during, and right after the American Revolution: specifically those that shaped the nation’s liberty and government. The titles include The Battles of Lexington and Concord, Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross and the Creation of the American Flag, The Boston Tea Party, Crispus Attucks and African American Patriots of the American Revolution, The Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress, George Washington, John Paul Jones and the Birth of the American Navy, The Marquis de Lafayette and Other International Champions of the American Revolution, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and Thomas Paine and the Power of Common Sense.

“Native Americans” features Apache, Blackfoot, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Cree, Hopi, Inuit, Muscogee (Creek), Navajo, Nez Perce, Ojibwe, and Shoshone. This set covers the origins of tribes, what they were like before the arrival of the Europeans, how they came to live on reservations, and how they preserve their culture today. A second Native American series is slated for 2016.
Three bygone cultural powerhouses are featured in “Ancient Civilizations”: Egypt, Rome, and Greece. For each of those areas, there are six titles, which examine culture, daily life, geography, government, technology, and economy.

Usability Each title in each series, regardless of subject, adheres to the same layout. Books are between 20 and 30 pages in length, and readers click the edge of the screen to advance. The pages of the ebook take up the bulk of the screen; the rest is comprised of a time line, a map, and a menu called “Explore This Page.” The content of these features varies from page to page.
Students can move the time line back and forth through an arrow icon or by sliding a box. Key events are indicated with blue dots (if the event pertains to the topic of the book) and red dots (if the event relates to concurrent but otherwise unrelated events elsewhere in the world).

When users hover the cursor over the dot, a dialog box appears containing a brief description of the event. For instance, in Apache, a blue dot indicates that in 1598, “Spanish settle New Mexico permanently and disrupt trade relations between Apaches and the Pueblo Indians.” A red dot nearby indicates the death of William Shakespeare in 1616.

The map on each page is small, but with a click on the “View Larger” icon, it balloons to full screen. The maps are basic, demonstrating only information that relates to the content on the page. For instance, in The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, a spread describes in brief the French and Indian War, while the accompanying map depicts northeastern North America and parts of Canada, with different colors used to indicate disputed areas.

Each title includes an “Explore This Page” menu with navigable links: “Vocabulary Words” and “More About.” Many books have additional links such as “Primary Source” and “Video Clip.” “Vocabulary Words” is a page-by-page glossary that highlights each word on the page that appears in bold font. Clicking on the word causes an information box to appear with a brief definition of the word. Students can click on “Say It” to hear an actor pronounce the word and read the accompanying definition.

The “Primary Source” links personalize the history and add a sense of immediacy. While the main text of George Washington recounts the general’s decision to launch an attack on the British in Trenton, NJ, the primary source on that page is a link to a letter Washington wrote to the Continental Congress detailing his victory in that campaign. The actual document is available, as is a rendering in plain typed font; users can click on “Listen” to hear an actor read the words.
The “Video Clip” adds depth to a topic. For instance, in Journey to Mercury, users can click a video clip called “A Day on Mercury” to learn how in 2012, Messenger took photos of Mercury’s southern pole. The images were compiled to make the accompanying sped-up video portraying Mercury’s planetary rotation.

A “Listen” icon allows users to hear an actor narrate what is on the current spread. Hovering the cursor over the bottom of the page allows a menu to pop up containing helpful links: “Table of Contents,” “Browse Pages,” “Primary Source List,” “Index,” “View Book Full Screen,” and “View Printable Items.” The database is usable on Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones, and interactive whiteboards. There is one-click access through the MARC records, and unlimited simultaneous access.

Visual Appeal The layout of each title resembles that of other history and science books. There are one to three concise paragraphs per page, and the text is complemented by a variety of high-resolution photos, reproductions, drawings, maps, and so on. Colorful borders lend extra visual oomph, and the overall design is attractive and easy on the eye.

Teacher Resources In the “Explore This Page” menu, there is an “Instructional Support” section with several links for teacher use: a planning guide, a lesson plan, a list of events and dates, information on people and places to know, and vocabulary/word sort. The content is available two ways—through the planning guide and through independent links—making access easy. Unlike the other links in the “Explore this Page” menu, the content of which changes along with the content on the ebook page, these links provide access to the same information throughout.
In addition, the planning guide for “Space Science” contains information on the ins and outs of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as well as suggestions on how to use this resource accordingly. Similarly, the planning guides for “The 13 Colonies,” “American History,” and “Native Americans” provide details and tips on the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.

Verdict In practice and appearance, this resource is first-rate. The content is well-organized and backed by primary resources, and the design is attractive but never distracting. Purchase with confidence.


Prince_Contrib_WebJennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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