November 21, 2017

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A Longtime Publisher Casts Its Print Content in a New Light | Reference Online

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1604-Reference-KidsDiscovery

Kids Discover presents an online version of the material from its popular magazines, supplemented by strong visual and interactive features.

KIDS DISCOVER ONLINE

Grade Level Gr 4-8

Cost Thirty units with more than 200 topic pages are free to all users. Parents can purchase complete content that includes the power to adjust reading levels for $48 per year. Educator subscriptions with complete access, the ability to manage up to 34 students, adjustable reading levels, and lesson planning capability are priced at $144 per year. Subscriptions for larger groups or entire schools are available.

Content The material is grouped into 10 categories: four in social studies (world history, American history, geography, and historical figures) and six in the sciences and technology (space, life, physical and earth sciences, the human body, and technology). Categories have a number of “units,” ranging from only five for technology to almost 30 for world history. Each unit has three to 10 specific topics, mostly introductions to commonly taught subjects, plus some popular topics.

Coverage is relatively superficial, and most topic pages are comprised of a series of paragraphs that are essentially lengthy captions for photographs and illustrations.

However, content is very well integrated and demonstrates the connections among topics. For example, the unit on electricity has a page on Benjamin Franklin.

The visuals are the site’s strongest element. Each topic includes large, eye-catching photos as well as illustrations that include historic art and drawings, such as of ships, pyramids, cells, and machines. There are numerous interactive features that are instructive and fun. Many units have illustrations with “buttons” that open boxes with additional information.

There are also animations and short videos that highlight processes and phenomena: an exploding volcano, plate tectonics, and how a wound heals. Many topics have step-by-step sections that allow students to click on sequential numbers to obtain more information, such as on the construction of a pyramid.

Ease of Use The interface is not completely intuitive, and students, especially those at the lower end of the intended audience, will likely need some help navigating. The homepage has short videos that illustrate how the different features work. The site opens to “The Feed,” which highlights new and recently added units and topics.

Clicking the “Discover” tab opens a group of 10 category bubbles (such as geography and world history) that open into a content map that connects the dots among topics. For example, in physical science, the unit on energy connects with the concepts of matter, light, electricity, atoms, force, and chemistry. Opening a unit pulls up the topic pages for that unit as well as related units.

Parents, teachers, and even students can adjust reading levels with a pull-down button. The three reading levels (based on Lexile numbers) are 560–740, 750–890, and 900–1040 and can be changed at any time.

All of the interactive features found on topic pages are simple to use. However, navigating between units requires users to go back to the “Discover” tab, which is somewhat frustrating.

Teacher Resources Most instructors will find this site useful for introduction, enrichment, or review, and it is suitable for an individual student or whole class use. Teachers can set up classrooms and assign units and topics and set reading levels for individual students within classes.

There is also a “Desk” feature that students can’t access, where teachers can plan, select the website’s units, or set up their own custom units by simply clicking on the “Add Topic” buttons, which are conveniently located on library view or on individual units and topics. Unfortunately, there are no lesson plans or assessments. Teachers can register for the teacher materials on the Kids Discover main website, which has lesson plans, activities, and assessments, such as quizzes for most of the units in the print magazine, but creating lesson plans and assembling classroom materials for a custom unit would be time-consuming.

Verdict This website has a number of strengths, including compelling and attractive content that is well matched to most curricula. The content map shows how topics are interconnected and ties science and history together, and the interactive features are especially well designed and easy to use.

It is reasonably priced for home use, and many parents will welcome prescreened and easily understood material that supplements or explains what their children are learning. Teachers could use the units or individual topics to augment textbooks and other classroom materials. However, a major weakness is the lack of easily accessible lesson plans, written materials, and assessment tools for custom units. On balance, this website is a good family purchase and a supplemental choice for teachers and schools.

Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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