November 23, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Jazz Up Your Social Studies Curriculum with LaunchPacks

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Teachers seeking curated social studies material can save prep time by drawing on ­primary sources, photos, and more from these 1,600 expert-created collections. ­Students and educators can customize and adapt information to particular classes, assignments, or individuals.

Britannica LaunchPacks

packs.eb.com/social-studies

Grade Level PreS-Gr 12

Cost Launchpacks Social Studies is $999 for each of three categories: elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Content LaunchPacks draws on content written, edited, compiled, and/or selected by editors at Encyclopedia Britannica (EB). This includes articles from EB reference works, photos from EB ImageQuest, government website material, primary sources, video footage, photos, and other articles for which they have negotiated permissions. The more than 12,000 items are curated into LaunchPacks and divided by grade level: prekindergarten through second; third through fifth; sixth through eighth; and ninth through 12th.
As the age of the intended audience increases, so do the number and sophistication of the cards (resources) in each LaunchPack. For example, a search on “Donald Trump” returns a single LaunchPack for prekindergarten through second grade, containing four cards: two photos, one short video of the inaugural oath, and one article (three paragraphs long) from Encyclopedia Britannica. The same search, filtered for grades nine through 12, returns several LaunchPacks. One, titled Donald Trump, contains 10 cards: six articles, three images, and one video of Trump receiving the Republication nomination. A second, The Electoral College, has 15 cards, and there are others on more general topics, related primarily to U.S. presidential history. For educators in search of resources in a specific curriculum area, LaunchPacks can be filtered and browsed (without specific search terms) by a provided list of topics such as Ancient Civilizations: India, and People Who Made a Difference in the World.
In a few instances (for example, a primary source link to the 1914 children’s book The Eskimo Twins) teachers will want to provide context for the use of terms now considered insensitive.

Educator Ease of Use/Visual Appeal Searches return broad results, so educators will find basic search operators helpful. For example, using quotation marks when searching “Harlem Renaissance” will eliminate information on Leonardo da Vinci and Mount Rushmore. Teachers who create an account can save favorite LaunchPacks and customize them as needed. This might include removing cards, editing titles and explanatory text, annotating text within documents, uploading documents, and adding a rubric or assignment specifications. Teachers can save customized LaunchPacks and share them with students via email, with a link, or through an assignment in the school’s learning management system. Educators will find the interface intuitive.

Student Ease of Use/Visual Appeal Students can search LaunchPacks themselves, but it is more likely they would access a teacher-selected LaunchPack as part of a lesson or assignment. Each LaunchPack opens to an inviting but not overwhelming dashboard. Cards within the pack are clearly identified as articles, photos, videos, or primary sources. Students can enlarge the text of an article, hear it read aloud, or translate it into another language. Most videos include captions. Resources can be printed, cited, and shared. Double-clicking on any word in an article brings up a brief definition in Spanish and English. An “annotate” option allows users to add and respond to comments, questions, and more. “Cite, download and share” options facilitate ethical use and group assignments. Features are easy to use.

Teacher Resources The help menu and video tutorials are useful for exploring different features. Besides the extensive editing capabilities, creating an educator account lets teachers schedule a LaunchPack, triggering an email reminder when the link should be sent out. Educators can indicate areas of interest and receive notifications when new LaunchPacks are created. If a search does not find a suitable LaunchPack, EB provides a “Request a New Pack” form, with a response time of two days for most requests.

Verdict For teachers in need of timely and engaging social studies content, delivered in a functional, attractive, and ready-to-use format, this database is ideal.
Assignments can be quickly updated with confidence, and the customization options allow teachers to tweak individual LaunchPacks as needed for specific curriculum content and learning styles.


Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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