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SIRS Discoverer: Pro/Con Leading Issues

It is important for elementary and middle school students to develop critical thinking and research skills. Often students are tasked with a research project on a controversial or difficult topic. To fulfill this need, SIRS Discoverer offers a Pro/Con Leading Issues feature that will help young researchers navigate through 60 debated social issues. Each topic lists several viewpoint articles where students can click through to full-text content. These articles provide context that help kids understand the viewpoints on these issues. In addition to articles, editorially-selected photos and political cartoons provide a visual perspective. Since editors create and maintain the topics, educators can be confident that the content will be reliable.

SIRS Discoverer Pro/Con Leading Issues

Each issue contains:

Topic Overview
Terms to Know
Essential Question
More Viewpoints
Visual Literacy
Critical Thinking Questions

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Pro/Con Leading Issues is also one of the most popular features in the SIRS Discoverer product. We have heard from several media specialists and librarians that when a student is undecided on a subject to research, browsing through the topics often sparks an idea.

We realize the value of keeping the topics updated and so we have added 5 new topics to our Pro/Con Leading Issues feature at the start of the new school year:

Electoral College
Gender Identity
Health Care
Refugees
Vaccines

Educators, do your students use the Pro/Con Leading Issues feature?
Tweet #ProQuest #SIRSDiscoverer

Don’t have SIRS Discoverer? Request a free trial.

 

Using SIRS Issues Researcher to Teach Vocabulary Development

By Jamie Gregory, Media Specialist, James F. Byrnes High School, Duncan, SC

To me, the best part about anticipating the start of a new school year is that nothing has happened yet. The entire year is a blank slate. Time is all yours. So why not plan to implement a research-based strategy this year that you know will work?

I am a long-time supporter of ProQuest databases. I was formerly an English teacher at the same high school where I am now one of two media specialists, and even before I arrived at my school back then, my media center subscribed to ProQuest resources. We are long-time believers!

My colleague Karen Hill and I have noticed that due to the implementation of technology over the past five years, students need a much different research skills set that we are not always providing them with the opportunities to learn. For example, not all databases use the same interface. Different keywords may be used to retrieve information on the same subjects. Does the database return PDF files of full-text articles? Abstracts? Is the keyword search more useful than the subject search? How do I save the article I want to use?

Vocabulary As a Research Skill

In my opinion, however, one of the most basic and important research skills is vocabulary. What are the words I should use to describe the information I want to find? Without a complex and prolific vocabulary, students won’t even be aware of the information they can’t find. It’s a librarian’s dream to teach these skills, to be sure, but for teachers, it often seems even more overwhelming on top of demands to teach content area information.

However, we as media specialists are continually striving to share ideas with teachers about how to embed information literacy skills into any content area.

Image Courtesy of Jamie Gregory

Use of a Keyword Log 

In search of ideas, this past February, I read “Doubling Up: authentic vocabulary development through the inquiry process” by Leslie Maniotes and Anita Cellucci published in the February 2017 issue of Teacher Librarian. Maniotes and Cellucci are two researchers involved in the development of the Guided Inquiry Design model, based on research conducted by Carol Kuhlthau. When I saw this article and read the first paragraph, one word came to mind: genius! I knew I wanted to implement the keyword log introduced in the article because it would be a useful step forward in encouraging students to develop and refine vocabulary skills necessary to the research process.

Image Courtesy of Jamie Gregory

Students use the keyword log as a method of self-reflection by recording each information search. Students record their progress when they discover new and different search terms; by recording the results of each search, they will learn which databases and which search terms provided them with the best information they needed. The process of using the keyword log begins with students using databases to find information.

We primarily use the SIRS Issues Researcher database with students. When first introducing students to SIRS, we show them how the issues marked with an asterisk indicate that it is a main category that will contain a list of related issues with essential questions, which helps with topic selection.

Military Ethics Main Category in SIRS Issues Researcher

We also show students that when they click on an essential question to view the topic page, they can also view additional critical thinking questions to help guide their topic selection.

Critical Thinking & Analysis Questions in SIRS Issues Researcher

Once students have conducted an information search, we show them the related search terms feature. It’s super easy to search related subject terms for vocabulary development, especially for students who don’t know too much about their topic. The subject terms are listed at the end of each article, which students can click on.

Subjects in Results List in SIRS Issues Researcher

The image below is a sample of some searches I performed during whole-class instruction after introducing the keyword log. It’s not perfect and it’s pretty simple, but that’s the scaffolding I needed to provide with this particular group of students.

Image Courtesy of Jamie Gregory

The students I worked with to use the keyword log when beginning their research all responded that it was a useful tool. They responded in a survey at the end of the unit that they learned search terms they previously didn’t know, using the keyword log helped get “all of the junky results out of the way,” it showed them what not to do when searching in the future, and it helped them keep track of their research.

Try Something New This Year

So this year, try something new that has been proven to work. The SIRS Issues Researcher database is an essential tool in implementing the keyword log because of its incredibly user-friendly interface, and the features it offers helps educators develop information literacy skills that students will be able to apply across all disciplines.

 

Jamie Gregory taught high school English and French for 8 years before completing the MLIS degree from the University of South Carolina. She is beginning her 5th year working as a high school media specialist at James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, SC.

Let’s Debate…Education Reform

Education reform, particularly federal spending on public education, has been a political hot-button issue since the 1960s. Questions that were asked then are the same that are debated now: Do the funds provided by the Department of Education improve students’ learning environments and opportunities, or do they simply allow states to decrease money allocated to education? Does federal funding advance education in public schools, or does it stifle public schools with regulations and oversight?

Check out Let’s Debate…Education Reform below for an overview of the topic. Also visit the SKS Spotlight of the Month, which explores the 2017-2018 National High School Debate Topic: The United States federal government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation of elementary and/or secondary education in the United States.

 

CultureGrams — New Kids Country: Tuvalu

The CultureGrams editors are excited to announce a new Kids edition country report!

Flag of Tuvalu, via CultureGrams

The new Tuvalu report includes detailed information on the history, culture, language, food, and daily life of this country.

Here are some interesting Did You Knows about Tuvalu:

  • Tuvalu (pronounced too-VAH-loo) means “eight standing together” in Tuvaluan. This refers to the nation’s eight traditionally inhabited atolls (ring-shaped reefs) and islands.
  • The only mammal native to Tuvalu is the Polynesian rat, though early settlers brought pigs, chickens, dogs, and cats with them. However, there are hundreds of species of fish and other marine creatures.
  • There are no rivers or streams in Tuvalu, since the islands are made up of coral gravel and sand. People must catch and store rainwater or desalinate (remove the salt from) ocean water.
  • Tuvalu owns the internet domain name .tv, which is a popular alternative to .com for companies worldwide.

Read about life as a kid in Tuvalu, traditional games, and the importance of family relationships, all in this colorful new report.

TDIH: First “Test-Tube Baby” Born

“I’m not a wizard or a Frankenstein tampering with Nature. We are not creating life.
We have merely done what many people try to do in all kinds of medicine–to help
nature. We found nature could not put an egg and sperm together, so we did it.”
Patrick Steptoe, who with Robert Edwards, perfected in vitro fertilization
of the human egg and delivered the world’s first “test-tube baby.”

In Vitro Fertilization via Pixabay [Public Domain]

It’s hard to imagine now, but when the first baby was born as the result of in vitro fertilization (IVF) on July 25, 1978, it was highly controversial. The birth attracted opposition from scientists and religious leaders, and international media attention. Louise Brown, the world’s first so-called “test tube baby” was conceived in a laboratory and born at Oldham General Hospital in England. The term “test-tube baby” is actually a misnomer, since IVF is usually performed in shallower glass containers called Petri dishes. After the birth was announced, her parents received bags full of hate mail from across the globe, as well as fan letters. While some are still opposed to IVF for ethical and religious reasons, more than 5 million children have been born worldwide through its use. Nearly 68,000 babies were born using IVF methods in the U.S. alone in 2015.

Louise Brown Holding the 1000th Bourn Hall Baby, 1987
Courtesy Bourn Hall Clinic, via National Library of Medicine [CC BY 4.0]

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 10% to 15% of couples in the US are infertile—meaning they are unable to conceive through natural means. The IVF technique was pioneered by two doctors in Cambridge, England–gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and reproductive biologist Robert Edwards. Their research led to the successful fertilization of a human egg outside the body and the transfer of the resulting embryo to the womb of Lesley Brown. A healthy baby girl was delivered to Lesley and her husband John after they had tried unsuccessfully to conceive a child for 15 years using natural methods. Two years later Steptoe and Edwards founded the world’s first IVF clinic, Bourn Hall Clinic, near Cambridge, England. The techniques and drugs now used around the world were first developed there.

Today, despite objections to its use (for example, Catholic hospitals often prohibit doctors from performing basic reproductive services including IVF), it has become much more widely accepted. For the most part, the ethical debate going on now is not so much about IVF itself, but the on the limits or constraints that should be placed on its use. Since the first IVF baby was born only 39 years ago, the long-term risks are not known. If a couple divorces, who gets custody and control of their frozen embryos? IVF enables single women to become mothers, same-sex couples to have a child of their own, and older women who are past menopause to become mothers. (In 2016, a 70-year-old Indian woman became the world’s oldest mother by using IVF.)

The average cost for IVF in the U.S. ranges from $12,000-$15,000 and can go much higher depending on individual circumstances and variables like the mother’s age or whether a surrogate is used. Although some insurance companies cover IVF procedures, many don’t. As a result, only people with the financial means to afford costly assisted reproductive technologies are able to take advantage of them, shutting out lower-income people who also want to become parents.

Screen Cap from SIRS Issues Researcher

Educators, direct your students to the new and updated SIRS Issues Researcher to dig deeper into the topic of Human Reproductive Technology. This Leading Issue explores these issues in-depth by asking users the Essential Question, “Does the use of human reproductive technology challenge the basic ideas of conception?” Background information, a timeline, viewpoint articles, multimedia resources and questions for critical thinking and analysis and are provided. They can also explore these other related Leading Issues:

Anonymous Eggs and Sperm Donation

Genetic Testing

Human Cloning

Stem Cells

Surrogacy

SIRS Issues Researcher supports state, national and international learning standards. Don’t have it? Request a free trial.

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New Burkina Faso Photos and Slideshows Added!

We’ve recently added new media to our Burkina Faso country report, including more than 35 gallery photos and 5 new slideshows. Come have a look! CultureGrams has over 20,000 photos across its 209 country reports, in addition to hundreds of slideshows.

Burkinabè children stand next to a reservoir in Djibo. Image credit: Salym Fayad

A young boy poses for a picture in the northern town of Djibo. He wears a protective amulet around his neck known locally as a gris-gris. Image credit: Salym Fayad

Women pose at their street-food stall at a Sunday afternoon market in central Ouagadougou. Image credit: Salym Fayad

A Burkinabè girl stands for a portrait. Image credit: Salym Fayad

Young boys hold up a board with verses from the Qurʾan written on it. Young Islamic students memorize the Arabic verses by copying the sentences onto their boards. Image credit: Salym Fayad

How Educators Can Choose Controversial Political Issues Ethically

This is the third in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. Previous posts in this series discussed the benefits and aims of teaching controversial political issues.

How Educators Can Choose Controversial Political Issues Ethically


In 2014, school officials in Rialto, California, had to apologize after students were asked to write an argumentative essay on whether the Holocaust occurred. The assignment presented students with a false controversial issue and implied that Holocaust denial was a valid position despite empirical evidence that proves otherwise. Although extreme, this incident demonstrates the ethical perils of choosing topics when teaching controversial political issues.

How can educators choose and present controversial political issues ethically? There are no easy answers. Educators, however, can take some steps to ensure that teaching about a controversial political issue doesn’t become a controversy.

Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy, authors of The Political Classroom, argue that educators should be well prepared and use good professional judgment, which considers classroom context, evidence-based research, and educational aims. To prepare, educators should be able to identify four types of issues and consider three criteria to determine whether an issue is indeed controversial.

Identify the Type of Issue

Is the issue empirical or political?

Empirical issues can be answered through methodical inquiry. All empirical issues have a “correct” answer based on facts, although the answer may not yet be known. Political issues involve matters of public policy. Although empirical data is often used to support public-policy positions, political issues also involve considerations that are not necessarily fact-based, such as ethics and morals.

Is the issue open or settled?

Open issues are a current matter of controversy. Settled issues are no longer controversial and have widespread agreement. Both empirical and political issues can be open or settled.

Here’s an overview of the four types of issues:

1. Open Empirical: An issue that can be answered with facts, but a debate is still occurring because the evidence is conflicting or lacking. Example: Are self-driving cars safer than traditional cars?

2. Settled Empirical: An issue that has been answered with facts. Example: Are opioids addictive?

3. Open Political: A public-policy issue that has multiple, opposing viewpoints. Example: Should the United States implement single-payer health care?

4. Settled Political: A public-policy issue that is no longer considered controversial or open for debate. Example: Should women have the right to vote?

Why is identifying the type of issue important? Educators teaching controversial political issues must be sure not to present settled issues as open. Educators must also recognize the difference between issues that can be answered with facts alone (empirical issues) versus those that can be answered with opinions in addition to facts (policy issues).

Consider the Criteria for Controversy

Identifying whether an issue is empirical or political and open or settled may seem easy, but things are not always so simple. Some issues are empirically settled, but large segments of society may not agree. According to scientists, climate change is real and genetically-modified foods are safe, but sizeable numbers of Americans are skeptical of those positions. Some educators believe it is unethical to present issues as controversial when empirical evidence or their own moral code suggests otherwise. Other educators believe they are doing their students a disservice if they ignore issues that are currently being debated in the political sphere.

Here are three possible criteria to consider when choosing a controversial issue:

1. Behavioral: This criterion considers an issue controversial if sizeable numbers of people in society disagree on the issue regardless of empirical evidence.

Upside: This standard reflects what society thinks.

Downside: This standard may ignore empirical evidence. If sizable numbers of people believe in a conspiracy theory, despite the evidence, is it ethical to present this as a controversial issue?

2. Epistemic: This criterion considers an issue controversial if sizable numbers of people in society disagree on the issue, and there are multiple, logically grounded viewpoints on the issue.

Upside: This standard reflects what society thinks while also considering reasonable, evidence-based viewpoints.

Downside: People disagree on what is considered reasonable, which suggests that educators should ignore controversial political issues if viewpoints are considered unreasonable.

3. Politically Authentic: This criterion considers an issue controversial if it is being debated in the political sphere (e.g., legislation, political campaigns, and protest movements).

Upside: This criterion addresses current issues being debated in the political sphere, which prepares students for life in a democracy.

Downside: Viewpoints on politically authentic issues are not always grounded in logic.

Although The Political Classroom’s Hess and McAvoy recognize that each standard has its merits and disadvantages, they most prefer the politically authentic criterion because it directly addresses an important aim of teaching controversial political issues to students: political literacy.

As stated earlier in the post, there are no easy answers on how to choose and present controversial political issues ethically. But thinking deeply about controversial political issues and using good professional judgment will help.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial political issues to students.

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The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

CultureGrams — New Kids Country: American Samoa

The CultureGrams editors are excited to announce a new Kids edition country report!

Flag of American Samoa, via CultureGrams

The new American Samoa report includes detailed information on the history, culture, language, food, and daily life of this country.

Here are some interesting Did You Knows about American Samoa:

  • American Samoa is home to only three kinds of native land mammals, all of which are bats.
  • American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the United States.
  • American Samoa uses the U.S. Postal Service for mail delivery and is small enough to have just one zip code.
  • One of the traditional symbols of American Samoa is the fue (coconut fiber fly whisk) crossed with a to’oto’o (staff). The fue stands for wisdom, while the to’oto’o represents authority.

Read about life as a kid in American Samoa, traditional foods, and the role religion plays in American Samoan culture, all in this colorful new report.

6 Aims of Teaching Controversial Political Issues to Students

This is the second in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The first post in this series discussed the benefits of teaching controversial political issues.


Educational aims are the hopeful bedrock on which every curriculum is built. They transcend class objectives, which are typically measured with tests and term papers. They are ideals that give teaching a higher purpose. They are long-term.

So what are the educational aims of a political education?

Critics often cite indoctrination, but a political education is not about forcing—or even forming—political viewpoints. It is about deliberation, the process of carefully considering and discussing political issues. It is about instilling and honoring democratic values—liberty, equality, justice—and participating in the democratic process. Although Thomas Jefferson never said that “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people,” he surely believed it. Democracy itself depends on concerned citizens who understand democratic values and the political process.

In The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy identify the aims of teaching controversial political issues to students. Six are defined here:

1.  Political Equity

Citizens are political equals, both as a birthright and as individuals with unique needs and perspectives.

2.  Political Tolerance

Citizens have unalienable rights, regardless of political viewpoints. Those in the majority rule cannot use public policy to discriminate against or persecute those who are in the minority.

3.  Political Autonomy

Citizens are free from oppression or coercion and free to form political opinions and participate in the political process.

4.  Political Fairness

Citizens think individually and collectively about finding the best solutions to promote the common good.

5.  Political Engagement

Citizens participate politically by staying informed, debating, voting, protesting, and campaigning.

6.  Political Literacy

Citizens think critically about controversial political issues and also understand the larger political context, such as historical context, the role of government, etc.

Although these aims are not always attained, they are ideals that democratic societies hope to achieve. And research suggests that some of these aims are indeed achieved, at least to some degree, when students are exposed to controversial political issues in school.

Young adults are often criticized for not voting as soon as they turn 18, yet many of them were never exposed to controversial political issues in school. This is illogical. A high school student quoted in Hess and McAvoy’s The Political Classroom explains why the aims of a political education are vital: “We are seniors. We are going out into the real world in a few months, a few weeks, actually, from now. And, you know, we have to be exposed to that stuff some time or another. Otherwise, you are going to be completely clueless.” (105) Well said.

The next post in this controversial political issues series will address how to pick topics when teaching controversial political issues to students.

Subscribe via email to Share This and never miss a post.


The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

10 New Animal Fact Pages in SIRS Discoverer!

Kids of all ages love to learn about animals. SIRS Discoverer’s Animal Facts is a great place to start when your students are doing a research project. There are nearly 300 animals to choose from!

Animal Facts via SIRS Discoverer

Have your students explore these 10 newly created Animal Fact pages in SIRS Discoverer, along with a fun graphic organizer that can be used in the classroom.

Each page contains a full profile and description of the animal and includes interesting, fun facts:

Antelope: There are 90 species of antelopes in the Bovidae family.

Baboon: Baboons are found in large groups called troops.

Badger: Badgers are solitary animals and live alone except during mating season.

Collared Peccary: These animals look a lot like pigs but they are not in the same family as pigs.

Gray Whale: Gray whales live in groups called pods.

Marten: Martens are members of the weasel family.

Mole: Moles spend most of their lives underground in burrows and tunnels that they dig.

Proboscis Monkey: Male proboscis monkeys have very large noses on their faces while females have much smaller noses.

Pronghorn: Pronghorns are the only species in the family Antilocapridae.

Sperm Whale: Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales living in the ocean.

Download this animal research graphic organizer to use in your classroom.

When doing assignments on animals, direct your students to Animal Facts for all the information they need for an elementary-level research project.

Don’t have SIRS Discoverer? Free trials are available.

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