Electronic Eye December 2012

Rosen Learning Center: Teen Cyber Smarts and Financial Literacy

Kathleen Meulen

December 2012

This year, due to scheduling issues, I was given a weekly class.

The class is only thirty-five minutes long, happens only once a week, and I see the same students only once in a three-week rotation. All the students are sixth graders.

And it is not graded by me, but by the Health/PE teacher.

After giving an icy stare to this otherwise supportive PE teacher who suggested that I host a weekly study hall, I chose to create a class that I’m calling “Digital Life.”  If I wrote a tag line, it would be “health for your online life.”

Why did I choose to do this?  I think that sixth graders are on the verge of a great many changes in their opportunities to interact virtually, and I wanted to provide them with a place to consider the choices that they were starting to make.  Every three weeks, I create new online Quests for them to go on.  Our first few featured our digital reputations.  We created word clouds that went to the heart of who we wanted to be.  We shared these word clouds with each other and even created a group word cloud that showed the most central character traits for every sixth grader in my class.

And what traits were most important to them?  What was most central to how they wanted to be known? Firstly, they wanted to be known as “kind.”  Then, they wanted to be known as “caring.” “Athletic” was a close third. These words were really heartening to read.  How could anything be wrong in a place where everyone in a class wants to be kind, caring, and athletic?

But yet my school and this class are not perfect, despite their good intentions.  We all know that youth, and even adults, fall short of who they say they want to be, both online and in real life.  That is why they need safe opportunities consider their choices.

This class was the reason why I was so excited to review one of the new ebook collections for teens offered by Rosen Publishing.  If there was a textbook written for this class, it would be “Teen Cyber Smarts.”  It is one of two collections that Rosen is targeting at the teen market.

Rosen Learning Center

Rosen Learning Center is Rosen Publishing’s online interface where they are providing access to their ebook collections. Two new series have just been introduced for the teen market.  They are called Financial Literacy and Teen CyberSmarts. Both collections go way beyond what most would consider a basic ebook.  They actually provide an interactive experience complete with simulations, videos, online quizzes so that students can self-check their comprehension, as well as lessons and other teaching tools.

There are five titles in Teen CyberSmartsTeens Stopping Cyberbullying, Teens Protecting Their Privacy Online, Teens Avoiding Predators Online, Teens Playing Games Online, and Teens Using Social Networks.  The page of each title is presented in a double page spread complete with pictures and captions.  The text of each spread can be read to the user by clicking the listen button at the top left.  Each spread also has a box entitled “Explore this Page” on the left that identifies new vocabulary and also brings in other media to enrich the text.  For instance, the book on avoiding online predators has a video that discusses the “red flags” that sometimes identify a conversation with a predator.  Another element that was available in the “Explore this Page” box was a quiz.

The text is very current, the images are appealing and the books are filled with real world examples and good suggestions to the problems that teens experience at this point in their online worlds. But my favorite part, and it may also be the case for teens, is the social networking simulations that are placed above and on the right side of the text.  Above the ebook, I had the chance to choose a username from a list of usernames common to teens.  I chose a colorful avatar and also a “status” from a pile of samples.  Rosen’s website definitely adheres to COPPA Federal guidelines in terms of collection of information from students.  Students do not have to provide this site with any personal information in order to create an account and make use of its interactive functionality.  They do need to write down a special password that is created for them by the site.

To the right of the book, there are three icons: friends, e-mail, and chat. As I went through the book, a red exclamation point would indicate that I had a choice to make.  At one point, I was sent a message via chat that a different chatter was really enjoying our conversation and suggested that we move our conversation to a private room.  I was given the choice between two responses.  Both responses were phrased in conversational tone. Choosing the correct choice between the two responses allowed me to rehearse what a polite, but firm negative response would be.  This is just the kind of role playing that students need in order to reinforce good choices.

My choices were tracked as a part of my overall progress that was attached to my user name and password.

While a user can read the books with this interactive functionality turned off, I’m not sure why anyone would.

Financial Literacy covers a wide range of economics topics both in terms of microeconomics and macroeconomics.  Market economics and household finance are covered.

The interface for Financial Literacy is completely different than the interface for Teen Cyber Smarts, but is still appealing to teens, as well as intuitive.  It looks much less like an ebook on a shelf and more like an online resource that does not have pages that need to be turned.

There are many articles of information contained in Financial Literacy.  While a user can search and browse an A to Z index of these articles, they are also presented within seven larger topics: “Entrepreneurship and Career Skills,” “Measuring Economic Performance,” “Money and Financial Institutions,” “Personal Finance,” “Role of Government,” “The Market Economy,” and “Trade and the Global Economy.” Within each larger heading, there are several shorter articles.  For instance, the section on being an entrepreneur makes suggestions for how to “get ahead” in the world, including interpersonal skills and networking skills.

For each article, an embedded “Google Translate” tool allows users to translate it into several different languages.  Users may also share the articles via several social networking tools including Facebook and Twitter. Each article is short and is written for teens.  They contain images that help connect the content to the young adult audience. For instance, in the “Decision Making and Work Readiness” article, there is a picture of a young man leaning against a dolly of boxes with the caption that reads: “Do you have a summer job that you don’t like, such as stocking shelves? You can use your decision-making skills to choose a new employment path.”

Each article has a prominent citation for students to easily copy and paste, making me wonder if that was a criticism that Rosen had heard from users in the past.

There are also several articles that are featured. At the time of this review, the “Fiscal Cliff” was of great importance and was one of the articles highlighted with a picture of President Obama talking to the White House Press Corps. The “Fiscal Cliff” article also included information about taxation to help students understand a citizen’s role in funding the federal and state government.

Finally, there are six financial calculators included in this interface, including an auto payment calculator, a quiz about budgets, a college cost calculator, a housing calculator, a savings goals calculator, and a student debt repayment calculator.  I would like to use all six of these calculators in my own adult life as a forty-something.  I regret that they were not there for my teenhood.

Important to educators at this time is the fact that both series has been designed with Common Core learning standards in mind, which I take to mean that they are both informational texts of high quality.

I recently was able to hear librarian futurist/guru Christopher Harris of “Infomancy” speak.  He talked very positively about Rosen being a publisher who was creating ebooks that really fit their market and were innovative and interactive.   After reviewing both of these new teen titles from Rosen, I now fully know what he was alluding to.  Both Teen Cyber Smarts and Financial Literacy meet a need. They could be online textbooks for classes on their subjects.  I’m already eager to find a way to fund Teen Cyber Smarts for my “Digital Life Class,” and there is no question in my mind that Financial Literacy has the weight and breadth to replace a traditional high school economics textbook.

After working for eight years as head librarian at Marymount School of New York in New York City, Kathleen Meulen is now a librarian for the Bainbridge Island School District in Washington state. Please e-mail comments to kmeulen@bainbridge.wednet.edu.


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