A Virtual Children's Bookshelf

How Many Children's books are at your fingertips? Thanks to, probably a few more than you think.

Founded by IT expert Anil Hemrajani, this recently launched, virtual bookshelf provides teachers a free resource to build their students' background knowledge and vocabularies—and at the same time, enhance their love of reading. The collection includes more than 300 fiction and nonfiction titles, including I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Why Animals Live in Webs, and Adding and Subtracting at the Lake, all of which can be read in their entirety at

The Web site's searchable database is easy to use, allowing visitors to search by name or keyword, or browse by genre, age group (0-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, or 13 and up), or language (various works are available in Albanian, Armenian, Czech, French, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, and Ukrainian). The site also allows visitors to recommend books after reading them and to search for books recommended by students, parents, teachers, and librarians. For those books you want to have on hand, hard copies can be purchased at any time.

Still, our favorite aspect of Big Universe is that it allows aspiring writers to create their own children's books. This unique tool offers thousands of static and animated images from which teachers and students can choose. The books can then be published on

Schoolhouse Shouldn't Be Poorhouse

An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that the majority of school buildings are in need of major renovations. Although student enrollment has increased 3 percent since 2001, school infrastructure spending on maintenance and construction (after adjusting for higher input costs) has dropped by 42 percent from $34.9 billion in 2001 to $20.3 billion in 2007, as the chart below shows. EPI also cites a U.S. Department of Education survey in which 43 percent of schools reported that the condition of their permanent facilities "interferes with the delivery of instruction." For more information, click here.

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A Rewarding Assignment

If you're a high school history teacher, the presidential election may have prompted some valuable classroom discussion. Students probably voiced their opinions on a range of issues facing this country. If those issues included the best way to improve the lives of America's children, encourage your students to put their thoughts on paper.

The Workforce and Family Program at the New America Foundation is sponsoring an essay contest for high school seniors nationwide. The grand prize of $2,500 goes to the student who best answers this question: "You have just been elected President of the United States. What is the most important thing you will do to improve the lives of America's children?"

New America Foundation staff will recognize semifinalists and finalists for their work. A panel of judges will decide the winning essay based on "clarity of thought, creativity, practicality, potential to improve the lives of children, and potential to draw attention to policies that help young people."

Essays must be no longer than 600 words and must be submitted by February 20, 2009. For official rules, entry forms, and last year's winning essay, click here.

For the Young Historian

Although elementary schools often rely on textbooks to give students an understanding of American history, such books alone provide only a partial picture of the past. Teachers looking to supplement their history lessons should consider a new resource from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

"American History: Elementary School Edition" is the fourth volume in its History in a Box series. This particular box set is divided into 10 units, covering many important topics in American history: Native Americans: the Cherokee; the Colonial Era; the American Revolution; Making a New Nation; Westward Expansion; Slavery and Abolition; the Civil War; a Nation of Immigrants, 1850–1938; the Industrial Revolution; and Civil Rights.

Each unit consists of the following:

• a booklet containing a short overview of the period;

• four primary source documents (including photographs and letters) with related questions;

• two longer classroom activities that provide opportunities for group work, role play, and art projects;

• a list of suggested books and Web sites for further reading;

• four to six discussion cards focusing on notable individuals; and

• a 17" x 22" poster.

The set also includes a DVD of poems and songs that can be used to introduce most units, and a CD with an electronic version of each booklet.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute recommends this collection for the fifth grade, but selected materials can supplement American history lessons in grades 3 through 8. It can be purchased online for $195 at

Career Academies Pay Off

A report published by the research group MDRC shows that career academies—which typically offer career-themed academic and technical education, as well as work opportunities, to 150 to 200 high school students—positively affect the career earnings of students, especially young men, who graduate from such programs. Since 1993, MDRC has been conducting a rigorous evaluation of career academies in nine high schools across the United States. More eligible students wanted to attend a career academy than could be served, so applicants were randomly assigned either to a career academy or to their schools' regular education programs.

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As the chart above shows, young men who attended a career academy earned substantially more in the eight years after high school than the young men who did not attend a career academy. By the eighth year, young men from career academies were earning 16 percent more than their non-career-academy peers. To view the entire report, Career Academies: Long-Term Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes, Educational Attainment, and Transitions to Adulthood, by James J. Kemple, click here.

American Educator, Winter 2008-2009