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The Internet Education

Open-Source Early Literacy Materials Gaining Some Attention 73

Posted by Zonk
from the not-often-you-can-say-children-and-free-in-the-same-sentence dept.
phooky writes "Although open teaching materials have been available at the university level for a while now, there have been very few materials for younger learners. That's beginning to change now with the advent of Free-Reading, a free, wiki-based resource for early literacy instruction. The availability of free materials could free up millions of dollars from school budgets for more teachers and training. From the USA Today article: 'Last fall, a Florida textbook adoption committee approved Free-Reading, a remediation program for primary-school children that's believed to be the first free, open-source reading program for K-12 public schools. It's awaiting approval by Eric Smith, the state's incoming education commissioner, who could approve it by mid-December. Florida is one of the top five textbook markets in the USA, so its move could lead to the development of other free materials that might someday challenge the dominance of a handful of big educational publishers.'"
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Open-Source Early Literacy Materials Gaining Some Attention

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  • by Bryansix (761547) on Friday November 09, 2007 @07:31PM (#21302611) Homepage
    They compiled a book completely from literature that was out of copyright from the Internet and then took that book and sent it off to be printed and bound for the whole class. This was back in 1998 and the school was Arcadia High School in California.
    • by kc2keo (694222)
      I see this as something positive. Should this eventually be successful in schools all over schools will be able to spend their money on other things like repairing and maintaining the school buildings. The school I went to was in dire need of repairs and very old. The schools had trouble paying for new school book materials. Took forever to get newer computers. Anyway I think the bottom line is that free online school materials are a plus not a minus.

      Right now I attend a community college taking 2 clas
      • I think that textbooks should be online and allow you to subscribe to them while taking the class. Of course they would still sell the hard copy but since 90% of the people taking the class will never look at the book again and most likely sell it back and with books becoming out of date within 6 months then this model makes a lot of sense.
        • by kc2keo (694222)
          I agree. Except that if you do buy a hardcopy don't buy it from the schools store because from experience I see that they rip you off on prices...
  • Start a wiki! (Score:2, Redundant)

    by narcc (412956)
    An excellent start! Someone with time should start some kind of wiki for projects like this...
  • by aegl (1041528) on Friday November 09, 2007 @07:36PM (#21302645)
    are in ".doc" format files generated with Microsoft Wrod. Not so open source.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What's nice is that they can be converted to ODF, etc. The problem with MP3 is that its lossy so you really can't liberate it by converting it to Ogg Vorbis without losing some quality, you'd need to convert it from the original wav etc.

      If you share anything do it in ODF, it will help it spread.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by weighn (578357)

      are in ".doc" format files generated with Microsoft Wrod. Not so open source.
      not sure where you're looking, but these letter-cards [free-reading.net] are in PDF.
      If there is stuff in Word format there, I guess someone is welcome to contribute by converting them to PDF.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrCopilot (871878)
      Hmm tried to fix it for you.

      Upload warning

      ".odt" is not a recommended image file format. Bummer.

  • Starfall (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alaren (682568) on Friday November 09, 2007 @07:36PM (#21302647)

    This looks like some pretty interesting "teacher material" stuff. I applaud their efforts.

    However, the internet has blessed us with more than just free wikis for teachers. I heartily recommend the free learn to read program at StarFall [starfall.com] for children as young as 2, maybe younger.

    My son is just over 2 1/2 and the other day he surprised us by reading from his sister's flashcards--sounding out words he didn't know, thus demonstrating more than mere memorization. My 4-year-old reads Dr. Seuss books smoothly and adeptly. I can only take minimal credit for encouraging their efforts and donating some genes. They don't play concertos or paint masterpieces, but my children are definitely ahead of most of their peers, and I thank StarFall for helping give them a leg up on the competition.

    • Re:Starfall (Score:4, Funny)

      by filesiteguy (695431) <kai@perfectreign.com> on Friday November 09, 2007 @08:31PM (#21303119) Homepage
      My son loves starfall. However, at the end of the stories - he continually rates them "not so good." He seems to like how they respond.

      Funny - I don't remember being able to use a touchpad when I was five.

      Wait - they didn't have touchpads on PC's when I was five.

      Wait - they didn't have PC's when I was five...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mh1997 (1065630)
      Good for you! I seriously applaud anyone that takes the time to teach their children. Although not open source, we had a similar situation with our then 3 year old with hooked on phonics. It worked for her. She is in the first grade and reading at a 4th grade level.

      Parental involvement is the key and I hope that you continue with your efforts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My 19 month old is in the habit of using a stick to transcribe slabs of Homer's Iliad onto the surface of his sandpit. I'm a bit worried about his development though as he keeps on getting the 'a' backwards in Iliad.

      Seriously though my 19 month old just enjoys being outside and experiencing the world. My task is to not inhibit his sense of discovery by trying to shoehorn him into my completely corrupted view of what constitutes success and education in this world. The priority isn't to teach him to rea

      • You know, this really is worth responding to--you should register a nick (if you haven't) and post so those who ignore anonymous cowards can see what you have to say. It's important that people not confuse encouraging their children to learn with demanding that their children "learn."

        One of the reasons I love StarFall so much is that my children do not work at it. For them, it is play. The site is well crafted, so well crafter that it scarcely resembles formal education, they do it at their own pace.

    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by Instine (963303)
      Thankyou very much for pointing this resource out to me :)

      I'll be fixing my daughter's PC this morning, just to crank this site up. It seems to be excellent!
    • Thanks for the link. It was entirely unexpected, and my daughter (just turned 4) really likes it. It really helps her want to learn as well (not just the starfall website, but also other homework).
  • it's about time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bota (968795)
    Kudos. this is great. I went to a small rural school where a lot of the teachers used a somewhat open sourced tact when creating yearly curriculums. that way all the differing classes could have some sort of continuity. and by using/re-using each other's work they took quite a load off of an overburdened group of people. now with this taking over perhaps the wiki style implementation will allow for a larger group of educators to have something of a similar system. the time and monetary savings could be put
  • Yay (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RNelson (567188)

    Florida is one of the top five textbook markets in the USA, so its move could lead to the development of other free materials that might someday challenge the dominance of a handful of big educational publishers.

    While I'm not in Florida, I am both a college student and a fan of free learning materials. Having to pay for text books every semester (even if I buy the international editions) hurts. I agree with #21302639 [slashdot.org]; there should be a place somewhere (dmoz, "List of..." article on Wikipedia, a completely separate wiki) to list, maybe even host, all of these resources. Everything from learning to read through higher level, just an all-encompassing (as near as can be attained, of course) collection of these materi

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by servognome (738846)

      Having to pay for text books every semester (even if I buy the international editions) hurts.
      In college free learning materials won't change anything. I had Mat. Sci. classes that used photocopied course notes for $15, and a kinetics class that had a useless textbook which cost $2/page (100page book for $200).
      Ultimately it's up to your professor who often wrote the book, collaborated with the author, or gets a kickback from the publisher.
      • In my microeconomics class this semester, we were required to buy the textbook, at roughly $70 (I can't remember, it was back in August, and I try to forget..) and when we got to class... we were informed that we also had to register at MyEconLab.com for the coursework. Another $50 or so. I guess that was our first lesson in economics... My university uses WebCT. Which has the same functionality as CourseCompass (who run MyEconLab, MyMathLab, etc.) and is PAID FOR BY EVERY STUDENT, EVERY SEMESTER, about $
  • Literacy Council (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ambiguous Coward (205751) on Friday November 09, 2007 @07:42PM (#21302713) Homepage
    While we're on the topic, I MUST supply the obligatory plug:

    Please, please, PLEASE consider volunteering with the Literacy Council. You have enjoyed being able to read for (likely) some time now, and many people lack this ability. LC is a wonderful group. They will pair you with a student that meets your specifications. Young, old, male, female, disability, ESL, you name it. You can truly help people here, and it's such an easy thing to do.

    My wife volunteers and is currently assisting an ESL mother-of-two learn to read english. I am in the process of learning to teach younger children. You do not need any prior experience, and LC will provide you with help and instruction to get you and your student started. Location is not an issue. Whether your in downtown San Francisco, or Fairbanks, Alaska, you can help.

    Again, PLEASE consider volunteering. You could literally change someone's life.

    Literacy Council
    http://www.literacycouncil.org/ [literacycouncil.org]

    Disclaimer: I am not a Literacy Council representative in any way, I just think you should offer your time and expertise to those who lack the latter.

    -G
  • I would love more free/open source teaching materials. I have never met a music textbook I like; they are so often ridiculous, bloated pieces of garbage and it's ridiculous the amount of money that the states spend on them when they aren't even any good.

    Next thing they can get rid of (or at least cut back on) is the hideously expensive standardized testing program.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 09, 2007 @08:07PM (#21302905)
    I've worked for one of the leading textbook publishers for four years and I know firsthand just what a scam it is for our educational system. What sort of value do those $120 books really give to students? Not a hell of a lot. The books are the SAME from edition to edition in most cases.

    Most books are on two or three year revision cycles - THIS IS GUARANTEED INCOME. Every three years time to buy another book. Wake up, its a scam to bleed our education system dry. You want to make use of a used book? Fuck you, buddy. You know how we prevent that? We make websites that you HAVE to purchase a code to get into. Professors use the sites to distribute homework and take tests and if you don't subscribe, then you are SOL. The result is everyone needs to buy the damn book every damn semester.

    These publishers will do anything and everything to keep the turnover high and used book market dead.

    Colleges and university really need to make their intranets more effective and make the textbook publishers work with them. Refuse to pay more than $30 for books and we'll have a much more affordable education system!!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The problem is that the educational system is an even bigger scam. Tuition has gone up even faster than textbooks. I worked for two separate college bookstores. At one of them one of the professors wrote a book that he used for his class. The publisher discontinued the publication and gave him the remaining copies. He provided them to the bookstore every year for the price that the publisher had. He then checked that each student had a copy of the book, if you didn't have a copy of the book, you didn't pass
    • Oh, the scam gets better, in my state they got a law passed that only the approved textbooks can be used. Okay, fine, quality control right? Except that the only people that can approve the books is the state legislature. Who is in session a whopping 1 month out of the year, and way way out of the ability of most teachers to contact.
    • by bcrowell (177657)

      Professors use the sites to distribute homework and take tests and if you don't subscribe, then you are SOL. The result is everyone needs to buy the damn book every damn semester.

      You didn't say, but I'm assuming you're talking about the college level (TFA was about elementary school), and when you refer to the online homework thing, I assume you're referring to math and science courses. There are tons of free online homework systems out there. I wrote this one [lightandmatter.com], which is open-source, and free for students t

  • by weighn (578357) <weighn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday November 09, 2007 @08:17PM (#21302999) Homepage
    so I go to free-reading.net, click on a book and it offers me the choices:
    • AddALL
    • PriceSCAN
    • Barnes & Noble
    • Amazon.com
    did I miss seeing the PDF link?
  • by RyoShin (610051) <tukaro.gmail@com> on Friday November 09, 2007 @08:42PM (#21303187) Homepage Journal
    I've wondered about the potential for something like this- could you make "open source" textbooks?

    The project linked seems to go a different way. My vision was such:

    You would have a central company, not a charity, but not for-profit. It would do the things that textbook companies regularly do (or I hope they do), hire experts to write the text books, editors to check everything, a small publishing house, etc.

    The difference is that it's all put online. It can be peer-reviewed by thousands, if not millions, and used by anyone. In order to make the company non-reliant on donations, it would be released under a custom license, one that allows reproduction of x pages at a time and unlimited but unedited online disbursal, while the company still sells the textbooks at cost.

    The idea is that you would get a textbook that can be referenced by anyone, checked by anyone, and teachers can download updates and corrections without having to buy a whole new damn book. I don't know how well it would work in the long run, but I'd say it's a sight better than the current set up for text books in school.
    • The idea is that you would get a textbook that can be referenced by anyone, checked by anyone, and teachers can download updates and corrections without having to buy a whole new damn book. I don't know how well it would work in the long run, but I'd say it's a sight better than the current set up for text books in school..

      This could actually be detrimental, the potential signal-to-noise could result in a large amount of resources to try and maintain the textbook. Somebody submits a correction, it would re

      • by RyoShin (610051)
        What if the submitted corrections were done in a Digg kind of style? They're there and can be voted up/down; the obviously bad ones will be taken care of pretty quickly, lowering the noise.

        Of course, it introduces a new problem: Education by popularity, which goes back to your point on contentious material.

        I can dig your PhD idea.
    • by bcrowell (177657)

      I don't think you need to make up a hypothetical, complicated, national system for writing free textbooks. Lots of free textbooks already exist; see my sig for a catalog with hundreds of examples. Here [lightandmatter.com] is a series of articles I've written about free books, with an emphasis on free textbooks.

      The issue of peer review and quality control is a paper tiger, at least at the college level. College professors decide what books to adopt for their courses, and they do it by looking at the book and making a judgment

  • by fat_mike (71855) on Friday November 09, 2007 @09:04PM (#21303333)
    No wonder they are looking for "free" alternatives, his starting salary is $197,000 with another $100,000 in benefits and other incentives.

    Half the teachers at my high school in Missouri are on food stamps.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Friday November 09, 2007 @09:25PM (#21303469)
    They should do this with history, too. History text books are terrible. Lies My Teacher Told Me [amazon.com] makes a pretty good read.
  • RTFM! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "'Florida is one of the top five textbook markets in the USA, so its move could lead to the development of other free materials that might someday challenge the dominance of a handful of big educational publishers.'"

    The one time a particular open-source response would be appropriate.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is it just a quirk of Slashdot that TFA spoke of "Free" educational material, but by the time the story made it here it was "Open Source?" Does it really matter if it is open source or built with 19 kinds of proprietary technology, as long as it is free? Free educational software is still "news for nerds, stuff that counts" even without the open source mantra.
    • Maybe it's because Open Source is mentioned in their FAQ [free-reading.net] (though in a somewhat confusing manner -- are they claiming to be Open Source or not?)
      • I think they're claiming to be inspired by open source, but not actually open source because of the quality control methods they use. (Which implies they really have no idea how open source dev is done). However, the creative commons attribution share alike license is pretty much boilerplate open source for non software copyrights.
  • by vrmlguy (120854) <samwyse@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Friday November 09, 2007 @11:38PM (#21304119) Homepage Journal
    My three kids (9, 7 and 7) are being home-schooled by my wife, a former teacher. Our biggest problem is finding decent textbooks, especially science. Apparently, most home schoolers believe in intelligent design, and the science books reflect this. So we gather stuff from Wikipedia and other sources and she writes here own tests. I've been thinking about releasing everything under a Creative Commons license, but they could use some cleaning up so I've also thought about putting them on Sourceforge or something. Does anyone know of anything similar? Anyone have any ideas or suggestions? Thanks.
  • For me I really don't get the dominance of propriety commercial software/solutions in education. You have a hundred odd countries all with government controlled education systems paying the same companies again and again for tired old ideas. Why can't they come together and create joint resources? There are a few areas working on this, i.e. wikibooks and the openeducationdisc. Maybe the OLPC will help to bring resources together?

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