Summer Learning, for Free

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beach scene

Free learning a stone’s throw away

Summer vacation is a great time for students and lifelong learners to read for pleasure; I’ve posted here before on a few good college-prep book lists available online:

Summertime to Read (2012)
Libraries List Books for the College-Bound (2011)
How to Create a Summer Reading List with Teeth (2011)

Another tip: if you’re on the go this season and looking for a great source for e- and audio-books, try Open Culture (billed as “The best free cultural & educational media on the web”). Your reading needs will be fulfilled: the site boasts 550 free audiobooks, “mostly classics,” for free download! It’s also a good place to go for free movies (catch up on your classic films); an impressively long list of free language-learning resources; and even college lectures and MOOCs in a wide array of subjects.

Image via / pedrojperez

4 Fun Websites for Readers

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reading dragon

A rip-roaring good time

Because readers are fun-loving folks: here’s a small handful of easygoing sites for our sheer enjoyment.

Book Seer
A simple, useful, and visually amusing site: type in the book you’ve just finished enjoying, and the Book Seer will provide recommendations for similar ones.

Bot or Not?
I’m not sure what the existence of this site says about modern and contemporary poetry; I’ll leave that to you to ponder. But the site is fun, offering visitors the chance to read a randomly-chosen poem and guess whether it was composed by a human poet or a bot.
(P.S. – April is National Poetry Month!)

The robust Goodreads, 25 million members strong and billed as “the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations,” offers the chance to connect with a community of readers and keep track of your own reading. Even without signing up, anyone may find candid and worthwhile reviews of books here.

Shakespearean Insulter
What is worth insulting is worth insulting well: impress your enemies by using this classic site, where one click will generate, yes, a random Shakespearean insult (example: “Rogue, thou hast liv’d too long”).

Image via / SDRandCo

Looking Back at Last Year, and a Useful, Fun Site for Short Lessons

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Always more to learn

Massive! Open! Free for all! 2013 in higher ed certainly was a year of much discussion around MOOCs; as just one example, this end-of-the-year piece from NPR looks at the “online education revolution” and questions the effectiveness of the MOOC (though it does offer some hopeful thoughts in the conclusion).

Maybe you, yourself, are intrigued by the concept of free learning online; maybe you’d like to learn something, academic or otherwise, but perhaps are not so interested in investing your time in an entire course. Enter the notable website Curious, which offers free, interactive lessons in bite-sized chunks. Its succinct and admirable mission is “to connect the world’s teachers with its lifelong learners.”

So, as a lifelong learner, you can carry out your 2014 resolutions to learn a little French and/or wilderness survival techniques, ski moguls, brush up on Excel spreadsheet skills, and ponder issues in philosophy. For some traditionally academic lessons on the site, check out the “Smarty Pants” lesson collection; you’ll also find quite a few lessons on avocations.

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For Those Who Will Graduate . . .

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graduation hats

Facing the future

I recently saw British workplace adviser Jane Hart give a talk about social media and its teaching tools. Ms. Hart is known for her popular website, Top 100 Tools for Learning, but she also co-authors a site for students that includes interesting resources: The premise is that college students should be thinking about their “life of [many] jobs” from the time they enter college – and they should consider that they’ll need to take charge of their professional development.

Speaking of development, a recent survey from Chegg shows that hiring managers want certain soft skills they believe are in short supply in recent graduates. (Read those results, and see “Guides to Career Success” for students, here.)

If you’re a college student (at any stage) looking forward to graduating, it’s worth your time to check out these resources!

Image via / hmm360

Paul Revere Rode Tonight 238 Years Ago

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35 x 28 1/2" (88.9 x 72.3 cm)

Revering our patriots

As a nation, we’re sending countless thoughts and prayers to the innocent victims in Massachusetts this week; blessings to all who were affected by the attack that occurred on Patriots’ Day. Through sorrow, we carry on in the patriotic spirit; thus, here is a quick post to commemorate a bit of that state’s historic legacy. Today marks the 238th anniversary of Paul Revere’s midnight ride.

Although he did not actually shout “The British are coming,” this important American historic figure did indeed ride to Lexington to warn countrymen of approaching British troops. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” published in 1861, elevated Revere to folk hero status – although its details aren’t all historically accurate.) Revere also was an esteemed silversmith, a soldier, and even a dentist; and the enterprise he started continues today as Revere Copper Products.

Browse these fascinating pages to learn more:

The website of the Paul Revere House offers information about the house, the Midnight Ride, Revere’s silver, and more:

From the History Channel:
This Day in History – Apr. 18, 1775: “Revere and Dawes warn of British Attack”:
About Paul Revere:
“12 Things You May Not Know About Paul Revere” (Jennie Cohen):

From the Colonial Williamsburg Official History and Citizenship Site:
“Terms of Estrangement: Who Were the Sons of Liberty?” (Benjamin L. Carp):
“Throw down your arms, ye villains, ye Rebels, Disperse!” (Dennis Montgomery):

From the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation:
“The Use of Myth in History” (podcast, Gil Klein):

(Image via Wikipedia)

Reading Resolution for New Year’s?

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Lucky you can read

Lucky you can read

If a student trying to prepare for college were to ask me for just one word of academic advice, I’d say “Read!” Read more often; read books; read challenging material. The payoff will come in enjoyment, in learning, and in improving reading comprehension and writing skills.

An excellent time to start reading those books is now; as it happens, “reading more books” is a popular (perhaps THE most popular?) New Year’s resolution.

So . . . as January rolls on, which books will you choose? Keep in mind some libraries and organizations have compiled good book lists for prospective college students and independent learners. Take advantage of those lists for ideas, and in the meantime, have a joyful, prosperous, healthy, and readerly New Year!

“The College Board’s ‘101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers’” (
“The Big Read” books (National Endowment for the Arts’ “Big Read” program).
“Outstanding Books for the College Bound” (Young Adult Library Services Association).
“College Bound Reading Lists” (Arrowhead Library System, Wisconsin).

(Disclosure: I wrote about these sites in prior posts, but they bear repeating . . .)

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Got Civic Literacy?

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U.S. Government 101

With the U.S. Presidential Election and Veterans Day still in the rearview mirror, it seems a good time to discuss our national knowledge – or lack of knowledge – about civics.

You may be familiar with late-night talk show host Jay Leno’s “jaywalking” episodes wherein a guy with a microphone asks easy questions to (apparently) random passersby, often capturing the ignorance of the public to comic (albeit tragic) effect.

I don’t know to what extent these episodes are staged or edited (for every display of ignorance, perhaps a number of others get the answer right) – but from my research and teaching experience, I doubt it’s difficult to find uninformed people. As I write this, I realize I may sound snobby; but lo, we’re talking about very basic, easy questions here – such as in this example . . .

Not too long ago, I saw a little clip (I cannot recall where or which channel) in which an interviewer approached a woman and asked what she did for a living; she was an elementary education teacher. His next question: “How many Senators are in the U.S. Congress?” She quickly spat, “I have no idea.”

What really disturbed me, other than the fact that every teacher in the country ought to know immediately how many U.S. Senators we have, was the lack of shame. She not only didn’t know, she grew hostile at someone imagining she should know . . . yet she proudly calls herself a teacher.

Yes: teachers, middle-school-and-older students, and all citizens in a voting Constitutional Republic: you should know these kinds of easy questions about your government system, and if you don’t, you must take steps to learn! Fortunately, that’s not too difficult, even from your sofa, with selected online resources. You might start your journey by browsing the website of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute American Civic Literacy Program. Read its interesting yet sobering studies (on the front page) and, for real fun and to see where your own weak spots lie, take its “Civic Knowledge Quiz” (see buttons on the left-hand menu of the site), “Civic Engagement Assessment,” or “Full Civic Literacy Exam.”

(Notable George Washington quote posted on the site: “In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”)

Another worthwhile resource, CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), “conducts research on civic education in schools, colleges, and community settings and on young Americans’ voting and political participation, service, activism, media use, and other forms of civic engagement.”

Going back to basics, here’s one more good reference page for civics: the U.S. National Archives’ “America’s Historical Documents.” See and download images of (and read more about) such essentials as the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Emancipation Proclamation, and more.

Image via U.S. National Archives’ “America’s Historical Documents” page linked above

Understanding Stormy Weather

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The science behind it

After forces of nature have battered the Eastern seaboard of the US, leaving mass destruction in their wake, first I send warm internet wishes to everyone affected: some have lost their lives; some have lost their homes; many more have been impacted in some significant way.

Even while somber about the human toll, we recognize that hurricanes and other natural disasters, in their strength and ferocity, leave us in awe. And as is true for so many subjects, the web offers opportunities for understanding. Take for example these sites, which convey basic information about hurricanes and weather in general:

The History Channel’s “Science of a Hurricane” video (scroll down to see other “Science of” videos):’s “Stunning Map of Sandy’s Winds” (from their Earth News section):

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration’s National Climatic Data Center’s “Extreme Weather and Climate Events” page – find weather records, climate data, and more:

The National Weather Service’s website: good to keep on hand for weather forecasts (see the “Forecast” tab). It also offers a sizable “Weather Safety” section and a series of interesting sub-links under “Information Center”:

Unisys Weather: The Internet Public Library notes this site is “for the person who’s really into meteorology.” Here you can obtain a “Weather Enthusiast App” and much, much more. Click the “Information” tab to start:

Weather Conversion Calculators”: convert units for distance, speed, pressure, wind chill, temperature, humidity, heat index, and more. From Fort Eustis Weather (US Army).

NASA’s Earth Science page includes brief chapters on Weather, Atmospheric Composition, and Earth Surface & Interior:

Image via / cohdra

Spotlight: Theatre Appreciation Websites for Students

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Theatre websites that shine

Students of the stage and lovers of a good show, take heed: below you’ll find a few general sites to assist you in your studies. These may be of special interest to those in Theatre Appreciation-type courses, not to mention anyone who’s ever been curious about Drama:
Check out this superb site for students: “A Brief Guide to Internet Resources in Theatre and Performance Studies” from Dr. Ken McCoy at Stetson University. The site first lists the professor’s favorite go-to theatre sites, followed by links organized by sub-topic; annotations are included.
“Theatre History on the Web” offers a wealth of links organized by topic and time period; it also includes links to relevant centers, museums, and libraries. From Prof. Jack Wolcott (ret.), University of Washington School of Drama., a site for “students, theatre technicians, designers and practitioners,” features a robust glossary of (over 1750!) theatre terms; I was fascinated to read possible origins of the well-known wish “break a leg.” From Jon Primrose, Technical Manager at the University of Exeter Drama Department (UK).
If musicals catch your fancy, don’t miss, “The Cyber Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, TV, and Film.” As is true of the other sites here, this one’s loaded with links and bound to inspire much browsing. From author-lecturer John Kenrick.

Image via / tcatcarson

A Bit of Learning in Honor of the Olympics

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Olympic torch

Love of sport, life, & learning

All hail the Olympics! As you watch your favorite athletes strive, consider the exciting competitions an opportune time to brush up on a little basic knowledge about countries of the world:

*Review flags of the world here, courtesy of the CIA World Factbook. The site also includes maps and “information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.”

*While you’re browsing snapshots of world countries, why not virtually visit the Olympians’ homelands? Some ideas for armchair traveling are listed here.

*Talk the talk of international athletes: see here for seven good foreign language help sites.

Finally, you might stop by the official website of the Olympic Games. Go to the “Olympism” tab and scroll down to “Educators.” Although this material is prepared for grade schoolers, it’s still interesting to see the colorful e-brochure “resources” from the Olympic Museum and learn, for instance, about the history of the ancient and modern Olympic Games.

Image via mrg. bz / sideshowmom

Related on this site:
It’s always a good time to study geography.
A good place to start studying world religions.

 Related from around the web:

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