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Shmoop

By Alice Kurtz - Posted Nov 1, 2010
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REPORT CARD
Overall Rating:5 Stars
Installation:A
Content/Features:A
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:A

Shmoop

Company: Shmoop, P.O. Box 70186 Sunnyvale, CA 94086.

Online at: www.shmoop.com.

Audience: Students and teachers, middle school through high school.

Format: Web-based.

System Requirements: High-speed internet.

Description: Shmoop offers students and teachers a free portal of digital resources, primarily for literature and social studies topics that help students relate subjects being studied in school to their daily lives. More than 3,000 topics that are constantly being updated are available through the web, iPhone, Android devices, Kindle, nook, and Sony Reader. Literary topics offered at this website include classic literature, poetry, Shakespeare’s works, and current novels. Social studies topics offer U.S. history, civics, and economics. Also available at this portal are biographies, music, and math help. For a small fee ($12.95), students may elect AP exams and preparation review. At the time of this review, PSAT and SAT Prep areas were under construction. Teacher resources (one-time fee) include assignments, quizzes, and activities that can be linked to the teacher’s assignment page. A resource center in which suggestions from other teachers can be viewed is included at the teacher resource center.

Reviewer Comments:

Installation/Access: Shmoop offers students and teachers a free portal of digital resources, primarily for literature and social studies topics, that help students relate subjects being studied in school to their daily lives. More than 3,000 topics that are constantly being updated are available through the web, iPhone, Android devices, Kindle, nook, and Sony Reader. Literary topics offered at this website include classic literature, poetry, Shakespeare’s works, and current novels. Social studies topics offer U.S. history, civics, and economics. Also available at this portal are biographies, music, and math help. For a small fee ($12.95), students may elect AP exams and preparation review. At the time of this review, PSAT and SAT Prep areas were under construction. Teacher resources (one-time fee) include assignments, quizzes, and activities that can be linked to the teacher’s assignment page. A resource center in which suggestions from other teachers can be viewed is included at the teacher resource center. Installation/Access Rating: A

Content/Features: Shmoop offers continually updated digital media for students and teachers in the broad subject areas of literature and social studies. At the time of this review, the authors are expanding the site to include areas of mathematics, economics, and standardized test preparation. The resources available include literature, poetry, Shakespeare, current novels, U.S. history, civics, economics, biographies, music, pre-algebra, AP exam prep and review, and teacher resources. Learning guides for literature and teacher resources can be searched by a specific title; otherwise, those broad areas listed here can be browsed alphabetically or by subject area.

A typical literary resource offers a tabbed index of resources for that title. These tabs include Introduction, Summary, Theme(s), Quotes, Characters, Analysis, Photos, Questions, Opinions, Write Essay, and Best of the Web. Some selected works have a tab to teacher resources. Instead of a summary in the poetry segment, the entire poem is available.

The literary guides are written in a style that is appealing to students. Many of them begin with a “why should I care” statement or a reference to pop culture that gives the student a point of reference for the material. The writing also adds a humorous or a slightly irreverent cast to the story. The themes and character statements start with a brief overview. But the student can elect to link to more depth of discussion. The Question section and the Opinion section are similar in scope, with broad critical-thinking questions. But in the Opinion section, students can enter and post written responses. No one informational segment was too overwhelming. For example, Homer’s Odyssey is clearly explained, and relevant themes can be easily grasped by students because the books of the Odyssey are synthesized into small chunks with a modern twist to the language and analogies made to current events.

Best of the Web offers the user video, audio, and other hyperlinked websites with which further research can be easily accomplished. The Photo tab offers students pictures, video clips, and other visuals that can enhance research projects or be incorporated into PowerPoint or other multimedia projects created by the student researcher.

The social studies segments of the portal include U.S. History, Civics, and newly produced Economics. Learning guides using the standard tabs as explained previously are provided for History and Civics, while Economics includes a tab that uses role-playing games and pop music as aids for learning the materials.

The learning guides in U.S. History can be sorted by date or name. The tabs available to the user in each guide include an Introduction, Summary and Analysis, Timeline, People, Facts, Photos, Best of the Web, Citations, Test Review, Opinions, and Teaching. The written materials in Summary and Analysis are very comprehensive. Analogies and differing historians’ points of view are incorporated into the textual material. For example, in the learning guide on Jamestown, the tobacco boom is analogized to the California gold boom. The text material is hyperlinked to deeper information on selected concept terms, people, and events. The text is broken into subheadings. Citations are readily available for students in a separate tab. As with the literary segments, Best of the Web offers books, movies, TV, and primary source material for each topic. The U.S. History guides are more numerous post-1850; however, some critical topics of earlier dates are available. Some unique guides include Blues Music History and a History of Drugs in the United States. Civics follows the same format as the U.S. History learning guides. The only disappointment in this segment is the absence of political cartoons at the Photos tab. There are so many historically important cartoons that I believe would enhance learning in this subject area.

The Biography section of Shmoop only contains 35 entries. Most of the subjects are authors. However, so much of the portal is constantly undergoing improvement and addition, more entries may be forthcoming.

Another interesting section is Music. The 35-plus songs at this tab can be sorted by title or artist. The music tabs offer similar tabs to the learning guides, along with a listening tab that allows the student to listen to the original song and read Quick Thoughts and Deep Thoughts on the lyrics as provided by the Shmoop authors. Listening to the music with the screen commentary is very powerful.

The math and test prep sections of the website are fairly new. The pre-algebra segment follows the tab design of all the other learning guides. It provides clear step-by-step analysis of the mathematical operation under consideration, and it also gives the student some sample problems to solve. An extensive glossary is provided along with hyperlinks to selected concepts, which are then explored in more depth.

All of the available test segments, AP prep and exams, SAT and PSAT segments are fee-based. Currently, there are four AP topics available: English Language, English Literature, American Government, and American History. Each exam offers course reviews, two practice exams, instant feedback on answers, and 5-minute drills, and more.

The teaching segment of Shmoop also requires a one-time fee. It provides access to test items, assignments, essay questions, and teaching suggestions for all of the materials available on the portal. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: The Shmoop website is very easy to use. The interface is uncluttered. Each segment uses a system of tabs and toolbars to direct the student to the relevant portion of information. As a user delves deeper into the site following various hyperlinks, a series of “cookie crumbs” becomes visible on the toolbar showing the user where the path has gone. Some of the segments on the learning guides were still under construction at the time of this review. Since the portal is constantly being updated, many tabs are marked as new or they are not operational. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: Product support is available at the website through email or by mail: P.O. Box 70186, Sunnyvale, CA 94086. Product Support Rating: A

Recommendation: So what exactly is Shmoop? As a word, it is a slang term that moves something along or nudges it forward. On the internet, it is a portal to move students through the world of literature and social studies. The literature and history learning guides available for free on the site are thorough in scope and fun to read. They connect the students’ knowledge of today’s pop culture with the deep themes of contemporary and classic literature and history. The history learning guides augment textbook materials by providing multiple arguments and points of view on a topic so that students can create their own opinions and seek out further information plus read primary sources.

The site helps students organize and focus on research topics, and it helps make learning fun. Sticky notes, clippings, or paper outlines can be created and accessed in folders once a student is registered at the site. It offers multimedia links to photos, videos, and songs for student presentations. Hopefully, the site piques student interest and excitement in the topic under consideration.

Shmoop is also available for the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, nook, and as iPod and iPod touch apps. The beauty of Shmoop is that it also provides mobile learning opportunities. Students can download learning guides to their portable electronic devices. Study time can become available on a moment’s notice. Topics can be explored in small chunks, and students easily can review for tests on their way to school. 

Teachers have the ability to link Shmoop to their blogs or homepages. They are also availed of quizzes, essay questions, and other thoughtful homework options.

Since the site is basically free, it is important to note that there are advertisements on the main pages and in the sidebars. Some ads were animated in such a way that this reviewer found them distracting while reading material.

The thorough and reliable writing created by Ph.D. students and teachers from select universities and the references and analogies to pop culture, music, and current events woven into the entertaining learning guides make this learning site highly recommended for student use. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Alice Kurtz , 5/6 grade teacher, Irving B. Weber School, 3850 Rohret Road, Iowa City, IA 52246; (319) 688-1170; kurtz.alice@iccsd.k12.ia.us.


 
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