Cooked Rice Vocabulary Project

At my public library job I've been talking up the Web site to many elementary school and middle school students who visit the computer center where I work. The site donates rice to a United Nations food program when students click on the correct answers to multiple-choice vocabulary questions. I've been fascinated to see the different reactions students have to using this Web site. One second-grade girl loves, even though many of the vocabulary words are beyond a second-grade reading level. Some fourth-grade boys cannot get any questions correct at the easiest level of

It occurred to me that without too much effort I could build some free multimedia learning materials that could help those fourth-grade boys have a positive experience with I was sitting there at my job pondering this question when I received a phone call from a friend of mine, the mother of a twelfth-grade student here in Maryland. Maryland requires all graduating students to perform 75 hours of community service. This is a fabulous law that was put into effect in the early 1990s.

My friend's daughter, Sarah Behnia, was in need of 30 hours of volunteer work by the end of March, 2009, or she would not graduate high school. My friend asked me if I could help her daughter acquire those volunteer hours. As it happens, the Takoma Park Maryland Library, where I work, is qualified to give volunteer work hours for students who perform community service work at the library. So I told my friend, “Send your daughter down to the library. I'm going to put her to work on a free educational learning materials project. I can guarantee you that your daughter will have some fun working on this project, will learn new skills and will create something very useful for our community.”

Sarah showed up at my place of work at 6 p.m., at the end of my shift. I sat her down at my MacBook and showed her how to use Screenflow, an excellent screencasting program for Macs. She quickly learned how to use Screenflow and was creating narrated screencasts of the correct answers for the easiest vocabulary levels of We laughed a lot in the process of creating these screencasts. I was particularly focused on this community work not feeling too burdensome.

I then showed her how to export the screencasts using video and audio codecs that would let these screenplays play on older Macs and Windows that I like to place with families in the neighborhood.

At the end of the project, I decided to use iSquint, a free program, to compress these screencasts for viewing on iPods, Sony PSPs, and other portable media devices. I uploaded all these screencasts to the Internet Archive, which provides free Web hosting for such materials. You can view these screencasts online or download them all for offline viewing on computers or portable media players. (The download is a 151 MB zip file.)

Now members of my community--and other communities--can learn some vocabulary using this freely distributable, public-domain learning material. Using an iPod, they could even learn vocabulary while waiting for a bus in the morning, or riding the bus, or waiting at a doctor's office. The people who benefit from this project may never meet me or Sarah Behnia, and that's just fine with me. Creating something of value for others to use is what the Internet is all about. I am immensely grateful to John Breen, the inventor of, and this is my small way of saying thanks.

A couple of next steps in this Cooked Rice Vocabulary Project remain, and I could use the help of about 10 to 20 more people to work on those steps. These steps include: creating a spreadsheet with all of the synonyms in the Cooked Rice Vocabulary Project and then populating that spreadsheet with sample sentences illustrating use of the words. I'd also like to create a pure audio version of the Cooked Rice Vocabulary Project using Audacity. I'm thinking of using Zoho Projects to manage the next steps of this project. Does anyone know of a better Web management tool?

If you know how to use computers and would be interested in participating in those next steps, then send me an e-mail with the subject: Cooked Rice Vocabulary Project--and thanks in advance. You don't need to make any specific time commitment, but I'm looking for people who could volunteer about 4 hours per month (or more) for the next stages of this project.

Phil Shapiro

(The blogger works as the public geek at the Takoma Park Maryland Library and is an adjunct professor of education at American University. He can be reached at

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