Wednesday, October 27, 2010

K-12 Online: Not just for Teachers!

It's that time of year again ... K-12 Online conference is in full swing! As I've pointed out on numerous occasions -- I am not a teacher -- nor do I harbour some unfulfilled desire to be a teacher. So the obvious question would be .. Why, as a plain old parent, would I care about K-12 Online? I've only scratched the surface of this years offerings .. but already I have a few "must sees" for parents....

Lorna Constantini's presentation Digital Parent Engagement: Supporting Student Learning is an obvious place to start. There are lots of great ideas to take back to administration or your child's teacher on how to enhance communication with parents. One service, Volunteerspot, looks especially interesting. I'd highly recommend it for viewing at your next Parent Council meeting .. I'm sure it will generate lot's of discussion.

Your child comes to you wanting help downloading pictures for their Science Report. You head to a few websites but you are just not sure what is legal to download and what isn't. This wonderful presentation by Karen Blumberg is a great primer on how to find Creative Commons licensed material AND how to use it properly. The need for resources like that isn't just limited to kids Science Reports ... community posters, websites, and even Dad's work presentation may benefit from this primer.

My daughter has saved and saved and saved and finally was able to buy an iPod Touch. Tony Vincent's presentation on Learning in Hand was perfect for us! Now I have to admit that my eyes glazed over slightly on the rubric section (see I told you I wasn't a teacher) but I was captivated by what students (aka my kids) could produce with a few simple apps. In fact my 5yo and I jumped right in before the older kids even got home from school. I'm sure there was a whole lot of learning going on --- but mainly it was just fun! I can't wait to see what my older children will do with these apps on Vacations, Christmas, fieldtrips and other family events.

I'll be chatting about Dean Shareski's Keynote with my fellow parents because sharing isn't just The Moral Imperative for teachers. As parents, community service members, coaches, 4-H leaders, Den Mothers etc. we would all be better off (as would our young charges) if we shared our successes and failures, ideas and resources. One small conversation, one tiny idea, can become huge when we give it wings and release it out into the world.

I'm looking forward to exploring K-12 online even further. Looks like there is even more information on Creative Commons materials, GPS and Geocaching (great for birthday parties), Tips on Using Skype and doesn't everyone want to Plan Less and Do More? Fellow parents .. I'd encourage you to watch a few of these presentations .... maybe even invite a teacher. Teachers .. why not invite parents to your LAN viewing parties?

After all -- we both have kids (aka students) that occupy a large part of our lives.

Image: k12badge, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from dkuropatwa's photostream

Image: K12Online LAN Party in Bangkok, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from superkimbo's photostream

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We Farm--The Game I Loved to Hate

An iPad recently became a member of our electronic family. I was very excited for the educational possibilities and proceeded to load it up with all kinds of, what I thought, were great apps. However once the kids had the iPad in their hands their favourite game was We Farm. It drove me mad. What possible use could tending a "virtual farm" be? I had hoped my 10yo would practice her times tables in some of the lovely apps I had downloaded. Those addition apps were left untouched by my 7yo. All they wanted to do was waste time on We Farm. I hate to admit this now .. but I almost deleted it!

Then one day I happened to be reading on the couch while they were having their "We Farm" time. They began discussing what crops they were going to plant. The 10yo wanted to plant a crop that gave a greater return, but the 7yo wanted to plant a crop that matured faster. Then they tried to figure out if the greater return was worth the "wait" of a longer maturation time. They also considered if they would be around to harvest the crop (ie asleep or at school). This evaluation process was repeated for animal purchases as well. They finally agreed upon a plan that was going to get them closer to their desired goal (apparently a new farmhouse was in order). Now THAT is a whole lot of math!

There I sat .. proven wrong once again. Never was my bias towards "drill and grill" activities more apparent than in that moment. I had read all the articles about how gaming can provide practice for basic skills and even foster higher level thinking within those skills but the games I was choosing were thinly veiled drill and grill worksheets. I failed to recognize that all those skills could be wrapped up in a virtual farm.

I still believe that the basic facts have to be learned, and that, yes, there is a place for drill and grill activities (0ld biases die hard). However, I certainly won't be wasting anymore time downloading those type of apps to my devices. The opportunity to take those basic skills and apply them in a situational context seems far more valuable (and enjoyable). Does this have to be done with technology .. no ... but I don't think my husband is quite ready to hand over the reins of our real farm to the kids quite yet!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back to Wired Wednesdays

With the start of the next round of Wired Wednesday's just around the corner, I thought I should come through with my promise to share what we did in the last round. I think it's important to mention that the group was not new computer users. They had Facebook, were comfortable with email, digital photos, and were starting with digital music. All in all your average parent. Everyone brought something to the table and we did a lot of learning from each other -- so much fun!

In my last post I told the story of how my childhood love of marbles served as an impetus for starting WW. I'd like for you to take a look at this marble and think about what appeals to you the most about it?

Is it the curves, the colour, the way the light moves through it? Or maybe it would be the shape, the smoothness of it in your hand? For me it's all the tiny bubbles suspended within the glass. Everyone's experience around that one marble will be slightly different. The same held true with every marble tool we explored. Everyone saw the beauty, the utility, the purpose (or lack there of) in a way that reflected their reality.

The first topic we tackled was the Google suite of products. The response to an iGoogle home page and gmail was unbelievable. Who knew that this would end up being the most spectacular marble in the bag? For some it was having their own email that the kids couldn't read or accidentally delete messages. For others it was the iGoogle home page that could be customized with information they chose. Those with older kids really liked the shared calendar. The one shared sentiment was "I can't believe how easy this is.".

This process played out with each tool we unpacked. If meaning and utility could be found, that tool went in your bag, if not it was left on the table. Wiki's to organize hockey tournaments, RSS feeds for an endless supply of recipe ideas, photo books for anniversary gifts, webpages for businesses/teams/families and the list goes on. All the while with mutterings of "I can't believe how easy this is" in the background. Then it happened ... to paraphrase Shirky:

Things got technologically boring enough to become socially interesting..

Conversations shifted away from the tools and onto the personal and social implications of employing them in our day to day lives. Questions of privacy, solitude in a hyper-connected existence, copyright, the role of general knowledge in a Google world, and how the heck to parent around this new digital reality crept into our weekly sessions. There were times when our laptops never made it open -- and that was a great thing!

Wired Wednesday's has been on hiatus over the winter but is set to go again next week. I'm looking forward to pulling out a few more marbles --- marveling at the swirls, figuring out where they fit in our collection, and exploring the flaws. I'm also interested to see what conversation this round will generate.... should be another interesting ride!

(Image: A World in a Marble?, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from seeks2dream's photostream)
(Image: Marble, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from rengel134's photostream)
(Image: Vintage Marbles, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from alexkerhead's photostream)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Real "Digital Divide"

After an exciting afternoon at the dentist, hair cuts, and an attempt at a civilized meal out, the kids and I still had to get groceries before our hour long journey home. This is the reality of living in the middle of Nowhere. When you get to the city -- you have a lot to get done while you are there. Needless to say by the time the grocery shopping portion of our evening rolled around my kids were at the end of their rapidly fraying rope (and their mothers rope had deteriorated into a pile of strings long before then).

In an attempt to make the chore go a little bit better I pulled out all the stops both my iPhone and ipod touch. We now keep track of our shopping lists on a great little app called Shopper, so I handed the iPhone to my 6 year old son so he could read the shopping list. He valiantly sounded out the items, eager to flex his new reading muscles. The four year old quickly took over the ipod touch. She was engrossed in an app from the International Children's Digital Library called Storykit. She was drawing pictures to chronicle our day in a "virtual" book. Everyone was happy -- well except maybe my 9 year old who didn't have a device -- but it was pretty much as good as it gets given the circumstances.

Then it happened. I was happily going up and down the aisles and we met another family trudging down the aisle. I gave the big smile and nod to the other mom (as is customary here) but her eyes never really left the devices in my children's hands. She did manage a half a smile but then after she passed she gave the "tsk tsk" head shake. The head shake that says "what in the world has happened to parenting today -- she can't even take her kids out shopping without plugging them into a square box."

You'll be happy to know that I resisted the urge to chase her down and explain that my kids were engaged in worthwhile activities. I know that if my son had been carrying a paper shopping list and my daughter had been equipped with a notebook and paper I would have been met with an entirely different reaction. I can't help but wonder when this digital prejudice will end? When will activities be judged on their merit instead of the medium in which they are taking place? Is this difference in attitude towards technology the real "digital divide"?

I'm still struggling for balance in my own home. I still find myself giving unlimited time for colouring at the kitchen table and cutting short the time they spend creating pictures on the computer, allowing more time to read books than given to create them in gdocs, but I'm trying. My grocery store experience has shown me how far I have come, but also made me mindful of the prejudices I still hold. So as my children open their shiny new netbook on Christmas morning (SHHH don't tell) I will continue to challenge my own prejudices. Honouring how they choose to create, communicate and learn (without discrimination) won't be easy .. but is far more valuable than any device I'll ever place in their hands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wired Wednesdays

When I was in first grade I loved marbles. All the kids in my class loved marbles. We traded them, played games and even knew all the names. Aggies, cat's eyes, spirals, and more were compared, counted and coveted at recess and afterschool. Marbles were a currency, a connection and quite honestly just plain fun. Then (without even consulting me) our family moved.

I arrived at my new school in September ready to make friends and get back to my marble playing and trading ways but alas this new town was virtually marbleless. As I rattled off the names of my precious marbles I was met by blank stares. Not only did they not know the names of these little beauties, they didn't have a clue how to play with them. I suppose I could have taught them, but it would have taken a significant investment in infrastructure (ie marbles), before we could even get started! Suffice it to say that my marbles just got put away. It's not much fun to play unless you have friends to play with.

Well I'm way past those marble playing days but I've found myself in that situation once again. I have this great bag of Web 2.0 toys tools that I'd love to play work with, but I've been met with those same blank stares. However this time it's going to be different. This time I've decided not to put my marbles away. Instead I'm investing some time into sharing my obsession knowledge with my friends and fellow parents.

Every Wednesday morning for the past 6 weeks or so a brave group of women have been joining me at our local library for Wired Wednesdays. I entered into this endeavour with three goals in mind. First to get them set up with a bag of marbles great group of tools and second to explore how we can use those tools to connect, organize, create, and communicate. What's the third goal? To have friends to play with of course -- c'mon you didn't think my motives were completely altruistic did you?

Over the next few posts I'll share what marbles we've been busy putting in our bags. Which ones are being coveted, which are super shiny and which turned out to be duller than I would have thought. Who knows.. maybe we'll even invite you to come and play!

Photo Credits
Bag o Marbles by Nancy in AZ via flickr
Marble by Hidden Side via Flickr

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Relevance of Facebook

This tweet came across my tweetdeck the other day

Facebook continues to grow less relevant for me...

and it really got me thinking about the relevance of Facebook in my own life. I have had a like/ambivalence relationship with Facebook (love/hate implies a far greater emotional investment than I'm willing to lay claim) ever since I joined to "check it out" at the request of a friend concerned about her daughter. I've lived through the poking, super-poking, sheep-throwing insanity at the beginning. I've tolerated the endless quiz, forward to 10 friends and cause requests that followed. Yes, there was a time when Facebook seemed entirely irrelevant.

However that tide, for me at least, is seeming to turn. The parents in my community are beginning to harness the power of FB as a community building and communication tool. Status updates are a mix of personal quips and community information broadcast. The ambient awareness that status updates provide has afforded me the opportunity to reach out and help friends that I might not of otherwise known needed help. Sharing links has moved past the "cutest thing on youtube" and now includes interesting articles, relevant information and even recipes for supper. Groups are springing up to address everything from swapping/trading your no longer needed kid stuff to farm wives supporting each other through the harvest season. Facebook fanpages such as this one have the potential to connect parents to school, sports or clubs in a whole new way. Yes a lot has changed since I was first super poked.

I would have never guessed in those early days of FB that it would become an indispensable tool in my trusty parent toolbelt.

The irrelevant is turning relevant at an extremely fast pace.

Unless of course someone starts hurling sheep at me again ..

I'd love to know.. where do you stand on the FB continuum? Is it growing less or more relevant in your day to day life?

Eye Poking via flickr
Flying Sheep via flickr

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An E-reader Please

I have been in love with the "idea" of e-readers since the first time I ever laid eyes on them. I've had them in my checkout cart more times than I care to recount but I have never been able to take that final step and press purchase. Why? I am one those "I want what I want" type of people and I get a little annoyed when I can't get it. However I also realize you can't get something if you don't ask. So here I am, asking for my minimum e-reader/book requirements.

First lower the price.
I just can't seem to bring myself to pay 400 bucks for a device that only allows me to read a book. Honestly an ipod Touch is less than that and contains a lot more functionality (though not quite as easy on the eyes for extended reading). If you expect me to buy a dedicated reading device you better find a way to get that price into the $99 range.

Make my books mobile. Shortcovers is on the right track in this regard. They recently added e-reader capability to their services. Now I could download a book to my e-reader but if I'm out and about I could also access the book from my ipod touch, blackberry, iphone, or a host of other mobile devices. Now that's a step up from a book! Anywhere access on any of my devices ... a book can't do that!

Photo: Gunthert , IMG_1503.CR2 , via Flickr, September 18, 2009 under a CC License

Let me own my books. When I buy a physical book, there is no question of ownership. That physical entity is mine, I can give it to friend, leave on a park bench, donate it to the library, hoard it on my bookshelf.. the possibilities are endless. If I buy a digital book (for marginally less than a physical book), I want to own it.

Photo: Dori, Dori4050, via Flickr, September19, 2009 under a CC license

Let me NOT own my books. There are some books I like to have around and read over and over again (well not really but maybe some people do) but the majority of my reading is consumable. I read, I'm entertained, I throw (or give) it away. I know I can check books out of the library (even digital books in a lot of cases) but sometimes I just don't want to wait in the queue for the latest best-seller. Would I be willing to pay for immediate access to a book that deletes itself when I'm done? You bet I would! The question will be .. how much?

Don't fence me in. I will not buy a device that limits me to one supplier (Hear that Kindle .. not that you are allowed up here anyway). I want the control (and openness) to access whatever content I want from whatever supplier. Buying books, checking them out from the library, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, favourite blogs, I want them all!

Make it better than a book (for bonus points). So far all that is being done is taking the "traditional book" and put it on a screen. While that's okay, I'm looking for something more. Anywhere, any device access is a start, certainly something a book can't do, but it is hardly a showstopper. I want enhanced content ... I want to be wowed!

Well that's it. The bare bone minimum of what I need from an e-book/reader experience in order to finally hit the check out button. I hope some of this functionality comes soon ... because I really want to hit that button in time for Christmas!