Jan 6

"Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world."

I had a talk with the leader for my daughters school district a couple weeks back. I thought that if we are creating a site where kids can learn and play, creating and sharing in a digital world, might be a good idea to understand how kids do that IRL. (IRL: for those of you who haven’t entered the twittersphere yet, google it).

The conversation turned inevitably to why kids aren’t learning basic online skills from an early age. His rather apocalyptic response was basically, “it’s too late”. Apparently he’s been trying to implement computer sciences in school since the 70’s.

Why is that? Why, with the host of knowledge, literally at our fingertips, on everything from online science sites to youtube education, are the basic skills for navigating an online world being kept out of the classroom. 

In my daughters classroom, a group of 23 students “share” this monstrous looking thing. I say “share”, cause IMHO I don’t know of any kid that would be tempted to approach it, given the host of tablets, smart phones, game consoles and other tools they have waiting at home.

While the kids in the video link above are 12 years old, they are learning concepts that could just as easily be taught to 4 year olds…maybe 5. And they are being taught in a way that’s fun, engaging and thought provoking.

Yet, what I see in most of the calls to educating kids about computers and the online world, is regarding safety and the dangers of using technology. Everything from health hazards, developmental problems to predators and social seclusion.

Don’t get me wrong, safety is really important. But the fear that parents, caretakers and governments highlight would do well to be balanced with the fear that we are raising an illiterate generation, technologically speaking. Kids who will know more about the world 200 years ago than the one they are growing up in

The good news for parents, if they don’t want to rely on public education to catch up, is the tools are there, the knowledge is there. Take it, use it, play with it, understand it, just don’t be afraid of it.

Like it or not, its here to stay.

Jan 3

Runseedo then, now and soon

This post is mostly to all the great friends who originally agreed to test Runseedo. If you are a reader who stumbled here by accident, I’ve changed out ‘you’ with ‘some friends’ and such, just for you.

Runseedo now

We are creating a safe space online where little kids can interact directly with family & friends and share all the stuff they want to.

What is different?

Well, earlier this year, we asked some friends who had little kids to test our fictional online product. It was meant to be a space where parents could share stuff about their kids with close friends and family. A bunch of them said yes, and so we set off to create some awesome stuff.

While doing this, we questioned what would be the most important functions and what would make us different from other stuff already available. Like, could kids also use it? If little kids want to send stuff today, what do they use? If we want to share stuff (Merry Christmas little Jimmy!), where can we do that?

Turns out, what was really missing is a fun, safe and simple, direct link between kids and the people they know and love.

What will be coming soon

We are making the platform with really little kids in mind. To this end we are focusing on making the space visual-based, super safe, and simple to use.

We want kids to have their very own space online where they can be safely introduced to sharing stuff in the digital world.

…and as little kids start sharing things that are important to them (rainbows, monkey bar acrobatics etc..), we are doing our very best to make it so they can:

  • have fun experimenting with online communication
  • learn from each other, in ways best suited to them
  • build useful skills along the way
  • feel good about doing, creating and sharing things they are interested in
  • be inspired to communicate creatively in a digital world

We are really excited about the new direction. We hope you parents and your little kids think so too.

We have just released the first version in an open beta. Sign-up here if you have kids and want to give Runseedo a spin.

Dec 7

Sometimes I get carried away with technology. How big a role it plays and how it can be used to enhance the learning experience. From YouTube to Sims, the iPad and more, kids pick it up, poke at it and learn new skills at amazing speeds.

Then I see a video like this, get a bit more perspective, and console myself with the fact that if it wasn’t for technology, you and I would probably never heard of Mr. John Hunter. 

Facinating. Overwhelming. Inspiring.

Dec 6

Something all parents should know more about

Things are happening to make coding for kids a reality, but maybe not fast enough. Here are some places to find out about why kids should learn to code and ideas on how to get them started. 

Teaching kids to code, Scratch (programming for kids), a petition in the UK trying to reintroduce coding early and a kinda funny video presenting a compelling argument #justforfun.

The real problem with Occupy Wall Street

Having ploughed through a flood of blogs, cartoons and articles about Occupy, it seems many are trying to define the reasons for unrest (need to blame someone, lack of representation and influence, financial ruin), types of people present (unemployed, lazy, upstarts, drone types following the others) or other clues as to what these people are trying to solve and how they are trying to do this.To all this I’d like to add yet another perspective.

It has been puzzling me why so many are keen to figure out what they are saying and airing contempt for them because it doesn’t seem like they agree. Telling them to stop their whining and grow up. If this resembles parent rhetoric, maybe it’s because it is.

From infancy parents teach children that compliancy and agreement are rewarded. Disagreement, contrary opinions and behavior are punished. We generally accept this as a good process. Bad parents let their kids run amok. Good parents teach their kids to take no for an answer, obey within a 1-2-3 time limit or go to their rooms – more importantly without discussion or debate.

The topics of these daily discussions may seem trivial and therefore not worth the effort or time needed to discuss. Clothing decisions in the morning, what to eat for dinner, blowing bubbles into water through a straw and many similar everyday actions where parents have no need to justify their position other than, I’m the parent you’re the kid. I decide. You obey. No discussion, no duality, no deviation.

However, if childhood is a socialization process, these tiny actions and reactions consistently limit choices, decreasing the opportunity for kids to understand or discuss their own position or reasons for disagreement.

From this method of socialization, it can hardly come as a surprise when 1000’s of unhappy people show up to say “we are unhappy, we just can’t figure out why”. Not yet anyway.

Maybe the real problem with #occupy is that we see it as a problem instead of a solution; a conflict instead of a conversation. I for one am not holding my breath for them to agree. I hope you aren’t either.

Instead, I would like to suggest (to parents who dare) to have a day - 1 day - where disagreement and disobedience is rewarded. Not just condoned and allowed. Rewarded and discussed.

I’m not sure what will happen. Not sure it will make for better kids or family life. I do know that if this financial crisis, and numerous other human disasters, have taught us anything, it’s that pure obedience can be extremely destructive. That may be reason enough to try some alternatives.

It’s called progress

Some pretty amazing things are happening in education as I write, well no, actually some pretty amazing things are happening outside of education right now that may well change how things in education look in the not too distant future.

Basically, the idea is that our kids are currently being brought up in a system which is meant to prepare them for a world which is rapidly changing or disappearing entirely. Meanwhile there are some brilliant people out and about trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

Here are some of the problems being addressed:

  • kids are different, education is standardized 
  • the world is moving fast, like really fast! Schools and textbooks are teaching kids stuff that will be obsolete by the time they get out of school
  • The world needs people trained to do actual things, in interdisciplinary ways, be creative and know how to deal with great amounts of uncertainty. Curriculum in schools is mostly theoretical, largely divided up into different disciplines, promotes standard answers instead of interesting questions and is setting kids up to feel stressed instead of prepared when meeting an uncertain world upon graduating.

There are certainly more problems but thats a start.

Now here are some of the people who are addressing the problems. They don’t claim to have all the answers, but they are asking some really interesting questions.

Ken Robinson has devoted much of his time to promoting creativity in schools

Khan Academy is teaching kids the basics of knowledge in short, interesting videos. For free.

Alvin Toffler is imagining the schools of the future. 

Technology is revolutionizing the way people are learning

Knewton is delivering personalized textbooks and education. 

..and many many more.

Disruption of the current system is difficult and necessary. The alternative is not to good looking. 

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

- Albert Einstein

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice..

On the Christmas wish list for this year are a host of tech products. Not sure how that was generated, but apparently, topping the kids demand/wish list are the new touch pads for kids, LeapPad Explorer and the VTech InnoTab. Yes, that’s what it’s called.

LeapPad Explorer. Kid-friendly, check. However, if you’re buying it to save money - costs $100 - note that apps cost more than your average app ($5-10 per app). And it only has about 100 of them. It doesn’t have wireless connectivity or a internet user interface so downloading apps is done by physical hook-up to a computer. Apparently kid-friendly means difficult and expensive, if your kid is as app crazy and fickle as mine. Click here for enthusiastic LeapPad sales pitch.

VTech InnoTab. Kid-friendly, check check. It costs about $80. However, the downloadable stuff, mostly Disney games, are $24.99 a piece. Apparently the apps included in the InnoTab are brilliant and specifically target little kids (stay tuned for a future blog post on what age kids start using calenders). Click here for VTech InnoTab enthusiatic sales pitch. 

In comparison, the iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tablet initially have a higher price tag (starting at $499 for 10” and $349.99 for 7” respectively). The benefits are the iOS and Android app markets are much larger and expanding daily, with most apps costing $1-$2 and many free versions as well. The ability to browse websites and play web-based games definitely presents some safety issues but allows for more options and increases the likelihood of kids using the tablets as they grow up.

Added benefit of the adult versions: when kid’s attention inevitably looks to whatever other shiny thing is laying around, you can swoop in and get some quality bonding time with angry birds on your tablet of choice.

…gonna find out who’s naughty or nice

Story-making time

There’s something powerful about a good story. It has a nearly magical power to entertain, inform, spread organically and inspire. 

Seeing as kids are natural storytellers, it seems odd that the ability to tell a good story should be a skill lacking in so many non-kid people. Maybe there is a human tendency to grow out of telling stories, or maybe its seen as “childish” and discouraged.

Either way, tech to the rescue. Here is a list of some sites that can help kids to tell their stories using a variety of methods. Avatars, picture stories, 3D pop-ups and many more.

Or if you’re feeling generous, just relinquish your smartphone for a bit and see them muck about with with different video apps. Or let them use something like Splice, to put together pictures, video and audio. Its easy and fun. The results will be better than any episode of x-factor. 

Once upon a time..

Nov 8

Imagine there’s no education

Technology is helping us rethink how kids learn. Playful tools are teaching kids math implicitly. Schools are choosing iPads over textbooks. Everything from tip-free chairs to free tips online is improving the quality of learning environments. 

Maybe the next next step is rethinking what kids learn. Mathematics over arithmetic. Communication over spelling and grammer. Design over drawing. Learning where to search for knowledge over learning to memorize facts long enough to get a good exam score. Perhaps no exam score.

More learning, less education.