Category Archives: Kids and Technology

A piece of my childhood returns

Since my Mom passed away earlier this year, my Dad has been going through boxes of stuff that he and my Mom have accumulated over the years. Bit by bit, pieces of my childhood have been slowly migrating out to the west coast with each family member who makes the trip from Saskatchewan to Victoria.

A few days ago my sister arrived at my door with the latest bounty – a box chock-a-block full of informal learning circa 1976.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

The complete Childcraft collection circa 1976. Published by World Book Encyclopedia (which we also had, and which I also cherished), I spent hours pouring over the books from the time I was 8 or 9 until I lost my way as a teenager to other vices. But for my formative learning years, this was how I got my info fix when I wasn’t in school.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

I loved these books, and going through them over the last few days made me realize just how much these books taught me. These were my gateway to the world. These were my Internet.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

A favorite of mine was the special section of the Human Body book which had a transparent overlay of a boys and a girls body. Flip the transparent from page to page and you could overlay it like an onion skin over top the various systems of the body. I thought it was the coolest thing ev-ah!

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

Each year Childcraft would release a new volume. 1976 was a banner year. It was the year the dinosaur issue arrived.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

The only thing that would have been cooler is if they would have had a Star Wars yearbook.

As I pour over these, I am again struck at what an amazing time we live in, and how our kids won’t really know it as an amazing time because for them, it will just be a time. They will have no frame of reference for what life was truly like PI (pre-Internet), just like I have no frame of reference for what life was like pre-TV, pre-telephone or pre-power. And I wonder if someday my daughter or son might wander over to the Internet Archive and view the Martha Speaks or National Geographic Kids website from 2011 with the same kind of nostalgia for learning that I have experienced over the past couple of days flipping through these books.

Funny, though. Since these things have arrived, my daughter has kept this dog-eared yearbook close at hand.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

Which goes to show, no matter how much things may change, little girls will always want a puppy.


How digital technology is changing the rhythm of family life

Earlier this summer, the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre released a study called Families Matter which documents how families with young children are integrating digital media into the rhythm of daily life.

800 parents of children ages 3-10 were interviewed for the study which examines how parents feel about raising children in a digital age.

The study found that most families are in a period of transition when it comes to digital technologies in our homes as we try to adjust to these new technologies that are profoundly changing our world. I had originally written both ours and our kids world, but then realized that our kids world isn’t going to be “changed”. For them, it will just be the world they live in.

Not surprising, when it comes to the media we participate in with our children, we prefer the older stuff. 89% of us say we like watching TV with our kids, 79% of us read books with them, and 73% of us play board games (really?). But the one media our kids really love – video games – is the one that only half of us are doing with them, which is even more interesting to me when the research shows that the majority of us  believe that video games help children foster skills that are important to their academic achievement.

While parents believe that video games can be powerful educational tools, we are not quite so fond of the educational potential of mobile technologies with many of us viewing mobile phones as the least educational device our kids can use. Yet many educators, such as the New Media Consortium in their 2011 New Horizons report on educational technology, are predicting that mobile technologies s will be a major force in education in the very near future. Clearly there is a disconnect with how parents perceive mobile technologies and how educators perceive them when it comes to their role in education.

Other findings of the study include:

  • More than half of parents are concerned about the effect of media usage on their children’s health, but fewer than 1 in 5 of us think our kids spend too much time with digital media.
  • More than a third of us have learned something technical from our kids.
  • Lack of exercise and online privacy are our biggest concerns.


Geek Dad: The Book

I was reading the latest issue of Wired magazine (which, as an aside, my 43 year old eyes are finding harder and harder to read each issue as the type size seems to be shrinking to oh-my-god-I-am-an-old-fart-and-need-bifocals size. Yes, I know. My status as an old fart was solidified as soon as I typed “I was reading the latest issue of Wired magazine.” Who the hell reads magazines anymore except for old farts. But I digress.)

Anyhoo, I was reading the latest issue of Wired a couple days ago and saw that the most awesome Geek Dad blog has a book coming out, and some of the projects in Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share look like tons of fun for Geek Dads/Moms and their kids, like:

See the World From the Sky Satellite stills from Google Maps are fine, but you can outdo them with a Flip. Pack the camera in Styrofoam and tie on a 500-foot spool of kite string and 16 helium-filled balloons. Send it up. On a calm day, you’ll get great bird’s-eye footage of your neighborhood.

Now, I don’t have a Flip, but I do have an old Canon PowerShot kicking around that’ll do video just nicely. So if you happen to drive by my house and it looks like a scene from Up, you’ll know  that my copy of Geek Dad has arrived.

Calgary School Board gets it right: Our kids need internet access in school

According to the CBC, the Calgary Board of Education is beefing up their wireless networks in order to allow students access to the Internet in school. After reading the comments, it seems I am one of the few who believe that this is a good thing.

I’ll go beyond that statement, actually, to say it makes me feel profoundly sad to read the comments and see so many people think of the Internet as something that is unimportant and a waste of time. That the immediate thought of most is that students will do nothing but abuse the access they are given. Yes, some will. Yes, this move will not be easy and yes, it will require that some things within the school and teaching change. It will be disruptive, but in my opinion, we have no choice and the longer we delay giving students this kind of access in schools, the bigger we fail them.

In 1953, Child psychologist Jean Piaget wrote, “The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”  We have moved far beyond a world where teaching “the basics” is enough. To not bring this type of access to students in our schools does a grave disservice to our children and their ability to work and live in THEIR world, not our world.

How do we teach students to become critical thinkers in an information age when we shield them from information?

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that web is the greatest educational tool ever created, and to not figure out how to appropriately use it within education is amazingly short sighted. We need to help students figure out how to appropriately use this tool or else we risk abdicating it to the likes of Perez Hilton and mass infotainment. If educators do not stake a claim on the web, it will become exactly the devoid educational environment that those posting negative comments at the CBC site fear.

I am not naive to believe that this will be easy.  Teachers will have to develop new skills. New problems will arise that we need to find solutions for. New methods of teaching developed that exploit the affordances of technology. But as a parent, I will firmly support and actively advocate for the appropriate use of technology in the classroom for my children. And I will also actively support any initiative that helps teachers learn the skills to teach my kids how to appropriately use the web.

To the teachers who are pushing for access to technology in the classroom and running into barriers (and I work on the periphery of the K-12 education system and know many of you do run into resistance), keep up the fight. I am with you. And if you are a teacher who cannot understand or see the potentials of the web – who believes that the Internet is a useless time waster full of nothing but LOL and OMG, please consider retiring and opening up a space for teachers who want to teach my kids to live in THEIR world, not yours.

Can teens learn from Social Networks?

Sign to Ban Social Networks at a library

To balance out the negative social network vibe I may have been putting forth lately, here is a positive story from Ed. Magazine, published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education about how teens are harnessing the power of their social networks to learn.

Thanks for the Add. Now Help Me with My Homework focuses on research done by Christine Greenhow (University of Minnesota). Greenhow examined how teens use social networks and discovered that they are using sites like MySpace and Facebook in positive ways.

Greenhow interviewed 1,200 students in 13 high schools in Minneapolis-St.Paul, which she followed up with some more indepth interviews. The results showed that students are increasingly using their social network to connect, collaborate, share and learn. These students are developing skills they will need in the future.

The kind of skills students are developing on social networking sites, says Greenhow, are the very same 21st century skills that educators have identified as important for the next generation of knowledge workers — empathy, appreciation for diversity of viewpoints, and an ability to multitask and collaborate with peers on complex projects.

The story of Theresa Sommers, a high school student, is one that might seem exceptional, but is becoming more common.

The more she used the online social networking site (SNS), however, the more bored she became with merely being popular; she started using her time for more heartfelt conversations with friends and delved more deeply into her personal interests. A budding photographer, she posted her best shots to the site and searched forums of professional photographers for encouragement and advice. She began, as well, to seek out students at colleges she was interested in attending, even opening up a new account on Facebook, a site more heavily used by college students, to network.

Theresa is leveraging the power of her social network to achieve her educational goals. What better way to research a potential college or university than to connect directly with students who are already going there and taking subjects she is interested in?

And she even began to post some of her creative writing and would solicit advice on homework essays from her circle of friends, asking them “How long did you take on your essay?” or “How’d you write it?” Often she’d post her homework online. “Everybody does it,” she says.

Outside interests aren’t the only topics that found their way to student homepages and Sommers wasn’t the only student to regularly compare notes on school assignments. “If I am stuck on a project, I might send a chat message to a friend, and he might provide an answer or say, ‘Take a deep breath; you can do this,'” says Greenhow, summing up what students often say.

Now the thought that she is posting her homework online is one that I am sure is making most traditional educator quake in their boots. But I think sharing is a good thing, and something I hope Theresa continues to do. Human civilization is built upon sharing knowledge. Theresa is doing this, and learning this, at the micro level.

The research also took a look at cyber bullying and found that most students behaviour is exactly opposite of the cyber bully stereotype.

Far from media stories about cyber bullying, meanwhile, she found that most students use the medium to reach out to their peers for emotional support and as a way to develop self-esteem.

And what about the danger of blowing a job with a future employer because someone posted a photo of you passed out in a bathroom at your college kegger? Well, the reverse is true as well as employers increasingly use social network sites to find employees as well.

In fact, despite cautionary tales of employers trolling social networking sites to find inappropriate Halloween pictures or drug slang laced in discussion forums, many employers are increasingly using these sites as a way to find talent. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers cited this spring in The New York Times found that more than half of employers now use SNSs to network with job candidates. The website even added an application to allow employers to search Facebook for candidates. “Savvy users say the sites can be effective tools for promoting one’s job skills and all-around business networking,” says the Times.

When I read studies like this, I can’t help but feel that schools and libraries that ban social networks outright are not only missing the boat, but sending a message to students that these sites are somehow bad or dangerous and not powerful tools that, when used correctly, can open up a rich and rewarding world to them. If we want our kids to be able to become responsible digital citizens, then we have to play a role in helping them learn how to do that. Banning Facebook and MySpace is not the way to do that.

Photo credit: Stopped by Mishawaka Penn Harris Public Library to see for Myself by mstephen7. Used under Creative Commons license.

The problem I have with David After Dentist

If you are not familiar, the latest viral video making the rounds is David After Dentist. Briefly, Dad with video camera shoots video of son sitting in minivan stoned out of his gourd after a dentist appointment. At last count, it has over 5 million views.

Not to be the wet blanket at the party, but this does raise a troublesome point for me that I seem to be riffing on lately, which is the responsibility we, as parents, have in protecting our kids digital identity.

Set aside the issue of what will David think 20 years from now about this video – and, who knows, maybe this will go down as being one of the greatest things that happens in his life – but let’s take a look at how David is being exploited.

Right now, David’s video is being remixed, mashed and reconfigured by hundreds of people. The vast majority of them benign, respectful and doing it for the love of recontextualizing something old into something new. But there are a lot of people who are making money off David.

Already the remixes are showing up, and getting significant traffic. Many of these remixes have Google Ad overlays and embedded links to other sites as people try to cash in on David’s 15 minutes of fame. In some instances, the video has been downloaded and uploaded to another users account in hopes of driving traffic to that persons website or product. David has become a commercial, and right now there is a feeding frenzy at this Warholian trough.

I’m not casting any stones here at David’s parents. I’m pretty sure David’s Dad had no idea this thing would go viral when he posted it on YouTube. Instead, I think the people who are exploiting this kid to make money are the real problem here.

Not that this would fix it entirely, but one strategy that would help mitigate the risk of commercial exploitation of future David’s is to post your videos on a video sharing site that allows you to add some kind of copyright protection to the video. For example, (and others) allow you to attach a Creative Commons license to your videos that would at least give parents some recourse for legal action. YouTube has no such copyright mechanism.

If you do want to use YouTube but want to reduce the risk of your video going wild, then check out the private sharing options that allow you to share your video privately with up to 25 people.

If you have been reading my posts lately it might seem that I am down on social networks. In fact, I am not. I think that as a society we are better off with social networks and the concept of being open and transparent. But when we use these tools with our kids, we have to temper our desire to share our kids most private and intimate moments with the responsibility we have to respect their privacy and, in this case, protect them from being commercially exploited.

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Stanford offers free Facebook course for Parents

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Stanford University is offering a free class called Facebook for Parents. The course is being offered by Stanford psychologist Dr. BJ Fogg and his sister Linda Phillips.

It is not an online course, and right now the content on the website is a bit sparse (I suspect it will evolve and become much richer as the course progresses). And the 5 tips, while sound first steps, are basic. But they do give parents new to Facebook a starting point.

The 5 tips Fogg and Phillips put forth are:

  1. Join Facebook
  2. Friend your kids
  3. Review your kids’ profile page
  4. Review who is “Friends” with your kid
  5. Select “More About” your kid

I would think the earlier you can Friend your kids the better, simply because a younger child would probably be more likely to friend you back when they are younger than when they hit their teen years.

Social networks are here to stay and for some parents that is a pretty scary thought. After all, most of us didn’t grow up in this world with social network tools like IM, MySpace and Facebook. Figuring out how our kids use these tools to communicate with their peers can sometimes seem like a daunting task, but one that is neccesary for a couple of reasons.

First, we need to protect our kids. Despite the current perception, the biggest threat to our kids on social networks does not come from the anonymous, unknown predator lurking in the shadows but from their peers. In no way do I mean to downplay the seriousness of child predation, but when you take a long hard look at the facts, the vast majority of kids that run into problems with social networks do so with their peers, and not strangers. Just like in real life, we need to know who our kids friends are.

Second, understanding their tools of communication means we can use them to communicate with them. And I have never met a parent (especially once their kids get into their teen years) who wants to communicate less with their child.

Initiatives like this course at Stanford help us understand these tools and ultimately help us both  protect and communicate with our kids better.

Dadventure now on Twitter

I’ve been playing with a dadventure Twitter account for the past few days. If you use Twitter and want to follow me here I am.

If you have no idea what Twitter is, it’s a microblogging service to send out short bursts (140 characters or less) of information to a network. In my other life I use Twitter quite a bit and find it is a really useful tool for quickly sharing information that often doesn’t fit in to a full length blog post.

Putting your kids life online – a cautionary tale

I struggle with how much information about my kids I should reveal on my blog. It is one thing for me to make the conscious and informed choice to share me online, quite another for me to make that choice on behalf of my kids.

Part of what holds me back is a respect for their privacy. From the get go, I decided not to use their names on the blog, instead referring to my daughter as “The Girl” and my son as “The Boy”. There has been the occasional lapse where their first names have slipped, but for the most part, as the About Me says, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Sometimes I feel that this is a restriction that limits how truly personal I can get with the stories I share on this blog. But for the most part, it is their life and I have to respect that their future selves may not feel the need to be quite as transparent as I.

And then I read Alec’s story and it snaps me into another reality. One that I sometimes forget about as I get more comfortable putting myself out there/here. Sometimes the online world is just an icky place filled with icky people.

Alec is a smart man. A university professor who studies educational technology and social networking. He lives his life online; open, transparent and social. But last week an incident occurred that shook him. Innocent photos of his 4 year old daughter were favorited by someone on Flickr. When Alec followed the links back to see who this person was, what he found was disturbing.

What I saw was three pages of favorited photos of preteen girls, most shots in bathing suits or with little clothing. Had I viewed any of these photos individually, isolated from the others, I am sure that this same feeling of disgust would not have come over me. But these photos, viewed together, favorited by some anonymous user, told a very different story. These photos of these girls were without a doubt being sexualized, and my four-year-old daughter was amongst these images.

Alec’s story has got me thinking hard about what responsibilities we, as parents, have in protecting our children’s identity online.

A knee jerk reaction would be to stop posting anything about my kids. But that feels too extreme. Like Alec, I feel the vast majority of people are good and decent. I dislike living my life in fear and feel that our kids are in far more danger from the people they know than complete strangers on the internet. And besides, if you’re a Dad going through stuff like I am, it’s nice to be able to connect and share in ways our fathers couldn’t.

On the other hand,  I am a Dad who wants to protect my kids. I don’t want to be a Pollyanna and ignore the realities that there are nasty people out there. So I am still juggling to find that happy balance between sharing and protecting.

While I was writing this post, I was doing some research on protecting your kids online and came across Blogging smart: How to protect yourself and your family online from Seattle Mom Blogs – a good set of guidelines for parent bloggers. But it was the last guideline that stuck with me:

Don’t be scared… be smart. When I started blogging, and then started thinking about safety, the horror stories nearly scared me off blogging altogether. That’s certainly not my intent here. Blogging has a lot to offer. Just be sure that you’re informed about the risks so that you can make good decisions that you feel comfortable with. And then, blog away!

What about you? How much personal information do you share about your kids online and what are your internal guidelines for what you post about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I need to head over to Facebook and check my privacy settings.

Fun Kids sites for Christmas

White Christmas album cover

Image via Wikipedia

Hey just in case you need to get the kids in the mood for Christmas (yeah, right), here are a couple of fun kid friendly holiday sites you might want to check out.

  • Track Santa with NORAD. The animation is a bit cheesy, but still fun to check out on Christmas Eve to see where Santa is. This year they have added an iGoogle Gadget and the ability to track the big guy via your mobile phone and in Google Earth.
  • Write Santa with Canada Post. While it is getting tight to get a letter back from the big guy, it’s still fun to write a letter to him. And, for my 4 year old, a great excuse to practice letters and words. The Canada Post site also has a fun podcast (called Santacast) interview with Santa.
  • Create a custom Santa video for your kid. This is really well done. Sit down ahead of time and answer a few questions about your kid (what they want, their name and so on) and a custom greeting from Santa will be created for your child. No animation here, this is live action (aided by a well placed beard to hide Santa’s mouth). If your kids name is on the list, Santa will say their name in the video. If not, then Santa will still have your kids name appear in his “Nice” list. Very fun.
  • Stream nonstop Christmas music. If you are tired of your Christmas collection, check out one of the dozens of custom Christmas music channels from AccuRadio. Turn it on and let er run.
  • Elf Yourself! You may have seen these fun elves with friends heads making the rounds last year. This year they have added more themes and tweaked the dancing a bit to make it a bit more slick. Take some photos of your family and stick them on some disco dancing elves heads. The kids love them, but we’ve avoided sending these around as e-cards as I suspect this is the kind of thing that, for most people, a little goes a long way. Receive one and it’s fun. Receive 10 and you’re cursing those damn JibJabbers..

Got any favorite Christmas themed websites you can recommend for kids?

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