5 Points to Consider When Exploring Your Kids Education and its Connection to Technology.

Lets face it education has evolved into an incredible beast – one that is difficult to comprehend if you chose a while ago to ignore the sleeping behemoth lying in the corner of your subconscious.

I began wondering about the impact technology and education has had and will continue to have on children going through the modern-day schooling system.Image of Smartboard http://smarttech.com/

Just last week my son Hudson, came home from school and proudly announced that he had figured out what he wanted to do when he grew up; a Smart-board Inventor.

Aside from the obvious omission from this little 6 year olds mind (Smart-boards are already invented) he managed to instill a little feeling of uneasiness inside me that kept nagging away and pushing me to explore further.

As a parent that loves watching his children develop into the next generation (hopefully giving Generation Y’s the sort of headaches we as ordinary people cop today) its encouraging to see technology evolving and enriching our children’s lives and intellect.

I’m a firm believer in getting my kids to explore the outdoors, get muddy, run in the long grass, eat sand cakes, and most importantly graze their knees just like we did when we were that old.

In my line of work i’ve had first hand experience on the negative effects technology such as PlayStation’s, Wii’s and other electronic gadgets have had on older children. The other day one of my friends came over with his son and was given the opportunity for $10 bucks to mow the lawn – he managed to say no and ask for the wireless password to our home all in the one sentence. When quizzed further he stated

‘i’m not fit enough to push the mower’ – get yourself some sheep’

So on one hand I have an interest in the web, the evolving technology and the exciting path ahead for junior school kids going about their daily lives and on the other I’m weighed down with how technology has affected kids, who for many years turned to electronic devices for entertainment, communication and growing their thumb muscles.

A dear friend of mine is a psychologist – i’ll call her Mrs A….she specialises in profiling and deconstructing the thought processes used by errant children before the courts. She and her partner Mr A have two 2 beautiful kids who are similar ages to my two except they are about 3500 frequent flyer miles away.

I recently quizzed her on her perspective of education and the convergence of technology. Like me she too is aware of the impact it is having on the kids. She has seen the effect bullying has had first hand and has also experienced the nasty aftermath the effects adolescents have developed when adapting technology but in an adverse way, such as online gaming, ‘kill them all’ games and addiction to online visual elements such as porn and social media.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yhoitink/2819832960/Think about it – in the 80‘s could you imagine sitting in a room staring at a screen for hours on end, communicating with your friends via Facebook online or worse still using a mobile phone with a keyboard so small it beggars belief that words can actually be typed?

Mrs A often goes out of her way to understand her child’s schooling, needs and the road ahead. She’s one of those parents you would wish was acting as a mentor for you in the background whilst your kids are growing up.

Mrs A states “…It’s not so much about the lunch box order or the after school activities but more about how the teachers are using different ways to enrich my kids learning in the classroom whilst adapting to the technology available”

Most of us didn’t have today’s technology options when we were in school, so while parents realize technology has become an part of their child’s education, they’re sometimes finding it difficult to merge it into the learning process.

There is a lot more to consider than just picking a PC or other hardware (desktop, iPad, net-book, etc.). Parents need to consider several other factors: Appropriate software, interactive e-reading programs, how to educate children about online safety when exploring social media, and how to integrate technology into the current curriculum.

However, technology is important in today’s world and taking a comprehensive approach to integrating technology into education will make sure that children thrive in the modern education system and in the jobs of the future.

I developed this post over a few weeks as it simply kept growing in content – I can’t really apologise for the amount of content as the journey was too good to edit in order to fit into a ‘blog box’ so please feel free to enjoy, comment and share the following tips.

1. Understand the technology – only just ok!

My son who was recently diagnosed  with Asperger’s some 18 months ago, has allowed my eyes to open up to the way children actually learn. My son was constantly chewing the tips of pencils, not socialising correctly and in most instances not learning at the same pace as the rest of his prep class. These oddities led to further assessments and a ‘professional’ diagnosis at 5 years of age.

It was around this time that I discovered Multimodal learning. Essentially Multimodal refers to the way children take in, touch, feel, smell the information around. This method of learning or ‘sucking in’ as I call it allows for children to experience learning in many ways.

http://www.apple.com/au/ipad/features/ This is where interactivity comes into play. My son Hudson has two iPad applications which he adores. The first is PocketPhonics by  Apps in My Pocket and Jigsaw  Mansion by Extend Interactive.

For those uninitiated in the wonders of the iPad, both applications allow Hudson to use his fingers to either draw letters under guidance or in the case of Jigsaw Mansion move puzzle pieces around a board to complete according to the ‘cheat sheet’.

I have seen an incredible change in Hudson since adopting the iPad for post school learning. He loves his time with Dad and loves to show me how to to do things on it.  Not sure but the controlling element comes out here and buggered if I know how he got that trait :)

In Hudson’s classroom, the Smart-board is prevalent, so to is the teachers laptop, the student Pc’s and a raft of other electronic goodies – most of which are either  connected or hooked up to the net.

Multimodal approaches are even easier to integrate into the classroom. Using stylus pens, tablets, built-in video cameras, smart-boards and the like all can have a significant  impact on students lives.

This also stretches to the discovered and confirmed notions that a multimodal approach that includes auditory, experiential and visual elements all will have a longterm  effect on a child’s development.

At the very least you have a child that can help you fix computing issues or connectivity to the net.

I often run courses and information sessions on all matter of digital specific subjects such as Social Media, SEO, Digital Strategy creation and other related topics. During these sessions I invite all participants to bring their laptops and 3G dongles so that they can work on their laptops and take part at a different level.

Another example I use in these courses involves a soccer ball, a grassed area and the course group all standing around a circle. As they pass the ball to the person opposite them, the participants get a chance to show more about their background, work and the reason they are attending the course.

When the ball is eventually passed around I change the pace and introduce a couple of alternatives which involves one person passing the ball randomly and the person who catches it must call out an element they remember about the person who threw the ball at them.

2. Books are old school - make learning fun

There are many examples that need kids to apply memory inducing systems such as the dreaded multiplication tables or the ‘ABC’s’

Holden CommodoreHudson often ask’s odd questions and or makes statements that simply mean his mind is working away at something he has seen and or experienced in the classroom. We often will sit down and carefully trawl through the Vimeo’s and YouTube’s of this modern world to show him how ‘things’ come together.

His current favourite is the recently uploaded videos by Holden Marketing which entails the road travelled from ‘steel to road’ and what it takes to build the Holden Commodore beginning with the use of using steel rolls and modern manufacturing systems.

Hudson was aware that cars get made in factories but for him to experience the manufacturing process using online video was an interesting experience.

He is now very quick to then explain how cars are built when we are on long car trips!

Often Hudson will tell his Grandmother that he simply loves school and that he can’t wait for the boring weekend to go past so he can get back to the learning – I distinctly recall none of my classmates ever thought school was awesome enough to want to come back – do you?

3. Involve other kids around the PC at home.

Hudson and his brother Dylan (3.5 years young) recently got a new trampoline which does wonders for Hudson’s Asperger’s condition.

We often encourage both of them to go outside and jump around like crazy. Increasing their heart rate and playing games within the enclosed trampoline is a great way to for them to bond and get rid of any built up tension, testosterone and in some cases the adrenalin.

After a while Angela and I can see both kids are slowing down and this is the perfect time for us to introduce computer time. To give you an idea, both are active technology adopters and know how to navigate their way around computers better than their mother :)

We encourage them to use the pre specified PC time to work on some pre selected programs and software packages. They both sit there and take turns using the applications and learning tools with a greater attention to the tasks required. Prior to the trampoline it was all out warfare, screaming and plenty of ‘Naughty Stool Time’

The outcome / eventual learning results are easier to do and or cement simply because the kids have reworked their energies in a completely different way.

When friends come around (and after they have done some jumping time) Hudson will usually show them the programs and what’s required of the new ‘student’.

This ownership element is awesome and I feel strongly that this interaction helps to develop a child’s social skill set….or hamper it depending on who is supervising.

3. Learn to Accept The Need To Let Kids Be Kids.

I know that my schooling was completely different and delivered a much different outcome. I wonder what would happen if I travelled back in time and completed my schooling with the available tooling and materials?

Just as everyone learns at a different pace, so to does the absorption of technology and the steps necessary to get a satisfactory outcome from its adoption.http://www.apple.com/au/ipad/features/

The last thing any parent should do is simply hand over an iPad or other piece of technology without properly supervising its introduction and use.

Both of my boys are good to go with the iPad in the rear of the car on long trips – whilst as parents we condone the use of such devices it is also important for kids to interact with their environment as much as possible.

Often the iPad will be turned off, the portable DVD player is switched off and the attention turns to the outdoors for the kids to play eye-spy or a similar activity.

Once ‘spot the cow’ game reaches its climax and boredom sets in – the iPad is once again introduced and using 3G, the kids are asked to search for a cow using Google’s very own voice recognition browser plug-in.

A word of caution; as inquisitive as kids are the new Google voice recognition application should be used with a bit of  in trepidation.

We recently experienced the results the voice recognition application does when it misunderstands the commands stated by Hudson. The request was for a Smart-board – after several unsuccessful attempts Hudson was finally rewarded for his persistance via Google’s interpretation of what it thought Hudson was trying to say – the end result was the word ‘Penis’

Remember that neither of our boys can write well (we are trying) and in our daily interaction with the schooling system some kids do better, others need more guidance and time. Technology allows parents and teachers to give the right amount of discipline for each student individually, and to supplement where necessary. It also allows students to learn at their own pace, which can help keep them interested and excited about the material available.

Coming back to Hudson’s fav iPad application – PocketPhonics. Apart from the kid friendly colour scheme and lame but rewarding ‘You are awesome jumping pencils’ the application once deconstructed serves multiple purposes including;

  • An ability for kids to learn the most important words used in simple ‘phonic’ sounds
  • An ability for the child to use their fingers to trace the letters after a short demo
  • An ability to upgrade the free app once the child has mastered the letters and experience even more content.

5. Set Them Free – with a firmly attached guide-rope

I’m not talking about chaining to rope like goats….its all about the enjoyment you get from watching your children explore. One of the motivators for moving to Snug in Tasmania was the clean air, the vast acres ofGoat on a rope untouched wooden forests and the odd abandoned building showcasing some of Tassie’s local history.

Never in a million years would we let our kids explore these places without our supervision (not unless they have turned 10 maybe 12) and the same should apply to the online / technology space.

I recently caught up with my mate Jody Grieve who is a professional photographer and teacher in Perth’s Northern Suburbs. Apart from the enthusiasm she carries for her students it’s the passion she  has for parting with her photography knowledge onto those that will listen which really blows me away. www.jodiegrieve.com

Anyways I visited the school she is now teaching and much to my surprise walked into a classroom full of Apple iMacs, corded  keyboards and a sense that finally schooling in Western Australia has finally done something about the PC issues experienced over the years   – but that’s a different story.

Back to point 5 and the reason I dragged Jodie into this piece is to showcase just what a joke parent filtering products can be. Naturally we as parents freak out  about the potential harm the net can do to our children…and often it’s not an intentional search engine result.

Jodie has talked about how her students can very cleverly ‘break into’ most of the commercially available parent filtering products.

Lets face it – most of the todays computer games teach kids to explore, hunt, discover and many instances kill – using some really hard-core blood splattering nano-  driven super laser guns.

Just as our kids do now (sort off) our childhoods were spent outside, inside and at friends houses exploring, documenting, telling stories, camping out, riding  bikes, grazing knees ect. Todays children should be encouraged to do similar things but using technology as the provider of ‘structure and support’

In other blog posts I have written about the use GeoCaching / treasure hunting products from the folks at geocache. This concept together with an ever ending assortment of new and intriguing  technological solutions for kids to adopt can really open up the mind.

Geocaching.com Just like my mate Mike who has a son called Liam. I recently had the pleasure of dropping in for a few days whilst visiting Western Australia. Mike has three kids (1 daughter and two boys)  and to see these kids grow up with all the opportunities and technology really gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling – until I was asked by Liam what ‘Reggae Music’ was….before I  could answer, Liam had typed it into Google and was reading the first few entries as displayed.

Needless to say the stuff listed showed the usual Bob Marley pics, Wikipedia summaries and as expected the search engine listings quickly deteriorated once the invite to view YouTube videos  was the only logical step for Liam.

In the space of a few minutes the videos we watched quickly transposed  into the content posted online by others somehow linking to the wording ‘Reggae Music’. Within  minutes YouTube was suggesting videos that entailed rappers with semi naked girls dancing to a weird remake of the Bob Marley classics – but with a modern twist. Additionally  other videos showed people smoking drugs to gain a level of detachment from the outside world whilst singing Redemption Song by Mr Marley - albeit using their most  embarrassing Karaoke voices.

This example is where parents need to step up and educate the kids about the way technology works, how search tooling can be frugal if not harmful and that what was visually seen when researching Bob Marley is a great example of were things can go wrong.

I’m a firm believer in setting the boundaries up front for both of my kids, however a child’s mind is always going to be super curious and in the early years they are going to enter  into the realm of exploration and discovery….just like we did as kids except our time involved tree houses, creeks and tadpoles catching.

As my children grow up both Angela and I have agreed to sit with the kids and not block everything available but use our family values and logical parenting methods to explain why some of the content should not be viewed or adopted.

The existence of predators, forums, Social Media, Cyber bullying and inappropriate material will be disclosed as and when needed and all the while the children will be told the pros, cons and why Mum and Dad have wrapped a certain element of protection around the internet and its use.

Trusting your children is always a great way to parent them – without hovering over their backs. These days some parents are allocating special ‘exploration’ time for kids at a certain time – however some have taken the surveillance thing a little further by using programs that can check mouse activity, pages viewed and in some instances copy the entire user experience onto the hard-disk for later viewing.

I’m still researching these products and plan to showcase some of the ways parents are protecting their children. Unfortunately of the parents I know that are working at that extreme all of them are IT professionals and have access to corporate grade software such as Symantec Virtualization….obviously out of the average persons reach.

Symantec Virtulization

So long as your children are aware that the surveillance is for the right reasons neither your children nor yourselves should run into conflict. Naturally as they get older and more responsible the over-the-shoulder observations could be toned down.

There are a plethora of surveys available online some good some a little suspect but most show some really intriguing statistics and trends surrounding the activity children undertake on their FaceBook pages. Check out allfacebook.com for further examples.

Internet Safety is a hot topic and when you hear that 68% of children have ‘friended’ a complete stranger is incredibly scary.

To me it’s like sitting out in traffic and waving a cardboard sheet with your personal details written for all to see. Forget Stranger danger or the old school ‘safety houses’ the new dangers are unseen and predators have become highly organised, some to the point of using technology to aid them from being detected.

Whilst there is no real need to hit panic buttons the incorporation of technology into our children’s lives is critical, so too is the need to offer open discussion around the inevitable pitfalls. I’m the luckiest father in the world (i’m sure all other fathers say the same thing) and I will always make sure our family values of respect, pride, communication and caring shines through in everything my children undertake.

Hopefully by the time my kids grow into testosterone driven young men – those values would be well and truly cemented into their mindset.

This sort of post or discussion is an ever evolving one and unlike some of my blog posts this one ended up at close to 3200 words. No apologies available.

If you have managed to read this far your interest is appreciated – and hopefully you could give to the discussion and my ongoing research.

What’s your experience with raising children of late?

What about the way you have managed to integrate, supervise and manage your children’s use of the web, Social Media, and other educational products freely available? How did you plan your discussions with your children’s use of the web?

Thanks folks – another great trip down memory lane.

About jose

José started his (On-line) entrepreneurial journey back in 1995 and since then has amassed plenty of experience in business management, web technologies, e-commerce, web strategy, usability, mobile web application development, online wagering industry, operational management, strategic planning, building great teams, motivation, mentoring and overall big picture thinking. José loves to plan and more so continuously focuses on the rewards associated with successful implementations. View all posts by jose →

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