Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time To Cut Back On Homework?

Just read an interesting article from the LA Times on some schools that are cutting back on homework. Afterwards, I kept thinking about what the article had said.

Apparently my son's school did not get that same memo, as they have been piling on some serious quantities of work since the 3rd grade. Sure, some of it has probably been busy work. However, I have been really impressed by the quality of some of the assignments.

For example, they had a weekly assignment called "Crack The Code". This was 7 problems, one for each day of the week. One was a Sudoku, another a cipher of numbers to figure out what was the sentance actually encoded. There would frequently be a list of numbers where one of them did not belong, one week they were all prime numbers except for one. Basically, with homework like this, these kids will be ready for their Google interviews.

But much homework at less well funded and organized schools than the creme-de-la-creme of LA's gifted magnet programs is likely a lot less fun and interesting than what I just described. That said, is it really right to just give up? Kids need time to play and have fun, and they also need to spend some time getting to that mythical 10,000 hours to mastery.

The real question is, how can we make learning more fun?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kids Can Help Explore The Universe (Really) With Galaxy Zoo

I just learned about a really fun and neat way for science-oriented kids to get involved in doing some REAL science. There is an amazing project to categorize galaxies called Galaxy Zoo 2, and they need help.

There have been thousands of faraway galaxies observed by robotic telescopes as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. As it turns out, human beings are much better at looking at these images, and grouping them into categories, than any software that has so far been written.

It is pretty easy to signup for an account, and there is an easy to follow tutorial that even a grownup could understand. Next thing you know, you are working with of a team of deep space astronomers helping unlock secrets of the universe. Cool!

Anyhow, go check it out, and let your inner space explorer run wild. From looking at the message boards, there are a lot of people very into this, and I can see why.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just Being Geeky With A Lego Family Photo Contest

I just have to drop a gratuitous mention of GeekDad which is one of my favorite blogs. Chris Anderson is a hero of mine, and he has always got something cool to say. He is also into building robotic flying vehicles, an obsession that I have gotten into myself.

Most recently, GeekDad is having a photo contest of family Lego building. It just so happens that my family has had some epic Lego sessions, so I am now just awaiting the next chance to capture us in action, and submit an entry.

Oh, how I love stepping on a Lego brick in the middle of the night barefoot!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tech And Academic Achievement

I just read an impressive article from Les Foltos on the relationship between classroom technology use and academic achievement in students. It is chock full of real data collected in several studies, and despite being wordy like most academic papers, it is definitely worth perusal.

Here are a few tidbits:

- Despite $5 billion annual in spending on classroom tech "fewer than 20% of teachers use technology several times a week, and up to half of all teachers didn't use technology at all."
- Using computers to teach low order thinking skills, "...[W]as negatively related to academic achievement…." Put another way, this type of computer use was worse than doing nothing. By contrast, teachers who had students use computers to solve simulations saw their students' math scores increase significantly.
- "We find that when you put the two, (inquiry based learning and true technology integration) together there's a synergy created that really boosts students' learning"

Go read it, and see how it matches against your own kids' experiences.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Playing With Trash

I just read about an amazing 12-year old kid named Max Wallack. He built an incredible thing out of discarded materials: a shelter that someone could actually sleep in.

Many kids around this age, like my own, are obsessing over strategy for some online game. Max, on the other hand, has obviously been thinking about the two problems of trash and homelessness, and has a pretty interesting solution to both in one fell swoop.

Great job! I suggest someone hire this kid right now...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Learn Programming On An Xbox

Lots of kids will gladly spend hours on their Xboxes, my own child included. He loves the environments of 3D games, and has expressed the desire to create his own. But existing PC-based 2D game creation environments do not hold his interest, he demands results that match the immersiveness of his favorite titles, and that can be played on his game console.

Brady Forrest from O'Reilly Radar posts about Kodu (nee Boku), a project from Microsoft Research that has been around for a couple of years, but appears to be almost ready for action. It looks like it is a very exciting, and innovative way for kids to create their own games using a visual "programming language" on their Xbox. They can also exchange games with each other.

Kodu looks very exciting, and we will definitely be getting it once it is available.

Are Online Social Networks Good For Kids?

After the many explosive stories in the press about online safety and MySpace etc. it might seem crazy to suggest that kids and social networks might be a good thing. However, Susan Lacy has an interesting post on TechCrunch regarding kids and social networking that is worth a read.

Apparently, Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford and the director of the Royal Institution "has the United Kingdom up in a tizzy about the idea that Facebook, Bebo and Twitter are warping their children’s minds". However, Susan does point out "like a lot of people who don’t actually use these sites, she’s [Greenfield] missing a fundamental shift from Web 1.0 chat room days to Web 2.0 social networks: Real identity".

Something about that response caught my interest. Although my own son is not at all interested in social networking sites per se, he is very interested in the online relationships that he has in his preferred gaming sites. I was interested to discover recently that many of his online friends are from real life. Since he goes to a school on the other side of town, and many of his school friends also have to travel, there are few other ways we really have for them to interact during non-school hours. They have apparently discovered a couple of online games in which they like to play together.

I asked him wouldn't he prefer to get together with them in person. He said he would, but "everyone's parents are too busy and they live too far." There are some interesting twists to this modern life... and kids are adapting.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Teach Kids Programming And Save The World?

Startup blogger and uber-nerd Eric Ries has a heartfelt, and articulate plea to the Obama administration called "Teach Kids Programming, Mr. President".

It is a long post, but very well worth the reading. Here are a few excerpts, that may whet your appetite for the rest:

1. The future strength of our economy depends on its ability to create, support, and sustain entrepreneurs.

2. We know who the next generation of entrepreneurs are going to be. They are in school, right now, all across this country.

3. They are nerds.

There's more good stuff... lots more:

There are three threats that are limiting the opportunity to unlock these kids' creativity:

1. Inequity of access. Too many kids today don't have access to computers, cell phones, video games or other programmable devices.

2. DRM and other restrictions. Increasingly, today's computers and video games are not programmable, they are locked to their users.

3. School hostility to phones, nerds, and other things they don't understand. An awful lot of kids have cell phones, and schools are busy banning them from classrooms. What a lost opportunity! Kids are voluntarily bringing a portable networked supercomputer to class, and we want to restrict them to pencil and paper?

This is an important time for us to use this time of launching grand new initiatives, to invest in our most important resource: our kids. Eric has some interesting thoughts, they are worth a look.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Five Way To Reinvent Education and Stimulate the Economy

My friend Dan Rasmus has a great post entitled "Five Way To Reinvent Education and Stimulate the Economy". Dan is a deep thinker, father, and professional futurist, so he has some pretty good ideas of where to begin the conversation.

The really short version:

  • Bring back retired to provide training

  • Make all schools multipurpose learning hubs

  • Allow public schools to compete effectively with private tutoring organizations

  • Make learning distributed

  • Adopt new learning models that cross school boundaries

Check it out, and see what you think. As a parent, the future really matters.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Fundamental Little Hackers' Summit

I just read about a really great looking micro-conference called Art and Code that will be taking place in Pittsburgh on March 7th to 9th. One of the confirmed presenters will be the always entertaining why the lucky stiff. Too bad it is on the other side of the country... otherwise I would go for sure!

It appears that it will be a really cool event, created for "artists, young people, and the rest of us" to learn about programming. Some of the projects that will be featured, include Processing, Scratch, Alice, and one of my personal favorites Hackety Hack. In the upcoming months, I will be playing around with each of these with my 10-year-old son, and I will blog about our experiences.

Young Hackers, unite! You have nothing to lose, cause you're kids, remember? Have some fun...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Welcome, Net Grommits (And Their Parents)

Welcome to the first posting on my new blog about technology and kids! This is for all of the high tech grommits out there, and especially us, their sometimes befuddled parents.

As both a technologist, and a father of two, I have a personal stake in how kids grow up using the power available to us today. Sometimes good, sometime bad, but like it or not we live in a technological world, and this is the world in which we raise our children.

I will be talking about my opinions and personal experiences using, and sometime even creating, the modern wonders that our children have access to. From computers to videogames, and from education to playtime, anything and everything related to kids and tech will be my subject matter here.

So let the fun begin!