Friday, February 24, 2017

Tech Age Parenting Q & A


Tech Age Kids is a blog dedicated to helping parents prepare their kids for a positive future with technology. They're currently running a Q&A feature on their blog where they are asking other bloggers and content creators to join in and answer questions about parenting in the current state of technology.

Since I'm both a teacher AND a parent of a five year old, I thought that I might be somewhat qualified to share my experiences in this arena, and decided to discuss the following questions in today's post:

via

How does your family manage device usage or screen time? (Tablets, Phones, PCs, Consoles etc)

My son, Iggy, has been using an iPad since he was very little, probably around two years old. We owned one iPad - it was a "family" device - but my husband and I each bought our own iPads about a year later, so the old one became my son's. We didn't intentionally buy it for him, it just worked out that way.

He brings it to my mother's house (she watches him during the day), and he'll use it to watch videos or play games during down time. We love the YouTube Kids app, and the Toca Boca and Sago Mini brand games. I bought him the Endless Alphabet/Endless Reader apps, hoping that he'd use them a little more, but he seems to typically gravitate towards other apps instead. That being said, he does know all of his letters, and has started sounding letters out on his own. He starts kindergarten in the fall, and I feel like he's pretty well-prepared.

One of the things I've noticed as a result of him watching videos via YouTube Kids is his vocabulary. He hears words and phrases in videos he watches, like toy "un-boxing" videos, and will then use them in new situations that are not only correct, but often humorous to hear coming out of the mouth of a 5-year-old. We'll be out shopping and he'll say things like, "Oh mom, that action figure is a Target exclusive, and the second of the series." It's pretty cute.

Do you think it’s important to prepare children for future jobs, careers and lives with technology?

I think it's extremely important to prepare children for future jobs, careers, and lives with technology! I mean, it's what I teach on a daily basis, so yeah. I think that it's not important to teach students a specific technology, tool, or software so much as it's important to teach them how to independently problem-solve and navigate technology in general, so that they can adapt and evolve their knowledge to keep up with changing technologies as they happen.

I've come across a lot of adults in my experiences that are afraid of computers... like if they touch one wrong button, it might explode. Sadly, a lot of these same adults seem to have a sense of pride about it! "Oh, I don't know anything about computers..." Like it's something to brag about? It's all very confusing and frustrating to me.

I want students to approach technology without fear, knowing that if they press something "wrong," they have the know-how to go back and correct it or undo their actions, and probably learn something new in the process!

Here's Iggy with his iPad, looking very thoughtful. :)

Do your think your children know enough about how technology works?

For a five-year old, I feel like my son knows a lot about technology. He can troubleshoot and turn the wi-fi on and off for my mom or mother-in-law when they're having difficulty connecting their devices! He can use airplay to mirror his screen to the TV to show my husband and I something.

When it comes to my student "children," I feel like they know a lot, but maybe not enough. Many of them act like they know a lot about technology, but then I see them in action and it becomes apparent that some of them don't know quite as much as they are claiming to, I want them to feel safe to admit that there are things that they don't know! I think maybe because it's middle school, they are sometimes too embarrassed to admit in front of friends that they don't know something, for fear of being made fun of or singled out, so they adapt a "fake it til you make it" attitude. This can be harmful when it comes to things like social media or cyber-bullying situations. They often won't want to tell an adult that they made a mistake, or to seek advice. 

Tell us about your personal experience with technology from your childhood or as an adult.

I feel like my generation (I'm in my late thirties right now...) has the unique experience of being present (and in school) for both pre-internet and post-internet eras. We lived both realities. When I was a junior/senior in high school, it was a SUPER BIG DEAL that our school library had a T1 line and therefore had access to a fast internet connection! Many of us didn't have internet at all; or, if you did, it was AOL and your parents would yell at you for tying up the phone line. I didn't have a smartphone until 2009 - I was already out of college and married!

My students now will never know what it was like to have an original Nintendo - NOT connected to the internet! They haven't had to call a friend's house and to have their friend physically come over to their home in order to play Super Mario Brothers together. If none of your friends were available, you had to play all by yourself! There was no email - you had to write "snail mail," although we just called it mail. :)

It's hard to communicate that, or to expect students to have an appreciation/deep understanding of the pre-internet-era, because internet is all they've ever known. It's weird for sure. 

Do you feel confident to help your children develop tech skills (the T in STEM)?

Because I teach technology to students as my job, yes, I feel confident to help them develop tech skills. If I didn't, I'm probably in the wrong line of work!

I do sometimes have students that are beyond my level of technological knowledge, and I don't hesitate to let them know when this is the case! I try have resources available, like Codecademy or Khan Academy, to allow students to work and learn independently at an appropriate level of challenge. I always caution students that if they're working ahead and get stuck on something, I'll do my best to try to help, but that they probably know more than I do!

Photo by Steinar Engeland

What frustrates you about tech toys, gadgets and educational products for kids?

Lasting power. I did a lot of research before buying my five year old a Christmas present this year because I knew that I wanted something for him that would encourage coding skills. I didn't want to buy something that was too babyish - he'd grow bored and tired of it too quickly. Conversely, I didn't want to buy something above his level that would cause him to give up or lose interest.

We settled on the Osmo system for my son's iPad, because there are a lot of games and options available, and it seems like it will grow with him. I really want to buy the coding pack for Osmo next!

In my classroom, I am really struggling with durability. Middle school students can be kind of rough when handling objects, and things that are fragile, like LittleBits wires, are constantly in need of repair or replacement. I love LittleBits, and I'll probably end up with a set for my son to use at home, one-on-one, but when you have 40+ students using them every day for several weeks, the wear and tear on the pieces are significant, despite all of the preventative measures (like Sugru reinforcements!), organization, and monitoring that you try. I don't have the money to replace pieces constantly.

Some of my other robot gadgets are slowly beginning to have problems with battery life, bluetooth connections, and/or firmware updates... I wish that older versions of some of these things were supported for longer periods of time, as my district won't buy me the latest greatest versions of Sphero or Ozobot every year. I have to make do with the ones that I have. I suppose I shouldn't really complain, because many schools don't get to purchase these gadgets at all.

What are your digital parenting concerns?

I'm mostly concerned about Iggy as an adolescent (granted, it's still pretty far into the future) and navigating social media. We all made stupid mistakes and did embarrassing things when we were kids, but there wasn't an internet to document and preserve it for all of eternity. I think that we need to allow kids to fail at times, and to learn from mistakes... but there needs to be an environment for that, and it's definitely one that does not involve the internet and social media! I worry about my son making good choices, posting appropriately, creating and maintaining a positive digital footprint, problem-solving and utilizing good coping skills for dealing with negative influences, and overall just using the power of technology for good. 

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Want to join in on the discussion? Check out the full blog post here, and use the hashtag #techageparenting on social media!

-Mrs L. 
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