Don’t Expect Your Child to Learn Digital Literacy in School

Feb 17

One of the greatest benefits to digital technology is also one its biggest drawbacks – ability to learn autonomously. Today, any subject or area of interest can be accessed online with a few clicks. From algebra lessons to yo-yo tricks, the barriers to learning have collapsed thanks to digital technologies at our finger tips (literally).

Unfortunately for our children, the communities in which they are learning haven’t yet adapted to this new paradigm of instruction. Although children are interacting daily with digital media through iPods, tablets, computers, and cell phones, a new report suggests they are lacking the critical thinking and ethical skills to both use the internet appropriately and to experience its enormous learning potential.

The report, Young Canadians in a Wired World by Media Awareness Network, indicates that traditional teaching models, such as “drill and kill” where the teacher  talks at the students and demands all students do the same exercises, do not work well with the type of autonomous learning inherent in digital tools. However, a teacher who is willing to collaborate with their students and share in the responsibility of learning is more likely to use online tools effectively.

Technology use is viewed by many teachers – particularly younger, less experienced instructors – as disruptive to the classroom. It is seen as a distraction to students’  learning, rather than a fundamental tool to navigate a child’s natural curiosity on various academic subjects.

Surprisingly, the report also indicates that students are not as internet-savvy as one would expect, given their comfort with the online world. “They really struggle about what to type in for a Google search, and I’m always surprised at the lack of knowledge that students have about how to search and navigate online,” says one secondary school teacher in the report.

Today’s parents, who grew up having to rifle through library stacks and newspaper clippings to research a topic, inherently understand that a source of information needs to be reliable. We are, therefore, less apt to take what we read online as fact. Kids, however, whose reliance on Wikipedia is abundant, may not ever bother borrowing a library for their school project and, instead, assume that the information written by an “expert” on website is as reliable as a non-fiction book with a bibliography of scholarly sources.

There is little suggestion in the report that school boards are racing to restructure the classrooms to better incorporate the self-learning style necessary for effective use of digital tools. Certainly, the changes will come, however incrementally. Yet, we have an enormous opportunity to expose our children to innovative thinking within the digital landscape. That’s why parents need to pick up the slack.

Parents should invest one-on-one time with their kids in front of the screen during which time they can help them learn to think critically about their online experience. Rather than letting a child wile away hours watching YouTube videos featuring moronic twenty-somethings pulling pranks, encourage him or her to research a topic of personal interest (it can be anything). Then spend time reviewing what he’s learned and determining which websites provided the best information.

Much like a parent must spend quality time teaching a child how to read, he or she should invest time teaching that same child (albeit older) how process online information. This is a skill, after all, and many kids are not learning it.

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Re-Thinking Our Kids’ Education Model and Welcoming Digital Literacy

Dec 08

TED is a non-profit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading” and features innovators from the fields of Technology, Education, and Design. Below is an enlightening video featuring TED speaker, Ken Robinson, that challenges the current education model in an exceedingly entertaining and surprisingly clear way. It describes the need for a revolutionary change in how today’s kids are taught, expounding the merits of new technologies and the ability to exploit kids’ digital literacy. I highly recommend you read the entire video (unfortunately, the sound cuts off in last 20 seconds.) TED is a stellar example of how technology enables thought leaders to share innovative ideas that inspire and educate across the globe.

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Forget January, These Resolutions Start September

Sep 07

School officially starts today for my boys.  True to boy-form, my kids have no desire to re-enter their school.  Not the least of their reasons why include the return of my video game ban from Monday to Thursday, practicing their instruments daily, the end of peanut butter sandwiches, and being barked at by the school bus driver to sit down every morning and afternoon.

While I’m as ready as an egg on devil’s night for the kids to return to school, I empathize with them.  It’s not easy to transition from the carefree days of summer to those dedicated mostly to desk-sitting and teacher-listening.  Although my kids recognize there are some perks to returning to academia (friends, recess, new running shoes), they know a raw deal when they see it.

That’s why this time of year seems an ideal time to set resolutions for myself.  As my kids forge ahead into their new school year, with new responsibilities and the pressure to learn new things, earn good marks, and meet the teachers’  raised expectations of behaviour because “you’re one year older”, I will also set some standards that seemed way too much effort only a few days ago as I sipped Pinot Grigio on a cottage dock.

My resolutions (in no particular order of importance):

  1. Be a cheerleader to my kids more often than a critic – even when their piano rendition of Ode to Joy makes me want to cry (from all the money I spend on lessons).
  2. Learn all the cool things I can do with my new MacBook Pro so I can create better author visits, better blog pages, better videos, and be one of those cool Apple people that just seem to know more about technology than the rest of us.
  3. Teach my kids all the cool things they can do with a Mac that will help them use technology creatively (or earn riches posting irritating, yet funny, videos on YouTube).
  4. Create an amazing, interactive Author Visit presentation that keeps kids interested, yet inspires them to be creative (PLUG: if you haven’t bought my kids’ book yet, check it out here:  AWESOME BOOK.)
  5. Update my blog at least twice per week and reach #50 of the top 50 tips by Christmas.
  6. Keep up my querying and networking to find a commercial publisher for my book series.  (PLUG: see #4)
  7. Start drafting a new book (Book #3 perhaps?).
  8. Return to getting up painfully early in the morning to get a head start on my writing.
  9. Stay on top of my kids’ digital know-how to ensure we maintain an open discussion on how it affects their lives (and to ensure I get to read all their emails without being forced to use underhanded means).
  10. Return all my kids’  library books on time and use the money I save on fines to buy fancy Starbucks coffees.
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Tip #7 – Take the Kids to the Library

Jun 13

Remember the days before mom & pop shops were replaced by big box stores like Wal-mart and Costco?  While we all visit the behemoth stores for their convenience and endless variety of storage containers it’s easy to lament the days when the customer greeter and salesperson and cashier were rolled together into one helpful human being.  Our communities have transformed to accommodate these new bastions of merchandise, yet thankfully, one gathering place has remained intact: the library.

The library is one of the few places where excess is a wondrous thing. When my kids beg to go to Toys R Us, I groan. Taking three boys to a massive display of toys and video games without a good portion of cash in my wallet always ends badly. A trip to the library, however, is a most welcome suggestion.  In fact, I’m delighted when they ask me to take them (and yes, they ask frequently).  They are free to roam the shelves and select those books most intriguing.  Other than suffering from a sore back, I’m more than happy to lug forty books home (our record for the largest amount of books we’ve borrowed in a single visit).

A librarian is always available to help us find a specific book or offer guidance on a good read.  I’ll run my fingers along the spines with one of my kids as we seek out a particular author and pull out the odd book to see its cover (yes, we do judge a book by its cover).  Another of my sons will peruse the pages of a picture book before deciding whether it’s worth borrowing.  When you think about it… libraries have to be one of the best inventions ever created for parents. They offer kids the opportunity to take whatever books they want, in any abundance – for free!

So, what has library visits got to do with tips on raising kids in the digital age?  The bricks and mortar libraries are under threat, thanks to the availability of electronic information.  Consider this: in the late 1990’s, 80% of Ontario elementary schools had a teacher-librarian. Today, only 56% do.  And, most recently, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board announced it will shut all its school libraries.

Certainly online research is valuable for school projects, but despite it’s hype, Wikipedia ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  A screen of black type listing every boring fact about Egyptian history cannot compete with a full-colour book written in kid-friendly language and organized with headings, photos, diagrams, and, well, real pages that can be referred to any time of day or night.  When my sons research for their school projects, they use kids’ books.  No matter how much time we spend looking for information online, it just does not compare to the valuable resources provided in books (from the library, might I add).

, the celebrated social media guru and bestselling business author recently published a stating “Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library.” He continues, “Kids…need a library not at all.”  I looked into whether Seth has any kids.  He doesn’t.  If he did, he’d likely realize that Wikipedia is one of the worst resources for a ten-year-old trying to understand a subject.  He would probably understand that kids don’t need to be “coerced” to go to the library – they want to go.  Sadly, if this kind of thinking is behind the belief that libraries have lost their usefulness, parents and their kids are in big trouble.

Today, libraries are as essential as ever.  They offer our kids a quiet and reflective place to read, write, explore.  Surfing through a list of images on an e-reader, while convenient, does not compare to the hands-on experience of selecting a book and noting how many pages it is, what kind of pictures there are, reading the back cover.  Certainly, digital research and ebooks will replace some need for ‘real’ books, but not all.  Let’s not move forward so fast that we are suddenly back-pedalling to make up for hasty decisions.  Remember what happened to another important resource – known as trees and forests… I know of a few million people working to save what little is left.

My advice?  Take the kids to the library.  The more they connect with real books, the more likely they’ll want to use their digital tools for reading rather than YouTube and video gaming.  Yes, we all want our kids to know how to effectively use digital technology, but one of the best stepping stones to building that knowledge is through visiting a library.

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Angry Birds Domination Coming to a Household Near You (Like Your’s)

Jun 09

There is no stopping Angry Birds’ quest for world domination, okay, well, at least merchandise domination (like there’s a difference). I know Christmas is still a long time away, but I’m betting that there will be at least one of these products featuring the ticked off winged creatures under the tree for a child or, uh, severely addicted grownup player.

  • Angry, yet cute, plush toy
  • Angry Birds cook book featuring recipes made with, you guessed it: EGGS
  • Angry Birds Rio movie DVD
  • Angry Birds video game for Wii, PS3 and xBox
  • Angry Birds board game: Knock on Wood

But there’s even more! Check out this site, for a visual listing of 85 fabulous finds for the seriously addicted Angry Birds player.

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May 31

A lot of television shows have left indelible prints on my childhood memories like bad tattoos on a geriatric biker.  At the time of my youth, I’d been convinced that Arnold’s “Whatchoo talkin’ bout Mista D’ was the most stellar example of brilliant comedy EVER. Today, however, when I watch old-time faves like Gilligan’s Island, I notice a few cracks in the episodic plot lines that were not evident to my seven-year-old self. I admit it. My taste in television used to suck.  Except. Except for a few particularly brilliantly written series’ like The Muppets.

The Muppets TV series offered sophisticated humour wrapped in kid-friendly characters with quirky personalities. All equally lovable: from Kermit the Frog to Beaker, Animal to the Swedish Chef. The evenings shared with my family in front of the television set (that sat immovable as a massive bank safe on the orange carpeted floor) over thirty years ago watching the antics of Jim Hensen’s creations cannot be recreated in today’s households. But they will soon be able to appreciate the quality of the weekly series in an upcoming movie.

Yep, the Muppets are back with what looks like a great movie that hearkens back to those days when the whole family could huddle ’round the set and guffaw with equal appreciation at one of television’s brightest gems. Of course, a popular show in the 1970′s was not accompanied with an explosion of toys, apps, video games, and stuffed toys like today’s biggest TV brands do. Will I relent and purchase some of the merchandising baubles sure to be peddling by Christmas time? Well, if I have to choose between a kermit and a smurf (another throwback to the seventies about to hit the silver screen), I’d rather go green.


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