Category Archives: Education

Time Out for Minecraft!

It’s been pretty crazy watching the world of MInecraft taking over so many households, including mine!  Kids can spend hours and hours in front of their computers and/or tablets creating virtual worlds that they can take part in with others inside the game.  At first, I just couldn’t believe kids could get into a game with such bad graphics.  Then, the realization set in that my own son was swept up in it, and there was no turning back.  As I watched Malachy play in Creative Mode and how he created different worlds and structures, how he watched YouTube videos to see how others used their inventories to create “new” items, I saw some of the positives in this game.  We limited his playtime, but we saw how it took over his drawings, his writing, his conversations, his Lego Building, etc.  There was even a New York Times article talking about the obsession and some of the benefits of it.  I was living it and witnessing it with my own very eyes. 🙂

Recently, LaunchPadToys came up with an awesome Minecraft contest using their Toontastic App called Toon Academy: Minecraft.  It’s like they read his mind when they designed this contest!  After telling Malachy about it, I knew he would go for it.  He’s already gotten so much support and encouragement from the online community, thanks to social media.  Very cool!

His video presentation demonstrated to me all the vocabulary and skills he was picking up through the course of his play.  It also made him really think about how to convey his message to others in a way they could better understand why he’s so passionate about Minecraft.  It took a few takes, but it was all him, and he put hard work into it.  It’s what engaged learning is all about.  Impressive.  Contest ends on Thursday (October 17th), so we’ll just have to wait and see… 😉

Time Out for StoryPanda

Check out the StoryPanda iPad app!

So, the folks at StoryPanda have a Mother’s Day promotion, where they are offering SIX of their e-books for kids for FREE until Mother’s Day! 🙂  It’s a very cool app, because not only can children read their fun stories, but they are able to change/edit the words to create their own versions of the stories.  Also, with Storypanda’s books kids can swap in different characters, props, and backgrounds, too!  The six free books that you can download until Mother’s Day areBlack Cat Big CityMompersBoy Who Cried AliensMy Extraordinary FriendPaul The Imaginary and Yawn Chairs.  They are usually $2.99 per book, so it’s definitely worth checking out!

Cat Creates a Book from Storypanda on Vimeo.

 

Time Out for CEOs (Child Empowerment Organizers) and EPDs (Emergency Play Dates)!

 

CEOs - Take Two
The CEOs at their EPD (Emergency Play Date)…

A group of six-year-olds taught me the about power of networking this weekend.

After work on Friday, I get a text from my wife asking if I had the phone number of one of the parents in Malachy’s class. I asked her why she needed it and she texted back, “Wondering if they are around tomorrow or Sunday — the kids planned a secret meeting – LOL.”  I couldn’t wait for her and Malachy to come back from Karate class to explain what was going on.  They got a ride back from one of Malachy’s Karate classmates, who is also in his class at school and part of the secret meeting club.  Shien tells me that his classmate’s mom told her during Karate class, that her daughter told her after school that she HAD TO pick up 3 other friends tomorrow and drive them to our place, so they could have their secret meeting.  A designated chauffeur!  Shien immediately started texting and e-mailing the other parents to see if they knew or heard anything about it.  I’ve never heard of these Emergency Play Dates (EPDs) disguised as secret meetings before, and I was intrigued.  The kids were so certain that it was going to happen, and now, it looked like it was going to happen!

Of course, when I first asked Malachy, he says, “I can’t tell you what it’s about Dad.  It’s a SECRET meeting.”  I could tell that the wheels immediately started spinning in his head after he said that out loud to me, because we agreed that there were to be no kept secrets from Mom and Dad… EVER.  He paused and said, “You know, Dad.  I told you about it before.  It’s about the Fighting Club.”  Ah yes, the Fighting Club or the Fight Stoppers Club.  He and a few other of his classmates were tired of the play fighting and conflicts that occurred during recess.  Sometimes, they were the ones being bothered while playing together, so they started helping each other out and would try to help others in need of mediation or consolation, too.  Amazing.

So, after a few more texts and e-mails, it was all arranged.  1PM Saturday at our playground.  They met… and they PLAYED for 3 hours!  I stopped by the playground to check up on them, and there they were with all their socks and shoes off, one on each swing. They said they were trying to climb the rainbow sprinkler poles, and it was easier without shoes.  It was about an hour into their play, and I asked if they had their meeting yet.  Not yet.  I asked the other parents about it, and they were telling me how they would always tell them about the seriousness and importance of these meetings after school sometimes (i.e., playing in the playground), and they would talk about needing to meet during the “meeting,” but they never really had “the meeting!”  When the parents said it was time to go, they would then say, “But we haven’t had our meeting yet!”  GENIUS.  Our kids often hear about us adults telling them that we have have to go to meetings.  They know we need to talk through things and discuss things.  They get it.  Our kids sense the importance of them, and the message is very clear from them, too.  Kids play is IMPORTANT.  Kids need to meet.  Kids need to connect.  Kids need to network.  Kids need time to PLAY, and it’s SO much better without the disruptions.  It’s so awesome that they have created this safe place and group for themselves.

When Shien and Malachy came back three hours later, I asked how the meeting went, and he said it was good.  I asked him if they came to any big decisions or ideas during their meeting, and he said, “Yes.  We decided to create BIG obstacles, so the people trying to bother us won’t be able to get to us.”  I wanted to ask how they were planning on doing that, but I guess that’ll take another secret meeting or two in the future.  They do all the organizing, and we the adults are there to… 😉

Time Out For A Voice

MB900442068 (1)Last week, I wrote a guest blog piece, Is The Common Core Sending Children Over an Educational Cliff?, on Lisa Nielsen’s site, The Innovative Educator.  I couldn’t believe that it became the “hottest” post of the week on Lisa’s site, and I was so grateful to her because she’s given people like me a platform to have a voice as an aspiring school leader, as an educator, and/or as a parent.  In the piece, I wrote about my concerns about high-stakes standardized testing hurting our children and their education.  In writing the piece, I also knew there would be people who would agree and people who would disagree with my views.  After all, that’s what happens when you “put yourself out there” and have a real live audience, right?

Checking my e-mail this morning, I learned about a New York Post article that basically attacks and slams Lisa for her views on standardized testing and advocating for parents to opt their children out from these tests (if they choose to).  The URL name of the article is offensive (as it looks like they changed the original title).  Instead of presenting an opposing argument about how these standardized tests might be actually good for our children, the reporters go on to denigrate her position, post her salary, and attempt to shame her for having differing views from her “bosses.”  Yet, they question Lisa’s seriousness.

As the Director of Digital Literacy and Citizenship, Lisa is demonstrating the power of social media and digital literacy and citizenship to educators, parents, and students and educating them about the power of exercising one’s voice.  As we know, it can be empowering, but as we learn from this, there are also those who will attack you when they disagree with you or just try to hurt you, use you, or embarrass you for one’s own gain.  So, when such ugly “articles” are written up, we really have to question the authors’ purpose in writing up the piece, and the message they are trying to convey.  Who is the real “villain” here?  The person passionately fighting for choice and standing up for parents and students when it comes to high stakes testing and questioning what’s best for children or the person (people) resorting to name calling and ranting in order to bait readers?  No high-stakes standardized test is going to teach these real life lessons which our kids so desperately need to learn as participatory citizens.

 

 

Time Out for Brainology!

Ever since our family went to the Brain Exhibit that was at the American Museum of Natural History, our whole family has been fascinated with the Brain. I even took an evening course called, The Wired Child back in the Fall at the Museum (where I was literally surrounded by stand-alone brains!). Recently, my Adult Development course got me right back into the brain and its plasticity, with some great readings, lectures, and conversations.
What amazes me the most is how much of an impact our environment has over our brains. It’s Nature vs. Nurture, and I think I used to be more like, “Well, you’ve got what you’ve got (in terms of your brain), and you can only do so much.” Now, I realize there is a WHOLE lot we can do to train and develop our brains and our children’s brain. It’s as much what we actively do or don’t do day-to-day that greatly affects our brains. And thus, Brainology!
I first learned about Brainology from an online Mind/Shift article titled, Discovering How to Learn Smarter by Annie Murphy Paul. Brainology is a program developed by Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck. It helps students develop a growth mindset, as opposed to having a fixed mindset. When I learned it was for middle school and high school students, I was a bit bummed out, because I wanted to get Malachy in on it right away. Lo and behold, someone from Brainology saw my blog (after an e-mail inquiry), and said Malachy might be a great candidate for a Brainology pilot! (Thanks so much, Cole!) How awesome is that?
So, now it feels like Malachy and I are taking a Brain Course together! (Thanks, Brainology!) He already wants to sit and go through all the levels in one sitting, but I told him that we need time to let things sink in (especially for me). The program is awesome because it offers a combination of multimedia videos, an e-journal for recording thoughts, an online Brain book, and other online tools that make it fun and easy to learn about the brain. I’m able to sit with him and type some of his responses in. He could type the responses, but he usually wants to get right back to the watching and learning. For me, it’s great to see how much he has learned so far, and we could have some conversations if something needs further explanation. So far, so great! 🙂

Here are some of Malachy’s thoughts on The Brain, after the Intro. and Level 1…
When you learn new things, your brain gets smarter and stronger.
When you touch things or do anything with your body, your brain detects it.
When you don’t have enough sleep, then you can’t think very well.
When you’re doing your homework, you shouldn’t do anything else, like watching cartoons or eat lunch or listening to your CDs.
When you’re reading, you can do writing or drawing to help you learn.

Time Out for After School Thoughts…

A Childhood...
GOT PLAYTIME?

I was the first to line up in front of Malachy’s school to make sure he got a spot for an after school program, the day after Labor Day (before the sun was up and in the rain).   After only one day (plus an orientation), we quit the program. It would have been FREE (thanks to Uncle Sam) every day from 3:00PM to 5:30PM. How could we give up such a coveted spot?

Just looking at Shien during the orientation pretty much made up my mind.  There was so much talk about getting “points” for good behavior or getting suspended for bad behavior.  For snack, they got some juice and graham crackers after school.  (Sugar and more sugar.)  And no, you couldn’t supplement with your own snack because all the other kids would want some.  Your child had to have a book at all times because there would be many times when he would have to wait for the next transition.  (Before the orientation started [right after the program ended], all the kindergartners and first graders were sent to another table and told to be quiet.  That didn’t happen.)  We had to sign papers and were told to go over the rules with our children when we got home, because they also had to sign the “contract” tomorrow.

Broken...

The thing was, we wouldn’t be able to pick him up early EVER. To be fair, you’re given three days out of the 180+, if you had a valid reason. I understood that it would be disruptive to pick your child up early, but to not have that luxury of picking him up when we wanted to or needed to was too much. Just today, seeing him break down much more easily than usual showed me how tired he was and how long a day it was for him. Multiply that by 180+ days, and I saw little good that could come out of that.

KID WANTED

I know that for so many parents, it’s not a choice, and that’s what greatly disturbed me today. Back in the day, my mom picked my sister and I up every day after school. We got to go home and have whatever snack my mom prepared. We did homework at HOME. We got downtime at home.  After we were done with our homework, we got to play, either inside or outside.

For too many kids and parents, it’s so so hard now. Some kids as early as age 3 are going to school from 8:30am to 5:30pm! That doesn’t even include travel time! It’s no wonder so many of our kids are burnt out and bouncing off the walls. What has happened to play time? What has happened to childhood? Our children deserve better…

As for the next child in line on the wait list that takes Malachy’s spot, I really really hope it works out for that child and the family…

Time Out for School

At School
Excited at School

Most of the time, when we ask Malachy how his day was, he’ll respond, “It was great!” I love that attitude, and he has inspired me to be more optimistic about everything. He reminds me to have a positive attitude and to really see all the GREAT there is all around. Hopefully, we can both keep it up! 🙂

He’s so excited about Kindergarten, and so are we.  He’s had two awesome years in pre-kindergarten, and we will really miss his old school.  How much he’s grown these last two years!

His new school looks like it also offers a great program with a fantastic philosophy of learning.  They call it “play-based learning.”  Sounds like learning will be fun!   🙂  That’s how it should be.  Plus, he’s going to alternate days in terms of learning another language.  One full day of English with one teacher and then one full day of Mandarin with another teacher.  We’ll see how that goes.

Life is GREAT! 😉

Feeling Great!
Life is GREAT!

Time Out for Social Media!

Credit to Matt Hamm

Social Media (SM) has really amazed me time and time again with all its potential. Through Twitter, I’ve learned so much from so many. At first, just like in many social situations, I sat back and observed. Slowly, but surely, I started building a Personal Learning Network (PLN), and now I’m connected with amazing people all over the world!

People’s tweets reveal so much about themselves. Some tweet about all the great contests and giveaways out there (which has allowed me to win some awesome prizes like event tickets, gift cards, and a SMART pen!), some tweet about all the current events (which has enabled me to find out about things in real time, especially in education), some tweet to promote themselves (big businesses, small businesses, or no businesses), some tweet about their personal lives or thoughts (whether people want to know or not). The thing is, you get to choose who you want to hear from. Others have the same choice of whether they want to follow you. When someone retweets your words, it’s validating, because it usually means your words mean something to someone else. 🙂

Because of social media, I am able to leave a bigger digital footprint through participating in chats (#edchat, #kinderchat, and #ptchat) and submitting posts to other sites like BookDads.com, RiceDaddies.com, PrimeParentsClub.com, and KidZui.com. It’s so empowering when people you don’t know read your words and comment on them. This is what I hope to convey to my students. Your words MATTER. If you have something to say, your words can cause a reaction in others. Sometimes good and sometimes not so good, but that’s okay.  It’s an amazing journey, and you come away learning so much from it. 😉

Time Out for Math!

'Tis Math...

For some reason or another, Malachy has started to really get into numbers again.  Oddly enough, he’s also been loving the idea of winning.  We had tried one lesson with the abacus last summer, but because I wasn’t comfortable enough with teaching and practicing with him, we let it slide… 🙁

So, how did I feed his latest “ambition?”  I found out through Twitter that McGraw-Hill was giving away their Math apps for free from April 13-17 via iTunes, because it was the week of the National Council of Teachers Mathematics conference.  One of the apps he really liked was the Everyday Mathematics Baseball Multiplication 1-6 Facts: Multiplication game.  Of course, I had to immediately tell him that multiplying was not the same as addition, but in order to solve the problems, he could use his adding skills (using his fingers 😉 ) to figure out the problems.  So, when he saw 3×2, I told him it meant 3 groups of 2 or 2 groups of 3.  He would then use his fingers, starting with 2 fingers, adding 2, and adding 2 more, or starting with 3 fingers and adding another group of 3 fingers.  “Is it 6?” he asked.  “Yup,” I would reply.  I told him anything times two just meant doubling the number.  Of course, when it was 6×8, I spared him from using his fingers and toes and just gave him the answer… for now. 😉

It was amazing watching him trying to figure out 3×4, or 4×4, etc.  Somehow, he taught himself that when he went over 10 fingers, putting the additional fingers would give him 11, 12, etc.  Then again, it might have been my brother-in-law, his fiancee, Shien, my dad, or my in-laws.  I’m going to have to verify with them.  All I know is that it wasn’t me! 😉  The more he played and practice, the easier it became for him, although he would try to verify with me every time before submitting his answer, except for the ones he knew for sure.

Tonight, I decided to do a little experiment, just to see what he would do.  It was one of those, “I WISH I RECORDED IT!” moments, right after.  Arghhh.  I divided the paper in half, and wrote the doubles on one side and the two-times tables on the other side.  Then, I handed it over to him and asked him to complete it.  As he started it, he said things like, “Dad, both sides are the same!” and “Dad, it’s just counting by 2s!”  In no time, he completed both sides, sometimes going across, and sometimes going down.  When he got to 7+7, he thought a moment, and then realized it would be just 2 more from 6+6.  WOW!!!  I don’t think I figured this stuff out until the third grade, because that’s when I was first introduced to Multiplication!  That’s THE TRUTH!

This just proves that if we take our kids from where they’re at, and let them play and practice with things they are passionate and excited about, the sky is the limit. 😉

Time Out for Poetry!

Recently, I entered a little poetry contest at Edutopia.org. The contest was to write a poem, in Haiku format, on how to improve education. So far, I’m in the lead by a few votes… 😉

The first thing I had Malachy do today when he came home after school (after washing his hands, of course), was his homework. I wanted it to be done before dinner, so he could relax later on. For the most part, he hasn’t resisted doing his homework this year. WHEW!  I thought today’s assignment was simple enough. The sheet, although a bit cut off, asked him to think of words that remind him of spring and to use the words to complete the form. I just put the sheet down on the table, asked him to do his homework, and when it was dinner time, I asked him to put it away in his folder. I didn’t get to look at it until he had gone to bed. Expecting to just see a word in each blank, I saw that he composed quite the poem! 🙂

He writes,

Spring is…

Spring is A time where plants grow
Spring is After Winter has begun
Spring is A time that snow has all melted
But most of all
Spring is Fun!

WOW!  He’s a poet and doesn’t even know it!  Every day, he manages to do something that amazes me.  So cool! 😉

A Poet, and he doesn't even know it! 😉