Tag Archives: connection

The family that plays together…

It was as we were walking home from school that I heard Helen giving Nadia tips about how to play their new iPad game. “Don’t always give them what they want. They’re asking for things that are going to cost real money.”

playingtogetherThe conversation continued on the way home and then they both took out Helen’s iPad and started playing together. It was classic mother-daughter interaction: mom giving advice to the child, child listening and obeying dutifully. But there were no arguments, no defiance, just willing compliance.

From a parenting point of view, it was clear to see why this worked. The adult had information that would help the child in something the child was trying to do. The adult demonstrated experience and knowledge, and the child wanted to have the same. It was a classic case of teaching from experience. Often, our teens rebel against us because of their perception that the adult doesn’t know or understand what the child is going through. It also comes across as preaching rather than saying, “Let me help you accomplish what you want to do.”

From a technology and Digital Citizenship perspective, this was a great example of learning and exploring together. Helen wasn’t just teaching Nadia how to play the game and win, she was teaching her how to avoid costly in-app purchases. These are a hot topic in technology stories about kids and tablets. There have been cases of huge class-action suits against app makers when parents find that their children have spent thousands of real dollars in buying magic potions and level-ups and so forth in video games.

In this case, the child was being taught how to avoid those costly purchases – and in the language of the game. “You don’t need those right now.” “You can get those a different way.” “All you have to do is wait a bit – put the iPad down and go do something else for a bit and when you get back you’ll have it for free.”

Now, Nadia is old enough to understand the difference between real money and in-app currencies. (Part of that is because we’ve been teaching her over the years with allowances, shopping lessons, etc.) But even younger children can understand that if they are taught.

If parents want their children to be responsible with money and in-app purchases, they should join in the gaming and learn how the programs work and how to avoid unnecessary costs. But, more than that: parents should join in the gaming so they share an experience with their children. By being a part of the experience, by showing an interest, even by having more knowledge, parents earn the respect of their children and what might become a source of resentment or disagreement becomes a shared experience that can be enjoyed together and managed better.

The family that plays together stays together.


Cross-posted from my school blog.

Our Digital Life

“Smartphone” by Jeshoots licensed CC0/public domain

What’s the place of digital media in our lives? What’s the consequences of oversharing online? How can we make responsible choices when we use other people’s creative work? What factors intensify cyberbullying and online cruelty and what can we do to lessen them?

The distinction between online life and offline life is blurring more and more, especially for young people. It’s our responsibility as educators to help our students not only be successful in learning more about the subjects our school offers but also in how to navigate the media and networks of our online life.

Our school teaches explicitly the skills and concepts of “Digital Citizenship” – responsible, ethical and intelligent behavior while online. In our Advisory sessions, as well as in other classes, students will be grappling with issues such as cyberbullying, oversharing, copyright and remixing others’ work, and other important aspects of online life.

To help us do this effectively and efficiently, ICS is using the Digital Citizenship curriculum that was developed by CommonSenseMedia, a non-profit organization devoted to helping families be informed and responsible online users, consumers, sharers and creators. The Digital Citizenship curriculum they’ve developed is highly regarded and widely used in schools, and we are using and adapting it for our students at ICS.

But this education can’t only happen in school. We ask all parents to help your children to learn their place in the online world and act responsibly and safely. I’ll be publishing information on this blog and in the school’s newsletter for parents and other community members to be more informed about how to help our children grow and develop in the online world.

For starters, I encourage all parents to read this PDF Family Tip Sheet on using common sense in digital life. It’s full of good advice for parents, with some excellent suggestions on how to help your children cope with life online.

As for me, the key is one of our ICS Learner Profile traits: balance. It’s OK for kids to be online, chatting and posting on Facebook, sharing on Instagram, watching YouTube videos, etc. It’s also important for them to get outside and play soccer, or go to a dance, or just hang out chatting with their friends over coffee. We’re lucky here in Addis that this is the norm for our children. It’s part of our culture (in school and throughout the community) to value these offline, person-to-person interactions.

As the weeks go by, I’ll be showcasing many of our projects with students and the skills and ideas they’re grappling with. Share your questions, concerns and ideas!

Cross-posted from my school blog.

Global Codeathon

JpegClick. Click. Click.

“Look what I made!” “Oh, that’s COOL!”

Click. Click. Click.

“Hey, how did you do that??” “Here, let me show you!”

The buzz in the room was tremendous. Students were excitedly working on projects individually, working together to solve problems and enthusiastically checking out each other’s work. For us adults in the room, it was a busy and fun time: helping students, giving out praise and suggestions, asking questions, pointing out other students’ success.

This past Saturday, ICS participated in the Global Codeathon, an international competition/collaborative project. Students in grades 3-6 from international schools all around the world assembled in their respective schools to build games, simulations and other programs using Scratch, a free online coding platform built by MIT to help children learn computer programming.

JpegICS students came to the ES computer lab and dove right in. They got help from Middle Schooler, Abheek, as well as from Ms Alex and Ms Heran (and myself!) but the ideas, as well as the execution, was all theirs. They added “sprites” to their programs, gave them commands to move, make noises, change their appearance, and more. They had to act in one way when clicked on by the mouse, another way when keys were pressed on the keyboard. They had to think through how they could get the computer to move and animate things the way they wanted. It was hard, but it was fun!

Meanwhile, students in schools all around the world were doing the same. We had some technical difficulties, including a complete internet outage for the first 45 minutes, which stopped us from video chatting with them, but our students chatted with them on the “backchannel” chat line, and also got to share their work in two Scratch “galleries.” They enjoyed getting comments on their games from students in other countries, and had fun trying out other students’ projects.

At the end, Ms Alex and Ms Heran brought out pizzas and juice boxes for the tired but still enthusiastic programmers. You can’t code without fuel! All agreed it was a fun day …and we’re looking forward to an even better time (with a better connection!) next year!


A new chat is born

geralt (Pixabay) - license CC0 (Public Domain)
geralt (Pixabay) – license CC0 (Public Domain)

On Tuesday night, a new event was created. Two ICS teachers – Amy Hughes & John Meinz – started up an online chat on Twitter to connect with other teachers around the world, but particularly in this region.

They were inspired to do this by Jamie Raskin, who came to Addis to present at Learning 2.014 about Genius Hour and self-directed learning. Jamie delivered an inspiring Learning2 Talk about self-directed learning (or “heutagogy”), and also led 3-hour extended sessions on using Genius Hour in education.

Genius Hour – also called “20% time” – is a concept that has been most widely popularized by Google. Google gives its employees permission to spend 20% of their time on any project that interests them. They aren’t told what to do & they aren’t evaluated on that time spent …they are certainly not penalized for taking that time away from projects and work they’ve been assigned. Instead, they have the freedom to explore, to tinker, to experiment. Many of Google’s greatest and most successful projects have come out of work done during this time. It seems that when you give employees freedom to experiment and work on something they are really interested in, they can come up with some amazing things!

Teachers have started trying out this idea. If we give students time to explore new ideas, to try out things, and to work on something they are really interested in, what amazing things can they come up with? This is a powerful idea – not only for giving students more individualized education, but also for inquiry-driven instruction. Students who are given more freedom in choosing what to inquire about will dive deeper into it  and learn far more than if they were assigned a topic.

After learning more about Genius Hour and heutagogy from Jamie at Learning 2.014, some teachers started trying out this idea in their classrooms:

But it’s not enough to just try these kinds of things. It’s important to learn from people who’ve done this before: get their ideas, find out the tricks to avoid problems, etc. It’s also good to be able to ask these people the questions that you have about the process. Fortunately, with the internet, expert advice and information is just a few clicks away. And Twitter has become a terrific learning space for teachers to get information and talk with others about the process. So, Amy and John set up the first-ever #geniushour chat set in our timezone:

The excitement built, and at the appointed hour teachers from schools in Tanzania, Angola, South Africa, and Sudan joined ICS teachers for a free-form discussion. Questions were asked, resources were shared, and jokes were made! The pace was fast and furious, with tweets flying fast and responses coming quickly.

If you want to read the entire discussion, the whole archive of the chat is saved here.

At the end, everyone was very happy to have spent an hour of their evening discussing the idea of giving students time to explore their own interests.

And the discussion continued, with experts from elsewhere around the world spreading the news and offering advice!

Congratulations to Amy & John for starting an exciting and powerful discussion. Look for more participation and more good ideas at the next Africa (and Europe and Middle East!) chat the first Tuesday of every month!

#GeniusHour chats:

  • Africa/Europe/Middle East zone – 1st Tuesday of every month – 8:00 pm Eastern African Time (UTC+3)
  • North America – 1st Thursday of every month – 6:00 pm Pacific Time Zone (UTC -8) (time zone converter)