Monday, November 1, 2010

Your Child and Computer Literacy

I used to write a fair bit about technology, children and education - before there were blogs, tweets and sms - websites were the norm then.  So, I'm going to get back into it.

I originally wrote this in 1997, but it's just as relevant today.  With a few updates to include current technologies, it should be just right. But I haven't done that yet.

The number of hours a child spends in front of the television has declined for the first time in years. One of the main reasons is the Internet, and the other is computer games. Children are spending more time in front of the computer than the TV, and that's a fact. Does your child seem to know more about using a computer than you? Probably. Does that make your child computer literate? Probably not. Before you try to assess the computer competency of your child, think about what "computer literacy" means. Is it the ability to talk techno-speak and impress (or even scare) parents? Is it the ability to operate a computer and run applications to complete a task? These are simple definitions in a domain that has an incredibly varied set of skills and applications.

Perhaps we should look at computer literacy as the ability to apply computers and related technology to thinking critically to solve a problem, creating a solution and ultimately producing a product. That product may be a document, a presentation, a device or some other outcome. There is an old theory that has recently regained the right to be discussed seriously called "Multiple Intelligences". One of the biggest proponents of this theory is Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The basic idea of the theory is that every child must be taught differently, because children understand the world in different ways. Some examples of the different types of intelligence include linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and personal. Gardner suggests that classrooms be filled with apprenticeships, projects and technologies, where students can develop true understanding through hands-on applied learning, and be given the opportunity to develop their learning style under whichever intelligence best suits them. In a digital world, where computers allow children to develop a learning pattern based upon their own intelligence in a non-threatening way, full-frontal, asynchronous teaching environments cannot-and do not-grab their attention. Does your child need to have logical-mathematical intelligence in order to become computer literate? Absolutely not. So what can you do to teach your child appropriate computer skills? Most importantly, make sure that your child is learning how to apply technology to help him or her think critically, problem-solve, work cooperatively and ultimately use a variety of technologies that can help them invent, create and ultimately produce. While there are good software packages available to develop these skills for all types of intelligences, finding the right titles is the key.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Teach your kids computer skills

Ok, here's another re-print I'm referenced in...

Learn how small hands can master the mouse and navigate with a keyboard

By Mara Gulens, reprinted from Microsoft Home Magazine
Worried about your child's ability to handle a mouse and keyboard? With children being introduced to computers at a younger age, and not just at school, it sometimes falls to parents to help nurture their computer skills. But where do you start?

"Kids are so adaptable," says Darryl Reiter, father and president of the Children's Technology Workshop. "With enough use, they'll get it."
Reiter's Toronto-based weeWhizards workshop, designed specifically for kids four to six years old, provides kids with activities that develop skills, but most importantly, lets them experience the computer in unique ways. "The whole idea is to get younger kids doing creative things," he says.
There are several ways you can help your children feel more comfortable with the different components of the computer. Reiter offers a few creative ways to make you feel more confident about that initial computer-learning phase.

Gaining control of the mouse

When Toronto mom Moira French put her first child on the computer, she had concerns about dexterity, and ended up using an oversize mouse with a single click button. "You turn the ball as opposed to moving the mouse. That makes it easier.and better for the kids mentally," she says.
When it came time for her second child to start using the computer, nobody had time to hook up the child's mouse. "It took her longer," says French. "But she just figured it out."
Although there are various kid-size mice on the market, as well as mini laptop mice perfect for small hands, Reiter says the right click button remains a nuisance. Try these tips to help with initial mouse navigation:
  • For really young kids, find software that doesn't require using a mouse.
  • Teach kids what the mouse is used for, how to use it and sit with them as they learn.
  • Consider putting a coloured dot or sticker on the left click button of the mouse to differentiate from the right button.
  • If you're prepared to sacrifice a mouse, open it up and physically disable the right click button.
  • You can also slow down the clicking speed of a mouse on your computer, which will allow children to be more precise when using it. Go to Control Panel > Mouse and under Double click speed, use your mouse to slide the arrow to the Slow setting.
Reiter also points out you should be very particular about the kind of mouse you buy, since there might be choking hazards with those that use a ball to navigate. Instead try an optical mouse which eliminates the old-fashioned mouse ball and mouse pad.

Mastering the keyboard

Little kids don't have the hand span or dexterity required for touch typing, and Reiter believes they only start formally working at keyboarding skills when they hit grade four. "There is a time and a place," he says.
When teaching her kids how to use the keyboard, French says she just taught them "how to handle it, to be delicate and to treat it with respect." More specifically: only use the computer with clean hands, don't pound the keyboard and use one finger at a time.
But "learning the geography of the keyboard is important," says Reiter. Here are some ways to simplify the process:
  • Beginners may find it useful to have a coloured dot or sticker (such as Winnie-the-Pooh) on certain letters and the Enter key. "The dots allow them to be a little self-directed," says Reiter.
  • Teach kids how to troubleshoot. Show them how to shut down and restart, and label specific keys if necessary. "Control + Alt + Delete is part of my son's language now," says Reiter.
  • Kids who are starting to spell can practice with a basic word processing program, and use all kinds of fun fonts. "My kids play in Word as much as they do in anything else," notes Reiter.
  • Once kids have learned the whereabouts of various keys, they can practice their "hunt and peck" by slipping a pair of boxer shorts on the keyboard. Reiter says this is an activity to generate keyboard awareness. "It's for kids to practice their typing without seeing." Slip the waistband of a fun pair of boxer shorts (perhaps with a child's favourite cartoon character) over the keyboard and have them insert their hands in the leg holes. Then ask them to type something without looking at the keyboard. "For little kids everything has to be a game," Reiter adds.
  • Another suggestion — turn off the monitor and spell your name. It's for kids to practice their typing without seeing. "It's a little game for them," Reiter says.
While mouse skills continue to improve with practice, there comes a point when kids need to formally start learning keyboarding techniques. A few programs on the market designed for kids are Adventures in Typing with Timon and Pumbaa (Disney Interactive), JumpStart Typing (Knowledge Adventure) and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (The Learning Company).

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Programs Offer a Network of Possibilities

Ok, here's another reprint - this one is from the Globe and Mail

Lead a crew to Mars or explore an Egyptian pyramid for lost artifacts. Design your own line of clothing or go back in time and build your own medieval castle.

Thanks to the advent of computers, children today can experience all of these exciting adventures during a week or two at summer camp. These camps give children the opportunity to develop skills in programming, engineering and robotics, video game design and production, animation and graphic design.

Darryl Reiter left his job as a teacher in 1999 to start the Children's Technology Workshop (CTW) from one location in Toronto.

This summer, CTW will put on technology camps for more than 1,300 children in 20 locations in Southern Ontario, and the company hopes to expand to New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta.

"Parents look at a computer technology camp as an investment," Reiter says.

"At the end of the day, parents want to see what their children have learned."

Meanwhile, Real Programming 4 Kids promises to teach young video game enthusiasts to become computer programmers.

In small classes of four, children learn to program video games using visual basic, java and C ++ computer languages.

" A lot of camps are like daycare centres, they give the kids a little bit of everything, " says co-founder Elliott Bay. "We have concentrated on one thing -- teaching kids to build video games from scratch - and have got better at it year after year."

About 400 budding computer programmers went through Real Programming's four camps in Ontario last year, some coming from the United States.

Ottawa's Shelley Welchner and her husband, Steven, were looking for ways to encourage their 12-year-old son's interest in computers when they heard of Real Programming's summer camps. Ben took a free trial class and enrolled in 2002.

"He would show up early to work and stay as late as he could," Shelley said. "It was obvious he was passionate about it, and this was a way that he could fulfill that passion."

The Welchners were so impressed that they actually helped Bay find a location for a course in Ottawa at Ashbury College, an elite private school. Real Programming's other courses in Toronto, Oakville and Vaughan are also offered in local private schools, which get a percentage of revenues. The company hopes to expand to Vancouver this summer.

Reiter says CTW's programs are interactive, individualized and innovative.

On the first day of camp, children select from 10 theme-based adventures such as the mission to Mars or the expedition to Egypt. Each theme is made up of approximately 40 individual projects.

Children will typically complete between three and six projects during their sessions depending on their age, area of interest and skill level.

"They attain a skill and then apply it to a project in their specific adventure, such as building a robot to search an Egyptian pyramid," Reiter says.

"They have complete ownership over what they do, which is very meaningful to them."
Charts are kept of exactly what the campers do and the skills they learn so, "at the end of the day, they have something to show."

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Where Computer Time is Creative

OK, so I didn't exactly write this, Mara.  Mara Gulens is a writer based in Toronto and, luckily for me, she always likes to write stories on our programs for kids.

Where computer time is creative
By Mara Gulens, posted 9/25/2002
"You'd thrive in this place, Emil," I think, as I wander around the Children's Technology Workshop.

CTW is not your ordinary computer-learning environment. The place is full of computers, but the kids, instead of staring blankly into screens playing games and surfing the Web, are using their machines to actually create something. There are Lego bugs that move, boxes that open and close, role-playing games and animations. I even see someone operating a remote-controlled camera, but more on that later.

"We want them [the kids] to be really creative users of technology -- that's the goal," says Darryl Reiter, president of CTW. The philosophy here is that the computer is not the be-all and end-all. Rather, it's a facilitator; the tool to make something happen. Take the remote controlled camera I mentioned previously. Remember 10 years ago when German archaeologists sent a robot into the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt? CTW has recreated that experience for kids interested in Egyptology and engineering.

Here's how it works. In the back office, there's a pyramid about the size of a small kitchen table, with a removable top so you can see what's going on inside. The interior is painted with hieroglyphics, ala the real thing, and there's a robotic car that moves around, snapping photos. Catch is, the robot is remote controlled -- by kids in the adjoining room.

Expedition Egypt is one of 10 "missions" available to the seven- to 14-year-olds (the average age is 12) attending CTW camps, workshops and after-school programs. There's also Animation Alive!, Architect, Entrepreneur, Fashion Designer, Medieval Mission, Mission to Mars, Olympics, Rescue and Team F1. Each child chooses a mission of interest, and then works on any of the 40 "projects" during their stay. Girls tend to lean towards fashion, Egypt and animation; boys go for team F1 and rescue

Emil, the seven year-old I mentioned, would dive right into this environment. But then, who wouldn't? There's an element of science, building, planning, drawing -- all with the aid of computers. According to Reiter, the core of the program is stop-motion animation, engineering, programming and video game programming: And it's all hands on.

During my tour, I catch one boy working on a computer game -- creating scenes, setting rules and animating characters; a girl working on an online fashion magazine; and a child trying to get a Lego sarcophagus to open and close properly.

The environment is laid back, with kids walking around, checking out one another's projects and offering up unsolicited opinions. "The last thing we want to do is just sit somebody down at the computer for a whole day," says Reiter in an online video.

But that's not to say the program leaves anything to chance. Untold hours of work have gone into creating the programs -- and the material to back them up. The massive binder of activities outlines all the mission possibilities. Architect, for example, can either be a computer activity where kids learn how to market a house (by, for example, taking photos of Lego houses) or make a blueprint, or a construction activity where they learn to put together things like light switch triggers.

The company's intranet lets kids access Lego plans (instructions and CAD designs, including one for the "flywalker"), image archives (stock images and photos for use in designs), sound clips (to add to movies) and marketing references.

For parents worried their little one will be spending time at "that tech place" just playing around on the computer, let it be known that the Children's Technology Workshop has a no Java games, no Flash games policy. In fact, hours of mindless entertainment is not an option here. CTW is about creative computer usage -- and that's exactly what the kids end up doing

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

The kids they are a-changin

This re-print is from Backbone Magazine

The first time my eldest daughter tried out a digital camera, she shot 100 images in 20 minutes. “Time to stop,” I said, thinking about the cost of photos, and that, well, when I was four and-a-half years old I sure didn’t get to shoot pictures at random.

“Why?” she asked, already scanning the room for more.

Good question, considering taking a digital photo doesn’t actually cost anything—the picture is just space in the camera’s on-board memory.

Observing kids interact with technology is nothing short of amazing. The kids themselves take it all in stride, helping world-weary grandfathers surf the ’net, holding five conversations—online and off—simultaneously and taking to new devices as if they’d been using them forever.

“Kids are fearless technology users,” said Darryl Reiter, president of the Children’s Technology Workshop, a technology learning centre for children in Toronto.

“There’s no question they’re taking hold of technology and really enjoying it.”

When Toronto-based business and technology writer Don Tapscott penned Growing Up Digital back in the mid-1990s, his ideas about the Internet generation were considered radical. “Today’s kids are so bathed in bits that they think it’s all part of the natural landscape.

To them, the digital technology is no more intimidating than a VCR or a toaster,” he wrote.

What he observed then in small groups is now a widespread and growing phenomenon. A study from U.S.-based Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research found one-third of kids aged eight to 17 choose the Internet as their preferred medium, surpassing TV for the first time.

Let’s get digital
What Tapscott termed the ’net generation, or N-Gen, is youth between four and 24. The youngest of these kids has no memory of life before the Internet, cellphones and other trappings of 21st century digital life. As the Markle Foundation points out in Children and Interactive Media, “they are the first generation that is truly growing up digital.”

Unlike generations that went before them, kids today don’t have to accommodate new technologies, they just absorb them. “Technology is like the air,” Tapscott said. “They don’t have to change anything, they just assimilate this whole experience.”

So what are the ramifications of this phenomenon?

As Tapscott points out, parents of today’s kids grew up as viewers in a oneway broadcast analogue world. Kids today, on the other hand, live in a digital, interactive world, where they’re users and initiators.

When kids are online they’re communicating, composing thoughts, searching, authenticating and telling stories. “It’s all a very active kind of engagement, compared to being an active recipient and watching the Mickey Mouse Club or Ed Sullivan,” Tapscott said.

Indeed, consultant Kate Baggott said the argument that today’s kids are less social or less likely to build relationships hasn’t proved true. “Kids spend their time together pursuing their interest in video games or the Internet,” she said.

“Teens and cellphones are a perfect example of the constant communication and socialization they’re involved in.”

The switch in focus from books and television to interactive media has brought about fundamental changes in the way kids communicate and process information. Indeed, the whole experience of youth has changed, with families and schools being the first to feel it.

In many families, the 11-year-old is now an expert in technology. “Kids are the systems administrators in houses across the nation,” Tapscott said. This reality is reflected in various television commercials where parents seek out their kids for computer help. Kids are also driving the use of technology. A recent Statistics Canada survey reported that 55 per cent of parents with home computers bought them specifically for their children.

Technical authority at schools has also changed—kids know more about computers, the biggest innovation in learning—than their teachers. In turn, technology has changed education models by allowing teachers to structure highly customized learning experiences rather than lecturing to transmit data.

Instead of sitting in class listening passively, kids are involved in more interaction, discussion and customized learning,Tapscott said.

Furthering the change
As the four- to 24-year-olds of today—a group of about eight million—move on to the workforce and marketplace and become completely empowered consumers, they’ll have an impact on these areas as well.

“They will change the marketplace, the corporation, and I think they’re going to have a big impact on government,” Tapscott said.

Young people have already changed many ideas about work and management.

The corporate view of the boss as an authority on everything isn’t always acceptable to a 24-year-old who has already been an authority on new technology.

This shift will lead to more networked models of work, more powerful work-learning environments— in essence then a more collaborative

Government will have to become more participative and interactive. The “new democracy” will have to include concepts such as digital brainstorming, deliberative polling, citizen juries, online discussion groups and other models that allow people to be engaged citizens
rather than passive recipients.

As people become less enamoured with new technologies they’ll also start thinking more about implications.

“Increasingly these young people, as they become young adults and have families, are going to have to [consciously] design their families,” Tapscott said.

Instead of relying on values handed down from the past, families of the future will have to decide which technologically influenced values to adopt. These will increasingly include issues of content-blocking software, authority, the blurring of work and leisure and the use of personal devices in public places.