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Monday, December 1, 2014

"Present", rather than talk to you kids

In my previous article on planning I joked about creating a PowerPoint presentation to explain to my kids the long term benefits of studying and doing well in school.  Maybe it should not have been a joke. My son (13) has had his own MacBook since grade 6 as required by the school.  He was using school computers and borrowed iPads in class from at least 5th grade (2011) and probably on and off even before then.  From the beginning of 2nd grade this year, my daughter will be required to bring her own iPad to school each day.  Currently in 1st grade they are already using borrowed ones to create eBooks out of their own stories.

There are many good reasons for learning the latest technology in schools.  In my day job as a recruiter, it is rare for me to see a resume that does not have the standard skills section at the bottom showing  the candidate's abilities to work with "Word, PowerPoint, and Excel".  It has become ubiquitous* enough that the lack of those three words in an application may disqualify a candidate for the job interview. Knowing your way around a computer is certainly a necessary business skill these days.  But, how is all this technology affecting the ways in which our kids communicate with people around them and how we as parents communicate with them?

Growing up, just about everything I learned came from a book or someone lecturing to me. Studying for a math test required a long night of flipping through the text book, writing out practice problems, and looking up examples and answers in the back.  In contrast, the other day I happened upon my son sitting at the dining table in front of his MacBook with his headphones. He was supposed to be doing his homework.  Prepared to swoop in and confiscate said headphones, I moved around to see what he was watching.  Instead of a game or movie, I saw that his browser was opened to YouTube and he was watching a video on how to solve equations for his upcoming algebra quiz.  I realized that this was not the first time I had seen him learning this way. Whereas I am much more likely to google something and then read about it on whatever site seems best, the 13 year old goes straight to YouTube and finds a video on the subject.

With the increase in both visual and interactive content our kids are absorbing everyday, is there any doubt as to why they find it both strenuous AND boring to read simple black text on white paper?  Do you remember how difficult it was to pay attention to your own parents when they were lecturing you?  Can we assume that our kids now find it even more painful to listen to us go on and on and on about studying, their future, responsibility, focus...?

What to do? I am seriously considering the purchase of a decent video camera so I can start marking entertaining YouTube videos of my oft* repeated lectures in the hopes that my kids will pay more attention to the screen than they do to me. Yes, seriously.  But I also believe there is something to be said for the physical presence and while YouTube is great, it is still passive and we do not get that interactive bit. The other idea I am thinking about is installing a giant white board on the wall in our dining room.  The kids all do their homework at the dining table and many of the discussions about report cards, relationships, and life in general happen there. Being able to illustrate our discussions might help the kids to stay on topic longer and therefore take more away from the conversations.  Hopefully more of what we want them to learn.

Now I just need to convince my wife that a giant white board would look nice in her dining room...

* My son sometimes reads these articles (even though they are not moving images) so I occasionally try to educate him with new vocabulary. 

  • ubiquitous: present, appearing, or found everywhere.
  • oft: archaic, poetic/literary, or jocular form of often. 

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