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Connected Mother/Connected Educator #CE12

Before I was a Connected Educator... I was a Connected Mom. 

I think I've written before about my October Moms, but a visit with my friend Rabecca earlier this week has reminded me of just how important this group has been to my understanding of connectedness and frankly, to maintaining my sanity as a parent!

In early 1999, I stumbled upon a section of America Online called Parent Soup and found message boards devoted to the parenting of babies. I joined the October 1998 Moms board as I was staying at home with my then newborn daughter, Julia. This incredibly active board was comprised of 50-75 mothers from all walks of life who had had children during that particular month. Many of these moms had been members of the board while pregnant with their children, too.

If only I had known about this support earlier! I found our message board to be a complete lifesaver. I had no clue about parenting a newborn and little support from family, particularly since my own mother was fairly troubled and unable to teach me much. This Parent Soup message board, though, allowed me to ask questions and read the dilemmas of other moms and this opened up my world.  We discussed (and sometimes fought passionately) about everything from diaper cream to co-sleeping to breastfeeding. We shared recipes, coupons and book titles as we sought to find the best resources for our families. Two October moms made me beautiful baby blankets when my second child, Henry, was born.  This wonderful synergy went on for several years until, I think, Parent Soup was acquired by iVillage, the boards changed, and we sort of dispersed.

There was a gap of a few years, from what I recall, but I stayed in touch with four moms in particular... Kim from Cleveland, Suzie from St. Louis, Rabecca from Seattle, and Sarah from New York. More October moms have popped up on Facebook, so I'm still in touch with others as well. I've had the opportunity to meet all of my core October mom friends at least once, sometimes with our children in tow and sometimes not. (I wonder if our kids really know the extent of our friendships.) Suzie, most notably, surprised me in my office at the University of Chicago a few years ago as she happened to be on campus while taking her oldest son on a college tour! Suzie, by the way,  is also now an educator and it's been really fun to trade stories and resources with her. 

On Tuesday night this week, I had a four hour layover in Seattle and put it out there on Facebook. I hadn't planned ahead obviously and didn't expect Rabecca to come entertain me during my down time at the airport, but she immediately jumped in her car and joined me for a glass of wine (or maybe it should be "whine" :) ) As I looked at her and listened to her discuss our latest parenting conundrums, I was amazed at how we could pick up in person just like that, and that we had been conversing in one forum or another for about 14 years. Some may dispute the value of online friendships, but I think this new form of friendship is very real and to me, very important. Just as we educators advocate for "highly connected and qualified teachers", we should also be advocating for "highly connected parents". Parents who know how to leverage data, resources and relationships at their fingertips to be the best possible advocates for their children. I've also learned from my October mom friends to be more tolerant, empathetic and less judgemental. None of us are probably leading perfect lives with perfect children, marriages, and the like, but we are leading better lives, I'm convinced, because we have each other for support. If only other moms in the world had the opportunities that we've had.

So, this is a shout out to all my October Mom friends, and to Suzie, Rabecca, Kim, and Sarah in particular... thanks for all that you do and please always know that you've meant a great deal to me. To my fellow educators in celebration of Connected Educator Month, if you're not convinced that connecting on a professional level will make you a better educator, think about connecting to a community based on your personal interests and needs and then perhaps you'll see the value professionally as well. October Moms started it all for me.









Plant Digital Content

SciQ - Download SciQ on iTunes.
Both of my kids are consumers of digital content and have access to a plethora of a devices that play this content. Henry (age 8) has an iPod Touch, Julia (age 12) has an iPhone, and we now have 2 iPads that we share. Our iMac is set up in our living room and is the main hub for our downloads. It's not unusual to catch one of my kids curled up in a chair in front of the computer as if it were a TV.

I've also found that my kids get resistant to trying apps and videos that I download for them IF I try to watch or play with them. If it's my suggestion, it just doesn't hold as much weight with them as if they found it on their own. So, the discovery approach works much better with them. I find content related to their interests and what they are studying in school, and put it on our various devices. At some point, they are likely to stumble upon this stuff and then they dig in to explore. 

Henry, particularly, is very into watching educational videos. For instance, he loves watching National Geographic produced content on Netflix which we have set up on our Wii, our iMac and on our mobile devices. He also loves Smithsonian Kid videos download from iTunes. In fact, a few years ago, he declared he wanted to see the golden lion tamarin monkeys who live in the National Zoo and were featured in one episode. We recently fulfilled his dream and visited them in person on our recent trip to Washington, DC. The one thing that I've wanted to instill the most in my children is a love of learning, so when they get excited about things like this, I feel like I'm doing my job.

A few months ago while searching iTunes for science content as I'm working on a project aligning digital materials to an existing science curriculum, I downloaded a few episodes from iTunes from a show called SciQ. I've never seen this on TV and apparently it's provided the Smithsonian. I haven't actually watched an episode yet, but Henry found a bug episode today and was enthralled. He called me over to watch a segment on hissing cockroaches who are used to drive robots; it was fascinating and hilarious. The host's personality as well as the editing make this a very engaging show, and I thought I'd take a minute to recommend it here. You can buy the entire series of videos or rent individual ones in standard definition; I'm buying individual episodes in higher definition as I think Henry will watch these over and over again.

In terms of classroom use, think about set up a center in your classroom where kids can watch videos such as these. Use a multi-jack headphone splitter such as Belkin's Rockstar so that multiple kids can plug in and watch from the same device. Also, if you're looking for free resources, check out the Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman (also TV episodes are available for purchase) and Dragonfly TV podcasts.

My Reaction to Apps Push Parents’ Buttons - The Boston Globe

Apps push parents’ buttons - The Boston Globe.

Here's an interesting article that's been posted in my Facebook feed several times today. My first reactions:
1. Parents need to set limits with everything... the use of devices such as iPhones or iPads included. New devices, same old parenting issues. 

I struggle with this all the time, but I know I bear the ultimate responsibility for my kids' overusing devices. Maybe I should start using a timeout app. My daughter, Julia, told me a few months ago to stop putting educational apps on her iPhone. Hah, I'll just replace those with this app with a tantruming kid graphic.

2. I'm not particularly cautious parent when it comes to apps my kids try out, but then again I'm not likely to have questionable apps on my computer in the first place. I usually buy apps upon recommendations and let my kids go to town with them. I'm actually interested in seeing what grabs their attention. My attitude may lead to problems, buyer beware, see #4.


3. That said, the author of this article could have done a deeper dive into this topic. I agree that it's difficult to navigate the iTunes Store which recently hit 10 billion downloads. App curation is a need, but there are many sites and blogs devoted to app reviews and children's media. If parents need help with this, my immediate recommendations would be Common Sense Media's mobile app section, Appolicious, and iEAR. The author of this blog friended me tonight in Facebook, and it looks like a good read, too.


If parents don't know how to find resources such as this, try entering the terms KIDS APP REVIEWS into a Google search and a plethora of resources will magically appear.
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4. I agree that parents need to be aware of in-app purchases. I'm embarrassed to admit that we had a fiasco in our house involving an app called Bakery Story. My 8 year old son purchased nearly $700 worth of gems through this game. iTunes refunded this unauthorized purchase, thank goodness. I am not the only parent this happen to; check out this article.
During this debacle, I also learned that you can turn off the ability to make in-app purchases. Go to your device's settings, then General, Restrictions, Scroll down to Allowed Content and turn off In-App Purchases. You also might want to look at the rating settings movies, music, podcasts, TV shows, and apps. If you really want to control things, you can also turn off the ability to play multiplayer games and adding friends. 


5. The article also mentions an app from National Geographic called Ultimate Dinotopia which we purchased last week. While my son Henry enjoyed it, I was disappointed. I haven't investigated its origins, but it seems like NG just dumped a print book into digital form and added a couple of slightly interactive features. A much more impressive app based on a book is Animalia. There is a version for iPhones and another for iPads.


6. There are more than 90 comments on this article, many of which are fairly harsh about technology. My stance on this is that iPads are the way of the future of learning; we've only just started to dig into its possibilities. 

From my own use and from observing my children interact with content on various Apple devices, I understand how personal the experiences can be. From choosing content to saving content to editing and creating content, it's a device that lends itself to personalization. 

For instance, I've become a fan of not only reading e-books on my iPad, but of searching, highlighting and taking notes within digital books. I can't imagine kids having sustained, deep connections with books by highlighting and note taking if they had to share an iPad in a class or within a family. Yes, you can have connections to print books in the same way, but you can't search them as efficiently in print nor can you carry around the same amount of print books that you can store digitally on an iPad.  


If the price of iPads comes down or I win the lottery, whichever comes first, I will be purchasing iPads for each of my kids. I don't see this as a luxury, but as a necessity. I also don't think people will fully understand this until they have the opportunity to explore iPads in-depth.