Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



What do you want to do when you grow up?

And how can I, your mother, help you achieve it?
I’ve been toying with this discussion for the past couple of weeks, after being approached by one of the TV networks, who’re doing a series of reports on the topic. Tying education to it all brought them to my doorstep.

So I asked my kids this very important question. The 16 year old said “I want to eat”. A very typical answer from a 16 year old, who just wants to… well, eat. The 12 year old said “I haven’t got a clue”. The 19 year old said what she has always said “I want to be a physicist” which in her case means a lot more than a single occupation.

So what’s my role in their future? To open as many options as possible before them.
Going a little deeper into the conversation, the 12 year old admitted he wants to save whales and other endangered species. Something he has been talking about since he was 4 years old. The 16 year old expanded to “I want to be happy” and then said that currently the 3 most important and enjoyable areas in his life are music, games and food and “I’d like to develop some concept venture to put all those together into the best hanging out place in the world”. And my oldest, in between tests and studies she’s developing at least 2 startup ideas, following the previous venture, Globalvert, an organization to push forward the study of Algae as an alternative energy source.

What we all have in common is entrepreneurship. The urge to solve, innovate, create.

Several months ago I met with a wonderful entrepreneur and a business man. After sharing his rather apocalyptic view about the deterioration in entrepreneurship and number of entrepreneurs he shared a plan he has of adding a set of topics to pre-school classes, to train the minds of the 3-4-5 year old and develop them into our future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is at the very basis of sustaining the human race, with the ongoing depletion of resources on earth”, he explained, “We are dependent on those who will become entrepreneurs in 30 years and their breakthrough ventures”.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship and the need in entrepreneurs. But while he’d start with external enrichment classes, I would much rather work with the teachers and educators first. With the correct state of mind and a basic set of tools they can achieve much more than any fantastic “thought shaping” “mind developing” external content that hosts an hour a week.

This state of mind is the one I’m struggling for at home. Trying to keep doors open, or at least within reach. Keeping the creative vibe going. Being attentive to my kids’ interests and passions, putting those well ahead of any concepts of “should and shouldn’t”, but not striking off rules. And, not ignoring society’s high road called “schooling” although sometimes I wish I could.

By now I have a 19 year old student at a university, a 16 year old in high school and a 12 year old in elementary school. I’m counting 28 years in the schooling system as a mother. I must admit that even though all three of my kids enjoy what constitutes the best to elite schooling in Israel, I’m generally dissatisfied with the education system. It’s the same disappointing system worldwide but it doesn’t make me happier. As a parent I am doing my best to offer the widest possibilities to my kids. However, the schooling system limits them.

What’s happening to my brilliant girl at the Nobel Prize winners’ academic institute reminds me of what happened to my wide eyed youngest in first grade. From the shining smile, sheer excitement and hopeful dreams of knowledge and exploration down to a thin reality of memorization and teachers’ mind-reading. She might be better equipped today to deal with it, looking at it as just a phase to go through, it still feels like a system putting you down.

And so does the whole testing system I’m going through, for the second time as a parent, with my high schooler. “Teaching? I wish I could teach”, one of his gifted teachers told me, a fantastic creative and beloved teacher, “I’m not teaching, I’m prepping for exams”.

So back to “what are we doing to help our kids prepare for a vague future we have no way of predicting?”. One thing is for sure, 3 years wasted on test preparations hardly contribute to it. Education must develop a stronger affinity to the entrepreneurship state of mind if we want it to contribute to our future. To be blunt, for a period in history lead by the workmen, the manufacturing line approach to education was fine. For an era lead by entrepreneurs – education needs to be recreated as something else, something different, some fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.


Test All Mathematicians in Music Performance First

My boy is 15 years old, going on 10th grade next year, and he is one of those lucky people who have that mix of ADHD and Giftedness. So up to a certain point his giftedness got him through without drugs. Lately it’s not working that well.

He studies at the Jazz department of the lucrative National High School For the Arts here in Israel, plays the trumpet. Only unlike most accepted players, he joined with a little less experience… well, a lot less. One year less than the minimum usually required and no orchestra experience. He only decided he is into Jazz about 2-3 months before the audition. His trumpet teacher nearly had a fit when the kid announced he needed 2 pieces for the audition. Yet, somehow he got in.

High school is a lot different than what he had experienced before. Especially since he moved from the incubator called “a class for gifted” to a “high school for excellence in arts”. Those are the top of the top of young artists in Israel and the school has a reputation to maintain.

Now think ADHD.

It’s a struggle, and with drugs or without them, it’s still a struggle. Too many topics, too many demands, too many expectations. And, in a recent talk with the school the topic of Math came up. And I was asked what I think is the worst case scenario in terms of my son and his matriculation exams… hint hint … Math. I said, well matriculations exams don’t matter to me. Least of all math.

This is a reply that puzzles school officials. The school is first and foremost to provide the kids with the matriculation certificate, sort of a Baccalaureate, SATs or similar and parallels. This school throws in exams in arts topics too. And here I am saying all I really care about is that my kid gets to experience his arts, learn and develop with his chosen form of arts – Jazz music, and have fun with his friends – and really, honestly, I swear, I do not care one bit about his success in math.mathtrumpet

In fact, I care about math being removed from high school obligatory topics for matriculation. Remove it from high school graduation certificate altogether. I think math, in the level they require here (yes, I am talking about the minimal level) is just too much. I really don’t believe that solving equations is that important for the life of my son, whether he chooses to be a jazz musician, an illustrator, a chef, a game designer or any other profession he might be fantasizing on now or in the future when this profession will pop up. You know why?

You can solve your equations on Google. Or this app or the other. And if you want to test my son’s skills in coping with the demands of the real world, let him take the test at home, with Google access and a 24 hour time limit. That’s the only way to convince me there’s any point in testing this or any connection between the test and the real world these kids are growing into.
No? So leave him alone. If you can’t force the mathematicians to take tests in Trumpet playing, you shouldn’t force the trumpet players to test in math.

SXSWedu 2013: Here Comes the Parents’ Voice

Oh my G! What did I do? I really want to speak, carry my thoughts and ideas about education and spread those ideas. Grow this conversation. Who knows, perhaps even make a difference, drive a change.

So I proposed a short talk to SXSWedu.  After browsing topics and proposal and previous years talks and other edu conferences panels I decided that the best contribution I can make to this event is to voice parents.kiriatiAtSXSWedu

In this oh so exciting conversation about the education reform that every country in the world is apparently going through, and that promise of a true revolution carried from stage to stage, there’s has been very little space left in the conversation for parents.

I hear amazing teachers, inspiring principals and administrators, great innovators, researchers, consultants, advisors, politicians. All or most are representing the revolutionized education system. The promises. Some, of course, are also parents. But it’s not the parents they are representing.

I want to voice the parents.

If I could, I’d voice the students too. I’d bring them along.

It’s like trying to draw a triangle using only one line and one angle.

Earlier this year I’ve had the pleasure of listening to almost 70 parents in one classroom voicing their educational vision in a meeting with the class’ new head teacher. I wrote about one surprise wish here.

But I’ve been talking with so many people, from all sides of the system. And kids too. And although this is not a scientific nor an academic research, I have to draw some conclusions.

I think teaching is one of the most challenging professions existing today. More than anything it is challenging because teachers are experiencing an earth quake in classrooms like no one else. Expectations are sky rocketing, but systems are so limiting.

And that’s why they find themselves too often in a battle against demanding and misunderstood parents. There are just too many wants, too different demands coming in, from too many directions.

Now, tell me, what do parents want???

You can post your answer here or join the conversation on Quora

Here’s a podcast of the actual talk: I will be happy to hear what you think.

That (ADHD) Epidemic Again

To write or not to write, that is the question. But I am writing out of a sense that this needs to be shared. It really does. My son agrees with me and gave me his consent.

There are so many parents in a similar position and many many more kids who find themselves in this place, similar to my son’s.

He is almost 15 years old. He was diagnosed as a gifted child a little more than 7 years ago, when he was going from 1st grade to 2nd grade. At the same time he was diagnosed as ADD, and last year it was changed to ADHD.

So we already know he is a smart kid. Over the past 3 years he’s been using Ritalin on and off, mainly for exams and was doing more than OK in school, at the special class for the gifted. But Ritalin made him feel sick most of the time and we decided it’s time to question the treatment and took him off it several months ago.

Let me tell you that he is a happy kid, he loves to laugh and to make other people laugh. He is very sociable, always has some good friends around. He likes sports, especially soccer and used to do Capoeira too. He likes to travel and loves to eat and cook (when I let him). He is a very creative artist. Been drawing and photographing since a very young age and he is also very musical. He is now in his 5th year playing the trumpet.

Which brings me to the recent story. 3 months ago he started 9th grade in this very lucrative high school – The National High School for the Arts “Thelma Yellin”, as a trumpet player in the Jazz department. The school year started just wonderful. Everything excited him – from the new students he befriended, to the teachers who seem kind and caring, to the whole “Fame” like atmosphere the school offers.

But while this school offers a lot it demands no less. The current class system comprises of 8 core topics (like math, English, history, chemistry etc.) and 5 Jazz topics, from The History of Jazz to Improvisation. That’s 12 different topics to master. That’s a lot. And it’s especially a lot for an ADHD student.

While ADHD people have more receptors open and apparently can grasp more than the average person, a lot of what their mind grasps is irrelevant information, or “noise”. The noisier their environment the more noise – exponentially they are grasping, and the less relevant information stays in.

That is, of course, where Sir Ken Robinson’s words echo in my brain. Are we having a global ADHD epidemic??

Epidemic or no epidemic we are sitting with our son at the teacher-parents conference. The teacher nods her head and points to the low grades our son has achieved this semester. It’s very strange, given his IQ, she says, not in these words exactly. And then the motivational talk is directed at my son. She’s really nice, and I am sure he is not the first ADHD student to have passed under her wings. Still the words come out: “You must try harder” – and I see how his eyes are getting narrower. “You must concentrate”, his shoulders sink. “You need to think what can improve your performance in the classroom”, or something similar and I feel the lump in my throat and the humidity in my eyes.

“He can’t”, I say. “It’s not a decision he can make. It’s not an action to perform.” And I am thinking about this epidemic. “It’s like an illness or a handicap.” (Would you ask a kid to be taller so he can score better in Basketball?)

The teacher looks at me. She seems surprised. More at herself than at me, or perhaps I am imagining it. “Yes, I know”, she smiles an understanding smile: Illnesses are treated with medicines.

And so once again I find myself at this crossroad, where in order to allow my son to grow and develop and learn in the school he desires and deserves – I must sedate him. Is he going to need Ritalin to thrive in the real world? For higher education? Would he need Ritalin to work with his fellow band players? At which point does the ADHD ceases to be an epidemic and continues to be an evolution? And how much of this epidemic is caused by outdated education systems?

Schoolyear: A Good Start

Two whole months into the school year and I must say something. So here it comes. I have two boys in school this year, as my daughter has graduated high school last year. Now I have one son who has started high school this year (9th grade), and my youngest son, who is now in 5th grade.

The new high school is so different from the one I encountered with my daughter! There are some obvious reasons, but some are really a matter of choice. A management choice.

My 14 year old son is going to Thelma Yellin High National School of the Arts. By the looks of it you could not suspect that this is one of the most lucrative schools in Israel, or that it is private. It’s an old building with crumbling trailers as classrooms. But who cares? Certainly not the people who go there. The creative atmosphere is strongly felt through sounds and sights. But it’s also felt through the teachers, staff and management attitude.

The grading system is different. Grades will go up, for instance. Not something you see every day when they’re all doing average. “We want the students to be happy”, said to me one of the consultants, not a slogan. Really meant it. For a change I don’t feel like I am forced into a combat for my kid’s survival or dignity. It’s built into the system. There’s still a long way to go. I know. But at least it’s a good start.

My youngest is into his second year at the Waldorf Education school. It’s 5th grade and I am terribly impressed by the way they chose to introduce one of the more important learning skills. They have started this year with stories the teacher is telling from the mythologies of India, Persia & Babylon. He has been telling the story and the kids are to write the story in their notebooks and decorate them with illustrations. They can add descriptions and scenes that they come up with to enrich the stories, if they wish. But they have to listen, memorize, summarize, write and visualize. Not easy or simple. But the skill is so valuable and so well developed through these tasks.

Now to end this hard work the class has went on a 3 days field trip. Slept in tents, walked tens of kilometers, met with elders who shared their stories about the history of the country and the region. Learned discipline, nature, history and fraternity. Aren’t these skills as important to any child’s future?

Let Them Be Bored

“Let them be bored, teach them how to make it through boring stuff”.
I think that was the most interesting request I have ever heard a parent ask a teacher before. It came partly as a comment to me saying that my greatest expectation of my young son’s school is that he will learn how to learn.

The conversation took place in the first meeting of the parents in my son’s 5th grade with the new class teacher. In this introductory meeting he asked each of the nearly 70 parents that gathered in the classroom to describe their education vision, wishes, hopes and expectations of the school. It’s a Waldorf school and many of the parents said they chose this school simply because they hated the alternative – the “regular” school system. But listening to each one describe a vision was interesting and inspiring. Parents aren’t asked often enough this very clear and simple question. I have 24 school years of parenting behind me (12 of my daughter, 8 of one son and 4 of the other son) and this was the first time. Learning what members of this community are expecting lay the foundation for a supportive community for the joint ride to education and scholarship.

“Learning how to learn is important and valuable”, this father continued my thread, “but while we teach our kids the process of learning, they must also learn how to cope with the boring side of it, the tedious tasks: they can’t expect everything to be interesting and attractive all the time”.

It got me thinking. I thought about all the times I hear or read about engagement in the classroom. All the intensive dealing with using technology in the classroom, so that kids will have an interesting time and action packed learning experience. We often get out of our minds in that effort to make the schooling experience so rich. Anything to keep them in the process.

But the basis of learning is a human need. Like we need food and drink and love, we also need to learn. At early childhood it is a survival instinct. How many times would the baby try to walk and fall until he gets it? Or the toddler repeats the stacking of building blocks until he figures out the right way to do it without them falling? Hear any complaints about the process? I don’t think so. Do parents interfere in that process, or work hard to make it more interesting?

So what happens when our kids get to school? To be perfectly honest – boring happens. Boring takes over. The balance between boring and tedious on one hand and rewarding or satisfying on the other hand is broken. Getting a smiley sticker on the notebook isn’t a reward worthy the investing of a whole hour in solving arithmetic exercises. This doesn’t feel like a rewarding experience. My daughter, Shai, thinks that sometimes the clear path or a result, conclusion or some other grand finale, can also make for a rewarding or gratifying experience. But it’s the little tedious tasks you do with no clear vision of where it is leading you, or when will it end, that earn the title “boring” and end up detestable.

On a slightly different note: we got a dog last week. Her trainer works with the positive dog training method. So each task the dog does to our satisfaction earn it a big reward, either in the form of something to chew or in the form of love demonstrations. It’s amazing to see how quickly this young dog learns through a simple promise of a rewarding experience.

I’m Back In High School !!

Last week I had a nightmare and woke up in cold sweat. I dreamt that I was forced to go back to high school and re-do my matriculation exams. I don’t think I would have been that frightened if I had dreamt of being sentenced to jail. And in a way, I feel I am partly there, doing my high school the second time around, due to my high identification with my daughter’s experience in high school.

If there’s something I regret, now that she is in 12th grade, about to finish it in 5 months is that I let her do the whole 4 years in high school. That I insisted, when she was in 9th grade and then when she was in 10th grade, that this is an important experience, that she doesn’t need to rush to university, that she must preserve her last bit of childhood by being a high school student and that high school bears some social meaning too. When she was in 11th grade it seems simply silly to leave school, she was halfway with her matriculation exams. But regrets keep growing. I guess she had to pay the price of being a first born.

In retrospect I realize that high school, like university, like any other form or frame, isn’t made for everyone, doesn’t always fit. For her it was totally redundant. She could have finished all of her matriculation exams with a perfect score independent of high school, would have done it much better and much quicker. Not wasting time in a classroom where a teacher is standing up dictating a book to the students. Her social circles have very little to do with her high school. In fact, most of her friends are from other high schools in the area. Her last childhood years, which I was so anxious for her to preserve, have been lost in favor of excessive homework assignments, too much time in the classroom and redundant tests. She barely has time left to play her music, read her favorite books, do her D&D, travel, party or simply have fun and relax. Why did I insist she stay in high school??

Now my son is about to finish 8th grade and we have started to search for the perfect high school for him. He is different from her, but I can’t help that sense that here I am about to do high school for the third time around!

We are looking for an arts high school for him. There are a couple of those in the vicinity, both with great reputations. One is the National High School of Arts (free translation from Hebrew). Considered “national” means that it gets its budget from the state and not from the city where it is located. Parents are requested to pay higher fees, yet the infrastructure is relatively bad reflecting in the very old and neglected buildings. The second high school we visited is the Tel-Aviv High School of Arts – a high school which enjoys high budgets from the city and presents a very high standard of buildings and equipments. It’s the visit in that second school that brought up the nightmare again.

The first school prides itself in having a reasonable table of classes – about 45 a week, out of which 15 are dedicated to the arts classes and 30 to the ‘regular’ subjects – to complete the matriculation exams. The second high school offers 12 hours a week dedicated to arts studies, and about 50 more dedicated to the ‘regular’ subjects. Both schools show great results in matriculation exams and the only question I am left with is – how does this school achieve it with 30 hours a week, and the other requires almost 50.

When I asked one of the school representatives about it she said “but the kids love it here!”. She then asked one of the senior year students to tell me and he said: “yes, we spend here long days, but we love it here”. How about life outside school? – I asked. “Well, we live our lives in school”, he confirmed. “This is it”.
I thought this to be sad. I mean, it’s nice that if you have to spend such long hours – sometimes 8 AM till 6 PM and more – at least you spend those hours in a friendly, pleasant and interesting environment – but don’t kids deserve to have some life outside school?? Is this what we have reduced their childhood to – School and tests??

I try to push aside my expected 4th time in high school. My youngest son is only in 4th grade. Looking at him I think he might not go to high school at all. He is the type who can do it his way. With grand plans – since he was 5 years old – to save whales and endangered species – high school will be a setback.

My Old High School
My Old High School

Why does it have to be like that? Why are high schools all about matriculation exams – SATs – Baccalaureate instead about knowledge and growth? and some childhood time…

It’s been several years since I graduated from high school… I am asking myself could I have evolved and be what I am today if I hadn’t finished high school, and it was during a much more conservative era. The answer is – yes. I started my writing career when I was very young. Not relating to the books I wrote (and never attempted to publish) when I was 10 and 14, at the age of 15 I was already a paid journalist. My grade at the “written expression skills” matriculation exams was somewhere around 60-70 percent. No one had ever asked me about it.

Saying Thanks

I admire the Thanksgiving concept. Really, having a holiday dedicated to saying thanks and being appreciative of what you have is really a fantastic idea. Too often we find ourselves busy with what we don’t have, haven’t yet achieved, what we’re mad about and miss a lot. We talk about what frustrates us, or makes us sad or angry, and don’t stop enough to note what’s making us happy, what causes laughter, what gives us pleasure.

So here’s what I am grateful for:
I am grateful for our health, my family and mine. I am thankful for our home, food and cloths. I appreciate every minute we have as a family, whether traveling or spending a restful weekend at home. I am thankful when I see my kids smiling and happy. I share their joy when they complete a drawing, play a musical instrument or read a book under the duvet.
I am grateful that my husband is happy and healthy and I am thankful every time he makes me laugh. Thanks for my growing family, nephews and nieces, new sister-in-law and everyone’s happy moments. Thanks for every moment of interest, and being busy. It what makes getting up in the morning worth it.

Thank you all for this feeling that the world is changing, and I am taking a part in the change, even if it’s only a small part.
Thanks for reaching out and joining hands from across the world. I have readers from the US, Russia, the UK, Canada, India, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France, the Philippines, Ukrain, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Taiwan, The Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Brazil, Pakistan, Turkey, Singapore and so many more… It feels like we’re all in it together. Thanks for global fraternity.

What are you thankful for?

Travels With My Family – Part II

With A Camper In New England

It was a first attempt, and a pretty good experience. We decided to rent a camper for our long route through New England. This turned out to be a really smart decision. We had all the convenience of, well, a small mobile home really. The camper felt nicer, better equipped and safer then the Airbnb rental we had experienced in New York the week before. Comfy beds, kitchen and bathroom travelling with us everywhere… And the kids being able to switch seats, and not be pressed together most of the time was one of the best features.

We prepared a long route and based our timing on references made by other travelers before us. But we hadn’t taken into consideration how slow we are in getting organized in the mornings, or how many times the iGo GPS will lead us through the wrong route. We had extended our camper rental for a day, and we still didn’t get enough of the beautiful New England views, sites and towns.

The worst of this part was my 9 year old breaking his arm. We took him to the wonderful Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and he got his arm in cast. He was particularly disturbed by not being able to draw and not having the chance to see whales, since we had to continue south, towards the next site on our route. On the bright side, the cast is coming off next week and the whole thing has been marked as just one more experience.

I think perhaps one of the best days of this tour was our visit to Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth New Hampshire on the very day they had a harvest festival. We enjoyed the shepherd dogs demonstrations most of all and got very excited by the whole happy atmosphere.

Museums With Kids

It amazes me when people say that “New York is not for kids”. What do you mean? I ask, what about all the museums?

For some reason most teen-parents we spoke with think a family vacation is Disneyland oriented, totally dismissing museums and defining them as “boring for kids”. This was never the case with my kids. Not that they don’t like Disneyland. They did. Still, with all the excitement we had experienced in Paris 2 years ago, I am not sure where they got more excited – at Disneyland or in the Louvre. We almost got kicked out at closing time, the kids simply refused to leave.

Similarly we had this fantastic experience now in New York. Two visits to the Natural History Museum, one to the Metropolitan and one to the fantastic (wish we had time to go back) MOMA. Why would anyone think this could be boring is beyond me. Each museum is like an expedition of something new, surprising, exciting or beautiful.

My 13 year old son is an amateur photographer, with way too simple cameras, and he collected many of his impressions through the lens of our old mini Cannon. We really should get him a serious camera (recommendations welcome).

Travels With My Family – Part I

Repeating Experiences

When my daughter was 12 years old we took a vacation together in London. This was our first ever mother-daughter vacation, and it was great. It wasn’t only a 5 day vacation. It was the foundation of phase two relationships between mother and daughter.

We strengthened it two and a half years later, taking a 2 week vacation to spend time in New York, Washington and Boston.

This fall we decided to take a family vacation in the US. Packed the family – one husband, one 17 year old daughter, one 13 year old son and one 9 year old son and went for the longest vacation we ever dared to take: 23 days. Some of it was re-visiting places for me and my daughter.

Revisiting has its own charm. The exchange of meaningful looks between us girls, or the enthusiastic chase towards a familiar site we visited 3 years ago. But most of all, it is so important to know you can return. That good times, or good vacations, aren’t a “once in a lifetime” occurrence. It’s so good to know you can do it again.

We also had a chance to improve on another experience. This time I haven’t lost her on the subway. She took her travels freely and happily to meet us at the Metropolitan Museum one morning. That one was for me…

In the movies

I had full intention of sharing my travel log with my readers. But too many things prevented it from happening. To count only a couple – lack of internet connectivity throughout most of our vacation, and me getting really sick for a big chunk of it.

So I’m left with bits and pieces. My 13 year old, on a first glimpse of Manhattan, 6AM, from the taxi riding into town said “I feel like I’m in a movie”, which became this vacation’s slogan.

We had the privilege to celebrate Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, twice – once at my brother’s apartment in Manhattan, and on the following night with their kind friends at their apartment not far from there. People tourism is the best type of tourism. The kind that fills you with real excitement or revelations. And having that privilege of being invited to join a festive meal with people we met for the first time was moving. Thanks Dara and Seth Kessler. More to follow.

Rosh HaShana Desert

School Year, Fall 2011

This September is very eventful. The ongoing social demonstrations and protests across the country continue. The school year opened. The Palestinians intend to declare their independent state. A game, from Israel, “Shaker” won Techcrunch Distrupt in San Francisco. Saveby has launched and running a successful alpha version. And by the end of the month we, that is myself, hubby and kids, are on our way to a first ever family vacation in the US.

There were so many topics to write about, I just kept starting and never got to finish any of my posts.

New School Year
My eldest daughter has started her last year of high school. All education revolutions we are talking about for the past 3-4 years will have no effect on her. I just hope some changes will happen before her future born kids will begin their own schooling.

My son started 8th grade, which is the last year of elementary school here; next year he is starting high school. This year he will choose a high school, and hopefully will be accepted into any program he chooses. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about? Opening as many options to our kids? This year is so crucial that we have jointly decided to give Ritalin a chance. A bit sad, in my view, that a child needs to be sedated in order to make it through a school year. But the effort to keep up without it has become a real burden. Grades are just too important this year.

My youngest joined a new school this year. For him we chose a Waldorf Education  school, fortunately not too far from home. He is still hanging to his skepticism about “any school ever fitting” his state of mind regarding education.

Shaking Disrupt
I was very excited at the winning of Shaker at the Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Not only because it’s one more representation of the startup nation, coming from Israel, but because it is a game.

The gaming (not to be confused with gambling) industry is moving forward big time. From the launch of Maple Story, to the launch of Q2L, a public middle school in NYC dedicated to games and game development, and now the winning at Techcrunch of an entertainment feature. Not technical, not tool, not another commercial innovation – all those are great, and fantastic, and every new idea is exciting, but the winning of this game puts another crown on the head of this industry. “People want to have fun”, I told a colleague who was wondering about this choice. “And it’s time we acknowledge this need across the board. From the obvious social networking, to other aspects of life, like education systems (yes, that again) and you know what? even health systems. We Want Fun!!”.

Shaker holds a tremendous promise and great potential for many other industries, way beyond Facebook. I really hope I get to meet with these guys soon and share some thoughts with them. Congratulation Ofer Rundstein, Yonatan Maor and Gad Maor.

Saveby a Totally Different Way
Saveby is my own startup, on which I am slaving for the past year with my co-founder, Yoav Perry. After a lot of research and development we released our alpha version and sent out alpha codes to willing participants across the US.

Saveby is the self-service group-shopping platform where parents from across the web -who are interested in the same product, band together to get it at group discount. Merchants accept these group offers to get volume sales.

Saveby is NOT another daily coupon, local deal or private sales site. It is not a middleman, haggler or merchant. It is simply a platform where parents can form or join group offers for the things they want -and have quality merchants accept their offer. Saveby is free to use. Payments are processed securely with PayPal. We really aim to disrupt current ecommerce by finding a real way to restore the power of the masses, the shoppers, to their hands.

Merchants are only happy to participate: “it’s our turn to sit back and relax and get best deals offered into our inboxes”. So this can really be the breakthrough ecommerce needs now. If you want an alpha invite too – let me know.

Launching the alpha isn’t a simple task. And it is especially complicated when half of the company isn’t located where the market it. But that’s how things are at the moment, while we’re still bootstrapping.

The idea about an “alpha” stage is that it isn’t perfect. Our alpha testers are people who have agreed to help us make the suit fit better. They take the time to share their feedback with us, make suggestions, try it and of course – tell others about it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some alpha participants for taking the time to go over the system with us: Josh Becker @DadStreet, Jim Turner @genuine, Amit Knaani @amitos from Vikido and BabyFirstTV, Aparna Vashisht-Rota @parentella and many more. I hope to meet face to face with some of my favorite parent bloggers during my visit to the US (starting next week) and introduce the system to more alpha testers. Next stage will take us to a full commercial testing.

A First Ever US Family Vacation
Vacation? Now?? Indeed this sounds strange. Who has the time to take a vacation during an startup launch?? Well, apparently we do. Even startup founders need to take some time to breathe and relax and renew. My kids and hubby deserve some quality mom time. Of course this cost mom a lot of hours in planning, reserving, ordering, arranging (getting a house sitter…)… And did I mention I intend to use some NY time to meet with my favorite business and blogging connections face to face? Let me know if you want in my schedule, between a sea of museums my kids (yes, it is them) insist on visiting. Oh, and recommendations are welcome.

Building a Community of Responsible Parents

It’s an endless effort, building a community. I’ve been at it for months now. Bootstrapping our startup, Saveby, means it’s up to us, two founders, to fulfill at least 6 positions in it. If that sounds difficult consider the fact those two founders are at two different time zones, 7 hours apart. We do our best to divide responsibility, and sometimes we get help from our good friends and excellent connections. Still, launching a public alpha is not all excitement. It’s stress too.

Saveby is a self service group shopping platform. It enables consumers to create or join their own dream deals. Who deserves this service more than parents, embarking on the new parenting shopping cart for the first time?? Or the second… or third… That’s why we decided to launch our service to parents, in the US, who are hoping to get the best baby gear for their kids and still maintain a solid college fund. How about that?

Most of our efforts nowadays are dedicate to establishing communications with such parents throughout the US. We discover meetup groups, forums, blogs. But mostly we discover people and that makes our work so much more interesting and fun.

If you are a parent and you want access to our alpha stage, please comment below and don’t forget to include your real email (it’s never public). We’ll get personally in touch.
To further support us – follow our twitter, like our facebook and you can join the new “Saveby for Parents” group on Facebook too.

Startup life: It’s a family effort

One month into the summer vacation and the kids are pretty busy. They keep themselves occupied, they don’t get bored, and they seem to be really happy with their freedom. I get to see them during meal times mostly. They don’t complain, yet I can’t escape the guilty feeling that’s creeping on me: What a terrible mom, not dedicating quality time to my kids during their summer vacation.

At the height of it, when I finally decided to take an hour off emailing and social networking to play a board game with my 9 year old son, he accepted me with a hug. Enhancing that guilty feeling.

But they know, and I even heard them explain it to their friends, that their mom is working, working really hard, working a lot. Sure, mom is at home, but mom is in her study, and shouldn’t be disturbed.

So it’s not only me paying the high price of a startup set up. Not that I ever believed it was only me. I can safely say that I am lucky my family accepts my crazy work hours and supports the startup effort.

Commit To Your Students’ Success, Please!

“We’re committed to the rules and regulation”, said my son’s teacher to me, as she’s trying to explain why the school wouldn’t let a 7th grader attempt a specific test one more time.
“No”, I said, “You are committed to your students’ success”.

This, apparently was not clear. “There are guidelines we must follow”, she tried again.

“The only guideline is your students’ success”, I repeated. “If a kid gets 95 and 88 and 87 in some tests, and then 35 in one other test, you should let him retake that test until he is content with his achievement. You can’t just leave him with the 35 because some city clerk wrote a rule saying ‘be tough on the kids and don’t let them repeat the tests’..”.

At that point I was advised to perform a 3,000 shekels total evaluation of his learning difficulties. Yea, one of “the rules” is to abide by recommendations produced by such a diagnosis.

Don’t get me even started on what happens to those students who cannot afford such an expensive diagnosis. Just a quick reminder: Almost all students in Israel go to public schools and the law states students’ right to get free education for all. We already know it’s not free – with hundreds of shekels spent on books and booklets. But a law that requires parents to spend huge amounts on a private psycho-educational evaluation is just crazy, not to mention unfair.

People in Israel talk a lot about gaps breaking the society. It’s a small country. We’re only 7.7 million people. There are less than 900,000 students in grades 1-6, and about 600,000 in grades 7-12. That’s all. You’ll be correct to ask yourself how big a gap can occur within such a small country.

And I’m just left with the echo of my conversation. How can teachers feel more committed to the system’s rules then their students’ success?

What if a heavenly teacher doesn’t really have wings?

I’ve been pouring my aching heart over failing teachers and education systems here for the past 3 years at least. Recently I came across an amazing story, of a heavenly teacher.

She’s the teacher I would have dreamed of getting for my little boy. A dream come true. She’s kind, warm, and serene. She speaks calmly, never raises her voice. She leads the kids into learning, developing their curiosity. Makes them ask for more. Gives them a feeling the classroom is a safe harbor. Yet with all this her boundaries are crystal clear. They know they have to prepare their homework. They understand how to behave in the classroom. They know they have to respect each other in and out of the classroom, and that some games will be frowned upon. They know the right and wrong. And they are only on 3rd grade.

One day the teacher came to the school management with an announcement. She told them that she has developed friendship with one of the single parents in the classroom. “Over the past year”, she confessed, “it became evident that this is more than just friendship. This is love. We do not plan to move in together right now or become full partners, but I thought you should know”.

After about 3 weeks or less of pondering the school has decided the teacher should not continue to teach this class. In spite of the special relationships that have developed between the kids and the teacher, and even though they realized she’s the perfect teacher for this class and despite the fact that in this school it is customary that the teacher remains with her class till 8th grade – all this made no difference. In fact, the only reason the teacher wasn’t let go altogether was, perhaps, the fact that she is – really – a great teacher.

I am not school management, but I am an experience mother: Very experienced into education systems. I have seen teachers discriminate between students with no reason at all. I have seen teachers teaching relatives with no favoritism at all. I have never seen such a good teacher (except for maybe my daughter’s retired teacher from 2nd grade). I can’t help thinking; Did the school management really weigh the gain vs. the loss here? Or was it simply the easy way out of potential-maybe-someday headache? What do you think??

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