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entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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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

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??

Newly Named Disease: Schoolitis

My daughter got it. It took me a while to define it as an illness. But it is. And bit by bit I am discovering more and more kids who have this disease to various extents.

Over the past two years plus my daughter got sick a lot of times. Really sick. Dark circles under her eyes, running nose, nausea, stomach aches, dizziness, weakness, sleep disorders, lack of appetite, headaches. We went to the doctors. Ran the blood tests. Nothing pointed anywhere. When the first long vacation of the school year came, and all symptoms disappeared I got the first hint. It all came back with school, and disappeared again with the next vacation.

We sat down and had a long analytical discussion. Now, I am not a doctor, nor a psychologist. I am a mother. A very attentive mother. And I decided I need to get to the bottom of this.

The background is also relevant: my daughter is highly gifted. From the time she joined the special class for the gifted on 3rd grade, till the time she left this class and went to high school, on the 9th grade, she never wanted to miss a day at school. She loves learning and does a lot of learning by herself. Her grades have always been perfect. Even now, with the Disease, she is a straight A student.

But now she hates school. In that eye-opening conversation she confessed that her main problem with school is that “school is preventing and delaying learning”. In those words. Being a mother of gifted kids that’s a startling truth to hear.

But even if they weren’t gifted… I mean, if this is the way a gifted student is feeling, then those who don’t share such a motivation for learning must be feeling even worse, don’t they??

A little asking around confirmed that high-school-frustration manifests in various physical ways – similar to what my daughter has been experiencing over the past two years plus.

Like other diseases there are several ways to prevent and to treat it. Unfortunately, prevention demands a deep reform into the education system. Treatment – well, the only thing left to do is to let her go. Skip school as much as she needs to in order to feel better. But that could work with kids who can learn by themselves. I am at loss when it comes to kids who really need the classroom and the learning enabler. This is taken back to ed-reform table.

But one thing I do wish: I wish that parents all over would realize that this is real. A real disease. It’s not laziness or some other form of “I want to skip school” naughtiness. This is a real illness and please treat your kids-with-Schoolitis exactly the same way you would care for them when they have the flue or even Angina.

My 3rd Grade Entrepreneurship Workshop

Global Entrepreneurship Week and my invitation to join GEW-Israel partners have inspired me, among other things to hold an entrepreneurship workshop in my youngest son’s class of third graders. It was an amazing experience.

I’d like to share this report so you can take this workshop to your class, whether you are a teacher or a parent.

I have to admit I wasn’t quite sure how to go about this: what knowledge do the kids have to begin with? Those are 8-9 year old kids, from various socio-economic backgrounds, some are new immigrants or born here to new immigrant. How would language and culture differences affect their entrepreneurial skills??

Still, I came with one assumption: that all kids are born with entrepreneurial skills. Certainly in the 21st century, when in fact, anywhere you look, entrepreneurial skills are probably one of the utmost important set of skills needed for survival in their future.

I started by asking what entrepreneurship is and was rather surprised to hear a very precise definition: “to get an idea and do it”. Then we started to talk about where do ideas come from, and pretty soon they recognized problems, needs and wants. We agreed to refer to all of those as “problems which need solutions”. Then we started to talk about identifying such problems. I asked the children to think about problems in their classroom, at school, at home, in the country, in the world. The first student who spoke amazed me when she said the major problem in her eyes is “All those wars around the world”. The second student said he was “worried about the hole in the ozone layer” (A girl was startled and asked in shock “Is there a hole in the ozone layer?”). The third one (that’s mine) said that “animal extinction is a serious problem, especially the hunting of whales”. We went through other problems too – like kids who fight in the classroom and losing pencils. All very valid problems.

We started to discuss world peace. I wanted the kids to see that knowing of the problem is not the same as understanding the problem or approaching a solution. So I lead them in a discussion about what do classroom fights and countries fighting have in common. It was a great discussion leading the kids to pinpoint “communications” as the core of this trouble. Then we started to discuss various means of communications – to understand that different means are used to solve different types of conflicts. They agreed that “sometimes you need to talk face to face, and sometimes written communications are better.”*

We also talked about the hole in the ozone layer and preservation of the environment. The kids seem very aware of that. We discussed Shai Agassi’s “Better Place” as a fine example of entrepreneurship.

For the second part of my visit I have prepared two types of tasks. The kids divided into groups of 4-5 kids. Each group received 2-3 cards, each with a problem, a want or a need, and they had to discuss between them possible solutions. I didn’t want them to write it down, which was odd to them. I wanted them to concentrate on the thinking, but the kids, who are used to deliver some physical product, were handed papers by the teacher and developed unnecessary arguments about who’s going to write, which was a disappointing distraction in my opinion.

After they finished with this exercise I moved to the second one. I brought along a bunch of clippings from the daily newspapers of the last several days. I made sure I bring some from each section of the paper – including sports, arts, literature, health, hi-tech, education, finance and politics. On a one of the desks I placed cards with sentences depicting problems and or solutions. For example: “Public hospitals in Israel don’t have enough money”. “People love to play games and are willing to pay for it”. “Traffic jams are horrible, how can we solve it?”. “We have to study the earth to understand climate changes”. “We need entertainment”. “We like beautiful things”. I handed 2-3 stories to each group so they discuss it and try to recognize what was the problem and what was the solution. I thought for a next phase to develop the question of “is this a good solution? Are there any more solutions?”. After discussing the stories they were allowed to go check the solution cards to see if they got it or to find help to understand the context of the story they read.

The conclusion was lead by the teacher, who invited the kids to share their impression of the workshop. It seems like what the kids have enjoyed the most is to work in groups. The collaboration was exciting. I expected it. Which leads me to a problem I’d like to solve: lack of collaborative work in school and homework. But that’s a separate page.

*More About Communications and Facebook

During the conversation about communications I asked the kids to raise their hands if they have Facebook. I believe almost every one of the 30 students raised their hands. I asked them who had registered on their own, who had used the help of an older sibling, who used the help of a parent. About half of the kids registered with the assistance of a parent. A third used the help of an older sibling. The rest either did it themselves or with the help of a class mate. These are 8-9 year old kids. Most of them are registered for a year or more. When I asked one of the kids how he registered himself he said “that’s easy, just invent some email, pick a birth date that’s 100 years older then you and you’re in”.
After pointing out that communications is one of the biggest obstacles on the way to solve conflicts we talked about different methods of communications and discussed oral vs. written. At third grade seems like most kids initially don’t like to write. It’s slow and tedious. However, when I asked them about sending messages to each other on Facebook they woke up. All are using it. And other chat programs too. One student jumped ahead and stated “I never chat with strangers”, which got everybody’s approval (to my satisfaction). “Who are you chatting with?”, I asked. “My class mates”, she said. “But why chat with them in writing when you can talk on the phone or in the classroom?”, I asked. “It’s different; I can chat with many kids at once for example”. So we did a little demonstration. I picked a group of 5 kids to the center of the class and whispered to them “When I give you the sign you immediately start to talk about wearing a hat in the sun”. I gave the sign, they all spoke together and when I asked the other kids to tell me what the group spoke about – no one knew. I then told them and asked if this was in writing – would you know what the group was discussing? That got them to agree that in some cases written communications can be useful. “But if someone is angry with me and they remove me from friends on Facebook then I can’t chat with them”, said one child. His friend said: “So talk to him in the classroom”.

The Paradox of Online Privacy

Last night, at a diner party, people were discussing the latest online privacy issues concerning the recent changes by Facebook. One friend mentioned what she likes about people’s online presence is the fact that it is so easy to gather so much information about people. The other said she doesn’t have a Facebook account out of fear for her privacy, and mainly of loosing control over her information online.

This morning I found the latter’s personal details online: her name, position, home address, land line and mobile phone number, email, and at least one clear photo with her husbands on some non-profit organization’s newsletter.

Privacy is no longer.

Or at least it is re-defined.
If you live in this online era, you have to understand that defining your privacy on Facebook, even before the recent changes in the privacy settings, is like whispering to a friend when you are in a packed mall. You might think that only your friend heard what you whispered, but you can never be sure that a lip reader haven’t got you from the other end of the passage. You can also never be a hundred percent sure that this friend won’t repeat what you said and quote you.

Being online is being public. Being connected is being part of the public. I am not saying you can’t live without it, I’m just saying that chances are you are friends with someone who is online, and that means that a part of you, belongs to your friend, and is probably already online in a way. I think it’s valuable to gain control over your online presence. People can tag you in a photo even if you are not on Facebook or not connected to them. When you are, and the photo didn’t come out nice, you can remove your tag. If you are on Facebook and you want to see what people can see about you – use this tool. What ever is there – is available because you put it there.

The big commotion in the recent days concerns Facebook sharing your preferences and interests with advertisers, which are 3rd parties. The loss of control can justly freak us all out. Even though you are not obliged to fill out all this information – your preferences, favorites, activities and hobbies – many choose to do it, as a way of declaring their identities to their online friends, some of which don’t really know them closely. The only upside I see about the transfer of this information is that I might actually get to see some targeted advertising, and not irrelevant sometime offensive ads. If I chose to publish my interest to my hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Facebook friends, I see no problem in advertisers using this data. As long as they don’t get my personal data such as phone numbers or email or private address. There I would definitely draw the line, or start using fake data, which would back fire to Facebook.

The other thing is the Facebook “like” button populating other sites. Clicking it shows on this site, to your friends, that you liked the site or the post, and it shows on your profile too. The only difference from the previous share option is that the site may present its likers too. As a blog owner I want to use it too. Unfortunately, wordpress.com don’t enable this yet, and so I have to settle for the lesser version of “getsociallive” and present my likers on their servers.

The Young Problem

The main problem with online presence really concerns kids. Officially Facebook meets the COPPA laws by limiting the age of registered users to 14 and up. Practically, the average user age is dropping every day. Kids lie about their age without a blink, not thinking about it twice, and consider Facebook their own environment.

They connect with classmates, sometimes with older kids, sometimes with younger kids, but they also connect to their parents, or teachers, or guides, or friends of their parents, or older friends of the older sister… I hardly know any kids on Facebook who is not connected to adults.

The connection itself is OK. Sometimes even blessed. It leads to better relationship between youth and adults and opens a sort of a back channel of communications. But many of those kids, sometimes “friends collectors” aren’t fully aware of the face that each status may reach many circles. It’s pretty complicated for a child to manage his connections into groups and then choose each time who gets to see what.

In addition, when they submit information about themselves they often use humor and exaggeration, and not necessarily their true interests, which in turn might lead to exactly the wrong type of ads for them.
Facebook is ignoring this problem. Officially they have no data relating to kids. But at some point they will have to create a young Facebook, to enable safe and legal usage of Facebook by kids.

If only there were 34 hours a day…

In less then 30 minutes I will be out the door again, on my way to the violin lesson with my 7.5 year old son. It’s raining outside, and windy, and cold. I would rather stay at home. But to be perfectly honest – the weather is not the reason. The reason is that I have so little time to work.

I feel like running against the wind. Got so many errands and driving assignments there’s barely no time left for continuous undisturbed work. With no other choices I find myself trying to catch up at night, sometimes staying up until 1AM. These are good quiet hours that allow me to read huge amounts of material. But these are slow hours for writing and really not the time for conversations at all.

I have to admit that being a mother AND an entrepreneur is, let’s put it delicately, challenging. I want to be there for my kids, I want to take a part in their lives, I want to play with them, read with them… I also want to live my own life and find time to do some sports, to meet with friends, watch TV. Taking on entrepreneurship is what changes it to super-juggling. Entrepreneurship requires more hours then a day has to offer. I’m in a serious deficit.

Is this why there aren’t so many mother-entrepreneurs?

Yet, I am not ready to give any of it up. To make things even worse – I think I have discovered my calling over the last several months. I feel so passionately about education I just know I have to get involved and start doing things. Well… I actually started to. More news would follow.

Education Re-Form, For the Sake of the Future

After a couple of years of intense and on-going research into education world wide, trends, fashions, innovation, methods, approaches, doctrines, special education, unique education, religious education, private education, public education, with technology, without technology, with money or without – I need to put in writing just a few of my observations and conclusions, to date.

The future of education lies with the recognition of each student as a unique individual.

The acceptance of uniqueness and diversity is the key to a better future for all and greater success in education achievements.

Old news: Some kids are good in Math and lousy in literature. Some are great in Lit and lousy and Math. One kid can excel in Math and Lit, but he sucks in Physics and Art. There are kids who suck at all topics, but are social stars. There are those who excel at everything, but are still unhappy. Oh, there are so many types of kids, and yet there are no types – because every child is his own special one and an only package of can-do and can’t-do, of wants and non’s. Still the teachers get a classroom filled with many different kids. Usually the things that bind those kids together in one classroom is their age and sometimes where they live or the financial background of their families. That’s a very artificial binder. Look around your adulthood friends and make your own deductions.

So this classroom, turns into a class, a group of kids, now has to study fractions. Great. But while some kids get it in a blink, others may find it difficult, or maybe not difficult, but simply boring, so boring they can’t concentrate or get what the teacher is talking about. And at the end of the day they have homework or exams and behold, some kids get less then a perfect score. Fractioning this group titled a classroom into mini groups….

Greg Whitby, the Executive Director leading a system of approximately 80 Catholic schools in greater Western Sydney Australia, talks about uniformity Vs. diversity here:

One of my own eye openers is my youngest son. A second grader he told me that he loves to learn, but only when he chooses and what he chooses. While the professional educators around him criticize his independent thinking and work constantly to turn him into a uniformed student in his classroom, who does everything the same as the rest of the class, I am observing and here are my findings:

He hates his Arithmetic class and homework. It drives him nuts. Yet, when his father went abroad he produced an amazing shopping list – listing the prices of the toys, after he converted them from US dollars to Israeli Shekels. He can also Arithmetic percentage of time, to know exactly when his eggplants will be ready for harvesting on FarmVille.

How important is it, for a kid like that, to go through a methodical, framed, graded system of teaching him Arithmetic? To be honest – there is no simple answer. As we are in an education system – the education is systematic, automatic, and cannot be adjusted to individual persons. Or can it?

In an education system that is based solely on the transference of knowledge or information from a single teacher to a class of kids – there is indeed no room for recognition of the individual.

So, what’s the purpose of the education? Have we forgotten about it?

I think if a child knows how to calculate foreign exchange rates and percentage (on time!) – he is well beyond simple Arithmetic. So what’s the point of insisting on teaching him one booklet after the other of things he is way passed? Is the purpose of the education here is to transfer the specific books into the child, or is the purpose is that the student actually gets a knowledge in the particular subject and knows how to use it?

Well, neither is enough. The major declared goal of education has always been about preparing the young students to their adult life, to acquiring professions and making a living. Arithmetic was important to learn, and very methodically, in a time where trades men managed their own little businesses and they didn’t have computers or even calculators.

But what does today’s education system do to prepare today’s students to tomorrow’s professions? Those professions which have not yet been born? What did yesterday’s education system did to turn me into an internet communications specialist? Or a multi player online game designer? Or my neighbor to a genome researcher or my friend to a researcher of the structure and function of the ribosome? Answer: nothing. Those are individuals who are born with an important quality or two: curiosity and the ability to ask and to teach themselves.

Self teaching is indeed a quality some lucky people are born with, but eventually, all people are in need of this quality. The amounts of information are growing constantly. It is not possible to transfer all this knowledge to any individual. The diversity of occupation is increasing, allowing people to develop expertise in what really interests them. Turning some knowledge they acquired in school irrelevant.

Those who are afraid of the individualism of education often talk about the importance of wide education. But is it really necessary for a physicist to study how to analyze a poem? Or is it enough to assign reading assignments, to those who do not read enough on their own? And while you assign those books to read, how about some classic films? Classical music? Classical rock bands? Tours in various museums world wide and in archaeological sites around the world? If we are talking about expanding horizons let’s do it with pleasure – and not with pressure. Not every subject in school requires grading and marks.

And as individuals are encouraged to learn and expand their horizons let’s allow for one more thing to change in the classroom: let the kids express and teach – teach other kids, teach the teacher. Because only when the teacher becomes a learner, then he can become a learning enabler. A real 21st century educator.

Here Greg Whitby talks about the 21st century new teaching DNA:

It’s Kidsville!

It’s kidsville time!!

I admit it.  I gave in to my youngest child and let him get an account on Facebook. Farmville was the trigger, and though he is apparently the first among his 2nd grade classmates to play it I am not convinced he is the first one to have a Facebook account. He started by playing Farmville with his brother (6th grader) and sister (10th grader). But his network of neighboring farms is expanding to include their friends and more distant family members.

CNN titled it “Social networks and kids: How young is too young?”
They mention, among other things, Susan Greenfield who was quoted on “The Mail”, an article which I already covered in my February post. How young really? My daughter joined on 8th grade. My son at the beginning of his 5th grade. And then my youngest at the beginning of his 2nd grade. That’s probably as young as possible for a text based network.

But here are two new facts to consider:

First, the PEW report published a day after the CNN item. It’s titled “Social Isolation and New Technology” which “finds that Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the Internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – Internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.”

The second is this item, published on National Geographic about 2 weeks earlier, titled “Googling Fights Dementia, Study Suggests”.

So let’s stop and think for a moment.

What do kids find in social networks?

I think that … big surprise, the same as adults: Accessibility. Of people, of course. Why is it OK for me to use social networks to connect with colleagues who I never met and may never meet face to face in my life, from other parts of the planet, but it’s dangerous for kids to use social networks to connect to classmates or school mates or soccer team members who they cannot meet on a daily basis after school hours?

Well I am no fool. Some people jump at this question with the dangers theme. There are many dangers lurking around the cyber corner and these are more meaningful to innocent young kids then they are to adults with some life experience or to teens with some networking experience.

Yes, some teens are more network savvy then some adults I have met. They understand what details one never reveals, what information to present or not to present in the first place, how to block unwanted communications… They know the network’s right and wrong as well as they know the streets’ right and wrong and sometimes even better. Those streets that bear dangers to innocent young kids too – so what’s the difference?

The difference is that we know the streets, we feel that we can see the streets and imagine we can anticipate street behavior. However the network is perceived as not visible and unpredictable. Personally I might be a different mom. I fear I cannot see what is happening with my kids on their way home from school. It’s about 300 meters walk, through a path between trees, and it’s scarier in my view, then the time they spend online – either chatting or on social networks.

The Internet, as I see it, is a channel of communications which is here to stay. The question we are facing now is not how young is too young, or how to control the younger generation’s use of the network, but rather – how do we make it more visible and more predictable to us, their parents.

I keep remembering this “House on the Prairie” episode “Cross Connections” where they introduced the telephone and switchboard in the town. There will always be those who abuse the innovation, but can you imagine our world without a telephone connection??

hopcc

My Vision For Future of Learning

It’s my first attempt at a video presentation… better will probably follow.

Happy Birthday, Shaii!

Been inspired to write something a little more personal today. It’s a special day today. It’s my oldest daughter’s 15th birthday. It’s on this day, 15 years ago, that I became a mom, and my husband became a dad, and together we officially became a family, family with child.

In three weeks we will be marking our 23rd wedding anniversary. A wedding is also a life changing event. But it’s not the same as having your first child. And it takes years to realize just how much a life changing event this is.

Beyond experiencing joy and pride over the little person emerging, an adult responsibility is revealed and takes over. A new grasp of reality is happening. My father’s stories, which he told us when we were kids, so full of humor and wit, about his childhood adventures in war struck Europe and all of his solo travels all done before he was 10 years old, suddenly took a turn. The full responsibility over the lives we have created is still not sinking in even 15 years later.

shaiibaby

Different parents have different perspective of their responsibility towards their generated next generation. I always had a tendency to take things seriously.

And so, over the past 15 years, and a total of 3 kids, I’ve assumed responsibility for their health and manners, well being and education. I’m responsible for the set of tools with which they will set off to meet their adulthood. Until they are capable of it, it is still my responsibility to make sure they learn how to eat balanced meals and behave well and get that promising education.

Shaii, 15 years old today, has 3 years to high school graduation. I think I’ve done pretty well with her. She knows how to learn. She was born curious and will probably always be. This makes her an open and friendly girl, who never gets bored. She will make the most of every environment she’s in.

I still wish, though, that I could do more for her, and for my boys, and for all learners, to make that education work better for all types of learners and for the march forward.

Happy birthday, Shaii.

Games are the new School

Games development is slowly becoming a central and one of the largest global industries. Right after our basic human needs, where satisfaction and esteem start, and self-actualization follows, right there you will find games. It’s not news that games promise entertainment, and looking at cubs playing you can easily deduct the relationship between play and development, but it is becoming clearer that games are the key to learning and education.
bear_cubs_playing
There are of course the official “learning games”. A contradiction in term for kids: “You either let me play and have fun or you want me to study. Don’t try to trick me”, would be the kids words, even if not phrased exactly this way.

But as more social aspects get into the game play, the lesser is the need to insert formal learning curriculum into the games.

Every game is a learning game.

Over the past two years I have been researching games for all ages. Trying almost every new game I came across I’ve been having a very good time. I have an accessible focus groups, my own kids, now ages 7, 11 and 15, and they help me understand how the games work for them. There is a constant struggle between the pure fun time and the school-homework time. Most of the time they do not neglect their school obligations, but I can’t say that the afternoon school time is very obviously contributing more to their learning than the games they play.

To count just a few of the skills they have developed through online games – written verbal communications, social skills, languages (our first language is Hebrew, but in all games the communications are in English, normally begun at 2nd grade), strategic thinking and planning, design, math, memory, self management under stress, commercial and negotiations abilities, persistence and more.

Those game skills have contributed a lot to their school performance. Higher grades in English and math, better understanding and commendable discussions in history classes, improved memory in text based tests, better technical performance and computer command, and great social skills, including the ability to negotiate local peace agreements…

I am a very proud mother but I am not talking only about my kids. These skills are showing up clearly with any kids who play more online games. Observing a class or groups of kids it is easy to detect who is more exposed than others to such games.

The mix of games and education is not new, but the balance is changing. How to mix the two today, that is the question. How best use the need for games and entertainment to improve learning skills and acquire knowledge and education, and how to turn studies into a lot more fun?

Many teachers have been doing it for years: Developing fun activities in the classroom. In the recent years, however, more educators are exposed to the new digital possibilities, such as online games. The question is: can existing games be used for the school curriculum or do game developers need to create new games, according to this curriculum.

I believe a new path has to be created. A middle one. One that would enable adoption of existing games with minor modification to school curriculum, while at the same time, adopting the school curriculum to the games reality.

And this is not only because the games reflect a new reality.

More reading on the subject:
Games Learning Society Conference
Education and Learning Commons
The European ARGuing (Alternate Reality Game) project

Facebook Therapy for Teens

I have a privilege. I am connected to so many young people, my kids age, around the world, and basically invited to peek into their lives. I am not involved. I dare not speak. But I look and listen and try to grasp their reality. I have an opportunity my parents never had.

So, first of all, I am flattered, of being trusted enough. Now comes the observation. What are they talking about? What is the mood? What impresses them or occupies them? How much of their social life is managed online, and how much is offline?

And when I am looking for the answer to this question, I wonder about the difference between online and offline socializing. What does online give, that offline can’t (there’s been enough talk about the other way around…).

There has been so much criticism about the online social life. About kids clinging to their facebook-myspace pages for hours a day. Fears regarding net-safety and cyber bullying. Scares about the re-wiring of these young brains. Talks about their physical shape, changed by the growing number of sitting hours that they spend each day.

But I would like to point out some really great things that the online socializing does and might be overlooked.

I don’t know if anyone ever bothered to run a statistics about the percentage of teens who kept a diary or expressed themselves in various forms of writing 10 or 20 years ago. But I do know they percentage of teens who do it nowadays is extremely high. According to a recent publication from PewInternet.org 93% of teens ages 12-17 use the Internet. 64% of teens are content creators. Writers.

What does it mean? And why is it of significance? I am thinking writing and biblio-therapy here. Venting.

I remember what it was to be a teen. Flooded with extreme emotions. Living a daily drama. Struggling to gain my independence, discover and re-shape my self. Wanting to do well at my studies, yet stay alive socially. I used to write a diary. I also wrote hundreds of poems. That was my way of venting. However, I didn’t have too many sharing options, and at times, the feeling you are alone, was the toughest. This sort of writing was more “for the drawer”. Looking at my kids I see something else.

What social networks give them is the opportunity for a natural support group. The discovery that they are not alone. This is a great social achievement.

So once we take a break from criticizing teens’ “inappropriate” online behavior, let’s talk about the cultivation of a new type of teen empathy. It might be difficult for them to note in the classroom that one of the students is ‘depressed’, but once he wrote it on his FaceBook status it generates a flood of comments. Suddenly the depressed is not alone, they “joined a club”. There is a kind of comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone. That’s the start of therapy.
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So I am watching with wonder and see the budding of empathy, caring, humor and intellect of the next generation. I am also seeing how different this blossom is, from any previous generations.

Memorial

It’s the promise of young life, unfulfilled dreams, hopes and aspirations. It’s that loss. The memorial day is the toughest day of the year.

I’ve been re-reading the web page about my friend and classmate, who got killed in a fight with terrorists, near Kibbutz Manara, in the Galilee, when we were 21 years old.

He was such a talented boy. Full of life and humor. Full of promises. He got killed less than 6 months before his release from the military service. I met him only a couple months before he got killed, invited him to visit me in London after his release. He never made it.

Memories
Memories

What are we left with?

Memories. Some memories are of those lives we shared until taken abruptly. Some are memories of the pain, of the lost hopes, of what could have been.

Thoughts. Thoughts about what will be. Thoughts about new hopes, new lives, and peace. There is nothing our nation wants more.

New year, new hopes and wishes

The Hebrew year 5769 has just begun. With it began a new and a crucial year in the life of the kids4kids venture I am leading.
Kids4kids is the temporary name I had given to the network I established on ning. Its purpose is to connect kids from all over the world to help each other complete their homework assignments in a fun way, a networking way.

So what are my wishes for the New Year?
That it will be a year of networking happiness and knowledge. It will be a year for growth and achievements. This will be a year for new global friendships.

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