Parenting in the Digital Age: With a Little Help From my Friends

Like many of you, I have recently returned to work after a holiday break. I thought I’d do a little reflection on what went well for our family in terms of parenting in the digital age, and what didn’t. I am lucky to have a great support network of friends who make the job of parenting that much easier. Let me share with you some of the highs, the lows and some interesting nuggets of wisdom I gained over the holiday break.

Digital Highlights

I have to say, there were 3 things we did as a family that I really enjoyed this break. I plan on doing more of them in the future.

1. Blackwood Crossing
This recommendation came from my good friend and former colleague @intrepidteacher. According to the Blackwood Crossing website,

“Blackwood Crossing is a story-driven first-person adventure game. An intriguing and emotive tale exploring the fragile relationship between orphaned siblings, Scarlett and Finn. When their paths cross with a mysterious figure, an ordinary train ride evolves into a magical story of life, love and loss. The game is available to download now on PS4, Xbox One and Steam, priced at £12.99 / $15.99 / €15.99.”

My children’s names are Scarlett and Griffin, so this game certainly held extra appeal for us as a family. What I liked was it wasn’t a shooter game (which I struggle to play effectively), but had story at its heart, meaning we could all sit together and play, taking turns to operate the controller. It felt good to be able to participate together in a game situation where I was on a level playing field with my kids. I think they enjoyed playing with me too. Find out more from blackwoodcrossing.com.

2. Worth it
My family love good food. We quite happily sit in front of Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals, or Masterchef etc. My daughter Scarlett found this gem of a show on YouTube. Worth It looks at one type of cuisine (pizza, sushi, ice cream etc), goes to 3 different locations at different price points, then decides which establishment they think is most “Worth it”. There is the occasional expletive (bleeped out and mouth covered on screen), however the content and humour throughout (especially the cameraman, who seldom says a word), makes this a show our whole family enjoys.

3. 1 Second Everyday
Friends Britt and Shaun who spent a year traveling are the inspiration for this fantastic app. Add a 1-second video to the calendar within the app each day, and you can create wonderful slice-of-life videos. I started in January, so I’m really only beginning this journey, but Britt & Shaun made a video lasting a whole year! I hope to have something similar to share at the end of 2018!

Digital Lowlights

Of course things weren’t all moonlight and roses. There were a number of times these holidays when our kids were unsupervised for periods of time watching YouTube videos. That never makes me feel very good. Unsuitable content is so easy to come across unintentionally, and I much prefer having a closer eye on what my kids are watching. That said, I did like sleeping in… A cursory glance of revision history reassures me somewhat – NBA highlight videos and Minecraft video tutorials were the main areas of interest, but since school is back in session, there is little time for such endeavours.

Interesting

1. Reading Screenwise
I am partway through reading Screenwise:  Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner. One suggestion the author had was to ask your children which of your tech habits is their least favourite (Chapter 6, p.110). I’ll get to that in a moment… I’m glad to be reading this book, as it seems to be a balanced and realistic approach to learning to navigate a digital world, rather than trying to shut it out entirely. Modeling is key. The slow-motion videos and Go-Pro photos we captured while sledding were great fun! I like the blending of the physical and digital worlds where it makes sense, so it has been a good read so far.

2. Captive Audience in the Car
Car journeys to and from school or basketball practice provide the perfect opportunity for asking those curly questions or having frank discussions. As implied, you have a captive audience, and there isn’t any eye-contact necessary, should they be embarrassed about something. Try it! I highly recommend it! I asked my kids which of my tech habits was the most annoying, and they both said, “When you tell us to get off screens but you’re still on your phone.” Touché, my littles, touché. Now that is absolutely fair enough, and something I will be working on in the coming months.

3. Board Games
During the sad days during the holidays when it rained non-stop, we turned to board games to entertain and sustain us. Catan, Yahtzee, Mahjong and Bananagrams all featured this break. Despite early protestations and claims of utter boredom, everyone really enjoyed this change of routine.

4. Exploding Kittens
Exploding Kittens was also high on our list of awesome things to do that the whole family enjoys. If you haven’t given this card game a try, it is an absolute cracker. Exploding Kittens was created by well-known cartoonist The Oatmeal. It is utterly bonkers – in the very best way. Go out and buy it now – your kids will thank you for it.

So how did your holiday go as a parent in the digital age? Any tips to share?

Why the Humble Sandwich Should Be Your Next Graphic Design Project

Ask anyone what their favourite sandwich is, and I’m willing to bet they’ll have an answer for you. “What does this have to do with Graphic Design?” you may well ask. Stay with me, people!

While browsing my Instagram feed, I came across this beautiful post by the good folk at Dschwen Design Studio:

Those who know me, will know just how excited I got by the brilliant simplicity of their Typographic Sandwich project – especially when I thought about the huge potential it has for introducing students to some Graphic Design basics, while learning a little bit about them in the process.

On the surface, one might think there is nothing much to this: after all, change a few words and colours, and you’re done. But there is so much to explore within these restrictions. In the words of interface designer Aza Raskin,

“Design is the beauty of turning constraints into advantages.”

Let me share some advantages with you.

EASY ACCESS
Almost everyone can think of a sandwich combination, even if it’s not a favourite. The entry points are such that students won’t be blocked by coming up with ideas. For EAL learners, options include the use of visuals (a quick search for their favourite sandwich can be done in any language), and/or the use of the child’s home language to create the finished product.

ACHIEVABLE
The Typographic Sandwich is an activity in which all students can achieve success. The font (Helvetica Bold) remains the same throughout. The devil is in the details – and that’s where the CARP design principles come in.

COMPLETE INTRODUCTION to CARP DESIGN PRINCIPLES
Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity all come into play here. For more insight into each principle, please check out Design Secrets Revealed.

Contrast – All words need to be easily read, meaning they need to stand out sufficiently from the background. A background colour needs to be selected so that every word is readable.

Alignment – This really is the area in which the bulk of the design challenge exists.
Secondary-Click > Align Objects > Left, brings all text boxes into the same alignment on the left.

Similarly, Secondary Click > Distribute Objects > Vertically, equally distributes objects vertically between the first and last object selected.

Repetition – exists here in the form of the font (Helvetica Bold) and the size of the text.

Proximity – the location/position of both the names of the people and the sandwich text are the same in each of the three examples. This is no accident. By selecting the sandwich words, and looking at the Arrange tab on the right, I can see the X position of each item is 281. I can select the items on the other slides and ensure they also have the same position, thus ensuring a cohesive overall feel to the presentation.

COLOUR MATCHING
Using the eye dropper tool in Keynote, students can match colours from images they have found of their perfect sandwich, or they can make an educated guess. Regardless, this is an excellent technique for students to learn.

PASTORAL CONNECTIONS
Connecting to the students in my classes and learning more about them has always been important to me as an educator. While preparing these examples for you, I asked the members of my Tech team to share their favourite sandwiches, and it gave me a unique insight into their likes and dislikes, and I learned a lot too! Karolis taught me that there IS a difference between Aoli (Italian) and Alioli (Spanish), and in his opinion, the latter was infinitely preferable. From Jorge, I learned about Arepas – something I had never come across in my travels thus far. What might this teach you about the students in your class? How might your interaction with them be strengthened as a result of this connection?

If you would like to share your examples with me, please feel free to add them to this collaborative Google Slides presentation. I simply exported my Keynote slides as images, and added them to the presentation.

Why Have a Class Twitter Account?

Digital GEMS templatekey.001

There are a whole host of benefits to having a class Twitter account. Allow me to present you with my top 5:

1. Access to Experts

By following the Tweets of experts, such as NASA or Dr Jane Goodall, a class can access up-to-date information in byte-sized packages. Most often, links are included to videos, articles, blog posts and images to explore in more detail

 

2. Connect with Authors

Remember writing letters to authors, mailing them off and never hearing anything back? Today, a significant number of authors are on Twitter, interacting with their readers.

Last year, a G5 class was thrilled to Skype with Gary Whitta (an author of Rogue One, the latest Star Wars film), who spoke to us about the writing process, diversity in film and answered student questions. Talk about relevance! This got the whole class hooked on writing!

Some lucky students in G4 tweeted an author of a book they were reading, and were thrilled when they got a reply. What a motivator for developing literacy skills!

3. Share our learning

We can make a difference to other people’s learning simply by sharing our own. Tweets of student sketching a character’s development, might give another child an idea about how they can represent their own learning. Parents love seeing examples of their child in action during the school day too.

Adding hashtags can allow us to reach a common audience, where we find ideas related to topics we are learning about too, such as #writingworkshop

4. Develop International Mindedness

Part of the PYP is developing International Mindedness, where we seek out and value perspectives from different cultures and communities, and consider the impact of events around the world on different groups of people.

By way of example, @littlemissflint became a powerful role model for taking action after she began tweeting about the water crisis in her hometown of Flint. Now she continues to take action on issues important to her and her community

From a class Twitter account, you can follow the United Nations to learn about what school is like in different parts of the world, for example this school in Gaza.

5. Model Digital Citizenship

We know that modelling positive and appropriate use of social media helps students learn how to be effective digital citizens. Through a class Twitter account, students can see how to interact positively with others online, they can learn to compose Tweets, and develop digital literacy skills such as appropriate writing conventions in digital medium (e.g. use of the @ symbol to reply, and use of hashtags). Having a class account lets students learn these skills with their teacher as a guide and role model – almost like having a safety net there for them as they learn.

A class Twitter account shows that teachers value writing in digital as well as print form, adding weight to the writing students are doing in their lives outside the classroom.

The bottom line is that teachers are there for kids.
We want learning to be relevant, contextual and engaging.
A class Twitter account is just one of the ways we teachers support today’s learners.

3 Things I’m Grateful For: Camera & Photo Tricks

I know, I know. You’re a power user of the camera. It’s one of your most used apps. But stay with me – there may be a use you haven’t tried out just yet.

Markup

This little-known feature in photos is an absolute winner, for so many reasons. Markup lets you sketch, zoom and add text to your photos.

You can access Markup when viewing one of your pictures. Click on the following buttons, which appear under your photo:

Edit photos.001Here’s where the super-cool part comes in… I needed to take note of the dimensions of various places, to see whether the items we wanted to buy would fit properly. Yes, I could have written them in a notebook, but there’s something about being able to visualise the space that helps when considering items.

Space for Microwave

I used markup to annotate the photos I needed, and what I loved best, was that when I was sketching on the photo, it took my wonky lines, and asked if I wanted to make them straight! So helpful! (Makes me appear way more professional, right?) I did sketch the numbers too, but quickly found adding text made them more legible. Whether I was buying a microwave, or figuring how long I needed the hallway carpet, Markup was there to make the process that much easier.

IMG_4052

Memory Making

It’s important not to underestimate the importance of memory making, when in a new country (or anywhere, for that matter!). So whether it’s documenting those firsts (first photo on the lake, spending time at the park, eating some great Swiss chocolate) or sharing photos of your new home/school/workplace with friends and family back home, the camera app is there for you, every step of the way.

Comparing Potential Purchases

Obvious, perhaps. But no less useful. In my humble experience, there is only so much furniture shopping two kids and a dog will put up with, so it’s inevitable that at some point, you and your significant other will not be shopping together. Camera and Photos to the rescue once more!

IKEA Wardrobe.001

Shopping decisions can be made when the kids are in bed, perhaps with a beverage in hand (if you’re into that sort of thing)… Considerably more relaxing (and efficient!) than the alternative.

The humble Camera and Photo apps are powerful allies in the move to a new country, so dust them off, and give them a workout!

 

 

 

3 Things I’m Grateful For: Location, Location, Location

There’s an interview with comedian Louis C.K. that really resonates with me about a lot of tech stuff. It’s called “Everything is Amazing and Nobody is Happy.” Take a moment, if you haven’t already, to enjoy watching (please note, it’s not suitable for children).

This interview makes me think about a lot of incredibly amazing tech stuff that gets taken for granted, but specifically, location based apps.
Here are 3 location-based pieces of tech wizardry I am grateful for:

GPS & Maps

Map PinsIn Switzerland, they happen drive on the other side of the road to each of the four countries I have lived in previously. Driving on the other side of the road feels like you are constantly making mistakes that may have dire consequences for you or the people you happen to be sharing the road with. In short, it’s terrifying. But with the GPS turned on, at least I don’t have to worry about knowing where I am supposed to be driving, and I can concentrate on important things, like not screaming out loud when a car comes the opposite direction on a narrow Swiss road.

True story: my kids gave me a round of applause when I first drove home. I think I’ll keep them.

Apple maps, Google maps, they’re both amazing! Take some time to appreciate the wonder that is location-based navigation! I do every day in this new country of ours.

Recycling Map

There are a lot of reasons to love the Swiss – chocolate and Roger Federer are but two of many – however, one has to appreciate their commitment to recycling. Recycling is expected, rather than encouraged, and I think that’s just great. Except for when I don’t know where to find the nearest recycling centre. Enter the Recycling Map. Simply type in your postcode, and what it is exactly that you want to recycle, and voila! The nearest locations are pointed out to you on the wonder that is Maps. Genius.

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FourSquare & Swarm

FourSquareLooking on FourSquare (also available as an app) has become one of the first things I do in a new location. It provides information on places to eat (very important to me!), nightlife (somewhat less important) and things to do (yes, yes!).

Users leave tips and ratings on each location they visit through partner app Swarm. FourSquare uses this information to recommend locations nearby, complete with distance, address and contact details, opening hours, and a rating out of 10. This is alongside the tips from reviewers.

FourSquare has been responsible for some of my most memorable meals on holiday. Peskesi in Heraklion and Gelato at Cioccolat Italiani are two recent examples of places that would have gone undiscovered, had it not been for FourSquare.

I encourage you to start contributing to the pool of knowledge on FourSquare, by leaving tips about your favourite places on Swarm. That way, we all benefit!

so-this-just-happened-might-have-overdone-it-a-bit-gelato-milano_27578786134_o


“Trip planning.” flickr photo by Shawn Harquail https://flickr.com/photos/harquail/15866878743 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

3 Things I’m Grateful For: Language Learning Edition

The Alps, fondue, chocolate, skiing and neutrality – these are some of the features of my new host country. Yes, my family and I have taken a great leap and moved to Switzerland. This is our first country move in 12 years, so it’s kind of a BIG DEAL!

With our kids, my husband and I usually spend a few moments each night sharing
3 things we are grateful for. I thought I’d share some ways I am grateful for technology making our lives easier as we transition to our new culture.
Today’s edition is all about language learning.

LANGUAGE LEARNING

We now live in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Slight problem: I don’t speak French… yet! I am a firm believer that to know a culture, you must make an effort to learn the language. Enter Duolingo, Google Translate & the French keyboard on iOS.

Duolingo
My daughter (11) created a family French club on Duolingo, and each morning, we complete at least 3 exercises. It’s quite simple to motivate the littles – they aren’t allowed any screen time until they’ve done it, so it gets done in record time! They also love the club aspect – seeing where everyone is, smack-talking about who is taking over the leaderboard, and commenting on the activity.

Although Duolingo is brilliant (and free!), I am mildly frustrated that while I can tell you “The boy is calm,” and “The duck is eating a fly,” I don’t yet know the days of the week, or how to ask where the bathrooms are. Still! Great app, which has been super helpful so far.

French Keyboard on iOS
Adding the French keyboard to my iPhone has certainly helped too, particularly the predictive text feature. It automatically helps me spell words I am trying to type, and helpfully adds the right accents, making me feel more professional in my written communication. I do need to pay close attention when typing, because the placement of the letters on the French keyboard is a little different!

Google Translate
For everything else, there is Google Translate! I know, language teachers, I know! It’s not a long-term solution, but it has helped us find baking powder at the supermarket, decipher descriptions of everything from BBQs to cars, and tell the delivery people we are running late. We couldn’t do without it.

I recently downloaded French as one of my offline translation languages, which is helpful when trying to avoid over-using data packages!

I’m sure there are many other language learning tips you could give me! Any great apps I need to load right now? I am willing to give everything a go!


“Aletsch_36” flickr photo by Gipfelwanderer https://flickr.com/photos/150752905@N08/35375628573 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

The No-Stress Way to Remove Backgrounds from Images

I love what Photoshop can do with removing backgrounds from images, but it is complicated to use, and not available on the iPad. I wanted something that even our youngest students could use to level-up the quality of their Book Creator books.

Thankfully, my colleague Dave Caleb discovered the iPad app Photoshop Mix. This incredibly easy-to-use app makes removing backgrounds from images a breeze.

Photoshop Mix requires users to create an Adobe ID, so for our under 13s, we use a class or grade level account to log in. You only need to log in once, then the app remembers your details.

Below is a tutorial which shows you how easy it is to remove backgrounds using Photoshop Mix, and add the exported image into Book Creator, so you can make really professional looking books, in the style of DK Find Out.

Photoshop Mix for Removing the Background of Images from UWC South East Asia on Vimeo.

You can also use Photoshop Mix to blend images or change the opacity of an image – more features which would work well in combination with Book Creator.