Houston, we are not ready to launch yet!

by Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 8, 2018

We are not ready to launch yet

I woke up with a panic attack this Monday with an email from a friend that said ‘I tried to download and install your app and ran into issues.’ A voice in my head goes, ‘Err, umm, what?’. I am grateful she reached out because it helped me resolve it sooner than later.

It was not a problem of epic proportions like, ‘Houston, we have a problem’. But it was certainly a problem of ‘Houston, we are not ready to launch yet.’ 

By the way, did you know that the term ‘Houston, we have a problem’ is an erroneous quote made highly popular by the 1995 film Apollo 13. The original words spoken by astronaut Jack Swigert to base were, ‘Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem’.

Well, back to my present day Monday morning.

Are you signed up on PopSmartKids to receive newsletters and email updates? Then you know what I am talking about.

Ever took the brownie out of the oven way too early and packed it off for a bake sale? Then you know what I am talking about.

As I started digging I realized an email had gone out to all my enthusiastic friends who have signed up to be with me on this journey. The email was an invitation to download the kid’s story telling app. It was completely unintentional. My team and I were researching on getting our email lists integrated in preparation to our launch at the end of this year. We are not there yet. Have you heard of tech misfirings? I am calling this a tech-misfiring.

The only logical thing to do for me was to reach out to each one of my trusted ally and tell the truth. I sent out an apology email, explaining what had happened. To quote a colleague I respect, ‘Experience over knowledge. Failing forward is the way to go’. I believe him.

I am grateful for each one of you for taking this ride with me. Stay with me, it is only going to get better.

It was also the same day that I found this little poster on the walls of the school while I was picking up my son. It definitely resonated.

We all make mistakes – it is the most human thing to do. We hear everywhere that we should encourage our kids to make mistakes and not shy away from trying. Our everyday experiences can be teachable moments for our children.

As a parent the best way I can mentor my kids is to live by example.

So fast forward to the evening the same day, one of the things we spoke about over dinner was what happened with Mommy at work. And boy, did I get some questions. But it was all in good intent. I had fun talking through them. I am hoping that my sons now know that it is okay to make mistakes. And when they do they will always have a space to share, pick up the pieces and get moving again.

That was my win for the day.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

Cyberbullying – What You Can Do?

by Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 1, 2018

StopCyberbullying

October was the National Bullying Prevention Month. To honor the national campaign we talked about cyberbullying last week. We want to extend that discussion and go into how we, as parents and teachers, can prevent it from happening.

When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.

We have mentioned cyberbullying is hard to detect, that is because cyberbullying happens online. So it requires a different strategy to deal with. Here are a few things that you can do.

Pay Attention

The first step to remedying any problem is to acknowledge it. Here are a few questions to ask yourselves to tell if our kids are being cyberbullied. Although this list is not exhaustive, it certainly is a place to start.

  • Is your child emotionally upset during or after using the internet or being on the phone?
  • Is your child being super-secretive of his digital life or his online persona?
  • Is your child wanting to stop the use of computer or cellphone or does not like playing his favorite game any more?
  • Is your child getting anxious on receiving a text or email?

Participate

This has to start way before any signs of cyberbullying happens. Just like you would make an effort to know your kids’ world he lives in – his friends and activities, along the same lines make an effort to know his online world. Ask to ‘friend’ them on social media and do not abuse that privilege by posting his/her baby pictures and commenting cute, or having conversations with him/her that you should have in the privacy of your home. That will be against everything we have been trying to coach.

In fact I think the mentoring should begin before kids start to interact on social media. Talk to them about the importance of online privacy and why it is a bad idea to share personal information online.

You have preemptively done the ground work. It will be that much easier to prevent cyberbullying. Then if it happens make sure to talk to them about what is happening, who are involved and how it all started.

Identify

Ever been in a moment of pain? How do you feel when you hear your friend say, ‘I get it, I have been there’? As a parent, share your own experiences of being at the receiving end of cyberbullying. Of course you should censor unnecessary details of the situation, like all conversations keep it age-appropriate.

In light of this, it is worth mentioning that a few weeks back, I had to experience a personal attack over the social channel. While I was discussing this incident with my husband, my 8 year old goes, ‘What are you talking about?’ I found it as an opportunity to make it a teachable moment. Needless to say, personally it helped me talking to my family about it.

When you get vulnerable and share your hurtful moments you are creating a safe space for your child to know that he or she can do the same when the time comes.

Document

This might be easier said than done, but take an effort to document everything if you witness cyberbullying. Keep an account of the comments and posts that are derogatory. This will come handy if you ever need to report it officially.

Report

Sometimes cyberbullying can take to extreme forms, like threats of violence, child pornography or sexually explicit messages. Taking a photo or video of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy is an act of cyberbullying. Stalking and using words to perpetrate hate crimes is a serious offense.

If you see or hear any of these happening, and you have done everything you can to resolve the situation, like blocking the bully, it’s time to report. This list provides a good guide on the different ways that such incidents can be taken up with the higher authorities.

There are laws today to prevent cyberbullying. There is growing awareness of the problem of bullying, which may lead some to believe that bullying is increasing. However, studies suggest that rates of bullying may be declining. Although it still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools. This means we, as parents, educators and adults have work to do.

Every effort we make, however small that is, will go a long way to ensure a safe and kind growing environment for our children.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

What is Cyberbullying?

by Priyanka Raha ~ Oct 25, 2018

DigitalCitizenship Cyberbullying

My pain may be the reason for somebody’s laugh. But my laugh must never be the reason for somebody’s pain. 

This was said by Charlie Chaplin. As a kid, I loved watching his acts. I still do. When I think about bullying this quote certainly rings a bell.

Bullying is when someone shows unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. It is prevalent among school-aged children, and both the kids who are bullied and the ones who bully, may have serious, lasting problems.

Facts about bullying show that about 28% of US students in grades 6-12 and 20% in grades 9-12, have experienced bullying.

Bullying can happen in broadly three different ways but  – verbal, physical and social. Whatever be the type, the effects are menacing and if not prevented can have long lasting ramifications.

With the increasing presence of digital and social media in our lives there is a new kind of bullying that we are all too familiar with – Cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers and tablets.

About 9% of students in grade 6-12 have experienced cyberbullying, where as 15% of students going to high school (grades 9-12) have experienced it. The percentage goes up to 55% for LGBTQ students. The number that is concerning among all this is only 20% to 30% of students who are bullied notify adults about the bullying.

October is the National Bullying Prevention Month, so we are taking a deep dive into looking at the different aspects of cyberbullying and what it involves.

Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing harmful, false, negative or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.

Before we start talking about preventing it, it is important to identify all the different ways that cyberbullying can happen:

  • SMS (Short Messaging Service) or text sent through personal devices like phone.
  • Apps, or online gaming forums where people can view, participate in or share content.
  • Social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
  • Email – you know what they say about emails, is to never forget that there is a real person sitting on the other side of it.

The effects of cyberbullying on the victim is the same as that of bullying. But here are a few ways that cyberbullying is different from bullying.

Incessant

Given that our digital devices are available to us every second of the day it is difficult to walk away from the torment of cyberbullying. We can be by ourselves and still be accessible to hurtful comments from others. Add the fear of missing out syndrome of a tween or teen and you have a situation where it might get difficult for the child to find relief.

Permanent

Most of the cyberbullying happen over social channels and for the most part those hurtful comments stay there. It’s not like when someone says something mean to our face we ever forget it but it certainly makes it all the more painful when you have the ability to go back and read them. Talk about reliving your moments of dread.

Undetected

Bullying is hard to detect as it is. Research shows that most of the bullying activities like name-calling, kicking, teasing  or pushing happen when an adult is not looking. The fact that cyberbullying never happens on a playground or in the class makes it all the more difficult to notice. That is because parents and teachers may not  overhear or see it happening.

Like all serious matters at hand there is a road to prevention but it needs effort – from ME and YOU. Watch this space because in the next edition we will be taking a closer look at how we can prevent cyberbullying from happening.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

The Road Ahead for Technology

by Shikha Das Shankar and Priyanka Raha ~ Oct 18, 2018

Digital Citizenship

A UK-based research agency in a report called “The Rise and Impact of Digital Amnesia,” explains why over-reliance on digital technology is limiting our ability to create lasting memory. Humans are now more likely to forget a phone number or a piece of information after they are done using it.

The World Health Organization added gaming disorder to the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases—an international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions used by medical practitioners around globally.

In 1995, the first Center for Internet Addiction was established and so was coined the term Internet addiction disorder. 

As technology made inroads into our lives so did issues like these. We were overdue a rethink on how to safeguard our interest in light of technology’s exponential growth. There were escalating concerns about the effects of technology, especially on children, as digital media is giving rise to a breed of distracted youth, privacy issues and tech addiction. 

So why is a technology company in the making talking about woes of the digital era?

Because we believe technology can be used without being a hindrance to our cognitive skills — if we use it as a tool.

Because we believe technology is more likely to benefit our children by teaching them new skills rather than turning them into technology addicts—if we teach them balance.

Because we believe technology can have ethics and moral value as an objective—if we are taught not to cross the thin line demarcating use and misuse.

As we celebrate Digital Citizenship week, it is optimal for PopSmartKids as a community, to highlight the efforts of a few notable organizations that are inspiring us to build a digital platform that lives up to the need of the hour — bundle creativity and learning with ethical and sustainable digital practices.

We want to be part of technology’s growth story but also be a part of the change that these three organizations are bringing about – advocating for making the digital world a smarter, safer and more ethical place for us and for the generations to come.

Center For Humane Technology

As technologists working at big technology companies, developing technology that we have at our hands today, they were also noticing some disturbing trends surfacing with the spread of those technologies. Short of stirring up a tumult, these people—former tech insiders and CEOs of tech companies — joined hands and vowed to be catalyst of change.

And thus was created the Center for Humane Technology that is “realigning technology with humanity’s best interest.” They believe that technologies, predominantly made by a few tech giants, that surround us are eroding important pillars of our society. Using persuasive techniques for having us glued to our devices and putting profit over ethics are what they are fighting against. The organization is helping bring about change in the way technology is designed, by pushing for humane design standards, policy and business model changes.

Earlier this year the organization tied-up with a prominent advocacy organization for children, Common Sense, to launch a campaign called the Truth About Tech. The initiative aims to protect young minds from potentially harmful manipulation and addiction of the digital media. They aim to achieve this objective by putting pressure on technology companies to make design products that are less intrusive and less addictive.  

Common Sense

Common Sense had earned the trust of more than 80 million consumers who seek objective information on their website in pursuit of quality screentime for children. For 15 years, the nonprofit organization has been helping children thrive in the digital world by providing parents and teachers with advice and information on how to make smart screen choices for our children. They offer innovative tools to parents and teachers to help reach digital media’s full potential, and thus, empower them to teach children how to use technology wisely.

Common Sense works in threefold, namely, Common Sense Media, Common Sense Education and Common Sense Action Kids, each branch working as guides for families, educators for children, and advocators for policy and business change, respectively.

It’s very likely that you pop open your browser to commonsensemedia.org, find the rating of the show on the website and read the parent-generated reviews in satisfaction before you nod your head in approval to your child’s request to watch a new show. If you are a family with children, an educator or someone interested in figuring out how best to use the digital space to benefit young minds, your search will inevitability land you on one of Common Sense webpages.

International Society for Technology in Education

International Society for Technology in Education or more popularly known as ISTE is a community of passionate global educators who believe that technology can be harnessed to devise creative ways to solve difficult problems in education. Technology has become an integral part of our lives and as adults we use it to accomplish multiple tasks during the day. Given how the world has changed, we need to revisit how we educate our children. ISTE upholds that mission through its multiple events, guidelines and evidence-based professional learning for educators.

Navigating this digitally interconnected world is tricky for educators because they have to prepare the next generation to thrive in this world. ISTE Standards are guidelines that help educators, education leaders, coaches and students. It is not like the job of the educators was ever easy, now they need to align the lessons so that they can help students build the digital age skills. ISTE plays a huge role in assisting teachers with reinventing the pedagogical needs to support student achievement. Digital Citizenship is in the core and heart of what ISTE is. The organization strives to use the potential of technology to allow ‘humans to create, to dream and to change the world’.

What we love about ISTE is its relentless focus on how best to use digital media to ‘bridge the gap from where we are to where we need to be’. It does so by defining standards for coaches so they can help the educators design tools that can best support learning for students to equip them for the digital age. When it comes to technology for education, the baton lies not just with the educators and coaches, the support of the education leaders is imperative so they can design innovative tools using technology that is not for the sake of technology but for the sake of education and learning.

As a society in need of being constantly connected, judicious use of technology is possible and should be the obvious choice. The efforts of organizations like the Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense and International Society for Technology in Education, are carving the way for realizing those thoughts.

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

Make Way for Mentoring Digital Screentime

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Oct 11, 2018

Screentime battles have you surrounded day in and day out. The scene of your children sitting in front of the TV saying, “Five more minutes”, “One more show,” and “He is not letting me watch my show,” has played out in your living room many times. Pangs of guilt surface as you read that the American Association of Pediatrics has lowered its recommendation for acceptable screentime for toddlers.

We hear you, Parents. You have our attention.

Children have access to multiple gadgets today and that poses a big challenge in managing their screentime. They watch TV, play games on a tablet, and use a phone for social media—mostly simultaneously. The challenge is greater as schools are now geared towards more digital learning, in which children spend a significant amount of time in front of a screen to finish a school task or homework.

Let us begin by saying there are no foolproof action plans to manage screentime.

Many parents set timers to limit screentime, many use inbuilt apps on tablets to control media usage, and some completely say no to screentime during weekdays. Even with an elaborate rule-consequence system in place, you may find that no amount of reminders or threats are doing a lick of good when it’s dinner-time and you want your children to switch off their tablets.

While these monitor and control techniques are necessary, our efforts should not be limited to them.

We at PopSmartKids are dyed-in-wool members of a camp that believes healthy digital consumption habits can be achieved through gradual and consistent mentoring. We strongly feel by being role models for appropriate digital usage and an active participant in our children’s digital world, we can successfully raise children who set limits for themselves and practice good judgment when using digital media as teenagers and young adults.

Mentoring your children to exercise good digital habits is an effort for the long haul. But the process can start now. Try these simple steps to bring attention and awareness to your children as their curious mind sets out to explore the captivating world of digital media.

Accept it like other things

Accept that digital media will have a place in your child’s life, and increasingly so as they grow older. Mentoring him to use it appropriately is where we come in. Teach children that this, like everything else in his life has limitations—too much sugar is bad for health, playing basketball for six hours is not okay, and the next chapter of the gripping adventure series will have to wait till tomorrow morning—screentime too comes with limits.

Explain the purpose

The multifold purpose of digital media should be explained to children from the beginning. The knowledge that technology is a means of entertainment, a tool for learning and way to communicate can be planted early in a child’s mind. This awareness helps children understand why parents may say “No” to more TV shows but will encourage them to use the internet to search for information required to complete the history homework.

Include not replace

Teaching children that digital technology should not replace social interaction, physical activity and doing a household chore is important for them to understand that we should not let TV and tablets take over. If we teach children to include digital screentime in their daily routine just like we include piano lessons and playdates, children are more likely to understand the importance of balance.

Be a part of their digital life

Including yourself in your children’s screentime is a great way to bond with them and encourage learning. Working with your child on an app that allows you to collaborate with him on learning to code or writing a story is a fun way to share screentime. Show interest if he talks about a new app or video game he heard about from his friends at school. Don’t be quick to download it on his tablet. Show him that due-diligence is important for everything in the digital world by practicing it.

Trying to strike a balance in today’s digital world is learning for parents as much as it is for our children. We support you in your efforts to create that balance and strive to be a motivating force for raising the next generation of responsible digital natives.

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

Shattering patriarchy one conversation at a time

by Priyanka Raha ~ Oct 05, 2018

Sometime last year I went to the ‘Western Washington Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ event to support a friend. I fell in love with this book titled Cuddles (well of course can’t beat that title) but this is the page that caught my eye.

And no cuddles at all please. Not right now.

In the light of the recent events, I have thought about these words a lot. These words are a representation of one and one thing only – consent.

Last few days have made us angry, disgusted and ashamed. It started about an year ago with the unfolding of the Weinstein story. We have seethed in rage and anguish as one story after another has been laid bare before us and so has been laid bare the ugly nature of the patriarchy.

Time is now to take the opportunity to tear this down. It is not going to happen in a day or in a year. It will take years but it has to start today. There is no better place than our home to start the mentoring. It starts with preaching and practicing consent with our kids.

I will admit it is not easy. I was brought up in a culture where talking about anything related to sexual assault is (yes, is and not was, because it still is that way) taboo. But sweeping things under the rug, burying it and being quiet about it is not the answer. As a mother of two boys I want them to grow up knowing that their bodies are their own, their words are powerful and they should always respect the boundaries of the body.

We have to be conscientious about it, we have to own it, and so we need an action plan.

Action Plan 1

No and Stop.

The first and the foremost lesson to teach our kids is to be able to say ‘no’ and ‘stop’, to identify when to say no and to respect when someone else uses these words. Understanding the concept of consent can be difficult. And don’t forget the absence of a ‘yes’ means no.

It is never too early to start this conversation.

This can start in our very own homes, with simple things like giving a hug. Use words like, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ And in return respect his wishes if your kid says ‘no’. Don’t just preach it, practice it as adults.

Action Plan 2

For boys and girls

It is often forgotten that these lessons are important for growing boys as much as they are for growing girls. As the events have unfolded in the past week, I have witnessed women talking with disrespect, indifference and hurtful words. Our enemy here is patriarchy, not men. 

So, mothers of boys, please take note here – I feel we have been provided with this opportunity and this added responsibility to contribute, to mend and to help build gender equity. We need ALL hands on deck. And so we need to educate our boys and girls equally.

Action Plan 3

Keep it age appropriate

These conversations are meant for children of every age. They don’t need to know every sordid detail but the key is to keep it age appropriate but more importantly keep the conversation going. For a young child it can be something like this, “A very powerful man made some very bad choices that made many women feel uncomfortable, powerless and terrible inside. He exposed his private body to them without their permission. For others, he touched their private bodies without their permission. He bullied them in a way that made them feel that they couldn’t tell anyone about it. It hurt them very much.”

These short videos which are cataloged by age-appropriateness can be a great resource to keep the conversation going on consent. Do remember to watch along side the child and be prepared to answer any question.

Action Plan 4

Be an ‘up-stander’

It is important to not just have a conversation about consent, but to be an up-stander. A ‘no’ is a no, there is no grey area. And that includes a child’s willingness to participate in hugs to aunts, uncles and other close relatives.

Do not let anyone make your child feel guilty of not wanting to give him or her a hug even if they gave a cool present. Subtle messages go a long way in cementing the idea of consent. When it comes to something as innocent as hugging or tickling, if the child does not want it then he or she is not obliged to participate in it. It is important for him or her to know that a child’s personal space is far more important than an adult’s feelings.

Action Plan 5

Teach your kids that authority figures can be bad.

Remember Larry Nasser, the former gymnastics coach who abused more than 160 women and girls and it went on for years. He is now sentenced to 175 years in prison but this brought forward stories of how he was surrounded by enablers. As a man whose office walls were plastered with olympics memorabilia he held a position of respect.

I am sorry about dragging his sorry name here. But if we are talking about actions we can take as parents to educate our children on consent this is a story we, as parents, should be aware of. Don’t let the seeds of self-doubt about consent grow in their little heads. Provide them ample room to question people of authority. Let them practice saying ‘no’.

Today, we have the ability to make a change, get involved and conduct ourselves in a more helpful manner. We can do just that as parents – and teach our children to do the same. We can bring the patriarchy down – one conversation at a time.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

The Evolving Classroom – Part 2

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Sep 20, 2018

Technology in classroom

In the first part of our evolving classroom series we saw how our child’s classroom is changing into a tech-enabled environment that is adopting new tools for learning, innovation and creativity.

In the past, we welcomed a desktop on the class teacher’s table, or a computer lab in every school, and made computer literacy part of every school’s curriculum. Technology’s insurmountable growth is now bringing in another wave of transformation in the classroom.

The future is heading towards open classrooms where desks and chairs are being replaced with beanbags and bouncy balls, whiteboards with LCD smart boards, and pen and paper with iPads and laptops. 

Technology is helping the growth of experimental schools too, that are breaking the norm of awarding grades and scores to children, and creating classrooms based on their skills instead of age. Technology in education is aiding the growth of customized learning, where educators provide child-specific learning modules, ensuring the child learns from his inherent skills rather than rote memory.

As we see our child’s classroom metamorphosing into a robust learning environment, we must accept that technology is a gateway to success for the next generation. There has never been a more exciting time for education than now.  We look at four technologies carving its way into K-12 classrooms of today. 

Immersive Technologies

Roughly broken down into augmented, virtual and mixed reality, holography and telepresence, immersive technologies allow users to integrate virtual content with their physical environment thus diminishing the difference between a user’s real environment and that of virtual content. Demand for immersive learning tools are rising in K-12 schools because of this technology’s ability to offer blended reality that goes beyond the confines of a classroom. For example, VR allows students to take virtual field trips across the world, and participate in virtual dissection to get a comprehensive look inside a human body. This technology is fostering greater collaboration with peers in the classroom and allowing more project-based learning. 

Cloud Computing 

Cloud computing is helping take learning beyond brick-and-mortar schools, breaking the norm that a student and teacher need to be face-to-face in order for learning to happen. Information, mainly in the form of homework, class discussions and assignments are delivered consistently and securely over a cloud network. Digital libraries and Google Classroom are popular examples of cloud computing’s strong potential for teachers and students.

3D Printers

A powerful tool in discovery and learning, a 3D printer brings to life anything that a student can visualize, catapulting his spatial reasoning skills to the top. Preparing a model of a dinosaur for a science project or an object for show and tell, if the mind can conjure an image, the 3D printer can turn it into reality. Already an essential tool in many engineering and architecture schools across the globe, this engaging technology will be hugely beneficial for grade school students as well since it positions every student as an inventor and keeps learning exciting. 

Game-based Learning/Gamification

Gamification of the classroom means creating fun, game-like scenario to achieve curriculum objectives. Digital games provide two important learning components to a student—collaboration and problem solving. Since digital games are highly interactive, they bridge the gap between learning and imagination, and increase the ability of a child to assimilate challenging concepts. Teachers are also using gamification, mainly in the form of learning apps like Duolingo, Socrative and PlayBrighter, to assess students —award them upon winning a game and provide constructive feedback when they don’t. 

The question around technology and schools has changed from “should we use technology in the classrooms?” to “what kind of technology should we use in a K-12 classrooms?” And this is a crucial step in the right direction. 

Sadly, the fate of “dog ate my homework” excuse seems to be up in the air (cloud).

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

The Evolving Classroom – Part 1

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Sep 13, 2018

Back-to-school

Mothers start to develop knots of stress, and get their jollies too, around early August, as ‘back-to-school’ signage and dark black arrows lead them to the end of their local Target store. Another school year is here, and you give credit to yourself for starting prep work early, only to realize that the ‘yellow plastic folder with prongs’ is already out of stock. And is there a headphone on the supplies list for your first grader? Why?

The dust starts to settle on the back-to-school preparations with classroom open house or meet-and-greet, and finishes with the first-day-send-off pictures posted on social media.

Barely two weeks into the new school year, and notice how the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) of your child’s school is updating it’s social media page regularly to keep us posted on miscellaneous school activities and events. A SignUpGenius online collaborative sheet, requesting volunteers for the year’s first bookfair, awaits your attention.

Paper reminders and agendas are co-existing with apps and social media to facilitate communication between parents, students and teachers. Class teachers are actively integrating technology to communicate with parents. A common example is an app called Remind, which teachers use to send important reminders to parents like class photos or school field trip dates. Another app called Bloomz is geared more for building a virtual parent-teacher community. Moderated by the class teacher, the app allows her to post in-classroom pictures, invite parents for classroom events, and initiate discussions between parents.

Wade through your child’s classroom and you realize how different it is from the one you remember from your memory. A media center with laptops, desktops, and digital projectors are prominent in every classroom, starting from as young as kindergarten.

Digital technologies and eLearning tools have been seamlessly incorporated within a child’s daily class routine. He has multiple opportunities during the day to come face to face with technology, either completing daily tasks or using free time to practice reading or math skills.

Tests are conducted electronically, teachers provide links to online practice sheets and reading materials, and audio reading software and iStation (software for reading, comprehension and logical reasoning based games) are options during choice time. Remember the headphone on the supplies list? It is certainly worth being on the list.

It is also nearly impossible to miss your child’s grade, report card or attendance as most school districts now have a centralized family portal where this information is uploaded periodically on a secure network. And we haven’t even begun to talk about how technology is integral to learning at middle and high school.

The vision for technology adoption at schools across the world hinges on a crucial fact that skills required for success of our children in the changing world cannot be acquired by traditional forms of learning like blackboard and paper alone. While it is imperative that rudimentary forms of learning remain, in order to cultivate future-ready skills like collaboration and critical thinking, schools have been working comprehensively toward establishing technology at the core of its curriculum.

Even though technology is starting to find its rightful place in classrooms globally, opinion leaders feel the adoption has been sluggish, with a need to ramp up how technology is being leveraged for children and teens.

In his book, ‘The Global Achievement Gap,’ Dr Tony Wagner talks about the seven ‘survival skills’ necessary for students to be successful in today’s global knowledge economy. These skills include critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks, agility and adaption, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective and oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination. He goes on to talk about issues facing the school system today and how it needs to change.

Can technology help reduce the ‘knowledge gap’ and shape skills necessary for success in the 21st century?

The learning demands of tomorrow need to be fulfilled today. And that effort begins at school. In the next part of our two-part series we take a look at how technology can help children attain future-ready skills and what changes to expect in our child’s dynamic classroom.

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

The case of the fleeting face

by Priyanka Raha ~ Sep 06, 2018

I assure you this is not a thriller story, but it certainly is a thrilling story of passing time, a story of a face that has grown over summer, and a story of a face that waves bye from a school-bus window.

This is that time of the year when school starts. Unofficially it is the end of summer. The first day of school brings with it a deluge of emotions. Kids are excited (or not) to get back to school, mostly to catch up with their friends. Parents end up having mixed emotions – slightly misty-eyed seeing their child transition to another grade level. At the same time, they are glad that there is no more chauffeuring around across town to different camp locations. You don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to, but it sure is nice to have some time back to yourself.

What the first day of school also brings is a social media feed of first-day-photos. Parents want to capture this moment when their child is starting a new year at school. It is exciting to catch those early morning fresh faces with shiny new shoes and a shiny new backpack, and share them with friends and family. Technology provides an amazing platform here. It takes less than a minute to snag a picture with your phone and share it with your loved ones. It truly feels amazing to have your community as an ally in your moment of pride and joy.

I love sharing these pictures and seeing these pictures from friends I know, pictures of kids who were pre-schoolers with my kids and are older now. But lately a few things make me nervous, like having signs of school names and other details on the picture. So I made a list, of things that we should remember while posting pictures of our kiddos on social media.

No school names

Fellow-parents, let’s be careful about what and how we post the first-day pictures. Providing the school’s name, address or any other sensitive information is non-ideal. Keeping personal information about your children away from strangers will keep them safer. I know that retrieving information about the school is not too difficult, there are many ways one can derive that, but why provide that information on a platter, right? So, please don’t.

Remember your privacy settings

Remember, that little text called ‘privacy settings’ on your social media profile. Pay attention to your privacy settings and make sure that you share your pictures only with the people on your network. There is even an option to make your post available to specific people if you want to. Like I mentioned before, technology is an amazing platform to share your moments of happiness with friends and family. But then, let’s do the sharing with just friends and family and not strangers.

No neighbor kids’ photos

This is an absolute no. You should not post pictures of your neighbor’s kids without consent from the parent. Your child may be best friends with him/her but only the parent holds the right to decide whether or not the photos can be shared publicly. You might argue that it is not public sharing since you have the privacy settings in place and you are sharing it only among your friends. Note that your friends are not friends to your neighbor. Let’s be sensitive to each other’s privacy. You have every right to demand this in return as well. If you are not okay with it, do not hesitate to mention that you would not want to share your kids’ pictures on your neighbor’s social media profile.

Discuss social media posting

I love all the good things that social media has brought with it but I am also very big on good  practices and safe behavior on the digital medium. If your child is old enough, I encourage you to ask her if it’s okay for you to post her picture on your profile. Mention that this means all of her Mommy’s friends can see the picture. This will set up a good foundation for social media etiquette for your kid in the future. Believe me, she will be on there someday, so teach her how, start today. Explain why it is important to pay attention to privacy and mutual consent for social media sharing.

Live the moment

This is my favorite one. In a strange way, this has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with capturing the moment. Speaking here from personal experience, I was not able to take a picture of my third grader as he got on to the bus. The morning got busy (no surprise there). I barely managed to give him a hug, then he sprinted off and then he was gone. I stood there wondering, I should have planned my morning better. But my point is if you had a similar morning, let me tell you it’s okay. If you have a well-documented beautiful first-day picture, it’s marvelous and if you don’t it’s equally marvelous. Capturing the moment is fantastic but sometimes just living the moment is quite great too.

You and I are in this together!

We are doing great!

Hooray to the beginning of another fabulous year!

Technology and Trends that parents find useful today

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Aug 30, 2018

Parenting is inherently wrought with challenges, and many believe that the unprecedented rise of gadgets and gizmos, and the internet, render parenting more strained than ever. 

While the challenges will remain, there has been a significant crack in the belief that technology is detrimental for children. Guidelines for responsible use of technology are being formulated at schools, concept of digital mentoring is being encouraged, and parents realize that raising children in the digital age should not be done in fear or with apprehension but by modeling healthy digital usage.

What is also noteworthy is how technology has made several parenting woes a thing of the past, at the same time it has brought some new concerns to be worried about. Parents find themselves leveraging technology to engage more with their children, be more experimental toward teaching their kids new skill sets, and what’s more, are able to grab a coffee when you least expect it. Read on to know how.

Video monitoring and streaming

A cursory glance at the baby video monitor to see your baby still in deep slumber is a moment of nirvana for every mom. A reason to make herself another cup of coffee, finish another chapter of a book or even run another load of laundry. The global baby monitor market was estimated to be USD 929.4 million in 2016, out of which the revenue for audio and video monitors are 50.6%. Real-time communication between child and parent seems to be the key driver for high adaption of this technology. Baby monitors have been around for a while but the recent versions that stream on your phones and have motion detection provide a sense of security and peace of mind unfathomable before. Definitely a popular choice for parents who spend time away from home or in need of some ‘me-time’ while at home with kids.

Voice-enabled devices

If you have been reading our ‘I, Alexa’ (and other voice-enabled devices) series, you already know these AI-enabled devices are here to stay. No more worrying about scratched music cds that have seen rough handling by children eager to use them as flying saucers. Alexa will play music peppy enough to get the kids dancing indoors. Meaningful conversation about football teams between your child and Google’s HomePod? Yes, please. Want a giggle? Try asking some knock knock jokes to Siri. While these devices have raised concerns about etiquette and mannerism around a machine, with some mindful parenting, children and parents are learning to accept these machines as a fun and interactive part of life.

Social media

As social media became a place to congregate virtually, more and more parents found it easier to make friends, express emotional pleas previously written only in personal diaries and seek support from people across the globe. And it is this virtue of social media that helped tackle everyday parenting woes like choosing the best diaper rash cream to coming out of the closet and talking about postpartum depression. Fretting over a parenting problem is being replaced with using social media to express concern or post a query only to be pleasantly flooded with suggestions, virtual hugs and recommendations in return. Brag posts, vent posts and picture perfect parenting snapshots do make social media a slippery slope in many ways, but it has become an extension of us nonetheless. Trust us, ‘#momfails’ and ‘#toddlertrouble’ are here to stay.

Language learning apps

Repetition and continued exposure to language are two important factors in learning a language. So when a wave of e-learning language apps, equipped with both these attributes, as well as an interactive platform, surfaced in the digital world, it found many takers. More and more parents want to expose children to new languages from a young age and find great options among a gamut of language apps for children. Through these apps, parents have the option to conveniently and affordably introduce their children to learning different languages in a fun and interactive way, which previously was a laborious task. Read our story about some popular language learning apps if you are looking for a start in that direction.

Shikha Das Shankar is a storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.