The Best of 2018 in three steps


by Priyanka Raha ~ Dec 27, 2018

So here we are, the last week of 2018. My inbox has been inundated with lists – list of best apps for kids, list of best places to visit and list of things to do around the new year. Oh, and there is that list to look forward to as well – the list of resolutions for 2019.

I do not have my goals set for 2019 yet but I am certain of this. For me, this was a very special year because I got to know you and share with you ideas and stories. It takes a village to raise kids. Through your likes, shares and comments, it has been refreshing to realize that parents and seasoned educators out there are going through the same struggles as I do when it comes to managing tech-time with kids. It is very comforting to know that you are out there navigating this puzzle with me, in some shape or form.

PopSmartKids was born out of the need to amplify the human factor in technology The PopSmartKids blog has been a way to establish the human connection in a day and age when we are overloaded by technology around us. It has been my attempt to introduce you to the vast possibilities that technology can bring, the emerging technology trends in education and navigating some related and some unrelated parenting challenges.

On that note, I leave you with the following three actionable steps to wrap up the last few days of the holiday season. 

Growth, not Goals

New Year is about goals and it is a really great way to start the year. But how do we look forward when we have not taken account of how far we have come? It’s like that famous quote – Never take your eyes off where you are headed but never forget where you came from. The growth mindset promotes the philosophy ‘I don’t know this yet’. On the same lines, forget the goals for a bit and ask your kids:

What do you know today that you did not know at the beginning of the year?

When they say out loud a few things they have learnt in the last few months, celebrate how far they have come. That will go a long way in building up their self-confidence.

Screen-time, not scream-time

Like most parents, I worry about the time my kids spend on their devices. 
Like most adults, I sometimes binge-watch.
Like most adults I know when to stop watching.  

I believe kids are people just like us. So sometimes they want to keep watching because they like the show and can’t stop. They need your help. You have the wisdom.

So instead of screaming, work on a plan and work on it together. Work preemptively at the start of the day  or at the beginning of screen-time. Decide on the number of minutes they want to spend on their devices and pay special attention to what they are going to do on their devices. Think of it like being in a library and choosing books. You have the wisdom. Books are not bad, inappropriate books are. Screen-time is not bad, inappropriate content is.

Creation, not consumption

When it comes to words like consumption, the immediate reaction that we have is that of kids watching a show or a movie or a youtube channel. But the idea that kids are at the receiving end of consuming content applies to all things, including books. Challenge your kids by asking the following questions. 

If you had to sketch this character, how would you do it?

What do you think the character might be eating? Spaghetti? Candy?

If the story continued, what do you think would be happening next?

The list goes on. These don’t need to be a special sit-down session with your kid or intense questions. Get silly. Get talking – while in the car or walking around admiring the zoo lights or over dinner. Incorporate these  questions in your everyday conversation, like, ’Hey what were you watching?’ ‘Why do you like that show so much?’

Let them amaze you. Ignite their imagination.

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.

Breaking the mold one color at a time

toy aisles

by Priyanka Raha ~ Dec 20, 2018

The time during the holidays calls for multiple visits to the toy aisles. Walking through them it doesn’t take long to see the presence of pink and blue aisles. Growing up as a girl, my toys were all different colors. Well, I grew up with just a handful of toys, but that is a story for another day. My favorite color is blue, the exact shade being the ocean blue color. When my kids were born suddenly I started to see the patterns in color for the children’s clothes and toys.

When my now eight-year old boy was three and was able to voice his ideas into words, he wanted a purple jacket. The only place I could find a purple jacket was the clothes’ aisle for girls, right next to the pink jackets. We never ended up buying a purple jacket. Because the imagery and surroundings all read ‘meant for girls’. No amount of talking convinced him that it didn’t matter. I wondered, if the adult aisles are not segregated by blue and pink, why do we feel the need to do so for the children’s aisles?

A few months later, on Mothers Day, he brought home a neatly framed paper that read ‘This is me’. It had a beautiful picture of him smiling with a bunch of questions and answers. What is your favorite food? What is your favorite story? What is your favorite color? That’s where my eyes stopped. It said blue. He later told me he thought blue was meant as a color of choice for boys. It made a dent in my heart. 

That was 2014. In August 2015 American Target stores announced they were creating gender-neutral toy aisles, following a similar move by Toys ‘R’ Us and online retailers such as Amazon. Around this time, parents complained that the lead character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, female jedi-in-training Rey, was hard to find in stores. Rey appealed to both (traditionally) male Star Wars fans and female ones. Things are certainly changing but not as much as I, as a parent would like. Parents are fed up with the strict princess dresses for girls and action figures for boys.

Stereotyping hurts us, it hurts our future because our children are our future.

Fast forward to 2018 Mothers Day, we are in a zoo and my four-year old boy picks up a beautiful pink unicorn. We did not intend to buy toys that day, we were in the zoo store for a break, to get ice-cream and snacks and go back into the zoo to explore some more. As I was reluctant and showed hesitation, my husband immediately picked it up and said, ‘Beautiful unicorn! I love it.’ Later he told me he did not want to say no because he did not want our child to think that he couldn’t get the unicorn because it was pink. 

Why the above story is important? Because the onus is not just on the stores. Online retailers like Amazon suggest the majority of shoppers on their sites still search for products by gender. Such data are concerning as this may point to a deeper problem more rarely acknowledged: that the gendered stereotyping of toys is driven as much by consumers (including parents) as by manufacturers and retailers.

Yesterday at the Target toy aisle, I caught up with a friend who was buying a Lego Star Wars set for her daughter. She expressed concern as to why legos had to be pink and blue or need to be labelled as ‘Friends’ for girls. I agree it is not explicitly labelled as boys or girls but the suggestive optics are hard to ignore.

friends girls lego toy

According to sociologist Elizabeth Sweet, toy companies began intensifying their use of color-coded marketing and segregation of toys in the 1980s. Although it was started to help consumers with what they are looking for this is concerning, she said, because “it encourages a culture where gender stereotypes define a way of life for children.” One study of more than 100 toys showed heavily gender-coded toys were less likely to promote cognitive development than gender-neutral toys.

Gender based compartmentalization in stores and online can have a serious impact on kids’ future skill sets and career aspirations, ultimately affecting the makeup of the workforce. Isn’t that what we are trying to change after all?

For now our toddler bed has a pink unicorn, a pink penguin and a purple sea horse. We also have a brown bear, a grey elephant and a black orca. And we so hope we can keep it that way.

Gender neutral toys

So next time when you buy toys or redecorate your kids’ rooms think beyond these imposed labels and tags. It’s easier said than done but I promise you that one small decision from you will have made a dent in what the future is going to look like.

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.

How Technology in Education is Flipping Things Around

Technology in TheFlippedClassroom

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Dec 13, 2018

When I was first introduced to the concept of a class where “class work happens at home and homework in the class,” I flipped a little. How did we come to a point where the fundamental workings of a classroom is changing?

High-school teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams invented the flipped classroom concept and credit the research report “Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating and Inclusive classroom,” for their successful attempt at implementing this unique concept. They defined a flipped classroom as a “mindset that directs attention away from the teachers and puts it squarely on the students and their learning.

In a flipped, or inverted classroom, the in-class time is “re-purposed” to focus more on inquiry, application and assessment of students. The traditional lecture-style of teaching is greatly reduced, and a methodology is adopted to personalize learning. The students learn at home aided by technology tools like lectures streaming on their computers, eBooks, and other digital and traditional course materials. 

What it’s all about

Students take control of the learning process and do so at their own pace. A typical flipped classroom requires students to watch a video on a topic in a virtual space like Google Classroom at home or other vodcast apps. While doing the lesson, they take quizzes to ensure understanding, have access to additional digital materials, and take notes and write down questions that they might have about the lesson to ask the teacher in the classroom the next day. Students continue to be at the center of learning in the classroom when they participate in group activities and collaborate with others in the group to come up with a solution.   

The teacher takes on the role of a coach and guide, who helps each student develop a unique learning strategy rather than imparting the same knowledge to all the students.  What results is a rich learning environment that helps students foster real-world thinking skills and problem-solving techniques. Some of the activities that teachers can have a group do together include: digital storytelling, making ebooks, podcasts or instructional videos, and posters and quizzes using tools like Google Forms.

Works for all levels 

Though more popular in high school and college, a flipped classroom has been adopted by elementary schools too and seen great success. As per research data available from 2014, 96% of teachers who have flipped their classrooms will recommend it to others.

For elementary school teachers alone, there are hundreds of apps suitable to be used in a flipped classroom environment like, Edheads, Skillshare, WeVideo, and GoClass to name a few. Most videos and apps work well on a tablet, phone or computer at home. In the cases where students don’t have access to digital devices, they have the option to use the school or public library to access a computer and internet.

The Flipped Learning Network, an organization advocating for flipped classrooms, provides resources and support for teachers looking to implement a flipped classroom. Tutorials on how to make quality videos and infographics, screen-casting for elementary school teachers, along with plenty of resources on the know-how of flipping a classroom is available for educators through their network.

Technology as the enabler

A flipped classroom is just one of the many technology-driven trends being adopted by schools and colleges across the globe.

A paradigm shift in teaching techniques and the rise of real-world learning, to meet the needs of an evolving future, has undoubtedly been enabled by technology. Technology that has become the answer to many challenges that educators and students face. Technology that is an integral part of a student’s academic success. Technology that our next generation will use to pursue their dreams. 

When technology is made available to teachers, they are enabled to ignite the minds of their students innovatively and make learning personalized. When technology is made available to students, they are enabled to learn more engagingly and consider learning to be relevant.

What new trends are you witnessing at your child’s school? What do you expect technology to change or improve in 2019 in your child’s life?

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.

If you can code you can change the world


by Priyanka Raha ~ Dec 06, 2018

When I started writing this article I wanted to talk about how important it is for every single student to learn how to code.

My third grader was sharing his experience of using scratch at his school. So I asked him. ‘What do you think about coding?’ And that’s what he said.

If you can code you can change the world.

So I went with it. I do not know how much you can change the world with coding but it certainly is a necessary skill in this changing world.

I found three ways to explain why there is a big need for including coding in the school curriculum.

It is not just for the engineer

Let’s first talk about the misconception that coding is meant only for engineers or students who will go on to pursue a career in software development. It is absolutely not.

Coding is nothing more than telling a computer what to do in a language that the computer understands. You see, coding is the language of the future. Look around us today, we are constantly interacting with computers in one way or the other. Given that our world around us is becoming more and more digital,  learning to code is equivalent to learning how to read and write.

Think how a child learns language. She first listens to her parents and people around her and learns how to speak. But that isn’t enough, she has to go on and learn to read, identify words when she sees them so she can make sense of the world around her. Then she has to express her ideas and thoughts, so she has to learn how to write. 

Coding expands the understanding of the world around you. The skills you develop while learning to code are actionable and universal all through out your life. Encouraging your children to learn these skills is equivalent to providing them with tools to not just interact but thrive in this world.

It will teach you how to think

‘Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.’ ~ Steve Jobs

Coding is not about lines of commands on a screen, it is rather about going from point A to point Z in 24 different ways. It is figuring out the minute well-thought-out steps to achieve a goal. Coding forces you to start thinking in logical steps and how variations in those steps can lead to a different action. 

The essence of coding is in computational thinking, breaking down large complex problems into small digestible chunks and forming repeatable solutions.

Learning computer programming also improves your attention to detail. Given that a missing hyphen or a semicolon can lead to different results, you become quite skilled at paying attention to details.

It can ignite imagination

Have you ever solved a puzzle? Do you remember the excitement of accomplishment at the end of it? What if you told your child she can create her own maze and play with it? Learning how to code will open that door to a world of imagination for her.

Coding is about joining the dots to make the picture whole. Imagine you can make a character of your choice and make it jump up and down. Imagine dragging code blocks that allows you to make catchy music beats and mix them up. 

Coding provides creative ways to build your own worlds and see them come to life. The sheer joy of making things and being able to add movement to complex interlocking parts on screen can be very entertaining. In the words of a tynker maker, who is also a 7th grader ‘Coding is fun because once you have finished it, it’s really fun to play with it.

I can go on and on of all the things that coding enables you to do but for now I want to leave you with the Hour of Code activities. These are categorized by age and they not only teach basic coding skills but are fun and interactive.

So go on, have some fun. 
Let technology be the wind in your sails.
Let the knowledge to code fuel your flights of fantasy.

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.