The Dos and Don’ts of Parental Control – Part 2

ParentalControlsOnApplications

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Jan 24, 2019

As we saw in the first part of our series on parental control, the array of software available to monitor your child’s online activities are an effective tool to limit your child, particularly tweens and teens, from exposure to unwanted content and keeping track of their social media activities. 

However, parental control apps are not the only answer to keeping your child safe on the internet. While they are preventive tools, these tools will not teach your children to practice good judgment online nor will it replace the need for parents to set clear expectations and boundaries for their children.    

The Debate: Safety vs Privacy 

Supporters of parental control believe that awareness is key, and in the online world, prevention is better than cure. In order to ensure their child is not being bullied or is bullying online, or he is not interacting with strangers and potentially dangerous people, it is important to use these apps. There is a strong support from parents who want to block access to pornography, online chatrooms, and other adult content that can have a negative impact on them.

By enabling rigid parental control features on home devices and their child’s smartphones, parents tend to have peace of mind. Limiting access and keeping track of their child’s online activities from text, to new social media posts, to keyword search entered by their child, parents feel they have done whatever they can to keep their child safe online. 

However, any talk of parental control has the potential to spiral into a heated debated surrounding:

  1. Results in mistrusting children who hide more than confide
  2. Teen privacy
  3. Ethical challenges 

The detractors of parental control tools believe that using parental control to monitor your teenager’s online activity is an invasion of his privacy, which he is entitled to. Stunting their independence under the cover of safety will not help them learn to stay safe on the internet. Rather the banned content might become a taboo, in turn attracting them even more towards it. 

It is also important to note that it might be difficult for a parent to draw the line on how much monitoring is necessary, leading to a situation where parents are more intrusive in their teenager’s life than they should be. This control-based parenting, or helicopter parenting, may possibly lead to sneakier kids who will find a way to circumvent the parental control systems put in place by their parents.    

Parental control also raises a concern about ethics. As we monitor our children on social media and have access to their messages and texts through parental control apps, we also have access to information about other children and their families. This might be unacceptable for those coming under secondary monitoring.

The dilemma of digital parenting brings a divide to our approach on parenting tweens and teens. Should we let them make mistakes as they explore the world of internet, knowing that the consequences can be potentially dangerous for them and others around them? Or should we be snoopy to the extent that they have no sense of privacy? 

Is there a middle path we can take to ensure cyber safety as well as help build digital resilience in our children?
It is safe to say yes.

Our Stance

We agree that some amount of parental control needs to be in place as your child starts spending unsupervised time on the internet. Parental controls are a great first start to keeping children safe until they develop digital resilience. A blanket ban on inappropriate content might work for tweens but is more likely to be counterproductive for older children.

Know that parental control apps will not:

  1. Replace the need to mentor our kids to be digitally responsible even before they have social media profiles.
  2. Eliminate all inappropriate digital content from the child’s life.
  3. Teach them what parents can by being role models of good online behavior. 

True that youngsters lack the mental defenses and emotional restraints like adults to make the right choices online. But putting excessive control over their digital life may not be beneficial to help them acquire those skills either. Keeping youngsters safe on the internet is a process that starts years before they make their grand entry on social media. We are talking years of mentoring by discussing with them the negative impact of the internet, etiquettes of using social media and setting clear expectations about how and why to use the internet from the start.

We also need to understand that children, despite our sincere efforts to mentor and monitor their online activities, will come across undesirable content. Monitoring with parental control features helps parents to be informed of such a situation, so that parents can talk to their children about why this content is inappropriate and how it can have an adverse effect on them. The need to minimize the negative impact of inappropriate content should be an important achievable goal for parental control.

A disciplined approach to internet usage can be taught to youngsters in parts by being role models of good online behavior and setting clear boundaries that include dos and don’ts of using the internet from an impressionable age. Once they do reach an age where they have social media accounts and an active online presence, basic parental control features along with one-on-one time spent on discussing your child’s internet usage is an important step in building trust between you and your tweens or teens.  

Communicate and have their back 

It is also important to communicate to your child the fact that you are monitoring content and the purpose of this monitoring should be clearly explained to them. As the child gets older, has shown responsible online behavior and is conscious of the possible dangers of the internet, show trust in him by giving him more freedom on the internet by letting off some of the parental control features. Mentoring done right will have your child confide in you if something in his virtual space does not feel right. 

We couldn’t agree more that there are endless possibilities to surveil our kids, and that some amount of monitoring along with transparency between you and your children is necessary. But hold on to your urge to go into undercover spy mode, parents. 

How do you draw the fine line between monitoring your child’s digital life and mentoring him to stay safe? Has parental control backfired on you? We would love to hear from you.

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 Dos and Don’ts of Parental Control

ParentalControls

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Jan 17, 2019

Take a big sigh of relief if your children are at an age where they don’t have a freehand on technology. I know I did when I saw a green colored flyer inviting parents of participating schools to attend a panel discussion on how to keep children safe from cyber threats in my son’s school folder. FBI law enforcements officers, health professionals, IT security specialist, and educators will be in attendance that night to discuss with parents everything they need to know to keep their children safe online.

“He’s still in first grade. I don’t need to worry yet,” were few of my first thoughts as I stashed away that washed-out looking paper into the mounting pile of art work, classwork and test papers that my children bring back home every day.

Thoughts surrounding the initiative being taken by our school district lingered on my mind, and were not easy to put aside like that poorly printed paper.  

I knew sooner than later that I’ll be that mom in the audience, taking notes on health impacts of social media consumption, latest crimes to worry about on the internet and how to use technology to tackle technology-related parenting woes.

Establishing the purpose of parental control

Whether you have a PTSA (Parent Teacher Students Association) or a school district that is activity involved in keeping your children safe online or not, there is a good place to start if you want to keep your child safe from cyber threats. 

With tweens and teenagers in the house, the questions, “what are they doing on their phone?” and “are they safe?” are forever in your thoughts. You lose your mind thinking about the kind of content your child is exposing himself to, the people he is interacting with virtually and his dwindling productivity due to excessive social media engagement.

A reliable solution is installing parental control on your child’s smartphones and other devices he uses.

A modern-day parenting necessity, Parental Control has found many takers amongst anxious parents and caregivers worried about the safety of their children in the digital space.

It serves two purposes, namely, guiding your kids to stay safe on the internet as they slowly mature in the digital world, and keeping parents informed about how their children are using the internet.

Setting parental control on your home devices is easy, cost-effective and comes in many options. Many parental control features are inbuilt into smartphones and devices, and available through internet service providers. Most internet browsers are equipped with options to block websites that you deem inappropriate for your children. 

Apart from that, there is a plethora of free and paid parental control apps to choose from depending on your requirement. A parental control app will do the following or some of the following:

  1. Block websites, contact or other online content
  2. Call or text monitoring
  3. Track location
  4. Geofencing
  5. Timer-based screen-lock
  6. Keyword tracker

What parental control does

Many children will successfully use the internet without being affected by much of the existing threats like cyberbullying, communicating with an online predator or in-personification. But the risk looms no matter how aware or careful your child might be.

Cybercrime: Children using the internet may not know how much information is too much, leading to risky online behavior that invites cybercrime. Poor habits on the internet are easy to exploit and lead to an increased risk of compromising the safety of the child.

Limit Screentime: Internet is addictive and it is necessary to limit screentime. Parental control apps help parents recognize the amount of time a child has spent on the internet and gives a breakdown of where he spent most of his screentime. This helps ensure that social media, video games or anything does not become a cause of distraction for the child.

Data Theft: Schools rely heavily on digital technologies to accomplish curriculum goals, which means a child is doing a good chunk of her assignments digitally. The risk of valuable data in the form of a child’s online work getting lost, hacked or deleted is ever-present.  

Explicit Content: Access to chat rooms, pornography, and perpetrators put youngsters at very high risk of landing themselves in dangerous situations and of being negatively influenced by explicit content.

Family Time, Norton Family, Web Watcher, Net Nanny, Safe Eyes, MamaBear, Uknowkids, Qustodio, AVG, mSpy, KidGuard, K9 Web Protection, and Family Safety are some of the popular parental control apps. A parent using one of these apps can expect to get multiple notifications in a day starting from alerts about your child’s arrival or departure from school, after-school activity or a friend’s house, Facebook posts your child was tagged in, calls he received and made, keywords entered in a search engine, etc.

AppAlerts

There are numerous possibilities to surveil our children. But in the name of keeping them safe, are we invading their privacy by hovering over their teenage life in undercover spy mode?

In the next part, we visit the debate of privacy versus safety while using parental control apps, stealth-mode monitoring and importance of parenting done years before your child makes his Instagram debut.

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.

3-Ways To Practice Digital Citizenship

DigitalCitizenship

by Priyanka Raha ~ Jan 10, 2019

Today there are about 4.2 billion global internet users, which is 55% of the world’s population. This percentage was only a billion at the beginning of 2006. A typical teen reports having lost an average $400 to cybercrime. 88% of social-media-using-teens have witnessed someone being mean or cruel. You must be wondering why I am telling you this? Because the world is changing around us. 

Like all you parents out there, my job is to make sure that my kids are ready for the world they are growing up in.

An unavoidable truth of this world is that our next generation are growing up where the online interaction is as important as the face-to-face one. As much as we like it or not our next generation is going to have a much bigger online presence and footprint than us.

It is time for us to embrace Digital Citizenship and teach our kids the various facets of responsible online behavior.

What is Digital Citizenship?

Digital Citizenship is a concept which helps teachers, technology leaders and parents to understand what students/children/technology users should know to use technology appropriately. Digital Citizenship is more than just a teaching tool it is defining how we can behave responsibly in the online world. More often than not it is used and referred with respect to teaching young adults but I believe the tenets apply to all of us.

Digital citizenship is the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.

The subject of digital citizenship is vast and as a parent as well as a concerned 21st century citizen, this is very close to my heart. I found the following three broad ways that you and I can practice this with our kids..

Respect

It is shocking that 80% of young adults believe it’s easier to get away with online bullying than bullying in person. But this also makes sense in a way, because we all know it is far more difficult to be rude to a person’s face. We as adults are not exempt from it. A 2014 study, Pew Research found that 73% of adults have witnessed online abuse and 40% have been victims of it. So what can we do about it?

I am going to repeat an advice that we all have learnt from our parents and teachers. Treat others as you would want to be treated. It is essentially that simple but I agree that it is much harder to put in practice. 

Acknowledge cyberbullying when it happens, specially when it comes to teenagers and young adults. Accept that it is a problem and then go about finding a solution.

Participate and empathize with the kid. I want to emphasize here that you don’t need to be a parent to do that. If you see it, do not be a bystander. The victim may not be your kid, but could be your nephew, niece or a child you know or you don’t know. You and I need to do this together. 

When nothing else works and things get serious and out of hand there are ways that you can take it up with the appropriate authorities. Here is a comprehensive list

Integrity of Information

Very simply, this refers to the fact that all we hear and read online is not true. Please understand that internet is a content aggregator. 

We all are familiar with the term fake news. But the integrity of information is important not just for news but for any information online. As a matter of fact I would like to call these fake facts, instead of fake news. This plays a crucial role in research and fact-gathering for learning and education, as adults and as young students.

Here are some strategies to practice with your child to shield yourself from fake facts:

  • Are you familiar with the source? Is it legitimate? Has it been reliable in the past? If not you may not want to trust it.
  • If a provocative headline drew your attention, read a little further before you decide to pass along the shocking information. Even in legitimate stories, the headline always doesn’t tell the whole story. But fake news particularly efforts to be satirical.
  • Another telltale sign of a fake fact is the byline – if there even is one. Don’t forget to check the credibility of the author of the article.
  • There are sites online that help students check their facts but it is important that you practice it with your kids while gathering information. Please visit this list generated by ISTE. It is possible that at least one of these sites might have already checked the validity of the information.

Communication

This is actually my favorite one. It does seem like an easy answer to all problems. But it actually is.

Like most parents, I worry about the time my kids spend on their devices. Like most adults, I sometimes scroll mindlessly through social media. Like most adults I know when to stop.  

I believe kids are people just like you and me. But they are learning about this vast world – partly by watching you and partly by figuring out things for themselves. Whatever be the case, they need you. Never stop talking to them about their online activity. Show genuine interest. 

I do think it is important to mention here that – screen time can be broadly defined as 

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music.
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet.
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media.
  • Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music.

As you can tell, content creation is a preferable way of spending time on their devices rather than content consumption. Even with content consumption, be a part of their digital life – ask them their favorite character or what they liked best in the story. As you all agree, it is still important for kids’ overall healthy development to balance their lives with enriching experiences found off-screens. 

The key is balance.

There are some wonderful templates, guideline and checklists available at Common Sense Media and Education that you can download and use.

I want to leave with this thought: Kids may know how to move their fingers deftly around a touch screen but you, as a parent, have the wisdom. And they need it.

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.

Five kid-friendly resolutions for the New Year

NewYearResolutions

by Priyanka Raha ~ Jan 3, 2019

It’s been a couple of days that the new year has reigned in. Everyone has been working on their goals or resolutions. But these aren’t necessarily just for grown-ups. They don’t always need an elaborate planning session. It can be a great activity to be done with kids, specially between the ages of 6-12. They are old enough to think what a new year resolution is and to make their own. Stay with me on the following five golden rules to create some kid-friendly resolutions this year.

Kid focussed

Whether or not kids have started school or are enjoying the last few days of their winter break this is a great time to set up goals. Let’s take a fresher look at how to do them. It is key that kids chose their own goals. Remember that the list has to be relevant to what your child has set his mind on. The beauty of letting them define the goal for themselves is that they will want it for themselves.

Simple Steps

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

It is true for everyone and even more for children. The idea is to not go lofty or big, but keep it simple. It can be a straightforward list of things that the child wants to do. Some ideas are, ‘I will read 15 mins everyday’ or ‘I will help set up the table during dinner everyday’. In this case, I like to define these more as routines that can be done everyday and less as goals.

Tech Habits

This is a great time to list down routines for tech use so that screen-time does not become scream-time. Work with your child to figure out how you want to use our technology. Revisit the time limits. Think about a new skill in technology that she might want to learn. Research a new app that he wants to use. Use this as a time to define some tech habits for the family as well. It is essential to practice what you preach.

Practice Courage

‘I have never done this before.’ Let this not discourage your child in trying new things. Encourage him to find at least one thing that he has never done before and add it to the list. Use this as a time to reflect on the things that your child knows today that he didn’t know a year ago. Help him realize that he can do this. 

Always Have Fun

To me this is the most important rule of all. In the midst of all this never forget to have fun. Remember you have wisdom and offer it to your child when she needs it but avoid nagging about the routines that your child has set. Help with guidance. Help with instruction. Help with figuring out. There’s a celebratory feeling to setting goals on New Year’s that doesn’t exist at other times of the year. It is about happiness to a new start and let every single day of the year be a new start.

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 Best of 2018 in three steps

Bestof2018

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

Coding

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.

Let’s talk about grit

Education Learning Google Translator

by Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 29, 2018

She shrugged in a matter-of-fact way, not happy with what the sentence meant. She looked at me and gently took the iPad from my hands. She wrote down the line one more time on the open text box on her iPad.

For the sake of protecting her identity, let’s call her Mia.

Mia is an 8 year old girl from China whose family had just moved to the US.

She is writing a story as part of her class project.
She has to write it in English.
She is new to the language.

I work with elementary school students from time-to-time to help them with their writing assignments. Most of  the times the discussion revolves around the following suggestions, as I nudge the students to expand their stories.

‘Can you try adding more sound words or action words?’
‘Can you look at adding more punctuation?’
‘Can you add more details?’

As I sat down on a chair next to Mia, I noticed she had an iPad along with her writing paper and pencil. Her teacher mentioned that she would be using Google Translator to work through the story-writing process. This was new to me. I couldn’t simply start at nudging her with the same questions as I usually do. I realized I was learning as well.

So this is how it went before we had a full sentence of any of Mia’s ideas on paper.

She would write down her ideas in Mandarin on the open text box on the app. The app would translate them into English. This helped me understand what she was trying to say. I would then read it aloud to her, changing the words here and there so that the sentence in English made sense. I would encourage her to add sound words or action words. All of this would be accompanied by a lot of hand-gestures. As I changed the English sentence the translator app would re-generate it in Mandarin. This helped Mia confirm whether it conveyed her idea correctly. We would go over this process, together, repeatedly, until we arrived at the correct English sentence. Mia would then copy this onto her writing paper.

For the most part Google Translator correctly converted the words from one language to another. But grammar and semantics don’t work in similar ways in different languages. So you can only imagine how frustrating this can get. In one of those exchanges, as we worked through finding the correct sentence to add to her story, I kept saying, ‘The translator is not doing a good job.’ 

She smiled gently at me, almost to say, ‘It’s okay it happens to me all the time.’ She put a hand on her chest to indicate, ‘I can fix this.’ She went on to add her words in Mandarin again, to start the process over.

Mia simply kept at it until she was satisfied.

I was very impressed by the Google Translator app. It did a good job of translating words and sentences. I had never used an app like that until then. I was happy about how technology is bridging languages, helping kids learn and opening a vast new world of possibilities. 

Technology is certainly acting as a catalyst here but this isn’t a success story of any particular application.

This story is about Mia. The eight year old girl who uses this app to learn every lesson in her elementary school class. The little girl who is in a new place, far away from everything that is familiar to her and trying to put words in a language she doesn’t understand.

I had the privilege of listening to her finished story. It was beautiful.

That day I might have helped her finish a story but she taught me something much bigger. She taught me grit. She taught me patience. She taught me to stay strong and keep pushing.

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.

Is It Time To Reconsider The Way Our Children Read?

DigitalBooks

by Shikha Das Shankar and Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 15, 2018

Introducing children to eReading devices and apps does not mean changing traditional reading habits.

The muted colors of the local library have invited you with your children joyfully, many times over. That pack-of-five chapter book series was never on any of your Costco shopping lists but always found its way into your children’s bookshelf. And the best steals on children’s books have been the ones you purchased on impulse at the half-price book stores.

Your children love books, and you love watching their little hands flip, scribble and sometimes tear pages of books.

But what if we tell you to sprint, and not walk, to your nearest gadget store to purchase the young reader in your house an eReader device this Christmas? Your home is already a docking station for numerous tech gadgets for you and your children, so why are we suggesting you to add another gadget to your impressive roster of devices?

An eReader is a harmless and easy approach to reading for children. And it does not replace or displace the wonderful reading habits you have worked so hard to establish in your children.

For the sake of clarity, the scope and reach of this article is not limited to eReader devices. It includes the entire range of digital books that can be read on dedicated digital book devices through apps, and reading software and apps that can be installed on a phone, tablet, laptop, PC and Mac.

It is not Books vs Ebooks rather it is coexistence

To accept digital books and eReader devices, parents need a slight mindset change. Just like we did. As moms of grade-schoolers and preschoolers trying to raise readers, we dug in our heels, reluctant to let anything come close to the tangible literary possessions we have accumulated for our children in cozy nooks and corners of our home. We questioned the basic premise of whether eReaders and digital books have any utility in a child’s life. Will introducing digital books snatch the joy of watching a child run his hand on the rows of books on library shelves? It doesn’t have too.

So what changed?

We stopped pitting paper and digital books against each other. We stopped treating it like a debate between the titan of knowledge—paperbound versus new-kid-on-the-block—eReader, where one will dominate the other. Rather we thought on the lines of coexistence of books and digital books, and the complemental role digital books can play in helping children become more proficient and confident readers.

I love my Kindle but what’s in it for my kid?

The first digital book was created way back in 1971 but it wasn’t until the 1990s that they became popular. That was mostly triggered by the availability of digital readers in the market. Then came Amazon Kindle in 2007 which sold out within five and a half hours of its release.

Many found instant love of this device. More devices were launched with time. Phone and tablet versions of digital book apps found popularity, and self-published digital books became a rage. Some switched gears, alternating between digital and paper books while some completely turned to their eReaders for all reading needs.

For even those ardent lovers of paper books, who find immense sensorial satisfaction in flipping pages or all together defacing it with markings and post-its, the ability to carry a mini-library docked with the choicest of books where ever you go, at no extra cargo, became a reason for accepting digital books and eReader devices.

For children as well, the adoption of digital books is not meant to replace paper books or reduce its use in a child’s life. Digital books add to a classroom’s library where space and budget are constraints, encourage reluctant readers, and help engage children constructively when traveling and during school breaks. When you can’t keep up with your voracious reader, who insists on more paper books as presents, digital books are a great option too.

Digital books and eReaders enable children to continue reading on–the-go; allow siblings, classmates and friends to read the same title simultaneous without worrying about shelf space or limited stock; and allow parents and teachers to collaborate with the child on group discussions, book reports and even writing their own version of the story through apps that integrate with digital book apps.

We also undertook research and groundwork to support our views. We reached out to our respective county/district library, namely, King County Library System or KCLS (west Washington) and Broward County Library System or BCLS (southeastern Florida). King is the most populated county in the state of Washington while Broward is the second-most populous in Florida to understand the adoption of digital books. The results were highly encouraging.

Libraries and schools walk the talk

Libraries and schools play an important role in creating knowledgeable, aware and involved youth, and that begins by helping children harbor a love for reading.

Libraries have been actively turning to digital books, working with publishers to acquire more books digitally; providing schools with more digital books and digital reading libraries; and adding more digital titles to the juvenile reading section of the libraries.

In the state of Washington for KCLS alone, we see an interesting trend of the borrowing pattern of patrons. The number of digital downloads including digital books have doubled since 2014 while the number of physical books that people have borrowed have gone down by 11%. As we don’t see more than a 1% rise in total number of items being borrowed, there is a clear shift towards preferring digital books over physical books.

This trend is different when we consider the sales of e-books, which went down by 10% in 2017 from previous year. This follows a similar trend in the UK market as well, where the digital books sales declined by 4% in 2016 while the sales of printed books went up by 7%.

Mr. James Jones, Collection Management Manager, BCLS, says, “We tied up with the Broward County Public Schools about two years ago to offer digital books to children through a digital library service, Axis 360. The app can be installed on a classroom tablet or computer, and children have access to a curated collection of digital books to choose from. They can use Axis 360 with their library membership as well and have access to the entire collection of juvenile digital books at their local library. This initiative was slow to pick up initially but has become more popular now.”   

This partnership provided a way to supplement the existing library collection at schools, where budget and space restrains make it challenging to add new titles in the classrooms. Some of the most popular categories of digital books according to download numbers include Beginner level books–33,955 out of 1,721,193 in circulation; social themes–33,094 out of 801,026 in circulation; humorous stories–22,381 out of 632,538 in circulation; and holidays and celebrations–16,589 out of 399,120.

How do I get my kid started on one and find their fav titles?

Just like you would get a paperbound or board book for your children— through libraries, online retailers, and schools.  

Libraries allow users to downloads multiple digital titles for adults and children. Schools allow students and encourage parents to download the eReaders apps being used in the classroom at home too. This lets the child continue reading where he left off at school and allows parents to see their child’s reading progress.

In the past few years we have also seen the rise of many reading apps for young children. Homer, Epic, Endless Reader and Bob Books Reading Magic are to name a few. These apps provide new ways to promote reading and with the family sharing option they provide a way for parents and kids to consume content together. For example, Epic provides a plethora of books for children to read. Parents or teachers can create an account for the kids to continue reading. The app is available at a monthly subscription model. The music and interactive visuals contribute to a fun learning experience.

Apart from the above children reading apps, the apps of popular eReaders like Kindle eReader, iBooks, B&N eReader, eReader Kobo, and other eReading apps like Wattpad, Stanza, and Google Play Books have been adding more and more children’s titles to their collection too.

Where publishers were once reluctant to release popular titles in the digital version, they are now opening up to the idea. Self-published children’s digital books have a huge following too.

“To prepare the children for the future, we need to provide them the best of both worlds. Introducing digital books through the library and schools ensures they are reading at their level,” says Mr Jones. He also adds that the management at BCLS is big on digital books as they are able to add new titles to the collection without worrying about doing away with old ones. Space is always a problem for libraries and digital books help overcome that problem.

It’s Reading that matters

The future of reading will largely be governed by factors like availability of popular titles for children, ability to provide a device for eReading at home, and overcoming the mental block that screentime for children will increase if we provide them with another gadget, even if it is for reading.

Just like schools adopt eReading apps to offer children as an additional reading resource and not a substitute to the physical books; at home as well, an eReader will encourage reading by providing more titles for your child to choose from while providing reading material according to his reading level.

Whether your child loves the idea of submitting himself behind piles of books, or is keen on finishing reading his favorite series on his tablet, or alternates between the two, at the end of the day it is quality reading that counts.

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.