I’ll admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with technology. If it was up to me, I would still have a paper calendar and ask for directions from the guy at the gas station. Unfortunately, the world moves a lot faster than me and I’ve had to assimilate. My husband is the exact opposite. He is an early adopter to his core and works in gaming at one of the largest tech companies in the world. We have always worked to find a balance with our kids between the inundation of tech at the cost of their social skills and the kids being tech ignorant.
One of my biggest pet peeves as an educator is the oversimplification of tech education. Often it’s accepted that playing video games and teaching kids how to use a laptop or an iPad is all kids need to know about technology. Has anyone ever met a child who couldn’t operate an iPad? My 6-year old son can download movies on my phone faster than I can and no one taught him to do it. When I was in the classroom, we were strongly encouraged to use laptops in class. Even the most cutting-edge school has outdated hardware. The laptops at my school hardly ever worked well. What was supposed to be an hour of tech time with my kids usually ended up being 45 minutes of me rebooting them and trying not to cuss in front of my students. There is also the misconception that playing video games is good tech training. Countless friends with kids interested in a future career in video game development have asked my husband what they should do to best prepare their son or daughter for a career in gaming. His answer? Lots of math. Being addicted to playing video games does not prepare one well for actually creating them.
Here are my recommendations for great ways to educate your kids about technology:
1. Teach them to code
Edutopia has a great list of apps that teach kids how to code. I particularly like the app “Move the Turtle”.
Code.org offers great tutorials for kids 6 and up that have familiar game characters and celebrity cameos.
Kodu is a Microsoft project that encourages coding through either the XBox or PC. Kids can create their own games including building levels and simple and complex state machines (the way a character knows what to do in a game).
Scratch allows kids to program their own interactive stories, games, and animations and share them.
2. Demonstrate the use of technology
When my daughter was ready to learn how to subtract double-digit numbers, we used Khan Academy to teach her about regrouping.
Geocaching is a fantastic use of technology. Download the app and use satellites, a smartphone, and geographic coordinates to find hidden treasure in your area. My kids love it!
Are your kids obsessed with QR Codes? For $5, you can download this bundle of math worksheets that lets kids confirm their answers by scanning the QR Code for each problem.
Last year I took the kids to a championship robotics competition. It was great to watch the robots complete their assigned tasks but the real fun was going behind the scenes and talking to the students who built the machines. We learned a ton!
3. Begin at the beginning
Here in Seattle, we are fortunate enough to have the Living Computer Museum. Every historically significant model of computer is on display in working condition. Visitors are encouraged to use them! For kids born today who use devices within their first year of life, it’s fun for them to see what amazing progress we have made since the first computer:
Finally, I have to recommend Snap Circuits Jr. as a fantastic introduction to basic circuitry and electronics for kids. My son, who got it as a gift, and I love working together on the more than 100 projects offered in the kit.