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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Freedom of the Digital Citizen

by Priyanka Raha ~ May 31, 2018

If you read my last blog you know we are eager about mentoring safe practices to the digital citizens. This week we are diving straight into talking about freedom of the digital citizen. Why? Because being a citizen entitles one to have the rights and privileges of a freeman. The Memorial Day this week got me thinking about the significance of freedom, the sacrifice it takes from our brave soldiers to establish that and how we must protect and honor it. We live in a free world. As free citizens it is a little hard to comprehend the subjection to foreign domination or despotic government. So as I was speaking to my 7-year old about the power of freedom we went through hypothetical scenarios of what it would mean to not have freedom. It could be freedom of any kind - speech, act or thought. We relied on stories from history. The more I thought about freedom I realized that I will have to educate my child on what freedom means in the digital world as he is growing up in an age where online presence is as significant (if not more) as one’s physical presence. 73% of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 have social network profiles. 93% of teenagers use the internet to go online. Digital Citizenship is no longer an add-on term, it is how we should be teaching our children. Freedom goes hand-in-hand with responsibilities. As free digital citizens we have responsibilities, ones that we must not ignore. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a nonprofit membership association for educators focused on educational technology, vehemently focusses on Digital Citizenship as a component in it’s standards for students. Students understand human, cultural and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior. So how do we teach our children about responsible digital citizenship.

I realize the following is not a comprehensive list but it is a good one to begin with. 

I will use my personal device for educational purposes only when I am at school.
I will make sure I am safe and appropriate when I am online.
I will protect my private info and the information of others.
I will respect myself and others when I am online.
I will use kind words on social media and remember that my ‘digital footprint’ should not harm others.
I will stand up and say no to cyberbullying. I will tell an adult if someone is being unkind or harmful.

What do you think are other things that can be added to this list?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Can we fight FOMO while raising digital citizens?

by Priyanka Raha ~ May 24, 2018

Apparently ‘Fear of Missing Out’ is a real term. All throughout this article I will be using the acronym FOMO, well because it sounds much cooler. FOMO first originated in the early 2000s in a Harvard Business School article*, to describe grad students’ frantic, text-driven social lives. Facebook did not exist then and neither did a million other social networks. The arrival of social media has definitely supercharged FOMO. In 2013 this clever term was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary. It reads ‘Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media’. 

I have thought about it - Am I a victim of FOMO? But then I tell myself ‘Nah, I am just keeping in touch with everyone and everything.’ There is a fine line between staying in touch and being anxious about it. Don’t worry, I am not here to paint a grim picture. Quite the contrary, I love how social media adds value to our lives, besides the obvious ‘connecting with your friends’ - recruiting, career building, raising money for a just cause - the list is endless. Never before has an artist had the power to get into a conversation directly with their audience. What a solace it was for me, as a first-time mom, to read from other mom-posts that my 3-year-old’s behavior is nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Technology provides that mom-in-need the power to reach out to her community, beyond the constraints of geographical boundaries, to tap into the collective knowledge. Tell me you haven’t searched - ’10 fun things you can do with kids’ or ‘Find the best summer camps in town’.

While this is all great, we all worry about distraction and focus. So now we have this important job of teaching our kids to be mindful and responsible while tapping into the social media. Let’s not forget, there is no escaping this and if preached it can truly be very powerful. My seven year old did a multi-media presentation of him talking about planets as part of a class project. I wasn’t there. His teacher shared it with me and now I can share it with my parents. In terms of teaching our next generation to be better digital citizens, I am going to lean in to the slogan that Common Sense Education uses - ‘Don’t Make a Ban Have a Plan’. 

Now I want to lean in to all the parents and educators and conscious adults out there,
What are some of your suggestions for meaningful things that kids can do with their devices?
How do you teach your kids to not be afraid of missing out?
How do you teach them better digital practices?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Have you thanked the 21st Century Teacher?

by Priyanka Raha ~ May 11, 2018

A quick google search will reveal that the following terms are very common - ‘the 21st century teacher’, ‘the 21st century learner’, ‘the 21st century school’. On the other hand terms like the 20th century teacher or learner, not so much. I think the following statistic has something to do with that. Today almost all public schools are connected to the internet, that number was 91 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 1997. Which means the teachers who are teaching in these classrooms today did not grow up in a classroom like this. On top of that they have to prepare the next generation who will most seemingly live in a world that looks different from what it is today. Technology brings it’s own set of rewards and challenges. If you thought your job was difficult hand-holding just your child and helping him navigate in this quasi-digital world, then think classroom management of 20 or more kids. The difference is scale and theme. Besides just teaching content, teachers now have to teach digital citizenship, connectivity and social responsibility with respect to the physical and digital communities. The teacher appreciation week that went by got me thinking the uber important role that teachers play in the ever changing dimensions that technology brings. Teachers are responsible for giving the students the tools to learn most effectively on the web. Teach them to take command of their learning by using technology. Teach them to be responsible while making technology a conscious choice. 

Wall Display from an elementary school in Washington
Wall Display from an elementary school in Washington

Allowing a space for discovery through technology, coaching the class that technology is one of the many choices of activities, and educating the digital natives to own their technology and not the other way around - these are a few of the challenging tasks that the teachers perform to prepare the next generation for the future. There are a million reasons to thank a teacher but today I am going to be thankful for their adaptability in the changing times and for preparing the next generation to live and prosper in a future that is more seeming than present.

So, have you thanked the 21st century teacher?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Staying Close to Nature

by Shikha Das Shankar

Despite the cold, wet April we have gotten so far, spring is a wonderful time to explore nature with the kids in several ways. 

It was the beginning of April, and the light green colored leaves, tiny chirping birds and seasonal allergy-struck households meant that spring was supposed to have arrived. But what had arrived was the spring of deception—a phrase coined with the sole aim to depict the deceit of a month that should have been warmer and brighter. With the spring break around the corner, my plans to spend plenty of time playing outdoors with the kids where going to be dampened by the heavy rains forecast. 

When my son started kindergarten, and his routine started to resemble a 9-5 job, I looked forward to school breaks, as it gave me an opportunity to slow down the pace of life. These breaks were a perfect way to replace morning madness of packing lunches and hustling the kids out of the door to catch the bus with lazy mornings, sipping coffee that was still hot, tackling floor puzzles with them and letting them stay in pajamas till lunch time. There is the frazzling aspect of having kids at home too—snack demand by the hour, bantering and whining around the clock, and the mess! Despite that, finding a way to connect with our children that regular weekdays don’t allow us, and in the process, making lifetime memories becomes the essence of these breaks. Traveling with kids is a preferred way to spend the break for many and for others having house guests. Neither was in our plans and looking at the expected rains in the PNW, I was starting to scratch my head to come up with ideas to keep the kids busy.

The break started with the only sunny day in the entire week and we hopped over to the zoo with friends that day. For the remaining days, indoor playtime—boardgames, puzzles, building and chasing each other formed a large chunk of the kids’ morning but started to wear off by mid-afternoon. Their active minds needed more engagement than their playroom could provide. Keeping nature at the core of it, several simple and fun ideas worked great for us. 

Birdwatching: And hours of it! Three pairs of binoculars, a bird watching book and lots of fingerprints on the bedroom window were evidence to prove us guilty of stalking cute little birds in our backyard. While birdwatching is an extensive outdoor activity, we were lucky to spot the most popular birds of the season, as they frequented the trees surrounding our house, right from our bedroom windows. My toddler enjoyed copying the birds’ melodious chirping while my son was hard at work with the binoculars. I took it a step further with him, and downloaded a very informative backyard bird app, which provides details of hundreds of birds by their names and family group. 

Walk it Out: Unpaved hiking trails, especially ones with elevation, can be risky when there is incessant rain but the paved ones are safe and accessible most of the year. Arboretums and nature preserves usually have paved trails that are perfect for walks with kids, rain or shine. Our local botanical garden, the Washington Park Arboretum, recently opened a 1.2-mile long asphalt loop trail to walkers and cyclists, and we couldn’t be happier. A walk around the neighborhood with the sole purpose of jumping up and down in muddy puddles, Peppa Pig style, worked just as well. Finding the perfect muddy puddle was a daunting task, one that should not be sidetracked by thoughts of muddy mess that was to ensue in my house—a mental note I made to myself while on this excursion. 

Nature Journal: Have a budding Thoreau in your house? Do you find pebbles, rocks, dried leaves and flowers making their way into your living room after every outdoor activity? Maintaining a nature journal is an engaging way to encourage your child to continue his enthusiasm for nature. It can be as simple as the child drawing his observation on sheets of paper, and over the course of time, stapling them together to make a nature book. For older kids, going the full mile by investing in a hardbound or paperback journal, log book, magnifying glass amongst other things will help them document their findings, develop writing skills, and grow interest in nature. Another easy way is to store findings from nature in zip pouches, and including a note written by the child about the item in the pouch.

Planters: Planting to make your entry-way look appealing or simply planting a few herbs for your kitchen garden, this spring time activity never fails. Kids can have a great deal of ownership while involved in this fun activity by letting them decide on the planters, helping you lift the bags of soil into the cart and choosing the plants they want to grow. 

Documentary: There is plenty of nature and wildlife related documentary series on popular streaming channels, and all of them comprise quality screen time. Currently, we are hooked onto The Planet Earth and The Blue Planet series on Netflix that cover nature and wildlife extensively. David Attenborough’s resonating voice and the stunning visuals will keep everyone glued to their seats. 

Spring seems to be finally here with the weather looking better. Schools are working to wrap up another academic year, and families are planning summer trips, enrolling children in summer camps and many even taking out time for spring-cleaning. Whatever your spring goals are, the best part of the season is the happiness it brings in knowing that summer in just around the corner. Happy Spring!

Shikha Das Shankar
Storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, Shikha is seen scaling heights, literally, with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband—around the hills of beautiful Seattle suburb or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.