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21 posts from May 2007

May 31, 2007

Mom In A Minivan Shops for Kids' PCs and Cell Phones

After I posted with details on the technology needs for K-8 grade students, I wondered what the stores had to say about choosing a cell phone, computer and USB Flash drive for kids. So I jumped into my minivan and headed to Best Buy and the Apple Store. Both have trained sales staff and the ability to see the products hands on. Best Buy has a section of computers, software, peripherals (printers) and cell phones. The Apple Store I went to also had the computers, software and peripherals and as a bonus was around the corner from all the major cell phone stores. Before I went to the stores, I did one last search on CNET Reviews and Newegg.com to get an idea of the products available. Those sites are useful in becoming familiar with technical terms. Webopedia is a good resource if you are looking for information on what is RAM, CPU or general computer information.  Wikipedia is user driven but also a good source of information, for example geeks in training will enjoy the section for "how a computer works".

Basic_computerBest Buy said that desktops are a good fit for K-8 grade children or a family computer since they are more economical. The desktops computers can be divided by type to help in choosing the right one: Basic, Photos & Music, Entertainment, Gaming. For the basic type they suggested at least 1 GIG of RAM, a hard drive with at least 160 GIG's storage, and AMD or Intel processors (processors speed is not a big deal for K-8 graders). Computers for photos & music, entertainment and gaming will need to be more powerful. They also showed some appliance called "Secure Spot" which has internet filters, virus protection and parental monitoring applications all in one. iBoss is another appliance that was mentioned on one of the review sites. For USB ports, they recommend putting them on a key chain or neck string so they do not get lost if students are bringing them to school.  Microsoft Encarta was mentioned as the popular encyclopedia software used for students. Microsoft also has parental controls avaliable for Windows and Vista.

Mac_2 The Apple Store has many interesting offerings for parents who are looking for family or single use PC's for kids. Before going to the store you can call and make a personal shopping appointment to have a face to face appointment for one hour.  They also offering educational discounts that apply to school staff, PTO Board staff and homeschoolers.  The store has a Genius Bar to help customers with questions they have on purchased items and free workshops for training.

The salesperson I talked to said they would first ask the parent if the computer is for the family or a single child. The family computer would need to be more powerful. The type of computer would also depend on if it would be used for videos and graphics or just internet access and installed software. They recommended a desktop computer for families with K-8 grade children. Laptops are recommended for college students. When I asked if it would be good to have a laptop to watch DVD's on family trips, the Apple salespersons commented that laptops are expensive DVD players. It would make more sense to buy a desktop and a personal DVD player separately if family vacations are the only time the PC would need to be moblie. The MAC OS X Tiger is a good tool for Apple users to set up different accounts for the children on a family computer and control access to different applications. For example, some parents do not want their children having access to a webcam (built in) and the internet. With user accounts, parents can restrict access for their children to have access to the applications (like photobooth and ichat) that use the webcam.

Kajeet_2 Best Buy showed me a very interesting phone called "Kajeet". The plan is a pay as you go  and has different services/rates. Kajeet is developed for families with functionality like the configurator that allows ( the following details from the Kajeet site):

  1. TimeManager: It's up to you when your kajeet phone can and can't be used. (Make sure study time is devoted to studying!) Here's the good news: Use ContactManager (see below) to make sure you can always contact your kid on his or her kajeet phone, even if services like texting and calling are turned off for contacting everyone else.
  2. ContactManager: Set up the phone book of who can and can't call and text your phone (and vice versa) -- and decide whose wallet pays for those calls. More about wallets.
  3. Refill Balance: How much money is left in your wallet? your kid's wallet? The Configurator lets you know at a glance, and enables you to do a quick refill or set up auto refills.
  4. Account Activity: How much did your kid spend on calls, downloads, games and other things? One click lets you view all account activities.
  5. FeatureManager: This is the place you can manage his or her access.
  6. Add A Phone: When your kajeet family grows, the Configurator is the place to go to start setting up your account and wallet.

There are many general family plans avaliable for parents that just want to add another phone to their existing plan. In those situations, it will be important to set rules and guidelines for the children on the plan. Verizon has the LG Migo phone for kids has programmable numbers and an emergency key. The Sprint store recommended the SANYO SCP-2400 and 3100 for the parental control features. Sprint also has the family locator program. Online I saw that Disney has a moblie phone and Cingular has the Firefly.

What Tech Gadgets do K-8 Grade Students Need?

Computer2 I received an email from the website Back2School2007 asking for some input regarding what technology K-8 grade students need. My oldest is a 2nd grader (and my twins are in preschool) so I was very interested to look into what the future holds. I thought that being a techie mom would mean that I have all the knowledge to help my son with his primary school technology needs. I was very surprised to find out that even I have much to learn.

My citizen journalistic investigation centered on technology needs for students K-8. I have to add that, being a mom with three young boys, my time and resources were limited. I decided to talk to kids, parents and some technology professionals from my son's Silicon Valley (CA) school district as a good start. If I were a real reporter, I would be able to spend some time looking at the relevant Pew Internet Studies, talk to students, teachers and school districts around the country and understand the digital divide between students that have computers at school and those that don't. So please forgive me if my findings are not balanced. I am hoping that the blogosphere will fill in the details with their own experiences.

Findings from a typical Silicon Valley School District:

SUMMARY: In Silicon Valley the age range of the "tweens" phase starts at 8 and goes to 13. It is the tween phase when kids really start becoming interested in computers, MP3 players, and using the Internet. Although some do start earlier. So if the question is brought up asking if a K-8th grader really needs their own computer or cell phone, the answer is "no". They have access to school computers and many parents are with their children when not at school so why would they need cell phones? But at what age do K-8 graders use computers and cell phones? In Silicon Valley, Kindergartners are using computers at school and home. By 6th grade most students have their own cell phones and are using computers for school and homework. This has filtered down to even 3rd graders benefiting from doing projects online or with word processing/spreadsheet software. Computers and the internet have become part of the social fabric for kids starting even in 1st grade. Wow.

WHAT TECHNOLOGY KIDS ARE USING AT THEIR K-8 GRADE CLASSES: Some kids/classes will start using technology earlier or later so this is a general guideline.

Starting in 1st grade, schools with computer labs allow children to spend time creating pictures on computers. In second grade students start to do research for projects using the school computer lab. Before third grade they are allowed to store files on the school's hard drive related to the work they are doing in a computer lab. In 4th grade, the school tech office creates private (password protected) folders for students to store their work. I have heard some students using word processing or spreadsheet software for school projects as early as 3rd grade but defintely by 4th.

By 6th grade, students are asked to bring USB flash drives to school to store homework.  The suggested size is 1GB for the USB drive. Students will also be required to type or make presentations so word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software on a family computer and some training would be very helpful at that time. The local school computers have the Microsoft Office Suite (Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets and Powerpoint for presentations).  Some projects will allow the children to create their own websites, iMovies or other online media as the assignment. It is also helpful for students to know how to use email before 6th grade so they can send email attachments to their home account if needed. Or send a copy of their homework to their email account so they can access it at school if needed.

Cell phones are allowed but most schools have a policy that the phones must not be used (including texting) during class.

All schools have wireless networks and each teacher has their own computer in the class. Each school has from 2-6 carts (the 6-8th grade classes usually have around 6 carts) that have a limited amount of laptops that can be used for special projects in the class. Some classrooms have smartboards and projectors. This effort will be growing with the goal of having all classrooms in the future with that technology.  High speed Internet capabilities for teachers are necessary as they are now using video and online assessment strategies, blogs and wikis.


CELL PHONES: From talking to the neighborhood kids in middle school, most kids they know have cell phones by 6th grade. Many of the parents say they gave their kids cell phones to help reach them to arrange pick-ups and drop offs. Working parents especially find it useful to communicate with their kids using cell phones. One parent said that kids talked non-stop on their cell phones during carpool, so they had to administer a "no cell phone" rule in the car. Other parents said that their kids use texting as their main form of communication.  Lessons learned from the parents I talked to are:

  1. Discuss a contract with your child ahead of time in regards to how the phone should be used. Make sure they know that the bill will be reviewed each month and privileges taken away if the phone is abused. Ask your child if they are interested in texting or calling and choose a plan together. Monitor that plan each month to see if it is a good fit. CNET has a section with reviews of shared family cell phone plans , Cell Phone Buying Guide and reviews of cell phones for kids.  MSNBC has an article on "Best Cell Phones for Kids".  I looked at interesting kid centric phones liked the Kajeet.
  2. Be careful to decline the games and extras (i.e. daily jokes sent to the phone). That can rack up extra charges each month.
  3. Some kids will shut off their cell phones because they know their parents are trying to call or monitor them.  No parent I talked to had tried any of the phone/GPS systems. One article in Computerworld on location based services had a comment asking that kids could leave phones at friends houses in the OK zone to fool parents so are they really necessary?  A Washington Posts article even used the term "Big Mother is Watching".

COMPUTERS/LAPTOPS: After talking to the tech staff from the school district, I realized that children do not need access to a computer at home until 6th grade (assuming they have access at school). This is a great argument for all children to have access to computers at school. The question for parents is if they want their children to have experience with a computer at an earlier age and utilize the resources of the web. Most children I know start using a computer around Kindergarten to play simple online games.

INTERNET ACCESS: In Silicon Valley I talked to families with kids in elementary school that have their own blogs, are already programming in basic and older kids that have videos on YouTube. Other parents said that they wanted their child to have experience using Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint, and Word before 4th grade to prepare them for class projects, but limited access to the internet until they were in 6th grade. So, by giving your child access to the internet on a home computer, what are you giving them access to and how will they use it?

My son had a strong interest in using a computer starting in 2nd grade, where it became part of the social experience because all of his friends also had computers. I gave my son our old laptop with internet controls. He has access to web search using KidsClick.org and Google SafeSearch as well as educational game websites like funbrain and scholastic.com. We also have fun doing research for my son's class projects online. To prepare for the second grade history exploration into the life of a cowboy, we went online to the National Cowboy Museum Children's site. The section with printables had cowboy quizzes, puzzles and more. But he is already trying to work around my parental controls, figured out how to watch DVD's using iTunes and videos using Google Search (YouTube was blocked but not Google Videos), all without any instructions from his mom or dad.

I recently had the chance to do a Q&A with Anastasia Goodstein, who wrote the book "Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online". This section from her book summed up today's wired tweens (and teens):

"What's different about today's totally wired teens is that the viral and public nature of these new technologies has magnified and publicized, though not changed, what is means to be a teen. Instead of gossiping with a friend and having it travel telephone style through your school, that gossip can now travel through several schools and include mean pictures posted on a website. The once solitary act of writing in a diary has become a public form of what can be at times deeply personal expression."

I also found an interesting article from CNET Digital Kids:"A New Crop of Kids: Generation We".

WHAT TYPE OF COMPUTER?: After parents decide if they want their kids to have access to a computer, the next step is to decide on what type of computer the child should have. In Silicon Valley, many kids have hand me downs or use the desktop family computer until they get to college.  For those households with a wireless network, laptop use for older kids may be a good alternative to allow them to work in different rooms of the house. For any children with laptops or desktops, parental controls are a must. It is important that all parents understand how to keep their kids safe online. Especially if the family computer has a webcam. Overall,  For K-8 grade and highschool students a desktop may be the best choice because they are the most economical and harder to lose or steal. CNET reviews also has a listing of the many budget desktop computers  and laptops avaliable.  About.com discussed Back to School PC's. Fedex Kinko's computer rentals are a good alternative for those who want intermitent use of a computer.

For details on the currents products out in the stores, read my post titled "Mom In A Minivan Goes to Shop for Kids' PCs and Cell Phones".

Many students will alsoCalcuator2 need access to a printer.  Some other tech gadgets mentioned by the kids I talked to were a electronic dictionary and Pods/MP3 players (not a need but everyone seems to want one). No one mentioned the one tool I used in primary school: a calculator.  Oh, does anyone use a calculator anymore?

Related Links:
Clicking with Children: Computers and Young Children, PBS.org
Common Sense Media website reviews.
"Is tech Injurining children?", Keeping Your Kids Safe Online,  CNET

Post Under Construction

Construction It has been four days since my last post. Other then being a mom, working, and other family memorial day fun I have been working on a post about the technology used by K-8 graders for PTO Today. It will be up later today, so check back! I am having too much fun doing my citizen journalistic investigative reporting, but I decided it was time to post again!

May 27, 2007

Outsourcing For Parents

Projectmanagement I just posted on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog about a book written by a working mom "The Perfect Stranger" and the corresponding New York Times article on it. I asked questions around what is wrong with working moms, who are diligent in interviewing, finding the right nanny to care for their kids ("surrendering" to outside help)?

One concept I brought up in my post was "outsourcing". I don't know if that is a word that is used often to describe parents getting help with their kids, but I think it is a great fit. In my post, I mentioned that when I was a project manager if I needed a C++ programmer and all I knew was Cobol, I hired a C++ programmer (that fit within the budget). I feel that parents should look at their own strengths and weaknesses regarding their parenting skills, and hire help when needed (within their budgets). I see many times on posts about nannies people responding with "only parents should be taking care of their kids".  Why can't parents use a successful concepts from project management, like outsourcing, to help manage their own families when parents work? Maybe parents should be looking to the O'Reilly web site for some great suggestions (here, here) on project management principles that they can then use for family management. Even books on time management have applications for family use.

But parents also need to also learn one thing all project managers know; some resources do not end up performing on the job so they need to be let go.  It is important to evaluate any childcare situation to make sure it is a good fit for your child(ren), and that they are happy and being cared for well. If not, parents should not be shy to pull them from the current childcare and find one that is a good fit.

May 25, 2007

Three Types of Techie Moms

Keyboard_4 Metro Dad posted on the types of playground parents and City Mama countered with the types of Silicon Valley Parents. After I finished LOL, I realized the observations were very perceptive. I thought would continue on that direction with some new tech variations....

TYPE 1: City Mama started things going with her Twitterus Mater species.

Mama secondlife-us
Signature Behavior:
This type of mother has minimal live contact with adults other then trips to the grocery store,Target and any parents associated with her kids school or activities. She lives for her second life that happens during naptime and after bedtime. During naptime she Twitters to see what her friends are doing. She Google Talks family members while twittering to keep up to date with them. She helps her kids see their grandparents by using Skype, a logitech webcam and a laptop. After bedtime she reads and comments on other mom blogs, logs on to numerous mom social networking sites, and writes her own blog to show her "real" self to others. Her networking also takes place online by adding her blog friends to her LinkedIn profile.  Her favorite people are her online friends, most of who she has never met. She dresses up only to Share Her Look. Is thinking about planning a mom's night out at Second Life. Is starting to believe she looks like her avatar.
Distinctive Markings:
She does not use her home phone anymore, her favored communication style is  receiving emails to her smartphone or texting.  She does not have any recognizable distinctive dress; she usually walks fast between point A to point B to make sure she does not have to make live small talk.
Natural Enemies:
Any group that requires live phone calls and live meetings.
Mating Call:
Getting an invitation from a new Twitter or LinkedIn friend, her blog being linked to from another blog and being asked to join a new online social networking group.

Chiefus Techus Momus 
Signature Behavior:
She set up her family with a wireless network and print router to make sure every square inch of the house has internet and print access. Has a smartphone but is always looking for the newer version with better functionality. All family photos and videos are digital.  Photos she wants to share with her friends/family are on Flickr and family newsletter is on Vox. But many relatives never see them because they don't use their computers that much. The family schedule is onlilne and chore charts are on overly complicated spreadsheets that sync with her smartphone, but no one in her family reads them.  Volunteers to create photo CD's for her kids class and to make Yahoo Groups for class communication as a way to get out of going to school committee meetings.  Always carries a USB flash drive in her purse. Constantly negotiating with her kids, who ask her to relax Internet controls.  Will not exercise without her iPod, and has an iHome in the kitchen as well as an adapter for the car to make sure she can listen to her favorite songs wherever she is. Programs the family TIVO episodes over the internet. Spends way too much time looking at the many cool Web 2.0 applications to save time for her family..... Google is her favorite verb.
Distinctive Markings:
Friends are tired of her constant ranting on how technology can be used for their families, and don't understand most of what she is talking about anyway. Buys PC and Wired Magazine instead of People and InStyle for plane rides.
Natural Enemies:
Any friend that does not have an email address or uses their husbands instead of having their own email address (she is an email feminist). 
Mating Call:
Any event with the term "2.0" in it. Or, in agreement with Citymama, any event Grace D asks her to go to (The Chiefus of Chiefus Techus Momus).

May 24, 2007

A Visit to Social Computing Magazine

This morning I received an email on my BlackBerry while I was cooking breakfast and making lunch for my three boys. It was from Jeremy Geelan who is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Social Computing Magazine. He asked if it was ok to include my post titled "Social Computing for Kids Around The World" in the magazine. I emailed back saying "Of course!", while packing up my son's lunch. Next thing I know, I received an email back saying that the post is up.

All of this before 8am in the morning. I can't imagine that the rest of my day will be as exciting.

Update from this post's comment by Jeremy Geelan (or web scoop as it is stated):  Dion Hinchcliffe is the new Editor in Chief of Social Computing (as of today). I checked out his blog and found a very interesting post on how the Web 2.0 software models are evolving.  I will be tuning into Social Computing Magazine and their blogs more often for the great insights.

Online Cookbook For Kids

I read in FamilyFun magazine about an online cooking site called Spatulatta.com. NPR discussed that the founders, sisters Isabella and Olivia Gerasole, are the youngest (at 10 and 8) to win the James Beard Web Award. There are sections for recipes, basic skills and weights and measures and more.  But it is the videocasts that are the most engaging. My favorite was a tour of the Organic Valley Farm in Wisconsin.

May 23, 2007


Robogames_2 Having an 8 year old boy has opened my eyes to the world of legos and robotics. So I decided he can get his athletic conditioning from sports and learn critical thinking skills from Legos/Robotics. Just like the Olympics being the event for the top athletes around the world to compete, RoboGames (ROBOlympics) is the event that brings "best minds from around the world to compete in over 70 different events. Combat robots, walking humanoids, soccer bots, sumo bots, and even androids that do kung-fu. Some robots are autonomous, some are remote controlled - but they're all cool!" The website also lists the event as:  The Best Ten North American Geek Fests - Wired Magazine and  SportCenter's Top Ten - ESPN SportsCenter.

So, if you don't live in California, tune into the site for photos and results.

May 22, 2007

Social Computing for Kids Around the World

Olpc_2 I regularly read a blog called "Groundswell" by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff from Forrester Research. A recent post discussed the XO machine being built to provide social computing for children around the world. The initiative is called OLPC (one laptop at a time). Yahoo News described OLPC and it's founder Nicholas Negroponte as: "The founder of MIT's legendary Media Lab wants to provide low-cost laptop computers to as many children as possible in every developing nation." Josh Bernoff mentioned a few things that make the machine unique. He also has an interesting post about his interview with Nicholas Negroponte.

XO is built from open source software (which is free), an interface that supports collaboration, and the machine is low cost as well as power efficient.

There is controversy around the machine. The New York Times article " For $150 Third World Laptop Stirs Debate" published this quote from Larry Cuban, a Stanford University education professor:  “I think it’s wonderful that the machines can be put in the hands of children and parents, and it will have an impact on their lives if they have access to electricity. However, if part of their rationale is that it will revolutionize education in various countries, I don’t think it will happen, and they are naïve and innocent about the reality of formal schooling.”

Intelcomputer Intel is also working on a low cost education notebook for developing countries. The press release from 2006 had the following information:

"Intel’s small notebook PC design for students, code-named “Eduwise,” is the result of extensive ethnographic research to provide an affordable, collaborative learning environment specifically for teachers and young students in developing communities."

All I can say is that I hope the programs work. The image of children around the world collaborating, communicating and having access to information is an amazing one. And maybe a good step towards formal education.

May 21, 2007

Bill Gates Limits Screen Time For His Kids

CNET posted on their News Blog that Bill Gates (and his wife) limited their 10 year old daughter to 45 minutes of screen time for games during the week.  Interesting that he shared his family limits when his company, Microsoft, is all about screen time. It makes me curious what limits other parents in the tech industry use for screen time. One commenter from the CNET post has similar limits on his family but brought up an interesting point "I need to put similar limits on myself".

I posted about my own thoughts on screen time at the Silicon Valley Moms Blog (basically that I use limited TV/screen time as babysitting). As a work at home mom with no full time help, there are times where I am answering email and cooking dinner at the same time. Having my kids relax with their daily screen time (either TV or computer) really helps me. But I do force myself to shut off my computer to spend quiet family time together. So finding the right balance is key. Whatever that is........



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