Friday, 23 September 2016

Protection, Paranoia & Parenting

Some articles I read years ago, and this one from Common Sense Media more recently have a habit of continually popping back into my head, every time the inevitable web scare rears its ugly head.

There is a paranoia associated with the web which can easily be exaggerated, for example parents who are profoundly uncomfortable at the thought of a photo of their child being viewable online, even if the image is buried in a website with an extremely obscure URL, a proverbial needle in a digital haystack. Yet this same parent will almost certainly allow their child to walk down Orchard Rd, Fifth Avenue, Oxford Street, knowing that they can be seen (perhaps even photographed unawares) by the general public? Not to mention the ever increasing presence of CCTV cameras watching our every move. Could this same parent be in the habit (as I am) of regularly posting images of their children on social media? ... The fact is that without an associated name and detailed localising data, such as an address, it is almost impossible to track down one child based on the image of their face alone (in the extremely unlikely event that someone wanted to).

So, like the concrete jungles of our cities and towns, the Wild Weird Wonderful Web is an amazing place, but it is a metaphorical jungle, and, as it happens, the wild wild web has a great deal in common with a jungle as it happens—not too many leaves—but many wonderful opportunities and yes, many dangers, dangers, that with a few basic precautions, can be avoided.

The first Article makes a few controversial but critical points, which could be broadly summarised as:

Less monitoring more mentoring

The expectation of constantly monitoring children and teenagers on the Internet is an impossible ideal. Who has time to stand over the shoulder of your kids for the entire time they are online? Children’s freedom to roam in the physical world has been radically curtailed. While previous generations could ride bikes or walk to school or play outside unsupervised till dinner time, this generation is watched all the time. They have lost that thrill of being on their own until they are much older, and, for them, the Internet can provide that open space, to test and explore and try out the outside world—while being a lot less painful than ... say ... falling out of a tree, a risk that was commonplace in my childhood. In fact a shiver runs down my spine when I consider some of the risks I routinely took as child, with n'ere a parent, or even an adult in sight or sound. There is educational value in this kind of risk, this exploration even if it is online, perhaps even because it is: a lot of the work kids do is apprehending the social world, and for them, much of this work is done online.

Less restrictions more responsibility 

The important thing is to give kids the ability to handle choices, assess risks, and take strategic, or calculated risks. You want, in other words, to create the kid who can handle the Internet without you. And how can they become that kid if you are watching them all the time, if you are always hovering right there next to them? You don't just throw a 5-year-old out on the streets and tell them to figure it all out. The same is true online. But, accordingly, you can't expect to put them under surveillance and control every action they make until they're 18 and then magically assume they'll be fine at university, and the world 'beyond school' (I dislike the use of 'real world' to describe life outside school—school life is real life too!) when they haven't had any experience managing their own decisions.

Pain is a powerful teacher

Pain is a powerful teacher, sure, it's not kind, but it certainly is effective. Parents need to face up to the idea that they cannot protect their children from every potential negative experience, online, or offline, this is an impossible fantasy; there is no way to seal your children off from awful or painful or frightening things. This is nothing new, think back to your own childhood, bad things happened, you got over it, hopefully you learned something from it.

A caveat...

With great power comes great responsibility, not anonymity

A huge part of responsibility means ceasing the dubious practice by many, well meaning, but poorly informed parents, of allowing their kids to create social networking accounts in anonymity, based on the ludicrous notion that this somehow protects their child. STOP! All this does is remove all responsibility, and in far too many cases actively encourages irresponsibility, as far too many children wreak havoc online from behind the veneer of a name like Puff the magic Dragon, with an Avatar of an aardvark or ... a pineapple ... or, you get the idea... Like no paedophile has ever thought of doing that? It is important to note here that online predators are far less likely to be paedophiles, and far more likely to be your child's own 'friends' and acquaintances. All you've done is encourage a situation where your anonymous child is forced to socialise with other anonymous people online, strangers, because they are similarly anonymous, oh, but they SAY they are your child's best friend ... . If you're going to let your kid 'play outside'; make sure they are playing as themselves, no disguises, no anonymity, their name, their face, and they should make sure to only socialise with people who do likewise.

The point, is not to create a safe world, but a safer world. 

Tim Elmore wrote an article more recently on this subject,  Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them - a great article, and again, if you will permit me, it can be summed up similarly and thus:

Over-protection is damaging our children—

We Risk Too Little

“If you’re over 30, you probably walked to school, played on the monkey bars, and learned to high-dive at the public pool. If you’re younger, it’s unlikely you did any of these things. Yet, has the world become that much more dangerous? Statistically, no. But our society has created pervasive fears about letting kids be independent—and the consequences for our kids are serious.” (Gever Tully)

The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it is normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. Pain is actually a necessary teacher. Over-protecting our young people has had an adverse effect on them, we are failing miserably at preparing them for a world that will not be risk-free.

We Rescue Too Quickly

This generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did thirty years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. We remove the need for them to navigate hardships. This may sound harsh, but rescuing and over-indulging our children is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse. It’s “parenting for the short-term” and it sorely misses the point of leadership [parenting]—to equip our young people to do it without help. Just like muscles atrophy inside of a cast due to disuse, their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles can shrink because they’re not exercised.

We Rave too Easily

Praise effort and persistence, not ability. Carol Dweck (Mindset) tells us that our affirmation of kids must target factors in their control. When we say “you must have worked hard,” we are praising effort, which they have full control over. It tends to elicit more effort. When we praise ability 'you're smart/clever/awesome!', it may provide a little confidence at first but ultimately causes a child to work less. They say to themselves, “If it doesn’t come easy, I don’t want to do it.”

A helpful metaphor when considering this challenge is inoculation. Inoculation injects a vaccine, which actually exposes you to a dose of the very disease your body must learn to overcome. It’s a good thing. Only then do we develop an immunity to it. Similarly, our kids must be inoculated with doses of hardship, delay, challenges and inconvenience to build the strength to stand in them.

So let them fail, let them fall, and let them fight for what they really value. If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. We must prepare them for the world that awaits them. Our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Maths, Automaticity & iOS Devices...

Using iOS devices such as iPads for 'skill+drill' is something we generally discourage in school, where we would rather these technologies are used for creating and collaborating, along with the many other skills that are described in the UWCSEA profile.

You see, skill+drill Apps don't need a teacher, what they do need is a device, time, and perseverance; so what this is, is an excellent productive activity children can easily engage in at home. This kind of practise builds the kind of 'automaticity' (instant recall without hesitation) that is fundamental to confidence in numeracy. Knowing mathematics facts frees up the mind to solve more complex math problems.  If a child has to struggle to solve 8 + 3, they have no mental energy (or desire) left to grapple with the types of problems that will increase their capacity as a mathematician.

In my experience spanning over twenty years, I find that teachers commonly (and traditionally) facilitate this through a relentless torrent of photocopied worksheets, something I myself have relied on over the years. However since the advent of the integration of digital technologies, I really struggle to understand how having kids complete a photocopied Maths worksheet can ever be seen as better than the kinds of differentiated, adaptive, multimodal practise offered by Maths apps, and Maths sites like Khan Academy. If teachers ceased to set these tedious sheet as homework, they could free up the time to plan better lessons, no need to 'mark', instead use the time to analyse the data—where are they struggling? Where are the gaps? Where should they go next? What group of kids do you need to conference with tomorrow?

Automaticity is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practise.

So while I generally discourage skill+drill in school, I can see its value at home. Below I have included the collection of Maths Apps we use (sometimes) at school that I believe are particularly powerful for this kind of learning, learning through practise. 

This is a small selection, no doubt a Google search would turn up many more, although I doubt they will be very different to these.

Top Tip: Ask your child to take a screenshot of their score after first attempt, then compare their progress after a week or so.


These kinds of Apps are basically teaching mathematics in old ways using new technology, albeit amplified

Chocolate covered broccoli...
These Apps are essentially worksheets on steroids, so while your kids may be more engaged in the short term, don't expect this to last. These tools are essentially 'chocolate-covered broccoli'. That’s what designers of educational games call digital products that drape dull academic instruction in the superficially appealing disguise of a game, using the trappings of games “as a sugar coating” for what would otherwise be unappetising content—in short don't treat these games as a replacement for 'proper' games like Minecraft, but by all means treat them as replacements for worksheets.

What these Apps do offer that worksheets don't are features like, interactivity, capacity, range, speed and automatic, accurate, reliable responses at the speed of light.  These unique features make a contribution to the teaching and learning process, in that they motivate and interest children by interaction, allowing them to change the work in progress and facilitate a variety of paces of working.

We sometimes think of being good at mathematics as an innate ability. You either have "it" or you don't. But what these Apps can encourage, is what we call a 'growth mindset' it's not about ability it's about attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try.  Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for 30 minutes to make sense of something that some people would give up on after 30 seconds.

Drill & Practise

"Of particular interest is the effect of drill and practise – and despite the moans by many adults, students need much drill and practise. However, it does not need to be dull and boring, but can be, and indeed should be, engaging and informative. Drill is a euphemism for practise: repeated learning of the material until it is mastered – this is the key ingredient in mastery learning, [...] and of deliberative practice. It does not have to be deadly, and a key skill for many teachers is to make deliberative practise engaging and worthwhile. Luik (2007) classified 145 attributes of drills using computers into six categories: motivating the learner, learner control, presentation of information, characteristics of questions, characteristics of replying, and feedback. The key attributes that led to the highest effect included learner control, not losing sight of the learning goal, and the immediate announcement of correctness or otherwise of the answer to the drill." (Hattie, 2013)

Many computer games are basically invested with high levels of drill and practise and many students can be thrilled and motivated to engage in these often repetitive tasks to attain higher levels of skill and thus make more progress through the game. Computer games include much engaging drill and practice with increasing levels of challenge that usually is mastered by overlearning or undertaking high degrees of drill and practice. So often, the evidence has shown positive effects from using computers to engage in deliberative practice, particularly for those students struggling to first learn the concept." (p 224)

Hattie J (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.