‘Fortnite’ and the collapse of parenting

‘Fortnite’ and the collapse of parenting

The article raises some interesting points, between the fear-mongering and anti-game bias I’ve come to expect. Video-game addiction can be a huge problem, as can the loss of sleep, competitive stress, and horrible chat and comments often involved with intensive gaming. The article focuses on only one game, suggesting that it is the problem. It also suggests that there is no middle ground between cutting off gaming completely or allowing compulsive gaming to go unchecked. This is a real missed opportunity for a lot of parents, who could be prompted to use this to teach good habits.

I will link here to a blog post from a good friend of mine on how his family handled their son’s screen time. I can find no better example of how this should be handled. For that matter, the child concerned is now a young man, and the stellar results of this approach to parenting are very apparent!

A great way to start the morning!

It’s a promising day when the first issue is a 3rd grader coming to me to change his password, because a friend saw it. I’ve talked a good bit about password security lately, and apparently it’s sinking in! Second issue was a fifth grader who’s been helping his younger brother do some 3D design looking for some advice. If the whole day goes like this, I’ll be flying home tonight!

Mad-Eye Moody

My Halloween costume may have cut too close to home! I think Mad-Eye Moody may be my favorite Harry Potter character, though, and is certainly in line with what I spend nearly every day trying to teach my kids. Constant Vigilance! 

This getup is a few weeks of work altogether. The centerpiece is the eye, of course, which was made with Adafruit’s Hallowing and splicing together some awesome 3D models. The staff is wood, a model of a ram skull, and lots of Bondo. The attitude is all my own.

Chromebook stand

I’ve wanted to create a better looking Chromebook stand to replace my old solution for quite a while. I’ve finally got one! I designed these in Illustrator and cut them on my Glowforge laser cutter. They cost about $50 in materials. I’m looking into whether I might be able to make them a bit cheaper through a service bureau, but I suspect that’s about as cheap as I can go. That’s quite a bit more than the last solution, so I’m not sure if this will be my final design or not.

Kids writing scams

As a part of teaching digital citizenship to my 6th graders, I spend a considerable amount of time telling them about scams, frauds, and malware. I do this because I think they are a a substantial risk down the road if they are not informed and skeptical. And I do it because we inevitably have a great discussion, filled with anecdotes by the kids of people they know who have been taken in (or not) by these same scams.

This year, I had an extra bit of time with one class, so I tried an experiment that has been brewing in my head for over a year. I had the kids all write their own scam! It worked so well in the first class that I could only repeat it in the second. The students could make their scam as ridiculous or as real as they wanted, and use whatever tools they wanted. They only had ten minutes to work (which I expanded to fifteen, when the students demanded it). 

What they produced far exceeded my expectations! Their responses ran the gamut from the most outrageous examples of poor writing and layout to emails that just might work in the real world. Many used pictures, links, interesting layouts, and alternate software tools to make their work convincing. Both classes were absorbed in their work to an extent I have seldom seen in 6th grade, and when we shared the works as a class they were entirely focused on the projector. 

When I first envisioned the project, I had some fears about it. What would it sound like to parents (not to mention the administration) to hear their kids were writing scam email in class? I did take the step of making the kids swear a solemn oath before hand (I, STATE YOUR NAME, solemnly swear to use my powers only for good, and not for evil.), but would that be enough. I think I needn’t have worried. The gains from this experiment far outweigh the possible friction. I think I have inoculated these kids, as far as is possible at this stage, against online frauds and scams. I hope to be able to give them a booster shot in 7th and 8th grades, but even if not, I feel confident these kids are prepared for the future in this regard, at least. I will definitely try this again!

3D Printed Guns

Less than an hour into the new school, and I’ve already had my first question on 3D printed guns! So much hype over this story. Essentially, files that were already out there were briefly made legal. I’m sure they were spread around even further, and probably some new guns will be printed. I think you’d have to be insane to actually fire one of those, though. The materials used are not made for those kind of forces to begin with. There may be some resin printers out there with materials that could handle it, but the price would be insanely high. Also, the rarity of the printers would mean the print would be fairly easy to trace. There are metal printers, but that defeats the main purpose of having it 3D printed. Also, those printers are super expensive, and probably easy to track. 

The biggest issue with the story, though, is that in the US guns are unbelievably cheap and easy to get. Why would anyone bother printing one and risking losing a hand firing it, when you can get a safe one cheaper? I can only hope that MORE people try to print these guns, so that these idiots lose their trigger fingers.


Strands of Technology in Education

I’ve struggled for some time with the objectives of technology education in schools. There are a variety of activities lumped under this banner, which do not seem to have a lot in common conceptually. For example, many schools may teach the use of different programs (e.g. presentation, video editing, or animation) under the label of educational technology. Many schools cover aspects of digital technology’s effect on society or digital citizenship. Or how computers and networks work. And most schools now offer at least some amount of programming. These different subjects have little overlap, other than the potential involvement of a computer. This was a strong common theme when computers and expertise were scarce and often concentrated in labs. They seem to have little reason to be treated together as a category now, when computers are ubiquitous and the expertise required is more diverse.

In an attempt to deal with these disparities, I’ve started breaking educational technology into three buckets. This gives me a conceptual framework for dealing with the different areas, though I still don’t find this entirely satisfactory. The categories are computer science, information technology, and digital literacy.

Computer science

While computer science necessarily includes programming, I prefer to emphasize computational thinking. By this, I mean the process of problem solving, particularly as it applies to the digital environment. Computational thinking includes fundamental concepts such as abstraction and decomposition, iteration and conditionals, and general problem solving techniques. A great advantage in thinking of computational thinking over programming is that it becomes applicable in a number of other subjects as well, lending itself to reinforcement in other areas of the curriculum. Programming becomes a practical application of computational thinking.

Information technology

Information technology is the category for all of the technical aspects of computing. This includes how computers and networks work (which I feel is generally neglected, considering the extent of their integration in all aspects of contemporary life). This also includes some amount of history of computing, and some concepts such as logic and binary number systems.

Digital literacy

This category consists of that information needed to deal with technology on a day-to-day basis. That includes how to use different types of applications, such as word-processing or spreadsheets. Most importantly, it should impart and ability to learn new applications, as any specific applications are likely to be rendered obsolete in short order. This category also includes, perhaps most importantly, how to behave in a digital world. This is where digital citizenship resides, with a particular emphasis on safety.

One advantage I’ve found in breaking up the subjects generally found in “technology” in schools is that it makes it easier for me to also reconsider how they are approached. While all three are necessary at each level of education, they need not all be handled in a technology-focused class. Aspects of digital literacy would make just as much sense in context with classroom behavior discussions. Parts of information technology fit well within math or science units. Spreading these units to other areas of the curriculum helps connect student thinking outside of their traditional realms, and makes more overall time for the traditional technology subjects in the schedule.