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  • My First Time SXSWedu Conference

    Last week, I attended SXSWedu for the first time, as part of a panel called How Music Powers STEAM Education and the Brain. (You can see the presentation on VH1’s Save the Music website.) My focus was on how educational technology can help all kids, even those without access to instruments and lessons, get the benefits of making music. It was rewarding to have a knowledgeable, connected audience for a topic I feel so passionately about, and I feel we were able to start a conversation that will continue now that the conference is over.

     

    Of course, one of the best things about any conference is finding out what other people are thinking and doing and building. The conference was full of teachers and innovators doing amazing work, and I came home from the conference tired but inspired.

     

    The panels that inspired me the most included:

    • Effective SEL: From Classroom to Community”: a presentation about an innovative social-emotional learning initiative, called Spark, currently being implemented in Newtown, CT. The program includes in-person SEL training, game-based assessment and personalized skill-building, community and parent training and brain health education.

    • We Need to Talk: Building Inclusive Communities”: stories, best practices, and ideas for creating truly inclusive communities that serve students with special needs and also have positive impacts for the entire learning environment.

    • The Rather Prize: The Best Idea to Improve TX Edu”: the inaugural prize was awarded to Dr. Sanford Jeames to implement a community-based learning and mentorship initiative designed to help high school students meet and overcome the obstacles on their path to college

     

    I met a number of individuals and organizations who are doing innovative work on how to meet the needs of diverse learners through educational technology. BridgingApps, for example, has built a searchable database of educational apps which allow parents, teachers, and therapists to find the tools they need to help children and adults with disabilities. AbleGamers works to improve the accessibility of video games through reviews, developer guidelines, and grants. Understood is an organization of 15 different non-profits which has built an online community and a robust set of tools for parents of kids with learning differences.


    I plan on attending again next year, and I’m looking forward to bringing new ideas to the conference and building on the conversations I began this year. One hope I have is that the conference organizers will find a way to include more students among the presenters because students are often our best teachers.

  • Are We Digitally Protecting Our Children?

    This post was inspired by some research for a project I have been working on. The research I have come across has made me very concerned when it comes to our children and their privacy. Currently, the tech sector is booming and "innovation" reigns supreme. 

    A year ago, I read a book by Jaron Lanier titled "Who Owns The Future." It was a dark read, and I put it down without finishing it. Lanier argues that eventually the data owners (Facebook, Google, etc..) will also own society. He also talks about how jobs will go away (like they did in the music industry) to be replaced by cheaper workers and much cheaper tech.

    My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and think, "Oh here we go again, one of those people: the ones that fear the new and don't want things to change too much." 

    However, after the research I did this week, my thinking is more in line with Mr. Lanier's. I am afraid of the direction we are headed when it comes to data. When the government is bought and paid for by big corporations, we aren't left with much say in the matter when it comes to laws around Big Data.

    When I say "we" I am talking about parents.

    Do you have any idea of how much data is being generated about your child? That data comes from the video games they play, the Facebook posts we do about them, the hundreds of photos we take of them on our mobile devices, GPS features on the photos we take of them, etc. And this is just the data we and they are generating at home and doesn't account for all of the additional data that is being generated at their schools. 

    I have no problem with this information being gathered when it's useful and makes sense, and when companies are transparent about what they are gathering and why.

    But let's be honest: most parents are too busy and frankly don't want to read the fine print of all the digital media in our daily lives. Some parents just have a blind trust that kid's tech is good and honest. And I am sorry to say that I see way too many developers and tech companies not being transparent. That might fly in the adult tech world but when it comes to kids it just ain't cool.

    Some of the developers I know have lost sight of the forest and are just focused on their own little tree. Meanwhile, the forest about to catch fire.

  • My Favorite Go To Sites for Parents

    So many great websites out there! How do we find the good ones? If you are like me usually from another parent. 

    I have started a resource page to share with others sites that I find helpful and ones recommend often. It's been great pulling the list today - it's reminded me how we aren't allow in this journey. 

    Here are a couple of my favorites:

    1. Soul Pancake For some fun and thought provoking entertainment check these videos out. 

    2. Great Schools. Most parents are familiar with this site, but they may not know about all the great resources they have created for us parents. Be sure to check out their videos and worksheets.

    3. Common Sense Media This is where I go for all my reviews when it comes to kid's media. They have a huge library with rating on movies, apps, tv shows and more.