On The Home Front: Progress?

For the longest time my wife has been anti technology when it comes to the kids. Kid1, as our seven year old is known on twitter, wasn’t allowed on devices until just last year. But now that Kid1 is on the iPad (and ubermix netbook), of course Kid2 wants to be on it too. And low and behold my wife has been letting her! So this weekend, I come down stairs to find Kid2, who turns three next week, on her sister’s iPad learning her letters.

iPad Alphabet

Well cool. She obviously knows her M’s, N’s, E’s and P’s. O’s are still a little tricky. I watched her for about 5 minutes. Initially, she studiously attempted to identify the correct letter. It was obvious the one’s she knew because she tapped on them straight away. For the ones where she was uncertain, I watched her use trial and error and the game feedback to eliminate the wrong answers until she found the right one. Then at about the five minute mark, she went into silly mode and started tapping wrong letters just to get the game feedback. She moved out of learning mode to playing mode in a very short time. Unfortunately, it looks like she inherited my short attention span.

Now this is just a “dumb” app. As far as I can tell it’s not tracking her correct responses and feeding her the one’s she’s missed or identifying the one’s she’s mixing up. I also don’t know if it’s teaching her letters or if she’s been secretly watching Word World again while her parents sleep in on Saturdays. Scary when you’re two year old knows terms like HDMI, AppleTV and NetFlix. (TV is not technology, or so I keep telling my wife)

I then watched her move to Tangram Mania. An app where you drag shapes into their matching slots. Her drag and drop skills need work, but she definitely steps up the concentration and focus with that game. But watching her playing, I realized how limited the app was. Only one right answer, no real feedback for wrong placement of the shape and no helpful hints. It got me thinking that while there are a bazillion apps available, many of which are categorized as educational, most aren’t accessing even a 100th of the potential of the platform to facilitate learning. They lock kids into one right way and do not encourage exploration or imagination. As a parent, I have very little in the way of information to help me know what my kid knows and doesn’t know and where she needs help or more practice. It’s like we’re back in the Bard’s Tale era of educational game development but we should easily be in MMORGP land by now.

I have to wonder, is the iPad app any better than the analogue version she was playing this morning?

aylin playing letters

I tend to think both are important. As limited as the letter app on the iPad is, Kid2 is being exposed to the worst technology she will ever know, to paraphrase Jaime Casap. And I think that’s important because the world has changed and will continue to change. Technology permeates everything. For better or worse. When Kid2 is four, I want her to be beyond basic navigation and operation of the device and moving into learning how to search the internet for information. We started late with Kid1. She’s just now getting into searching for word definitions, spelling and primary sources. Search is the foundational literacy skill of the 21st Century. Right up there with reading and writing, the ability to search critically, to me, is the most important skill I can pass on to my kids.

What do I mean by search critically? Well anyone can copy and paste a question into Google, read the top answer and think they know how to search. Searching critically is the practical application of the four C’s we love to talk about in education but don’t often delivery to our kids. Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication. I think that’s why so many people suck at searching for solutions. It’s easy to search for the weather, a stock market quote or flight info. It’s something else entirely to search for a solution to a problem. And at the end of the day, I want my kids to be problem identifiers and solvers. I wonder if there will ever be an app for that.