Search this site
Other stuff

Follow me on Twitter at:


All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

Locations of visitors to this page

My latest book:

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Fan Page on Facebook


Must-read K-12 IT Blog
EdTech's Must-Read K-12 IT Blogs





Laps or laptops: kids and home technology use

I am by any measure a doting grandfather. After seeing the fascination my two older grandsons showed with my iPad, I purchased each of them their own iPads for Christmas a couple years ago (after some parental consultation).

Each iPad came with this background screen:
As far as I know, their access to these devices has not lowered their school performance, kept them from participating in sports, music, or boyscouts, nor turned them into obese antisocial psychopaths. They are happy, academically well-performing, well-rounded, nice kids - despite Facetiming with Grandpa now and then and playing lots of Sonic.

Children's home use of technology has been an interest of mine ever since the Alliance for Childhood published its Fool's Gold report in 2000. I agreed with most of their beliefs:
Childhood should not be hurried, children should be respected as individuals, and children should be relieved from as much stress as possible. Technology used with younger children works against all these premises, the report argues, and concludes with a variety of recommendations including:
  • Refocusing education for younger students on play, the arts, and hands-on activities such as crafts,
  • Conducting studies to determine the possible health hazards to children resulting from the use of technology,
  • Halting the commercial “hyping” of technology for children,
  • Emphasizing ethics, responsibility and critical thinking in older students when using technology, and
  • Implementing an immediate moratorium on the further introduction of computers into early childhood and elementary education. Alliance for Childhood’s Fool’s Gold report (a response), School Library Journal December 2000
Even earlier, I wrote
The question really is not whether we should use technology with small children, but how do we do it wisely? Wise use will only come when there are a sufficient number of technologically literate preschool teachers who are not replaced, but supplemented, by effective technologies. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that our children can have both laps and laptops when appropriate and when needed? Virtual Realities: Technology for Tots Minnesota School Board Association Journal, Early Spring, 1998

So it was with great interest when I read this post by Larry Cuban: Looking at Children Use of Technologies at Home and School and thought this was interesting:

Keep in mind that there are social class differences in how parents and significant adults allow their children to use of screen devices. A number of studies have found, for example, that:  
  • African-American and Latino children ages 0 to 8 spend more time with screen media, including television, video games, and computers than their white peers. 
  • Rates of bedroom television are more than twice as high among African-American (69%) and Hispanic (66%) children than for white children in the same age group (28%).  
  • Children from low-income families (less than $30,000 annually) spend more time with television and videos and have bedroom television rates more than three times higher than children from middle- and upper-income families.
I'm thinking about what this means for the amount of home technology access we decide to provide on for my own district's students, over 50% who are non-white and nearly 50% are on FRP lunches. If or when do we start a 1:1 program in the district and should we let the devices go home with our students?
I really don't know.

If we find means of securing devices - iPads, Chromebooks, etc - are we simply increasing the chances that our students will be spending even more "screen time" at home rather interacting directly with other human beings?

Or will we be offering these kids a chance to do more positive things with the "screens" than watch television and play video games? Are reading e-books, playing math games, or interacting with peers and the teacher in learning networks an alternative to mindless entertainment?

Laps or laptops? I like them both for kids, but can we achieve - and help parents achieve - a balance for all our students?




BFTP: Are the under-informed happier?

Clair and me in Havasupai, Grand Canyon, 2003

Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise. 
                                              Thomas Gray

I made the decision to go with my buddy Clair on a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hike almost instantly. When he (more accurately, his sister) proposed back in April that a group of us do this trek, my thinking went:

  • I've hiked the Grand Canyon a number of times at the Havasupai Reservation and enjoyed it.
  • My calendar for September is open.
  • I have frequent flyer miles to use.
  • I need a physical challenge and it would be fun to spend some time with one of my best friends.

And here is what I found out only after doing just a little research and letting life intrude ...

  • The Rim to Rim Trail (Kaibab from the North Rim to the Colorado River, then the Bright Angel Trail up to the South Rim) is a four-day, 25 mile trek. (Havasupai was two half-day hikes separated by a couple nights camping.)
  • There is a 5,000 foot elevation loss (500 flights of stairs) over the first two days of hiking; there is a 4,000 foot elevation gain the last two days of hiking. (Havasupai elevation change was 2,000 feet down and back up.) People commonly lose all their toenails on the downhill jaunts. And I am guessing many lose their will to live on the uphills.
  • The temperature in the Grand Canyon area varies in September from below freezing on the North Rim to well over 100 degrees down in the Canyon.
  • One guide book of "classic hikes" rates the Rim to Rim a three on a scale of one to three in difficulty. It rates the Inca Trail a one. The Inca Trail nearly did me in.
  • People die of dehydration on this hike. And hypothermia. And snakebite. And abrupt deceleration that comes at the end of falls from great heights.(It's not the fall that killed him; it was the sudden stop.)
  • I realized that I am six years older and probably 20 pounds heavier than I was the last time I hiked the Canyon.
  • I've had three speaking engagements come up and a book draft to review this month. And I am program chair for the state library/tech conference. Oh, and that pesky day job seems to be keeping me busy.

So I ask myself, had I known in April what I know now, would I have so readily forked over the substantial deposit for this little adventure? Are we humans happier in our ignorance than we are in our knowledge?

But then would we do anything in life if we knew all the facts ahead of time?

I've continued my three-mile noon walks, but now wear hiking boots and carry a 25lb pack in training. The hike begins a week from this coming Sunday.

So far I have kept all my toenails.

(One encouraging thing is that in the book Hikernut's Grand Canyon Companion, hikernuts are recreation enthusiasts, not a medical condition.)

Original post September 11, 2009 Oh, the trip was fantastic!


Learning guide words for the test

The LWW, my librarian wife, came home frustrated one day last week. She had spent the afternoon looking for a classroom set of print dictionaries so she could teach her kids how to use guide words.

"Seriously?" I asked. "I don't remember that being a terribly important skill even when I actually had to use a print dictionary."

"It's on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test I was told," she replied

Nice to know Minnesota is on the cutting edge of teaching life-skills - from the 20th century. I wonder if braiding buggy whips and sharpening quill pens are still essential for "career and college readiness as well?