May 29, 2017

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How to Get Kids Into Coding -- 10 Myths and Realities

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First posted on the Connected Camps blog.

90% of parents in the U.S. want their child to learn coding
and 71% of new STEM jobs will be in computer science. Still, the majority of kids in this country are not learning to code. It would help if schools offered CS, but parents and other influences outside of school can also play a big role.

Among the biggest reasons that kids don’t take an interest in coding is because of popular misconceptions about what it means to be a coder. In popular culture, coding is associated with nerdy, antisocial men and boys who are obsessively attracted to math and computers. It's worth digging into this a bit. Not only is it unfair to folks who are already deeply into coding, it also turns away kids who don’t identify with that stereotype.

How can we get kids into coding? Here are 5 popular myths about coding and how we can counteract them with the reality that coding can be for all kids.

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Posted by Mizuko Ito at 11:49 AM

April 3, 2017

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How to Get Your Daughters into Tech by Embracing Who They Really Are

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First posted at the Connected Camps blog.

Only 26% of computing professionals are women, which is down from 36% in 1991. Millions of dollars are being spent on closing this gender gap, but it persists. Even though girls are just as into math and science in their school years, few go onto major in these areas, and even fewer go on to tech careers. What can we do to help our daughters buck these odds? Girls and Minecraft offer important hints.

The stereotype is that tech is for boys. Girls are also less likely to have friends, mentors, and role models in tech who they identify with. Parents who want their daughter to embrace technology may give up when she prefers Barbie to robots, or shuns geeky interests because they aren’t popular among their friends. The problem is that when we focus on “breaking stereotypes” we can end up pushing our daughters beyond their comfort zone.

Instead, we need to start with who they really are, and build on positive archetypes rather than focus on attacking negative stereotypes. Girls and Minecraft play is a unique opportunity to encourage tech learning and interests and challenge some stereotypes along the way.

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Posted by Mizuko Ito at 3:48 PM

February 25, 2017

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How to Create a New Year’s Resolution the Whole Family Loves — Make it About Pizza

First posted on our Family Pizza blog.

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Every New Year’s Eve I poke the hubby and kids into committing to a self improvement goal, and every year, it falls flat. Until this year. I was inspired by the New Year’s resolution episode of The Sporkful podcast, which talked about how people resolve to eat less and exercise more, and most abandon that resolve sometime in February. Instead, why not resolve to eat more of what you love?

I asked my son if he might go in on a resolution for 2017 with me, to eat and make more of a food we both love. He was in. It would need to be something with depth and history that we could geek out on, and opportunities for variation and innovation. Some food types we considered were tacos, donburi, pasta, curry, and soup, but pizza was the winner. A new family project-based learning adventure and this blog was born.

We’ve been casual pizza makers for a long time, in part because I avoid dairy so it’s hard for me to eat pizza out. 2017 would be all about upping our game — eating our way through the best pizza in SoCal and cooking our way through different styles, with the goal of improving our homemade pie. This is a resolution the whole family could get behind.

I’ve never been this excited about designing a curriculum. I’m an educator by trade, and often designed “activities” to do with the kids, including weekend cooking, but this felt different. This was a long term investigation that involved both hands-on learning and what our family bonds most around — eating great food together. I don’t know why we hadn’t thought of this sooner!

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Posted by Mizuko Ito at 5:23 PM

January 13, 2017

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How Dropping Screen Time Rules Can Fuel Extraordinary Learning

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First posted at the Connected Camps blog.

Last fall, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) finally backed down from their killjoy "screen time" rules that had deprived countless kids of the freedom to pursue their interests and explore digital worlds. No screens in the first 2 years, no more than 2 hours a day. After pushing their famous 2x2 rule for almost two decades, now they advocate against a one-size-fits-all approach and suggest that parents can be “media mentors” and not just time cops. But damage has been done.

For almost as long as the AAP 2x2 rules have been in place, I’ve been studying how multimedia, digital games, and the Internet can fuel extraordinary forms of learning and mobilization. Young people are growing up in a new era of information abundance where they can google anything and connect with specialized expert communities online. However, our research also indicates that most kids are not truly tapping the power of online learning. In part I blame the 2x2 guidelines for holding kids back, and putting parents in the role of policing rather than coaching media engagement.

By focusing on quality over quantity, families can move away from fear, maintain a healthy balance, and seek out extraordinary learning.

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Posted by Mizuko Ito at 3:58 PM

December 26, 2016

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Three Lessons from My Son on Minecraft and Learning

Reposted from Connected Camps.

Why do some kids spend their time killing each other while others engineer epic builds in Minecraft? The educational benefits of Minecraft are celebrated, particularly for developing tech skills, but not every kid is unleashing her inner MacGyver. It doesn’t really matter if Minecraft is good for learning if your kid isn’t engaging in complicated builds, coding, engineering or collaboration online. After all, there’s more variety in Minecraft play than any game on this planet.


My son’s binary calculator

Minecraft was a big part of my son becoming an avid coder, a positive digital citizen, and an aspiring engineer. He started playing Minecraft in middle school with his friends, and he played in a server that the school hosted. What really got him excited about being creative in Minecraft was discovering YouTube videos of epic builds. Eventually he applied to join a Minecraft server community hosted by some of the heroes he discovered on YouTube; he leveled up in his building, as he collaborated with and learned from others in the community. A few years later, he was exposed to coding in high school, and decided to explore coding in Minecraft and build a massive binary calculator with redstone (a special type of Minecraft block that acts like an electrical wire and allows players to create circuits and other machines). In the summer, he helps out in the family business, working in the Connected Camps Minecraft server teaching kids to code.

Here’s three lessons I learned growing up with my son about unleashing learning in Minecraft.

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Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2:56 PM