Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Journalism, it's not what it used to be

I got up this morning, let the dog out, did my little exercises, and turned on the computer. I checked my email, the weather, Facebook, checked my favorite blogs for new posts, and activated my Pintrest account. I'll read the local paper with my morning tea, and listen to NPR when I drive into town.

Where do you get your information these days?

Once upon a time there was a countable number of news sources. When I was a kid the entire country watched the same 3 network TV stations. My entire state watched the same local UHF station and the same PBS station. There were 2 newspapers (out of Denver), and a handful of radio stations we could listen to. For local news we called a friend and gossiped.

Today there is cable TV, digital radio, and (cue big voice) The Internet. The internet is a game changer. Absolutely anyone with internet access can get their message out there. You could use a desk top computer, a lap top computer, a hand held android or even just your cell phone to post. If you don't have those, access to a public library will do it.

So how did you choose to get your information this morning? Newspaper? Radio? TV? (cable or broadcast?) WorldWideWeb? If you're on-line, what site did you choose for your sources? BBC? NPR? Washington Post? Washington Times?

There is no longer a countable number of news sources. Every blogger is a journalist. Every person who posts a comment on a site is reporting their experience and opinion. Every person can now be a journalist. What does that mean?

It means that we now have a lot of information to sort through. The good news is that there is no reason to remain ignorant of just about anything. Yet there isn't enough time in the world to follow everything of interest or concern. How we choose, individually, to sort through it will be skewed by our own bias. What we see will skew our bias. We each now have a responsibility to search out information that challenges those biases.

I'd be interested to know - How do you get your news? Are there ways you challenge your own bias or seek out contrary news sources?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Open Courseware

I was talking with my friend yesterday about how education is changing. I got to tell her about the Khan Academy and she got to show me a cool math book. Then we got to talking about other non-traditional sources for learning. The price of college is going up, and the value of many degrees is going down. That makes you consider lots of other options, or at least ways to be so well prepared for college that the money is well spent.

There's a whole new world of education opening up. There is no reason for anyone to remain uneducated. Once you can read and think, and have access to the internet, the world is yours.

NPR had a story recently on an Open Course from Standford. There are many articles and posts out there on the best sources of Open Courseware. I've started a page where I'm keeping track of Open Courseware, it's an ongoing project, so I can't promise they'll all be golden, but wow. This is a game changer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Changing times

The world is changing. Faster than I can keep up with. I feel like an old, old woman... "Back in my day..." ;-D

If you look out your window you will see something very different than my 92 year old father-in-law saw as a child. He saw horse drawn carts, dirt or cobble roads, farm animals. You see cars, look up and see airplanes and helicopters, and, most likely, very few of us see farm animals right outside our windows.

I predict that one of the places we're going to see the biggest changes is in how we educate ourselves. Walk into a class room today and what you see won't be all that different than what my FIL saw when he went to school, more than 80 years ago. There will be the teacher's desk up at the front. The children's desks will be facing it. There will be a black (or white board) behind the teacher, maybe a couple of bookcases, and if the kids are lucky, or in a wealthier district, maybe a computer or two. The computer is the only thing my father in law wouldn't have recognized as a child, but what it represents is the biggest change in human evolution since control of fire.

Here's an example:
A link to a Harvard Justice class was just posted to one of my groups. Now, via the internet, you can sit in on this college lecture. You can access videos of the lectures, as well as follow, and even participate in, discussions about the topics in the lectures. It's not the same of being in the same room, but whether it's better or worse really depends on what you make of it. Here's an opportunity to experience what some of the most elite students in the U.S. get to experience, free, in your own home. You can watch at home or at a public library: alone, or with friends and family. You can discuss it with them, or on-line with other interested people from around the world.

It's not about a degree. The institutions of "higher learning" still have a strangle hold on those little pieces of paper. But, as the cost of college soars and the economy declines, the relative value of many degrees is decreasing. It's not about a degree. It's about an education.

A high quality education is available for any autodidact. It always has been, for anyone with enough time and a library card. The difference between my youth and now is in the ease of access, and the ability to communicate with so many and so varied people and institutions. I'm just amazed. Floored. Impressed. Dumbfounded. Staggered. The opportunities overwhelm me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kid at School?

12/15/11 As the sun was rising this morning I was driving to drop off Bit-Boy at our "neighborhood" middle school. He's always been a social kid, and I think attending 8th grade O.W.L. at church has piqued his interest in being around more age peers. So, he arranged to shadow an 8th grade neighbor/friend.

12/16/11 Bit Boy told me he'd like to look into going to school part time. Oh Lordy, here we go. I'd rather have him home for so many reasons, but this is something he really wants. And really, how do you tell your kid "NO! You can't go to school!" and still sound rational? ;-)

12/18/11 I attended a meeting with the councilor and Bit-Boy. She's very excited and says he can take as few or as many classes as he wants. Registar steps in and says "No. You need to check with the principal." So we put our conversation on hold and the councilor agrees to contact me with the principal's response.

12/22/11 We have our meeting with the principle. Bit-Boy is excited to have a chance to go to school. He is leaning "61%" towards going part-time. (Compared to 39% in favor of homeschooling full time.) Meeting prompts me to write an urgent vent to my homeschooling-mom-friends:

I need some hugs. Arg!! I'm really not liking this, and there are very few people I can complain to, since few people see why this is a problem for me.

Bit-Boy is very clear in wanting to try going to school, but wanting to go only part time. What he wants out of the experience is to see what being in school is like and to meet more kids his own age. If the only option was full time or not going, he'd choose to not go.

This morning we went to sign up Bit-boy for 8th grade (part-time attendance). This was the 2nd time this week, and the 3rd time within the last 7 days that we've been to L., our neighborhood school. We met with the principal, the councilor and the English teacher.

The councilor is great. Kind, articulate, and open to doing what is best for the student and family. The English teacher seemed receptive to the idea of taking on a student who'd had no formal schooling.

After confirming that part-time was an option, the principal, Mr. D., gave us the hard sell on full time enrollment. He spent 45 + min. lecturing us. When I said full time enrollment wasn't on the table for discussion, he pushed back. First he tried to explain that there was no way that we could meet Alex's academic needs. I explained that Bit-Boy is reading at an adult level and would be ready for college level engineering courses by the time he was 15. He expressed skepticism. I showed him Bit-Boy's most recent PASS test scores. A moment of silence.

He then moved on to explain how there was much more to school than academics and that they were all about getting kids ready for the "next step" (being ready for high school). He talked about how pushing kids too hard academically was bad. (I didn't mention the unschooling bit) I can't even remember now all the stuff he said. I don't know if he realized how big a hole he was digging when he went on about all the "social" situations that Bit-Boy would be exposed to in school. He went on to say he expected that Bit-Boy would have so much fun that he'd want to be full time, and even want to come back to do 8th grade full time there next year. (eyeroll)

Aloud, I turned to Bit-Boy and pointed out that Mr. D was giving him the hard sell on going full time, and asked Bit-Boy if he was going to be up to dealing with that for a semester. Then the principal said "Oh, no. I won't push him." (But that was what he'd been doing right in front of me for almost an hour. Can expect him to do better when I'm not around?)

All I could think is that this man believes his school is better at raising children than parents, and that the entire point of "school" is to keep kids so busy they don't have time for anything else.

Running errands afterwards, Lego Dude said "If Bit-Boy likes it there, maybe I should go too?" I could cry. This child is not ready for the social aspect of middle school. He is just coming into the quantum leap in learning that Bit-Boy experienced from 11-13 yo. I so don't want him in school. I don't want to deal with all the stuff he'd bring home, I don't want him to deal with all the stimulation just when he's starting to find himself. Also, I like my kids and don't want them gone all day. They'll be leaving soon enough (obviously).

Bit-Boy even thinking of attending middle school is changing our family culture. I am not wanting this change. Even though I knew something like it was coming, I thought it would be later. I figured around 10th grade he could start at the community college, take some AP classes at one of the high schools, try a co-enrollment situation, or take some on line courses from a university. All of which could still happen of course, I just feel like the adults at the school are going to be doing their best to brainwash him that he's been abused by homeschooling and that if he doesn't go to school full time he'll miss out on all the important things in life.

I also really hate feeling judged by someone. Especially someone who is so biased against our lifestyle. When I called him on it, pointing out that our homeschooling was a family choice and no reflection on him, L., or public schools, he responded - "Oh, I'm not biased. I'm all for choice." So now, in the space of an hour, he has established a pattern of doing/saying something while not accepting responsibility for his actions.

OK. I know, this email all about me. Yup. I'm wallowing.
But I'm still letting Bit-Boy try school, so good on me, eh?

Whew! I was so worked up. All this led to some great discussions with Firelord, with Bit-Boy, with Lego Dude, and with Hot Dog. And then more discussion with all of us together.

I wrote to another friend:
Bit-Boy is enrolled to start at the middle school starting Jan 9, part time. They have a wacky schedule, "blue" days and "yellow" days, but get this: The blue and yellow days alternate. One blue, one yellow, so you can't assume that all Mondays are the same, or even that every other Monday will be the same, since there are occasional no school days that shift the schedule. It's insane. Of course, it doesn't matter if you give your kid up to the school from 7:25-3:30 everyday, although the kids need to keep track of the days so they prepare the assignments for the correct class. (eyeroll)

One thing I realized is that I've made such an effort to be sure the kids understood that going to school was a legitimate choice for families (because at one point they'd been lording their homeschooling over some jealous schooled friends) that I hadn't spent much time explaining why I still believed that homeschooling was the best option for our family.

Another thing that came up is the whole giftedness and right brained discussion. Ugh. I really haven't had to get into the nitty gritty of IQ or academic ability before. We just did what we were interested in, at our own pace, and didn't worry about it. Now come to find out that Bit-Boy is working way ahead of level. And, in fact, Bit-Boy and I came to realize that given what the school had to offer academically, he should be in the middle of highschool, except that his pace of work would be slowed down if he went at the rate of a normal class. BTW Mr. D said he could go to the high school for this and that, and a local high school prinicpal has offered him a place anytime - but that doesn't quite meet the social needs that started all this, does it?

So what does a kid do when he wants a pack of his intellectual and emotional peers? Can't happen, at least not in semi-rual place with as low a population as this. He's going to have to settle for age mates, and folks of all ages who share his interests, without a whole lot of overlap.

What happened? I tried to be Zen about it and not be attached to any particular outcome. I talked myself into thinking that this would be a good growth experience for him. I did my utmost to keep my dismay to myself. Bit-Boy is pretty head strong, so I wasn't too worried he'd try to please me. Good thing.

He weighed his options. Comparing not only his experience shadowing his friend at the school, but also listening to what she and his other schooled friends shared about their school experiences. He compared how he spends his time to how they spend theirs: time spent sleeping, time spent on academics, time spent with friends, amount of freetime, amount of extra activities, etc.

What did he decide? You know, after 3 meetings at the school; putting me through hour and a half meeting with the blow hard principal, the tolerant English teacher and the patient councilor; the reams of paperwork, etc...? He decided he didn't even want to try it for a week or two. After all that thought... he'd rather sleep in.

I seriously thought about it, but I didn't actually put him on the 1 hour busride into school

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The world is changing

Technology, the internet and world wide web are changing our lives. It's making the world smaller. It's opening doors that used to have gatekeepers. It's also cluttering up our time, and our real and virtual memory. I'm trying to adjust, and also having lots of moments where I'm just blown away by some visions of the future.

This was the Christmas of the e-reader for our house hold. Bit-Boy got a refurbished Nook (and not much else). I got a Kindle Fire (from Firelord, who used gift cards he received from work to get it. Sweet :-) ). My kindle can watch videos, both streaming and stored. It can read books from the library, be used to play game apps, read email, read and create documents, access the web... It might be able to wipe my nose, if I find the right app.

Firelord has had a Nook for several months. He rooted it and turned it into a full on android. Christmas day he walked Bit-Boy through the same process. My KindleFire is not currently rooted, but I expect, that when enough people have done it successfully, Firelord and Bit-Boy will have their way with it as well. A full android is pretty cool, and more powerful than I had realized. Even my little Kindle Fire is way more than I expected, although it needs a few work-arounds.

It was ironic that the Nook e-reader I put on hold at the library became available December 26. Even having 3 e-readers in the house, we were glad to check it out. It was nice to compare the e-ink to the color readers. It also came preloaded with over 100 books, including the Hunger Games trilogy. Those books are like crack-cocaine, and the holds for the paper books at the library are longer than the holds for the nook. Bit-Boy and I took turns stealing the black and white library nook from each other while we raced to finish the series. Now Firelord wants to commandeer it to read The Game of Thrones. Having this little thing handed to me, pre-loaded with so many different books, has opened my eyes to e-readers.

My Kindle didn't come pre-loaded with much. I've been trudging through the free kindle and android apps for things the kids would like playing (I mean beyond Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Where's My Water ;-P). There's a bit of a learning curve to get e-books from the library. There are at least 3 different types of files books can be in: epub, PDF, and Kindle. Apparently the device needs a different reading app for each. I'm figuring it out. Slowly, with a lot of support from Firelord. And, I'm starting to resent that I can only check out 5 e-books from the library at a time. I've learned how to side load apps that aren't available at the Kindle store using applications like . I've also put on extra readers. Now I have Overdrive (for library books), Google books, the Nook app, and BlueFire. I'm looking forward to figuring out how to load books from the Guttenberg Project, but have found that most the classics can be found for free elsewhere as well. Bit-Boy and I have talked about doing some field trips and getting library cards from as many libraries as possible to maximize our ability to check out e-books.

I've got so many thoughts spinning around right now. Ideas for sharing creativity using our new technology, and little bits of scraps lying around the house, are filling my vision. Bit-Boy is uncertain about starting school. He has many new business ideas around programming apps, and being in school will certainly cut back on the time he has to devote to his passions. Lego-Dude had a day yesterday and made me wonder if it's time to bring in the professionals (psychiatric or circus - I'm not sure). Hot dog is his cheerful self, but until last night wasn't sleeping through the night for over a week straight. Hmm... it's not wonder my thoughts are spinning. I need a nap.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

December's books

Go out now and buy a copy of "Little Brother". I got it of from Daedalus books (along with a pile of other books) for a Christmas present for my 13 year old. If you haven't found Daedalus books before now - You're welcome. They're a great resource for inexpensive yet still high quality books.

"Little Brother" is not only a exciting ride of a read, it's thoughtful, and thought provoking. Set in modern times, it extrapolates recent technical, social, and political trends to a terrifying conclusion. It's worth buying it just for the "Afterword"s and the Biography in the back. I've now got a nice list of resources and books about programming, cryptography, and literature for Bit Boy and me to explore together. To give you an idea of what I'd compare it to we're now going to explore George Orwell's 1984 and Neal Stephenson's Cryptonom0cron.

I love finding a great new book!

Also. I think I'm starting to get the hang of apostrophe s.

Happy Day!