Inside the Mommyvan

Homeschooling & Life Inside the Mommyvan - an old dog learning new tricks


Well, <h1> (in html) used to strike me. But i do html with ease <h1> is heading (h) 1! I started with javascript, went to python, then to html, then css. 4 languages fast I enjoy this. You should too, or at least try to!

If you learn other languages like java, python, or css first. But it’s very wise to start with python. And how did I learn it? You will say “of course” but, i used python for kids! Its not just for kids. Adults find it fun! They find it most fun doing it with their kids! (the kids think it is very very very fun with parents too!)

I hope you find yourself telling everyone else this:

(you don’t need to read all this, its the same thing up there! 🔝🔝🔝)

“Well, <h1> (in html) used to strike me. But i do html with ease <h1> is heading (h) 1! I started with javascript, went to python, then to html, then css. 4 languages fast i enjoy this. You should too, or at least try to! If you learn other languages like java, python, or css first. But its very wise to start with python. And how did i learn it? You will say “of corse” but, I used python for kids its for adults to! Trust me! Do it with your kids and both of you find this activity fun!”

Making the rounds recently is the idea that computer programming skills are a “superpower,” especially in reference to teaching programming to kids. I don’t think this is far from the truth, with one important caveat: how it’s taught can make or break the entire learning experience. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is all the rage in education these days, but often overlooked is the fact that the real power of STEM is not in its results, but in its methods.

The ability to display a colorful web site, make a robot crawl across the floor, or have alien creatures chase each other around a smartphone screen can seem like high wizardry, but how one gets there is where the keys to the universe lie. There are any number of simple, drag & drop interfaces which can be used for website design, even for sites that include interactive features. Actual programming isn’t far behind. Kids can open up a visual editor, follow some instructions in a book, and end up with a working computer program or a functional robot in an afternoon. This is fantastic, especially to those of us who remember a time before personal computers, but that part alone will not bestow any superpowers.

The real magic comes when they explore, think outside the box, make plans, and try to build something from that blueprint. It happens when they fail, figure out what went wrong, and then make it work again. It happens when their creation breaks and they figure out how to repair it, or when they want a new feature and work out a way to add it on. It happens, perhaps most of all, when they discover the fatal flaw in their original design and go back to the drawing board with their hard-earned knowledge.

I cannot even begin to enumerate the areas of my life in which these skills have proven invaluable. Even setting aside the large segments of my career that have been directly involved with programming computers and related technology, I have been able to use my superpowers to make nearly every area of my life easier, more successful, and more enjoyable. Cooking dinner, planning vacations, buying houses, going fishing… things that would seem to have little to do with science or technology still benefit from the analytical thinking, problem-solving, figuring-out, and general stick-to-it-ness that comes along with a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of science & technology.

There are many tools which can help kids along this path, again with the proviso that how they are used can make all the difference. Simply following instructions to end up with a working whatever does nothing to exercise a child’s brain, at least the part we’re talking about here. Building and programming alone won’t do it. Allowing kids to be successful right out of the gate, while useful encouragement in small doses, teaches little. The words we need to be using are: brainstorming, designing, planning, analyzing, problem solving, experimenting, figuring out, breaking, fixing, and sometimes even starting over.

Last week I came across the Kickstarter campaign for Robot Turtles, a game that can be used to teach these superpowers to children as young as preschoolers. It’s not a new concept—the Logo turtle, in various incarnations, has been used to teach kids programming for over 40 years—but the idea of making it a physical, face-to-face interaction thing in the simple, familiar format of a board game is brilliant. Up front it says the game is for 3-8 year olds, but the game designer (a geek dad of twins) has developed an additional set of rules for older kids and adults too. This campaign wraps up in a couple of weeks, and the game may not be available after that, so if you’re interested in giving your kid superpowers, grab it now.

As I begin (yes, I said “begin”, not “finish”) planning in earnest for the upcoming school year, I have turned back to a tool I once loved but have neglected recently: Evernote.

There are numerous ways to make one’s information portable and mobile, and I have tried many of them. Evernote stands out among the rest for reasons that are difficult to pin down, but can be summed up in two words: it’s easy. It’s also free, which is nice, but as someone willing to pay for functional tools that’s less important to me than the ‘easy’ part.

There are versions of Evernote for Windows, Mac, all of the major mobile platforms, and a web interface. Notebooks are stored, synced, and accessed through Evernote’s online service, and with a reasonably priced ($5/month or $45/year as of this writing) Premium subscription can be stored on mobile devices for offline access and editing. Notes flow seamlessly between whatever platforms you’re using.

Also easy is capturing information from photos, handwritten notes (bonus: automatic text recognition for later searching), websites, email, audio, even original or marked-up images using the free Skitch add-on. Want to share a note with a friend? Easy: post to social media, email the note, or pass along a web address where others can view your note on Evernote’s server (and turn off the web sharing when you no longer need it) — even allow editing with a Premium account.

Finding notes is easy, whether you use Notebooks, Tags, geo-tagging, or some combination of these to keep track of your stuff. The search bar will help you find what you’re looking for within notes — keywords, tags, even typed or handwritten text in images, as automatic text recognition and indexing is done whenever you add a PDF or image file to a note.

Want to learn more about using Evernote? Download the app, and check out the easy Getting Started guides for Mac, Windows, iOS (iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch), Android, and the web interface, plus tips in their blog and around the web from users who have come up with all sorts of creative solutions.

If you use Evernote, or if you start using it, let me know what clever ideas you have for using it around the house or with homeschooling in particular!

I use the heck out of my iPad. It has truly been a game-changer for me, going places and doing things that my clunky laptop, or even my nimble little netbook, could not.

One shortcoming, however, was trying to type anything of consequence. Between typos introduced by tapping just a little bit out of position, the lack of the tactile feedback I am so used to, and being able to see only the half of the screen not covered by the keypad, email and other documents tended to be short and sweet.

I tried a folding, portable bluetooth keyboard, which was better, but the keyboard itself was not quite right. It had smaller-than-normal keys and an annoying tendency to flex at its center hinge even when the “lock” switch was slid into position.

Browsing through the Apple store one day, I came across the Incase Origami Workstation for iPad. 20120823-162527.jpg Wow, this looks like just what I’ve been dreaming of! A few minutes later I was on my way home with the case and a new wireless Apple keyboard.

It may sound hyperbolic, but this stand has been almost as much of an improvement as the iPad itself. The use of the same keyboard as I have on my desktop means that I don’t have to confuse my fingers switching keyboards throughout the day (anyone who has used different computers at home and in an office, for example, knows exactly what I mean). They keyboard snaps into the bottom of the “workstation” and is covered and protected when the case is closed. The iPad — any type will fit, as well as most other tablets or even a smartphone — doesn’t lock in, but rests just behind the keyboard made by pressing the tab closures of the Origami together in back. The double-sided velcro tabs do double duty, holding the case closed for transport and propping up the stand in a jiffy for typing. 20120823-162514.jpg The inclusion of a single extra square of velcro (making both sides of both tabs “sticky”) means that either way the tabs land atop each other when setting up the stand, they’ll stick. While using the stand, a smart cover or similar can remain on the iPad, and all of the ports and controls are accessible.

I can now do lengthy typing on my iPad — email, lesson plans, even this blog entry — as easily as I do at my desk. I have use of the entire screen for viewing, as iOS is intelligent enough to hide the on-screen keypad when it detects an external keyboard. The only downside, and I hesitate to even call it a downside as the product does not pretend to be an iPad case — is that the stand has no way to secure the iPad. This matters not a bit for tabletop use, but is somewhat cumbersome when trying to move the whole assembly or use it on less-stable surfaces (like my lap).

Like the sound of this handy gadget? Buy it here: Incase Origami Workstation for iPad