"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kindle Fire: How My Kids See It

I was telling my kids about my last post comparing the iPad to the Kindle Fire.  One had already read some of it and one of the kids wanted to defend the Kindle Fire a bit.  I told them I wasn't getting rid of it, just that it wasn't serving our needs as well as the iPad and hadn't quite lived up to our expectations as a home school "tool."  Once they realized I wasn't ditching it, the real truth came out about it. So, I thought I would share some insights from their perspective:
  • The kids prefer the touch screen of the iPad over that of the Kindle Fire.  It doesn't feel the "same" as the iPad.  The iPad is more reactive than the Kindle Fire.
  • My older son loves the text-to-speech feature on the old Kindle.  When we got the Kindle Fire, we were really disappointed to see that feature GONE.  It is also gone on the lowest end Kindle.  He's a multitasker, like I am, and would often listen to his books while working on Legos, riding in the car (he gets motion sickness) or doing the dishes.
  • My youngest son loves the Kindle Fire, but that, I think, is for two reasons.  1) Since we don't have many education apps, there are more "recreation" apps (like Angry Birds, Where's My Water and Puss-in-Boots Fruit Ninja.  2) He's tiny.  The Kindle Fire fits better in his hands than an iPad.  He told me he gets tired holding the iPad.
  • My middle girl said she likes the iPad better because it doesn't crash and that it hold more apps.  
  • My eldest girl likes the iPad better because she can control the volume and she likes the screen better.  When they use Kid's Place (the parental control-timer app), they can't change the volume within the app and there is no external volume control on the device.
So, there you have my kids' perspective on the iPad versus Kindle Fire.

Monday, July 30, 2012

iPad vs. Kindle Fire

This post is for Sherrylynne and Margaret.

UPDATE:  I've been told that this is too long to read by members of my family.  They're beautifully honest and I'm not bothered by the feedback.  Here's a tip.  If you don't want to slog through my narrative, scroll down to the bottom for a handy little table where I scored the iPad and the Kindle Fire on features I felt were important.

I have a problem with technology.  The problem is that I love it and so does my husband, which tends to make us fairly "early adopters."  That means we tend to be ahead of the curve when new technology comes out to the public.

I have had several people ask me to explain the differences between an iPad and a Kindle Fire with respect to homeschool use.  So here goes.

Oh, and for the record, before children, I was, ahem, a UNIX snob.  I disdained PC's and Macs even more!  For a long time, I had a New Hampshire state automobile license plate.  The state motto "Live Free or Die" was on the top and the license plate said "UNIX."  That was how seriously I loved UNIX.  All other operating systems were chopped liver to me.  I loved it so much, I created a Post Secondary Degree program around a version of UNIX I loved.  A Technical School actually paid me to develop the curriculum and teach that Degree Program for three years.  Then I quit because I was pregnant with my third child.  I taught up until two days before she was born.  But I digress...

So, we had a Kindle here fairly early on mainly because my husband got his hands on an ebook back in 2004, before they actually were available on the market when he managed a product testing lab for a major consumer electronics retailer.  We all fell in love with it, but there were so few books available at that time, it was not viable as a product when there was no materials to read on the device.  So we loved the Kindle.  My three eldest children have used the Kindle before we purchased the iPad.  I have reservations about even the regular Kindle.  Here are the reservations:  There are no parental controls.  None.  They have a "experimental browser" that is horrible to navigate, but there are no controls to prevent accessing unsavory web sites.  Also, many "free books" at Amazon available are not suitable for children.

When the first iPad came out, we were not quick to jump.  It was, after all, an Apple product (horror of horrors!)  All it took was a visit to the Apple store at the Mall of America to quickly change my mind.  While Angry Birds did have appeal (I swear that must be how they get most people hooked), what really did it for me was the number of free and low cost apps available.  Apple totally understands how to make a product appealing, doesn't it?  We didn't have the funds to get one as soon as we would like as our technology budget has dwindled to practically nothing since braces hit our house.  Three kids have some type of orthodontia!

It wasn't until about six months after their release that I got a refurbished first generation iPad.  Being that I needed to do "research" I got to use it the most the first week we had it.  I learned how to use iTunes and played with setting up parental controls.  Then, I went in search of apps.  Did you know there are over 500,000 apps in the Apple Apps Store?  So, cheapo that I am, I downloaded free apps first, just to see what was out there.  Even the free apps are great.   Many free apps are there to tease you, get you excited so you'll purchase their full version.  The iPad because so useful in our homeschool, that seven months later, we invested in another refurbished first generation iPad.  A month later, I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas.   When I did some work this Spring, I opted to use the money I made to purchase an iPad 2 with 3G.  So, I set out to try to use the Kindle Fire the same way we had been using the iPad, which I will outline next. 

Each day, my kids are required to do some school activities on their own, even my younger kids.  It's not like I'm some great mom. In fact it is the opposite.  There often isn't enough of me to go around quizzing flashcards and the like, so we've used the iPad for much of that type of activity.  We started out using the iPad just for educational games. Then we branched out to using it for actual school.  Here are some of the things we did with the iPad:
  • Used the free Kindle App to read CK-12 textbooks
  • Practiced Math Facts via many different apps
  • Learned States and Capitols
  • Learned Countries and History
  • Followed the Church Calendar, read Saint-of-the-day biographies and daily readings
  • Practiced cursive
  • Praciced Phonics
  • Did Spelling tests and played apps that improved vocabulary
  • Listened to Audio books
  • Watched some Khan Academy content
  • Used apps that help with memory, concentration and attention
  • Read Google books and iBooks
I knew I was not using it to its full potential, but even at that level, it was helping my kids enjoy drills.  I'm now totally fascinated with the concept of Game Theory.  I loved doing games in my homeschool, but this took me out of the picture. 

So, element by element, I will take you through the features that are important for me as a Catholic homeschool mom of six.

First and foremost is parental controls.  I love Apple's approach to restrictions.  It's actually pretty granular.  I can first put on a screen lock to prevent access to the device.  Period.  Next, I can set up restrictions by app type.  For example, I can turn off the web browser Safari, which I do, and then decided to allow access to Youtube, Camera and Facetime for second generation and newer, iTunes, Ping, Installing and Deleting Apps.  Further, I disable location services, change the level of allowed content for Music and Podcasts, Movies, TV Shows, and Apps.  I can also disable In-App Purchases, which I recommend, disable Multiplayer Games and Adding Friends.  My older children have iPod touches because we've now exceeded the demand for the iPads.  Their age restrictions are different on their iPod touches than on the iPads.  The Kindle Fire handles parental controls differently.  First of all, they didn't add them until people screamed to them about it.  They were finally added in May.  Like Apple, there is a screen lock to prevent access to the device.  However, their interface is not as seamless as Apples.  Like Apple, the Settings feature has many choices.  All apps, books, video, etc, is accessible from the "Carousel" on the home page.  When you go into the Parental Controls, you may disable web access, therefore turning off browsing, apps and book purchases and downloads.  However, there is no way to limit access to certain apps.  Now, here's a disclaimer.  I have a personal bias against how Amazon decided to do their interface.  I have an extreme dislike for the Carousel.  Everything is accessed from the Carousel.  Above the Carousel is a selection of functions like:  Newstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, Web.  If parental controls are set, the user will get a pop-up saying the feature is disabled.  I find the Settings Interface more cludge-y than the iPad, so I don't care to mess around much with the Apps.  One thing I will point out.  I will allow use of Safari for a school project if my kids ask, but I won't for the Kindle Fire because I have figured out how to set up OpenDNS on the iPad, but not on the Kindle Fire.  I also find the pinch and squeeze is less receptive on the Kindle than the iPad, so inputting data is not nearly as easy.  One last thing, I promise.  There is a Kindle Fire app called Kid's Place that allows me to set a timer and select which apps are used.

I've already mentioned cost.  On the whole, I'm not afraid to purchase refurbished items.  It's like buying a used car versus a new one.  I compared the costs below, but used only new prices because refurbished prices vary wildly.

I've already mentioned Apps.  There are many Android apps, but there are not many great Education Apps.  The Android platform is really intended for smartphones.  Tablets started using the Android platform as an afterthought.  I have not found much I would use for my older kids other than things like SAT prep apps.

Both devices have the Kindle Reader, which is my favorite interface for books.

The Kindle Reader, however, does not readily support ePub.  That is an issue for me with because I often check out books from the public library.  Their supported format is ePub via the OverDrive application.  Apparently it can be done, but I just haven't gone there yet.

Both devices are great for video and audio playback.  However, the Kindle Fire lost a point because it doesn't have a physical volume button like the iPad.

I love having a camera on the iPad 2.  Married with the 3G capability, I can go places like Oliver Kelly Farm, a historic farm and take pictures or video and mail it right away or Skype with someone to show them something cool. I can also do online classes.  I teach several classes to kids other than my own and we use Skype.  I can do it from anywhere now.

I love the Kindle Fire's form factor.  The iPad is roughly the size of a sheet of paper.  The Kindle Fire is roughly that of a large greeting card (or about a half a sheet of paper.)  However, the Kindle is thicker than the iPad.  The Kindle Fire weighs  almost 15 ounces and the iPad weighs in at about 21 ounces.

From a stability perspective, the iPad has never crashed and it's used often.  The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has had several occasions where it has frozen up so badly I've had to contact customer service.

My iPads have held their battery charge through about 8 hours of use.  We do a lot to try and conserve that battery life like turning off Wi-Fi by putting it in Airplane Mode, dimming the screen and disabling  a lot of the sounds/alerts.  The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has an advertised battery life of 8 hours, but we are lucky to get six.  We disable the Wi-Fi there as well, but that hasn't bought us much for battery life.

The iPad storage capacity starts at 16GB and goes up to 64GB.  The Kindle Fire only has 8GB.  Now, that being said, you won't use that space up until you have had lots and lots of books and memory stored on it.  It can go quickly on the iPad if the iPad has a camera.

Here's a little table I put together scoring the features.  I multiplied each * by the weight.  So, if the weight is 10, three stars means the device scored 30 points.  I added them up for you at the bottom.

Please feel free to comment and give my your experiences because I am basing mine totally on the use in our homeschool.

Feature (weight)
Kindle Fire
Built-in Parental Controls (10 x *)
Cost NEW (10)
(Remember I buy refurbished!)
Educational Apps (10)
Kindle Reader (10)
ePub Reader (8)
Video and audio playback (8)
Camera (for things like Skype) (5)
(2nd Generation)

Form factor (5)
Stability – crashes, locks, updates, etc.  (5)
Battery Life (5)
Storage (5)
(8 GB)
Cumulative Score (243 possible points)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sensory Diet - Keeping Toddlers (and Everyone Else) Happy

It's important for toddlers and preschoolers to touch and feel many different textures.  It's part of what occupational therapists call a "Sensory Diet."  One part of my kids' sensory diet is "GLURCH."  Glurch is a weird substance who's name is derived from the first three letters of each of its components:  1 part glue:1 part liquid starch.  Just pour glue into a cup or bowl.  Add an equal amount of liquid starch.  Stir.  Then, you might have to get in there with your hands to knead.  Store it in an air tight container.

I  was cleaning out a craft cabinet in which I found several very old containers of pearlized and gel glue from five years ago.  I really didn't expect it to be usable, but it was just fine.  Apparently I had closed the containers tightly when I stored them.  The result, several batches of glurch that my younger kids call "slime."

First, we have pearlized green glue turned into green slime that looks like, well, a bodily fluid that comes from the nose, which is the boys' favorite.

I also found red and pink gel glue that became lava slime.  The plastic dinosaurs find it much more pleasant than real lava.

The last thing we tried was a combination of clear glitter glue and blue gel glue.  It's more blue than clear and the glitter makes it really shimmery.  The girls seem to like that one the best.

We especially like to keep this around on days when the older kids need mom and the little people need to be distracted and entertained.  This works splendidly.

And, it's great for covering toys and finding them, wadding up and blowing into with a straw to blow "bubbles" and letting settle down your arm, just for the eek effect.

It's also a great science experiment, if you want to explain the science behind polymers.  Here's a nice description compliments of www.science-class.net:
A POLYMER is unique because it has qualities of both a solid and a liquid. It can take the shape of its containers like a liquid does, yet you can hold it in your hand and pick it up like a solid. Solid molecules are tight together, liquid molecules spread out and break apart (drops) POLYMER molecules CHAIN themselves together (they can stretch and bend like chains) and that makes them special. Jell-O, rubber bands, plastic soda bottles, sneaker soles, even gum are all forms of polymers.

We also let them make and play with OOBLECK which is 1 part cornstarch to 1 part water.  You can add food color as you like.  Adjust the proportions and you have sidewalk paint when you add more water.

Oh, and don't be surprised if your older kids get in on the fun.  My 12 year old daughter can't stay way from either substance!

Friday, July 13, 2012

More on your "calling..."

Since my previous post is a cross post and I did a follow up, you can read my follow up here.

Cross Post: Being Comfortable With Your Calling

NOTE:  This is a cross post.  I originally posted this on my other blog, but decided it was applicable here, too.

I'm a personality test junkie.  Since I took my first Myers-Briggs personality test back in 1989, I've been hooked.  I love learning about myself, helping to explain my idiosyncrasies, and learning more about others so that I can better understand how to relate to them.

By far, my favorite personality test is called Strengthfinders.  My husband introduced me to it when, as a manager at a corporate retail company, he was required to take the test along with reading the book Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham.  Since then, I have read several books on using our strengths for success.

I found this book while doing a Google search.  It's Living Your Strengths - Catholic Edition.  It was just the book I needed to read this summer.

Now, let me tell you about how this whole Strengthfinders test works.  You answer a series of questions (so this is self-reported) in an on-line test.  What is revealed to you are your "Signature Themes."  Donald Clifton PH.d. , who created the test, had a very optimistic philosophy.  Instead of working really hard at correcting our weaknesses, we better serve God and humanity by using our strengths (or talents).  There are 34 signature themes.  Statistically, the chances of meeting someone with your exact themes is 1 in about 275,000.  The chances of meeting someone with your exact themes in exactly the same order is about 1 in 33,000,000.  So, while God made us in His likeness and image, He gave us a wide variety of strengths with which to work.

At a used book sale this summer, I also picked up another Strengths-based book, StrengthsQuest, which is for students.  It takes the 34 signature themes and shows how they apply to working in school and determining a career that would best match your strengths.  I bought this because I think our kids are failed by our schools (and us, too, sometimes) in career guidance.  Just because someone is interested in something does not mean it would be a good career for them.  As my eldest approaches high-school, I hope to use it to help him find his strengths and use them for the greater glory of God.

Here's a personal confession:  I am not always comfortable in my own skin.  Strangely enough, I am most uncomfortable with my strongest strength.  Actually, I think it might be fairer to say most people are uncomfortable with my strongest strength upon which I become uncomfortable.  People become uncomfortable with my busy-ness. 

So, I will just lay out my signature themes in rank order, just in case you want to understand me just a little better:

People especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

People especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

People especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

People especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

People especially talented in the Input theme have a need to collect and archive. They make collect information, ideas, history, or even relationships.

Perhaps, for me, one of the biggest realizations I had in learning these things about myself, was that discontent is the norm.  The other big ah-ha moment I had was realizing that because Achiever is my top theme, I put work before everything.  Things need to get done, in my book.  So much so, that I often add things to my to-do list that I have completed, that weren't there so I can cross them off, giving me a sense of "achieving."  Here's the wierd thing...that theme is my theme, not one I necessarily expect of my kids or husband.  Anyone who has seen my house can attest to the fact that I also do not apply "achiever" to my homemaking skills!

There are so many beautiful nuggets I could share with you from the Catholic Edition of Living Your Strengths but I just don't have the room or time.  But, I will leave you with two things.  If the statistics  gave you weren't enough, here's what St. Paul had to say about it in Romans 12:6-8 (from the USCCB website):
6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; 7if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; 8if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 
 And second, the parable from Matthew 25:14-29 (which I won't quote here for brevity) that Jesus told his disciples before his passion, death and resurrection about the master who entrusted "talents" to his servants while he was away.  Of course the word "talents" here represents money, but because this is a parable, you can think talents.  The point of the parable, which some people find harsh, wasn't about investing huge sums of money but rather about using the talents God places within each one of us.  God expects us to develop those talents and use them wisely.  In the parable, not every slave was given the same amount of "talents"; each was given "according to his ability."  So, it is with God and the distribution of talents and gifts among individuals.  In the parable, the master was furious with the servant who did nothing with their talents.  The master wanted the servant to take a risk and grow their talents.

Developing our talents into strengths requires risk.  We must step out, try new things or take a chance by doing something we may fail at, at first.  But if we do not take some risks, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, we will never grow.  God expects no less from us.  So, get out there and serve the Lord.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

One Room SchoolhouseTo Go!

+ McGuffey Readers (along with millions of free titles) + iBooks + Kindle Reader for the iPad/iPhone + iTunes U + a digital media library (on a 500Gb portable drive)+ Apps for Education (like Khan Academy, Dragon Box, Math Ninja) + iCloud = One Room Schoolhouse To Go!

This year we are embarking on an experiment.  I bought the three older kids Generation 2 iPod Touches for less than $85 each.  After futzing with the settings, restrictions, iTunes, loading up the digital medial library and loading apps, I have the 9th, 8th and 4th graders ready to do much of their school on a mobile device.  That means we can all be more portable.   That makes the kids happy.  I will have to "let go" a little, but we will be doing lots and lots of discussions around how it is working .  We started with a few things this summer to see how the kids take to it (duh, they love it) and how I feel about them holding a device in front of their face more than I'm accustomed.

Here's a partial list of what they are doing on the iPod Touch:
Latin for the older kids will still be old-school, low tech (ha ha) via Skype with support from the interactive CD we use to support or curriculum.  The 4th Grader will finish book two of Minimus (with the audio on her iPod).

My older kids are doing Calligraphy this year along with Art History.  Yes, there is an app for both.  My 4th Grader will be watching the Leonard Bernstein "Young People's Concerts" with others and discussing them via Skype.  Her art will be working with different media (chalk, pastels, colored pencils, charcoal, and paint.)

Just an aside:  When I configured the iPods, I enable a screen lock to protect the iPods from the 5 and under crowd :-), enable Restrictions.  I turn off Safari, YouTube, Ping and Deleting Apps.  I also set the age restrictions for Apps, Video and TV.  I disable wireless as a battery saving technique.

I'd love to hear of apps you LOVE as well as techie things you are doing in your homeschool this year.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A pretty good reason to not let your kid have a Facebook account...

Just found this...
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter make people feel inadequate and increase their anxiety, according to a study of about 300 people by the University of Salford in England. More than half the people surveyed said the sites changed their behavior for the worse. Many said their confidence fell when comparing their achievement to others... 
I think that is a good enough reason.