School’s back. Here’s a look at how computers, smartphones, and tablets can enhance learning opportunities for your kids, including free online tutoring with Khan Academy, the importance of teaching kids to manage their screen time, and some great apps for back to school.
Help your kids learn that technology is a tool
Mobile devices aren’t going away, so rather than try to ban them from classrooms, the smart educators are finding ways to use them as educational tools. It’s about setting expectations and boundaries in the classroom.
Yes, these devices can be used as toys, but they are also much more than that. The trick is knowing to use them for the right things at the right time.
Parents can support this by helping their children learn to manage their screen time. Establish daily limits for screen time, and have the kids track the amount of time they spend playing games, sending texts, or watching videos (on a smartphone or TV).
You can also talk about contexts in which it is and isn’t okay to be using a smartphone or tablet. This plays right into the “respect for others” conversations that are happening in classrooms already.
(Side note that all this actually begins with the parents, who should be modeling responsible screen time. If you’re on your phone at the dinner table, don’t expect your kids to put theirs down when you ask.)
When your children learn to respect the technological tools that they are so lucky to have access to, and learn to respect those around them when using their devices, you’ll be amazed at how effectively they can be responsible about when to use their smartphone for play, and when to use it for learning.
Apps for kids heading back to school
Everyone is going to have some favourite apps they think are great for their kids. Your preferences will skew based on what you think is important for your kids to learn, what you think they need help with, and what your kids are interested in doing.
But here are a few that we’ve found really great.
Scratch Jr and Tynker are two great apps that will help your kids start to learn how to write computer programs. They won’t know, necessarily, that that’s what’s going on, which is one reason these apps are so great. You can use them, too, to get a solid grounding. Both are available for Android and iOS.
A couple of apps that set foundations for science are Monster Physics (iOS only) and Toca Lab (for Android and iOS). Toca Lab shows kids what happens when “elements” undergo chemical transformations. What happens to that cute creature when it is heated and then zapped with electricity? A different creature is created! Monster Physics, on the other hand, lets kids interact with inventions, so they can learn basic concepts as they solve problems.
And these Android and iOS games help teach math.
My 8-year-old daughter really enjoys Canadian-developed Slice Fractions. She’s actually been playing it for over a year, and now my 5-year-old son is starting to play. It teaches the concepts behind fractions, which is a building block to learning more sophisticated math.
There’s also two editions of S.M.A.R.T. Adventures Mission Math (Sabotage at the Space Station and Peril at the Pyramids) that work on more complicated concepts including factors and multiples, graph interpretation, and even foreign languages. A third game, Trouble in the Tropics, is scheduled for release next year.
Sale on three mobile games that teach strategy skills
Less instructional, but still educational are simulation-strategy games, which require players to learn how to manage resources, process information, and even understand global systems and politics.
Game designer Sid Meier was behind many of the amazing simulation-strategy games that are popular today. Two recent iOS versions of his games, Civilization Revolution 2 and Starships, are on sale for a limited time.
Also included in the 2K Editors’ Choice Strategy Bundle is XCOM: Enemy Within, an expansion to Enemy Unknown, and is one of the coolest strategy games I’ve ever played. The set-up is that you’re in command of a military force resisting an alien invasion of Earth.
Note that these games were designed for newer iOS devices, so you’ll need to be running iOS 7 or later.
All three games are on sale for Can$22.99, but this deal will only be around for a few weeks.
Free online teaching and tutorials
The homepage of the Khan Academy says it all:
“You only have to know one thing: You can learn anything. For free. For everyone. Forever.”
From interactive, online exercises to instructional videos, Khan Academy has educational materials about math and science, art and economics, and dozens of other subjects.
And the site is in English, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese.
Created by Salman Khan in 2008, it all started when he began tutoring his cousin in math. Other friends and family asked to be included, so he moved his tutorials onto YouTube.
Now, Khan Academy, a non-profit initiative that takes the concept of open source learning to its zenith, teaches students of all ages, and has tools for parents and teachers to help them engage with their learners.
Here’s Khan’s TED talk, from 2011.