I have a guiding philosophy when it comes to technology use with my own children, as well as use in schools and with students: create more than you consume. As summer break begins for many children in the United States, many adults are looking for activities to keep children productively occupied. If the average elementary and middle school-aged children are anything like mine, then undoubtedly they will want to spend countless hours watching television and/or playing video games. Of course we'd all like to see them outside playing and running around with neighborhood friends, or using old boxes or unused items to play make-believe or create some new game. But the reality is this just doesn't happen as much anymore and the technology of the day has encroached upon our children's playtime. So, to compete with this phenomenon, I submit this to you: let the children use their playtime on technology, but insist that most of the time is spent creating something with the technology, not just consuming it. We can channel the creative energies we had as kids making up games, playing house with dolls, or using the living room furniture to make a fort into encouraging our children to design video games, produce a short story on video, or create a photo collage of their summer vacation. Not only are these activies fun and entertaining for our children, but they also help them gain and hone valuable skills for producing content, working with technology tools, and using their creativity.
I will share some ideas I've already begun to implement with my children. I have a son who is a big gamer. He loves everything video game! He'll play on the computer, the Xbox 360, Wii, DSI, whatever (and, yes, he does have all of these!). So, in order for him to earn playing time on these games, I require him to spend time designing his own games. This feat is not as daunting as it may sound to a non- techie! I use a website called Gamestar Mechanic. The site is well-scaffolded for teaching an introduction to game design and incorporates a sharing element as well. It teaches students the conceptual elements of game design, the mechanics of designing games, and allows them to play games along the way and share the ones they've created with their friends. The students work through a series of "quests" that are leveled video games and as they successfully complete each level they earn items that they can use to build their own games. As they navigate through the quests, students are ocassionally required to "fix the game," where they are learning how to create and edit a game and apply the elements of good game design learned in earlier quests. In the end, the students create their own game from scratch or a template and have the ability to share their game with others and to provide feedback to other designers. Incidentally, I've used this website as the primary tool in a game design class I led for middle schoolers at my school. It works really well!
A second activity I've used is digital video production. My other sons loves television. If he could watch television everyday for the rest of his life, he would! So, naturally, I require him to make videos. The first one was a "day in the life" video. We spent the day visiting a museum and he took a Flip* video camera and an iPod Touch along with us and filmed various parts of the day. Once we got home, I showed him how to upload the footage and how to edit the footage using iMovie. Again, iMovie is an easy tool to learn and to use. Once the user gets the hang of trimming video clips, he or she can add sound effects, music, cool transitions, and text to the video to help tell their story. This activity is great for helping students learn how to organize their thoughts to tell a story. And the more they create videos, the more they will develop into better storytellers - when you use video to tell a story, you have to be very organized in the beginning of the project in order to capture all the footage you need to sufficiently convey your ideas. In the end of this activity, the student has a video of a memorable event, or a story to share with others. Digital video production is also a course I've taught and I see that video projects are being assigned by other teachers in other disciplines more and more often.
The ideal is to align your child's or student's consumption interests with their creation projects. Once you've identified what they are most interested in when they use technology, find or create a project that will require them to make it, or some aspect of it, for themselves. There are tons of tools and help sites out there to get you going. Additionally, I'd love to be part of your process if you'd like! Feel free to comment on this blog or send me an email to share your ideas with me or other readers of this blog. If you are already doing this, please share what you've done, as well as what has worked and what hasn't. We all want to learn from you!
Thanks for reading!
Tech Tools Referenced: Gamestar Mechanic gamestarmechanic.com/parents/page1 iMovie www.apple.com/ilife/imovie/ Flip Video Camera (RIP) iPod Touch www.apple.com/ipodtouch/
*Note: We took along the iPod Touch as a back up camera in case the Flip ran out of space. It turns out we needed it! He captured footage using both cameras and also learned how to import the footage onto the computer.