The Snowman and the Code

Lessons Learned from Zoobean Experts on Air with Jaime Casap

Let’s start with two stories.

A few weeks ago, it snowed in DC. Maybe we only collected a few inches, but it was snow, and I was determined to show my 4 year-old how to build a snowman. We suited up and hit the front yard. When I showed him how to roll a big snow ball for the base, he asked, “But Mom, don’t you have to look up how to do this on the computer?”

Meanwhile, Jaime Casap’s 12 year-old son, William, was teaching himself the basics of computer programming in Phoenix. He was watching videos and practicing his newfound javascript skills diligently. Jaime asked him, “You learned how to code all by yourself?” His son’s response, “No, Justin from the video was with me.”

For both of our children, the web has become their backdrop and is integrated into every facet of their lives. Of course we’d look online to better understand snowman construction. Of course William was not “alone” when watching an engaging how-to video. Real life has collided with the web’s tools and content.  

Earlier this week, I invited Jaime, a friend and former colleague from my time in education at Google, to help kick off our Zoobean Experts on Air series. As Jaime noted, this is the perfect time of year to think about and reflect on the things that we are seeing in education technology, and to consider what to expect in 2014. We discussed a wide array of topics, and you can check out the full video below to watch the entire discussion. In particular, Jaime highlighted his thoughts on a parent’s role in the age of digital education. These are my favorite takeaways from our conversation.

With the web comes great responsibility. Increased access to information and online learning tools means greater responsibility for parents…and students. In today’s day and age, the phrase, “you have the world at your fingertips” has become a near reality. Now, parents and students don’t have to rely solely on courses taught in a physical school, or one teacher’s style of instruction. Rather, our responsibility as parents is to augment our kids’ education with the technology available to us. Don’t know how to code? Don’t worry. Neither does Jaime! But, what he does know is how to ensure William is well-aware of the vast array of learning opportunities out there for him on the web. We need to give our kids the preparation and know-how to determine, or in the words of this 13 year-old, hack their education!

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Do the research for me. Then click-through, smarty pants.  So what does Jaime see as a trend in literacy, and how is that playing out at home? In his words, “I want to outsource my research,” to help him find what’s good. Who is out there, making it easier for parents to know what is high quality and works for their kids. Outsource! And then, click through. Or, as Jaime described it, provide an immersive experience for your child to go along with a book or reading experience. This might mean clicking through to a video that introduces additional information about a particular setting, and it can also mean helping children discover how their readings are related to a multitude of disciplines. This is an old school concept of learning across the curriculum, but with technology, we’re able to make it happen quickly and easily, and give kids the chance to more easily direct their own learning experiences.

Teach your kid how to cross the street. Jaime makes this analogy all the time, and it never gets old. He says, “when my kids were younger, I had to teach them to cross the street. It wasn’t possible to ban cars, so, I taught them how to operate in a world where cars exist.” Technology is here. And it’s staying. And it’s going to become an increasingly important component of our kids’ education. We all need to teach our kids how to cross the street. How to be trustworthy global citizens. How does Jaime do it? Here are his three core tenets:

  1. Build trust Jaime’s philosophy has been to give his kids a good deal of rope. He trusts them with technology, until they give him a reason not to trust them. If our long term goal is to nurture a generation of digital leaders, we can’t strictly control every digital aspect of our kids’ lives. Instead, have honest conversations with them and talk a lot about your expectations and consequences.  Trust them to do what’s right, and be flexible. They might just surprise you…in a good way.
  2. Moderation This one is tried and true. Everything in moderation. William absolutely loves to play Mindcraft, and Jaime has to balance his son’s obsession carefully. As he pointed out, when your child is collaborating with others to build a civilization, you can’t very well say, “Go outside and throw the ball!” As Jaime told us, “I don’t want my kid outside playing in the dirt for 12 hours. I don’t want my kid sitting in front of a machine for 12 hours. It’s all about moderation.” Just like adults. We shouldn’t wake up and read our email before doing anything else. We want to be in the moment. Said Jaime, “If you’re going to be in something, be in that moment and I think that’s what we need to teach our kids, to be in the moment.”
  3. Remember the long game This is where it gets simple. At the core of Jaime’s philosophy in parenting and education is one goal. To help kids become lifelong learners. People who learn just for the sake of learning, and who know how to access the right tools to do it.