By Mari Angulo for her Techie Corner in Tumbleweeds: The Quarterly Newspaper for Santa Fe Families
‘Tis the season for parents to brave the crowded store aisles, tax-free shopping days and school supply madness to ensure their child is prepared for the new school year. Everybody knows about notebooks and No. 2 pencils, but these days, children’s readiness for school also involves technology. In this fast-changing realm, it can be difficult for parents to keep an up-to-speed supply sheet and to-do list. Three Santa Fe Public School staff members explained that a “back-to-school technology plan” is actually more important for parents than it is for students.
What do students need, and at what age? At what point are they expected to have computers or access to the Internet at home? What resources do parents need to remain in the loop about their child’s education? How do families get information about programs for homework or online research?
What Technology? Where and When?
Ana Raquel Plaza, literacy and data coordinator at Sweeney Elementary and a former third-grade teacher in Santa Fe Public Schools, noted that students have access to computers in the classroom for research and educational games. They may read books on computers and even take quizzes online. Additionally, they have a weekly computer class that addresses different skills depending on their grade. In third grade, for example, students learn to type and how to look for “good” information to be used in their research projects.
At the elementary level, Plaza explained, the use of computers stays in the classroom: “Homework is still traditional and expected to be done in note- books.” As children move up through they grades, they can continue to expect computers to be available for their use at school. By middle and high school, when students are required to do more independent work, having a computer at home is convenient but not mandatory. Without one, the student will have to go to the library after school or come in early to complete assignments that are expected to be done overnight.
Since so many children have computers at home, even in grade school, Plaza believes that parents should “monitor their children and get them access to educational programs and not just ‘fun’ games.” These might include reading programs that highlight words as they say them aloud for the child. Plaza added that since “kids [now] seem to be less motivated to pick up a book and read, the hook to get them reading is to give them access to those types of programs. Shiny technology motivates them to read.” is type of program is particularly valuable for children with special needs, she said, as technology can offer an enhanced visual and auditory learning experience for children challenged by reading.
Raising Tech-Savvy Parents
Tips and recommendations such as Plaza’s are invaluable to parents, but the school district realizes the challenges teachers face in passing on this information. As another means
to enhance communication and support student achievement, the school district last year created the SFPS Parent Academy.
The Academy offers free classes that equip families with the skills, knowledge and resources they need to help students along the path to college and career success and that promote collaboration and community-building among parents and schools. Some classes are specific to the child’s grade; others have a broader scope. Some address technology and computer use. The Academy offers English classes for those whose language is primarily Spanish. Childcare is available, and all classes are bilingual.
Santiago Sanchez, a computer teacher for the Parent Academy and bilingual teacher for grades K through 8, explained: “Sometimes parents have good intentions, but they don’t know how to help their child use available resources in effective ways.” This past spring, the Academy held a pilot computer class to teach parents how to use and navigate the Internet, send email and perform other basic functions. One emphasis of the training is that parents are encouraged to communicate with teachers and principals online. “One of the first things
parents learned is how to create their own email address,” Sanchez said. The computer class will be offered again in the fall. Interested parents can call 467-2059 to register.
Online, In The Loop
For kids, new technology is generally more ex- citing than intimidating. Raelynn Lujan, who has worked at SFPS for nine years, said, “Incoming kindergartners are already computer savvy. They know how to pull up the Internet and type in a web address, without even knowing how to write their own name.” This is why it has become so important for parents to maintain their techno- logical know-how. “We work really hard to convey the idea that technology is an important part of education,” she said.
Lujan, who still registers students the old-fashioned way in a teacher’s roll book, noted that parents can now register their kids online on the Santa Fe Public Schools website (www.sfps.info). Registration is not the only thing parents can do online. In the “Student & Parents” section of the website, families can find school supply lists, bus registration forms and routes, district calendars, dress codes, safety policies, literacy resources and more.
Plaza, Lujan and Sanchez all recommended PowerSchool, an online tool that SFPS uses to keep parents informed about their child’s performance and to provide easy communication between teachers and parents. Parents can sign up for PowerSchool at sfps.powerschool.com and see their child’s attendance, assignments and even grades, instantly.
Advances in technology can be fast-paced and intimidating, but with all the tools that technology offers parents for being involved in their child’s education, parents should do their best to stay abreast of the changes. Given the undeniable role of technology in children’s education, “It is mandatory [for parents] to become more con dent in making use of it,” Sanchez said.
Lujan added, “[Technology is] the way of our future, and we try to set our students up to be ready for that future.”
Twelve fun, educational apps for kids (and one for good measure)
By Mari Angulo for her Techie Corner in Tumbleweeds: The Quarterly Newspaper for Santa Fe Families
Technology is a story that is always being rewritten. It is unsurpassed in its ability to create new possibilities for every type of user. Aside from offering convenience and enhancing productivity, technology also brings a vast array of entertainment into our lives. For both kids and parents, what can be better than pairing fun and education into one? The latest in convenience, entertainment and education for kids can be found at the friendly app store on your phone or computer.
Many of us have heard the word “app” many times and we may even have a vague idea of what it is... but what is an app, really? The term “app” is an abbreviation for “application.” An app is a piece of software that performs a specific function. It is a program that can be downloaded onto computers and electronic devices such as smart phones or tablets.
There are many types of apps. Some are designed for productivity and are geared toward adults and students. These include calendars, schedulers, note-taking tools, and so on. Some apps are just for fun, and you may already be familiar with them from their earlier lives as board games: Monopoly, Chess and Scrabble. Other apps are information tools: maps, city guides and flight trackers.
Apps are not just for us adults. There are hundreds out there designed for kids — anything from digital sketchpads to vocabulary flash cards and other learning games. Apps designed for children are cheap (often free), portable and convenient. Imagine your child learning a new language during that long wait at the checkout line or on a cross-country drive.
Following is a list of apps that are suitable for kids and that both entertain and educate. They offer interactive, new ways to learn and are amazingly convenient as they can all be played on your mobile devices on the go. Most are available in Apple and Android versions.
1. Toddler Flashcards (Ages 1 to 4) $1.99
Just like traditional flashcards, Toddler Flashcards teach the names of animals, foods and other objects as well as the alphabet and numbers. Unlike traditional flashcards, these o er speech and animal sounds. English, Spanish, French and even Chinese options are available. There is a free “lite” version. available for those who want to try it first before buying the full version.
2. Toddler Teaser Shapes (Ages 2 to 4) Free
Approved by teachers, parents and toddlers, Toddler Teasers Shapes helps tots learn the names of different shapes through a simple, colorful game that offers positive reinforcement and fun rewards. Parents can customize game-play difficulty.
3. Wacky Safari (Ages 2 to 5) Free
Young children can play five different engaging activities in this safari games collection. With sounds from wild animals and fun facts disguised as jokes, toddlers and preschoolers will giggle and learn as they mix and match animal photos.
4. Super Why! (Ages 3 to 6) $2.99
Already a well-known PBS show for preschoolers, the Super Why! app is a collection of literacy games in which the alphabet, rhyming, spelling, writing and reading are featured in fun ways. Re- views suggest that this app is fun even for babies because of the attractive colors and the characters’ facial expressions.
5. Lee Paso a Paso (Ages 3 to 8) $1.99
This app is intended to help children learn 580 common Spanish words by way of fast-paced, quiz-like activities. Exercises include identification of letter sounds, picture/word matching, counting syllables and more. The app is geared both to children who speak Spanish as a first language and are just starting to read, as well as kids and adults learning Spanish as a second language. This app also has a free “lite” version available for those who want to try it first.
6. Mini Piano (Ages 3+) Free
With 14 notes, this app offers young children a great introduction to the piano. It looks and sounds like a piano and features scales, chords and beginner tunes like “Mary had a Little Lamb” and “Chopsticks.”
7. Alphabet Animals: Talking ABC Cards (Ages 4+) $.99
The game is packed with colorful animations, animal sounds and tons of tips for learning letters. The digital flash cards are interactive, with animals that talk them through every letter of the alphabet.
8. iSign Alphabet (Ages 4+) Free
The entire American Sign Language Alphabet is now stored in one little application. After practicing, kids will love showing off their new communication skills.
9. Mad Libs (Ages 6+) Free
Just as goofy and fun as the pen and paper version. Kids can create silly stories by filling in the blanks with this story creator — great for grammar-whizzes, with tons of stories to choose from.
10. Dinosaurs: American Museum of Natural History ( Ages 7+) Free
If your child is a paleontologist-in-the-making, this is the app to download. The interface begins with an amazing mosaic of dino photos (more than 800) that make up an image of a T-Rex. Your child can tap on any of the images to learn about the creature featured. Children can also learn about fossil collections at the museum in New York City and use it as a guide when visiting.
11. Nasa App (Ages 7+) Free
The NASA Ames Research Center has created an all-in-one astronomy, engineering and “future- astronaut inspiration” tool. This is an official
NASA app filled with information on astronomy and the U.S. space program. New information is added daily from a variety of NASA sources. Kids can learn about the solar system and NASA missions by browsing through photos and videos.
12. U.S Geography by Discovery (Ages 7+) $4.99
Recently featured in “Top 10 Paid Apps,” this educational app will help your child become an expert in U.S geography. It features videos, inter- active gameplay, global competition and sharing.
Regardless of whether you have an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude or embrace each new technological advance, digital learning will be a growing force in your children’s lives. These apps will only get them started! There are end- less categories and possibilities; the number of all apps currently available is in the millions and still counting.
But I must add, even though technology continues to fascinate us, we must all remember that digital play is no substitute for real world, nitty-gritty kid play. Spring is in the air — don’t forget to go outside to play...
...And download The Night Sky app on your phone or tablet, h old it up to the sky, and it will display the names of the stars, planets, constellations and galaxies overhead.
The “app-ortunities” are endless!
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