When we were kids, we got excited over new books, new notebooks, a Trapper Keeper, and even fine point tech pens. Fast forward decades later, the same excitement for the start of school year still applies. But this time, digital school goodies emerge as the new must haves. Check out these tools and trends that you can use with your little digital native.
1. THE RISE OF THE E-TEXTBOOKS
If you haven’t bought your child’s K-12 books yet, better check if it comes in e-textbook format. E-textbooks can include movies, animations, simulations, and other ways to learn and to solve problems that are not feasible in print. My daughter’s books were from Vibal Publishing, which has a website with downloadable reviewers for certain books. But in this category, the slow clap goes to La Salle Greenhills for pioneering the first Philippine ebook app LSGH Reader, it contains all their textbooks and connects to vibebookstore.com which has an extensive library store collection of Philippine textbooks.
Sample of a textbook with an e-book format
Pros: Less books to carry
Cons: Less books do not mean absolutely no books at all. In some schools, you may need both and that can be expensive. Some ebook online content are clunky, and videos are not always involving or entertaining. For ebooks, there are still lots of room for improvement on UX and student engagement.
2. COLLABORATIVE PLATFORMS
Now, there are educators’ platforms that enable collaboration with students, and even parents. Think of it as a blackboard, a lesson sharing system, an event planner, and a way to give students electronic quizzes. Parents can also log in using the code given by the teacher and check on their kids’ homework, events or quiz results.
Some schools (such as Colegio San Agustin where my daughter studies) are already using a platform called Edmodo, but I personally didn’t know about it until the schoolyear ended. No surprise there as my daughter like most kids, resist the idea of a parent hovering over every single homework or project. Another platform called Schoology has added functionalities like blogs, discussion groups and a virtual blackboard. As a rule, being involved in your child’s learning is a good thing. Just remember that you are merely an observer and should never be tempted to take over and do the homework yourself.
Pros: It becomes an extension of the school, like a virtual classroom where kids can work and study together even when at home.
Cons: Wifi-dependent. The main complaint is when kids go offline at home, they don’t get to do the work at all. Also, older kids freak out when parents hover over their lessons, so make sure to have a dialogue with your child before you get involved.
3. DEVICE CONTROL
Imagine your child doing homework or a project, then a Facebook notification pops up from his laptop or device. He checks it out, and ends up distracted, spending minutes or even hours on it before he decides to concentrate on his homework. Good thing that there are apps that can impose gadget discipline, whether on his own or by the parents.
To avoid distractions, the SelfControl app allows the child to block certain websites for a set amount of time. So he gets to concentrate on studies and avoid checking social networks or email. And once these blocks are in place, it’s impossible for him to access them, until the time he previously specified runs out.
Pros: Great time management and focus tool, works great with distracted grownups too!
Cons: This specific app is available only for the Mac, but there are other apps with similar functions for Windows and Android. Also, be very sure that you unblock the sites before you delete the app, as you might accidentally block social sites forever!
4. GAMEFIED ALLOWANCES
Finance educator Lewis Mandell once said that “guaranteeing a child a certain amount of money may mean he grows up with a sense of entitlement”. So the theory goes to make kids more money-conscious and appreciative, allowances must not be automatically given to them. Instead they would have to work for it.
In the U.S., allowance gamification apps have been quite popular over the past year. Allowance manager lets kids do chores which converts into points or cash. Good grades can also be reciprocated with a reward, such as bonus points or special gifts. The pro version of the app connects to a debit card so that kids get real cash tied to a bank account. The more they do stuff for their parents, the more money they get.
Other apps in this category include Famzoo, iAllowance, Tykoon, GetPiggyBank and Threejars. However, these apps only apply for US and UK debit cards and we have yet to see a Philippine bank jump in on this trend. So if you plan to use this app, you might as well do it the analogue way, and just hand your kid some cash. Also, two thoughts on this: First, middle class Pinoy families usually have househelpers do the chores, so there’s a lot of habit reframing to be done by the whole family. Second, it also defines what the parents value more — good grades or obedience and helpfulness. What is important is to not get too carried away or be unrealistic with the goals or chores that you set. Remember, you are still dealing with what your child is capable of.
Pros: Great tool for teaching children about financial responsibility
Cons: Lack of tie-up banks in the Philippines. Somebody should develop this in the future (hint, hint). As for the chores, goal settings may set unrealistic expectations. Be flexible and negotiate on doable tasks from time to time.
5. HOMEWORK CHEAT APPS
Here’s the scenario: you’re helpless with algebra, and your child’s tutor calls in sick. Meanwhile, there are four pages of equations that need to be solved. You can call friends to help, or you can use an app to solve it for you.
For math problems, Photomath Camera Calculator allows you to simply point to a math problem using your phone camera, and it solves the equation for you. For the very desperate, you can always use online tutors. The Snapsolve app lets you take a picture of your homework and then connects you to tutors who will reply with customized answers and explanations, on demand, for a small fee.
Sample of a problem solved in Photomath
Pros: Makes your child finish homework faster. Cheaper than getting a tutor.
Cons: For morally upright parents, this is considered cheating. And you might end up with a child that wants to do things the easy way. But before you judge, assess first how badly your child needs help. And if it is a matter of not understanding the lessons, then reconsider giving him a resource, whether thru a physical tutor or a digital one.
6. LOCATION TRACKERS
As a parent of a teenage daughter, I let her have some freedom as long as I know where she is. And it’s not that I don’t trust my daughter, but sometimes I don’t trust the world. Traffic, rainy weather, scary neighborhoods, and especially public places where crime may exist, can be a nightmare for a parent with a child who wants to be independent. So until the child arrives home safely, this is when tracking tools help to give some peace of mind.
My personal favorite is the Life360 Family Locator. It is a great tracking app that notifies me when my daughter arrives or leaves the school perimeter, and when she finally gets home. But this is more than just an app for parents with trust issues, this is a two-way tracker – so she can track me too. As family, the concern for safety also affects the child when her parent isn’t home yet. Locator apps also come handy during commuting problems, field trips, getting stranded, or even on everyday moments like timing when to set dinner on the table. It comes with its own messaging system and a panic button, enabling the child or the parent to send a quick alarm to each other when there is a need for protection.
A test for the Life 360 app, taken while my daughter was on her way home.
Pros: Peace of mind, ease of use
Cons: Mobile signal dependent, both you and your child need to have a data plan. Also, make sure your child agrees to be tracked. Doing this without their approval might make them develop trust issues.