Archive for the ‘ Big Kids ’ Category

Curious about Minecraft? Interview with Minecraft for Dummies’ 16 year old author

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

If you have a tween, chances are you’ve heard about Minecraft. Minecraft is a game that requires using cubes to create or survive in an imaginary world in an online virtual environment where game play occurs individually or collaboratively. Game play can occur in a variety of different ways ranging from on a Mac or PC, on an Xbox, or through the mobile versions available for iOS and Android devices.

If your child has convinced you to purchase Minecraft for them and you’ve watched them play but are feeling a little lost, the new Minecraft for Dummies book can help. Written by 16 year old Jacob Cordeiro, Minecraft for Dummies is a 140 primer on everything you need to know about the virtual world. It’s an easy to read book for kids who want to know more about the game and strategy and also for parents who want to feel more educated about what their kids are doing when they’re playing Minecraft.

Between spring break and high school midterms, I had the opportunity to interview Jacob via email about Minecraft to get his perspective on who the game is most appropriate for, online safety risks that come with playing the multiplayer version, and educational benefits of gaming.

Tech Savvy Parents (TSP): Minecraft seems to be growing in popularity among my daughter’s third grade peers. How old were you when you first started playing and what age do you think Minecraft is most age appropriate for?

Jacob Cordeiro (JC): I think I was 13 when I started seriously playing Minecraft, but I think that it’s an appropriate game for all ages, because there are so many ways to regulate difficulty to your personal skill level.

TSP: For parents who are hesitant to purchase Minecraft, can you describe the educational benefits?

JC: While it doesn’t directly say so, Minecraft is a very educational game both in single player and multiplayer mode; in addition to providing an outlet for creative world-building, it teaches resource management, fundamental economics, theoretical survival skills and even programming. I’ve used it as a building tool for solving math problems, and have employed the “redstone” power system to practice circuitry and logic. Looking back, Minecraft has been a major catalyst for most of my creativity, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

TSP: What are the benefits and drawbacks of a single player versus a multiplayer game?

JC: Multiplayer mode is also a great social network, allowing players to survive together, trade, duel or simply interact in the same world. While the economics can become more society-oriented, it’s a great way to share your creative universe. In addition, Multiplayer servers can use modifications that allow for massive games of capture the flag, collaborative building or any other game the community can create.

TSP: Are there online safety risks associated with playing with others through the multiplayer game and is there an age you think it’s most appropriate for?

JC: It’s a safe way of sharing data and is appropriate for any age, though younger players might want to set up small worlds with each other rather than logging in to unfiltered public servers.

TSP: Can you speak to the differences of Minecraft as a computer game versus the iPad version? Are there advantages to playing it on a PC versus on a mobile device?

JC: Minecraft also supports platforms such as the Android, iPad and Xbox, with controls that fit the device. The PC version is much more developed, with a vast amount of content, but it’s always interesting to take your worlds to the Xbox, or edit your world on a touchscreen and take it with you on your iPad or Android.

Nature in computerized, day and leaves of the squares via Shutterstock

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National STEM Video Game Challenge Encourages Game Lovers to Create Their Own Games

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

If your middle or high school video game loving child dreams of creating the very games they enjoy playing, the National STEM Video Game Challenge kicks off their search for original video games created by teens this month. For the third year in a row, the competition’s goal is to increase interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects by tapping into a natural passion for video games. Playing video games allows kids to conceptualize new games in their heads while STEM topics are required in order to develop complex environments and scenarios for game play.

“Today far too many young Americans face an opportunity divide – a gap between those who have the education, skills or opportunities to achieve their dreams and those who do not. At the same time, our nation faces an increasing shortage of individuals with the skills necessary to fill the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow, “said Fred Humphries, Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft.  “The National STEM Video Game Challenge is one way we can help expose youth to the interesting opportunities available in our industry.  These exciting projects show that developing technology skills can lead long-term to fun, innovative careers.”

Students who are interested in submitting original video games for the competition should visit the National STEM Video Game Challenge that features resources including game design tools and activities. There are competitions for individual games or those created collaboratively by a team of 4. Entries can be made with Gamestar Mechanic, Gamemaker, Kodu, Scratch, or Open Platform tools and awards are given at the middle and high school level for each entry stream.

While the process of creating a game is rewarding, each individual winner and member of a winning team will received an AMD-powered laptop computer with game design and educational software. Winning entries will also earn $2,000 for their school or nonprofit organization of their choice.

Last year more than 3,700 middle and high school youth participated in the 2012 Challenge sponsored by tech companies such as AMD Foundation, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the Entertainment Software Association. This year’s Challenge will also unite a corps of outreach partners and mentors who will be instrumental in supporting youth and teacher participation including BrainPop, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting PBS KIDS Ready To Learn Initiative, Learning Games Network and Edmodo. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Hive NYC Learning Network are also involved to reach out to underserved youth across the country through hands-on game design workshops and other supplemental curriculum activities.

Image courtesy of the National STEM Video Game Challenge


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Tech Accessories to Pair with 6 of the Hottest Digital Devices

Monday, December 17th, 2012

If you’re getting calls from anxious friends and relatives asking for gift suggestions as Christmas shipping deadlines loom, accessories for the devices your children own or are about to get are wonderful choices. Often times it’s hard to know what accessories are best for brand new devices but here are my suggestions of tried and true favorites that I’ve matched up for easy shopping.

Getting an iPhone? You need a great case that can handle everything that life throws at it. My pick is from LifeProof. LifeProof’s cases fully encase your iPhone 4, 4s, or 5 and protect it from water with a slim, functional design, that still allows users to press on the screen as if it the phone was caseless. The two piece case has a front and a back that snaps together and keeps water out of the charging and headphone ports thanks to rubber gaskets. The case doesn’t get in the way of taking great photos whether you’re above or under water.

Getting a Nintendo DS or 3DS? You need headphones that will still be cool yet protect young ears against hearing loss. I like iFrogz Animatone Headphones for toddlers and preschoolers and the Earbuds for older kids. The headphones provide the perfect fit for smaller heads and older kids will like the cool styling of any of the three Earbud designs.

Getting an iPad? You need a case that will protect the edges. The new cases from Apple that are magnetic are certainly stylish but they don’t protect the glass around the edges from bumps and dings that come with regular use. Since an iPad is a pricey investment, get it a good case that will protect all sides. If your iPad will be used by preschoolers and toddlers, you need the Speck iGuy which will protect it on all sides and whose fun arms make it easy to hang on to. Another favorite is the Speck MagFolio because it’s slim, durable and wraps around all sides. If you’re looking for one with a keyboard, my hands down favorite is the ZaggKeys ProPlus. It’s a sophisticated choice that fits right on top of the iPad screen thanks to magnets and features a backlit keyboard.

Getting a computer the whole family can use? Get it a spillproof keyboard. The Logitech Washable Keyboard is a durable full size keyboard that can be fully submersed in water for a cleaning when it gets dusty, grubby, or spilled on.

Getting an eReader or tablet? From Kindle Fires, Nooks, and the more tablet-like Kindle HD, these devices need durable cases that are lightweight yet will protect them. I like the neoprene cases from Built. Whether you choose envelope style designs in a variety of fun prints or slim sleeves, rest assured that a Built case will last for the life of your device, and possibly longer. For kids who are using their eReaders and tablets for reading eBooks and eTextbooks and are taking notes for class as they read, the Papier de Maison cases are an affordable and attractive choice thanks to beautiful prints and a place for a notepad and pen.

Getting overwhelmed with the sheer number of devices and cords the children in your family own? Get organized by gifting items that will help kids keep track of their stuff and teach responsibility at the same time. Built’s Cargo Travel Organizer provides a place to keep chargers, accessories, and any adapters. I also like Kangaroom’s Personal Media Pouch because of the 6 pockets that keep everything nicely organized thanks to and are just the right size for an MP3 player, USB Flash Drive, compact video camera, and all their associated chargers. Both are zippered organizers with lots of pockets that can hold plenty of gear.

Photos courtesy of the aforementioned companies

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5 Helpful Resources for Talking to Kids About Tragedies

Friday, December 14th, 2012

As we struggle to comprehend what happened on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re also trying to find the words to talk to our children as they ask questions. It’s a difficult topic to talk about as our children look to us for guidance. As parents, it’s our job to grieve for fellow parents and the young children whose lives were taken but at the same time, provide answers to our kids who are wondering if this could happen at their school.

When today’s events unfolded, I was immediately transported back to my first grade classroom and the discussion that I had with my students as a new teacher about Columbine. I remember my principal talking to us as staff about what to say and about addressing student questions as they came up. As expected, many of my students asked about the safety of our own school.

Having talked about tragedy with children before, I shared my parent and educator perspective with helpful tips on talking to your kids for parents who are looking for guidance on talking about these difficult topics. But knowing that conversations in houses across the nation will be different and suited to our kids and family values, where else can you turn as you’re trying to make sense of today?

I always turn to trusted resources who I can count on to provide helpful tips and age-appropriate talking points for my own children. Here are some helpful links that I found with sound advice for discussing the Sandy Hook tragedy with your children.

PBS Parents offers flexible suggestions about answering kids’ questions about current events. I like that the tips in Talking with Kids About News can be applied to news of any kind and not just about tragedy.

Explaining the News to Our Kids by Common Sense Media provides differentiated messaging for kids depending on their ages. There are tips for talking to those under 7, between 8-12, and teens which is especially useful for families who have kids of different ages and need to address everyone’s concerns in an age appropriate way.

The Mother Company offers expert advice on their site and Talking About Devastating News with Our Kids includes an interview with Pattie Fitzgerald, who advises bringing up difficult topics in context and “explaining that certain events are rare occurrences, or far from where you live” reassuring kids “that as parents you take thorough precautions to keep them safe.” There’s also a very helpful list of tips parents can use to navigate tough news topics.

Sesame Street’s Here for each other: Helping Families After an Emergency is a downloadable PDF that is a fantastic resource for parents of young children. It urges parents to model a sense of calm in front of children since kids take cues from parents and caregivers. There are also simple ways to stay positive after an emergency along with ways to address a child’s fears based on their age.

The American Psychological Association has a post about Helping Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting. Wise words include “What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.” APA also encourages parents to find times when kids are most likely to talk but to express your opinions while making a concerted effort to listen and not interrupt.

Sadness – a lonely child via Shutterstock

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3 Tips for Finding Great Apps for Kids

Monday, August 27th, 2012

More often than not, learning with a friend is more fun, especially if it’s through an educational app featuring a beloved character. It’s no surprise that a new study from market research firm NPD Group stated that kids are increasingly adopting tech. One finding indicated that tablet use increased 13% from 2011 to 2012, making it more important to find the apps that will provide quality learning experiences for the youngest ages.

But how do you know what apps are entertaining and educational at the same time?

Luckily apps aren’t a large investment like a monthly subscription to some paid kids’ websites or new gaming system but a dollar or two here and there can add up.

Here are 3 tips for finding great apps.

  • Visit Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media is a wealth of information that provides reviews for movies, video games, websites, TV, books, music, and also apps. It’s an easy to use site that allows parents to do a search and quickly figure out if content is age appropriate for their child. To stay up to date, their emails provide helpful information and food for thought about raising kids in this digital age.
  • Rely on trusted names in education. PBS, Scholastic, and many other companies that are rooted in educating young minds have jumped into the app game. They have developed high quality learning experiences that include interactive games and storybooks that keep kids engaged and tend to be so fun that kids forget that they’re learning!
  • Ask friends and teachers. Your village can be a great source of information. Teachers with children can be a wonderful resource because it’s likely that they’re looking for educational apps for their own children to use at home. A savvy friend who is always knows about products before everyone else probably can provide some suggestions too.

Where do you go to find great apps? Do you have any tips?

Family playing video game on smartphone via Shutterstock

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