DS’s school project

My DS has a school project in which he has to construct and summarize an interview.  He’s interested in how technology is being used in schools, specifically with kids with disabilities.  If you have a few minutes, please answer his questions and then email back to him at

scienceboy at  mindspring dot com

Your name_____________You are a _ teacher or _parent?

  1. What types of technology do you (or your child’s teacher) use to help a kid with disabilities?
  1. How does this technology help the child with disabilities?
  1. What are some drawbacks of using this technology?
  1. What do you think should be changed in the technology?
  1. Do you think that it is helpful to have technology in the classroom? Do you think more teachers should use it?

Technology in the Classroom and Other Education News

Filmmaker George Lucas wrote a poignant essay for the Huffington Post about how a 21st Century education should include technology. I especially agreed with this point:

Unfortunately, much of our system of education is locked in a time capsule that dates back to the Industrial Revolution, when learning became an exercise in pumping as much information into kids as possible. At the end of this education assembly line comes a diploma — if the student can spit back the facts correctly. But in an era where technology can deliver most of the world’s information on demand and knowledge is changing so rapidly, the model doesn’t work. Why spend $150 on textbooks that students use for only 15 weeks with information that soon becomes obsolete?

What we need today and in the future are citizens who can wield the tools of technology to solve complex problems. Which means we need students who can:

-find information
-rigorously analyze the quality and accuracy of information
-creatively and effectively use information to accomplish a goal

Lucas also listed actual school districts successfully incorporating technology, like laptop computers, into their curriculum. Of course, the issue for many school districts is…money.

I am curious to hear from all of you as to whether your child’s school is relying less on textbooks and more on technology? It seems that if money were not an issue that technology would be a better investment than traditional textbooks. What do you all think?

In other education news: Bill Gates wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about the importance of bringing teacher performance up to par and rewarding the best teachers. As Daily Kos’s teacherken pointed out, this is not a new concept and there is peer-reviewed data debunking much of Gates’s proposal.

This is what I think: I wish that Bill Gates took a year off his life as a philanthropist and actually taught at an inner city public school with hundreds of students with just as many needs and papers to grade. Then I would like to read his op-eds and see where he would invest his money. I was especially troubled by his non-chalance at increasing class sizes — at a time when budget cuts are already doing that! Where has he been?

Any other edutorials grab your attention? Feel free to discuss this and other education matters.


A Different Generation

I jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon a little later than everyone else. After reading such great reviews and speaking to a lot of my friends that were big fans, I had to tune in for myself.

The show did not disappoint. I am amazed at how different life was just a few short decades ago. The racism. The sexism. The discrimination. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that this was how people lived less than 50 years ago. And yet, a lot of it was uncomfortably familiar. Too familiar.

I am from the generation of children that was “seen and not heard.” We “didn’t speak unless we were spoken to,” and were more of a possession than an individual. Our opinions didn’t matter, and more often than not, we were sent out of the room so that the adults can talk. The mothers were always “numb” with either alcohol or some form of prescribed sedative, such as Valium, and the fathers were never home because they commutted to work and left before you woke up and got home after you went to bed. It’s a wonder families managed to stay together!

When I was a kid, I hated not knowing what was going on and promised myself that I would treat my children differently. I would get to know them and their budding personalities as they were forming. I am constantly working to assure that my children know that their opinions matter. That they matter. If they have questions about anything, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, I want them to know that they can come to me for the answer. I want them to know and to believe that they are the most important people in my life. I want them to feel validated.  

What about you? How does the way you were raised compare with the way you are raising your children? What do you remember about your parent’s generation? How does it differ from our generation?

Mad Men is like an onion and I can’t wait to get to the next layer! Season four is scheduled to premier on July 25th, and I for one can’t wait. Will you tune in?


Late-Night Liberty: Tips for an Unwired Vacation Edition

I was intrigued by this column in Forbes by a mom attempting to balance fun and remaining connected to work while on vacation.

Check it out:

After many years of this, I’ve figured out how to control the problem: I don’t answer my phone when I’m having fun, unless I’m not with my kids and I think the call is related to them. I can afford to do that because work rarely calls me; I work only part-time from home and don’t have daily deadlines.

At the same time, I’m hyper about staying in e-mail contact–but only from my laptop. No texting for me. So while my family complains that my head often disappears into my laptop at night–a separate problem–it belongs to them as soon as I walk out of Wi-Fi range. When I’m on the beach, I’m really on the beach; jumping the waves with my daughter and watching my son build his trademark sand castles, grain by grain.

I know most people need to be more connected to work than that. I’ve interviewed plenty of executives who have never taken a completely unwired vacation, not once, since the advent of the cellphone.

Considering what DH and I do for a living, we rarely go on vacation without our laptops and iPhones. Because I am part-time, like the writer, I tend to check e-mail more sporadically and never check it on my cell phone. DH does not have the luxury as he owns his own company so he is always looking at some kind of screen. He does take off evenings to spend with me and the kids, and I am happy to report, he never takes calls during dinner.

How do you balance vacation time with the need to always be connected? Like writer Joan Indiana Rigdon pointed out, the technology is a double-edged sword. We are able to take vacations because of it, but we aren’t always able to enjoy it because of it. There you go.


Old Technology: Ceramics

When people learn I went to engineering school, they naturally assume I’m into the latest gadgets. Obviously I would have been first on my block to get the fastest laptop, the iPod, a camera cell phone, every new bit of technology as it first comes out. But as it turns out, I’m not like that at all. And the older I get, the more I appreciate OLD technology.

bowlAny time I hear someone spouting off about how women aren’t good at technology, I think about all the technology that women have made, and owned, for literally thousands of years. Men too. “Technology” as defined by computer circuits is wonderful and important and amazing. But how many people do you know who can make a vessel that holds water out of native materials? Or other items? You learn quickly that harvesting anything – food, firewood, water – without a container like a basket, bag, pot, or bucket, is slow, inefficient work. With a simple paper bag, I can gather 10 gallons of walnuts in maybe half an hour. If I have only my hands, I will be lucky to accumulate a tenth of that, juggling walnuts back to my house by the double handful, trip after tedious trip.

We take for granted that you can drive your auto-mobile down to nearly any storefront and bring home some sort of water containment vessel, probably for less than a dollar. But it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, you were limited in where you could live and how far you could travel by where the streams and lakes were, because any time you wanted a drink, you would have to walk to a water source and get it. My own house overlooks a fortuitous location where people have lived for thousands of years, at the confluence of two streams, yet above the flood zone.

The people of that site, who we now call the Pomo, learned to make baskets. In other places, they learned to dig up dirt, shape it, and fire it so it would keep its shape and hold water. This is the beginning of ceramics. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s just an archaic pastime. It’s technology, technology of our ancient past, technology that helped to make everything we have today, possible.

Reclining FigureI have been in love with ceramic figurines since I was a child. Horses became my eventual focus, but I also remember my mother having a pair of beautiful ceramic ducks that she kept in the bathroom. I loved those ducks. I remember being about 6 years old and begging to play with them. She was reluctant, and (rightly!) skeptical. One was lying down, but the other was standing on delicate legs. I don’t know how exactly I wore her down, but eventually, she relented, and I played with them for some time, making them buildings and pens out of Tinkertoys, before the inevitable happened and I broke one of the legs. I cried and cried in my disappointment, that I could not keep the duck safe, even though I had tried so very hard.

As I grew older, I was able to collect a small number of ceramic horse figures (to go with a larger collection of plastic ones). Most of them came from Hagen-Renaker, a California based company that made animals of all types (and still does), including horses, ranging from absurdly tiny to 16″ or so at the eartips. Some were treasured hand-me-downs; some were purchased from fellow collectors; some were purchased new. I had a few lesser makes; I never managed to own any of the truly wonderful pieces from Beswick or Rosenthal or Hutschenreuther.

Primitive Horse-Shaped ObjectBut the secret is, I didn’t really want to buy them. I wanted to MAKE them.

In high school ceramics, I wanted to make a horse. “You can’t,” they said. The legs would break without an armature, they said. It was too complicated. It was not possible, I was told. I had to settle for making a lumpy lying down cat, with the legs folded underneath. They wouldn’t even let me try and fail.

I was not alone in this strange desire. Friends of mine insinuated themselves into the Hagen Renaker factory, where they learned the secrets of the trade – and since have developed new secrets of their own, creating molds of mindboggling complexity. They learned to make magic mud and turn it into horses with breathtaking detail that left Hagen-Renaker’s fine work look coarse and simple by comparison.

And so, one of my lifelong goals has been to learn ceramic technology. This is no dabbler’s whim. I come at this from a different direction than many, having designed and specified extremely expensive ceramic parts for today’s highest technology applications. In the end, I decided, to understand ceramics, you can’t stand back in your clean room and just pull a part from a box. You have to get your hands dirty. Thanks to my local community college, with its impressively comprehensive ceramics lab, my hands are now very dirty.

Making ceramics is a fast and friendly way to make rocks. Chemistry is important. You need the right minerals to start, held in a matrix with the right amount of water. You add heat, a lot of it, and the minerals change composition, drive out the water, and fuse. The properties you get in the end product vary dramatically depending upon the chemicals in your clay, the size of the particles, the amount of heat applied, and the rate of heating and cooling. I won’t try to explain the materials science involved, but suffice it to say, there are hundreds of commercially available clays, thousands of clays used in some form of production,  and it would take a lifetime to truly experience and understand the properties of each one.

I have come to love making pots. I didn’t expect to. I wanted to make some, mostly as a stepping stone to horses. But throwing pots isn’t just technology, it’s magic. Behold this video:

In two minutes, this man can take a ball of clay and make it into a vessel.

The axiom goes, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishible from magic.” I watch this video, and I see magic. I imagine a potter in a village doing this, so effortlessly. No electricity. A stick, a rock, and some mud. I’d consider him a master of elements.

My second thrown bowl - perfect for ice creamIf you doubt the magic, I encourage you to find some place where you can try to make a pot on a wheel. It looks so easy… and it is so not… until you find the exact groove of it. I’ve watched three semesters now of beginners try the wheel, and some never try long enough or through enough failures to get it (which ties into Elisa’s post the other day about practice versus talent). Others keep at it. The old timers taunt us by making big beautiful pots rather absently while we scowl and concentrate to get something vaguely bowl-shaped. One of my fellow learners jokes about his first wheel attempt, where he intended to make a hefty beer mug, and ended up with a tiny shot glass.

Hourglass bowlI now seek to master this magic. And there are aspects I had not considered. Using the finished bowls and mugs is as rewarding as making them. I find I am surprised by which items I have come to love and use the most. A homely pinch pot, with a (at the time) disappointing glaze, has turned out to be one of my favorite bowls, because it holds – in the perfect aspect ratio – exactly one can of soup, or beans, or similar food. A handsome, elegant bowl – a bit small, but with a fun hourglass shape – has an interior that somehow always encourages food to jump out the rims. It’s good for dipping sauces, but not for eating. A similarly sized but differently shaped bowl is ideal for ice cream.

The homely but incredibly useful pinch potSo it’s not just the fun of shaping the mud, or the adventure in figuring out exactly what the fire will do with the glaze this time. There’s real technology, and design, that goes into the perfect shape for the perfect item for a particular task.  The teapot, once the gold standard for computer rendering, a shape studied in advanced mathematics courses, is also an advanced shape for ceramics. It’s not just getting the curves right or the shape to be aesthetically pleasing: there’s also the small matter of making it balanced in your hand from the handle and keeping the spout from dribbling. A guest lecturer potter came to the college and talked about making pots specifically to match certain dishes, in a collaboration with celebrity chefs. Getting the vessel exactly the right size, with the right heft, with a pleasing glaze finish, to complement the food. A collaboration between two artists in two different media, coming together to create a larger experience. She’s done this for cookbooks, and also for fundraisers for local schools.

As I read yet another headline about bisphenol A and the danger of other plastics for storing and heating food, I’m driven tighter to my ceramic bowls, especially the misshapen ones I have made myself, with my own finger marks. There’s something special about eating out of a piece of handmade art. Even if they don’t stack neatly in the cupboard.

And hey, even if the bottom falls out of the economy, I have a new skill: I can make pots. No matter where I find myself, I will always be able to create some vessel that can carry water.


Encouraging Girls To Enter the Sciences

Here is a question for Shenanigans and all our mom scientists: How do we encourage our daughters to like science and technology? One mom wondered aloud in Berkeley Parents Network:

Hi, I’m wondering if anyone has recommendations for engaging their daughters in science, tech, math or engineering? Are there games, websites, blogs, forums, other listservs, best practice articles or anything that you’ve used and have found helpful?

In terms of off-the-shelf products, so far I’ve found:

  • SciGirls – Science for Girls, by Girls! DVDs and Activity Guides
  • WonderWise – Women in Science Kits (9 women in science showing what they do in their careers)
  • PicoCrickets – Girl-friendly robotics kits that teach engineering principles creatively.

There are a lot of studies out there that show that one of the reasons that women don’t enter into science or tech careers is that they lack confidence in their abilities, which is linked to informal science and tech education outside of the classroom…something that can be taught at home (like using the PicoCrickets to do a fun art project at home). That’s why I’m trying to see if parents have any resources they’ve been using. Thanks!!


What say you, MotherTalkers?


Tech Toys for Kids

Cross-posted on Fussbucket

Santa’s going to have to be mighty careful sliding down the chimney this year. According to this article in the NY Times,  tech toys such as laptops, cell phones, digital cameras, and MP3 players are dominating the wish list this season.

Toy makers and retailers are filling shelves with new tech devices for children ages 3 and up, and sometimes even down. They say they are catering to junior consumers who want to emulate their parents and are not satisfied with fake gadgets.

Jim Silver, editor of Toy Wishes magazine and an industry analyst for 24 years, said there had been “a huge jump in the last 12 months” in toys that involve looking at a screen, the article says. “The bigger toy companies don’t even call it the toy business anymore,” Mr. Silver said. “They’re in the family entertainment business and the leisure business. What they’re saying is, ‘We’re vying for kids’ leisure time.’ “

Leisure time? How grand! I didn’t even know my kids had leisure time. Does that come before or after snack time? What about nap time? How about temper tantrum time? Boy kids really are over-scheduled these days.

As you might expect, doctors and educators are concerned about this trend. Screen time  is the enemy of the imagination, the story goes. But kids are too savvy for pretend tech toys, the article says. “If you give kids an old toy camera, they look at you like you’re crazy,” said Reyne Rice, a toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association. Children “are role-playing what they see in society,” she added.

Well yes, that’s what kids do. It’s part of how they absorb their culture.

Inside the Toys “R” Us, the shelves near the store’s front were brimming with toys with a high-tech twist. Among them were numerous starter laptops that play educational games (and in the shape, for instance, of Barbie’s purse and Darth Vader’s helmet) and traditional board games with DVD extras. Perched prominently on one shelf was one of the country’s hottest-selling toys, the EyeClops Bionic Eye, an electronic camera for children ages 6 and up.

I shudder to think what a six-year old could do with an Eyeclops Bionic Eye. Personally, I’d get a lock for my bedroom door toot sweet if I was going to buy one of those things.

The so-called youth electronics category accounts for more than 5 percent of all toy sales. Overall toy sales have been flat at around $22 billion a year for the last five years, according to the market research firm NPD Group. The industry sees growth potential in this new category, the article says. Sounds like we’ll be seeing a lot more of these kid-gadgets in the future.

So what do you all think? Are you cringing at the thought of little ones using laptops, cell phones, and the like? Or does this seem inevitable?


Flip N’ Jitterbug – Love Em!

On more than one occasion, I have been accused of being a gadget junkie.  I admit it.  I do like easy to buy and use gadgets that innovative people invent to make my life just a little bit easier or more enjoyable.  I especially like technology that is inexpensive, easy to use and helpful.  I have recently gone a little gadget happy with two new products on the market and I am happy to give them my very enthusiastic (and completely unpaid) endorsement!  Great gift ideas for those who are tech challenged, elderly or have disabilities limiting them from enjoying video and cell technology. Erin @ www.ExpectingExecutive.com




I went a little crazy when my son was born and bought a super amazing and complicated mini digital video camera.  It came with EVERYTHING!!!! Literally.  Besides the camera it came with all of these wires and a special rechargeable battery that I have twice replaced.  My fancy camera was accompanied with TWO instruction manuals that were more than fifty pages long not to mention three DVDs to help make pictures and movies work, I think.  It   But, truth be told, I hate this camera.  It has always been such a hassle to use.  It is hard to focus for easy and quick picture taking.  It is too big.  It took me forever to figure out the gosh darn camera buttons.  Sigh.  I know this camera can do amazing things.  I know because I read all about them when I bought the stupid thing camera.  But, for the life of me, I have never been able to figure them out how to use this amazing camera.  So, after all of these years, I still take only okay pictures that have a tendency to be slightly out of focus and I have used the digital video feature with some success but only after buying more of those expensive memory cards that I am forever losing.  After that rant, now begins the endorsement.

I received a gift in the mail about a month ago.  My father, who was tired of hearing me complain about my camera, sent me a 60 minute Flip Video that cost $120.00.  I assumed it would not be impressive at all because it was what I might consider “cheap” for a high quality technology gadget.  But, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.  After using my Flip Video almost non-stop for the past month, I have to tell you, the little Flip Video is amazing!  This little video camera with only five single function buttons is about as big as a pack of cards.  It comes in white and you can order it in white with black trim.  I opened the packaging and was sure that UPS was going to soon deliver the second box with the required accoutrements.  But NO, the shipment was complete.  I looked frantically but there was no CD, no AC adapters and NO MANUAL.  Instead I found a neatly folded 2″ six panel brochure.  That was it!  It had a picture of my new Flip video and instructed me to install the two double AA batteries included and start taking some videos.  And I’ll be darned, but, it was that easy!!!  Yippee!  This little Flip Video is the coolest and easiest to use gadget I have every owned.  It takes videos of my precious 2 1/2 year old tornado that are just fine and properly accomplish my main objectives; 1) document my cute kid so that I can remember how cute he was when I am trying to remember his cuteness when he is 17 and 2) entertain friends and family spread across the country via the internet.

Because I am complete sucker for efficient creativity in action, I love the USB connector arm that just “pops” out of the camera when it is time to hook it up to my computer.  Once I plug the Flip Video into the USB port, all of the required software is already inside of the camera!!!  That’s right, I just plug my little camera into my laptop and I download (upload?) video to my YouTube account and now I have proof that grandma’s “little angel” can scream like a banshee when I tell him he can’t hit the pug with a pool cue.  Or, I can email Grandma a custom video and spare the general population from toddler wrath.  My favorite part of Flip Video is the fact there is nothing to lose or store. No power supplies to identify and lug around.  No expensive batteries that need recharging the moment I want to use my camera.  No lost or left behind battery chargers! I love it, I love it, I love it! (P. S. You may want to consider the $70 thirty minute Flip Video as potential great Christmas gift!)


Another fantastic and timely product is the Jitterbug Cell Phone marketed to “simply” keep baby boomers in touch with the aging parents.  Arlene Harris, founder of Great Call, Inc., and this really cool company offer two different phones and extraordinary operator assisted call services to support those who may need a little (or a lot) of extra assistance making a telephone call.  Samsung manufactures the two custom developed phone that only differ with the available keypad configuration.  Jitterbug Dial looks like a traditional telephone with 0-9 number buttons a user would depress to enter and call a telephone numbers not already programmed in the telephone’s directory.  Jitterbug One Touch has only three large oval buttons (instead of the 0-9 buttons) on the keypad.  The first oval green button is identified in large letters as OPERATOR and connects the user with the Jitterbug operator for call assistance.  The second oval yellow button is custom programmed and labeled (prior to delivery) to provide the user direct dial calling to the contact of their choosing.  The third oval button is red and it labeled 911.  Both phones have these great oversized, padded earpieces with a “powerful” speakers.  The buttons are brightly backlit, oversized and easy to read.  They are hearing aid compatible and use the familiar concept of a dial tone (which I personally love)!  The text on the oversized screen is large and easy to read.  There are only four “command buttons” that indicate up, down, yes and no and power.  Both phones are the same price, $147 and the accessories are reasonably priced.  

The Jitterbug Calling Plans are varied and there appears to be a plan to suit most caller’s requirements.  While I do not believe this is probably the cheapest way to make a cell phone call, it is competitive with major cell phone providers as a limited to moderate use cellular phone.  The Jitterbug calling plans are pre-paid type plans.  Each operator assisted call is paid for with a five minute deduction from the available airtime minutes (except the SIMPLE Plus plan).  There are annual and monthly payment plans that may be customized to include voicemail, voice activated dialing and you can change plan options for free.  Plans may be canceled without penalty!  Love it!

So, the phones are great and the calling plans are flexible and pretty affordable but it is the Jitterbug Operator Service that takes this product from good to GREAT!  Day or night, when pressing the 0 (zero) or pressing the OPERATOR button, a kind and helpful human being greets the caller by name and asks how they may be of assistance.  That’s right, a telephone company with an operator truly waiting and glad to be of assistance.  Jitterbug operators will connect a call, provide directory assistance and help add and delete the Jitterbug telephone numbers stored in the phone.  Every user has a secure personal telephone directory with up to five contacts identified as emergency contacts.  The directory can be updated by calling the operator, sending Jitterbug a fax or make changes online. I just love it!

One more note:  I believe these products may benefit and serve many consumers with disabilities. As baby boomers (and their parents) age, companies are now racing to create products and services for those who may face “age related impairments”.  As a result, many under served “niche” markets will certainly benefit in tandem but none more than the currently under served and under appreciated consumer with disabilities market for three reasons; 1) products will be less expensive because the cost burdens of new product R&D, manufacture and marketing will be shared and supported across a broader consumer base by companies with greater access to required capital resources  2) due to demand, consumers with disabilities will find more “disabled friendly” products with better options in greater quantities and 3) product support and customer service will continue to improve and become more “disabled conscientious” as a larger percentage of our population faces mobility, communication, visual and health challenges.  Not an ideal way to see improvement happen but improvement nonetheless.

So, there you have it – two great, easy-to-use and affordable products that have the magic quality of mixing technology with simplicity.  These two companies have placed their bets and their R&D dollars on the middle to elder age customer market.  They are courting this sometimes finicky consumer group who wants to use today’s amazing technology without being overwhelmed, intimidated or alienated by the complexity of even making a product work.  Well, good for Flip Video and Jitterbug.  Good for them!  I think they are on the right track and they have both won the bet in our household.  We love to Flip and Jitterbug and we think you just may too!

Do you have any experience with these or other easy-to-use technology gadgets that you have used and would recommend as well?

Be well!

Helping Busy Mothers Manage Life’s Details


Ahh, technology.

Let me begin by saying that my hub and I met while working for the “nation’s leader in electronic payments” so technology is nothing new for me. I welcomed the age of internet billpay and presentment. I love that I can use the internet to talk to my brother in law in New Zealand and see his kids grow up on my webcam. It is fantastic. I am simply frustrated by the service of my cable modem and wireless internet. AGHHH.

We recently switched from DSL to cable modem because we HATE AT&T’s monopoly here in central OH. They slammed our bill 2 times in 2 years (changing the rates without notifying us.) The last time it took 9 months and two calls to the PUCO to get back the $1700 they automatically debited from our checking account. So, we fired them and hired our cable company. We were after all upgrading to HiDef cable, so why not.

Did I mention that our house was built in 1928? That is key to this rant because apparently: wireless service is much slower through plaster walls and real 2x4s. Oh, and the fact that our neighborhood is so old means that the wires are not buried as they are in newer developments. Why does that matter? Well, besides being unappealing to the eyes… they are prime targets for the starving or bored SQUIRREL population. So, thanks to those cute little grey guys everytime it rains OUR INTERNET GOES OUT along with about half of our HD channels. Makes keeping up with MT a little difficult not to mention the webcam calls, paying bills, corresponding with directors… you get the picture. The cable company claims it is too expensive to bury the cable. More expensive than coming to my house every time it rains?

So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days… check Weather.com or read the newspaper. If it is raining in the Midwest, chances are I am sitting in the corner crying and pulling out my hair waiting for the cable guy.