Thursday, 2 March 2017

iPads, Radiation & Airplane Mode


From time to time articles or videos appear with alarming headlines that connect mobile devices with harmful effects on children. It is of course completely understandable that parents become concerned when they see these things. The College places the safety and well being of our students above all other considerations and we monitor official advice around all aspects of safety that affect our students. Most recently, a video has been circulating among our parents about the possible harmful effects of radiation from mobile devices like iPads.

When looking at any health or safety issue we need to make careful decisions about where we gather our data from. In this day and age it is an easy process for an individual to present a specific viewpoint and to easily spread that message via the Internet. We also need to bear in mind that there are reasons for people and organisations to do this other than a genuine concern for public welfare. An article with a dramatic headline or video with lurid claims, attracts traffic and that traffic can generate revenue from advertising for example.

As an example of how individual sources can easily contradict each other, consider this Forbes article and this article from Wired Science, which both offer a strong counterpoint to the video mentioned previously.

The underlying issue here is, given that individual representations or newspaper articles are not necessarily reliable or often contradictory, where does the College look for direction?

Two places:

  • Large bodies of collated research, generally called meta-analyses
  • Expert advice from leading health authorities such as Ministries of Health and the World Health Organisation


We are not aware of any large body of research that shows a causal link between mobile device usage and radiation that result in any negative impact on people’s health. Furthermore there is currently no advice from any world health body that we are aware of that advises that children be protected from such radiation emitted by wireless devices such as iPads.

We take this issue seriously and monitor the medical advice from recognised institutions around this issue. The welfare of the children in our care is paramount to us and we will respond appropriately in the event that the advice from the leading health authorities changes at any point.

As a college we understand why parents might have concerns about the potential negative effects of using mobile devices after watching videos like the one linked above. A parent's concern for their children's welfare is of course understandable, but please rest assured that we take this issue seriously and monitor the medical advice from recognised institutions around this issue. The welfare of the children in our care is paramount to us and we will respond appropriately in the event that the advice from the leading health authorities changes at any point.


Here are some further points that may be helpful in setting the overall context:

Screen time

The actual percentage of the school day our students use these devices is relatively small. A common misconception is that the provision of a device per child increased the amount of time our children spend using a device, but that is not why we have 1:1 devices. We use 1:1 devices so it is easier to manage student content, and so students don't accidentally delete the work of other students, for more about this please see this post.

Students certainly never use the devices in close proximity to their heads, which is one basis of the research that makes claims about damaging radiation from mobile devices, nor do our iPads contain mobile SIMs that generate GSM frequencies.

Airplane Mode

Having the College iPads in Airplane mode is not practical. We rely on wireless connectivity to manage and monitor these devices, as well as to share children's learning with parents via platforms like Seesaw. This will also have a minimal impact on the overall amount of waves in the air, given the large number of services being beamed around the island to support mobile phones, wireless, television, etc.


Ben Morgan & Seán McHugh

Monday, 27 February 2017

Coding, Integrated: Shape & Scratch



It won't come as a surprise to discover that there is a lot of talk these days about coding, and to hear the calls in panicked tones from some quarters, parents are often curious to know if or when we intend to drop everything and add this new subject (it's not really new, it was called Control and taught in IT lessons in labs in the 1980s) to the curriculum. This request is generally completely oblivious of the logistical nightmare that attempting to restructure the school day to find time for another subject would be. Understandably this answer doesn't necessarily satisfy parents especially if they have had difficulties getting a space for children to attend one of the Coding ECAs I facilitate, or more often by parents who are unable to get a place in the activity for their child.

I'm an advocate for coding, but not to prepare kids for a new 21st 'literacy' of programming, as I explain in this post, I think this is a myth; I'm not the only one. So I don't think, like TTS and the UK, that we should be trying to teach it as a discrete subject.

That said, I can see how it makes sense to enrich our curriculum where it makes sense using coding experiences, you can see an example of that from this week in Grade 4 here and here, we have lots of others. I am working with our Primary School Maths Coach to explore opportunities to do more of this within Maths, as that is the subject where the opportunities are most likely/authentic.





Ultimately, I don't see coding as any more essential a tech skill than, say video editing, or working with spreadsheets which are also important tech skills that we try to integrate naturally into the curriculum. As with all of these, I'd like to see authentic opportunities to code every year, throughout the college from K-12, and hopefully one day we will!


Until then, we are working hard to provide many opportunities for coding (far more than for video editing or spreadsheets!) as part of the Activities programme, and there are also a host of opportunities being organised by the Ideas Hub, coming very soon. Melanie Tan (melanieuwc@uwcsea.edu.sg) has more details about opportunities to participate in coding activities for all ages if you're interested.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Should all Children Learn to Code?

That is a good question—one I am commonly asked by both parents and teachers, but mainly parents.

The answer is no; not all. Should all children have the opportunity to experience coding, and possible discover they have a gift for it? Yes.

Via Techcrunch.com "Please don't learn to code'. 

I'm not convinced that encouraging kids to become coders (actually computer programmers—coding is more of a slang term) is a great idea, I think they should learn to code, if they're keen, but only so they can understand it better, so they can be creative with it. You see you can employ coders, they are a dime a dozen, they're all over the web. It's the creative 'big picture' aspect that is lacking, ie what to code, not so much how.

That said... It's hard to know what you can do if you don't know how. Basically you don't need to be the best coder, you need to be good enough to really know what its potential is.
"Someday, the understanding of computational processes may be indispensable for people in all occupations. But it’s not yet clear when we’ll cross that bridge from nice-to-know to must-know." 
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/business/computer-science-for-non-majors-takes-many-forms


"But is it really crucial to be able to code? Many content producers use technology virtually every waking hour of their life, and they don't know a variable from an identifier, or an integer from a string. Personally, I'm conflicted: I have a technical background, but for most people I just don't see how being able to compile code is going to prove useful."  
http://m.gizmodo.com/5897020/is-learning-to-code-more-popular-than-learning-a-foreign-language
"Coding is not a goal. It’s a tool for solving problems. [...] However, much of the “learn to code” frenzy seems to spring from the idea that you can achieve fame and riches by starting a tech company and you need to actually code something first. Programming is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Even if you do hit the jackpot, the CEOs of successful tech companies do not spend a lot of time coding, even if they started out behind a keyboard. There are simply too many other tasks involved in running a company. So if coding is what you really love to do, you probably wouldn't want to be a CEO in the first place.."  
http://www.fastcolabs.com/3020126/no-you-dont-need-to-learn-to-code

Please don't advocate learning to code just for the sake of learning how to code. Or worse, because of the fat paychecks. Instead, I humbly suggest that we spend our time learning how to …
• Research voraciously, and understand how the things around us work at a basic level.
• Communicate effectively with other human beings.
These are skills that extend far beyond mere coding and will help you in every aspect of your life.  
http://gizmodo.com/5910497/please-dont-learn-to-code 

..."engineering and programming are important skills. But only in the right context, and only for the type of person willing to put in the necessary blood, sweat and tears to succeed. The same could be said of many other skills. I would no more urge everyone to learn to program than I would urge everyone to learn to plumb." 
https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/10/please-dont-learn-to-code/ 

Clearly there is no shortage of people that want to code, and those that have the predilection will. I mean, the point is it's not hard to act on it, to make it happen, and ... if you can't, then coding is probably not an option for you.

Compare that to say … learning the oboe, well that's not quite so easy to learn if you only have a computer and an internet connection. But there are millions of people out there who do, and are honing their abilities every day, and they don't expect to be paid as much for it as you might think.

So - how do we learn this stuff?

All the people I know who are competent users of IT and ICTs (yes, there is a difference) are those who basically taught themselves (including myself). It's almost a rite of passage. My instinct tells me that the kind of kids who can code WILL code, and if they can't find ways to teach themselves using the plethora of resources online, then... they probably haven’t got what it takes to code. Despite the glowing 'FUN, FUN, FUN!' messages that proliferate from some quarters of the web, the truth is, if you want to code, really code, you will need to work hard, you will need to persevere, nothing that is worth having comes easy, and coding is no exception. It is as simple as that.

"Top companies expect you to know what a recent comp-sci graduate would know, which could include SQL vs. NoSQL databases, the time complexity of some algorithm, or how to implement binary search. ... opportunities are few and far between."

"While there are some excellent companies willing to hire driven and intelligent self-taught engineers, they lie in the minority. Many companies pass over candidates without a formal degree in computer science before reading on; the stigma of low experience is a hard one to break in any industry but especially in those involving technical abilities."

http://qz.com/193896/no-three-month-course-can-teach-you-how-to-code/

I have never been taught 'IT' but I had to teach myself HTML to design web pages, and ActionScript to create Flash animations—at its best, that is what things like coding 'computer science' and subjects like DT teaches kids - YOU can solve your own problems, and you can teach yourself how to do it. It's all about the WWWHWW of getting from A to B, even if it means going through D, H and X to get there. The first time.

That's another argument for coding, not so much as a skills for the workplace, but the process, the rationale it demands, here's a quote from my colleague Helen Leeming who teaches IT in MS and HS, from an email exchange we had on this subject: This point about developing critical/analytical thinking through coding is powerful - (my emphasis)

"It isn't the coding… it's the critical thinking… they don't need to code any more than they need to be able to do quadratic equations - for most people either would be redundant the minute they walk out of school. But they do need to have stretched their minds, to have made their thoughts work in a different way, which both of those will. Almost none of them need to code (or indeed use a lot of what we teach them in school - oxbow lakes for example), but the ability to problem solve is essential. It could be taught through other things, it simply isn't in many cases… And people rarely choose to learn critical thinking unless they are an 'IT geek' and they are the ones that probably can already do it."

I don't understand why people question that this needs to be taught as people won't be coders, while we still do teach algebra and the periodic table to kids that will not be mathematicians or chemists. Education is not about learning a set of knowledge or practical skills that you can use later, it is about teaching you to think, to think in many different ways, to play with ideas in many different ways and to have a toolbox of techniques to address puzzles or problems you meet later. Abstract, critical thinking is one of the tools…"
It should be remembered that one the best ways to get to grips with the kind of logistical thinking skills demanded by coding is by using spreadsheet functions, such as google spreadsheets, right there in the browser, and then move on to writing your own formulae, to solve basic mathematical problems, that right there is the basis of writing code. Starting with a formula as simple as =A1+B1 to things like IF functions:

=IF(A1<B1, "awesome",IF(B1<A1,"amazing"))


So, my advice to potential coders would be learn to walk before you run, or more precisely, learn to walk (scratch) run (stencyl) jump (alice) then you can really get creative 'dance' with the source code:



All of the the tools below are free, come with great support materials, tutorials, and communities to get you from A to B, even if you have to travel via N and X.

Coding for kids

Some of the iPad Apps we use to introduce kids to coding

Here's a great set of Apps you can use to introduce our child to coding, even from Kindergarten, this is my suggested sequence of progression, from games that teach the kind of logical thinking needed for coding, to Apps that allow free form creation:


  1. Daisy the Dinosaur
  2. Tynker
  3. Lightbot
  4. Move the Turtle
  5. Hopscotch
  6. Scratch Jr 

Do it yourself...

  1. Start with iPads to learn the basics of control, computer programming thinking, Apps like Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch, Move the Turtle. Apps like these use a drag and drop interface will intuitively grasp the basics of objects, sequencing, loops and events by solving app challenges. 
  2. Move to Code.org,  Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/, or www.tynker.com 
  3. Progress to Stencyl http://www.stencyl.com/ for iOS App coding using a similar 'block' interface, or alternatively App Inventor.

Coding vs Programming

Despite the hype that is common around this area, the fact is that no matter what you may have been told, the block interface that is at heart of most, if not all the apps that purport to be teaching coding, are not really. This article from Quartz clarifies this issue:
"The light and fluffy version of computer science—which is proliferating as a superficial response to the increased need for coders in the workplace—is a phenomenon I refer to as “pop computing.” ... This accessible attraction can be catchy, it may not lead to harder projects that deepen understanding.
... an important distinction must be drawn between learning “coding tutorials” and learning “computer science.” I think of it as playing with coding apps as compared to learning to design an app using code. Building an app takes time and requires multi-dimensional learning contexts, pathways and projects. One thing is for sure, it can’t be done in an hour or two, with a few simple drags, drops and clicks." 
American schools are teaching our kids how to code all wrong - Quartz

So to avoid any confusion, I refer to the control activities that rely on blocks as 'coding'—the blocks act as a code that represents the actual syntax you would normally use with a programming language. So let's call programming, programming; and while the block 'pop computing' 'coding' interface serves as a useful preliminary experience, the actual skill of programming is very different. When a student feels ready, here's a path they could take:
  1. Khan Academy has a great online course for introducing kids to programming (not coding), the introduction to JavaScript is a great place to begin.
  2. Apple have a fantastic app that teaches Swift coding, called Swift Playgrounds, but it only runs on recent gen iPads
  3. For developing apps, you can download the Xcode App for free from the App store if they feel they are ready to actually use Xcode, there are many online tutorials that can help with this, such as this one.
  4. Try http://www.codecademy.com/ for learning a range of programming languages. 
  5. Then possibly Alice http://www.alice.org/ 
By then you should be ready for the source code, this site hackerbuddies http://hackerbuddy.com/ will help with this final stage... One-on-one mentoring for startup hackers.

… but even then, which language?

C
Python
JavaScript
PHP
C++
Java

or Xcode for coding iOS Apps

And there are many more ... http://langpop.com/

But I would imagine for most kids the biggest motivator would be to create an app, using xCode (a free App from the App store). Which you can port to from Stencyl, but you have to pay $150 to enable that feature, so you can learn for free, you only need to pay when/if you're ready to put into the market place. Clearly it is the desire to create 'Apps' that is driving the current resurgence in interest in coding. For more on this phenomenon, read this article.


We now also facilitate the UWCSEA coding community through our ECA programme, for MS and HS students. If your child is in Primary and impatient to get going, learning Scratch and Stencyl will ensure they are more than ready by Grade 6, and of course from Grade 9 students have the option of choosing to follow a course in Computing, all the way through to grade 12 if they so choose. Middle school includes a module of coding through Lego Mindstorms in DT and we offer IGCSE Computing and IGCSE IT, and IB Computer Science in High School.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Video Games & Playgrounds


One of the most profound shifts in terms of childhood in a digital age, is the rise of online gaming. Once the preserve of teenage and tween geeks and nerds in darkened LAN rooms, now it is a common pastime for younger children, certainly many of our Junior School children regularly engage in these pursuits as a regular pastime. This is not a post about whether or not this kind of activity is one we should encourage, (I think we should) that is a subject I have written about elsewhere, and present a parent workshop about gaming every year. No, this is about providing some advice for the many parents who, for whatever reason, have kids who like to play online.

There is a growing collection of video games that fall into the category of multiplayer online game, from Clash of Clans to Club Penguin, to Minecraft, Roblox and Overwatch, and many more.

21st Century Playgrounds

As is often the case these days/this century, parents and teachers often find themselves faced with trying to relate to a child, whose normative childhood experience bears little resemblance to their own, but let me reassure you—while the medium has changed—the message and the meaning, and the opportunities and obstacles that surround group play have not.

The main place and space you are likely to encounter this is at home, as playing video games in class is generally not something kids will have time to do. There may be exceptions, eg possibly as a one off iTime project, but even then, the objective of creating something that they are accountable for in terms of achievement would need to be paramount. This is the stance we take with these kinds of gaming experiences, like Minecraft and Roblox. That said of course, there may be teachers who find this to be a useful strategy as a reward for hard work for example. If so they will take the necessary precautions, just as they would if sending kids to play on the playground.

Safe Play

When it comes to games for kids, Roblox is a great game, just like its progenitor Minecraft, however—as with all making, creating, playing, social experiences there is always the potential for inappropriate use, and experiences, whether the playground is virtual or actual. The solution, much as we would advocate for any 'multi-player' 'off screen' play—from playing tag or handball, to playing football, to swimming or having a sleepover, is to make sure there a​re​ clear parameters, and appropriate supervision, to ensure that we are minimising the likelihood of potentially harmful or unpleasant encounters.

Online maker spaces like Roblox and Minecraft are unique in terms of the sheer potential they offer in terms of unbridled creativity, and are also very familiar in terms of their potentials and pitfalls.

With all of these kinds of games the same safeguards we would have applied to playgrounds as children apply, ie be aware of the other people who are playing in this online arena or space, and the extent to which this space is effectively supervised, or moderated. If, as kids, we had been permitted to play unsupervised at nearby playground (I was, in London in the 70s, that seemed to be quite normal). We would have taken appropriate action if, for example, there were bullies in the playground, making life miserable for everyone. The same is true of these online spaces, which are very much similar to playgrounds, only on a screen, instead of in a park.

Safeguards

The developers behind games like Roblox and Minecraft are very aware of this, and design in safeguards for children, but this only works if the child has been honest about their age when creating the account, whether it's a Roblox account, or an Instagram account. Whenever a child creates an online account, like any other internet account, it's important that they set these up with the parent, or with the parents permission, otherwise they can 'accidentally' end up effectively creating an account for adults which could result in their being exposed to content that is inappropriate. Ideally a teacher or parent should be involved in the account setup and in ensuring that the child plays/uses the account responsibly—this is a skill that will serve them w​e​ll for the rest of their lives, in all sorts of online environments.

Roblox, for example, have a very clear commitment to safeguarding children; but it can be all too easy for children to create adult accounts, thereby effectively bypass any and all safeguards that would automatically be applied in the case of younger children. This usually happens if a child 'accidentally' enters the 'wrong' year of birth when registering their account, then the system assumes that are older than 13. In the event that this happens, my advice is for the parent to have a close look at the child's account settings, if Roblox or Minecraft knows that a user is under 13 there are a slew of safeguards that will be applied to the account to ensure the child's welfare, eg:

"For users age 12 and under, however, we take extra precaution to ensure their safety and privacy by automatically enforcing more restricted settings so they can only directly message other users that are accepted as friends on Roblox." 
"Players age 12 and younger have locked privacy settings to prevent contact from people they don't know. These players must first become friends with another user before certain activities are allowed, such as messaging, following into game, and playing in private servers."

Have Fun!

There are advocates in some quarters who encourage parents to join their child and play with them, to be honest, I think you'll find that most kids are less than enthusiastic about this idea.... Would you play tag, or have a sleepover with your kids and their friends? Probably not, so why would online play be any different?

Last but not least, the best thing you can do as a parent is be consistent; online and offline play are rich experiences that are enjoyable and highly beneficial provided some basic precautions are followed; for more on the potential benefits of gaming, see the following on video games as 'sandboxes'.



Saturday, 3 December 2016

Holidays, Screen Time & Parental Guilt


Screen time: Interacting? Consuming? Communicating? Creating? [www.heart.net]

Holidays are fabulous, and with them comes, especially for your children, time, in particular, more leisure time; and in a world where “screen time” is becoming simply “time,” for many, while we anticipate some great memories and experiences, with the typical 21st-century family it doesn't take long before the inevitable tensions caused by the multiplicity of screens in the home can start to cause problems. The fact is that a vacation inevitably means more time spent with screens, for the whole family, not just the kids. Yes, you know it's true.

Cue the inevitable pangs of parental guilt, brilliantly summed up in an article from The Atlantic:

"Tune into the conversation about kids and screen time, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that before the invention of the iPhone, parents spent every waking moment engaging their kids in deep conversation, undertaking creatively expressive arts-and-crafts projects, or growing their own vegetables in the backyard garden. There’s a tendency to portray time spent away from screens as idyllic, and time spent in front of them as something to panic about. 
But research shows that vilifying the devices’ place in family life may be misguided."

Depending on where you will be spending your vacation, you may well find yourself in a situation where your children are stuck indoors for many hours. Obviously a long haul flight means that kind of scenario and most families are prepared to tolerate a lot more screen time in that situation for the sake of maintaining sanity. But what happens when, at your destination, you are faced with, for example, inclement weather (yes Ireland, I'm looking at you). This means that potentially your children are stuck inside for days on end, and there's only so many hours you can spend persuading them to play board games and read books before screens and their many distractions become a temptation... Then when (not if) parents inevitably concede, it causes a great deal of guilt, not to mention potential condemnation from in-laws?


Screen Time - Not just a kid thing [Credit Paul Rogers]

How much is too much?

Common sense media have recently released the results of a huge census that they have taken, 'Media use by Tweens and Teens', researching typical uses of screen time. I've written about the issue of screen time before in the context of early childhood. But what make this census of particular interest is that it's focused on the screen time of older children. The findings are certainly worth reading, and for the most part they handle the issues it represents well, other than their tendency to grandstand with their "9 HOURS OF MEDIA DAILY" (which includes listening to music, something you could be doing while spending a week hiking in the mountains...) But my main gripe is their strange choice to exclude adults from the census—it's my contention (recently confirmed by another media census focusing on parents) that many if not most adults would rack up just as many hours as our children, if not more (especially if they're working on screens during the vacation, which many do). Given a comparison like that, it would put this kind of alarmist rhetoric into a much more reasonable perspective. For example, at least two recent studies show that the typical adult spends between eight and eleven hours on screens, although "to be fair, much of that probably happens while doing other things at the same time." (Statista)

"On any given day, parents of American tweens and teens average more than nine hours with screen media each day. Eighty-two percent of that time (almost eight hours) is devoted to personal screen media activities such as watching TV, social networking, and video gaming, with the rest used for work."  
The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens



As mentioned, the amount of "free time" available to everyone in the family during vacations increases, but you can be sure that especially for your children, with this significant increase, the likelihood is that your children will want to occupy most, if not all of this free time with "entertainment media". This was the focus of the census, and included media like books, not just screens, but as you will not be surprised to learn, screens dominated. A lot.
"entertainment media” is a very broad category, including everything from music, TV shows and videos, books, and websites to computer, video, and mobile games. But the fact that tweens and teens in the U.S. are using an average of six to nine hours' worth of media a day is still astounding. As discussed elsewhere, this does not mean they are stopping all other activity and attending only to media during this time; but it is still a large amount of time spent absorbing a large amount of content.
...
on any given day fully one in five 8- to 12-year-olds in this country is using more than six hours of screen media, and nearly as many teens (18 percent) are using more than 10 hours of screen media." (The Common Sense Census, 2015, p 30)

The survey provides little of anything in terms of advice as to how to manage this, although one particular statistic really stood out to me, and it is at the heart of my advice to parents in dealing with this tricky issue.

Media Use by Tweens and Tweens Report - Page 22

"Only 3% of teens' and tweens' digital media time is spent on content creation" 

Almost every vacation I get bombarded with emails parents and teachers desperately requesting ideas for ways that they can use screen time more productively during their vacation, so here is my advice if you want to try and make screen time more productive in your family this holiday.

Get creative

The notion of screen time as a one-dimensional activity is changing. Computers, tablets, and smartphones are multipurpose devices that can be used for, well, lots of purposes. Designating their use simply as "screen time" can miss some important variations. The Common Sense Census identifies four main categories of screen time.

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music 
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  • ​Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music

21st Century Family Screen Time [image credit: pc.advisor.co.uk]

If screen media use can mean writing a short story on a computer, video-chatting with relatives, watching videos, reading the news online, or playing games, what is the point of documenting the total amount of time teens spend using screens? Instead of auditing, let's focus more on balance, the paltry amount of time spent creating with screens could be nudged up extensively by replicating at home some of the ways we encourage our students to use screens in school, only this time giving your kids much greater freedom of choice in terms of the focus of their creative endeavours...

If your children are dual language learners (DLLs), this is an excellent way to encourage them to reinforce their language other than English, by replicating some of their school projects in their mother tongue.

A model I use for framing our use of screens at UWCSEA is something I sum up as 'vitamin digital' of 'VITAD'; five domains of tech use. Even better, as your kids have been working within many (if not all) of these domains, they will already have a good idea of the kinds of tools they need to use, without you needing to teach them! Each of these domains is powerful in its own right, but they really come into their own when you start exploring combinations of them...

VITAD - Video, Image, Text, Audio and Data Handling - Core Domains of Tech

Video editing:

Make music videos, animation, stop motion video, 'supercuts' from YouTube clips. Why not appoint your kids as family 'media journalists', why not give them the job of documenting the holiday? I'm sure they'll let you contribute some of your media to the project... 

Image creation:

Image montage/mash up, slideshow, add music to convert the slide show into a music video? Image editing, filters, layers, digital artwork... 

Text: 

Make an ebook, presentation, blog, choose your own adventure (hyperlinked Google Slides), coding, website, browse (research holiday destination?) persuade, demonstrate...

Learn to touch-type, for more advice on this see my related post, but it's safe to say that if you/your child dedicated 15-30 minutes a day to this everyday throughout the holidays they could be proficient by the start of the new school term in August! 

Audio: 

Slideshow commentary, soundtrack, podcast/radio show, composition in GarageBand, or remix of favourite tracks? 

Data handling: 

Spreadsheets: pocket money, trip budget, holiday costing, problem solving, graphing stats (choose data and gather ie how many times does 'x' do 'y'???

Maths:

Do not be mistaken, just because they are working with Maths activities on a screen, doesn't make the experience much more palatable for your kids. That said, there is no doubt that using screens to encourage greater numeracy is a no-brainer, these tools are brilliant at enabling practise, with immediate feedback, and developing 'automaticity'. Despite this, Maths practise will most likely need to be encouraged with tangible rewards for completion of certain achievements. I expect my kids to do a half an hour of Khan Academy before they do any other screen activity, half an hour a day during vacations is the goal. Maybe offer them rewards as they complete certain mile posts or missions? In order to keep vacation stress to a minimum, I find it a really good idea to ask them to go back and master grade missions that precede the grade they're in, as this is an effective form of revision/consolidation/practise, even if this means a Grade 5 student working on the Early Years mission to get started, if I did it, so can they! This way you're also less likely to be called on to help with problems that they can't solve independently, and they are more likely to enjoy the sense of fluency and confidence that comes with working speedily through concepts that they have practised in previous years, not to mention the reward of mastering a grade level. That said, both you and they might be surprised at how many foundational skills they are less confident in than they thought, just as well you did this then, isn't it?

... Better still, why not join them in a little Maths revision yourself? The Khan Academy App on the iPad is particularly good for this.

There are plenty of other options besides Khan Academy, especially if you don't have a reliable WiFi connection, these can be really useful. One of my favourites is the Ken Ken App, like Sodoku, but with basic operations thrown in. Also, pretty much anything from the developers behind Squeebles is a safe bet—there are many tried and tested Maths Apps, such as these, and these, that you can install on an iOS device near you, I'm sure many if not most of these are also available on Android.



Coding

Check out my coding posts on this blog and you'll see a complete guide of many kinds of apps and sites to fill any vacation... :)

Focus on the Meaning not the Medium

Now I'm not going to pretend that all these ways to use screens to create are going to trump the use of screens to consume, interact and communicate, any more than you have any intention of only using screens in your life for creating. For this reason you may need some incentives are going to have to be in the form of some essential agreements; with a bit of careful negotiation I'm sure you can work out some sort of compromise...

Finally, some wise words from the American Association of Pediatrics (updated October 2015):
"Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects. 
Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer."

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Parental Controls & Internet Filtering


I am regularly contacted by parents for advice about software they can install on the devices their children use at home that will enable them to filter out or block inappropriate content, usually based on the assumption that we must use some sort of monitoring software on campus. Often these parents are surprised to discover that while we do have filters to block the most egregious of content, it is fair to say that our college filters are not as strict as many might expect. We do use a commercial filter on our internet traffic to block inappropriate sites, however, such filters work on the basis of keywords and blacklists and neither of these methods are foolproof. So why do we take the risk?

Our college policy regarding parental controls goes a long way to explaining this:
In general the College has an ethos of developing personal responsibility in students and ultimately we believe that it is essential for students to develop the skills and attitudes necessary to survive and then thrive in a digitally connected world.
The sentiment behind this policy statement is very similar to the description of 'e-safety' as defined by Becta:
The term e-safety covers a broad range of issues around the need to ensure that children's and young people's experience and engagement with technologies is a safe and positive one. While parents, educators, government and industry all have a role to play in keeping children and young people safe, supporting them to become independent in online environments is critical to nationwide, effective e-safety. ‘Independence' does not mean here that they are expected to deal with every incident themselves: it means that they develop social skills (including resilience); that they know how to identify and manage risk; that they understand their rights and responsibilities and know how to access help and advice if needed. 
Becta's Contribution to the Rose Review, 2009  
When we teach our kids how to use the internet, we do so from a position of preparing them for the 'real world' of internet access that most will encounter at home. While there are a minority of families who use some form of filtering software, the reality is that few families have internet filters of any kind on their home connections. This is not a criticism, I have not installed any filtering software at home either. This situation reflects the norm in my experience, a norm that we need to be teaching our students to operate effectively and responsibly within.  For example, you cannot guarantee that even walking down Orchard Road you are not going to see images or overhear a conversation that you feel is inappropriate for your children. So in addition to the filters, arguably, more important than filters is the need to teach our children the skills they need to navigate the internet safely, and how to react appropriately if, or should I say, when something occurs.

This policy very much underpins our approach and throughout the Primary School, where, even from K2 (in K1 teachers use Guided Access), all students are effectively 'administrators' of their devices, this applies all the way through the iPad grades, and then on through from Grade 3-5, all students receive their own laptop in G6, which they are administrators of—all the way through to grade 12. This means that our students are already accustomed to using and managing their laptops as an 'administrator' although they may not even be aware of this, as we treat this as the 'normal' operating state. This is an arrangement we encourage all parents to maintain, unless of course a situation arises where you feel that you need to withdraw the privilege of an admin account, in this (hopefully rare) situation, we encourage parents to ensure that this is a temporary arrangement. We also employ this as a sanction in the primary school, if a student is unable to demonstrate the level of responsibility we expect, we remove administrator access. To my knowledge this remains a threat we have not needed to follow through on... yet.

"Nearly half of 10 year olds say they have the skills to hide what they're doing online from their parents." 
Sky News, Swipe

It's worth noting as a practical point, that the process of imposing parental controls is not a simple one, this is mainly because the process of setting the 'tightness' and 'looseness' of controls is a tricky balance to find. If your main concern is distraction rather than access to inappropriate content, there are a range of strategies we encourage at school that you can also model at home, and encourage your children to practise as well. The other critical consideration is that if you are not very careful, you could end up effectively creating an unhelpful dynamic where you effectively teach your child that they are not trusted, at which point you may well be encouraging them to find ways to subvert your attempts at policing their online activity, then when they do encounter problems they are unlikely to come to you for help as they will have to confess their nefarious scheme... For more see this short video on the 'the secret cyber life of young people'...




Road Safe, Web Safe

This is where the analogy of road safety that we use with students comes in. Roads in every country are commonplace, and at some point everyone of our children will need to learn how to navigate them safely and independently. The same can be said of the 'wild wild web'; like roads they are a modern and essential reality, and while they can be dangerous, they shouldn't be treated is if they are inherently dangerous places—although they can be very dangerous places. The solution to both is very similar: education and supervision. Like roads, we expect kids to be able to navigate the web from an early age, but never alone; although any wise parent should be modelling for their kids how they navigate the web, when they are using it together. Just like road safety, there are some basic rules we expect all young children to follow, to make these effective we've kept them simple:

  1. Only search the internet with a responsible adult present.
  2. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, show the responsible adult.
  3. If you need to search online unsupervised, use a search engine designed for kids like Kiddle or Kidrex.

About point 3, we liken these 'child safe' search engines to playgrounds, spaces that are designed especially for children, this doesn't make them harmless, after all, kids in playgrounds can still get hurt, but it does make the likelihood of this less likely. In the same way we liken searching using Google as tantamount to walking down Orchard Road, not an inherently dangerous space per se, especially in Singapore; but clearly the possibility of encountering something or someone inappropriate is more likely. As children we did not grow up with the dangers of the internet, but we did grow up with dangers, and our parents, in my experience were quite comfortable with allowing us some controlled exposure to risk situations, precisely so we could learn from them. I fell out of several trees, and off several bicycles during my childhood, not to mention the stairs I fell down. Stairs, now those are really dangerous, but I doubt anyone is seriously considering preventing children from using those... So we're not looking to create a zero risk environment for our students, but a managed risk environment, this distinction is essential. This last point is one I've written about before, but a recent article from the Washington Post, entitled, 'Why I don't monitor my kids' texts anymore' does an excellent job of articulating this tension, along with some practical parenting advice.

"As a young and socially inexperienced person, I was sometimes mean, sometimes gross, and sometimes way out of line. Every kid tests his or her own boundaries. That’s how they start to grow up. The queasiness in my stomach or the ache in my heart when I crossed that line is what helped me learn from those mistakes. 
When we hover over our kids’ social interactions, on high alert to catch each mistake and steer them back on course, we squelch their internal barometer for embarrassment and guilt. Had my mom listened to all my conversations and called my behavior out into the light, I might not have learned to read my moral compass."

This does beg the question, "at what age is it okay for my child to browse the internet unsupervised?', and the answer is very similar to "at what age is it okay for my child to cross the road unsupervised?", which is, when you have taught them how to navigate it safely, and what to do if things go wrong. In my experience this is unlikely to be until grade 4 or 5, which is, incidentally, when students are allowed to make their own way home (with parental permission, of course).

Not all families or children are the same, and the home environment is not one that is necessarily conducive to ensuring that young children are never able to go online unsupervised. Given that our policy is to teach responsibility, we'd like to think that even if unsupervised, our students would still make the 'right choice' and either stay offline (working within an app for example) or use one of the child safe search engines that they are encouraged to use in school.  However there are clearly scenarios where this is not a realistic option, in which case you may want to consider some digital tools that can assist with this, but bear in mind these are unlikely to be free if they're any good, for example a one year family subscription to Azoomee costs £40, " No ads, no in-app purchases. And a PIN lock to keep kids inside the app and take away the worries."

The Gryphon Router is a new product (as of Jan 2017) on the market which appears to be pretty much a one stop solution that offers you complete control, but with a simple set up. All security is built into the actual router so there is nothing to install on each device, anything that connects to your network would be controlled by that system. Gryphon comes with an app for real time management of any connected devices. It's designed with a US market in mind, maybe worth a look... ?

This article contains some very practical advice, over and above the 'unplug the router' (one I have to say I like, simple but effective!) strategy, along with some wise caveats,
"While we can certainly recommend a bunch of apps and devices for you, this is more about your approach than the tools you’re going to use. Kids generally don’t like being spied on and dislike being spied on without their knowledge even more. While a number of monitoring tools can run without children knowing about them, we strongly recommend being transparent with your kids about when and how you’re tracking them. 
You know your kids better than we do, and we can’t prescribe the right approach for every type of child, but whatever your situation it pays to be open and honest about the dangers out there on the web and in the real world."  David Nield

Friday, 23 September 2016

Protection, Paranoia & Parenting



Some articles I read years ago, and this one from Common Sense Media more recently have a habit of continually popping back into my head, every time the inevitable web scare rears its ugly head.

There is a paranoia associated with the web which can easily be exaggerated, for example parents who are profoundly uncomfortable at the thought of a photo of their child being viewable online, even if the image is buried in a website with an extremely obscure URL, a proverbial needle in a digital haystack. Yet this same parent will almost certainly allow their child to walk down Orchard Rd, Fifth Avenue, Oxford Street, knowing that they can be seen (perhaps even photographed unawares) by the general public? Not to mention the ever increasing presence of CCTV cameras watching our every move. Could this same parent be in the habit (as I am) of regularly posting images of their children on social media? ... The fact is that without an associated name and detailed localising data, such as an address, it is almost impossible to track down one child based on the image of their face alone (in the extremely unlikely event that someone wanted to).

So, like the concrete jungles of our cities and towns, the Wild Weird Wonderful Web is an amazing place, but it is a metaphorical jungle, and, as it happens, the wild wild web has a great deal in common with a jungle as it happens—not too many leaves—but many wonderful opportunities and yes, many dangers, dangers, that with a few basic precautions, can be avoided.

The first Article makes a few controversial but critical points, which could be broadly summarised as:

Less monitoring more mentoring

The expectation of constantly monitoring children and teenagers on the Internet is an impossible ideal. Who has time to stand over the shoulder of your kids for the entire time they are online? Children’s freedom to roam in the physical world has been radically curtailed. While previous generations could ride bikes or walk to school or play outside unsupervised till dinner time, this generation is watched all the time. They have lost that thrill of being on their own until they are much older, and, for them, the Internet can provide that open space, to test and explore and try out the outside world—while being a lot less painful than ... say ... falling out of a tree, a risk that was commonplace in my childhood. In fact a shiver runs down my spine when I consider some of the risks I routinely took as child, with n'ere a parent, or even an adult in sight or sound. There is educational value in this kind of risk, this exploration even if it is online, perhaps even because it is: a lot of the work kids do is apprehending the social world, and for them, much of this work is done online.



Less restrictions more responsibility 

The important thing is to give kids the ability to handle choices, assess risks, and take strategic, or calculated risks. You want, in other words, to create the kid who can handle the Internet without you. And how can they become that kid if you are watching them all the time, if you are always hovering right there next to them? You don't just throw a 5-year-old out on the streets and tell them to figure it all out. The same is true online. But, accordingly, you can't expect to put them under surveillance and control every action they make until they're 18 and then magically assume they'll be fine at university, and the world 'beyond school' (I dislike the use of 'real world' to describe life outside school—school life is real life too!) when they haven't had any experience managing their own decisions.

Pain is a powerful teacher

Pain is a powerful teacher, sure, it's not kind, but it certainly is effective. Parents need to face up to the idea that they cannot protect their children from every potential negative experience, online, or offline, this is an impossible fantasy; there is no way to seal your children off from awful or painful or frightening things. This is nothing new, think back to your own childhood, bad things happened, you got over it, hopefully you learned something from it.



A caveat...


With great power comes great responsibility, not anonymity

A huge part of responsibility means ceasing the dubious practice by many, well meaning, but poorly informed parents, of allowing their kids to create social networking accounts in anonymity, based on the ludicrous notion that this somehow protects their child. STOP! All this does is remove all responsibility, and in far too many cases actively encourages irresponsibility, as far too many children wreak havoc online from behind the veneer of a name like Puff the magic Dragon, with an Avatar of an aardvark or ... a pineapple ... or, you get the idea... Like no paedophile has ever thought of doing that? It is important to note here that online predators are far less likely to be paedophiles, and far more likely to be your child's own 'friends' and acquaintances. All you've done is encourage a situation where your anonymous child is forced to socialise with other anonymous people online, strangers, because they are similarly anonymous, oh, but they SAY they are your child's best friend ... . If you're going to let your kid 'play outside'; make sure they are playing as themselves, no disguises, no anonymity, their name, their face, and they should make sure to only socialise with people who do likewise.

The point, is not to create a safe world, but a safer world. 



Tim Elmore wrote an article more recently on this subject,  Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them - a great article, and again, if you will permit me, it can be summed up similarly and thus:

Over-protection is damaging our children—

We Risk Too Little

“If you’re over 30, you probably walked to school, played on the monkey bars, and learned to high-dive at the public pool. If you’re younger, it’s unlikely you did any of these things. Yet, has the world become that much more dangerous? Statistically, no. But our society has created pervasive fears about letting kids be independent—and the consequences for our kids are serious.” (Gever Tully)

The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it is normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. Pain is actually a necessary teacher. Over-protecting our young people has had an adverse effect on them, we are failing miserably at preparing them for a world that will not be risk-free.

We Rescue Too Quickly

This generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did thirty years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. We remove the need for them to navigate hardships. This may sound harsh, but rescuing and over-indulging our children is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse. It’s “parenting for the short-term” and it sorely misses the point of leadership [parenting]—to equip our young people to do it without help. Just like muscles atrophy inside of a cast due to disuse, their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles can shrink because they’re not exercised.

We Rave too Easily

Praise effort and persistence, not ability. Carol Dweck (Mindset) tells us that our affirmation of kids must target factors in their control. When we say “you must have worked hard,” we are praising effort, which they have full control over. It tends to elicit more effort. When we praise ability 'you're smart/clever/awesome!', it may provide a little confidence at first but ultimately causes a child to work less. They say to themselves, “If it doesn’t come easy, I don’t want to do it.”

A helpful metaphor when considering this challenge is inoculation. Inoculation injects a vaccine, which actually exposes you to a dose of the very disease your body must learn to overcome. It’s a good thing. Only then do we develop an immunity to it. Similarly, our kids must be inoculated with doses of hardship, delay, challenges and inconvenience to build the strength to stand in them.

So let them fail, let them fall, and let them fight for what they really value. If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. We must prepare them for the world that awaits them. Our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.


Monday, 19 September 2016

Maths, Automaticity & iOS Devices...


Using iOS devices such as iPads for 'skill+drill' is something we generally discourage in school, where we would rather these technologies are used for creating and collaborating, along with the many other skills that are described in the UWCSEA profile.

You see, skill+drill Apps don't need a teacher, what they do need is a device, time, and perseverance; so what this is, is an excellent productive activity children can easily engage in at home. This kind of practise builds the kind of 'automaticity' (instant recall without hesitation) that is fundamental to confidence in numeracy. Knowing mathematics facts frees up the mind to solve more complex math problems.  If a child has to struggle to solve 8 + 3, they have no mental energy (or desire) left to grapple with the types of problems that will increase their capacity as a mathematician.

In my experience spanning over twenty years, I find that teachers commonly (and traditionally) facilitate this through a relentless torrent of photocopied worksheets, something I myself have relied on over the years. However since the advent of the integration of digital technologies, I really struggle to understand how having kids complete a photocopied Maths worksheet can ever be seen as better than the kinds of differentiated, adaptive, multimodal practise offered by Maths apps, and Maths sites like Khan Academy. If teachers ceased to set these tedious sheet as homework, they could free up the time to plan better lessons, no need to 'mark', instead use the time to analyse the data—where are they struggling? Where are the gaps? Where should they go next? What group of kids do you need to conference with tomorrow?

Automaticity is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practise.
(Wikipedia)


So while I generally discourage skill+drill in school, I can see its value at home. Below I have included the collection of Maths Apps we use (sometimes) at school that I believe are particularly powerful for this kind of learning, learning through practise. 

This is a small selection, no doubt a Google search would turn up many more, although I doubt they will be very different to these.





Top Tip: Ask your child to take a screenshot of their score after first attempt, then compare their progress after a week or so.


Disclaimer

These kinds of Apps are basically teaching mathematics in old ways using new technology, albeit amplified

Chocolate covered broccoli...
These Apps are essentially worksheets on steroids, so while your kids may be more engaged in the short term, don't expect this to last. These tools are essentially 'chocolate-covered broccoli'. That’s what designers of educational games call digital products that drape dull academic instruction in the superficially appealing disguise of a game, using the trappings of games “as a sugar coating” for what would otherwise be unappetising content—in short don't treat these games as a replacement for 'proper' games like Minecraft, but by all means treat them as replacements for worksheets.

What these Apps do offer that worksheets don't are features like, interactivity, capacity, range, speed and automatic, accurate, reliable responses at the speed of light.  These unique features make a contribution to the teaching and learning process, in that they motivate and interest children by interaction, allowing them to change the work in progress and facilitate a variety of paces of working.

We sometimes think of being good at mathematics as an innate ability. You either have "it" or you don't. But what these Apps can encourage, is what we call a 'growth mindset' it's not about ability it's about attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try.  Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for 30 minutes to make sense of something that some people would give up on after 30 seconds.


Drill & Practise

"Of particular interest is the effect of drill and practise – and despite the moans by many adults, students need much drill and practise. However, it does not need to be dull and boring, but can be, and indeed should be, engaging and informative. Drill is a euphemism for practise: repeated learning of the material until it is mastered – this is the key ingredient in mastery learning, [...] and of deliberative practice. It does not have to be deadly, and a key skill for many teachers is to make deliberative practise engaging and worthwhile. Luik (2007) classified 145 attributes of drills using computers into six categories: motivating the learner, learner control, presentation of information, characteristics of questions, characteristics of replying, and feedback. The key attributes that led to the highest effect included learner control, not losing sight of the learning goal, and the immediate announcement of correctness or otherwise of the answer to the drill." (Hattie, 2013)

Many computer games are basically invested with high levels of drill and practise and many students can be thrilled and motivated to engage in these often repetitive tasks to attain higher levels of skill and thus make more progress through the game. Computer games include much engaging drill and practice with increasing levels of challenge that usually is mastered by overlearning or undertaking high degrees of drill and practice. So often, the evidence has shown positive effects from using computers to engage in deliberative practice, particularly for those students struggling to first learn the concept." (p 224)

Hattie J (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Organise Email Better


I think it's fair to say, that despite the proliferation of digital tools in the past decade or three since this whole digital and information revolution started, other than the web browser, the humble email remains resolute, and love it or loathe it, remains absolutely essential. I've written before about the mistaken hype around change in tech, but I'll say it again; change is not as fast in tech as people often assert, a fact that can be underscored by the persistence of email. So if you've been waiting for this form of electronic communication to become obsolete, I'm afraid you'll be waiting a long time—it's not going anywhere soon, so you'd better develop some effective strategies for managing it effectively.

Now before you complain about your overloaded inbox, that's not the fault of email, that's the fact of living and working in a large, busy, complex organisation—I still remember the days before email, when we used 'pigeon holes' in staff rooms, and there were plenty of those that were stuffed to overflowing then as well. I'd venture so far as to say, it's a safe bet, those people who struggled to manage then, will struggle with email now—fortunately email has a few features to help that pigeon holes didn't/don't.



Number 1. DELETE NOTHING (unless it's abusive). There is plenty of space in your GMail inbox, so chillax, let that email slumber sweetly within your nice and comfy inbox. It's OK. You have better things to do with your time.

Number 2. Read them all, even if it's but a glance, it only takes a click, just open one at the start (or end), and keep clicking through until you get to the end (or the beginning). You might even find this easier to do on your phone/tablet than in your browser...

Number 3: Instead of leaving messages unread, STAR (or Flag in Mail) emails you have read, but need to follow up on, then unstar (Is that a word? It is now) them when you're finished. Just click on the star icon. If you find yourself loving this option as much as I do, you might be interested in taking it further with different kinds of stars, to indicate the kind of email it is—urgent? useful info? question? See this post if you'd like to know more...

Number 4: Use the Starred option in the menu to easily view just the Emails you need to deal with.



Number 5: Don't waste time making/organising labels/folders, just rely on search, after all this is GMail and that is what Google do best. Putting to:name and from:name are really handy search tips, but if an email is proving really hard to locate just pop open the extra search options and you'll find it in no time—works searching Google Drive too!



Number 6: Try a tabbed inbox, all emails to groups (not directly to you) go to a separate tab, and emails to social platforms like Google groups get routed to a separate tab.



Number 7: Block Spam, not interested in those emails? Well stop them from continually clogging up your inbox by either unsubscribing (usually a link hidden at the bottom of the email) or hit the 'Report Spam' button, that tells GMail to delete and to delete any others coming from that sender.




Number 8: Last but not least, try Boomerang—what? Boomerang is a useful tool with a strange name that informs you if an email you sent has not been replied to after a certain period of time that you designate. It also allows you to time when emails you send are actually delivered.



Monday, 6 June 2016

Google Drive, Google Photos & Pixels

Picasa is dead


... well it's dying... The good news is that Google are replacing it with a new tool, that's better, called Google Photos. The new tool as several advantages over Picasa, with the exception of the fact that for some reason Google have removed the ability to embed albums, which, let's face it, very few people need to do, the switch to Google Photos is a big win. 

Let me count the ways:

  1. Unlimited storage (for GApps domains)
  2. Let me say that again,  UNLIMITED storage - wow.
  3. Vastly improved user interface
  4. Support across all devices, mobile, laptop, desktop...
  5. iPad friendly albums, Picasa albums could not be viewed, those days are gone.
  6. Searchable photos, even without your naming them, Google can recognise the content in your photos, eg if you search for 'dog'. 
  7. Media backup, using the desktop uploader you can now upload all (or as much as you want) of your media to Google Photos, and remove it from your hard drive to save space.


Don't Panic!

Google reassure us that, 

"If you have photos or videos in a Picasa Web Album today, the easiest way to still access, modify and share most of that content is to log in to Google Photos, and all your photos and videos will already be there. Using Google Photos, you can continue to upload and organize your memories, as well as enjoy other great benefits like better ways to search and share your images. 

However, for those of you who don’t want to use Google Photos or who still want to be able to view specific content, such as tags, captions or comments, we will be creating a new place for you to access your Picasa Web Albums data. That way, you will still be able to view, download, or delete your Picasa Web Albums, you just won’t be able to create, organize or edit albums (you would now do this in Google Photos)."

Google Photo Albums

You can easily find Google Photos, by using that link, or you can also find it by clicking on the app grid in GMail, then scroll down:



What about Google+ Photos?

This replaces that as well, which is also better in many ways as it's specifically devoted to photo and video sharing, with no intrinsic ties to the Google+ social network.

In fact if you try to access Google+ photos you will automatically be redirected to the new Google Photos, don't panic, all of the media you uploaded to Google+ will be available within Google Photos. If you want you can still use Google+, you can even still use the relatively geriatric Picasa but not for much longer, although it is not very mobile device friendly, and does not allow parents to download videos... So I wouldn't if I were you.