Uh-oh -- the SXSW proposal I rashly cooked up last summer has been accepted, and now I have to do something about it.
Fellow geek parent Chris Hyams and I were musing about our early programming experiences and wondering how best to give a similar opportunity to our computer-mad daughters. We're not alone in the impression that experiencing computers solely through GUI applications results in a more limited relationship with technology than if one also has the experience of writing code in a procedural language, and furthermore that today's immersive computing environments give kids less opportunity to make the step up from user to programmer than the more constrained computing environments we started out with. Call it In the Beginning was the Command Line meets Why Johnny Can't Code. Or, carrying a deck of punch cards barefoot through the snow builds character.
One thing led to another and we submitted the following proposal to SXSW:
Pimp My Legos: Teaching Kids to Program
Children famously pick up consumer technology faster than grownups, but what about real programming? Geek parents and educators discuss and demo the best platforms for fostering skillz in kidz, from LOGO turtle programming to Lego Mindstorms, from BASIC to HTML, Flash, Perl and Ruby.
It's four busy months later and we find ourselves having to put our PowerPoints where our mouths are. In addition to the experiments we are planning on our own captive guinea pigs, we're looking for two or three co-panelists in the Austin area with extensive experience teaching programming to (say) 16-and-under kids. Despite the reference to Legos in the title, we want the focus of the panel to be about software, not just killer robots (although we certainly hope to have a Mindstorms person on board). We have some sources of panelists in mind, but we hope word of mouth will provide us with more. Suggestions?
P.S.: Despite the complaint in the Salon piece that it's hard to find a BASIC interpreter these days, it looks like Chipmunk BASIC will do the trick for MacOS. Now if I can just dig up my old stash of Creative Computings, we'll have a rousing session of Hunt the Wumpus...
Update: Alas, other obligations have interfered and I've had to withdraw the panel proposal. It's possible that Chris may pull it out of the fire, but at this point it looks like it's canceled. The idea seemed to go over well -- if you're looking for a good topic idea for 2008, feel free to steal this one!
It sounded like such a great thing: an outfit called FamiliesRock.org had organized a family show by Guy Forsyth at Antone's at the kid-friendly hour of 5:30 PM.
So we get there and families with kids are lined up around the block. The doors open and we pay our $5/kid admission (parents are free!) and get free glowsticks and other fun paraphenalia. Guy Forsyth's band is doing a sound check and we think this is going to be very cool.
Then it suddenly turns uncool. Guy and band leave the stage and the organizers introduce a video which they say will teach first-timers how to rock (with a flash of devil hand signs every time they use the word "rock"). The video consists of badly projected 80's stadium concert footage at ear-shredding volume. For an hour. An hour of making toddlers' eardrums bleed! While some of Austin's most talented musicians are cooling their heels backstage!
The families I was with, parents and kids alike, were bored, in physical discomfort, and ticked off. I think as painful as the noise was the insulting idea that anybody would need to be taught how to listen to rock & roll. After 40 minutes or so a bunch of us started chanting "We want Guy!" but of course we couldn't be heard over the Guns 'n' Roses.
Folks, if you want to organize a kid-friendly show, please do it (a) on time, (b) at a pediatrician-approved volume, and (c) with the focus on live music, not some Wayne's World notion of (devil horns again) rock.
P.S. When Guy Forsyth finally took the stage, he was too loud too. Don't people understand that tinnitus doesn't rock? Good hearing rocks. Tinnitus just sucks.
P.P.S. I'm unlikely to try another official Families Rock show again, but their online guide to the kid-friendliness of upcoming shows in Austin does look like a useful resource.
My sister, whose mom-rocker band Frump split up a few months back, revived it for one gig: a commercial for Genie garage door openers.
Can you see what is wrong with this picture?
Either the children in Mrs. Lamb's class are intergendered or somebody writing third-grade math texts flunked Venn diagrams.
This came home with my daughter's schoolwork yesterday. I'm not sure what to do. Do I show her why it's wrong? Do I take it up with her teacher? Or do I let it go by and hope that they haven't permanently warped her understanding of set theory?
In Uma's class at school are four girls with similar names: Umα, Oonα, Emmα and Evα. It hasn't been a problem until today.
This morning I got a call saying to come get Uma from the nurse's office where she was being quarantined for head lice. Imagine my surprise and relief when I got to school and it was not Umα but poor Oonα sitting in the nurse's office scratching her head!
The nurse was very apologetic. Their kindergarten teacher said that they should make sure to put Umα and Οοnα in different classes next year...
I may have failed in my effort to raise my daughters to be multilingual from toddlerhood, but six-year-old Uma is showing the makings of a language nerd anyway.
For Christmas she asked for a Spanish-English picture dictionary and on a recent trip to the UT library she said she wanted books on hieroglyphics. I found some from the youth section, including the fascinating How Djadja-Em-Ankh Saved the Day: A Tale from Ancient Egypt, printed on pages connected end-to-end like papyrus. But her favorites were the grown-up books, preferably the ones with as little English as possible. Then on the way out of the library she spotted a Japanese political science text (I think) without so much as a title page in English.
Back at home she set to work copying out hieroglyphics in pencil.
I need to get that girl a language tutor. Anybody know any Ancient Egyption speakers in Austin?
I just ran across this documentation by Malini of a head lice outbreak at her preschool a few years back, circa age 5. Annotations provided by a teacher.
Malini and Uma have a visitor: Vilse the weasel is on a trip around the world and has stopped in Austin. So far Vilse has been to some of the places that keep Austin weird -- Toy Joy, Conan's, Vulcan, Waterloo and the Drag. If the weather's nice maybe Vilse will do some outdoor sightseeing this weekend.
Would you be interested in hosting Vilse? There's a waiting list at Weasel Trek, but I could put in a good word for a regular reader here who makes her a nice offer. She's itching for some international travel so the further afield the better.
(Jez? Mermaid? Neuza?)
You don't need a blog, just a commitment to send photos to Weasel Trek and pass Vilse along after her visit with you is over.
A few weeks ago Malini spontaneously produced this paper Kali puppet.
Today is the last day of its present run, but the next time Circus Chimera is in town, borrow some kids and go.
It's a small Mexican circus troupe, apparently transplanted to Oklahoma if their big-rig registrations mean anything. Don't expect Cirque du Soleil (no high-art art directors) or Barnum and Bailey (no ethically troublesome large animals). The midway is just a gesture at the tradition. It's a great time anyway. My favorites were the mysterious miniature elephant and most amazing use of a leaf blower and a roll of toilet paper. The girls' were the Bending Ballerina and the acrobats. Oh, and the death-defying Titanic.
A bicyclist ran over Malini as we were walking to school on the Shoal Creek hike and bike trail this morning. He came up behind us too fast, didn't alert us that he was coming, and assumed he knew which way we would dodge when we finally heard him. He guessed wrong and ran right into my daughter.
We're very lucky that she suffered only scrapes, bruises and a lot of tears. I'm trying not to imagine the worse injuries that a nine-year-old could receive being squashed on the pavement by two hundred pounds of bicycle and rider. Malini was terrified, of course, as were little sister Uma and I. When it was all over, Uma told me, "That made me want to say bad words!" Me, too, sweetie.
We walked Malini on to school where the nurse cleaned her up and gave her an ice pack. Thank heaven for school nurses. On top of everything else poor Malini was worried about being tardy!
As I was telling the story at Pacha afterward, another customer came over to introduce himself and suggested that I write a letter to the editor. I did, in the hope that maybe one knuckleheaded cyclist will read it and think, or maybe one non-knuckleheaded cyclist will talk to a knuckleheaded friend. Here's part of what I said: Please remind people that walkers have the right of way on the hike and bike trails, followed by runners, followed by cyclists. It's always the cyclist's responsibility to pass pedestrians slowly enough to avoid an accident. Yes, out of courtesy and self-defense it's nice for pedestrians to move right when a bike is coming, but we can't even do that if cyclists don't give us any warning.
After running my daughter down, the guy had the gall to shout at me, "Teach your kids how to walk on the trail!" If only his daddy had taught him how to ride. May his tires forever be flat.
Uma read me a book last week! A whole book!
Not one of Tomie de Paola's best, but not bad. Of course she had to ask me about a lot of words but there were more that she read entirely on her own, without hesitation. For years now she's been frustrated that her sister could read and she couldn't, and I've told her that one day the light bulb would go off over her head (ding!) and she'd be reading. Well, I think it just did.
Aside from Tomie de Paola, she retains her taste for the gothic in children's literature. She begs for Goosebumps books but I refuse to read them to her when there's better stuff around. We settled on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and a couple of edgier ones she brought home from the library. She's got to be the only kindergartener in the world who asks for Transylvanian ghost and vampire stories complete with a jacket blurb from Andrei Codrescu.
Big sister's tastes are pretty gruesome, too, but in a different vein. She's just finished reading a book about Phineas Gage, the guy who got an iron rod blown through his skull and lived to tell the tale.
"Uma I love you but sometimes you get in the way."
I found this buried on my desk.
Judging by the spelling it must be a couple of years old.
Labels from Uma's preschool sippy cup days.
Before Uma could drink from a regular cup, part of my weekday routine was to label a spill-proof cup of milk with her name every morning. Over time it evolved into what you see here. Animals, food, princesses and sisterly love were common themes, but I'm especially fond of the ones which commemorated what was blooming in the garden at the time and other events of the day. If you like Where's Waldo games, try finding a burnt dinner, Uma jumping between her bed and her sister's, our pea-brained cat, a sore throat, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a clock that's running late, Darwinian evolution, a violin case full of money, and the infamous skunk invasion.
Thanks to her mom and nanny for saving these.