A+ Advice for Parents

Show Eighth-Grader How to Be Productive Online

Q: My eighth-grader spends too much time on Facebook. She's obsessive about checking it 24/7 this summer. Taking the computer and phone away aren't practical solutions. How can we make her time online less wasteful?

A: As teens constantly monitor their Facebook status updates, spend hours playing games and watch a steady diet of charmingly silly videos, it sucks precious time from their lives and dampens their creativity.

"I understand this mom's concern. And she's right; removing the technology won't solve the problem," says Betsy Corcoran, editor of EdSurge, a lively newsletter about the intersection of education and technology.

Corcoran, a mother of two teens, believes that parents have a responsibility to help kids find tech tools that encourage them to be active learners rather than passive sponges just soaking up others' Facebook updates.

"Content for teens can be mind-numbing," she says. "Or it can offer compelling opportunities to build things, write computer games, learn a language, start blogs, tour the world or test-drive a career online.

"The trick is to coach your daughter to use these tools to become a producer, not just a consumer. This is a fundamental shift, and one that is important for digital natives to learn."

What software programs and tools can change kids from consumers to creators? Corcoran likes the following:

If your daughter enjoys writing, check out Penzu (penzu.com), an online diary site. Teen Voices (teenvoices.com) links to other writing sites. Pathbrite.com helps her create a digital scrapbook that can include photos and videos.

She may not be ready to start her own video blog, but what about creating a fun stop-motion video using a site called iCreate to Educate (icreatetoeducate.com)? For instance, she could make a stop-motion video to entertain kids she baby-sits!

Is your daughter passionate about a topic? Learnist (learni.st) is a "Pinterest for learning things," says Corcoran. It allows users to explore topics by pulling related blog posts, music, videos, images and podcasts from the Web. She can learn from others -- or teach by compiling her own collection of "learnings" and sharing it.

Does she want to learn a language? Try Mango Languages (www.mangolanguages.com), Livemocha (livemocha.com) and Voxy (voxy.com).

SciGirls is a cool, science-oriented site where girls can hang out (pbskids.org/scigirls). Rocket21 (rocket21.com) is a safe site where students can learn about careers, take video field trips and work with mentors in careers that interest them.

Gamestar Mechanic (gamestarmechanic.com) and Scratch (scratch.mit.edu) allow kids to build their own computer games. Code Hero teaches programming skills (primerlabs.com/codehero).

Make Beliefs Comix (makebeliefscomix.com) offers drawn characters, dialogue boxes and flexible editing options.

Corcoran likes educator Richard Bryne's site, freetech4teachers.com, which has resources that encourage kids to create media and not just consume it.

"My boys and I talk a lot about what they're doing online," she says. "I'd rather not put a clock on them, but they know that after a half hour of playing games, I may walk in and say, 'How about making your own game to challenge your friends?' And then we're off to Gamestar Mechanic or Code Hero."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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