The Downsides of Cyberschooling Geeklings

We will make a dress

Image by Brave Heart via Flickr

Yes, of course, everything normally goes picture perfect in Topsy-Techieland.  Our bandwidth speeds remain constant, our ideas come to us in Hi-Def, and little birds and mice dress us and feed us.

But once in a long while there is a cog in the wheel that doesn’t quite get oiled, and all Vista breaks loose.

(Need to tread lightly here, because I might need a certain geekling to guest post for me this week, and I really can’t afford to tick him off at the moment)

Anyhoo – – the unoiled cog can sometimes come in the form of a young man, who shall remain unnamed, who happens to download many, many programs and games into his computer each week.  It is possible – – I suppose – –  that the normal, average, 14-year-old checks thoroughly and completely the authenticity and safety of each and every program downloaded into their computer.  But I darn well doubt it.  So why should I be surprised that, at least in one respect, my 14-year-old is perfectly average??

Cut to … yesterday.

At the hour of his daily online classroom conference, the unnamed young man finds himself completely unable to type anything, navigate the web, or even cut off the computer because it is so dang ill.  Viruses have taken it over and are holding it for a ransom sum that not many 14-yr-olds have access to these days.

Even though I haven’t been in public school for a while, I would imagine that it is something akin to finding out that your school has suddenly burned down.  There is a sense of elation, at first, because you know you will miss tomorrow’s science test.  But when the truth sinks in you realize that your school was actually a pretty cool place, and you are downright bummed that it is gone. Add to this the realization that your school also happens to be your video arcade, your social hall, and your connection to the outside world, and you become more than a little bummed – – you are seriously pissed off.

Add to this frustration a mom who lays on guilt with “I told you that downloading that crap was going to kill your computer one day” and you’ve got an actual teenage meltdown on your hands. 

So, last night, instead of the 3,459 things I really needed to accomplish, I spent the night reformatting a certain young man’s computer.  Much was lost in the fray – – some key documents and programs that meant a lot to him.  But much was gained as well.  I truly believe that this geekling will be a LOT more careful about what and where he downloads from in the future.

I’d share more, but the little birds are getting impatient for me to let them dust the computer screen.  Ah, the life of a Topsy-Techie homeschooler….

Remember, every comment on Topsy-Techie this month gets you an automatic entry into the HP Printer giveaway!!


Video Game School – – the wave of the future??

One school in New York City is on its way toward a revolution.  This experiment in education is called “Quest for Learning”, and the idea behind is is using gaming literacy to teach to today’s video game generation.  If everything goes according to schedule, the 6th-12th grade school will open in Fall 2009.

There is a lot in the description of what is involved in gaming literacy, that I can’t comprehend, even after a second or third read of the overview.  But the gist seems to be that kids work collaboratively to solve problems, brainstorm solutions, and think out of the box to create innovative ideas (much like those who work on today’s most popular video games).

This idea has already been fueling video game creation camps at different university campuses for several summers now.  More and more preteens and teens are heading to these technological camps instead of heading out to the great outdoors to learn how to pitch tents and sing campfire songs.  I guess it only makes sense that the camps would give way to an entire school built around the premise of gaming design. 

(I just can’t tell you how many memories the PacMan song on that video brought back!!!)

And in an era where school life and real life (and all its technological advances) probably seem more polarized than ever, it might be that video game schools are one way to keep a percentage of students engaged in their education.  More and more kids are feeling the uselessness of pencil pushing to learn names, dates, and facts when they already have picked up (on their own) several foreign languages (HTML, Java, CSS), shorthand (texting), and advanced math skills (I’ve seen the math my son uses to program a simple Flash game, and it ain’t 2+2!).  Knowledge is at the fingertips, literally, of those kids who use the computer for hours each day, and can instantly download information in a few seconds flat.

So the vocational schools of yesterday may soon give way to a new generation of vocational learning – – learning of the techie kind.  If you want to find out more about the Quest for Learning initiative, check out their web site.

So what do you think?  Is this going too far with technology?  Would you allow your kids to attend a school like this one?

Anyone have a clock that runs on nanoseconds??

We have a situation.  I think I mentioned that Spore has arrived at our house.  Actually, the boys had preordered it, so spore they got it the day it came out.  I was expecting that it would captivate the boys attention for a while.  What I hadn’t expected, was that we would have to schedule our days down to the millisecond because of it. 

The issue with Spore is that it is a computer hog of a game, that requires lots of processing power and a mighty hefty graphics card.  Unfortunately, only Uber’s computer is in possession of these handy dandy features, so the boys are having to share and share alike.  They haven’t really had to test out this concept of sharing very often in their lives, because like most spoiled American children, if they wanted the same thing, we usually bought them one each.

The only other thing they have had to divvy up recently is their Wii, and most of the time they just play it together.  Not so with Spore.  This is a one-player game.  And there hasn’t been so much controversy in the Techie household since 2000 when we only had one Hot Wheels motorized Jeep, and two boys who thought they should always be the one in the driver’s seat.  My husband and I had to be in the backyard with the boys at all times, or someone would inevitably be thrown (pushed) out of the Jeep at full speed. Good times.

So our days begin with me sweetly and quietly waking the boys up with their usual “Good morning/Rise and Shine” routine only to barely duck out of the way before Ninja 1 and Ninja 2 hoist out of bed, sweep by the ceiling fan, over the dogs, behind the dresser, across the Dance Dance Revolution mat and hit the computer chair simultaneously shouting “I got here first!!” in their best groggy, hoarse, first-peep-of-the-morning gravelly chorus.

Breakfast ends and begins in the same minute.  The rest of the time between breakfast and school is spent figuring/arguing/name-calling/coming to blows over who gets what blocks of time to play Spore during the day.  We usually have a fifteen minute break each hour of our homeschool day, but apparently it takes Spore ten minutes to load each time, so that blows those chances (thank God).  The rest of the day is planned down to the minute.  Everything must be exactly even and exactly fair.  So imagine the chaos that ensues when I dare to call one of them to supper during “their” Spore time.  Or when the computer freezes up and they lose five precious minutes while it reboots.

Incidents such as these set off new discussions/arguments/name-calling/blows until the boys have worked out a new fair arrangement that allows for the catastrophes that interrupt their Spore schedule.  You know, things like: a friend calling, or their grandmother stopping by to say hi, or (God forbid) chores. 

So far, things are working out well.  The boys haven’t needed stitches yet.  The computer doing all the heavy Spore labor hasn’t overheated yet.  And I haven’t lost my sense of humor – – yet.  But if I hear one more discussion about how the dog came in the room and started licking himself in an unspeakable way, and it caused child-X to get distracted and lose 45 seconds of playing time…I just might have a difficult time keeping myself jolly. 

p.s.  I am looking, of course, for a better graphics card for H-T’s computer as you read this…any offers?? 

The "All Science All The Time" Channel

When we dropped our satellite subscription, we lost a few of our fave channels – – no, I don’t mean the Home Shopping Network.  I’ve got all the space bags I need, thank you very much.  But one of the biggest losses were the channels that provided our science fix.  Discovery…The Science Channel…Rural Living (hey you watch a couple dozen cows being born and say you haven’t learned something!)

Anyway, I’ve started to notice these subtle ways that our science-obsessed family has tried to make up for their losses. 

  1. R-T has been giving the boys nightmares with horror stories of all that could go wrong with the Hadron Collider.  He loves to torture them with ideas of black holes and tears in the universe, and then leave them quaking as he goes and grabs a diet coke and goes about his evening.
  2. H-T has changed his home page on his browser to the Discovery Channel.  Poor kid.  He’ll probably need therapy just to overcome the grief of losing something so obviously crucial to his formation as a child.
  3. Spore has landed.  The boys have barely come up for air since the arrival of this multi-million dollar genetic science game.
  4. R-T and I are hooked on Fringe.  We knew it would happen, yet we dared to watch anyway. But this thing is FULL of science jargon and science labs and science geeks – – our peeps!!  How could we not get hooked??
  5. The worst of all?  When he looked terribly bored the other day, I offered Uber a copy of our latest issue of National Geographic.  He took it and then politely handed it back.  “I finished that one.”  What have I done to my children??

I’m thinking of installing a webcam in each room of our house.  Surely our daily activities would justify a new reality science channel?  The All-Science-All-The-Time Channel. 

We are so weird. (But in a really cool way, of course.)



The Countdown

One month???

One measly month????

That’s how much time is left of summer vacation.  Makes this geeky homeschool mom want to cry into her Palm Pilot.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I love homeschooling.  It has allowed me to spend nine years of quality time with my children that non-homeschooling moms probably never even knew they missed.  It has allowed me to learn about bunches of stuff I missed the first time around.  And it has strengthened my belief in child-led learning. 

But who are we kidding here?  As much as I love homeschooling, I REALLY love summer break.  And since my oldest will technically be of “working age” next summer, who knows if this might be the last one my boys and I will share together just “hanging.”  And we’ve done lots of that so far.  We’ve hung out at the pool.  We’ve hung out at the mall.  We’ve hung out at the library, the bookstore, the parks, the ice cream parlor, and the coffee shop.  We’ve hung out pretty much every place in town that doesn’t have a ‘NO LOITERING’ placard overtly visible.

We’ve talked about lots of cool subjects together.  There just isn’t anything better than having philosophical discussions with your tween and teen over sherbet Push-Ups.  Lazy summer days seem to somehow loosen our tongues and create discourses on everything from why people get tattoos to what it will be like in the afterlife.  We’ve been known to even start a conversation in the morning, take it up again after lunch, and run it in the ground before bedtime. 

We’ve also found incredibly creative ways to avoid work.  I had at least seventeen house projects scheduled for this summer, and do you know how many we actually accomplished??  Give yourself a pat on the back if you guessed: ZIPPO! I’ve kept up with the laundry and dishes (mostly), and kept the floors from being overtaken by mutant dust bunnies and the bathroom from being overtaken by mutant mold creatures (mostly), but other than that, this has been “the little house that time forgot.” 

Our summer has been filled with plenty of Topsy-Techiness, as well. Uber has discovered he doesn’t have two left feet at his new favorite game “Step Mania.”  H-T has been the official YouTube tester of every sci-fi-related clip – – and, for the record: Yes, they are ALL working!!  I have had loads of fun with R-T’s new Windows Media Center PC, and have learned how to control the computer remote from the comfort of my king size bed.  You’d be amazed what you can find to watch on the computer when you have no satellite service.  Even R-T has become comfortable with his new ‘puter, and has been blogging away on it. 

All in all, it has been a terrific summer vacation so far. I can’t believe there is only one month left!!

Well, I could try to think positively.  You know, cup-half-full, and all that.  Maybe I could look at it as: “Cool.  We’ve got a WHOLE month of summer vacation left!!!”  Unfortunately, when they were giving out the positive-thinking genes in heaven, I was distracted by the blinking lights on St. Peter’s celestial cell phone. 

Stupid calendar.


Can You Imagine What Scrabble Does To Us??

Hubby and I have discovered a secret passion.  After sixteen years of marriage, it is important to flame the fires that keep things interesting and exciting.  I wanted to take ballroom dancing lessons, but he puts dancing right up there with getting an enema as activities to generally avoid.  I’ve also suggested reading aloud to each other, but at our age, lying in bed at night reading tends to elicit more drool than desire.  Hubby has had some suggestions for spicing things up along the way, as well.  And after my hernias from laughter healed, he gave up on most of them. 

But then one day, just as a chance happenstance, we stumbled across something that caused our breath to quicken and our heart to race in unison.  The object of our simultaneous arousal?  TextTwist – – that torrid computer game of twisted letters and jumbled words. Just the name brings a grin of furtive delight to my face.  Very few things in our married life have brought us the singular satisfaction of watching our high scores go higher as we twist and turn those letters into submission. 

From the first time we discovered the game, we were instantly hooked.  We found ourselves sneaking off into the bedroom at various times in the day just to huddle around the dim glow of the laptop and unscramble to our hearts compcupid content.  I am always the typist in our gaming romps, because my fingers fly at the speed of light.  But that doesn’t at all diminish R-T’s role in the gameplay.  It takes teamwork to call out each of the words intertwined within those mismatched letters.  And after each round we look at one another lovingly and offer words of shared joy or frustration at our successes and failures.  

Who knows why the simple seduction of letter twisting has had such a profound effect on our marriage?  Maybe it is the unexpected look that R-T gets in his eye when he sees that we are both reaching for the laptop at the same time.  Perhaps it is the way I bite my lip when we have almost beaten our high score.  It could even be that tingly feeling we both get when the victory sound effects start playing after a hard-fought win.  Whatever it is, I hope it continues for many years to come.  Oh, sorry everyone.  Gotta go.  (Giggle)  “R-T, stop swinging that mouse.  You are such a tease!”