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  "In Quotes"
"Grown Up Digital is a must read for baby boomers and virtually anyone else born before 1977. As Mr. Tapscott observes, 'The bottom line is this: if you understand the Net Generation, you will understand the future.' And as my son often reminds me, the future is now."

The New York Times, Book Review, Sunday, December 21, 2008
 
   
   
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Bill Gillies - Editor

Online gaming more than just fun


As I discussed two weeks ago, the U.S. ranks 19th in the world when it comes to Internet download speed.  The fastest country is South Korea.  We need to do better. The Obama administration’s applaudable goal is to have broadband in every home, school and workplace.  So last month the Federal Communications Commission raised an interesting point by asking: Just what is “broadband?”

As reported on ArsTechnica.com, the computer gaming industry is not pleased with the response that AT&T filed with the FCC.  It suggested that online games should be relegated to the category of being nice but not essential. “For Americans who today have no terrestrial broadband service at all,” AT&T wrote the Commission, “the pressing concern is not the ability to engage in real-time, two-way gaming, but obtaining meaningful access to the Internet’s resources and to reliable email communications and other basic tools that most of the country has come to expect as a given.”

This did not sit well with the Entertainment Software Association.  Online video games “are no less important to the future of the Internet than email and web browsing were to the past and are today,” a senior ESA representative told the Commission on Wednesday.

They’re used for employee training and in schools, he noted. “Online video games are a meaningful part of our participative culture. They remove geographic barriers, connecting people from across the country and around the world. They teach cooperation, cultivate leadership skills, and empower users to express their creativity.”

Google’s submission took the most sensible approach. “Ultimately what interests us about broadband is not what it is, but what it enables,” the search engine giant wrote to the Commission. Broadband should be defined at speeds “that enable full utilization of broadband services and applications.” The connections should be “sufficiently robust” enough to let users “receive, generate and interact with voice, data, graphics and video, which will enable users to receive the maximum value of broadband.”

Google’s dream definition of broadband? “A high-quality, ‘always on,’ packet switched, technology-neutral, high speed communications transmission platform,” the company suggests. “This platform further should allow users to harness the Internet, access and upload content, and otherwise engage in high-speed two-way connectivity and interactivity.”

17 Comments | Tags: World

Don Tapscott

Obama encourages students to persevere


President Barack Obama stuck to the script almost word-for-word in his address to schoolchildren across the nation earlier today.  Critics of the speech complained last week that Obama would try to indoctrinate schoolchildren with his “socialist ideology.”  Some said they would keep their children home today.

The White House posted the speech text online Monday so that concerned parents could read the text themselves and decide whether the content was suitable for their children. Some parents still insisted that Obama could stray from the text and deliver extemporaneous subversive ideas.

Roger Cooper, an insurance agent who was out shopping with his wife and three school-aged children, told the Wall Street Journal said he hadn’t read Mr. Obama’s speech but had read about it on the Internet. “It’s propaganda,” Mr. Cooper said as he emerged from an Apple Store in Dallas’s Knox-Henderson neighborhood. “I don’t trust the man. He’s been nothing but a deceiver. Why would I want my children exposed to that?”

But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich defended President Obama’s speech to school children, urging “every child” to read the remarks. Gingrich said during an interview this morning on NBC’s “Today Show” that the attacks are without merit.

“President Reagan did it, President George H.W. Bush did it,” he said. “I read the speech yesterday when it was posted and I think the White House was smart to post it.”

“It’s a good speech,” Gingrich added. “I recommend it to everybody if you have any doubts. I would love to have every child in America read it, think about it, and learn that they should stay in school and they should study.”

Former first lady Laura Bush on Monday expressed support for president speaking to the nation’s school children, saying it is “really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States.”

In an interview with CNN, Mrs. Bush, a former school teacher, said, “There’s a place for the president of the United States to talk to school children and encourage school children” to stay in school. And she said parents and others also need to send that message.

“I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them,” the president says in his prepared text. “Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community.

“Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn.”

Real life is not what one sees on television, said Obama. “I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work – that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

“But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.”

12 Comments | Tags: Family, Government, School/College

Bill Gillies - Editor

Controversy surrounds Obama’s speech to students


As a sign of our partisan times, Google News shows more than 5,000 articles have recently appeared concerning the suddenly controversial speech President Barack Obama is giving next Tuesday to students across America.  Many conservative pundits and parents have decried the speech, saying Obama will use the occasion to promote his “socialist agenda.”

The speech text will be posted online at whitehouse.gov the day before the President speaks to students at a Virginia high school.

According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Obama will discuss the importance of education as the new school year begins. “The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents, and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible, so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens,” Duncan said in an Aug. 26 letter to school principals.

But many critics are not persuaded.  As reported today by eSchool News, the head of Florida’s state Republican Party has attacked Obama’s address, saying the president wants to push a “socialist” agenda on children.

Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer issued a press release Sept. 1 headlined, “Greer Condemns Obama’s Attempt to Indoctrinate Students.” Greer told the Associated Press that if the speech is simply a feel-good message about the importance of education, he doesn’t object to that. But he said he doesn’t trust Obama to stick to those points and said the president should not address children unless parents can review the speech ahead of time.

In Greer’s press release, he says, “As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology” and “I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.”

As noted in the New York Times, previous presidents have visited public schools to speak directly to students, although few of those events have been broadcast live. Mr. Obama’s address at noon EDT, will be streamed live on the White House Web site.

The first President George Bush, a Republican, made a similar nationally broadcast speech from a Washington high school in 1991, urging students to study hard, avoid drugs and to ignore peers “who think it’s not cool to be smart.” Democrats in Congress accused him of using taxpayer money – $27,000 to produce the broadcast – for “paid political advertising.”

Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, told the Times that many of his members felt that the controversy had put them in an awkward situation, vulnerable to attacks from conservative talk-show hosts if they open up instructional time for Obama’s speech, and open to accusations that they have disrespected the president if they do not. “It’s one of those no-wins,” Garrett said.

14 Comments | Tags: Government, School/College

Bill Gillies - Editor

Teens swap portable Playstations for cell phones as they get older


Teenagers have previously lagged behind adults in their ownership of cell phones, but several years of survey data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that those ages 12-17 are closing the gap in cell phone ownership. The Project first began surveying teenagers about their mobile phones in its 2004 Teens and Parents project when a survey showed that 45% of teens had a cell phone. Since that time, mobile phone use has climbed steadily among teens ages 12 to 17 – to 63% in fall of 2006 and then to 71% in early 2008.

As can be seen on the chart, older teens are much more likely to have a cell phone than younger teens.  But that doesn’t mean young teens aren’t connected to their friends. Phones aren’t the only mobile device teens use to connect them to other people and other networks. The most prevalent of these devices are mobile gaming devices like the Nintendo DS and DSi and the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP).

Mobile gaming devices are owned predominantly by younger teens (those ages 12-14). Two-thirds (67%) of 12-14 year olds own a portable gaming device, compared with 44% of teens ages 15 to 17. The most notable drop occurs at age 14, typically a time of transition between middle and high school for many teens.

These mobile gaming devices are also more likely to be owned by boys, with 61% of boys owning one of these devices compared with just under half (49%) of all girls.  There are no differences in ownership by race or ethnicity or by family income or education – all groups are equally likely to have portable gaming devices.

But what can teens do on these devices, beyond local game play? The PSP offers internet connectivity (generally through WiFi) and now has a version of Skype, a free voice over IP (VoIP) application that allows users to make calls, often for free, over the internet. Skype also has an embedded instant messaging client, meaning that PSP users can IM others from their device.

The DS(i) is somewhat more limited, but has a local area wireless network tool that allows users to interact with others also on a DS(i) within 30-100 feet of them, via a visual chatting interface called pictochat.  The DS(i) also allows gaming over the local network as well as WiFi-based internet gaming.

13 Comments | Tags: Family

Don Tapscott

Helicopter parents and Web 2.0 – a potent combination


In Grown Up Digital I discussed the phenomenon of “helicopter parents” — parents who are involved closely with all aspects of their grownup children’s lives. TheOnion.com, one of the world’s funniest web sites, has a great takeoff on a digitally savvy mom showing how she uses Facebook and Twitter to keep a close eye on her son at university. Watch the video here.

Wikipedia now tells us there are specialized kinds of helicopter parents:

Helicopter parent is a colloquial, early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. These parents rush to prevent any harm or failure from befalling them and will not let them learn from their own mistakes, sometimes even contrary to the children’s wishes. They are so named because, like helicopters, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. In Scandinavia, this phenomenon is known as curling parenthood and describes parents who attempt to sweep all obstacles out of the paths of their children.

An extension of the term, “Black Hawk parents,” has been coined for those who cross the line from a mere excess of zeal to unethical behavior, such as writing their children’s college admission essays. (The reference is to the military helicopter of the same name.) Some college professors and administrators … are now referring to “Lawnmower parents” to describe mothers and fathers who attempt to smooth out and mow down all obstacles, to the extent that they may even attempt to interfere at their children’s workplaces, regarding salaries and promotions, after they have graduated from college and are supposedly living on their own.

8 Comments | Tags: World

Bill Gillies - Editor

Almost everybody wants a faster Internet asap


The federal government’s plan to promote expansion of the country’s high-speed Internet network has been swamped with applications totaling nearly $28 billion – seven times the $4 billion allocated to the program’s first round of spending.

Applications came in from a diverse range of parties including  state,  local, and tribal governments; nonprofits; industry; anchor institutions, such as libraries, universities, community colleges, and hospitals; public safety organizations; and other entities in rural, suburban, and urban areas. The wide array of applicants illustrates how greater bandwidth benefits virtually every aspect of society.

The urgency of bulking up the nation’s Internet infrastructure was underscored by a report released last week by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). It revealed that the United States ranks 28th in the world in average Internet connection speed and is not making significant progress in building a faster network.

The report said the average download speed in South Korea is 20.4 megabits per second (mbps) — four times faster than the US average of 5.1 mbps.

Continued job growth, innovation and rural development require high-speed, universal networks.  The CWA said that data shows that for every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructure to create these networks, 97,500 new jobs in the telecommunications, computer and IT sectors will be created.

“Every American should have affordable access to high-speed Internet, no matter where they live. This is essential to economic growth and will help maintain our global competitiveness,” said Larry Cohen, president, CWA.  “Unfortunately, fragmented government programs and uneven private sector responses to build out Internet access have left a digital divide across the country.”

The country has made little progress in speeding up the Internet during the past year.  Tests conducted by speedmatters.org found the average US download speed had improved by only nine-tenths of a megabit per second between 2008 and 2009 — from 4.2 mbps to 5.1 mbps.

7 Comments | Tags: Government, Work

Don Tapscott

TakingItGlobal co-founder shares Net Gen insights


My good friend and mentee Michael Furdyk has just posted an excellent brief video on the Globe and Mail website discussing how companies can reach out to the Net Generation.

I’ve worked with Michael for more than a dozen years. Our first project was the design and construction of my GrowingUpDigital.com website. Michael was the project manager, and he was 13 at the time. Michael would quickly become a star in his own right. When he was in Grade 9, he and a couple of friends launched an on-line magazine about computers called MyDesktop.com. In May 1999, when Furdyk was in Grade 11, they sold it for an undisclosed 7 or 8 figure sum.

In October of 1999, during a reunion of the Growing Up Digital contributors, Michael and colleague Jennifer Corriero envisioned an online space where kids to work together with other kids around the world to do something good. Nothing like this existed at the time. It would be “the next hangout for young people,” says Michael. “We really saw the Internet as a place for that to happen.” They called it TakingItGlobal.

This was before Facebook and MySpace. As it evolved, TakingItGlobal became online meeting place for people, social activists from around the globe, to exchange ideas about how to make the world better. It’s like Facebook – each member has her own page and can communicate with friends in the same way that Facebook communities exchange news. But instead of circulating gossip and pictures of last night’s party, they talk about doing good. (The mission is to Inspire, Inform and Involve.) “That meant it grew a little slower than Facebook and MySpace,” says Michael with a laugh.

As an adviser to the organization, I’ve watched TakingItGlobal blossom. It’s truly international; only 30% of members are from North America, and the conversation takes place in 248 languages, many of which are translated by volunteers or by on-line translators. “We see it as a pathway to action,” says Michael. It also strengthens and amplifies efforts to combat scourges like HIV/AIDS and climate change. As Jennifer and Michael explain it, they’re creating a bridge to connect people who care – the majority – with people doing something.

5 Comments | Tags: Work

Bill Gillies - Editor

Graphic texting while driving video goes viral


Click on the video screen above to see a CBS report about a British video targeted at young drivers that uses a graphic car-crash re-enactment to draw attention to the potentially deadly consequences of texting while driving.

The video was made by the police department in Gwent, Wales, last summer for $20,000 has gone viral online, with more than 1.5 million people viewing the video on YouTube.

“Yes it is violent, but the reality of a fatal road accident is much more gruesome, is much more violent,” writer-director Peter Watkins Hughes told CBS News. “My position on this is that if you are old enough to drive, if you are old enough to want to drive, you are old enough to be aware of the real and serious risks one places yourself in every time you get behind the wheel.”

It’s graphic and memorable. A young female driver is texting with two friends in her car when she drifts into the oncoming lane, smashing into a car head on. A third vehicle then crashes into her car. When the accident is over, the camera shows all three of the girls bloodied. One is crying while the other two appear dead. An infant shown in another also appears dead, and a girl in a third car is heard calling to her parents who also may have been killed.

Lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation that would make states ban texting while driving or face reductions in federal highway funds. More than a dozen states have already banned sending messages while driving.

The full 4:15 minute video can be seen here.

8 Comments | Tags: Family, Government

Bill Gillies - Editor

Sen. Edward Kennedy was longtime champion of higher education


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a lifelong champion of equal rights and educational opportunity, died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass. He was 77.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published today an obituary, written by Kelly Field, that recounts the Senator’s tireless efforts to improve higher education.

Mr. Kennedy, who represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate for more than four decades, had a hand in the creation of nearly every major federal student-aid program, from Pell Grants in 1972 to the Academic Competitiveness and Smart Grants for high-achieving, low-income students in 2006. In the 1990s, he was a chief architect of the federal direct-loan program, in which the government lends money directly to students through their colleges, and one of its staunchest supporters in the Senate.

Senator Kennedy was also one of the most reliable defenders of student aid, consistently opposing efforts to eliminate programs and offering dozens of budget amendments to increase the maximum Pell Grant….

Mr. Kennedy delivered his “maiden speech” as a senator-his first major commentary from the Senate floor-on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and co-sponsored two major civil-rights measures of the 1970s: the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which guaranteed a “free and appropriate” public education for disabled students, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a law that banned sex discrimination at institutions receiving federal funds and led to a boom in women’s participation in college sports.

As chairman of the education committee in the 1990s, Senator Kennedy also played a key role in the creation of direct lending.

Mr. Kennedy had first proposed creating such a program in 1978, along with Sen. Henry L. Bellmon, a Republican from Oklahoma. But the Congressional Budget Office, which provides cost estimates to Congress, said the program would be too expensive, and the plan went nowhere.

The idea had legs, though, and Sen. Paul Simon, a Democrat from Illinois, and Sen. Dave Durenberger, a Republican from Minnesota, revived the proposal in the early 1990s. By then, the budget office had changed its accounting rules, and direct lending was seen as a potential cost-saver. With Senator Kennedy’s support, a pilot of the program was included in the 1992 legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

The following year, Bill Clinton took office as president and almost immediately proposed eliminating the bank-based guaranteed-loan system and replacing it with direct lending. When lenders and some Republicans objected, Senator Kennedy helped craft a compromise that allowed colleges to choose between direct lending and the guaranteed-loan program.

Mr. Kennedy championed direct lending for the rest of his career, battling Republican efforts to kill or cap the program. In 2007, Congress approved a Kennedy-sponsored measure that slashed lender subsidies in the bank-based program and directed the savings to student aid. The bill, and other efforts by Mr. Kennedy to expand direct lending, made him unpopular with lenders…

Terry W. Hartle, former longtime aide, told the Chronicle that Mr. Kennedy was also an “old-school senator,” someone who cared about the Senate as an institution and valued its tradition of bipartisanship.

“He was 100 percent a Democrat, but, at the end of the day, he wanted to do the people’s business, and that usually meant working across the aisle,” said Mr. Hartle, who is now senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

Mr. Hartle said it was “hard to imagine education policy without Senator Kennedy’s distinctive voice.”

The senator, he said, is “irreplaceable.”

10 Comments | Tags: Government, School/College

Bill Gillies - Editor

U.S. students lag behind peers in other countries


Education Secretary Arne Duncan responded earlier this week to a new report that documents the poor showing of American students relative to the students of other countries. In math, America’s 15-year-olds’ scores now lag behind those of 31countries. In science, eighth graders’ scores now lag behind their peers in eight countries, and in reading, five countries have improved their performance and surpassed the U.S.’s 4th graders.

Today’s report is another wake-up call that our students are treading the waters of academic achievement while other countries’ students are swimming faster and farther. Our students have stagnated educationally, putting our long-term economic security at risk…

These results show that for us to stay competitive and move forward we have to get our students ready for global competition. That’s why I so strongly support the work of our governors and chief state school officers to develop a set of common internationally-benchmarked, college and career-ready standards that will help put our students’ performance on par with other top performing countries. We’ve never settled for second best, and now we’re in another race of sorts – a race to the top tier of the world’s students whose academic achievement is the best and the brightest.

As we reach to the top, of course our four tenets of educational reform will help propel us there: putting the best teachers in schools where they’re most needed, closing down chronically under-performing schools and creating better ones, data systems that track students from the cradle to college and link student results back to teachers, and world-class standards to help states build their reforms…

This is the first time that the most recent findings from the three major internationals tests have been published in one place. It compels us to renew our focus and reinvigorate our resolve to prepare our students to achieve to high academic standards and be ready for the global marketplace.

Later in the week Duncan announced $650 million in new “innovation” funding that will reward school districts that have designed and tested effective, scalable systems for boosting student achievement, improving failing schools, retaining top-notch teachers, and increasing graduation rates.

6 Comments | Tags: Government, School/College

Don Tapscott

Online learning boosts student performance


The U.S. Department of Education has just released a report comparing traditional face-to-face classroom instruction to learning supplemented or completely replaced by online learning.  The conclusion:  “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”

The most effective teaching method blended face-to-face learning with online learning.  The study notes that this blended learning often includes additional learning time because students can proceed at their own pace and lets them repeat material they find difficult.

The 93-page report, entitled an Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in  Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, was conducted by SRI International. Researchers looked at more than a thousand studies conducted between 1996 to 2008. Analysts then screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size.

Most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, including medical training, higher education and corporate training.  The researchers said they were surprised to find so few rigorous studies of K-12 students, so the report urges caution when applying the results to younger students.

Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International, was quoted on the New York Times’ website that “The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing – it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.”

The story notes that until fairly recently, online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old-line correspondence courses. That has really changed with arrival of Web-based video, instant messaging and collaboration tools. The study was limited to research of Web-based instruction (i.e., eliminating studies of video- and audio-based telecourses or stand-alone, computer-based instruction).

The real promise of online education is providing learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms. In Grown Up Digital, I describe this as “student-focused” learning as opposed to traditional “teacher-focused” broadcast techniques with the teacher in front of a large class.  The story correctly notes that online learning enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful.

The moral of the story: Students would be better served with much of the curriculum being online. And to repeat what I said in the book, this does not mean a diminished role for teachers. Their time would be freed up to give extremely valuable one-on-one teaching.

20 Comments | Tags: School/College

Don Tapscott

Being prepared on the World Wide Web


The Boy Scouts have released a new version of their famous 475-page Boy Scout Handbook that still includes tips on how to build a campfire but adds new material on how to surf safely when out in the World Wide Web.   For the first time the handbook is now also available online, and an iPhone application for the handbook is coming soon.

“We are talking to boys where boys want to be talked to, which is on the Web,” Tico Perez, the national commissioner of the Scouts who oversaw production of the handbook, said in an interview with Associated Press.

As a former scout, I recall well striving to fulfill our famous motto of “be prepared.” Only today that will include keeping an eye out for the closest Wi-Fi hotspot.

The online version includes links to videos that show Scouts exactly how to perform tasks and will help scoutmasters teach. The videos can be downloaded so kids can take them out in the field, Perez said. It will also have “Internet bugs” suggesting Web links about subjects highlighted the book.

“If there’s more first aid or more camping or more gear they’re interested in, we’ll be able to send them to sites that are monitored by us and that we’re comfortable with,” said Perez, who has been involved in Scouting since he was a boy.

Other steps to help the scouting movement connect with young Net Geners include podcasts, an online scouting community, a YouTube channel and a presence on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Evan Chaffee, a 21-year-old former Eagle Scout who was on the committee that designed the handbook, said the committee felt the technological advance is important for Scouts studying for rank and badge advancement.

The online material helps scouts pace their own learning. “If they don’t understand the topic or requirement, they can go onto their phone or to their laptop to do more research,” said Chaffee, now a student at the University of California at San Diego.

“I think a lot of times in the past, a lot of kids have nodded their heads and said, ‘OK, I guess i got it.’ But this way, they have the opportunity to actually research and learn more.”

Scouts are urged to alert adults to any Web sites, e-mails or anything else that makes them uncomfortable. They also are reminded not to give out their personal information, open e-mails from strangers or buy anything online without checking with a parent.

“As Scouts, we’re supposed to be on top of our games in anything as far as health and safety,” Chaffee said. “We need to learn how to use the Internet.”

8 Comments | Tags: World

Bill Gillies - Editor

Teenager builds electric car to fight global warming


Jenn Savedge has a blog on the Mother Nature Network and today she posted her interview with Alaskan teenager Bart Grabman, who has converted an old Volkswagen Super Beetle to run on electricity.  Grabman is a high-school student and avid skier, and worries about global warming.  He says the declining snow levels he is witnessing first-hand in the northern state motivated him to build the eco-sensitive car.  The vehicle is not yet finished, but he has taken it out for test drives in front of his house.  It’s a good example of the Net Generation’s desire to innovate.

Bart Grabman's electric Volkswagen Super Beetle

Bart Grabman's electric Volkswagen Super Beetle

Some excerpts from the interview:

Mother Nature Network: What inspired you to build an electric car?

Grabman: I was taking a class at school called Passages, and the purpose of the class was to take something that you’re interested in and expand on it in some way. For instance, in the past, one student who had an interest in carpentry built a gazebo for students to enjoy during lunch. I had two interests that I wanted to expand upon. I wanted to do something to help the environment, and I wanted to learn more about cars. So I thought it would be interesting to combine the two ideas into one project. Building an electric car just seemed like a logical next step.

MNN: How much did you know about cars before you started this project?

Grabman: I pretty much knew nothing about automotive technology when I started this project. But I’ve done a lot of learning. One good thing is that I choose a VW Super Beetle over a more modern, complex car. This has been really helpful because it’s relatively simple in terms of the mechanisms and the motor. The VW Super Beetle is pretty basic so it was a good place to start … especially with my lack of knowledge.

MNN: What would you say has been your biggest obstacle in completing this project?

Grabman: Time and money. I’m a high school student, and I have a lot of stuff going on, so I don’t have a lot of time or money to spare. But there have been a lot of people who have helped me out on this project in some way or another. So I’ve never had any trouble getting things done when I do actually work on them. But just finding that time is one of the hardest things.

MNN: What advice do you have for other teenagers who are looking to try a project like this?

Grabman: Find something that you’re interested in and don’t be discouraged by setbacks because there will of course always be some setbacks … if not many. But the results will definitely outweigh the troubles. As long as you follow through, it’s going to be a very rewarding experience when you’re finished.

21 Comments | Tags: Family, School/College

Bill Gillies - Editor

Internet’s benefits far outweigh potential drawbacks


I posted yesterday about the national poll released by Common Sense Media that looked at some of the potentially negative aspects of teenage online behavior.  But on the whole, of course, the possible drawbacks pale in comparison to the Internet’s enormous benefits, such as helping teens support charities, volunteer, be creative, and improve their academic performance.  To wit:

-   54% have joined an online community or a “group” on Facebook or MySpace in support of a cause
-   53% post online creative writing or artwork that they’ve created.
-   50% post or share videos or music that they’ve created
-   45% organize or invite people to an event using a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace
-   34% volunteer for a campaign, nonprofit organization, or charity
-   26% participate in online study groups

Parents and children agree that the Internet is helping their academic performance.

-   75% of parents say the Internet helps their child’s studies, while just 5% say it hurts
-   67% of teens say the Internet helps their academic performance, while only 11% say it hurts.

The report offers advice to parents who want to help ensure their children practice safe surfing.  The best suggestions:

- Go online. Get yourself an account. Learn firsthand what kids are doing and what they can and cannot post.
- Talk about the nature of their digital world. Remind teens that everything they post can potentially be seen by a vast invisible audience. They need to think before they post, because anything they create or communicate can be cut, altered, pasted, and sent around – and it can last forever.
- Make sure they set their privacy settings. They aren’t foolproof, but they’re important. Show them where the privacy settings are.
- Set some rules for what is and isn’t appropriate for your kids to communicate, play, and post online. Posts about drugs or drinking, or sexual posing or activity will come back to haunt them. A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, you shouldn’t post it.

13 Comments | Tags: Family, School/College

Bill Gillies - Editor

Parents underestimate teenagers’ online activity


Common Sense Media has released a national poll of teens and parents on social networking behaviors that confirms teenagers continue to find social media sites compelling and that parents may not be fully aware of what their offspring are doing online.

Highlights of the poll’s key findings include:

-    22% of teens check social networking sites more than 10 times a day, while only 4% of parents believe kids are checking that much
-    51% of teens check social networking sites more than once a day, while only 23% of parents say their kids check more than once a day

Not all activities are positive:

-    28% of teens have shared personal information that they normally wouldn’t have shared in public
-    25% of teens have shared a profile with a false identity
-    39% of teens have posted something they regretted
-    26% of teens have pretended to be someone else online
-    25% of teens have created a profile with a false identity.
-    24% of teens have hacked into someone else’s social networking account.
-    13% of teens have posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves or others online.

“In today’s digital environment, parents have less time to supervise their kids’ behavior,” said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media in a press release accompanying the poll results. “Communication and socialization in our kids’ world is increasingly moving from face-to-face to face-to-cyberspace, and parents vastly underestimate the amount of time that kids spend on their networks.”

“There’s definitely not-my-kid syndrome,” Steyer told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Common Sense Media describes itself as the nation’s leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the impact of media and entertainment on kids and families.

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