Christina Tynan-Wood

Opening Minds with Skype in the Classroom

Written on July 9, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

Sometimes I’m stunned by the myopic viewpoints my daughter encounters in school, and so is she. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to help both my kids see past their own small world to understand global issues. We travel as much as we can. We watch programming from other cultures. We read. And we explore the Internet with an eye to the larger, diverse world.

My daughter has described in-class worldviews that are so insular—limited by teachers’ less-expansive experiences—that I’m frustrated. Although I know there are simple technical tools that can transcend those limitations, most teachers look at me with annoyance if I suggest them. I realize that teachers have concerns and time constraints I know nothing about. But I recently sat in on a demonstration at a Skype in the classroom event in New York where teachers from remote, rural and deeply impoverished areas were—for free and using equipment they already have—exposing their students to cultures from all over the globe. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

These teachers—from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kenya—don’t have any special grants or more time or equipment than anyone else. In fact, they probably have less than most. They just said yes. Then they clicked, chose an expert or classroom to connect with, installed Skype (free) and set up a laptop in their classrooms. That opened up the world for their students, changed the way they teach, and inspired the kids in their classrooms and, often, in classrooms on the other side of the world. Some did group projects with students in other countries, some played 20 questions with kids from a completely different culture, and some connected with thought leaders who let the students ask them questions. All the speakers are invited by Microsoft (and vetted), the connections are teacher-to-teacher so it’s safe for everyone, and there is no cost. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

If the answer is “We don’t have the resources,” I’d like to point out that Jairus Makambi, director of the The Cheery Children Education Centre in the heart of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, has almost nothing. Kibera is home to about 1.5 million people; it’s one of the largest, poorest slums in the world. But Makambi’s students have had the opportunity to Skype with 70 schools from 30 different countries using only a laptop and a dicey Internet connection. It has opened the eyes of those children to a world beyond the abject poverty they live in and allowed teachers around the globe to help Makambi teach subjects he has neither the materials nor the knowledge to take on. “This experience is phenomenal,” says Makambi. “It is promoting global integration and appreciation of cultures that transcends the trivialities of race while inculcating in our students the spirit of global citizenry that is essential in this rapidly globalizing world.”

Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

5 Geeky Ways to Get Rid of Clutter

Written on June 25, 2014 at 11:00 am , by

I am in the process of moving. I’m excited about my new house, but the move also has me jumpy. Every time I open a closet, I slam it shut in fear. Out-of-date gadgets, clothes that don’t fit, shoes that were a bad idea and broken purses stare back, accusing me of procrastination. They are right. I don’t know where the time in this house went, but I clearly didn’t spend enough of it disposing of crap I no longer want or need.

I’m not alone. According a new Intel survey, almost half of Americans (47%) keep outdated tech devices long after they are useful. And according to a recent “spring cleaning” survey by used electronics marketplace uSell.com, 68% of U.S. residents suffer from “compulsive gadget hoarding.”

We don’t keep this stuff because we love it and hate to part with it. We keep it because it’s too much trouble to get rid of it, we have sensitive data on old devices that we can’t be bothered to fetch, and we’d rather clean a toilet than wipe those devices clean of that info. It’s the same thing with the worn-out handbagsshoes that looked sexy in the catalog but not so much on a closet shelf, and kitchen gadgets that haven’t been used since the term “gluten” became synonymous with evil.

But reckoning day is here. At least for me. According to Nik Raman, chief operating officer of uSell.com, the trick to getting past my fear of this overwhelming chore is to focus on one item at a time. And I knew just the item. My husband has been hauling around a suitcase-size backgammon board since we met. Inspired by a survey from moving marketing company Our Town America that found that one in three movers admitted to “accidentally losing” a significant other’s prized possession, I started my donation box with the backgammon board. That felt good. Next, since money is a great motivator, I decided to focus on getting rid of junk that someone would pay money for. I started this project three weeks ago. Today my house is nearly Spartan and my wallet fat with cash. I can’t understand why I held on to that stuff for so long. I had a good time getting rid of it and I’ll have a good time spending this cash.

Here are my top 5 strategies for getting rid of junk—and turning some of it into cash or nice new things.

eBay App

I had some kitchen appliances that I hadn’t used in ages which are popular on eBay and not prohibitively expensive to ship. I spread them out on my counter, snapped photos with my smartphone and, with a few taps on my phone, listed them on eBay. Then I put the appliances back in the cupboard. A week and a trip to FedEx later, I was not only $100 richer, with room in my cupboards, but I was also getting happy notes from people who were enjoying those neglected appliances. Fun!

Craigslist

I kept a couch I wanted to replace for two years because it was too much trouble to get rid of. I’d called the Salvation Army, but they wouldn’t take it since it had a small tear in the seat. This, however, is what Craigslist is for. Using the cPro Craigslist app (Apple App Store or Google Play), I took a few pictures of the couch, listed it as “Free” and waited. Within a day, someone took it away in a truck, thrilled to have a beater for the playroom that his kids could jump on. That went so well that I walked through my house snapping pictures of all the furniture I don’t want to move and adding prices and clever descriptions. Every few days, someone shows up, hands me cash, chats for a bit and happily carries off my detritus.

Glyde.com

My son went on a phone-dropping spree, which resulted in a useless smartphone sitting on my desk. He had priced replacing the screen and found out it was cheaper to replace the phone. But used marketplace Glyde claimed that it could sell even a broken smartphone. I entered the model and was honest about its shattered screen. A few minutes later, the phone sold for $45. A few days later, a shipping box showed up in the mail and I dropped the phone in and sent it off.

Twice

Next stop, my closet. It was crammed with clothes that haven’t fit me since I lost those pounds I don’t want back. Some of them were nice labels, though, so I requested a shipping bag from LikeTwice.com. This site buys clean, quality clothing and resells it online. I filled the bag with clean clothes in good shape and dropped it off at the post office. A week later, the site told me I had money to spend. When I get to my new house, I’ll order a few new things that fit.

Amazon

I had a used smartphone that was too old—or perhaps too obscure a brand?— for Glyde or uSell.com. On Amazon, I clicked “Have one to sell?” after looking up the model. I didn’t even have to take a picture. I just typed in its condition and the price I wanted for it. It sold within the hour.

 

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.