Saturday, December 22, 2012

2 Educational Apps for Toddlers

I subscribe to an excellent newsletter from Common Sense Media and just received their "Essential Apps for Kids and Teens."  I've downloaded two of the recommended apps for toddlers to my Kobo.

Kids ABC Phonics is recommended for three-year-olds under the Android category, and should feed my son's interest in identifying letters.  I'm hoping my 17-month-old will enjoy imitating animal sounds on Peekaboo Barn; a friend who's a speech therapist specializing in babies said that encouraging him to make even animal sounds is a step towards helping him form words.

Further to my recent post on kids and iPads, I think these apps will be a worthwhile way for my sons to spend some time playing with technology -- becoming comfortable figuring things out instead of being intimidated by something they don't know.

An early Christmas present; I'll see what my boys think of these two apps tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Family Photo Shoot Co-op

Since my husband or I are always the ones taking photos of our family, we have very few pictures of the four of us together.  And the ones we do have were taken spontaneously by a friend on their phone ... and while great, don't lend themselves well to printing.

A few weeks ago, while chatting with friends at one of our kids' birthday parties, this issue came up; it turns out we aren't the only ones with this problem!  As we talked, someone had the idea of getting together one weekend to photograph each other's families.  The idea grew, and this past weekend two of my colleagues and I got together with our families for an hour on Sunday afternoon to take family portraits of each other.

It helped that one of my colleagues is our school's photography teacher, and the other an avid amateur photographer.  But with today's great digital cameras and user-friendly photo editing programs, there's no reason you can't organize a family photo shoot "co-op" too.  I hope that this will be just the first of such projects, and that in the future, I'll have developed my own photography skills enough to be able to get on the other side of the lens myself!

Note: my friend used Adobe Photoshop Elements to touch-up our photos, and his mini-lesson made me want to buy the software myself!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Aşure or Noah's Ark Pudding

This past Sunday we made aşure, my favourite Turkish dessert, in my admittedly too-big-to-have-been-a-practical-purchase copper kazan, or cauldron.

Glamour shot: I was in the kitchen or with the kids all day, not actually manning the cauldron!
I'd been lured by the cauldron's beautiful details and craftsmanship.  I refused to even consider the smaller, plainer, more sensible cauldrons nearby.  As my husband and I struggled home from the Tarsus bazaar that day, each of us carrying it by one of its handles, the few hundred metres seemed further than they ever had.  But I still had no regrets.  This was going to be the best souvenir of our three years in Tarsus.

Fast forward three more years, and my beloved cauldron was still sitting on the terrace, upside down so that  it wouldn't collect rain.  Too dirty to bring into the house; too big to store kids toys or throw blankets; too dangerous to leave lying around (my sons might fall in!).  Meanwhile, C kept insisting we use it to actually cook something.  

So finally this past weekend, the kazan was cleaned inside and out, and firmly propped on top of our barbeque.  We opened our doors and made it an open house, inviting any fellow expats who were interested in seeing how aşure was made, and any Turkish friends who just thought it would be fun.  Everyone pitched in in some way, and the result was a delicious pudding that I doubt we'll ever be able to duplicate.

Aşure contains an unlikely combination of ingredients, which only makes sense when one learns the origin of this dessert -- towards the end of Noah's journey on the Ark, as those on board were running out of food, this dish was made with whatever was left.  And so the whole grains of wheat, chickpeas, dried white beans, dried apricots, figs, raisins, nuts and sugar, cooked separately and then added, combine to form a delicious albeit unexpected treat.  Traditionally, aşure month follows the second bayram or Eid, although some bakeries serve it all year round.  

We surprised ourselves with our yield -- over a hundred servings!  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Online Organizational Tools

I am always trying to be more organized, and am easily seduced by the promise of a more efficient, more productive, able-to-multi-task, me.  About a year ago, I saw this video promoting Microsoft's Outlook and how it could sync my work and home calendars, and was hooked.

I've since switched to Google Calendar, which syncs more seamlessly, but I still wanted something to help me organize my projects -- those endless to-do lists with sub-lists of their own.

First, I tried out lino, which is really just an online bulletin board.  It lets you post "sticky notes" with lists, photos and other attachments.  You can also have several "canvases," which is nice if you have larger projects which need several sticky notes of their own.  You can also send the notes to others, but I admit I never used that feature.  Although I don't really have anything negative to say about lino, I didn't use it much and it didn't help me get more organized.

I'm currently trying out Trello, another online organizing tool, and I think I'm going to stick with this one.  My test case was a photo wall project I've been sitting on for over a year now.  This project is just one item on my to-do list, which is itself only one "card" on my household "board."  But Trello allowed me to put inspiration photos, checklists, and other notes, all on this photo project card.

Trello is actually meant for collaborative projects, but its format works well with the way I think.  I'm happy to say that my photo wall project is well on its way to completion!  I promise to post a photo of it soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Word Clouds

Wordle is not only a fun teaching tool but also something you can just play around with yourself or with your kids.  To create the Tagxedo one above, I quickly collected a list of words that represent me, then played around a little with colours, fonts and orientation.  Are you ready to try your own "word cloud?"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pomegranate Syrup Revisited

A few weeks ago we finally tried making our own pomegranate syrup, or nar ekşisi.  I've written about this delicious staple of our household's diet before, so click here and here if you want a little history of our love affair with this condiment.  

C bought 15kg of pomegranate from a small local grocer's for about 20 Turkish Lira, a bargain in Istanbul, and one Sunday afternoon after brunch, we put our friends to work peeling the lovely fruit!  There's nothing like good company and conversation to make a job fun and easy!

We then squeezed the juice out of the seeds, drinking several glassfuls of the sweet-sour juice in the process.  (Hint: if you're careful about separating all the white pith from the fruit, you don't get any of the bitterness that comes with pressed pomegranate juice, where an entire half fruit is simply squeezed.)

We lit the mangal and let the juice condense in a cast iron pot for several hours, until it reached the consistency we wanted.  15 kg of pomegranate produced 1 Litre of pomegranate syrup, which explains why the pure stuff is so expensive and difficult to find!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

iPads for Kids

I've toyed with starting a second, professional blog, but I've decided instead to marry the teacher and the mother that I am and combine them -- with a twist.  From now on I will periodically include posts about education that are specifically of interest to parents.  In other words, I'd like to share with my non-teacher friends, trends and developments and hot topics in education that they might be interested in as parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents.

Now straight to my first topic: do you give your toddlers, never mind your primary school-aged children, iPads?

We don't have a TV in our home, and I am the first to cringe when I see kids frittering away hours with various technology.  But a recent conversation with Dr. Shabbi Luthra, Director of Technology at the American School of Bombay, confirmed my growing hunch that 'protecting' my children from technology would be doing them a tremendous disservice.  The key is teaching your children how to responsibly and correctly use technology.  After all, it's as much about the skills that 21st century learners need to navigate this new digital age, as it is the incredible possibilities for creativity and collaboration that technology opens up.

Imagine this: a grade one class in Toronto is learning to read and write.  Their teacher types up their stories and posts them on the class blog.  She uses her own Facebook network to spread the word and encourage teachers in other countries to read and comment on her class' blog.  The students check in daily to read and respond to comments, and add thumbtacks on a map on the classroom wall to represent all the places in the world their blog is being read.  They have live Skype chats with students at an international school in Seoul, Korea.  They write each other letters.  And this is just the beginning.

The above is not specific to the iPad, but rather shows how technology enables kids to collaborate and get outside of the classroom.  For more specific uses of the iPad in the classroom (or for ideas you could modify and use at home), click here for an October 31st post on Edutopia, George Lucas' educational foundation.

So do you think kids should have access to iPads or not?  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thinking About Coming Back ...

It's been a year since I last posted to this blog and in that time, I've:

  • spent delicious and challenging time as a stay-at-home mother with my two sons, 18.5 months apart in age (yes, I'm patting myself on the back just a little here ... it wasn't easy, but I got through those first difficult months!);
  • traveled home to Canada with my family twice;
  • returned to work after a 7-month maternity leave (incredibly long by Turkish standards);
  • started a second Masters degree (an M.Sc., no less!);
  • spent a night away from my kids for the first time ever -- twice!
  • presented at two conferences (hence the nights away);
  • watched my older son start preschool;
  • attempted several times to get into a regular exercise routine;
  • toilet trained a toddler;
  • committed to getting a dog (she arrives in about two weeks).
Now I'm thinking of resuming this blog.  We'll see!