June 2, 2013
Common Core State Standards Initiative, Education, Math, Mathematics, Teacher
Like many people, I have tried (and still try) to help young people with mathematics, be it an occasional geometry problem, or at a higher level, such as calculus. Now that I have a child who is yet to have any trouble with math, I think I should spend more time in pedagogical aspects of teaching math. It is one thing to have had a formal university education in mathematics and engineering, and completely another thing to be good at teaching mathematics; first one does not necessarily lead to the second.
This is why I have decided to be a student again and take the summer course given by Dr. Jo Boaler: “EDUC115N: How to Learn Math“
According to the official web site: More
May 26, 2013
The process of finding a school for our son started in a very high-tech manner: The Ministry of Education had prepared a cool-looking website, and we have logged into it right after it was made online. We have answered tons of questions, and very carefully registered our preferences for 5 different schools, all of them conveniently close to us or where we work. Then we started to wait. Our reasoning was that, we would be able to register our son in one of those schools that we really liked. After all, if the first school was full, and the second, and the third… well at least the fifth choice would be available.
The time has passed and we have received the result, in the form of an official, formal letter, telling us that none of those schools had places for our son. We should go and find another school. We looked for some explanations in that letter, none to be found. After some inquiry, we were able to learn that, for example, in the first school our son was on the waiting list, as the 49. pupil. Again, we did not have any idea why he was 49th, and not, for example 10th.
Apparently having a nice web site, and spending parents’ time by forcing them to answer tons of demographic questions do not lead to a satisfactory result on behalf of them. And we are talking about a city, Antwerp, whose population is only about 500.000 people, not millions of people. I suggest that, if the Ministry of Education is so keen on gathering data from us, it does some data science and statistics and calculate some trends about the growth of population growth and match this with the number of required schools so that parents do not face such frustration.
In our case, we are still searching for a school that is convenient for us and our son.
March 23, 2013
Belgium, causality relationship, Education, Family, Finland, Homework, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Research, science, Secondary school, secondary school students, Student
According to recent news (see Flanders Today and Klasse Leraren), in some countries, such as Belgium, children are overloaded with homework:
Secondary schools are overloading students with homework, according to Lyle Muns, chairman of the Flemish secondary school students organisation. Muns feels excessive homework assignments are obliging many students to stay home too much, with too little time to develop essential social skills. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Flemish 15-year-olds spend an average just over six hours a week on homework; their Finnish counterparts, for instance, spend 3.7 hours a week on assignments but achieve better results.
Personally, I have nothing against working and studying hard, as long as it involves intrinsic motivation strongly coupled with spiritual satisfaction, but I have also started to get the impression that kids these days, at least a representative sample I generally come across, are really busy; busier than adults, if I may say so!
Finland, in this case, stands as the ultimate example of the worn out cliché “work smarter, not harder”. Nevertheless, I think we need to think more about the correlation (and the causality relationship) between the amount of homework given to the kids and their long-term success, because, well, in the long-term that’s what counts, and not some temporary test scores that helps the feelings of teachers and parents.
March 3, 2013
Antwerp, Belgium, Education, Language, Montessori, Montessori education, Preschool education
Meld je aan – school pre-registration website
1 March 2013 was an exciting day for us because we completed the first step of our 1.5 year old son Arman’s pre-school registration. We were very much satisfied by the pre-registration website that the Flemish Ministry for Education prepared for parents:
. They have even prepared a short video demonstrating the process, but I think having subtitles in a few different languages would be a very useful addition to this nice video.
The website requested that we select 5 different schools and now it is time to wait for about 1.5 months to see whether our first choice has enough places so that we can go and register Arman there. Among some schools that are at a convenient distance to us, we have also selected a Montessori school, and I’m curious about the experience, should Arman start attending there.
The surprising factor about the pre-registration web site was the questions they asked about the linguistic skills of our son, e.g. what language he used when speaking to his mother, what language with the father, what language with brothers and sisters, and what language when communicating with friends (apparently they forgot the valuable option of babbling ) It would be very nice if the Flemish Ministry for Education publish this data anonymously and keep the spirit of free, open, and high quality data that is one of the pillars of the information age in which we are living.
January 19, 2013
Belgium, Education, Preschool education
One of the things I have learned about Belgium is that almost every child starts his or her preschool education at the age of 2.5, which means that our 1.5 year old kid has only 1 year left before he starts his preschool education. I was curious about the process and asked a lot of questions to my wife. She said that the ministry of education would send all the required documents and information for the process, so we started to wait for it enthusiastically. Finally the big day came and we have received our mail recently.
Booklets and letter for preschool registration
I must say that I’m impressed by the contents of the mail. The booklets sent to us are not only very well designed graphically, but also contain all the necessary information, describing all the steps required to start and complete the registration for our son. It gave me yet another opportunity to exercise my Dutch reading skills, and thanks to the authors’ use of plain language, I was able to understand almost all the instructions. All in all, the process seems to be simple and straightforward: We’re going to log into a web site, pick up the first few school names that we prefer (they have sent us a detailed list of all the schools via mail), submit our choice and then wait for a few weeks, at the end of which we will be informed about the school, and go there to physically register our son by signing the relevant documents, thereby completing the process.
My heartfelt thanks go to everyone involved in designing those informative booklets, so far I’m very much satisfied by the way the government institutions handled the communication for the first steps of our son’s education. I’m excited and eagerly looking forward to the day of starting the first step of registration.
January 19, 2013
Education, Funny, Technology
Amiga 500, Amstrad, China, Commodore 64, Games, Online game, Video game, Video game addiction
My son is only 1.5 years old, so I believe there is still some time for me to get concerned about the games he plays, but a recent news made me consider the relationship of children and online computer games: “Father Hires In-Game “Hitmen” To Deter Son From Playing“:
Sick and tired of his son playing video games and not listening to him, a father in China decided to take matters into his own hands… well, sort of. Instead of sending his son off to addiction camp or stripping him of internet and gaming rights, Mr. Feng (冯先生) chose to hire an online “hitman” to school his son.
Father Hires In-Game “Hitmen” To Deter Son From Playing
This may be an extreme or exaggerated example but it did not keep me from remembering my relationships with computer games in the past. The contrast is obvious: 20-25 years ago, back when I and my friends busy playing with computers such as Sinclair Spectrum 48K, Commodore 64, Amstrad or Amiga 500, the only social aspect of those games were close friends we already knew from school or the neighbourhood. There was no Internet, thus no online games. The other players were either the computer or your friends sitting next to you. Playing a realistic 3D combat game with someone who is a total stranger to you was unimaginable at all. And when we were bored with the games, we either sat down to create our own computer programs and games, or we read articles about programming, or how to hack the games.
It is very difficult for me to imagine what kind of technologies my son will be using in 2033, let alone the sort of games he will be playing. I can only hope that he grows to be not only a consumer of an alternate universe overloaded with not so original graphics, animations and sounds, but at least, also someone who can have a wider imagination to go beyond those, build his own universe and discover the complexity and beauty in wiser simplicities. I’ll try my best to make this happen; I really wouldn’t prefer to hire an online, digital ‘hitman’ character for a game
November 17, 2012
Education, Programming, Science, Technology
Antwerp, Belgium, Creative Commons, Creativity, devoxx, Devoxx4kids, programming, Scratch, ted, tedx
Long story short: The children were excited but I was probably more excited than them during the “Programming and creativity using Scratch” workshop series that took place at Koninklijk Atheneum Antwerpen as part of the TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012. Both the morning and the afternoon sessions went very well, and it was a unique experience exploring the fundamentals of computational thinking with children while helping them take their first steps into programming using Scratch. After this event, I have decied to publish my “Scratch Workshop Agenda” document under a Creative Commons license so that other people who would like to organize similar events could be able to take this as a starting point. It is also very nice to see that the previous version of this document had been used at the Devoxx4Kids events (held in Dutch and then French).
Programming and creativity using Scratch – 1
October 17, 2012
Education, Programming, Technology
Antwerp, Belgium, ted, TED (conference), tedx, TEDxYouth@Flanders
I get very excited whenever an opportunity presents itself to introduce computational thinking and creativity to children. This Saturday, together with our young participants, I’ll be leading an introductory Scratch workshop, similar to the International Scratch Day 2012 we did in Antwerp, Belgium a few months ago. This time, the Scratch event will be a part of TEDxFlanders Youth 2012. If you browse the program, you will see that in addition to my introductory Scratch programming workshop, there are other workshops related to Lego Robotics, 3D scanning, Mars Exploration, 3D printing and many other interesting, cool topics (why didn’t they do things like that when I was a kid? Sigh! ).
So if you are living in Antwerp, or nearby and have a kid who is curious about the world, feel free to visit
to register. While your child explores many aspects of technology and creativity in a hands-on manner, you can enjoy the main TEDxFlanders event that is barely a few hundred meters away.
July 6, 2012
Development, Education, Language, Science
American Scientist, Child, cognitive science, Dominic W. Massaro, Education, iPad, kids, Literacy, mobile, pre-school, Reading
I’m surprised at and thrilled by a very interesting article in the July-August 2012 issue of American Scientist. In his article, Prof. Dominic W. Massaro claims that it is possible for children to learn reading at a very young age, without explicit instruction. According to Massaro, with the help of latest advancements in cognitive science, computer science and mobile technology, the children can be immersed in an augmented environment in which they can acquire literacy intuitively. The full text of the article, “Acquiring Literacy Naturally” is currently available at
Some highlights that really drew my attention:
“Notwithstanding the intuitive primacy of spoken language, I propose that once an appropriate form of written text is meaningfully associated with children’s experience early in life, reading will be learned inductively with ease and with no significant negative consequences. As described by John Shea in this magazine, “there are no known populations of Homo sapiens with biologically constrained capacities for behavioral variability” (March–April 2011). I envision a physical system, called Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition (TARA), to provide the opportunity to test this hypothesis. TARA exploits recent developments in behavioral and brain science and technology, which are rapidly evolving to make natural reading acquisition possible before formal schooling begins. In one instantiation (Figure 3), TARA would automatically recognize a caregiver’s speech and display a child-appropriate written transcription.”
Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition (TARA) implemented on a digital tablet automatically recognizes an adult’s utterance using automated speech-to-text recognition. In these examples, the adult’s comments are recognized and the digital tablet displays some of the words in high definition to the child. (Photographs courtesy of the author.)
May 27, 2012
Development, Education, Programming
Antwerp, Antwerp International School, Belgium, Child, Children, Computational thinking, computer programming, Integrated development environment, kids, Learning, programming, Scratch, scratch programming
Recently we have decided to put Belgium on the map by introducing computer programming to kids by using the wonderful and child-friendly, multilingual Scratch programming environment. And what time could be better than the International Scratch Day 2012 for this mission? Thanks to the facilities and support provided by Antwerp International School, not only the students from this school, but also children from other parts of the Antwerp were able to join this one-day introductory workshop.
One of the many projects created on the International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium
I had a lot of fun by watching the immense creativity of children from 9-year olds to 13-year olds. Before the workshop started I had some doubts, but the enthusiasm of the children, especially after learning the simplest programming concepts, and seeing that they could easily apply these to colorful graphics and sounds, had a powerful and multiplying effect on them. Another nice aspect of the event was the collaboration between children, between boys and girls; in order to help each other overcome some technical challenges. You can visit
to see a sample of the projects created by the children during the day.
One of the many projects created on the International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium
The event lasted slightly more than 3 hours, and it turned out to be above my expectations: at the end of the day, we had to scratch the kids off the computers so that they could go home, and of course continue coding there, using what they learned that day and what they are going to learn in the upcoming days, with the help of Scratch community.
I hope this event is going to inspire similar events, because I believe in the importance of introducing computational thinking concepts and patterns to children from a very early age, so that they can be computational problem solvers in any field they choose to study in the future. I think this also means going beyond merely being a “digital native”, and becoming a producer of ideas and implementations rather than just being a passive consumer of Internet entertainment and data explosion.