The App-Ed Revolution

Written By Catherine Malcolm

What’s the buzz in the school carpool line?

Common Core State Standards.

Yes, it’s as dry and un-appealing as it sounds, but every parent and every student in 48 states is affected by this new initiative. And while the Core Standards (CCSS) debate continues, we continue to drop to the back of the class in the global rankings.

“U.S. students, who once led the world, currently rank 21st in the world in science and 25th in math,” Newsweek reported in 2011.

The Huffington Post headline yesterday read,

“U.S. Students Still Lag Behind Foreign Peers, Schools Make Little Progress In Improving Achievement.”

CCSS is a hot topic in parenting and teaching circles. Everyone wants what’s best for their little budding brainiac. But does it work? Many, like Sir Ken Robinson (acclaimed educationalist) and most of the elite private schools in the world might disagree.

Not only is the CCSS initiative based on an old paradigm of teaching and testing; production line education at its best produces conformity. When the early educators and curriculum developers designed our current system, conformity in society was what everyone wanted. “Follow the leader!” they said, and everyone did. The handful of creative thinkers who dared to step outside of the box became pioneering entrepreneurs. And everyone else conformed, and followed. While knowing how to get along with the group is as necessary as learning one’s ABC’s, that kind of “teaching to test” fails us when we try to stand out or even stand up to the new global dynamic.

The major problem with the CCSS initiative is what it leaves out. The arts are not extra-curricular, they are essential educational experiences that nurture true visceral relationships between the student and his/her curriculum. It helps to foster divergent and critical thinking whereas CCSS promotes group-think and let’s be honest, rote memorization. It’s not dynamic and it’s not 21st century.

Schools shouldn’t be factories with children on an assembly-line toward jobs that no longer exist.  To compete in today’s society, with technology, social media and communication at it’s most powerful in the history of our world, we must create a new educational paradigm.

We need a model that embraces the arts and its ability to nurture divergent thinking. A curriculum that uses the tools that we have at our disposal, tools that the authors of our old educational system couldn’t even have imagined. We need teachers who are given the chance to nurture critical thinking and creativity, and a support system to allow those possibilities to grow.

Sir Robinson said of education, “Teachers will tell you, ‘don’t copy!’ – it’s cheating.  But when you leave school, it’s called collaboration.” Sure, some kids cheat.  So do some adults. But that’s not the discussion. Children learn from each other and even when they “borrow” another’s answer, sometimes they might just learn something.

A study published in the book Break Point & Beyond illustrates the need for change in our current educational system.  A longitudinal study tested children for “Divergent Thinking” (the ability to think critically and creatively about a problem).

The first group showed a remarkable 80% scoring at the GENIUS level. How old were they? Kindergarten level. These same children were tested 5 years later. The same children. The same test. The genius level scores dropped to 50%. Five years following…down to 15%. While the educational system cannot be laid blame for all of the decline, it certainly can’t be left outside the margins of cause and effect.

In the last 5 years, with the rise of mobile communications and “smart phones” there is a growing trend toward parents sharing “play” time with their children on apps, some of which are labeled “educational.” Even some “entertainment” apps have shown to encourage a child’s intellectual and creative growth. While apps for children, especially in the educational market is the fastest growing segment in this market, there’s a lot out there that are simply “product.”

The growth of good, high quality apps that help to support what schools are doing, and better yet, NOT doing, is small. App developers have an opportunity to really make a difference, not just in the world of mobile games, but to effect change in our fragile educational eco-system. Great developers could a “game changer.”

Great app development is expensive and labor intensive, while many apps released are either free or cost less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Which is now 10 cents more this year than last. Less than that cup of coffee. Imagine that for a moment. You’ve just experienced divergent thinking. Now imagine what a good app could do for your child…or maybe even you.

Here’s an excerpt of Sir Ken Robinson’s discussion of our current educational crisis and what he believes are key points of inquiry.


Perpetual (e)Motion

Everyday is a day of adventure. The sun is up, it’s a day for the beach, or the kite park, or visiting the turtles in the garden. Rain, rain, go away? No way.

It’s a day for my boots to splash through puddles. There’s just too much in the world to discover. How can We sit still? Yes, WE, the little ones who are now very mobile and you can’t catch us, no matter how hard you try.

Daddy says I’m like the bunny that keeps “going and going and going.”  Silly Papa. Bunnies don’t “go” they “hop and hop and hop.” Hey, what a good idea!

Let’s hop around the dinner table! Wheeeeee!

Mommy reads everything she can to figure out where my off switch is, but maybe she should read this from “What to Expect” (toddlers, 19 months)  I especially like this story, because it recommends squeezing clay and squishing paint as a good indoor exercise. Oh, the fun I have with that! PAINT e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

Sometimes when I’m out and about, the big people say things like, “hold on tight, look left and look right…” and make me really look twice when we cross the street.  I learned that if I put my other hand up high in the air, people in cars might see me better because they’re big and I’m little.  I think that works, because everyone always stops and waves. I have a friend who has a leash, just like my dog.  Her parents say it’s because it’s safer.  That’s what ABC news says too:

I don’t know about that, but if she gets to have a leash, does she also get to drink out of the  dog bowl?
Hmmm, that sounds like fun too.

I wonder where I should wipe my


What’s in a diaper? Ask Jessica Alba!

“My baby just ate a diaper. What’s inside of it and will she be ok”? This comment from none other than Jessica Alba, Hollywood star and founder of The Honest Company , although a bit unusual, really got my brain stirring. After all, do YOU know what a diaper is made of?

Eco-friendly. BPA free. Organically grown, locally sourced. Low carbon footprint. Non-GMO. PABA free. Terms like these pervade the landscape of our lives. Turn on the local news, flip through the pages of a magazine, or check out the headlines on Our world is rapidly changing. Technology and science are making astounding leaps. Every time I watch something on The Science Channel my mind boggles at what human ingenuity is creating, modifying and understanding. But we’re rapidly approaching a time (if we’re not there already) where many of these things are beyond the scope of comprehension for an everyday Average Joe like me. So what do you do with this onslaught of information?

 I’m thinking specifically about the lengths that parents go to in the interest of protecting their children. When I was little, I don’t remember there being health-food stores.  I don’t think there was a single organic item in our local grocery store. I stood next to my dad as he poured gasoline in to the lawnmower and my grandparents let me eat Count Chocula out of a neat plastic dish shaped like a bunny. I think the only time my brothers and I wore sunscreen was when we were going to spend an entire day at the pool. But I see my friends now and the expense and time that they put in to everything that comes into contact with their children and I’ve been a bit of a cynic. Does the baby really need to be bathed with $20-a-bottle body wash? Is there truly an issue with letting toddlers drink from plastic sippy cups emblazoned with Disney Princesses? Up until recently, I thought that a lot of what I was seeing was over-protective bunk. But it’s amazing how something small can change your perspective!

As one of three full-time ambassadors of our new children’s brand, I have been immersing myself into parent/child culture. I’ve found camaraderie in the ranks of mommy-bloggers. I’ve opened the pages of handfuls of parenting magazines. And recently I attended an event called Entrepreneurship for Moms. The event featured a panel of highly successful mompreneurs, sharing their experiences, expertise and advice on running their companies and at the same time maintaining healthy family lives. Inevitably the question was posed to the panel “What inspired you to start your business”? The answers were varied and interesting, but panelist Jessica Alba’s diaper question really gave me pause. If something is ingested, of course you’re going to ask if it’s poisonous. But lots of poisons are inhaled or topical. And if you can’t find out what something as common as a diaper is made out of, what else don’t we know about things we’re ingesting, inhaling or covering our skin with?

 It turns out that finding those answers is a big, daunting job. Entire blogs are devoted to single facets of this enormous question. But groups are forming devoted to informing parents and protecting children. Groups like Healthy Child Healthy World are collecting and disseminating information, lobbying for regulations, and raising awareness. It’s a noble cause and an immense challenge and they are far from knowing every answer.

So what’s a parent to do? My (untrained, unprofessional) advice would be to use your common sense! Does the insect repellent that you’re spraying on your two year old actually kill the bugs that come near or does it just smell too strongly of geranium oil for a mosquito to be interested? If you know that antibiotic over-use in illness can cause drug resistance, then does it make sense to feed antibiotic treated food to our little ones (or ourselves) every day? Do myriad health articles in the media today say that Americans are eating way too much sugar and yet are barely eking fraction of the fruit and vegetable consumption that they should? Then maybe it’s time to take the juice box away and hand your kiddo a slice of apple and a glass of water(see the baby-approved apple recipe from FeeFiFoFun Mom at the end of this blog).

Then, when the issue is larger than common sense, use the experts to tell you which paint to use on the nursery walls or whether the water bottles on the sidelines at the soccer game are safe.  Want to know what’s in a diaper? There’s information available online, like this great concise article from Brace yourself-the answer is a little scary!

Protecting our kids and living safe and healthy lives alongside them is a something that none of us will do perfectly. So use your brain. Use the resources at hand. And then enjoy! While it’s not the best choice in the world, a candy coated marshmallow once in a blue moon is the stuff that visions of sugarplums are made of.

Apple-Squash Puree
For babies just exploring foods, here’s a quick and simple homemade favorite!

Apple (organic)
Squash or Kabocha Pumpkin (organic)

Steam apple and squash or pumpkin pieces until fork tender.
Puree in blender.
Freeze in single servings in ice-cube trays.

Serve each portion as is, or mix with 2T. coconut milk (unsweetened) and baby cereal (organic rice or mixed grains) to thicken to desired consistency.

My Career in the Arts or How the Sugar Plum Fairy Changed my Life

My mother took me to see the Nutcracker at the Colorado Ballet when I was five. I think this is a pretty common rite of passage for most little girls growing up. But for me, it was more than a holiday tradition-it was the inspiration of a life-long dream.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that first show. It is a beautiful blur of color and movement in my mind, fairy tale magic come to life, so close I could almost touch it. But the sense of absolute fascination that being there inspired, of connecting completely to another world, is a feeling that I never wanted to let go of-and I never have!

I’m a lighting designer. I make magic happen. I transform a black box full of people and objects into another universe. And what’s more, I get paid to do it! I bring home a paycheck for making Peter Pan fly, for strobing the lights during a Black Eyes Peas show, for gently revealing Odette in a pond covered in mist. I have the coolest job in the world, a job most people think you have to win the lottery to land. And I have it because my mom realized the importance of exposing her kids to the arts at an early age.

I think there’s a common feeling in our world today that the arts and arts education are expendable. Having come from an entire life filled with them, I can’t think of words powerful enough to stress what a difference they made for me.

After seeing the Nutcracker, my mom enrolled me in ballet and tap. It didn’t take many weeks of seeing how flexible and graceful the other little girls were before I knew that I wouldn’t be a ballerina. But I got some great exercise. I learned about poise and confidence in front of strangers and I was exposed to classical music.

A few years later, my mom took me to see a production of Brigadoon at the local high school. I was mesmerized and insisted on taking acting classes. Again, a lack of natural ability dampened my dreams of being a movie star, but in acting class I learned diction and public speaking, and I became obsessed with Shakespeare.

Since Brigadoon was a musical, when acting didn’t pan out I naturally turned to music. Months of voice and piano lessons ended in a tearful recital where I discovered terminal stage fright. But I learned music theory, rhythm, timing. I picked up a smattering of Italian and French from singing opera. I could intelligently reference Chopin or Wagner or Andrew Lloyd Webber.

When I got to high school, all of these things served an amazing end. I could give a speech in class without uhm-ing. I breezed my way through AP English because I had already read King Lear. I wrote inspired papers about how wars and advances in technology changed the landscape of literature and popular music.

But best of all, in that same theatre where I saw Brigadoon when I was younger, I took an amazing class. Technical theatre class! At last a venue for artistic freedom that didn’t require innate physical talent! My work, my feelings, my expression could reach thousands of people—and I didn’t have to actually appear on stage!

I was hooked. Theatre took over my whole life. When my friends were at each other’s houses after school, experimenting things that would make any parent cringe, I was in rehearsal. I knew that if I missed a rehearsal, I wouldn’t be allowed to work on the show, so I wasn’t ever really tempted to be anywhere else. I learned discipline, commitment and the value of putting hard work into something you love to make it the best that you possibly can. Theatre kept me out of trouble and on track to follow my dreams.

Being exposed to the arts when I was a child irrevocably changed my life and in the best possible way. I have a Master’s degree in drama. I have a job that I truly love, working with amazing people and expressing my deepest feeling and thoughts in a creative and constructive venue.

And I’m a lighting designer for the Colorado Ballet. Every year, I get to see the Nutcracker-the same Nutcracker that inspired my life’s journey when I was five-for free.