Saturday, January 30, 2010

An Apple in Every Classroom!

Edutopia is picking up the talk about Apple's big announcement this last week. Educators are weighing in on what this new device means to them. I was surprised at the negative comments, as I'm seeing a classroom tool that should be in every teacher's hands within a very short time. The reason? It's all about the apps. What the device can and can't do is outlined at WiredEducator, but here's the bottom line: the Ipad will be able to do anything you or some other clever person wants it to do. Just like the Iphone. Let's see, Grade Book, Class Roster, Plan Book, along with email and internet. That's while it's on the teacher's desk. Attach it to the Ipodium (or whatever the device turns out to be called) turn on the LED projector and it's good-bye interactive whiteboard. There is no way in the world those instant dinosaurs are going to keep up! If you know anyone in purchasing at any school or school district, tell them to save their money, sell what they have on Ebay and cut their losses today. Just check out what's available right now for the Iphone. That's available today, but once people get their hands on the Ipad, there will be a lot more.
I'm not usually a big tech fan when it comes to education. I think there are often too many bells and whistles and not enough basic skill transfer. The Ipad is not a way of educating, it's a tool for an educator, and as that, I think it will excel.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Who Killed the Wooden Train? (Part 2)

Those of you who remember the TV show Columbo remember that there was never any mystery about the crime - they showed the crime being committed in the first minutes of the show. The mystery was how Columbo would solve the puzzle. In that spirit, I am going to reveal the murderer of the wooden train right now!
Or at least I will very shortly. The important thing about the crime is not who did it, or why, or even when. The important thing is it was done. If I was to say that the wooden train died in early summer of 2007, you might guess that I'm blaming Thomas the Tank Engine (or more specifically his friend James the Red Engine) for the great train wreck. That's the day the victim died, but wrong on the date of the actual crime, as well as the how and the why, and most important, you would be blaming poor Thomas for his own murder! Thomas was hanging out with a bad crowd, and that led to his demise, but he didn't do himself in. Thomas, and the wooden trains he came to represent, are victims of a conspiracy! "I just had one more question" our friend Columbo would say "how can an over-hyped toy recall on a red engine kill a category of toys that defined childhood for generations?" We'll find out in part 3...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who Killed the Wooden Train? (Part 1)

Toys have their cycles. Pirates are popular, no-one wants pirates. We're in our 8th or 9th Dinosaur Age in 30 years. When you talk with someone about yo-yo sales, you find yourself fighting a mental battle not to say "they have their ups and downs". But throughout our 30 years, a constant has been wooden trains. Kids and wooden train sets seemed to arrive together in every American home. But not anymore.
In its first years, our little Golden Apple in San Ramon, made a bold decision to install a train table for the kids. Back then we were a Teacher's Store, with black reflective glass windows, in a warehouse behind another warehouse. Every now and then a brave parent would open our door and timidly ask if "anyone" could shop in our store. The magnetic allure of a wooden train table was so well known, we counted on it to send a welcoming message to parents.
We started with TC Timber, an American-made alternative to BRIO, the big name in wooden trains. We fought an uphill battle - every parent was familiar with the Swedish company BRIO, their quality was such a given that a BRIO set was considered a generational investment. The sets might cost twice what a comparable toy did, but educated customers knew the value, and the kids wanted a train! They didn't have faces, or even much detail, but the Scandinavian simplicity was part of the appeal. TC TImber's claim to having actually invented the product didn't help us break BRIO dominance of the market, but our train table was an instant hit, and put our store on the map, at least in the minds of boys (and a few girls). To be continued...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Sound of Gears, Shifting

I've been pretty quiet for the last 3 weeks - a combination of too much going on and nothing happening at all! The new year starts, and suddenly my mailbox is bursting with catalogs and new product sheets from my educational publishers. (There are lots of toy catalogs too, but I get to ignore them until February) For classroom teachers, there are new patterns, new cute designs and resources you never even knew you needed! Watch for them to arrive soon. Shifting from a December of toys to a January of education is always exciting... and exhausting.