Parenting, teaching, and learning

I’m taking a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). I try to take a couple of MOOCs each year. It keeps my mind exploring and it’s interesting to see what people are doing out there. I have started more than I have completed and have explored on two of the major MOOC platforms; I seem to have better luck on edX than I do on Coursera, but I have no good reason for this. Both have topics of interest to me and both are pedagogically similar, with videos, readings, quizzes, and discussion boards. They may have a course project that takes a different shape, and there may be some assignments that are a little different, which is one of the reasons I continue to explore them as much as I do. There are different University players, but that does not seem to be a factor for me; I just looked at the courses I’ve completed over the last two years and all six are from different Universities. But I digress. The point of this post is to talk about how a project idea for the course I am currently taking came about and the connections between learning, teaching, and life are being made.

The MOOC I am currently enrolled in, Body101x, is on the edX platform. It’s full name is “The Body Matters: Why Exercise Makes You Healthy and How to Stay Uninjured.” I figure that title is enough of a description for you. An eclectic mix in my family of activity levels and eating habits combined with my training as a pharmacist and interest in complementary and integrative health science make this topic rather relevant both personally and professionally. The stated goal of the project is “to plan and implement a physical activity promotion program.” The scope is left wide open. It could be a personal plan for oneself or it could be a program developed for a small or large targeted group of people. After seeing the form provided for student use in designing their programs, the teacher in me sees more than the stated goal of the project. I see: 1) to increase activity in someone, somewhere, 2) to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity to people beyond the course participants, 3) to gain knowledge of and loosely apply the scientific method at the level of thinking about program development in a systematic way.

I still have not managed to talk about my project idea, have I?

So there I was, sitting on my couch, watching one of the videos for the course. As often happens when there is a video being watched online, the children come from everywhere, much like cats who have heard the can opener. “What are you watching, Mama?” I explain that it’s a video in a course I’m taking. “What’s the course about?” I talk about physical activity and exercise and how much we are supposed to get, etc., and I say that I have a project to do for the course and I’m trying to decide what to do. “OH, Mama! Can we help you?” Kayleigh and McKenna asked this almost in unison. Before the girls had entered this picture, the scientist in me had already gone down paths of a pre-test post-test control group design in some target group of people with outcome measures and statistics. I took a step back at that moment and considered for a minute how I could use this project to educate the girls at a level they could understand while also meeting the project requirements.

Ready to go with her new Fitbit Flex

Ready to go with her new Fitbit Flex

Long story short (too late)…Pi got a Fitbit Flex for her birthday on March 14th. As I mentioned before, my core family of 5 people all have rather varied eating habits and activity levels, and it has been the topic of discussion in my household lately. Pi is, hands down, the best eater in the family. She has the greatest variety in what she will eat and likes to try new things. But she may be TOO good. Having always been praised for being a “good eater,” she has felt encouraged to go back for seconds and thirds. In conjunction with the fact that she would rather sit and play quietly with her kinetic sand, or modeling clay, or coloring books, rather than ride her bike and run around outside, you can see where this could become problematic. Her desire for a Fitbit, recent conversations about eating and activity in my household, and the timing of her birthday and the project were the perfect storm. My project, then, is more of a personal improvement program than a research study, but for program assessment in “researchy” terms, it will be handled as an n=1 pre-test post-test design. Baseline measurements for activity level are being measured from March 15-26. Activity level is being measured in three ways: number of steps, number of active minutes, and distance (miles). Once we get a baseline average, we will talk about how much we should increase it, and how we might do it, and set a plan that incorporates new daily goals. We will collect data for another 12-14 days after implementation, and compare.

Pi is incredibly excited about this! Informed consent. Check. “I fear that her initial enthusiasm may well skew my baseline data,” I tell my husband with a smirk on my face. But you know what? Her excitement about increasing her activity levels and measuring things and seeing progress is far more important in this context. This is not a giant NIH-funded grant. It’s a crossroads of parenting, teaching, and learning, and I for one am enjoying standing in the intersection.

The biggest city in the world

I confess to being one of those people who have (quietly) judged parents who are on their phones while seemingly ignoring their kids. This morning we went out for an early breakfast before work, and I had a very different experience. Here is my story:

The monkeys (my kids, aged 7, 8, and 9 years as of next Tuesday) are chatting away about the weather, as it is unseasonably cool. Kayleigh (8 years) asks, “Mama, what is the temperature?” I pull out my phone and let her know it’s apparently 63 degrees Fahrenheit. McKenna (7 years next Tuesday) pipes in wanting to know what the temperature is in Walt Disney World. Ok, 79 degrees. Now all three of them are spouting out locations.  Aunt Pat and Uncle Lee’s house? 65.  Hawaii? 72, and it’s still night time there.  Brazil? I forget which city I picked, but it was similar – somewhere in the mid-60’s.  Mexico? Ummmmm, where in Mexico will I look? Mexico City. 55. These are all from The Weather Channel app on my phone.

My husband Evan chimes in with a comment. “I think Mexico City is the largest city in the world, isn’t it?”  I look at him with my “blank screen, blinking cursor” face, which is indicative of complete ignorance on my part. Chasby (9 years) wants to look it up. Evan pulls out his phone and looks up the population of Mexico City (19,463,000, according to the website they were looking at). My girls are still spitting out places they want me to look up for weather. My step-son becomes more interested on what the biggest city is. Evan asks us to guess what the biggest city in Virginia is. Kayleigh chooses Richmond. Chasby chooses Norfolk. I was thinking somewhere in Northern Virginia but realized I had no idea the relative sizes of places like Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church….Evan tells Chasby he’s close with his guess. I mentally decide it must be Virginia Beach then. Eventually we are told that is the case.

Now we go global. “What IS the biggest city in the world, daddy?” I smirk at Chasby from across the table and ask him what he means by “biggest.” We talk about measuring a city by area and by population, and how they may not be the same. Evan looks up the biggest cities, and then they start talking about different populations of cities around the world, and I am looking up the current weather in them. Tokyo, Japan. 82.   Shanghai, China. 80.  Delhi, India. 90.

Our lively conversation and learning frenzy is rather suddenly severed by the gruff sarcastic voice of the owner of the bagel shop. “Well THAT’S a nice way to play with your kids,” he sneers. I freeze. My husband looks up and says “I’m sorry?” The man repeats himself, adding a comment about being buried in our phones. The kids are looking back and forth between me and Evan. Evan smiles and says jovially, “Yeah, we were talking about the biggest cities so we were looking some things up,” and Chasby, as if on cue, turns and proclaims “Shanghai in China is the biggest area, with 6,340 square kilometers, but Tokyo in Japan has the most people. Over 37 million!”

The shop owner says “Oh. That’s cool,” with no real inflection in his voice, and disappears into the back.

I relayed my story to my boss/coach/team leader (he doesn’t like “boss”) at work, and he pointed me to a NY Times article about social media use by teenagers on vacation. It’s a beautiful demonstration of being connected to both the here and now and bringing that to others, as Evan and I were bringing the world to the here and now, talking with our children about the here (Richmond, VA) and now (this morning’s weather right this minute) in the context of how it compares to many other places on the Earth.

My husband and I have not yet discussed the incident, so I have no idea about his perception of what transpired. Perhaps I will ask him about it when I get home from work today. I know that next time I see parents on their phones with their kids nearby, I may think “Maybe they’re looking up the biggest city in the world.”