Help me set an educational goal for my 12 year old.
January 31, 2013 3:14 PM   Subscribe

My 12 year old son wants an iPhone. We agreed that if he completes some fitness goals and an educational goal we would get him one. I am trying to set the educational goal. He is pretty bright and gets straight As in school so I would like the goal to be something not school related and preferably something he probably won't get exposed to in school. I am an electrical engineer and initially thought some sort of computer programming. Any ideas will be greatly appreciated.
posted by tr45vbyt to Education (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could get him to make an iPhone app using the emulator and SDK, so that when he completes it, you get him the phone and he can actually install it and run it on his very own iPhone.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:15 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is your son actually interested in programming?
posted by downing street memo at 3:16 PM on January 31, 2013 [10 favorites]

Maybe your son could pick a subject he's interested in, research it, and then do some kind of project. At that age, I remember I liked having the opportunity to follow my curiosity. And of course you'd know him well enough to make sure he picks something actually challenging.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:22 PM on January 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

downing street memo has a good question. My nephew wanted an iPhone when they first came out (he was under 10 at the time) and I told my sister he didn't need one. Boy was I ever wrong and thank goodness she didn't listen to me. That iPhone totally stimulated and nurtured his interest in programming, and became a tool on which he learned massively about programming and computers, and now he's a programming prodigy. So, if your son is interested in programming, don't think of the iPhone as a communication or entertainment device, instead think of it as the best learning tool you'll ever get for him and you'll never regret it.
posted by Dansaman at 3:28 PM on January 31, 2013

You could do something else that's engineering-y, and maybe more helpful with the fitness goals, like maybe some sort of project with a bicycle, or build some sort of human-powered device, a pedal-powered car or such.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:28 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

How fantastic that your son gets straight As! It's hard to find an academic goal, given that and also not having any knowledge of his interests.

Some things I can think of:
Does he play chess? Could he learn? It's a good pastime for fine tuning his analytical skills.

Lego Robotics--does his school have a club? What about other clubs, like Math Bowl? Does he like math, though?

Could something that would look good later on his college application count as "academic"? Volunteering somewhere would definitely do that.

I think the idea of writing an iPhone app is a great one, but I don't know that I could do it myself, as I am not a programmer and am not sure what it would entail.

It would really help to know more about your son's interests!
posted by misha at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2013

First lego league may be a start if you have a local team.... My daughter does it and it's a ton of fun....and very educational...
posted by pearlybob at 3:42 PM on January 31, 2013

Response by poster: He has never expressed interest in programming but really has had no exposure at all to it. He plays chess a little and I purchased a few books for him on it but he never really caught the bug. We live in a small town with no clubs. His interests right now are Hockey, football, baseball and video games. I am hoping to expose him to something new that even if he doesn't end up loving will broaden his mind.
posted by tr45vbyt at 3:50 PM on January 31, 2013

What is your son interested in?

I think it's mean to make him earn an iPhone by making him do something "educational" that doesn't interest him at all and isn't school-related, but is just sort of mindless "I say jump you say how high" parental demand-making.

If he's shown an interest in programming before, coming up with a project that will get him out of his comfort zone and make him have to work a little would be ideal.

If he's not otherwise interested in programming:

- Regular music practice, or really practicing anything he's interested in which requires putting in the hours to build a skillset. If he doesn't throw in the towel for X reasonable period of time, he gets the phone.

- A research project. Something he won't rebel at doing, but that will push him a little to develop more formal skills like writing, a presentation, or using library materials. If he can go to the library every Saturday for a month (or however long you think is appropriate), make a bibliography, and give you an oral or written presentation on X INTERESTING THING, he gets the phone.

- Learning a hands on skill like building, making, growing plants, raising a food animal, etc. Could be anything from creating a garden plot to building a 3-D printer -- whatever interests him and is somewhat in his wheelhouse, but, again, will require discipline and stretching his wings a little to complete.
posted by Sara C. at 3:54 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sabermetrics. Get him started on the stats behind baseball, then tell him if his fantasy baseball team can beat yours, he gets the iPhone*. It plays off his interest in sport, plus will teach him statistics and analysis. Plus it's something you can do together for bonding time.

* - Although, consider doing the iPhone rewarding based on a points system with a variety of tasks he can complete to earn it. So Complete Fitness Goal #1 could get him 10 points, Fitness Goal #2 15, and so on. Beating your fantasy team could be worth 30. Programming something 35. Toss in some gimmies (5 points per A), and set a points level required for the phone.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:00 PM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

There's always the good ol' science fair.
posted by sb3 at 4:05 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think building something or helping someone would be good skills he might not otherwise get.

Whether it's building a tree fort or helping out as volunteer someplace - those are actually pretty educational things and if he gets to pick the thing he builds or the place he volunteers he'll be learning (either how to plan, how to learn independently, or how to help others, or how to see himself as part of a community.) So perhaps something less obviously academic on the surface.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:09 PM on January 31, 2013

posted by valkyryn at 4:20 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

He should set the goal, with guidance from you. The process of doing that teaches him a much better lesson, I reckon, about setting goals and accomplishing them, than having to jump some arbitrarily hurdle placed in his way. He'll have enough of that with education and work life in the future. Better to learn now the power of self-directed achievement.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:22 PM on January 31, 2013 [18 favorites]

Perhaps part of the academic goal should be for him to set forth his own research project. Being able to traverse this terrain is invaluable in terms of future academic work. For much of my schooling, I was often spoon-fed topics to write on, which ends up being a regurgitation of a summary of secondary literature. If you can help him find a question that he'd like an answer to (as part of the assignment), and help him follow through on answering it in a way that is age appropriate, you'll be giving him a life-long skill that will help him be ahead of the game in school.

This may sound like pretty heavy stuff for a 12 year old, but I honestly think that you could do this in an age-appropriate way that at least plants a seed of the skill, instead of having it become a shock when he finds out how independent research is done later. I'd have killed for this skill ahead of time.

So, perhaps the assignment would look something like this:

1. Find something that you are interested in.

2. Ask a question about that thing that is perhaps unresolved.

3. Track down the resources to answer that question to the best of your ability.

This would allow him to hand-craft something that caters to his interest while building some confidence in his ability to problem solve and use resources.

Or, something like that. Your job, I think, would be to help him figure out how this can be interesting and not as dull as it would seem if he had just read it for himself. It can also cater to a number of different disciplines, I would think.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:33 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like Sara C.'s first and third suggestions - they're broadening experiences that could have specific goals while also exposing your son to something he's not used to, as well as not being specifically academic in nature, at which he's already demonstrated proficiency.

I'd go for things like:
- learn to play a certain song on a certain instrument
- complete a painting, subject of your son's choice
- draw an accurate plan or build a model of your home
posted by LionIndex at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could teach him about the value of money and buy him a less expensive phone or have him help you pay the bill for the phone and its service every month? You could maybe even make him do chores and learn to work towards a goal. I think that'd be way more valuable than Latin since pretty much all kids will grow up to have to hold down jobs and be responsible with their money. As a new-ish adult I am smart and capable at lots of things, but had I learned money management (and that wanting something really bad isn't a good enough reason to spend money on it) I would be a lot better off right now.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:19 PM on January 31, 2013

Maybe some sort of charity goal like organisea garage sale or something to raise x amount of money. There would be a lot of organising, money handling even some advertising. While maybe not academic goals like programming they would teach your son a lot about the world while he researched a charity to donate to, as well as people skills, money handling skills and even a few marketing skills.
posted by wwax at 6:11 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

If programming is the goal, check out Code Academy. After completing one track he gets the phone, then a paid app for every lesson there after or something.
posted by nowoutside at 6:45 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love the suggestion of Latin. If he takes to it, he'll see stories inside words. Isn't that an awesome superpower?

(Depending on his learning style you'll need an actual tutor: I learn languages by rubbing their sounds into my ears and I prefer to do this by speaking at someone sympathetic; if he likes writing things over and over or studying patterns by seeing them, you might be in luck.)
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:48 PM on January 31, 2013

Do you guys have a Playstation? Since he likes video games, you could have him make a level in Little Big Planet.

But really, I love stavros's idea of creating a goal himself with guidance from you. Teaching him to make and set his own goals - and to enjoy doing so - is going to be way more valuable than forcing him to study Latin, which he'll almost assuredly quit and entirely forget once he's got his iPhone.
posted by imalaowai at 7:02 PM on January 31, 2013

Have him do something he sucks at and isn't likely to master in short order. Make the iPhone contingent not on some specific outcome, but rather on milestones of effort, and, as suggested above, work with him to set the goals.

I think that for a lot of straight-A students, learning to deal with "failure" (even if it that measures out as a "B+") is an important lesson. (Also, at some point, getting straight A's suggests that one isn't pushing one's self enough, though he's at least 6 years or so from having that rap stick.)
posted by Good Brain at 7:53 PM on January 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

Programmer/Engineer here too, I was quite surprised that something good came from the kids playing Minecraft, of all things. It has red-stone in it, and they got seriously good at creating very clever things using red-stones. Then when you look at the more closely, redstones are made up by NAND, NOR gates, repeaters, including building machines with "bit-storage" memory.

Showing them simple electrical engineering diagrams, replacing the classic symbols with minecraft icons, and they knew right away how it worked. I am certain that will help with higher education comes around.

I would not play minecraft on 360/ps3, or handhelds, as it is limited. Better to go for PC/Mac directly.
posted by lundman at 9:17 PM on January 31, 2013

Your son sounds exactly like my younger brother, who is 11.

Maybe you could have him memorize a small number of lines, either poetry or prose? Start him off with something easy, like eight stanzas of an Emily Dickinson poem. When he's mastered that, give him another worthwhile poem or passage of appropriate difficulty. Ultimately, you could give him the task of finding something to memorize on his own, and then reciting it for you/the family/a small group of your friends/whatever is appropriate.

I envision that you could set a goal of 60 total lines, for example, that he must recite from memory and without error before he gets the phone.

Benefits: (a) memorization disciplines the mind; (b) memorization improves your memory, which is nice; (c) exposes him to poetry or literature in a different way than he is probably used to in school; (d) if you do choose to have him recite the lines to a group, it will be an early introduction to public speaking; (e) he will likely remember those passages for a very long time, which is a cool thing for everyone involved. My freshman English teacher required us to memorize the first 20 lines of the Aeneid, in Latin. Eight years later, I can still recite them backwards and forwards.
posted by Comic Sans-Culotte at 9:45 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

What about reading a certain number of books (or one very long book)? Public libraries and probably the school library often have lists of books recommended for different age groups. (Here's a post from MeFi about books for 10-12 yo).

I also like the idea of some kind of creative/scientific project -- like gardening, music, arts, carpentry, etc. Maybe this list of Boy Scout science projects would help? (That site actually has a lot of neat ideas for science projects including computer science).
posted by bluefly at 7:18 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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