First Person

Ask an Expert: Are we there yet?

Q. We are going on a big road trip to California this summer. I fear my two kids will drive us nuts in the car. Do you have tips on how technology could help us?

A. Summer vacation road trips are a wonderful family tradition. Families share tighter space, unique bonding experiences and more forced togetherness than they normally do. In addition to spontaneous punching matches, high-volume melt-downs and other predictable road-trip pleasures, the question, “Are we there yet?” is always one on which you can count…often a mere 5 minutes after leaving the house.

Children often have a hard time conceptualizing time, distance and location because they have a limited frame of reference to judge these concepts.

Let smartphones be your guide

A mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, can help your child learn these concepts by creating an interactive and visual reference for time, distance and location.  Mobile devices can turn “Are we there yet?” into a positive experience by allowing your kids to plan and navigate your trip using your smartphone or tablet.

The first step is likely one you’ve already taken: the “pass-back” effect. The “pass-back” is where a parent or adult passes their own device to a child.  Parents use the “pass-back” effect 85 percent of the time during car travel, according to a 2010 report from the Sesame Workshops Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s article, “Learning: Is there an app for that?”

All you’ll need is a little advance planning to take this hand-off a step further.  That is, you’ll need to make sure your child has the resources and skills he or she needs to be a navigator before you hit the road.

Check out these travel apps

Following are some apps to get you started. All of these apps are available in the iTunes (for Apple devices) and Google Play (for Android devices) stores, unless otherwise indicated:

  • Mapquest4 Mobile – GPS navigation (Free)
  • Weather Channel – local weather forecasts (Free)
  • GrubHub – pickup and delivery restaurants in 300 cities (Free)
  • Diners, Drive-ins and Dives ($2.99)
  • – GPS gas station finder (Free)
  • Where’s My Car? – Can’t remember where you parked? Use this app (iTunes only, .99 cents)
  • Find My Car – Find lost (or stolen – hopefully not!) car (Android, Free)
  • Parker – Find perfect parking space (Free)
  • Layer  – Augmented reality app with links to content organized by category with historical sites, local attractions and more (ages 12+, Free)
  • iWrecked – Full-featured auto accident assistant (Free)

Prompt your kids with questions

Your next step is to look at this as a pilot and co-pilot experience with you and your child. Pre-plan your trip with your child so he or she knows key destination details.  Spend some time before taking off to download apps with your child, ensure he or she knows how to use them, and set up a digital trip notebook. It is important that your child knows how the technology works before starting to reduce frustration on the road.

You are now prepared for the first moment you hear “Are we there yet?” to turn the tables and start asking questions. You response to this question should be, “I don’t know, but here is the phone/tablet. Why don’t you look it up?” From here your questions might include:

  • Can you look up our current location and see where we are?
  • How many miles per hour are we going?
  • What is the weather going to be like in the next hour, 2 hours, etc…?
  • Where can we get the cheapest gas and how far away is it?

As your kids start to generate responses to these questions have them put that data in their trip notebook. As your trip continues, you can reference earlier data points and encourage them to make various comparisons between weather, gas prices and more.

Let your kids give you directions

Even better, your kids can be your go-to navigators for restaurants, parking, local attractions and more. Apps like GrubHub and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives enable your kids to help find places to eat along your route.  In town, they can use the Parker app to help you find the ideal parking spot.  The Layer app will enable them to find historical locations, restaurants, and other attractions in a vast array of cities.

Many older cities have their own augmented reality (AR) apps, such as PhillyHistoryAR (Android, free), which provides a block-by-block look at what Philly looked like 100 years ago. Many museums and historical landmarks have created AR apps as well.

Well, you might be thinking, this is all very fun but is it really a good learning experience? The answer is, “yes.” In addition to building their understanding of the relationships between distances, time, and location, your kids are exercising core skills in non-fiction reading, geography, history, math, technology, and science. These activities are building 21st century communications, critical thinking, curiosity, and spatial reasoning skills.

With a little help from some mobile apps, you will turn your road trip into a real-world, project-based learning experience that is fun for you and the family. Have a safe and enjoyable trip!

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk