Learning from ‘Dog With A Blog’

July 17, 2018

Can a TV show inspire an educational activity?

We know kids who love to watch ‘Dog With A Blog’, a Disney TV series about a dog Stan, who can speak English and also type — a dog that documents his life — on a blog. Would it then be a challenge getting the kids who know about such TV shows to use writing as an exercise in reflection?

We decided we would find out if kids would care to write a blog post and also enjoy it.

We dovetailed a specially designed blogging activity to a coursework that we are testing out through a recent workshop of AlligatorZone Academy. Part of the goal of the coursework is to help kids try to understand how product marketers and startup CEOs think and communicate to sell.

Success in any field depends on one’s skills at selling. Unless one has retired and moved to a remote island or to a monastery off-the-grid, we are all on sales-mode, trying to selling something or some idea to someone. Whether it is trying to get an A in a school paper with that extra question answered to impress the grader, or whether it is convincing a parent to go watch a movie with them, or if it is writing out that wish-list for the next holiday season, kids intuitively understand how to negotiate and get what they want.

Last summer, VC Kanwal Rekhi suddenly remembered one thing he wished that he had covered in his talk the previous evening to entrepreneurs — that he considers ‘selling’ as the number one skill an entrepreneur must have. I captured it in his own words on video at a lunch meeting the next day and shared it with others (watch the clip below).

Our focus at the Academy’s recent beta workshop has been to help kids understand how entrepreneurs use communication to get things done — and get them done in a cost-efficient manner. I was pleasantly surprised when some of the kids mentioned blogging as one of the highlights of their recent workshop experience.

It probably helped that the kids were already familiar with the concept of blogging. I am told that ‘Dog with a Blog’ is quite popular among elementary-school kids. Perhaps, blogs aren’t just for Stan, the communicator dog from the TV show, after all. However, only time will tell if those students who were excited to write their first blog post will learn how to continue to retain and rekindle that excitement repeatedly, and take their audiences along with them on their journey, while honing their written communication skills.

The writer, Ramesh Sambasivan is the cofounder of AlligatorZone, and a designer of B2B marketing programs with an eye on social-impact to help enterprises that want to grow while giving. This essay documents his firm’s recent effort in designing a curriculum for AlligatorZone Academy to prepare kids for careers that do not yet exist, created at the request of parents seeking a structured alternative learning environment for their school-age kids. Premium programs of the Academy are expected to help make AlligatorZone’s free event-program self-sustaining.

“Pen-tapping is a thing?”

July 6, 2018

Observations from running a kids’ summer workshop on entrepreneurial-mindset.

Last week, I had the privilege of spending some time with kids of ages 11–14 while running a special workshop series, being designed as a premium alternative-learning launchpad for kids to begin to understand how entrepreneurs think. These workshops are held under the banner of AlligatorZone Academy, to support the free public event-program AlligatorZone®, where kids meet cool startups.

This series of workshops is being designed starting with a big, blank canvas, for families who want to invest in enriched learning experiences despite it being a ‘summer workshop’. We draw from a wide variety of public resources and let the kids have fun as they learn and embark on their own voyage of discovery, if they feel sufficiently motivated. Some leave with an initiative that they can pursue on their own, long after summer is over.

Here are three of the many interesting lessons we learned during last week’s workshop with the kids:

Kids pick up jargon effortlessly.

I am not sure if it is because they want to sound adult-like, or it is because they love labeling things, kids seem to take to jargon very quickly. We deliberately strive to avoid all business jargon. I think that jargon has the life-span of fads, and what they learn may become outdated by the time these kids enter the world of work.

Jargon has the life-span of fads

We would rather use the time with the kids to help them observe the world around them and absorb timeless lessons they can always remember, apply, and talk about, with the help of more contemporary jargon keeping with the times when they get into a career or when they find a calling — if the use of jargon will help them. Our effort to steer clear of business jargon, however, remains a work-in-progress. At last summer’s workshop, I had inadvertently used the word ‘traction’, and found that within minutes the kids were generously using the word, though it was in the right context. Still, it felt like they lost a piece of their child-like quality when they resorted to using business jargon instead of plain talk. Kids pick up jargon effortlessly. That is no reason to teach them business jargon.

Kids love good stories — even stories on concepts in commerce.

Kids love stories.

The workshops are designed to provide an entertaining and enlightening view of the world of business and commerce. One of the goals was to pick up on some concepts in commerce and look at their real-world manifestations using examples as part of story-telling. We refer to them as CaseStories™. We learned that kids simply love good stories — even stories on concepts in commerce.

Kids know media.

Through four years of observing kids interact with startup founders at AlligatorZone’s free public events, I have learned quite a bit about the next generation of consumers and decision-makers. Being native to the digital world, the kids are a natural with the use of modern tools made possible by the mobile web. They know how to empower themselves by finding their audience.

However, interacting with them during the workshop and learning about what excited them was eye-opening indeed. For instance, kids can rattle off names of YouTubers and can articulate why they like or dislike some of them. Another example is the positioning of common-place activities as an art-form for a digitally native medium and audience. Pen-tapping is now a marketable skill, I learned.

Pen-tapping is an art-form!

Kids understand how to build an audience for it online, and perhaps have even made it into a branded art form that wins them accolades. Back when I was in middle school, for pen-tapping and desk-drumming, all I won was a resounding slap from a very strict school teacher.

These are just three highlights from an exhilarating workshop that had kids bubbling with energy and enthusiasm over matters of commerce and entrepreneurship.

Parents and educators can leverage certain strengths in children to get them inspired efficiently.

Parents and educators can leverage these traits observed in kids by engaging them in entrepreneurial thinking through topics and matters that interest them. It would make education more efficient if we could find paths of least resistance to get kids inspired about seeking solutions and opportunities to make the world better.

We are now planning another set of such workshops in Silicon Valley this month. I believe that whatever the kids work on or play with in their early school years with an entrepreneurial mindset, they will derive compounded benefits if they can find something aligned with their interests, making it easier for them to stick with it or find patterns in their varying pursuits during their growing years.

After all, it’s about eventually connecting these dots to a fulfilling and rewarding calling, and somewhere early along the way — finding traction.

The author Ramesh Sambasivan is a designer and cofounder of AlligatorZone.org, where kids meet cool startups. Click here to learn more more about AlligatorZone’s upcoming workshops for kids, being planned in SiliconValley for this summer. Share this essay with family-friends, teachers and tutors who have school-age kids under their care and supervision.