PUEBLO: A PARENT'S PERSPECTIVE
by
Patricia L. Barry
(a.k.a. Peppermint_Patty)
January 1997

Pueblo, a virtual learning community, has been a part of my family's life for the past eight months. It has made a significant positive impact on our family. As a Pueblo parent I would like to share our experiences.

BACKGROUND

My son, Michael (a.k.a. Barry), age 10, became familiar with MOOs last year in his fourth grade classroom under the supervision of his teacher, Jude Curtin (a.k.a. Gypsy). The class as a whole communicated with others on two MOOs, Diversity University (DU) and Pueblo. All students were given the opportunity to have Pueblo accounts accessible from home. In May 1996 when we started our connection from home to the Internet, Michael activated his Pueblo account. He has gone full speed ahead since then.

Aside from the introduction to MOOs by Mrs. Curtin, Michael's learning at home. He has become a skilled Pueblo member by asking questions on-line, by experimenting, by attending on-line programming workshops, by reading on-line manuals, and in general by being inquisitive and persistent. Unlike students at other schools such as Longview or West Point, Michael does not use Pueblo at school, though on occasion he has demonstrated Pueblo to his fifth grade class this year.

BENEFITS OF PUEBLO

The positive impact of Pueblo manifests itself in many ways. An obvious benefit of Pueblo is its language arts emphasis. Unlike the video games of today, which can mesmerize a child without even starting the game, Pueblo requires that a student perform an action in order to get a response. Specifically, a person must WRITE (type) a command in order for something to happen. The result appears as written words, and the student has to READ the response. Thus, the student is improving his verbal skills without even realizing it through reading and writing commands, descriptions of objects, and conversations with others. I have noticed a marked growth in Michael's writing in the past eight months. Mrs. Curtin has confirmed that, noting a vast improvement in his writing between June and September all of which was summer vacation when he spent a considerable amount of time on Pueblo. His writing has become very descriptive because Pueblo forces that.

On Pueblo a person can do programming to make objects perform certain actions. The opportunity this provides to elementary students is awesome to me, a computer science major from the middle ages of the computer era. The amount of programming a person can do is virtually limitless. Michael has delved into programming, surprising even his parents (his father is a computer programming professional).

Socialization is also an important component of Pueblo. Students can carry on conversations with a wide range of people without knowing, or caring about, their age, gender, ethnic background, location, and so on. It is amazing for me to see my son converse as comfortably with an 8-year-old child, a college student, a computer professional, a Pueblo wizard, or a grandmother. The conversations range from discussing the finer point of verb programming to sharing one's daily activities to joking and just plain having fun.

Fortunately, the Pueblo rights and responsibilities are observed most of the time, making it an environment comfortable and acceptable for all. Occasionally, as in real life, there are abuses. Pueblo affords the opportunity for children to learn how to handle difficult, uncomfortable situations on their own under the watchful eye of adults ready to step in only if necessary. A couple unpleasant situations have occurred, but my son handled them easily. Thus, Pueblo is a help to parents by reinforcing principles we teach at home about getting along with others in this world.

FROM A PARENT'S VIEWPOINT

All the benefits of Pueblo just described could also be stated by a teacher or a Pueblo wizard. So what, then, does a parent uniquely experience as his child uses Pueblo at home? In a nutshell, it affords parents the opportunity to observe their child learning without any classroom limitations and to share in that experience.

At home a child can explore Pueblo free from any classroom constraints. While this could be intimidating to some, Michael has relished the freedom this affords. As a parent, it amazes me to see how much he has learned without the structure provided by a classroom assignments, outlines, instructors. The only way to learn from home is experiment. I have watched Michael, as he has grown in all aspects of Pueblo language arts, programming, and socialization. He has at times concentrated in one area over the others, but in general has become proficient in all these areas.

From my observations as a parent has come sharing. Michael has spent much time with me sharing his Pueblo knowledge. He encouraged me, successfully, to get a Pueblo account for myself, and has even given me classes, tests, and homework assignments. As a parent, it is a strange (and wonderful) feeling to realize that your child has become more knowledgeable in some subject than you. Michael has become the teacher, I the student (and I now have an advantage that he does not have that of having a resident expert!). This has led to giving him the confidence and self-esteem that is rightfully his. Pueblo has provided these special times together to make this happen.

Another aspect of sharing with Michael on Pueblo is that of the friendships he has developed. The social interactions are an integral part of Pueblo which he has been free to engage in at home. His Pueblo friends have become real people (with funny names!) and close friends, despite the distances. To carry it one step further, Michael has introduced some of the people to us in real life, and our family's circle of friends has grown because of my son's involvement with Pueblo at home.

If there is a disadvantage of Pueblo, it is that its addictive nature presents a challenge to parents. Pueblo can easily monopolize my son's time and our computer. He is disciplined enough to finish his homework and other commitments before signing on to Pueblo, but sometimes we have to monitor his time to be sure that other aspects of school (and computer) are not neglected.

Overall, Pueblo offers Michael an unlimited world to explore a world of knowledge and friends. Because he is doing this at home, we are able to observe him and to share this world with him. Pueblo provides this special, unique opportunity for us as a family.


FOOTNOTE

The purpose of this paper is to share the experiences of using Pueblo at home. This paper assumes that the reader is familiar with Pueblo and the concept of MOOs.

This paper may be freely distributed, with proper credit given.

-- Patricia L. Barry