Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Power of Penguins 5.0

This week I'm updating and repeating a post I've run before about the power of penguins!

As superintendent, I don't get to visit classrooms as often as I'd like.  However, about this time every year I start getting requests to come visit classes. The secret behind my seasonal popularity is penguins! For several years my wife and I have journeyed deep into the southern hemisphere to see penguins in their native habitat; first to the Antarctic south of Argentina, then to the sub-antarctic islands of New Zealand and finally to the windswept Falkland Islands.  Each tour made certain participants took only pictures and left very few footprints. As a result, I now have well over 2000 pictures of nine different species of penguins.

The popularity of penguins is universal. The penguin unit is already a favourite with Kindergarten and primary classes. There's just something about the stubby little flightless birds that makes folks smile. Whether its their sharp black and white attire, their awkward walk, their apparently fearless and curious natures, or their fluid grace in the water, nearly everyone holds penguins in high regard. Penguin resources abound. Teachers Corner and Penguin Science are just two of many amazing and rich web resources available.

Popular culture embraces penguins too. Movies like "Happy Feet", and documentaries like "March of the Penguins" or the BBC's Lonely Planet, are great box office hits. As far back as Disney's "Mary Poppins" or as recently as the "Penguins of Madagascar" animated penguins continue to amuse. The venerable "Mr. Popper's Penguins" (now a live action motion picture), first published in 1938, is still being read by and to students.

When district teachers heard I was a live "penguin person",  requests started coming. My teaching experience is mostly in secondary English, so facing groups of up to 40 primary students can be a bit unnerving. What if I bored them? What if my pictures didn't interest them? Its a bit of a risk as Superintendent to put yourself out there and then be a flop! 

The good news - my presentations go very well. I continue to get requests. And the kids are great. I've refined my lessons based on the feedback the students (and their teachers) give me. Sometimes rather than just show pictures and talk,  we learn to walk like penguins. We've made and enjoyed penguin cookies and we explored "action research" on such probing questions as "do penguins have knees?" and "could polar bears and penguins ever meet?" Students do penguin art and consider penguin adaptations to snow, ice and water. My vocalization of the call of the Magellenic penguin is apparently quite entertaining! (you can listen to the real thing at Most of all, we have fun while learning. When I go back to schools after speaking on penguins students may not always remember my name, or that I'm the superintendent, but they do remember "the penguin man" and they are excited to tell me new things they've learned. Their teachers do a great job exciting them about penguins both before, and after my visits.

So I say, "more power to the penguins!". Any animal that can get me out of the office and sharing with students must have special powers. I'm already looking forward to going south again so I'll have new information to share in the future. (Students and classes interested in adopting a penguin should check out the site at this Adopt a penguin! link). Normally, I find business attire a bit restrictive but now, I look forward donning my black and white "penguin suit". I just wish I wasn't quite so well shaped to play the part!.

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