Monday, 24 February 2014

Texting in a Dangerous time - The Value of Digital Citizenship

Recent headlines suggest that sexting - the practice of young people sending pictures of themselves or others in sexual or compromised positions - is on the rise. Media reports from Victoria, Kamloops and even Fort St John suggest the problem is a growing and spreading quickly. Its not really news that young people sometimes make mistakes. Learning to make good decisions and dealing with the consequences of poor ones has always been part of growing up, and its the very rare adult who doesn't shudder at the memory of something dumb they did when they were young. However, today, with advances in smart phone and social media technology, mistakes can be both recorded and distributed with a speed and permanence that leaves very little room for recovery, and considerable opportunity for a lifetime of pain and regret.

It has never been more important for parents and adults to teach and demonstrate good citizenship, digital or otherwise. Spiderman's axiom "with great power comes great responsibility" certainly applies to the use of technology. The problem is, technology has become so available and user friendly that it just doesn't seem that remarkably powerful or controversial any more. Taking pictures, posting them to the web, and sharing information with friends comes naturally to today's teens. What doesn't come so easily is consideration of the consequences some posts may have down the road.

Teaching impulse control to children will always be a challenge. In a recent article in Psychology Today Dr. Jeffry Bernstein offers strategies such as encouraging children and teens to think, "How I will feel afterward (after receiving the consequences of my actions)?" He also urges parents to teach teens that what feels good to do in the moment, might not be good for a person or others later on. Thinking about how one's actions impact others and growing a greater sense of empathy take on new importance when a few ill considered keystrokes can permanently ruin a reputation or land someone before the courts.

Teaching digital citizenship is even more urgent. Dr. Mike Ribble of presents 9 themes for adults to consider and discuss ranging from defining digital citizenship through to an examination of key sections of digital law. Ribble's framework is designed to make the subject less overwhelming and more accessible for parents, teachers and students. There is a tendency, even amongst people who access technology every day, to believe that the topic is too big, changing too quickly or simply too complex for anyone, let alone children, to really understand. However, what one doesn't know can hurt them, as young people all across the province have been finding out.

Social responsibility in the 21st century includes the responsibility to understand and use technology carefully, and with consideration for others. Teaching and modelling strategies of impulse control and appropriate use of social media is a responsibility we all share. Helping young people grow into informed and considerate adults has long been a goal of education. Doing so in an increasingly digital world may be daunting but its a challenge we need to take on.

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!.