Saturday, 16 January 2016

The Power of Penguins Revisisted!

Over the Christmas break my wife and I again enjoyed the privilege of visiting the vastness of the southern ocean. We returned re-energized and with a huge array of penguin pictures and media. As I've posted previously, my duties as superintendent include visiting schools, but I don't get to classrooms as often as I'd like.  However, the word is out about my preference for penguins, and so, about this time every year I start getting requests to come make presentations. This was the fifth time I have journeyed deep into the southern hemisphere. I've been able to see penguins in their native habitats on the sub-antarctic islands of New Zealand, the Antarctic peninsula and the windswept Falkland Islands.  Each visit we  take only pictures and leave only footprints. As a result, I now have well over 6000 pictures of a dozen different species of penguins.

The popularity of penguins is universal. The penguin unit is a favourite with Kindergarten and primary classes. There's just something about the stubby little flightless fellows that makes folks smile. Whether its their snappy black and white attire, their awkward walks, their determined, fearless and curious natures, or their fluid grace in the water, nearly everyone holds penguins in some 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 and enjoyed by students.

When word got out that our district had a real live "penguin person",  the requests started coming. My teaching experience is mostly in secondary English, so facing groups of up to 40 primary students can be a bit unsettling. 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 as a teacher leader and then be a flop! 

The good news - the presentations go very well. I continue to get requests. And the students are wonderful. I continue to refine 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 or call like penguins. My vocalization of the call of the Magellenic penguin is apparently quite entertaining! (you can listen to the real thing at We've made and enjoyed penguin cookies and we've 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.  Most of all, we have fun while learning. When I go back to schools after speaking on penguins students don't always remember my name, or that I'm the superintendent, but they do remember that I'm the "penguin genius" and they are excited to tell me new things they've learned. Their teachers do a great job teaching about penguins both before, and after my visits. During a recent presentation the googling for more penguin information began even before I had finished speaking.

So I say, "more power to the penguins!". Any animal that can get me out of the office and get students so inspired must have special powers. I'm already hoping to going south again so I'll have new information pictures and video to share in the future. (Students and classes interested in adopting a penguin should check out the site at this Adopt a penguin! link). I used to find business attire a bit restrictive but now, I look forward donning my black and white "penguin suit" and waddling forth to share penguin perspectives as education matters.

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