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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Flat Stanley Goes Digital (and Loses his Way?)

I just caught up with Flat Stanley. Apparently, back in August he jumped online and has been reborn on a website created by a company called Flatter World (press release). There's also an iPhone app for the game. Or is it an activity? Or a learning experience?

I ran into Flat Stanley as a young reader of the book of the same name and later as an educator. I read about how Stanley was used in geography class. My understanding, back then, was that a class drew and cut out its own Flat Stanley and sent him, typically with a parent on a  business trip, to a distant location. There, the parent would share stories and pictures of Stanley's adventure. Stanley might come home, or if possible join someone new for another adventure, which was documented and shared with the class. Students would map where Stanley travelled and learn about those places. It was all very quaint and low tech. That educational implementation is still happening as documented by a local paper here in Massachusetts.

Looking over the new offering, I find the quaintness replaced by avatars and Facebook feeds and all the wonders of social media. And, of course, Stanley can now travel electronically, so he need not board a plane or suffer the indignity of being stuffed in an envelope for the mailman.

Sadly, though, the new site has little alignment with geography. The project is geared toward literacy via students corresponding with one another. The vision is that the new "pen pals" already have a friend in common (Stanley) and so writing is more natural and meaningful than distant random pen pals might be. Literacy is a great goal, don't get me wrong. I'm just disappointed Stanley has lost tie to geography in this new Web iteration.

But, I'm hopeful. With all the great Web resources about the "old paper and stamps" version of the activity (like this one at Social Studies for Kids), I'm hopeful teachers won't jump to the "new one" so fast. And, in time, maybe today's savvy geography educators will re-infuse geography into Stanley's new digital life.

via Edutopia