Club Penguin at School

Last fall, I used Club Penguin to teach internet safety to my students in grades 4 to 6. These students introduced me to the wildly popular social networking site for tweens so it was only fitting that I find a way for them to use it at school.

What is Club Penguin?

In Club Penguin, users take on a penguin persona and waddle around a frozen world, making friends and earning coins to buy virtual schwag. The makers have taken lots of time to make a safe site where kids can interact and play. CP is like World of Warcraft or Second Life for kids.

Some features of Club Penguin:

  • Free accounts allow plenty of room for fun. But it’s the paid accounts that unlock lots of features such as buying furniture for your penguin’s igloo and clothes for your penguin.
  • CP is a Flash game that runs in your web browser.
  • There’s an option that prevents free form text chatting. Kids can choose pre-written messages like “boy or girl?”.
  • Two player games like mancala encourage interaction with other penguins.
  • The community newspaper is popular with the kids.

Gearing Up

I planned to use the NetSmartz program to teach internet safety to my students. Meanwhile, my students showed me Club Penguin. In a moment of free time, the kids showed me how it works and invited me to an igloo party after school. I joined them for a few minutes. The kids were ecstatic the next day!

“Ms. Megan came to my igloo party!”

That’s when I decided to welcome Club Penguin into my internet safety unit.

Getting Permission

About 75% of my students already had Club Penguin accounts. I contacted all my parents to get permission for Club Penguin at school. A short note sent home with the kids got me approval.

The Plan

Day 1: Create accounts, log on, and explore. I gave two guiding rules to start: 1) Chat only with penguins of people in this classroom and 2) don’t add any buddies unless they’re also in the classroom.

Day 2: Huddle up with the students and get their reactions about the previous day’s activities. Ask them the following questions:

  • What did you discover in Club Penguin?
  • Who did you talk with?
  • What did strangers say to you? How did you react?
  • Did you see any inappropriate language in Club Penguin?
  • How could you fool someone into thinking you’re someone you’re not?

Day 3: Return to Club Penguin, especially looking for instances of following or breaking common sense safety guidelines. This time I logged on and interacted with the students as “just another penguin”. The kids enjoyed the opportunity to chat with me — I was so popular that I was led from igloo to igloo as kids showed off their stuff.

Day 4: Return to the class huddle to create a list of rules for behaving safely in Club Penguin.

Thanks to Will Richardson who got me thinking again about Club Penguin in an educational context.

I *Heart* Cory Doctorow

Cover picture of Overclocked bookSince reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I’ve been a fan of Cory Doctorow’s writing. Now, there’s Overclocked, a collection of short stories. The Kirkus review bills these books as “computer-related and bulging with knowing SF references”.

Overclocked is available for purchase at traditional booksellers and for free download. Each short story is available in several formats, notably as PDFs and podcasts.

What a great foundation for a lesson in Creative Commons! Here’s writing that’s also packaged as a dead-trees format, that presumably will make money for Mr. Doctorow, and he’s also giving it away. It defies all that I ever learned about making a living in this world. Yet, by most measures, Doctorow’s incredibly successful.

By the by, I’m always looking for computer-related writing to use with my computer classes so this collection is going on my list. To use at school, I look for short writing (full length novels are too difficult to include in a class not devoted to the topic) Other writings I like to use with computer classes:

  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (excellent lessons on a life lived online & social networking)
  • Wired magazine articles (especially “Mother Earth Motherboard” by Neal Stephenson that chronicles the construction of a fiber optic Internet cable around the world: great writing and great lessons on how data flows on the Internet)
  • Takedown by Tsutomu Shimomura (the story of Kevin Mitnick’s capture for hacking, used with pro-Mitnick web sources to go along with Internet security lessons)
  • All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward (ok, so I cheat on this one and show the Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford movie, which gets teens excited about Watergate and journalism’s role)

Draw Diagrams Like Visio

I just signed up for a free account at Gliffy, which bills itself as a web based diagramming program that feels like desktop software. It works a lot like Visio.

Signup requires an email address, so I probably won’t use Gliffy with my middle school students — which is a shame. I continue to struggle with how to handle signups that require email addresses for my youngest students (approx. age 9). But that’s a separate issue.

On to features I like in Gliffy:

  • share a drawing with collaborators
  • publish drawings to the web easily
  • loads fast (it’s Flash based)

Below is a sample drawing I whipped up in about three minutes (and that includes the “publish to web” bit).
My Sample Gliffy Image

I bet that Google buys Gliffy to add to the Docs and Spreadsheets tools they already have.