Educators oftentimes use literature as a springboard for additional learning experiences. Many years ago elementary teachers used the adventures of the main character in the book Flat Stanley to help their students compose friendly letters. A friendly letter was written to a favorite relative with instructions to take the two dimensional figure of Flat Stanley, which was included in the letter, wherever their daily lives took them. After a period of time, the image of Flat Stanley was to be returned to the child, along with a letter or daily journal, detailing the adventures Flat Stanley had embarked upon. Those adventures were oftentimes accompanied with photographs and then shared in class with peers and teacher. This exercise not only introduced children to writing friendly letters, but it also gave them opportunities to express themselves orally.
The original Flat Stanley character appears in a book by the same title, written by Jeff Brown, a children’s literature author. The story centers around a young boy who is flattened by a bulletin board which falls on him while he is asleep. He survives and makes the best of his terrible circumstances and uses his “flatness” to do things that a normal young boy would not be able to do. His adventures include being slipped under the door of a locked room, playing with his younger brother by having his brother Arthur use him as a kite in the park, and visiting his friends in California when his family places him in a large yellow envelope with the proper amount of postage, and dropping him in a mailbox. Flat Stanley’s dilemma ends when he becomes bored with his condition and has his brother Arthur use a bicycle pump to return him to his previous three dimensional self.
A niece of mine had sent my younger sister a Flat Stanley letter several years ago because my sister Aggie worked for The Columbus Dispatch newspaper and traveled to various locations throughout the United States. The newspaper corporation sent her to many cities. Aggie witnessed a spectacular launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Another time her travels took her to the Newport Regatta in Rhode Island where sailing is the supreme sport along the east coast. She traveled to California, the state of Washington, Maine, Kansas, Nevada, and numerous other places while she was an employee of the Columbus newspaper. She took Flat Stanley on countless adventures to many out of the way places, to the delight of our niece.
Last school year an Oklahoma teacher used a book her students had read in class as a springboard for research into social studies and other areas of the curriculum while integrating technology into the lesson.
During this six month period the fifth graders traveled the world vicariously in real time on a website their teacher created to track their ponies’ globe trotting. The idea of using ponies to track the journey of travelers was inspired by the book Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims. The main character in this book is a time traveling horse named Liberty.
The Oklahoma teacher purchased small stuffed ponies for her students who then sewed travel pouches for their equines. The children named their ponies and then placed them with directions and travel logbooks inside the pouches. A letter was written from the perspective of the pony asking each traveler to take the pony as far as their final destination and then pass it on to another individual. Travelers documented their journeys by signing the logbook and posting photos and locations of individual ponies on a class website created specifically for this project. Instructions accompanying each pony reminded travelers that the pony and pouch contents should be returned to school by April. Interesting mementos appeared in the returned pouches celebrating states and countries the ponies had visited.
Travelers took photographs of landmarks with the individual ponies. Photos on the classroom website ranged from hilarious to cute. The pony, Rosey, was pictured on the dash of a traveler stuck in a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway and then later was depicted with a police officer in New Jersey. Another pony, Bob, was portrayed with Santa, hoping to take a jaunt abroad. The ponies traveled to twenty six different countries including Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, Dubai, Mexico, China, the Netherlands, Belize, and many other countries. One traveler even created a Facebook page for her pony, Jeff Ponytrek, who accompanied her on business from Arizona to several countries in Europe and Asia.
Partnerships between schools and the global community offer more than a worldwide perspective; they offer an effective and active learning environment.
Wanda Dengel, long time local and Columbus inner-city schools teacher, can be reached at email@example.com.