Are Webkinz just Crummy or a Tool to Use?

David Warlick's great spam blocker ATE my comment but I just had to respond to his post and the growing comments about his thoughts on Webkinz today in Are They Working on Their Reading?

"Again, it’s critical that children learn to sing, play with other children, build with blocks, play in the sand, and read books. But I wonder how learning to read, within the context of these online experiences, might differ from how we traditionally learn. For this four-year-old, reading almost immediately becomes a tool that improves his experience. It’s a skill that he uses to work his environment and, in this case, feed his pet, buy cloths, interact with and impress other children, and teach and learn."
Some comments:

Gary Stager says:

"I’m with you on reading, but what is really social about using your toy in conjunction with anonymous others in really primitive cheaply produced software? How is this richer than playing with dolls/animals/blocks/cars/the long-gone imaginative play/dressup corner in bygone classrooms?
Have you seen the Webkinz software? It makes Math Blaster look like high art.
Webkinz is undeniably a brilliant stroke of tschochke marketing. Kids may even love them.

However, isn’t there a danger of projecting too much educational and sociological significance onto an elephant purchased in an airport gift shop?? Just because some of
us found a voice online does not mean that everything changes."

I tried to say:

"My daughter and many others at our school love webkinz. And I think perhaps that Gary thinks the software is "crumby" because he is not the demographic target. The target is kids and they love it.

My 10th graders used the Webkinz to create an online safety course for our elementary school and it was an incredible success! We are planning a follow up! The students can still remember everything they were taught: do not share passwords, only add friends that you verify via voice, and other things about safety that were intertwined into the course.

Anything can be used to teach if it is planned and thought through and adapted for what it does well.

This is how our children relate to one another it is part of their lives. They also congregate on xbox live, play each other's Mii's and all sorts of things that take them out of their cocoon. However, we cannot discount their experience as a valid one. Yes, they still need exercise and to be well rounded.

What bothers me is why older generations always feel that the younger generation is only valid if the younger childhood relates to their own. I can remember my parents "kicking me off" sesame street telling me to go play outside.

Let them be who they are and join them. It is fun and we might learn something. Or we can just stomp our feet and say "be like me" as they look the other way and laugh.

Listen. Learn. Help the students be what they should be. Listen to what they say about what they are doing. We might all learn something about how to be better teachers and to relate better to today's student."
I just tire of the generation gap thing. I play Webkinz with my daughter and am proud of it. There must be those of us that bridge the divide and figure out ways to use what kids love to our advantage and to teach.

In our class we also taught about the importance of using a timer and doing other things and use several examples of people getting "lost in the net." The tenth graders also talked about obesity and the sedentary lifestyle.

And they had their rapt attention because they used Webkinz to do it. It would take 10th graders to do it that way. It was genius.

Gary is not the only one I've heard criticize such things. Just think and look and learn.

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