I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Bob Sprankle, Kevin Jarrett, and Maria Knee discuss WebKinz along with a wide variety of other “tween” social networking websites in Bob’s Bit by Bit podcast #63 this week during my commutes in the car. As a kindergarten teacher, Maria described how she has used a “class Webkinz pet” to discuss, teach, and learn about Internet safety with her five and six year old students. They did discuss the potential issues parents could have with this (promotion of a commercial site and product) but as a parent of young elementary students, I think those valid issues are outweighed by the benefits of having a REAL CONTEXT which has meaning for many students to discuss Internet safety. I posted the following comment to the podcast entry, to both thank Bob, Maria and Kevin for this episode as well as discourage the addition of stardoll [dot] com to their list of recommended “tween” social networking sites:
Bob, Maria and Kevin: This was/is a GREAT podcast and discussion. This directly impacted me and my professional development sessions with students and teachers this week on Internet Safety– I presented 2 days ago at the Casady School in Oklahoma City (an expensive, private school downtown) and used the WebKinz site to talk about Internet Safety. Some of the students shared some GREAT stories about things like password security. One of the kids had lost control of her Webkinz password for several months, and during that time someone (she never found out who) sold all her Webkinz furniture and did other things to mess up her account. The level of engagement of the students when we were discussing WebKinz was off the charts. Over 90% of the students there in attendance (there were about 60) reported that they owned a Webkinz. This provided an outstanding context for discussing Internet safety in a way that directly connected to their prior experiences, and was therefore more meaningful and potentially beneficial.To Richard’s suggestion that you add Stardoll.com to your list of recommended pre-teen social networking sites, I STRONGLY disagree and discourage you from doing so. My 2nd grader learned about Stardoll from a friend, and after reviewing/exploring the site with her we decided to prohibit/ban its use in our home. Not only do I think the site teaches poor values (I think there are better things for my 7 year old daughter to do than clothe scantily clad barbi-like figures) the site also appears to have potentially dangerous social networking chatrooms.Based on the screennames of users and the chat rooms they created, this looked like a place where pedophiles actually hang out. I would encourage parents to thoroughly explore the site with their kids and make up their own mind. Based on our explorations, Stardoll.com looks like a BAD place to hang out. Maybe I’m wrong here about Stardoll, but in general hanging out in chat rooms with strangers when you are 7 years old sounds like a bad idea….. I would put Stardoll in a different category from websites like Webkinz and Club Penguin.
While I knew about several of the tween social networking websites (Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Imbee) which Bob, Maria and Kevin discussed in this podcast, several others are new to me, including Whyville, Panwapa, Beanie Babies, BuildABear, WoogiWorld, and Cybersmartz. Although it is for schools-only, I’d also add Think.com to this list of recommended social networking environments for tweens.A dearth of social networking websites are HERE for pre-teens as well as teens. Are we taking steps to help young learners make good choices while they are visiting, interacting, playing, and communicating on these websites? In most schools, we probably could be doing more.Technorati Tags:webkinz, clubpenguin, tween, socialnetworking, Whyville, Panwapa, BeanieBabies, BuildABear, WoogiWorld, Cybersmartz, imbee, isafety, internetsafety, internet, school, education
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