Polar Express 2012 & Participatory Culture

5th Graders received special blue bells this year

5th Graders received special blue bells this year

Every year our Polar Express Day is an event that students, teachers, and families look forward to.  We of course wear our pajamas and listen to the story in the school library, but it’s much more than that.  We want students to experience the story.  A conductor with a flickering lantern meets classes and leads them to the train tracks of the Polar Express.  The path is lined with multiple decorations:  lights, student-made art, train tracks, a ticket booth, railroad signs, and more.

Here’s what the students saw this year:

A sample of music from the Polar Express movie plays while students enter the library and take their seats.  A spotlight illuminates the book that awaits them.  The hot chocolate song comes on and students are served hot chocolate with marshmallows.  After listening to the story, every child receives a bell placed around their neck with the words “always believe” whispered in their ears.  Students immediately begin shaking their bells, which sounds like this:

As they exit the library, they receive a candy cane.  Many of our 5th graders cry on this day as they experience their final Polar Express Day.  We have even started having a Polar Express alumni night for people to come back and experience the magic.

This year, I’ve been thinking about our participatory culture and how much participation is involved in this event.  Here are some examples:

  • Our principal organizes a schedule, volunteers, and materials
  • Our lunchroom staff makes hot chocolate
  • Parent volunteers purchase all of the materials and supplies
  • Parent volunteers (and some students) string the 450 bells
  • Parent volunteers pour and serve the hot chocolate and place bells around students’ necks
  • Teachers and students work with me to decorate the library and hallways.  Many teachers come back at night to decorate in order to have the element of surprise on the morning of Polar Express.  Every year, the decorations are different depending on what the teachers dream up in the moment.
  • This year, for the first time, many students made decorations to line the hallways with.  One of our enrichment clusters made decorations and some students made decorations on their own.

At times, I’ve felt guilty that so many people help with this event, but this year things began to click in my mind as I realized that this is an event sponsored by the library that is truly owned by the entire school.  I hope to think more about this in years to come and look for more ways that students can be involved in this special day.


Cybersafety 2012

FireShot Screen Capture #029 - 'Digital Literacy and Citizenship Classroom Curriculum I Common Sense Media' - www_commonsensemedia_org_educators_curriculum
Last year, our media specialists were charged with the task of teaching cybersafety to all of our students.  We don’t have an official curriculum, so each of us has curated our own version of what to teach.  I’ve found Common Sense Media’s K-12 curriculum to be very useful.  It offers lessons on multiple topics at all grade levels and also has all the resources you need in one place.  It also integrates into Edmodo if you use that tool with your classes.  Common Sense Media is also the adopted curriculum of the Mooresville Grade School District in North Carolina, which I recently visited to see their 1-to-1 technology initiative.

Since cybersafety is not the only thing that I teach, I wanted a way to deliver the content efficiently to all classes while also being consistent in what I said.  I wanted the lesson to be interactive and not take up too much space on the library calendar so that I could continue to support the many collaborative projects going on in our school.

I decided to schedule 2 sessions in Adobe Connect to teach all of the classes simultaneously.  K-2 had a 45-minute session and 3-5 had an 60-minute session.  Ahead of time, I put copies of any handouts students would need in teacher boxes.  Teachers logged in to our Adobe Connect Meeting room at the schedule time.  About 5 minutes before we began, we did a sound and video check.  Classes that had issues or classes with a sub combined with other classes.  I planned a mix of presenting, class discussions facilitated by the teachers, polls, and videos.  I also left time at the end of each session for students to ask questions.

For K-2, I used the lesson “Going Places Safely”.  We talked about how the Internet is really like going on a field trip.  Many of the rules that you use to stay safe on a field trip apply when you are online.

For 3-5, I used the lesson “Rings of Responsibility”.  We talked about how you have responsibilities for yourself, your friends and family, and the larger community when you go online.

As an add-on to these lessons, I displayed the Digital Citizenship posters from Common Sense Media and talked about students’ roles as good digital citizens.  At the close of the lesson, teachers had their students sign a class digital citizenship poster.

We will continue to offer follow-up lessons throughout the year.  I hope that this introduction will spark some open dialogue between students and adults about digital citizenship, cyberbullying, and ethical use of information.

You can view the archives of the sessions below.  Please note that some parts of the session will not be seen in the archive because classes watched a video in their classroom or had a discussion in their classroom that wasn’t a part of the recording.

K-2 Cybersafety

3-5 Cybersafety