Starting Young

So I’m giving a tour to a class of Fulda Elementary School third-graders the other day, and after showing them the downstairs area, I brought them up into the newsroom. I spoke a little bit about the staff and what people do, then got them in front of a computer and proceeded to give them a brief overview of how the front page of the paper gets designed.

At that point, Kari Lucin snapped a photo of me with the students and teachers, which she or someone else typically does whenever we have a tour group come in. I said the picture would likely be posted on the Daily Globe‘s Facebook page, and I asked students if they knew what Facebook was. Not only did they all seem to, but at least half the youths – these are 8- and 9-year-olds we’re talking about here – announced they were Facebook users.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was positively blown away by this. I wasn’t surprised in the least when, a few days earlier, nearly everyone in two Worthington High School tour groups raised their hands when I inquired about whether or not they used Facebook. But third-graders?

As I thought this over a little more deeply, I thought about my own children on Facebook at that age. In a nutshell – it’s not happening.

Given how easy it is to become friends with anyone and how simple it is to "like" something, it seems as if getting exposed to something inappropriate would be far too uncomplicated … especially for an elementary-schooler. I’m by no means a prude, but even I get offended by an occasional posting or two from a friend and/or group. A recent Facebook group praying for the death of President Barack Obama is one example. It may not contain profane language nor any type of graphic or suggestive sexual content, but I don’t really want my children asking why a bunch of people would want someone to die.

Of course, there is the possibility that the Fulda kids who are on Facebook are being closely monitored by their parents when they use this type of social networking. Maybe they all are … but I guess I doubt it. I hope I’m a good enough – or lucky enough – dad to be able to have my children understand that certain things on the computer are not for them … and then, in turn, have them respect that tenet rather than rebel against it. Time will tell.

On the other hand, it’s exciting to see how today’s technology can work in the classroom at the elementary school level, as I witnessed today during Noon Kiwanis.

Chad Kremer, a fourth-grade teacher at Prairie Elementary here in Worthington, brought in some iPod Touches as well as an iPad to show us how young students in District 518 are using them as learning tools. After getting lost right away in trying to get started (I must admit I was fooling around with the device, rather than listening to our presenter), I started to become comfortable with it while reveling in the overall "coolness" of the thing. Plus, there were applications aplenty that were educationally beneficial, including information and games pertaining from everything to U.S. states to grammar to science, and much, much, much more. While I’m not sure I would necessarily want to go out and purchase an iPod Touch for Grace and Zach (not now, anyway), I’m excited for them to get the opportunity to use one in the classroom. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a "gee-whiz" element to learning.

And, speaking of learning, I’m hoping to buy a smartphone sometime in the next few days, which would represent a major upgrade in communications technology for me. Thing is, though, I’m assuming the phone will be far smarter than me – at least at first. Gee whiz, indeed.