If you aren't an educator or you don't have kids, you might not know about Flat Stanley. So some background:

Flat Stanley is the titular character in a series of books written by Jeff Brown. Stanley was given a massive bulletin board by his father in order for he and his brother to display their posters, photos, and the like. But in the night, the bulletin board falls down and, well, flattens Stanley. He proceeds to make the very best of his new form and has the sorts of amazing adventures you'd expect from a flat character in a children's book -- sliding under locked doors, for example, and mounting himself on museum walls.

Some thirty years after the first Flat Stanley book was published, Dale Hubert, an elementary school teacher from Ontario, created the Flat Stanley Project -- a literacy and pen-pal project whereby students would send paper cut-out "Flat Stanley's" to other people around the world, who in turn would document the things that Flat Stanley saw and did while there. The Flat Stanley -- often a hand-drawn, colored, and cut-out piece of paper -- was a "mutual friend" between the letter correspondents, Hubert says, fostering easier communication between students, giving them an idea of what to do with Stanley and what to write about.

No doubt since it began in 1995, the Flat Stanley Project has become one of the most successful and best known global education efforts.

Flat Stanley on the iPhone

Today marks the next big adventure for Flat Stanley with the official launch of the project's iPhone app and the announcement of a new company, Flatter World, which Dale Hubert has joined and which will handle the Flat Stanley franchise.

The new app is free and it works on- and ofline. As befitting a well-established and well-loved character like Flat Stanley, great pains have been taken to make this app work for young children. The app is COPPA compliant, meaning that those younger than 13 can sign up for it with parental approval. There are lots of privacy components in place -- geotagging can be turned on or off, for example, and the Flat Stanley Project moderates all photos before they're posted to the website.

When you sign up, you can create a Stanley or Stellay (a girl Flat character). You can customize your character -- with skin and hair color, facial expressions and clothing. You can write your character's biography. And then, of course, you can take photographs -- with either the front or rear-facing camera -- and insert Stanley or Stella into them.

The app lets you plot where the photos of Flat Stanleys have been taken on a map so that users can track where their friends and families' Stanleys have travelled. And you can send your Stanley to someone too, much like mailing your Stanley in an envelope. But the benefit of a virtual Stanley, of course, is that he's guaranteed to return. No "the dog ate your Flat Stanley" horror stories. And if a person forgets to return your Stanley, you can automatically summon it back to you.

An Online Social Network for Flat Stanley

You can share your photos to Facebook and Twitter as well as via email and to the new Flatter World network. This network aims to supplement the already existing Flat Stanley Project and to help encourage kids to "see the world" and make new friends outside their hometown.

Although initially a letter-writing project, Flat Stanley has already become a popular character to have one's photo taken with. President Obama has had his picture taken with Flat Stanley, for example. Hubert told me he was often surprised by these photos as they frequently indicated that adults happened to be carrying around flat cut-out pieces of paper with them, just waiting for the right photo opportunity. By integrating with the iPhone, that's just got a whole lot easier.

But it's the facilitation of the larger educational mission that's even more important, and Hubert says that he hopes that kids will continue to create stories for their Flat Stanleys and to send and receive them from others. He believes that by adding both the mobile component and the social network component, that Flat Stanley -- like so very much educational content these days -- is ready to make the leap from paper to digital -- something that opens up a lot of new possibilities.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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