by Alan Zisman (c)
2007 First published in CUE
16 December 2007
claims on the Arctic from countries as varied as the USA, Russia, and
Denmark, Canadians are convinced that the North Pole is in Canada, and
that as a result, Santa is a fellow Canadian.
Perhaps it’s no
surprise, then, that Canada Post does a booming business in letters to
Santa- postal code HOH OHO. Since 2001, Canada Post has also been
handling Santa’s emails, replying to some 44,000 emails in 2006
(compared to over a million print letters each year).
Starting in November, children can go to www.canadapost.ca/santascorner
(also available in French). There, they’ll find a Santacast and Santa
diary, online games, recipes and crafts, and even a shakable Santa
snow-globe. And of course, a link to write to Santa.
are asked to simply enter a name, an email address, and their letter to
Santa. Assuming they’ve entered a valid email address (and if they
enter an obviously mis-formed one, they’re informed of that fact), they
get an immediate message from one of Santa’s elves, Pepper Ministik.
And 4 days to a week later, an email message directly from Santa
himself will appear in their Inbox.
If you get a whole class to
write, some children are bound to wonder whether everyone gets the same
reply. In fact, there seem to be about five different replies—enough
variety that most younger elementary students are satisfied that it’s a
personal letter from Santa.
Unfortunately, nothing in the email
message- not even the message header- includes the child’s name, which
is a bit awkward if, as I did, you get whole classes to write, all
using the same reply-to address. (You can’t send multiple messages with
the same name and email address, but you can have multiple children
sharing a single email address).
This November, Microsoft Canada also joined in to help Santa handle his
email, using the memorable asksanta.ca
en francais). The website is fancier than Canada Post’s (and may be
slow to load). And while it’s apparently the third winter of operation,
the site has undergone a major revision that still (at least as of the
time I’m writing this, isn’t quite done). Click on the Post Office, and
a scroll rolls down, with smaller fonts and smaller fields for typing
than Canada Post’s, perhaps making it a bit harder for the littlest
ones to manage.
It asks for a bit more information than Canada
Post, as well, though I don’t think it’s being collected as part of a
nefarious marketing scheme. (There is a link to sign up for Microsoft’s
Windows Live Hotmail but otherwise, it’s not an overtly commercial
site). To send a message to Santa, children need to enter their first
name, an email address, their province (from a drop-down list) and
whether they are a boy or a girl.
Unlike Canada Post, Microsoft
doesn’t provide any immediate feedback after they’ve sent a letter. But
they outdo Canada Post with the personalization of Santa’s response.
Each response includes the child’s name (a very big plus when your
whole class’s emails are coming to the same Inbox), and there are
different replies for boys and girls—not in any particularly
gender-biased way, but using words like ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘him’ and ‘her’
But going to the site’s Reindeer Games link,
children can only (at least as I write) access two of the promised five
games. The others are ‘coming soon’. At least the recipes in Mrs.
Claus’ Kitchen and the various songs and printable colouring pages and
gift tags in Santa’s Workshop seem to be fully implemented.
like the diary Santa posts on Canada Post’s website, Windows Live’s
Santa is updating his blog. Apparently, this Canadian initiative has
caught the attention of Microsoft’s US parent and even MSN France, both
of whom are planning their own versions for next year.
encouraging children to email Santa, you may want to point out that the
jolly old elf sometimes gets discouraged if children’s letters simply
consist of a shopping list of desired presents. I point out to classes
that a good letter—whether to grandma, a best friend, or to Santa
should start off by telling some things about the writer and should ask
some questions of the person who receives the letter. After that, it
might be OK to mention one or two things that might be welcome as
In keeping with the holiday theme, it’s good to give as well as to
receive. Students with Internet access may want to visit freerice.com
This site asks users of any age to identify synonyms. (Harass = a)
sprint, b) annoy, c) toss, d) release for example). When correct
answers are given, the words get harder; if an incorrect answer is
given, the words get easier.
For each correct answer, 20 grains
of rice are donated through the United Nations to help end world
hunger. (No rice is taken back for wrong answers).
appear at the bottom of each page, with the advertisers apparently
paying the costs of the project. Having started on October 7, 2007, by
the end of November over 4 billion grains of rice have been accounted
for. That’s not only a lot of rice, but it’s a lot of clicking on
Grade 4-7 students at my school are really
getting into this, especially since I started adding up the total rice
donated by each class in a 20 minute session in the computer lab and
writing it on my blackboard, letting the classes compete with one
Rather than simply test student’s word knowledge, I use
it as an opportunity to improve research skills. I show students how to
open a second browser window and how they can use Google to quickly
find definitions. In Google’s search field, type define: harass and
press enter. At the speed of search, a number of definitions of
‘harass’ will appear.
As a result, students learn to manage
multiple on-screen windows, to use Google to find definitions, and to
quickly scan definitions to determine meaning. All at the same time
that they’re helping to feed the hungry and to help their class get a
higher score than the other classes in the school.
This might be as good as it gets.
Happy High Tech Holidays!