Unlocking Twitter’s Classroom Potential

If teachers want to truly prepare students for the future, we must accept that social media is not going anywhere.  Read on for tips on getting started in Twitter as an educator!


Isn’t Twitter just another mundane way to micro-share everything in your life?”  “Twitter just seemed too complicated with all the symbols and rules.”  “Even if there are educational resources on Twitter, I just don’t have the time to join another social media website.

Do any of these thoughts sound like you?  If so, you’ve come to the right place, because we’ve been there, too!  This article is designed to help you understand its benefits as an educator, as well as to provide basic steps and ideas to get started–all from the perspective of a fellow educator!

5 Reasons You Should Join Twitter As an Educator

#1: Professional Development:

We very purposefully place this reason first!  Resources like Twitter are the reason professional development is increasingly becoming a personalized experience at schools.  Once you establish yourself with few educational hashtags combined with tools such as TweetDeck (see Simple Steps below), you will instantly have a wealth of current topics and resources to explore. For example, check out the screenshot that I randomly took of my own Twitter feed below:

Tweetdeck screenshot

Just glancing at the feeds, you can see resources and conversations ranging from math fact apps, to tips for using QR codes, to ideas for supporting inquiry!  Many professional development days at schools currently involve the entire staff listening (often halfheartedly, especially if it doesn’t apply to them individually) to a couple of admin-selected trainers.  Envision PD instead becoming days when the staff breaks into groups to spend the day truly exploring their areas of professional interest/needs–reading/discussing articles and contacting experts online with questions.  Twitter has the potential to revolutionize each teacher’s development as professionals not only on a school-wide basis, but on a personal basis as well!

“The Twitter shift puts each educator in control of her own professional development with self-direction and personalization of content at any time…during planning periods or outside of the school day…If I want, I can get a daily dose of professional learning to go with my early morning cup of Joe. Through the Twitter platform, I discover best practice, research, solutions and ideas delivered to me in 140 characters or fewer, for just in time learning.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]

#2: Relevance

The relevance with regards to using Twitter goes beyond just relating to our more tech-savvy students (although that can be quite significant as well)!  It goes back to what we described in professional development above.  Twitter is an incredible vehicle for teachers and other educational experts to quickly and effectively share their most innovative and valuable ideas.  If we continue to “go it alone,” despite the ready availability of such a goldmine, we will quickly lose touch with the growing possibilities within our own field.

“Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn.” ~Tom Whitby [source]

#3: Help Students Recognize Global Society

As long as our discussions regarding current events and issues throughout the world remain within the confines of our own classroom, such ideas will continue to seem remote to students.  Once we use Twitter to communicate with individuals actually involved in those issues and/or living in those places, students will begin to see themselves as real participants in a global community.

“Educators who participate in Twitter networks are well placed to support students in the use of relevant digital technologies because the Twitter community shares knowledge, resources and expert advice.” ~Tania Sheko [source]

#4: Transparency

Resources like Twitter provide educators with heretofore unheard of levels of genuine, global collaboration.  We are perfectly poised now to share what works and what doesn’t, to seek and receive feedback when we’re stuck, and to showcase examples of great student learning.  This last ability in particular can create increased community connectedness as parents truly witness and participate in their children’s learning.  Classroom learning today looks drastically different than it did a generation ago–it calls for increased focus on process over product, on problem solving skills over memorized facts, and on student ownership over teacher control (see more ways learning has changed).  Parents, administrators, and fellow teachers need to see the benefits of such changes in order to cultivate understanding and support; in other words, we need transparency across the board to further improve teaching and learning practices!

“…they started with the why, and then created a vision for sharing beyond the walls of the classroom. Their purpose was to share with the community the great things happening in classrooms in the three-building prek-8 school district.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]

#5: Professional Development

Wait, did we say that already?  Yep.  It’s that important.

“Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities…” ~Tom Whitby [source]

Simple Steps to Get Started

Twitter is less simplistic than other social media platforms when it comes to maximizing its use, especially in a professional capacity.  However, it is well worth the time invested in establishing your own Professional Learning Network (PLN–check out our article on building PLN’s here).  We have included some simple steps below to help you get started!  Also, be sure to check out the 13-page Handbook from plpnetwork.com, which breaks down definitions and steps in easy-to-follow detail.

  1. Twitter handbook--plpnetworkSet-up a username using the @ symbol (called your Twitter handle)
  2. Upload a picture and short bio to help potential followers know who you are!
  3. Find hashtags that interest you!  Some of our favorites include #edtech, #edchat, and #comments4kids.  Click here for a fantastic list of other educational hashtags recommended by PLP network!
  4. Download TweetDeck!  In our view, this is an essential tool to manage your time on Twitter, because it allows you to easily scan through happenings in your favorite hashtags, as well as your own notifications and news feed.  Just add columns by hitting the + icon, or by searching for individual hashtags/people and clicking “Add Column.”
  5. Start following individuals and leaving comments to grow your network.
  6. When you start creating Tweets, if you want to share a link, be sure to use URL shorteners such as Bitly or Owly to conserve your precious 140 characters!
  7. Start participating in educational Tweetchats, which are scheduled at live times for people to have discussions.  Many hashtags schedule regular Tweetchat times for their followers to have live discussions (ie, #pypchat schedules every other Thursday at 7pm Eastern Time), and keep an eye out on educational blogs you follow for their scheduled chats!
  8. Check out the Infographic to the right for additional information and details, as well as the PLP Handbook!

Practical K-12 Uses

If you teach at a BYOD school (Bring Your Own Device) or in another circumstance in which mobile devices are 1:1, the ways for students to use Twitter in the classroom are broader.  Below are some specific ideas.

  • Debates: Your students can engage in a voices-off debate in which they must articulately craft their responses into 140 characters.
  • Research: The possibilities are endless in collecting both secondary and primary resources on Twitter–particularly since experts on virtually every topic are available to give short responses to tweets.
  • Build their OWN PLN:  Students can begin networking with other individuals and experts who share their interests, well beyond just a pen-pal capacity.

On the other hand, if your students are very young, if your school does not use BYOD, or if, for any other reason, you are the only person with access to Twitter in the classroom, there are still incredible and practical ways for you to use it!

  • Microblogging: Download the Twitter app to quickly snap photos, upload videos, and post Tweets on amazing classroom happenings with your mobile device! Add your own classroom hashtag to each post to keep them organized in one place!  (Read our article on when and how to blog vs. microblog!)
  • Parent Involvement: Not only can you boost parent involvement through microblogging, but you can also host your own regular Tweetchats using your classroom hashtag!  Simply share with parents the above steps to get started on Twitter, and then give them the date and time for your chat!  You can either set the topic in advance to generate interest and ideas, or you can have an open forum for questions on homework, school events, projects, etc.
  • Facilitate Student Research: You don’t have to let students’ inability to personally tweet hold them back when it comes to their research!  When students generate their own questions and consider who would be knowledgeable on the topic, you can act as their Twitter research facilitator by sending tweets to experts on their behalf!
  • Seeking feedback for student work: This is similar to the above idea, but with the additional idea of sharing all student work! Using hashtags such as #comments4kids–designed specifically for sharing student work with other classrooms–you can share their essays, questions, blogs, and more, with the added benefit of receiving feedback from other classes around the globe!

Happy Tweeting!  We’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!

Featured Image: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Sources:

10 Tips for BYOD Classrooms

BYOD or “Bring Your Own Device” is becoming more commonplace in workplaces and conferences, but what about in the classroom?


Important Logistics

Since many students possess one kind of device or another (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.), implementing a BYOD approach at school has the potential to address the financial concerns of funding and maintaining school-wide technology.  However, according to an article¹ by Sharo Dickerson, several essential considerations must be made before implementing such an approach:

  • Network security & systems (Make sure the school can handle the additional bandwidth!)
  • Established policies for teacher & student safety (see some examples & this fantastic Edutopia mini-handbook!)
  • Financial support for students who don’t own a mobile device
  • Apps or other software that the school will make available for all BYOD devices at the school to enable effective classroom use

Same Old Learning with Shiny New Gear?

Even when all the above procedural concerns are managed, introducing BYOD could quickly go the way of 1:1 laptop programs without care.  According to a recent study¹, “Computers in K-12 classrooms are mostly used to support the same textbooks, curriculum, and teaching practices that continue to represent traditional classroom settings” (Norris & Soloway, 2011).  Many administrators and teachers, such as Jennie Magiera², experience the pitfalls of assuming that just the presence of technology in the classroom will motivate and inspire learning to higher levels.  During one of my student teaching experiences, I witnessed first-hand a classroom that was packed with all the latest technology, including 1:1 student desktop computers, an interactive whiteboard, and Activotes–yet it still felt the same as most traditional 20th Century classrooms.  Even the high-tech interactive whiteboard was used like a regular whiteboard or, at best, a projector, with ordinary lists of math problems on the board to be solved, or Basal passages for students to read together.

So what do we do to help BYOD avoid the smoke and mirrors of other failed techno-integration attempts?  According to the Dickerson article, it’s essential to include an “adaptation of constructivism in redesigning curriculum and content delivery.”  In other words:

Bill Ferriter
Bill Ferriter
  • The creator of the above picture, Bill Ferriter³, explains that kids aren’t motivated by the technology itself, but by its potential for further opportunities to expand their learning horizons.
  • Jennie Magiera, explains in her article² her realization that she would need to “break down to rebuild” in order to foster real growth.
  • As Wolf Creek Public Schools have introduced BYOD, they are focusing on the “pedagogy before technology,” with the mentality that “It’s not a tech goal; it’s a learning goal.”
  • Edna Sackson, author of popular learning blog, WhatEdSaid⁴, describes 10 “Big Ideas” for deeper learning, including ownership, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, curiosity, diversity, flexibility, relevance, connection, and change.

The common denominator in all these examples of higher level learning with technology?  Technology has the potential to dramatically revolutionize 21st century learning; we can’t expect that to happen with same-old 20th century teaching strategies and mentalities!

Ideas for Authentic 21st Century Learning

As you implement a BYOD or any technology approach in your classroom, you will need to consider the unique needs of your students.  However, we hope this list will give you some ideas to help students authentically use devices to enhance and customize their own learning:

1. Twitter (Click here for our article on Twitter for Teachers!)

Make a unique hashtag for your class that will enable you to post questions, comments, links, or even just regular announcements.  Students could also upload thoughts on their learning using this hashtag, both in and out of the classroom!  You can even use the hashtag to organize TweetChats during class for students to experience a dynamic debate that eliminates the need to “take turns talking.” (Tweetdeck is a great resource to easily view all Tweets within a hashtag). In addition, you could use existing hashtags such as #comments4kids to publish student work and ask questions to engage with a real audience!  (See this free Twitter handbook for teachers for more ideas for classroom use, as well as information to get you started if you’re a Twitter newcomer!)

2. Skype

In the classroom, Skype is a close relative to Twitter in that both have the potential to truly take learning beyond your 4 walls!  Check out our article that goes over how Skype Virtual Field trips work for some specific ideas!

3. App Selection

To help students really utilize technology as a learning tool, choose apps that are “Creation-based over Content-based!”  My article on Practical Student Blogging also lists several resources that include creation-based apps, with Educreations being one of my favorites! Also see apps sorted by topic in my Edutopia post, “Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design.”

4. Differentiated Learning

Do you have students who have an IEP accommodation to have a scribe during writing?  Help them discover and use speech-to-text apps such as Dragon Dictation or Evernote, or Google Apps add-ons like Text to Speech with Google Drive!  Do you have students who struggle with remembering assignments or time management?  Help them learn to manage their time with apps like Due or again, Evernote.  Meeting every student’s diverse needs can go from being an elusive ideal to a truly attainable undertaking when we “use technology creatively” (WhatEdSaid article) in the classroom!

5.  Student Blogging

Have students keep digital portfolios of their work and progress throughout the year using blogs!  Check out our post on student blogging for specific ideas to get you started. 2016 edit: Also be sure to check out Seesaw & our privacy-friendly alternatives to blogging.

6. Google Collaboration

Turn writing assignments and other projects into more effective collaboration as students work together in real time in Google Drive!  With their work already online in highly shareable files, they can seek for feedback not just from their classmates, but other peers around the school or even the globe!  We feel strongly that this kind of technology use will empower kids with authentic problem-solving skills as they learn how and from where to seek real feedback (ie, not just their teacher)!

7. Presentations

Thanks to technology, the mediums for presentations have stretched well beyond dioramas, posters, and essays.  Perhaps students will want to make a Toontastic puppet show on their iPad. Others may want to create a Youtube video instead.  Still others may opt for a Prezi (see our post on replacing Powerpoint with 3 highly collaborative, interactive resources).  Whatever the case, with so many options at their fingertips, be sure to give students more autonomy in constructing and displaying their thinking with their BYOD devices!

8. Enrich the scientific process

From digital microscope apps to the simple camera features of devices, students can take scientific learning to a new level.  For example, you can have students take daily photos of an experiment’s progress to create time lapse videos (idea from this WhatEdSaid article), which would help them analyze their data in new ways!  Additionally, students can use Twitter and Skype to ask for feedback from experts or other classes around the world on their findings, or simply to communicate their results!.

9. QR codes

Turning any device into a barcode reader/creator is easy with QR codes!  As you consider the many suggestions available online for their classroom use, remember to hunt for ideas that give students opportunities for ownership and connection–in other words, be picky!  One idea we found that could help fit this purpose include printing and posting some codes around the classroom that take students to various photos or videos to provoke their thinking at the beginning of a unit.  Another idea involves students making QR codes for their research findings that they then post together in the classroom or virtually on the class blog!  Be sure to ask for student input for their use in class as well!

10. Revolutionize Exit Tickets

Rather than sort through exit tickets or assignments after students have gone home with misconceptions, check their progress during learning activities and projects using the program, Exit ticket!  Because you can see their understanding right away, you can adjust your approach to better address their needs.  The program is available on virtually any device with access to a network, thanks to compatibility with Android, iOS, and desktops.

Photo Credit:

Jeremy Keith

Sources:

1 Sharo Dickerson Article

2 Jennie Magiera Article

3 Bill Ferriter Article

4 Various WhatEdSaid articles

5 Teaching Tips You Didn’t Learn in College

You braced yourself for difficult student behavior, long hours beyond contract time, and mounds of grading, but your professors didn’t prepare you for everything!  Check out some tips that may help ease your first year teaching expectations and planning.


#1 Create a Copies System

This may seem like an random, less significant tip, but it can be a life-saver when it comes to keeping your never-ending supply of copies from mounting into menacing, unorganized stacks that hijack your desk and sanity!  We have found it to be one of the greatest keys to your organization.  One of the members of our Honors Grad U family used the following system, but you’ll want to play around with your options to find what will be most effective for your needs!

  1. Find some space to keep 10 hanging files: an open crate of hanging files, or maybe part of a filing cabinet drawer.

  2. Label the files Monday-Friday twice so you have 2 weeks of files ready.

  3. Stick your files in place.  Any time you make new copies, check your planner and slide them into the day you’ll need them!

  4. At the end of each week, move the 2nd week bunch of files to the front of your crate or drawer!

#2 Planner: Old School or Digital?

It’s possible that your professors did in fact cover this one with you, but given the 21st century technology integration fervor, it’s likely that they strongly advocated for all-digital planners–after all, free apps and programs like Planboard are available for such purposes!  However, having tried both digital and paper approaches, we’ve found that digital may not necessarily be the best tool for everyone, even if you absolutely love all things technology.  Your planner will be critical in your time organization, so be sure to consider several factors to decide what will be more beneficial for you:

  • Collaboration:  Evaluate how your school or team collaborates with one another.  Do you share every detail of your schedules, or is it more general?  If the need is more on the side of specifics, you may find that going digital may be more time-effective, especially if everyone else on your team is using the same program!  For this reason, it may even be a requirement at your school to use a specific type of digital planner, so be sure to find out!

  • Schedule Flexibility: Does your principal have a habit of announcing assemblies at the last possible moment?  Are constant interruptions to the regular weekly schedule more the norm than a regular weekly schedule?  If that’s the case, you may want to consider the wonder of the seconds it takes to pencil in a few arrows to shift around your schedule, rather than minutes (or more) as you try to determine your platform’s ability to edit the template.  Paper planners continue to perform reliably when it comes to quick edits!

  • Internet/Printer Logistics: If you’re more inclined toward the digital route, be sure to consider a couple logistics.  Do you plan to keep your planner handy on a tablet or laptop?  If so, make sure there are offline options, such as downloading a program to your desktop or an app that will keep things available even when the internet is not!  You don’t want your internet dependence to leave you high and dry when it comes to your daily plans if there’s an emergency!  If your plan is rather to just print your plans each week, that may be a good solution to these kinds of tech logistics.  However, be sure to consider whether you want to rely on printing plans all year long, when you can buy a paper planner that already has all the pages in one place!

  • Neatness: This is probably a no-brainer, but be sure to examine your own handwriting neatness!  It can be frustrating for you to be unable to decipher critical plans in the moment you need them–not to mention for a sub!  Typed plans can be a dream if this is an issue for you.

#3 Coworker Socializing

In the overwhelming workload of your first few months, you may be tempted to spend your lunchtimes barricaded in your room to catch some extra grading minutes.  We don’t dispute that this may be essential at times.  However, we highly recommend taking a break to socialize with your colleagues whenever possible.  The reasons for this are varied:

  • You’ll form relationships that go beyond just professional acquaintance.  Not only is this a bonus for the sake of making friends, but for enhancing collaboration experiences as everyone becomes more comfortable around one another.

  • You will feel mentally refreshed to finish your day when you give your mind a rest from teacher-mode!

  • You will be able to build solidarity with other teachers as you share experiences with one another–it can be incredibly comforting to realize that experienced teachers are facing your same struggles, along with some of their insights to solutions!

#4 Classroom Planning: Recognize What’s Fluid and Solid!

As you plan your classroom design, policies, management, and more, you may get caught in the overwhelming and stressful trap of thinking you need a plan for everything by day 1!  While there are some areas that do need to be addressed by then, many others are what we consider to be “fluid,” meaning they will adapt as you go.  Here are some examples of what we mean to help you distinguish between the two as you prepare your classroom:

  • Solid

    • Disclosure document: This includes policies on homework, grading, and other items that would be stressful for students and parents if they get changed too much.  Click here for a sample disclosure document.  Work with your team to develop this!

    • First two weeks of plans

  • Fluid

    • Classroom incentives: Don’t feel like it all has to be set in stone from the beginning for students to be motivated!  In fact, an element of mystery may enhance their interest!

    • Floorplan: especially if you’re an elementary level teacher, you’ll be moving things around all the time anyway!  You’ll get a better feel for how you want to move through the space as the year progresses.

    • Your daily schedule: Obviously, if you teach at the secondary level, this is already determined for you.  For elementary levels, however, you may feel strained as you try to make time for everything.  However, as you create and try out a basic schedule, you will discover necessary adaptations throughout the year–some things will require more or less time than you planned for!  So don’t worry if there’s not a neat time slot for absolutely everything at first!

#5 Cut Yourself Some Slack!

We don’t mean this in the general, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-working-hard way.  Rather, we mean that your professors probably didn’t warn you that as you prepare for and begin your first year teaching, you will likely (ok, definitely) check out Pinterest for inspiration from time to time.  And, just like in the classic, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” if you explore Pinterest for teaching ideas, chances are you’ll find more inspiration than you can handle.  You’ll find teachers who craft perfect, personalized student holiday gifts (from Christmas to Columbus Day!); you’ll find teachers who structure every lesson into engaging, hands-on, inquiry based instruction; you’ll find teachers who have built international networks with classrooms around the globe for regular Skype and blogging interactions; you’ll find teachers who have mastered the art of grant-writing so thoroughly that not only is their classroom a floor-to-ceiling library of highest quality literature, but every student is equipped with an i-Pad.  Chances are that when you see all this spectacular inspiration, you will get discouraged.  This brings us back to emphasize the initial tip #5: cut yourself some slack!  You may fall absolutely in love with these experienced teachers’ Polar Express parties, or their inspiring bulletin boards, but the thing to remember through it all is that they are experienced teachers.  You have enough to do during your first year of teaching without adding on stress of what else you could be doing, because there’s always going to be something more you could be doing!  By all means, keep track of those Pins for future reference, but always keep in mind some perspective in your teaching pursuits!

Featured Image: University of the Fraser Valley