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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Let me begin this post by saying, "I agree."

I agree that students should have recess and play outside.
I agree that young children need to interact in a face-to-face setting.
I agree that it is developmentally critical to engage with paper, paint, blocks, crayons and even the dirt on the ground, because elementary students need to experience the physical world.

However, I also agree that social media pervades all aspects of modern society, and it has become an imperative for us as educators -- and parents -- to model appropriate digital citizenship to even our youngest learners. Do I really believe that toddlers should have Twitter handles? Not really. But we do need to introduce children to the virtual, social world around them in appropriate and meaningful ways? Definitely.

Why?

I have worked with and spoken to dozens of educators who strongly feel that engaging in social media is irrelevant for them because of their students' age. These are wonderful elementary school teachers who value effective technology integration, yet when it comes to social media, concerns include:

  • Students already have enough screen time.
  • Students need to be able to communicate in person.
  • Students don't need to know about social media at this point -- it isn't age appropriate.

If we honestly think about it, we were all taught the "social media" of our time in early elementary school. Remember the friendly letter? How about thank you notes? Telephone etiquette? In early grades, none of us were expected to master these skills independently, but they were integrated into our curriculum so that effective social behavior could be modeled at a young age.

As I said, I agree. However, if used effectively, social media can transform a student's learning experience. Here are three examples from classrooms that also agree, but who also leverage social media to extend the learning context, model effective communication, and empower young students to develop their voice.

1. Extend the Classroom

Lately, the grade 1/2 students in Kristen Wideen's class have been studying tadpoles and frogs. I know this because I've seen their Padlet wall of questions, witnessed the delivery of tadpoles, and watched a young boy read to his amphibian friend -- all through Twitter. Following is an excerpt from this teacher's blog post about "How My Learning Environment Has Evolved":

If you step into my classroom you will quickly find out that we are a classroom with no walls. Video conferencing, blogging, creating videos and books, teaching and learning from other peers in the classroom, in the school and in the world about what they are interested in is embedded into the daily instruction of my classroom. The result of this purposeful connectivity is that my group of grade 1/2 students has begun to develop a global perspective of issues that could not have been authentically discovered if they were solely engaged in books in our classroom.

In just the past few weeks, Kristen Wideen's students have shared math stories with a class in Iowa and frog data with a class in Singapore. Engaging in social media is part of their daily routine: checking their class Twitter account (@MrsWideensClass), blogging during literacy centers, and even checking on their tadpoles via live web cam. This recent post provides an amazingly detailed view of life in a connected classroom.

Kristen Wideen originally created a class Twitter account so that her students could begin to engage in the cultivation of their own Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). Her students not only learn, but also share their learning with a broader community. Whether through whole-group Twitter activities and Skype, calls or individual KidBlogs, these students recognize that there are connections to be made beyond their Ontario classroom -- all while working on their reading, writing, communication and collaboration.

2. Connected, Empowered Learners

Social media enables the creation of meaningful connections. In Kristin Ziemke's first grade class in Chicago, this occurs through use of Twitter (@Burley106) and KidBlogs. Initially, the process began with Tweets from the Rug. As a class, the students shared, and continue to share, their learning with parents, other students and a broader community. Collectively, they would discuss their learning experiences as a class, before Tweeting out their thoughts, questions and ideas to their broader learning community.

This fall, however, they uncovered a new dimension for Twitter. In October, one member of the class found himself trapped in New York during Hurricane Sandy. Kristin Ziemke and her students used Twitter and their blogs to learn about the storm while also checking on their classmate's well being. She describes the experience in her blog:

My students were empowered to be part of a learning network that was for students, by students. So often, young children only have access to information that is filtered through an adult channel. While oftentimes that is appropriate, kids also need the model of other children as information providers. By watching a peer research, report and field questions, student now have a mentor experience for what it looks like and sounds like to be an information sharer.

On February 1, one of Kristin Ziemke's students, Becca S. taught adults how to use Croak.It on her KidBlog. Not only did social media empower this student, but it also provided her with a global audience. In 18 days, she received 42 comments from teachers, family members and other adults from across the continent. By empowering her students with the use of social media, Kristin Ziemke connects them to a global audience and introduces them to the complex communication required to be effective digital citizens.

3. Getting Started: Developing Voice

For teachers who have only started to explore the uses of social media for their own professional development, much less with their students, setting children loose on blogs or Twitter can seem daunting. However, as illustrated by Ashley Johnston and Jack Parrish at the Trinity School in Atlanta, paper could be the best teaching tool.

Last fall, when visiting the school, I walked past their blog walls. To teach the concept of posting and commenting, the students created physical blogs on bulletin boards in the hallway of the school. This allowed the teacher to focus on the writing process within a familiar context, while providing students with the broader audience of the school community. Students gained experience with posting, tagging and commenting without any of the concerns often associated with "being online." Ashley Johnson explains:

Before we could ask our students to set up a blog on the Internet, they needed to understand the building blocks. What catches the eye? How do you express yourself? How do you express your topic and yourself?

Whether you introduce social media to students through a class blog, individual student blogs, Twitter or paper, there is no "right way" to begin. Do I really feel that toddlers should Tweet? Probably not. However, what's important is that we introduce all children to social media in appropriate and meaningful ways, regardless of their age, such that they can connect to a global audience and develop as empowered, networked learners.

Comments (24)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Instructor & Communications Coordinator at EdTechTeacher
Blogger 2014

Hi Amanda.
The students in Kristen Wideen's class do not tweet from the class account in these situations without teacher approval first. Because they are using the Twitter apps on iPad that are already logged into the account, they don't know how to access it from outside of school. This is definitely a guided activity at this stage.

On the other hand, this has also been an opportunity for parents to get involved and help their children tweet to the class - as demonstrated by Kristin Ziemke's story about her student in New York.

I think it also depends on the culture of your school and class. There may not be a "right" answer here.

Robert Raphael's picture
Robert Raphael
Substitute Teacher, student; aspiring technology director

I am all for allowing students to access many of these web tools, of course assuming the parents are on board, the teachers are guiding the lessons, and the websites are age-appropriate. We need to expose them to these technologies so we can teach them the right way to use the tools. We need to teach them how to protect themselves, and how to be respectful and responsible. They will get there, one way or the other. I choose a guided approach that teaches them real skills they can use the rest of their lives. Having said that, by the time they reach middle school, we also need to include more traditional learning methods. To provide a balanced approach, but also because those students will have their nose in a device all day anyway. It becomes a health concern after a while. Still, I appreciate your point of view and applaud Ms. Wideen's work.

Robert Raphael's picture
Robert Raphael
Substitute Teacher, student; aspiring technology director

I guess I would wonder if developing an online voice is really enough to benefit students throughout their academic careers. What I'm saying is participating in Skype, Twitter, Edmodo, etc. is great, but it may not be enough. There are other situations, off-line, where students need to develop a voice. As well. By the way, at my school we are blocked from accessing any social media sites without special permission, so the fact that your students have access to these tools makes my a bit envious.

StephanieJ's picture
StephanieJ
Early Childhood Classroom Assistant from St. Louis, MO

"However, what's important is that we introduce all children to social media in appropriate and meaningful ways, regardless of their age, such that they can connect to a global audience and develop as empowered, networked learners."

I think that last sentence shows exactly why social media should be used with young students. I am very familiar with the "students already get too much screen time" argument. I understand where those teachers are coming from, but as long as the use of social media and technology in general is appropriate and meaningful I think it definitely has a place in elementary school classrooms. I was impressed with the example of Becca using social media to teach adults something. I know having students teach adults is incredible motivating for them, but I had never thought about having them do it through a blog. I think it is a great idea.

There are so many issues now with middle school and high school students abusing social media and using it for negative purposes such as cyberbullying. I wonder if teaching and modeling appropriate social media from a young age would help this at all. It might not make a difference, but isn't it worth taking the time to see if some of the inappropriate behavior could be avoided?

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

This is likely the sickest thing I've read on this website for quite a while. Any of you read the expose in TIME magazine last month regarding the millennial generation? Haven't we learned anything from their failures to become anything but overly self-entitled, self-absorbed materialists with compromised attention spans who can't live without FAST, EASY and FUN?

Stacia's picture
Stacia
Library Media Specialist Elementary

I agree, it is important to prepare students for the digital world even at the elementary level. Students need to learn how to balance technology and the playground. I think forums like Edmodo are a great introduction for students to learn to interact and collaborate with each other online. I have used Edmodo for book club discussions with both 4th and 5th grade successfully in the past.

JWinter's picture
JWinter
3rd Grade teacher from St. Louis, MO

As an elementary teacher, I was unsure about how much exposure my students should have to "social media". I think the author really put it into perspective for me when she said, "If we honestly think about it, we were all taught the "social media" of our time in early elementary school. Remember the friendly letter? How about thank you notes? Telephone etiquette? In early grades, none of us were expected to master these skills independently but they were integrated into our curriculum so that effective social behavior could be modeled at a young age." This made me think. How is technology any different from our other curriculum that we teach? When we first introduce a skill, our students aren't expected to master it. They are exposed several times starting at a young age, and as the curriculum spirals they begin to master it at a developmentally appropriate age. Shouldn't the same be said for technology? As the author points out, "social media pervades all aspects of modern society and it has become imperative for us as educators and parents to model appropriate digital citizenship to even our youngest learners." If we are expecting our children to learn important skills and information at a young age, and then build on it as they get older, shouldn't we do the same for "social media" and technology?

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

"social media pervades all aspects of modern society and it has become imperative for us as educators and parents to model appropriate digital citizenship to even our youngest learners."

Social media is way overrated. Mostly it's people sharing pictures of their kids at the beach, telling everyone what cereal they ate for for breakfast, or having to mention they are in a (?) mood. I do not understand why it has become so important to share intimate details of your life with the whole world. It just screams neediness for attention and affirmation from others. If you want to share with me or if I want to share with you, I'd prefer we met in person so it's more meaningful.

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