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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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There are still many questions about the role of social media in the classroom. Some teachers and administrators are concerned about how (or if) educators should be interacting with students outside of the traditional classroom. I was hesitant when it came to social media and my students, but I learned how certain tools could help expand the learning outside of my classroom. For me, social media is about alternative ways to communicate. There are so many great tools that allow us to connect. Here are some that I've used as a teacher for connecting with my students when the school day is done.

Remind

Remind is a great tool that allows teachers to connect to students through their mobile device. Teachers create a group on Remind that students join with their phone number. The teacher can send text messages to groups of students without anyone having access to anyone else's numbers. It's one-way communication, not a potentially annoying group text message.

I use Remind to connect with my students after school, sending them messages about work that's due the next day or something to lift their spirits. Sometimes a silly message is the perfect thing after a long day of testing. Remind allows users to attach pictures and PDFs, so I can send documents via text in case students lost the paper copy that went home with them. Remind gives me the opportunity to keep them informed of what's going on at school. These messages are short and to the point, and the kids have said that they love getting those reminders.

Twitter

Twitter has been another great tool for sharing and connecting. When it comes to my classroom, I use Twitter to announce the day's homework and share random thoughts and ideas with students. It's also an easy way for students to ask me questions. It's important to become familiar with your district's policies about "following" students on Twitter or interacting with them through any social media site. My district doesn't allow it, so the only Twitter communication is through public mentions. If there is no district policy regarding this, you could lead the initiative to write it.

Over the years, Twitter has become a medium for students to expand their learning in the classroom. They've used Twitter to share something they saw outside of school that related to our class conversation. A student visiting Baltimore once tweeted a picture of Edgar Allan Poe's grave because we'd just completed a unit on his stories. I’ve also had students reach out on Twitter to set up a time to meet before or after school to discuss their classwork. As a communication tool, many students prefer it to email because of how quickly they can get a response. Twitter allows students to contact teachers and share more of their learning that happens outside of the classroom. I've also had students live tweet class discussions and our mock trial. These interactions allow students to feel more connected to the learning, and that's what teachers really want to see from their students.

Instagram

Instagram is a fun site for taking and sharing photos, and the kids love it. Some students are much more active on Instagram than they are on Twitter. I'm a pretty avid Instagram user, and students love to check out my photos. Instagram has different filters for altering the photos that you post. It's a simple and quick tool that any teacher can use in the classroom.

One great way to extend learning beyond the classroom with Instagram is to assign a learning scavenger hunt and have students post pictures of their finds with a specific hashtag. The scavenger hunt can revolve around a specific unit or theme, and students can post photos over the course of the unit or marking period. The final piece is a discussion to see how the photos connected. This is a very cool plan that lets students use a tool they're already familiar with and connect it to their learning. This isn't a graded assignment, just something fun to add another level to the classroom. The more opportunities we give students to think about the content we're teaching, the better their understanding of the material.

Blogging

Blogging is a huge part of social media. It's not just about the writing -- it's about the commenting. If students aren't connecting with others who are writing and sharing their thoughts, it's just an online journal. There's a place for journaling, but blogging offers the chance to make connections with people from all over the world. Using Twitter with blogs has been key in connecting students to conversations outside of the classroom that enhance the learning in the classroom.

One great hashtag that every teacher should explore is #Comments4Kids. This Twitter hashtag is designed to connect people to students who are blogging, and it really works. Every time I use this hashtag with my student blogs, students and other educators have left comments. When students see the notification that they have a comment, it blows their mind. They get to read the comment, respond to it, and think more deeply about what it is they're communicating. Reading and writing for their blog is no longer limited to just the classroom. They can now use their time at home to continue thinking and interacting about the day's topics that interest them. Blogging allows for powerful connections that can enhance student learning outside of the classroom.

Another way to use these tools is reaching out to students if there's a sudden cancellation in school or change in events. Michigan is one of those states where we've had to cancel school due to severe weather. Social media has connected us with our students during these times. Teachers can change assignment due dates, reschedule tests, and let kids know what will be expected of them when they return. Keeping students connected is good for everyone.

Social media allows teachers to pass along information in ways that weren't possible before. It knocks down the classroom walls and lets learning happen anywhere and at any time. It's important for teachers to start considering how they can use social media for connecting their students to support learning in a connected world.

The tools I've discussed here are only a few of many out there. Do you have a cool way to use one of these or any other social media tools? If you do, leave them in the comments sections below.

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Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Great suggestions, Nicholas! Although I'm an active tweeter, I haven't used it for my students or parents. Even though I primarily use Twitter for professional/educational purposes, I still worry about forgetting who my audience is. Our school has Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and it's been fun to see the students "liking" and commenting on pictures from school activities. I have to confess I worry a little about using Remind to send text reminders about upcoming assignments. What if I remind them one week, but not the next? Does it become my fault that I didn't do that? (especially since I post all assignments on my website and give them hard-copy directions) I guess I'm struggling a little with wondering how much more I should be doing to remind them when my goal is for them take responsibility. But my rather non-techy husband is trying out Remind this year with his track team, since he has over 100 athletes and their parents who need to be contacted at various times during the season.

Ochwoman's picture
Ochwoman
English Teacher, Technology Integration Specialist

Which sites have you found useful for blogging? With middle schoolers, I find policy is a bit more touchy about what is and isn't allowed.

Wordpress works well but it is either private or completely public. I've used Twiducate recently and am still in the midst of evaluating its ease and efficacy. Does anyone else have suggestions for what to use for blogging with middle schoolers?

Hillary Hill's picture
Hillary Hill
Social Media Marketing Associate at Edutopia

Hi Ochwoman,

A lot of members of Edutopia's community recommend KidBlog. Here's what their website says about safety: "Kidblog provides teachers with the tools to help students publish writing safely online. Students exercise digital citizenship within a secure classroom blogging space. Teachers can monitor all activity within their blogging community."

You can visit their site here: http://kidblog.org/home/

Hope this helps!

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I echo the suggestion of using KidBlog -- a few teachers at my middle school use it with their students. I have my 8th graders create their own Weebly sites with a blog page, and I think it's a great way to teach them a range of digital skills, but if your school has privacy concerns, KidBlog is better for you.

Katie's picture

Be careful! As a parent, you would not have my permission and many others to interact with a minor child outside of the classroom. There is no educational value in mixing school with private life. Teachers need to stop this narcissistic behavior with selfies and educate children. Imagine if your doctor posted pictures of you during an exam. It is illegal and there are privacy laws that protect minors and people's rights! Teaching kids to follow poor behavior of teachers to "blog" their opinions is irrelevant and has zero educational value. Conduct a research study and share statistical analysis. No one cares about random blogs/ opinions.

Nicholas Provenzano's picture
Nicholas Provenzano
High School English Teacher/The Nerdy Teacher

Katie,

Thank you for sharing your concerns. Privacy is something to take very seriously and should have been addressed in this post.

Every district has their own policy regarding the sharing of images of students. It is important for teachers to find out what these policies are and adhere to them. Also, it is good practice to ask students for their permission to share any images of them that might be shared on social media outlets. Informing parents of social media use in the classroom should also be part of the start of school packet that goes home. It is key to keep parents informed of all class activities.

I will have to respectfully disagree about the value of blogging and sharing of opinions. You have left a comment on this blog and shared your opinion. Opinions are valuable because they can start a conversation that leads to growth. I feel it is important to show students how to properly leave comments and engage others in the digital space. Students are engaged in many different digital spaces and it is key to help them navigate these spaces. As an English teacher, I see it as another type of writing that can help students grow in their understanding of language.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post.

Have a nice weekend.

Nick

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