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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Got a Sub? Team Teach with Twitter

I've always been a multitasker. It frustrated my own teachers at times in that I always needed to be doing two things at once in order to be fully alert. My brain works like riding a bicycle: If I move too slowly, my attention span simply tips over. And during my most recent Edutopia meeting, I was no less occupied.

As I sat in meeting at Skywalker Ranch, listening to some of the greatest minds dedicated to education, my head was also in the classroom. It's true. While I was learning, I was also teaching.

Edutopia's National Advisory Board consists of multiple classroom teachers who are gifted in their craft and inspirational in their innovation. I listened to such educators as Doug Martin, Anthony Armstrong, Kati Delahanty, and Craig Brandenburg. And, all the while, I was helping deliver content and classroom management in my own classroom -- 400 miles away.

Twitter -- a microblogging platform -- allowed me to do it easily.

The Plan

It all began weeks ago as I sat looking down the tunnel that was this upcoming year at some of the months already peppered with conferences, meetings, and what I'm sure will be my own sick days that happen of their own accord. And I thought to myself, "How can I still be a presence in my classroom when I can't be there?"

I could create movies of my own teaching, of course. But that wouldn't be interactive. And it would require my sub to run the technology of the room, and that is its own challenge. So I decided that I would try an experiment -- Twittering with each class period.

Of course, I had a substitute -- a brave soul who stood in my room and supervised, making sure there was actual follow-through and on-task behavior. But in order to answer the questions she could not, I set up a way to be available to my students. Here's how I did it:

  • I picked one Twitter captain per class period. (Thanks, Will Richardson, for coining the term.) These were students with a Twitter account who were willing to follow our class account -- and willing for our class to follow them. In other words, they needed to have an account with the understanding of pure transparency that would be seen by their teacher and fellow students. (This factor definitely weeds out some volunteers.) You, too, can set up a Twitter account for this purpose. You decide.
  • I explained the rules. The Twitter captain was both my voice and the voice of my classroom. They were stationed at the computer, and they knew that if something inappropriate was written, I would assume they wrote it, because they were the only ones allowed to physically Twitter me at this time.
  • The Twitter captain logged on. At the start of my first period, each Twitter Captain opened up an account on one student computer. (My classroom has three eMac computers -- rescued from being recycled through our school district warehouse after our old lab was dissembled.) I petitioned to have Twitter unblocked last year through our technology director so we could use it in the classroom.
  • I logged on from my end and began my interactive Q&A. I asked questions I knew of the students who were in that room at the time, and they asked me questions about the content. When a student had a question, the captain posted it and let me know who had asked.

Bumps in the Road

Was it all miraculously rosy? Of course not. After all, my third-period class seemed to use Twitter as a high tech tattling opportunity.

Brandon's out of his seat and walking around (44 characters). Armando won't stop talking even though Ms. D is telling him to be quiet (75 characters).

I then reminded my class using Twitter's 140-character limit (about a dozen words) that we were using the social-networking platform only for content correspondence and questions. And according to the notes the substitute teacher left for me, the students -- with a grumble -- got back on task.

I think the moment that I'll find most memorable, however, was the tweet I sent down the length of California that proved my teacher antennae was still raised and receiving. Without a tip that it was needed, I told my second-period Twitter captain to tell Christopher to stop talking. She replied with, "How did you know that Christopher was talking?!" I also earned an "OMG!" and a "HaHa" for my efforts. (After all, it doesn't hurt if your students think you're psychic every once and a while.)

An Exciting New Approach

Overall, it was an experiment that sent some important messages:

  • I was still thinking of them and still engaged, and I expected them to be as well.
  • I'm always willing to try something new to keep them learning.
  • Learning doesn't stop on days when I'm not there.
  • My voice can be heard whenever they seek it out.
  • Their own learning needed not to occur solely within the walls of their classroom.

I also shared some of what I was learning as a means to convey my own excitement at being a learner. My classes and I went on a journey, experimented together, and learned together. And, as a result, those days I was gone were not the lost instructional days they might have been. In fact, because I managed to bring in a new and fresh method of content delivery, it may have even been more valuable then an average day.

There's nothing like teaching face-to-face, but if you can't be there, Twitter might be a way to go that's free and easy.

Keep trying new ways to deliver content to your classes. It may not work 100 percent of the time, but sometimes it's your enthusiastic attempt that encourages their continued learning. What technology or new strategy have you been tempted to try in your classroom? Please share with us your recent experiments and ideas.

Comments (37)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Erica Roberts's picture
Erica Roberts
Computer Application Teacher, Suburban Chicago, IL

I am a career changer with 20 + years of business experience. This is my 5th year in the classroom. I am an avid social network user in my personal life, and I have seen how engaged my own children (11 & 14) are with the concept of social networking. I have been using Edmodo.com to communicate with my classes all year. I use it to post assignments, collect assignments, return grades and comments, as well as communicate with the entire classroom in the event I am not there. My sub plans clearly indicate that the students are encouraged to log in when they come into class, and that all their instructions are there for them. Yes, it makes the sub little more than a babysitter, but there is little consistency with the level of committment that subs have.
Not only does Edmodo make me available to my students in the event I am not in class, it also allows my students to contact me outside of school hours (I have my notifications set to send me an SMS when a student messages me).

Thomas Scheeler's picture

I second what has been said about Edmodo. It has the qualities of Twitter you want, but with student privacy at the forefront. I feel the ability to share files, embed links,post polls, and the ease of use make Edmodo one of the most valuable tools in my classroom. My classroom has 24/7 feel to it as it is a such a free flow of information. Students who normally don't participate in class become discussion leaders online. Students would revolt without it after using it for a semester this year and I know last years students felt the same way.

Kristina Shields's picture

We began using Edmodo in our junior high at the beginning of this school year. We have had fantastic results with it. The teachers are teaching in ways they never considered before, they are amazed with the possibilities and the flexibility of Edmodo. Some of them are using it for isolated projects, some of them have completely integrated it into their every day routine. The students are also very excited about it. They find being able to work at home and post directly to Edmodo very useful, they like being able to communicate with their teachers any time and many of them are participating much more than they have in the past. From a management standpoint, we have 500+ students using the system and the only issues that I have are a lost password here and there and netiquette reminders once or twice a week. We couldn't live without it!

Jeff OHara's picture

Erica, Thomas, & Kristina,

Just wanted to thank you for chiming in about your use of Edmodo. As the co-founder of Edmodo we are always excited about how much teachers like Edmodo. Also want to thank Edutopia for including Edmodo in their Ten Top Tips for Teaching with New Media. If anyone has any questions about Edmodo I very accessible and always happy to help a teacher out with anything regarding the use of Technology in the classroom. I spent 10 years at a school district in suburban Chicago before starting Edmodo and very much appreciate what teachers do day in and day out. Our goal is to create technology that teachers "want" to use instead of have to use. I've been in this too long and seen so many bad services provided to education and I thought I would do my part to change that.

Laurie Bayer's picture
Laurie Bayer
Instructional Assistant

As we are moving in a 21st learning classroom, I think that this is a great way to stay connected to our students. It gives teacher a way to know what is going on even though we are not able to be their. I know many teachers in my building hate to be out of the classroom for any reason but this is way for teacher to have less anxiety of not being there.

Laurie Bayer's picture
Laurie Bayer
Instructional Assistant

As we move to 21st century learning classroom, this a great way for us to move futher in that direction. This is a great was to keep student engaged in the lesson because the enjoy using anything with technology. I think that this always us as way to know what is in our classroom even though we are physically not there. I think that as a sub this could be a great advantage for you also. I know that there were times when I would be confused about something that the teacher had left me to complete with students. If I was able to tweet with the teacher, I could have had that explain better to me.

Laurie Bayer's picture
Laurie Bayer
Instructional Assistant

I had never heard of Edmodo until I came to this blog. After reading the post, I decide to check it out. I found this to be great way to communicate with your students. I hope to incorporate this into my classroom. I am currently looking for a teaching job and this information, will be very helpful in an interview.

JTobias's picture

I love the idea of using Twitter to stay connected with your class. What other tech savvy teaching ideas have you had or heard of that involve using cell phone technology for learning purposes or as a positive educational tool in the classroom? Along the same lines, I know that some school required textbook material, audiobooks, podcasts, are available for use with ipods and iphones but what else is out there that be applied or integrated with classroom content?

John V's picture
John V
Graduate Student

I am very impressed with the use of technology in the classroom. The use of social media has taken a place in our personal lives - why not the classroom. The students tend to know more about these sites and their favorite television programs, than what is actually going on in the real world. We as teachers should embrace the technological changes in our world, and utilize this as a resource to communicate more effectively. I like the idea noted above, where the teacher would utilize the students cellphones to communicate questions or reflection via text messages. "If you can't beat them.... join them." Sometimes I hear that some believe video games are too fast or too loud, yet do we teachers use our technological resources as much as we can? I am happy to see that the integration of technology is growing.

Laura Gilliam's picture

This is a brilliant idea! What a wonderful way to stay "relevant" and in touch with your students while you're away. While the sub is there for classroom management, it still puts the students in a position of control over their own classroom and lesson. Plus, it helps them to see that you aren't out of touch with technology or them. I love the fact that you wrote to tell Christopher to stop talking! There's one in every class... : )
Another way to do this would be to text message the captain on their phone. It would have to be a well-trusted student in order to carry it out, though.
I love this idea. I will be using it in my classroom. Thank you very much for sharing!

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