George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

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.


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 Johnston 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.

Was this useful? (1)

Comments (24) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Stephanie, I think you make an excellent point. If we teach and model appropriate behavior at a younger age then we might be able to curb some of the inappropriate behavior that occurs later on.

Kyle Pearce's picture
Kyle Pearce
Secondary Math Teacher & Intermediate Math Coach

Great article and great job, Mrs. Wideen!

I think getting kids connected in a way that redefines the way we teach will allow all students to succeed.

Looking forward to getting my kids fully connected by way of individual blogs this coming September!

Carol Morris's picture
Carol Morris
Third Grade Teacher

I can imagine parents would enjoy reading a tweet from their child's classroom each day. These 140 characters would provide the parents with a little information about what their child did that day and be a conversation starter.

Children need to be taught about the dangers of oversharing and the permanence of what is on the internet. Having the mapped out blog provides the opportunity for students to understand that anyone walking down the hall can read what they have written. This is an extremely creative way to get students enthused about writing.

Dawn P.'s picture
Dawn P.
1st grade teacher from Bozeman, MT

When I initially started reading your post, I wasn't sure what to think. We all know that kids already have too much screen time. Unfortunately, this is not going to change anytime soon so why not utilize technology to help our students connect globally? I love the idea of scaffolding their learning with "blog walls". We are charged with guiding our students in the learning process and by implementing social media in our classrooms, we have the power to model the appropriate uses. My first graders are already very technologically literate and the community in which I teach is very globally aware. After reading your post, I'm excited to try out some of your ideas! Thanks!

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Stephanie and Robert.

You both make great points about needing to balance screen-time with face-to-face time. While introducing social media at an early age may not completely prevent some of the issues that can occur at later ages, I don't think it can hurt either.

Karen Lirenman did a wonderful EduSlam a few days ago on using Twitter with her elementary students - - that may be of interest.

I co-wrote this article - - with a colleague last fall who teaches high school. He calls much of this the "Anomie Problem" as students are trying to create social rules for social media without adult influence or modeling. It's that challenge that makes it all the more critical for us, as elementary teachers, to introduce social media to younger students in ways that are developmentally appropriate.

Thanks for your feedback!

Annette Berling's picture

While I see many dangers for young kids on social media like other commenters have posted, I think it's a great opportunity to teach children how to be safe online. It has to go hand in hand, and in doing so, I believe we can reinforce our children's ability to be critical of the information they encounter. It's a global approach that encompasses the internet media as a whole.

Regardless, we have many challenges ahead and I wish my country (Switzerland) would face them instead of putting them on the back burner.

Kind regars,
Annette from Geneva

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Hi Annette.

There are definitely concerns with putting too much information about children on social media. While I didn't write about it in the article, I do feel that the school culture also plays an enormous role in whether or not teachers can successfully integrate social media into their curriculum. One suggestion would be to model the communication and collaboration skills that we hope our students will emulate online by creating safe opportunities in the physical world. Much like the teachers at Trinity created "blog walls", I have seen other schools use whiteboards on the wall to illustrate a "chat room" or dashed lines on a white board to teach 140 character tweets.

I hope that offers some thoughts on less threatening ways to begin to introduce the concepts into the curriculum. Thank you for the thoughtful response.


Tama's picture

Thanks for sharing this great article about children and how to begin integrating social media in the classroom. I have put a link to this article on my blog.

Miss Night's picture

As someone recently known as "she-who-tweets-with-kindergarten," I am obviously in favour of using social media in developmentally appropriate ways with young students. That said, I have to call you on a deliberately misleading headline. "Toddlers" is generally understood to refer to children aged 3. I think we can all agree that children under 3 have no business engaging in social media, nor do children that young appear in this article. The headline is inflammatory and inaccurate.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.