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Making the Case for Social Media in Schools

Albemarle County Public Schools

Grades K-12 | Albemarle County, VA

Jim Asher

Principal of Jackson P. Burley Middle School
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Teacher working with young students on laptops

"Do you have a Twitter account? Do you use Instagram?" I ask those questions of all teacher applicants at Jackson P. Burley Middle School, and I'm surprised by how many people answer, "No." Or, "Well, I set up an account a while ago, but I don't really use it."

I don't expect every person to be a tech expert with every type of social media. I doubt, for example, that most regular users of Microsoft Word know how many features that program actually has. However, social media is integrated throughout my school. I want all of the teachers at my school to know at least the basics of social media -- ideally, they're more than proficient.

When I started at Burley four years ago, the school had a Twitter account for informational purposes, and few teachers had accounts. I then opened an Instagram account for the school and went "paperless" for school and administrative communications. I started a Blackboard account for faculty and staff, and began using that for weekly communications, faculty meetings, staff professional development, and more.

Over time, more teachers began using Blackboard (now it's an expectation for all of our teachers), and more of them started using various forms of social media, mainly Twitter and Instagram. To be honest, social media is becoming a fundamental part of our entire district -- from our superintendent, Dr. Pam Moran, and others at the district level, to principals, teachers, and even students.

Here are some tips and ideas for bringing social media to your school.

Social Media and PD

Twitter is a great tool for exploring a wide range of possible resources and materials for PD, or for ongoing professional growth through real-time chats.

Use Twitter as your personal learning network (PLN) where you can build relationships and share ideas and materials. Teachers participate in various scheduled chats involving conversations about general topics (21st-century learning, engagement, using social media, etc.) and content-specific exchanges (AVID, PE, math, language arts, etc.).

Twitter also offers a full spectrum of materials, resources, and "current thinking" for use and/or discussion with PD or team meetings. For instance, to start discussions on the 21st-century classroom and technology, I used "8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom" from @Ben_Duggan and "What do you want kids to do with technology?" from @Glennr1809. When discussing authentic experiences with digital writing, I used the "Blogging with Students" graphic from @Gaggle_K12 via @langwitches. Of course, there are countless professional articles on current thinking and practices as well.

The Benefits of Social Media in the Classroom

As we at Burley have increased our social media use, teachers now recognize benefits well beyond sharing thoughts, graphics, and articles. Now we're engaging students and extending learning.

Use a classroom Twitter account to connect students with the world. They can have real-time dialogues with experts, museums, publishers, journalists, and more. I remember the excitement when a major library retweeted information about a project one class was working on. Also, in a PBL summer school program, the class promoted student work via Twitter, and students were amazed by all the responses from around the world. (One student even said, "If I'd known someone from Australia was going to see this, I would have done a better job.")

You can also use Instagram in a variety of ways. Support classroom learning by posting supplementary visuals to augment what has been covered in class. If students are too young for accounts, the parents can start an account and review and discuss the information with their children. Parents will no longer have to inquire at the dinner table, "What did you do at school today?" Instead, they can ask about the car made from recycled materials, the textile and stencil work, the hollow bullet used to hide messages during the Revolutionary War (which students replicated with a 3D printer), or the lab work on the water in the creek behind the school.

Instagram can also showcase student learning. One of my favorite uses was when a social studies teacher had students write haiku about the Colonial period in U.S. history. He then took videos of student artwork while the artists read their haiku and posted these to Instagram.

Social Media and Community

Of course, social media is a great tool for building community within the school or even within a single classroom. Students love it when we feature their work on Instagram. Here are some other ideas:

  • Share updates and student work to offer parents insight into what their kids are doing in the classroom.
  • Keep families more engaged by sharing upcoming dates and/or work to be completed.
  • Participate in global stories, connections, or challenges. One such venture via Twitter challenged students to construct a tower from 20 sheets of paper. (Our students built one that was 70 inches tall.)
  • Showcase fun special events. One of our PE teachers shared video of a drone fly-over for our Field Day (he had mowed "BMS" into the grass), and it added a lot of buzz to the event.

Further Exploration

Our students have been connected within the building, throughout our county, across the state, and around the globe with Skype or Zoom. They've toured the first bookless library in the U.S. and shared stories with students in France. They've seen artifacts during virtual museum visits, and they've asked questions of experts in every field we've studied. Our band Skyped across our county with another middle school band to critique each other's musicianship. Our ESL students have Skyped with other ESL students in other states.

As more of our teachers explore and use social media, their work is transforming the way in which they present information and engage students. For more information, of course, there are endless Twitter accounts to explore. I recommend starting with @doccarpenter. His Twitter profile states, "Teaches future teachers @Elon U. Researches social media in education." (Plus, he’s an all-around great guy!)

How does your school use social media?

This blog post is part of our Schools That Work series, which features key practices from Albemarle County Public Schools.
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