It’s overwhelming to think about packing up the summer, heading back to the classroom, and adding a new instructional strategy to your already overflowing toolbox. Yet, ostensibly, you are a fairly proficient computer user who dabbles in social media (you’re reading this blog, right?), so you are curious about how it might fold into your curriculum. I apply social media in my classroom to help students view it as something that can–and will–influence their academic and professional life, hence the value of its responsible and ethical use. Here are nine strategies–one for each month of school– for incorporating social media into your classroom in ways that can encourage critical thinking through analysis and engagement.
1. Get Social
You have your unit of study and your lesson plans. Add this one small piece: everyone– including you– pick a social media service and follow someone who blogs, tweets, tumbls, scoops, or pins about the topic. If you work with younger students, you can do this as a class and use it as an opener each day or week throughout the unit. Students can write a response to the author, which incorporates what they learn in class or a summary for class that can be used as a basis for discussion. You can also form small discussion groups based on platforms or topics. The goals of this strategy are to introduce students to a variety of social media sites, teach students how to evaluate social media sources, learn the vocabulary of various social media sites (i.e. the term is tweeter not “twitterer”), help students to see social media as a source of information, and demonstrate the “social” in social media for academic purposes.
Chances are you give students writing assignments. And chances are, you are the only one who reads them. Yet we all know that one of the most effective motivators for strong writing is audience. Have students set up a blog and write for each other. Make sure that for each assignment they are required to comment meaningfully on two other blog posts (or else it’s not social, it’s just “media”). To avoid the inevitable “great post!”, you should give them criteria for meaningful feedback. In my school, we have internal WordPress blogs for every student and teacher that are password protected. This makes for a great sandbox and portfolio where students can tag and track their work throughout their school years. At any time, such as when applying for college, they are able to access these posts and paste them to public sites to share their best work. There are also free platforms such as Edublogs that are tailored for teachers and students.
Have all students set up a twitter account (last names discouraged) that they will use for academic purposes and create a class hashtag (this is imperative). I have had students try and use their personal account but when I followed them back, they quickly created a new account for school (I think that was valuable for reminding them about the purpose and public nature of their posts). Have students post quick homework assignments such as:
- a picture of: a healthy menu item, their favorite book, something they own that they can’t live without
- An article about something they are studying (could assign different perspectives and use hard copies of the articles in class to do small group discussions-including source evaluation)
- RT another tweeter’s tweet about a topic they are studying (can’t be someone they know!)
Other ideas are to have a class twitter account and talk to other classes such as #kinderchat or have a twitter competition with another class. Last year, our Environmental Science class challenged our Global Issues class to a Tweet-off. The goal was to see which class can get the most quality followers, motivated by prizes along the way (note: @SAEnviro earned @HansRosling as a follower!).
Scoop.it is a great site for any kind of current news items your class follows. You can create a class page about a topic and, with an educator account ($6.99/month) student users can post articles to the page. Students are able to write their own summary or commentary of the article and others can comment. This worked well with my Middle East course and we used it to guide class discussion of current events that were guided by student interests.
Pinterest is a way to visually curate your interests by “pinning” them to a virtual board. Used in a classroom, these boards can curate any unit of study and multiple users can be given permission to pin to one user’s board (i.e. for small group or whole class). If students are required to write a brief analysis of each pin, each board can become a visual annotated bibliography (this could also be achieved in a non-visual way through a social-bookmarking site such as Diigo). In a geography class, you could have students pin things they would pack when traveling to an assigned country (or things they would bring home). In an English class, you could have them pin the imagined treasures of an assigned character from a novel (such as Jane Austen’s Emma), along with the textual support for why they chose that item. Science students could begin with an inventor and invention then pin all the things that have resulted from it, with a description of the connection. Finally, students in a language class could pin items in a vocabulary category and put the word (or word in a sentence) in the description.
Tumblr is a micro-blogging platform that is a cross between a blog and twitter. As with all social media, the key with Tumblr is authenticity and content creation. It is very easy to create an impressive Tumblr through retumbls but creating a tumblr that creates new content involves more than regurgitating content that already exists. A solution to this, which can work well for teachers is the secondary vs.primary blog feature. If the teacher creates a primary public blog, then secondary blogs can be set up as part of the primary account that are password protected. These secondary blogs are not able to follow other blogs, like posts, ask questions, or submit to other blogs. This limited use forces students to seek out content to read and to create content of their own. Tumblr could be a great way for an Activities Director to manage blogging by club presidents, an elementary teacher to manage updates about ongoing classroom projects, or a secondary teacher to assign ongoing updates about topics that the class is following throughout the year.
7. Point and Shoot
Part of being a good social media user is not just using what’s already on the internet, but creating content for others. How many times have you directed students to Flickr’s creative commons? And how many times have you asked students to contribute to it? The next time you go on a field trip, randomly assign students hashtags to be posted with the pictures in creative commons. For example, on a trip to the science center, students can be put into groups, given digital cameras, and assigned hashtags such as: #history, #future, #astronomy, #ocean, and #weather (#science is assumed and would be added later, along with any other appropriate hashtags the students identify). These pictures could be uploaded to Flickr and tagged with the hashtags, then saved with creative commons licenses so that others could benefit. If your school or class has a Flickr group, these pictures can be added to the pool of pictures.
This is not just for the friends and family we know– it can also be used to meet new friends around the world. As you read above, #kinderchat uses twitter to connect with other classrooms, which often results in kindergarten class “Skype playdates” during the school day (as a station or class activity). Skype has their own network for educators that can link classrooms based on what you teach and the projects you are interested in doing and international organizations such as iEARN have formed collaborative groups such as the iEARN Skype Community. And Skype is not just for international connections. Schools in Maine and Arizona reading a Robert Frost poem together or schools in Charleston and Gettysburg simultaneously analyzing the civil war can be very meaningful.
9. Time it
Dipity or Tiki-toki timeline platforms allow student users to collaborate on a timeline at the same time. History is the obvious subject choice for this platform but other content areas can benefit from it as well. Using the timeline contributions to generate discussion is what makes this social media. If science students were assigned various perspectives in the cloning debate, a timeline could be co-created to represent the evolution of the discussion throughout history. Additionally, students can comment on each other’s posts to offer critical analysis, dissent, and support. Carry this over to classroom discussions and you will find yourself over-planned for the unit!
You can see that I lean away from platforms created for educational use and toward those that the students already use (or ones they are likely to use). I think that showing the educational uses of public social media has more longevity and applicability. There are countless other platforms to consider such as Visual.ly, Infogr.am, Goodreads, Instagram, and Vine. If you have suggestions and ways that you’ve used social media effectively in the classroom, please share in the comments.