Twitter kind of happened by accident to me. I have always enjoyed the use of social media, but despite my (not so best) efforts, I wasn’t really buying into it. I joined, sent my first tweet into cyberspace and then marveled at the fact that in a world with so many tweeters, I could shout out and not be heard. I felt like that awkward kid in a crowded room, the one that nobody notices. I deleted the app from my phone and decided it just wasn’t for me.
Fast forward a year and I was at Tedx Talks in Chatham. Everyone had their devices out and Tweets were flying around the room. A quick visit to the App Store and I was up and running. I quickly recognized the power of being digitally connected. Conversations began. Photos were shared. Connections were made.
Over the course of the next few months I slowly dipped my feet in, generally watching from the sidelines. I became an active “followee”; seeking out influential, inspiring educators. I learned about events such as Edcampswo. My professional learning community grew and I was continually exposed to innovative educators. I still didn’t feel like I was contributing though. My twitter presence was just barely noticeable. While I could see the value, I still wasn’t getting what all the hype was about.
And then, it happened. During September 2014 I was looking for ways to use technology to expand the walls of our classroom and connect with others. Our first class tweet went out with a purpose. We wanted to share our work and ideas with other grade 2/3 students. With the memory of my personal experience in the back of my mind, I ensured that we had an audience that would respond. I set the stage by direct messaging some active users ahead of time; requesting that they please take a moment to tweet back. I personally believe that having a ready audience made all the difference to my students.
We embarked upon our first “live” math class. Students tweeted out pictures of questions they had created, in hopes that someone would attempt to solve their problems. Bodies and manipulatives were strewn across the floor, some on task and others; not so much. The smartboard was on and our twitter feed up. The first two students sent their questions out……and almost instantly they had a response! The energy in the room exploded. All of the students were running to see who answered and if they were correct. They were amazed that their work was being viewed, solved and retweeted. Everyone, instantly was on task. Work became neater, attention was given to detail, students began to REALLY collaborate. They wanted THEIR questions recognized. They had a new audience and they couldn’t wait to connect with them. It was one of the most powerful, transformative moments in my own teaching career. Just when I thought the moment couldn’t get any better, @Sharon_Drummond kicked it up a notch and sent back an extension question, and our other twitter responders followed suit. Students began to collaborate between groups to help solve problems, sharing strategies and challenging each others thinking. The learning was authentic, in the moment and unscripted. It was powerful. I was sold.
Our use of Twitter continued through October as we connected with others through the Global Read Aloud project initiated by @pernillerip #GRAEdward My students quickly fell in love with the characters in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and enjoyed sharing their reflections, predictions and questions with the multitude of other classrooms participating in GRA across the globe. The walls of our classroom were no longer limited by brick and mortar. We were communicating by sharing videos, skyping and blogging with students from Hong Kong to Saskatchewan, that we connected with via Twitter. We were becoming responsible digital and global citizens.
And then, I sent out one little tweet, asking for soil samples. I really didn’t expect much in return. I mean, the investment of a few minutes on twitter is one thing, but to actually send something via mail? I didn’t think it would happen. Of course, it did. Over twenty soil samples came to us, from across North America. We planted our seeds and watched our little plants grow; amazed that the sandy soil from the Sonoran Desert actually did as well as our Pennsylvania soil. We taped our samples onto our wall map, and it really meant something that we had actually connected with people from these communities. Again, my expectations were exceeded.
Twitter quickly went from being an ‘event’ to being a part of our classroom routine. It is often up, students monitor our news feed; following local weather, sports and classrooms. Some will tweet their parents samples of work throughout the day and I frequently send out a pic of what we are up to. Along with all of its other purposes, It has become our digital journal, in a sense. Parents have commented that they love being able to talk to their child when they walk out the doors of the school and into their cars and homes, about what they saw them doing in school that day. On the flip side, my own sons teacher @MrCAnderson2014 jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and I thoroughly enjoy being able to see what my little guy is learning and up to! As a parent, I am more engaged by being given a peek inside his school life. Dinner conversation has evolved; from I did “nothing” today to talk that stemmed from pics shared through social media.
Collaboration, communication, citizenship. Twitter was impacting who we were as learners, and the students recognized this.
We were sitting in our knowledge building circle one afternoon, discussing our read aloud, “One for the Murphy’s”. It led to a discussion about food, specifically the lack of for some people. The students really wanted to do something to help those in need. They wanted to raise money and donations for the food bank. They had grand ideas about how to help people that are living in poverty. Then one little voice spoke up and said, “I don’t think we can help. I think we are the ones living in poverty. My family goes to the food bank”. All eyes were on me. She was correct, some of the students in our classroom community are living in poverty. That is our reality. We logged on the website for our local food bank and began to research. We looked up ways we can help and to our surprise there were several listed. I began to read them off and as I got to “raise public awareness” the students started to shout out their ideas. They were unanimous. We have a strong twitter audience and we could teach them about the food bank! They were on a mission.
The next few months saw us visiting Outreach for Hunger to learn about the services provided, volunteer there, head up a canned food drive, create PSA’s (which received some airtime) and create and tweet out a survey via Google Forms to measure the impact of our campaign. We analyzed the data found in our settings to determine when we had the highest audience engagement and deliberately tweeted out our first PSA’s during this time period. Our Adobe Voice PSA’s were tweeted out and led to connections with @foodbankscanada and @OAFB (Ontario Food Banks).
Twitter became a way to showcase their creativity and to build character education. It also provided opportunities for critical-thinking. It has been a very powerful tool, in my classroom. My students know that they can have an impact on others, that their voice matters and that they can create change in their worlds. And that, is the power of a tweet.