I work in a school where, partially thanks to our awesome and proactive ES Technology Integrator, Elementary School Twitter usage is a regular part of the curricular program. A quick glance at the ES Twitter List for our school shows that, during every hour of the school day, an ES classoom somewhere in the school has tweeted. I come from a primarily high school teaching background, but have worked in close proximity to the ES over the past two years here at my international school. I also have two elementary-aged daughters and have followed their classroom Twitter experiences quite closely over the past two years, and also have a few good friends in the ES who were willing to share with me more about their Twitter journey.
One obvious question is: How can you use Twitter in the Elementary School when Twitter’s minimum age requirement is 13? The way that our school has addressed this issue is by having classroom accounts. The account names might either be something like “Ms. Dewey’s PreK Class”, or, at our school, each class chooses a name for itself at the beginning of the year, so my daughter’s classroom Twitter account name is “Puffer Fish”. The teacher is the account owner and holds the password.
When students first discuss their classroom Twitter account in the beginning of the year, teachers usually engage with them about appropriate information to post, what not to post, who their audience might be, how to compose a tweet, etc.. This early exploration into appropriate use of social media is crucial to forming a strong foundation in digital literacy/citizenship.
***The following comments and videos provide more insight into the teacher motivation behind Twitter and the student experience and perceptions of using Twitter.***
I asked six PreK, Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 teachers a few questions about how they use Twitter in their ES classrooms:
- How often does your class tweet? Most reported that they tweet between 1-5 times every day.
- How do you (or they) decide what or when to tweet? Most reported that they tweet when they’re engaging in an especially interesting or enjoyable activity. A Grade 1 teacher also stated that “We also tweet based on need. We’ve used it to tweet solutions in Math, with our twitter feed projected on the screen. We also use twitter to share reflections. I usually have it out for them to access if there is anything they feel is worth sharing about their learning.Yesterday at Terrarium Workshop, I laid out the iPads alongside the other tools.” A Grade 3 teacher responded that “Sometimes for a lesson we all take an iPad and tweet different pictures at the same time. We then keep the Twitter page projected on the board so that there is an ongoing collection of pictures.”
- Do you compose tweets together as a class, or do individual students take turns? Responses included “Tweets are composed mostly by individual students. Tweets are usually with a picture of what we are working on.”; “I have jobs of the week and each week a different child is chosen so everybody gets to have a go at least twice. They are good at deciding or asking when to tweet.”; “We compose with individuals, small groups, and whole class.; “I use their words and quote them.”
- Do you have any specific examples of when something really cool happened because of a tweet? The most exciting example was when a PreK class tweeted questions to several airlines, and ended up engaging in a Twitter conversation with @KLM! Another reported that“We’ve tweeted at airlines, astronauts, authors, and other interests. We tweet with our UK buddies and we have followed a nursery rhyme group to get new rhymes for our rooms.” A Grade 1 teacher’s experiences included “When an author retweeted our read aloud of her book; when a tweet on shapes was retweeted; when they had to search for me around the school and we exchanged messages and photos on twitter; when a student said, ‘Let’s tweet Jamie Oliver’ when I asked how we might find an expert to ask our question about restaurants.”
- What do you think students gain from being engaged with Twitter? Responses included: “Their parents have a better understanding of what we did that day and can engage in conversation about what happened. It really reinforces the home-school connection – and connection to families far away.”; “Immediate sharing to the world!”; “They love it as it keeps then connected to their families, they take pride in their work, they want to do it, they ask, great for general literacy skills & confidence.”; “An online collection of different things that we’ve been doing.”; “Our skills are embedded in the use of Twitter, but one particular use is the chance for instruction about technological behavior and interchange, because they use Twitter, we are also learning about how to interact online.”
- Any additional comments or observations? Responses included: “I’m not quite sure if they understand the reach of Twitter and how other people connect and can respond to each other via Tweets. They don’t realize who their audience is going to be.”; “I would like it more if we had more interaction from parents on the tweets.”; “I wonder how to search for tweets without needing to hashtag every tweet.”
I also interviewed three Grade 2 students about why they use Twitter:
My final thoughts about how our ES program is using Twitter: We are proficient in teaching students how to use Twitter by composing tweets, adding pictures, etc. We also do well with the habit of regularly tweeting (not every class tweets every day, but we have enough of a critical mass that Twitter can legitimately be described as being an important element of our program). Students also seem to understand the importance of sharing their work and their learning with others.
I think the area in which we can most improve is in Connecting. We have mastered the art of tweeting for one-way communication: to promote, inform, remind, share, etc., but haven’t yet truly explored what makes Twitter so unique and impactful, which is forming connections with others. A few classes have made connections and have found the experience to be powerful for students, but most classes are still using Twitter as a one-way communication tool. Possibilities to consider include: creating a Twitter slow chat that happens once a week between ES classes (classes could answer one or two questions during the course of a day); having Twitter “classroom buddies” where two classes are responsible for tweeting to and communicating with each other via Twitter during the semester/year; encouraging administrators to tweet at classrooms on a regular basis; partnering with classrooms around the world to converse and learn about one another’s cultures; conducting parent information sessions or speaking directly about Twitter during Open House nights in order to encourage parents to join and participate; exploring lists of education-related Twitter chats to see if there are Twitter events in which ES classrooms could participate; continuing to tweet to experts, authors, other classes, teachers and administrators, etc.. The possibilities are endless if you creatively explore the ways in which Twitter can facilitate safe, meaningful connections for students in the elementary school.