Loving Twitter Part 3: Twitter in the Elementary Classroom

My Grade 4 and Grade 2 tweeters!

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:

  1. How often does your class tweet? Most reported that they tweet between 1-5 times every day.
  2. 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.” 
  3. 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.”
  4. 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​.” 
  5. 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.​”
  6. 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.

Loving Twitter Part 2: Official School Twitter Accounts + Administrators


As much of a crusader as I am for Twitter as professional development and crucial to the formation of a personal learning network (remember, it’s like Match.com for PD!), I’m even more passionate and strident about how important it is for school communities. Yes, Twitter is just one of many social media applications used by students and adults, but I argue that it and Facebook are at the moment the only two that are used widely enough to have significant value to school communities in the ways that I will address in this post. Google+ is amazing, has tons of potential, and is a topic for another post, but it isn’t where the school community (students, teachers, parents, board members, community members, etc.) currently hangs out in their spare time.

There are two major things to recognize when it comes to leveraging the power of social media in schools: one, that schools are vastly underutilizing social media to tell their stories, and two, that if schools thoughtfully, intentionally use social media WITH students, they are powerfully modelling responsible social networking. This post will focus on the power of leveraging social media to tell the school’s story and to connect with the school community, while in a future post I will look more specifically at using Twitter with students. First, if schools consider their communities of students, teachers, parents, board members, community members and media, the one place that almost all of these stakeholders spend some amount of time is on Facebook. I’ll talk about Facebook in a future post. But for now, I want to focus on Twitter. The first objection to Twitter might be that not many of these stakeholders are on it. I think that if you take a “If you build it, they will come” approach, and make it clear what is on your school Twitter feed that doesn’t exist elsewhere, provide ample opportunities and trainings to learn how to use Twitter, and make it satisfying to people by engaging with them, asking and answering questions, and posting lots and lots of media, it can become a place that people start WANTING to visit because of what they find when they do. This won’t work without a dedicated, consistent effort on the school’s part, however, and that’s where administrators come in.

I believe that most school administrators should have a personal professional Twitter account. A very common response by administrators is that they don’t have time to tweet. This is likely true as it stands now– that’s where the technology director/integrator/person in charge of managing the Twitter account can help by providing scaffolding. Just like with students! If that person schedules ten minutes, even every other day, to help the administrator tweet, it has the potential to flip the switch for that admin to understand the power of engaging with the community on Twitter. Even if the administrator tweets just a few times a week it can be extremely meaningful for the school community.

It is very unlikely, however, that top level administrators will be able to manage the school’s official Twitter account. This job should go to someone who ideally does not have a teaching load (or at least not much of one) and who has a passion for and understanding of Twitter. They should commit to tweeting from the school account at least once (ideally 3-5 times) per day in order for the feed to have momentum and fresh content. They should also commit to responding to messages and mentions whenever possible in order to encourage community members to connect with the school on Twitter.  Other ideas for what to tweet include any major announcements that might affect a large part of the school community (school closings, late starts, event cancellations, etc.); upcoming events (include images/video whenever possible); celebrations and achievements; any time the school is in the local media (include links to the media); links to student publications; and anything else that provides a window into the life of the school. This will help the community (especially those who are not actually IN the school building regularly) understand school culture and see it as a community of students and caring adults, instead of as a faceless entity. You never know when this might come in handy, such as at times of referenda, school board voting, local media stories, etc.

Schools have nothing to lose, but so much to gain by creating and effectively using (and promoting) official school Twitter accounts. Notable examples of Twitter accounts from both schools and administrators include: Leyden High Schools (@LeydenPride); Bettendorf High School (@bhspride); Peel School Board (@PeelSchools); elementary school principal Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis); Sunlake High School Principal (@slhsprincipal); and high school principal Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey).

Who am I missing? I am always looking for more schools and tweeting administrators to follow!