Twitter helps educators share out classroom, bring new resources in, network with others


This is the second article in a series about the use of technology in schools. If you have a fun, unique or life-changing way you are using technology in your work, please contact the Minnesota Educator at educator@edmn.org. We would love to feature your idea in a future issue!

Educators use online tools to share what is going on in their classrooms and to gather new resources to do their jobs better. And many are doing it all with just 140 characters.

Twitter is one of the most popular social media sites, but educators are also finding it to be useful for professional development and networking.

“About six months ago, a group of students and I were reading the book ‘So B. It’ by Sarah Weeks,” said Amy Hoff, a fifth-grade teacher at Montrose Elementary School. “I tweeted out a picture of students working on a project they were doing after the book was read. Within hours, Sarah Weeks reached out to us. We were in shock. It was then that I realized the power of Twitter. It opens up our classroom walls and allows us to connect with people all over the world.”

Hoff said she was hesitant to start using Twitter in a professional way, but now can’t imagine teaching without it.

For Eric Cameron, a social studies teacher at the Mahtomedi Academy Area Learning Center in Intermediate District 916, using Twitter hasn’t changed how he teaches, but has given him access to more resources and inspiration to bring into his room.

“I’m not doing anything to specifically post on Twitter,” he said. “But I have a larger network of educators to be inspired by and a wider range of sources that I wouldn’t have encountered in my standard professional development.”

Cameron was recently inspired by a post from #playlikeap, or play like a pirate, where teachers had students using Legos. 

“I never would have thought to use Legos in my classroom,” he said. 

Cameron applied for an Education Minnesota Foundation for Excellence in Teaching and Learning grant and was able to purchase Legos. Now he has students use a green screen and create replicas of historical buildings and events, creating a hands-on learning experience for his students. He shares their work on Twitter.


Hoff also shares what is going on in her classroom throughout the day.

“I try to post at least one image of what we are doing in our classroom. I try to capture students ‘in the moment’ of their learning,” she said. “I have 25 amazing, innovative students who are constantly impressing me. I love to share their creations and learning with others as often as I can.”

Hoff makes sure the students featured in her photos have all agreed to the school’s media policy.

Educators sharing what is going on in their classrooms across Minnesota and across the nation is what makes Twitter a valuable professional development tool.

“In April, I began to look for my first teaching job and after doing some research, I discovered that many people used Twitter to connect to other educators so I thought I would give it a shot,” said Lauren Valencour, a first-grade teacher at Turtle Lake Elementary in Mounds View. “It definitely has changed the way I teach now. Twitter is free professional development. There are so many teachers and principals out there to use as resources for questions or new ideas. It’s a great resource, especially for a new teacher.”

To find classroom ideas, Valencour follows Twitter chats. Her favorite is #MNLead. 

“On Sunday nights at 7 p.m., a moderator starts the chat by using the hashtag #MNLead and will post a question,” she said. “Twitter users can search the hashtag and will find the first question by also searching for Q1. You answer the question by tweeting ‘A1 #MNLead’ and your answer. Then you can read through other users’ answers.”

“This is where I get many of my ideas for classroom engagement. It’s pretty easy to use once you’ve seen the chat in action.”

Valencour was even asked to be a moderator of one of the chat this summer.

Cameron also finds resources from Twitter chats. 

“I get more pedagogical or theory ideas from #MNLead,” he said. “There is a SS chat for social studies educators and I get more content from that. It’s also a good way to find new people to follow.”

Following other educators is a key piece of using Twitter to gain ideas for your classroom, said Cameron.

“If I have a question about project-based learning, I know who to go to,” he said. “I sent a message to the American Indian Movement Interpretive Center, because we’re talking about it in class.”

Cameron suggests finding a couple of hashtags to search through related to education or your content area.
 
“Find some people to follow that have thousands of followers. Find some people that have a couple hundred,” he said. “Those who have smaller amounts might be more inclined to have a conversation. People with big followings are more of an online resource.”

Valencour also said that finding the right people is key. She also uses the basic search function if she’s looking for something specific. 

“When I was looking for beginning of the year activities, I searched ‘beginning of the year’ and got so many ideas to use in the first week of the school year,” she said.

Hoff also has developed a list of other educators and people in the field to follow. 

“A couple times a day, I like to scroll through Twitter and see what others are doing in their classroom,” she said. “I have started to develop a list of teachers to follow who share my passion for quality core curriculum that provides hands-on, memorable experiences. I have already incorporated many lessons and experiences in my classroom that I have seen from other teachers on Twitter. I have also found book recommendations and articles to read that have improved my instruction.”

Educators can follow Education Minnesota @EducationMN to get updates from the union, as well as see education-related news stories, professional development opportunities and ways to connect with colleagues.

Remember the legal aspects of using social media in schools
Education Minnesota’s legal department offers a training on the do’s and don’ts of social media use in schools. Here are a few of the tips. Members can request the full training through their field staff.

When you use social media:

DO use your common sense. 

DO consider computer use including internet, email and social media access at school to be a privilege, not a right. Use school-issued/owned/controlled devices for school-related work; you should have no expectation of privacy in those devices. 

DO know your school district’s social media and technology use policies before using social media to interact with students. Make it one of your first policies you review each year as part of your back-to-school preparation. Being familiar with and understanding the policies will help you navigate your social media participation.

DO use privacy and security settings. Whether you are using social media for classroom purposes or not, keep in mind that your personal information is as available as you allow it to be. The settings of social media platforms may change; review your settings regularly and adjust them according to the boundaries you have established.

DO NOT post any negative information about your students, co-workers or school administrators. 

DO NOT join groups that may be considered unprofessional or inappropriate, and leave any such group of which you are already a member. 

DO NOT use social media unless you DO use common sense in your activities.