Flattening the Classroom Walls with Social Media
My sixth grade students have been learning about advanced reading strategies by composing their own interactive eBook about reading instruction.
“It would be nice to talk about what we have been finding with an actual author” one of my students mused. “Great idea!” I replied. I handed my iPhone over to allow this ambitious young lady to Tweet to some professional writers that we had interacted with before. Asking an author about the practices that he or she uses to engage in active reading is genius. If only I could take credit for having thought of this myself.
A digital dialogue commenced, and before long we had an in-class Skype author visit scheduled for us to further our research.
The thought of including an author’s thoughts and quotations in our eBook was exciting. As a teacher, I was excited to help my students connect with an expert in his field. How many textbooks do that? My students were anxious to “hang out” with someone famous. Among the opportunities that this teleconference would provide us, one of the most memorable would be adding another pin to our world map.
Pins on a Map
When I began my career as a teacher there wouldn’t have been any pins on a map. See, each pin represents a person that my classroom has connected with through the course of a year.
This year, I’ve been able to take my class from our rural school in southeast Idaho to parts of Canada, England, South Africa, Israel, China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. That might sound incredible. But did I mention that I did it for free? Without leaving the confines of our brick and mortar classroom, social media and Web 2.0 tools have enabled us to travel the world. They have granted us access to people and cultures that we otherwise would have never connected with.
Removing the Classroom Tools such as Twitter, Skype, and our classroom blog have enriched our classroom learning experience by “flattening our classroom walls.”
We’re Not One of a Kind. We’re One In a Community
What my students and I are doing is not an isolated phenomenon. Educators around the world are connecting their classrooms through social media with success for longer than I have been doing it myself. My class is just an apple that’s fallen not too far from the tree.
While the national debate rages on about how to improve education in our “failing” schools, a network of connected educators has formed to create our own solutions.
Twitter hosts a thriving population of passionate educators from all walks of life and from all reaches. I’ve yet to plan a lesson without turning to my Professional Learning Network on Twitter for their input, resources, and advice.
With a proportionately decreasing budget and increasing demands on classroom teachers, having access to a tribe of educators on Twitter provides me tools, strategies, and a support system that I can rely on to continually help me to become a better instructional leader and classroom manager.
It’s not just about sharing. Twitter is a place where educators can actively reflect on successes and failures in the classroom while working together to extend what works and improve what doesn’t. Weekly Twitter chats have become an integral part of a connected educator’s professional development. Whether a first-grade teacher, an art educator, or a college professor, interest-based groups of educators connect to discuss theoretical questions, classroom practices, and educational reform in a supportive, collaborative online environment.
Where Twitter is the spokes on a wheel, blogging is the hub. While education as an institution might be slow to change, educators who blog do so to reflect on how they can always be improving their practice. I started a professional blog to reflect on innovative ideas that I was trying in the classroom. Regardless of whether they worked or not, I blogged about them because there is something to learn from other’s work.
As with other niches, blogging in education isn’t confined to reflecting on one’s own classroom. It’s a pathway to other classrooms as well. Reading other educator’s blogs is a daily practice that I have adopted to force me into the paradigm shift that expands my instructional comfort zone. In a world full of educators and a digital world full of burgeoning bloggers, ideas are the new currency that fund our classrooms.
Through actively engaging in a reciprocal relationship with professional blogging I have been granted many opportunities to connect and collaborate with educators around the United States. From hatching the idea to host a global webinar about using Twitter in the classroom with an administrator in San Diego to participating in a dramatic role-play with a high school English class in Georgia, blogging has been a vehicle for moving beyond our classroom walls
It’s All About the Kids
Utilizing social media isn’t limited to Twitter and blogs. By nature, educators are very resourceful. We collect resources on Pinterest and meet together in Ning sights. The bottom line is that we do it because we want to provide a global education for our students.
It might be Tweeting another class to work on the conventions of writing. It might be creating a digital portfolio of a student’s work on their very own YouTube channel. It might not even happen at class during the contracted school hours. Social networks designed for classroom use such as My Big Campus and Edmodo extend learning beyond the classroom walls and assimilate it into a child’s actual life.
Adding Value Through Sharing
You’re not going to hear about the strides that educators are making with social media in the news. Mainstream media tends to focus more on how American schools and their teachers are failing our students. You could ask my students, but they might not hear you. That’s because they are busily engaged in learning. They are Tweeting, blogging, filming and editing their own educational videos, and writing an eBook about advanced reading strategies.
Yes, they will be graded on these projects. The grade has become a simple formality. Adding value to our learning by sharing the content we have created is the supreme objective. Without the limitations of our classroom walls, there is no longer a ceiling on what or how we can learn. Have you experienced social media flattening the walls in a classroom in your community? Tweet us your thoughts @MrGuymonsClass. We would love to carry on a digital dialogue with you. We even have a pushpin with your name on it.
Guest Author: Dave Guymon and his blog can now be found at DaveGuymon.com
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