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Teachers Learn Twitter As A Teaching Tool

Bill Zeeble

Millions upon millions of people are on Twitter, especially student-aged users. Teachers are trying to catch up by learning how to use Twitter in class.

“These are actually some education hashtags you can follow, we just found this list on the internet we thought we would share with you …”

Kim Boyd is teaching a dozen or so attentive middle school instructors how to teach with Twitter. In a small Arlington Convention Center room, Boyd tells them “find your topic, find some hash tags on that topic…”

… “you could have ‘Twitter time.’ That would be a great ‘engage’ activity at the beginning of the period.”

Boyd specializes in education technology at the Fort Bend school district in the Houston suburbs. She likes Twitter because that’s where the kids are.

“This is how they learn. This is what they do all the time. They’re on social media. This is what they spend their free time in, so to bring that into the education world – you can tap into that interest and get them engaged in what they’re doing. You know that’s three-fourths of the battle.”

Larenzo Young agrees. The senior attends KEYS Learning Center in Euless.

“People, that’s what they do in class. Tweet, tweet, tweet, So I think that would be a very great idea. I’ve yet to meet a teacher that Tweets about that kind of stuff.”

Waxahachie Middle School math teacher Chris McDaniel is ready to get his digital feet wet.

“I’m thinking about it because kids are always on Twitter. Anything technology will be able to get them more focused on what we’re doing in class.”

McDaniel figures he’ll use Twitter the way some teachers and school districts already use it; to post quizzes, tests, homework assignments and other calendar events. But he’s not sure it’ll work in his math class. Boyd’s teaching colleague, Kay Cole, offers suggestions.

“I could put a question up,” says Cole. “What’s the next step in this math problem?” Or ‘What would you think is the first step in this math problem’ to get them to look at it.”

The Sugarland instructor offers teachers some basic tips for using Twitter. First, make sure your school allows it. Some may not. Many twitter sites consider kids 13 and under too young. For them, Cole likes fake Twitter pages available online. They can be projected on a class wall and students can suggest posts, or write them on a strip of paper and tape them up. Or, Kay Cole says the teacher can add some student posts to his or her own Twitter feed.

“So they can go on and feel like they’re tweeting even though they really are not. If I as a teacher can bring it into the classroom even to share what the outside people know. You know, using it also in that classroom. Because ooooh you know, looking at it, using it, enthralled, just because you’re using it within what you are teaching.”

San Antonio middle school teacher Theo Risinger started using Twitter in his science class this year after first checking with parents. Now he says about 60 kids follow him and so do a lot of parents.

“Mostly I’m just posting interesting things I find so kids can see what’s going on. I do Discovery, NASA and things like that and tweet interesting stuff that pertains to class. But it’s really “this is what we did in class today, and this is what’s upcoming and some school news, stuff like that. If you learn to use it and teach kids to use it you can get a lot of mileage out of it, the bang for the buck.”

Risinger says it’s fun, too, partly because it’s new. But he wonders if it’ll still be cool when the “newness” wears off.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.