Students are connecting with audiences much bigger than their school communities every day.
They tweet, share photos on Instagram and write comments on various websites.
Wouldn’t it make sense that teachers help guide them to share responsibly and safely AND to use it for a greater good?
That’s a passion of Paula Neidlinger, a junior high teacher who takes her students beyond the four walls of her classroom on a regular basis.
“Nowadays, they’re connected in general, and I want them to understand that there’s a lot of positive ways to use media itself rather than just playing games on it,” said Neidlinger, who teaches eighth-grade humanities and interactive media at Lincoln Junior High School in Plymouth, Indiana. “I want them to understand that it’s their world, that they’re part of it. I want it to be a positive influence and not a negative one.”
In a recent conversation with Ditch That Textbook, Neidlinger shared some of the tools she uses to bring the world to her kids and, more importantly, some practical ideas for implementing them.
1. Tweet as a class — Students can use Twitter at Lincoln Junior High, and Neidlinger leverages students’ interest in social media for learning. Instead of a traditional discussion, Neidlinger’s students will start tweeting their ideas, sometimes on a custom hashtag to group their ideas.
2. Tweet as a family — Neidlinger’s school has participated in several family tweet-ups, or pre-determined chats on Twitter to connect families and the school community. Often, parents don’t know about Twitter and the positive effects it can have. Tweet-ups can encourage valuable parent-parent, parent-student, parent-school and even student-school conversations that might not exist otherwise.
3. Teach tight writing — This is what Neidlinger calls her “secret ammo.” Precise, concise writing is a hallmark of a good language arts education. With only 140 characters per tweet, Neidlinger’s students are learning brevity without even realizing it. “It’s a way to also teach them language arts at the same time; of course, I would never tell them that,” she said.
4. Discuss with experts via video chat — Recently, Neidlinger’s classes got in a discussion about the next great frontier — space. After a few tweets with Ron Rosano, who’s scheduled to blast off into space with Virgin Galactic, she scheduled a Google Hangout. He was joined by Debbie Moran, who is also part of the Virgin Galactic program. “One student said to me, ‘How do you find these people?’ and I said, ‘Social media,'” Neidlinger said. “Social media is awesome if you know how to use it in the right way.”
— Ron Rosano (@ronrosano) March 19, 2015
5. Gather student work in ePortfolios — Neidlinger’s students do work similar to many language arts and humanities students. There’s a lot of writing. Instead of collecting that work wadded up in the bottom of a backpack, Neidlinger’s students store them in ePortfolios. Her students create Blogger blogs and post their work for others to see. Often, her students will add work from other classes — even their own art and poetry — without prompting. “We’ve got to help students get their thoughts and ideas out to other people,” she said.
6. Engage in blogging challenges — When Neidlinger’s students write online, they don’t just hope that someone will stumble onto their work. She signs them up for blogging challenges like the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge and QuadBlogging. When she can’t find exactly what she’s looking for, she might create it herself. She and a handful of teachers across the United States started a student blogging community that connects via the Twitter #teach2blog hashtag. “Kids like when people are actually reading what they’re writing,” she said. “All of a sudden it’s relevant, then they’re looking at sentence structure and punctuation.”
7. Count the flags — On Neidlinger’s student ePortfolios/blogs, they’ve installed a widget on the side that displays the flags of countries of visitors to their sites. It’s a great way to open students’ views to their reach in the world. “It’s actual excitement, like, ‘Oh, I got China today!’,” she said. “When we talk about global audience, that’s what we want for students.”
8. Share Genius Hour reflections — Neidlinger’s students participate in Genius Hour (or, in her class, “Innovation Hour”) where students learn about their passions and produce projects on them. Neidlinger’s students have shared their reflections on their Genius Hour projects with students from different states. (Learn more about her students’ innovative Genius Hour ideas by watching the video interview!) They’ve also commented on other students’ posts.
9. Encourage community service — When students see others making a difference in the world, it can spur them to want to get involved. Neidlinger coordinated a Google Hangout with the mother of Nicholas Lowinger, the 15-year-old founder of the Gotta Have Sole Foundation that provides homeless children with shoes. (Nicholas would have connected with Neidlinger’s students, but he was at school!) After that video chat, students came up to Neidlinger asking how they could get involved.
10. Broadcast to the world — Neidlinger’s current passion is her school’s student-produced Internet radio station, Digital Storm. Students produce the show from Neidlinger’s Mac laptop with a simple mixer board, microphones and headphones. Students work as DJs, talk show hosts and reporters for the radio station, which can be accessed through the TuneIn app. “When kids are begging, you’re like, ‘OK, this is great,'” she said.
Connecting students with authentic global audiences hasn’t come without its hiccups. Neidlinger shows students early in the year how much information is publicly available about them in a simple Google search. Her classes focus on digital citizenship and helping students to act responsibly on the web instead of avoiding it completely.
“The classroom is the best place to start of showing how can we use this in a positive way,” she said.[reminder]Which of these ideas are you most likely to use? Do you have experiences with any of them that you can share?[/reminder]
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