Powering Up: Social Media and the New Classroom

Just a few years ago, when kids began having their own phones in large numbers, schools freaked out. At my daughter’s junior high, phones had to be hidden away in backpacks or lockers. Any teacher who observed a student with a phone was required to seize it. The phone was then taken to the office, and there was a $15 fine to get it out of hock.

Two years later, my son is now in the same junior high. Phones and other electronic devices are no longer pariahs; in fact, students are encouraged to bring their personal phones or iPads. Teachers can request that their students use them during all kinds of lessons, from geography to science, even English, to look up quotes or biographical information. Students can also use their phones during “passing periods” and at lunch. (I suspect there will be a lot more fund raisers this year, seeing as how the cash cow of phone seizing is no longer being milked. )

Of course, it isn’t just the fact that teachers and administrators are tired of fighting the ubiquitous phones and their larger cousins. Slowly, educators are realizing the benefits of social media. And, as those in charge learn more about the remarkable versatility of the internet, the applications are becoming an integral part of the students’ learning experience, arguably making them more engaged and interactive than ever before. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and even one of the relatively new social media sites, Pinterest, are giving education a much-needed boost.

Here are a few of the ways educators are employing the power and persuasion of social media:

Twitter:  “Teachers have been setting up subject or class Twitter accounts that students can follow. The teacher then tweets information related to their class. Some even set homework via Twitter,” reports The Guardian, in their article “Social media for schools: A guide to Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.” Twitter, as many have discovered, is also often the fastest way to find out about breaking news.

Facebook:  I have often asked my own students to post a specific status and have their friends respond. Then, the following class period, we discuss those responses. For example, I recently had them read Hal Niedzviecki’s New York Times article, “Facebook in a Crowd.” Niedzviecki wonders what would happen if he invited many of his “virtual” friends to a real life cocktail party. Of the several hundred invitations, twenty people accepted; one actually showed up. I asked my students to post as their status, “Is a virtual friend a “real” friend?” We had a lively discussion that could not have happened otherwise.

Pinterest:  Not just a place to “pin” your favorite recipes or cute cat photos. Many teachers have found great success, especially for their highly visual learners, using Pinterest’s “Tutorials.” Here, among other things, you can learn, step-by-step, how to create QR codes, or become more proficient in Photoshop, or learn how a touchscreen works.

Tumblr:  Again, a great site for students and educators. More and more companies have begun to “tumbl,” as it is a great way to find archival materials as well as current news and discussions. Some of my favorites, which I often use to prepare lectures, are the tumblrs of “The Paris Review,” Life Magazine, the New York Public Library,  NPR’s Fresh Airand, of course, eNotes

How do YOU use social media in the classroom? Whether you are a teacher or a student, we’d love to know.


World Class: Snapshots of Classrooms From Around the Globe

The ever-curious Brain Pickings yesterday shed light on a fascinating project, “Classroom Portraits.” Since 2004, photographer Julian Germain has captured images of classrooms the world over, progressing from his small corner of North East England to include schools from North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Collected in a new book, Germain’s photos provide unique insight into childhoods both familiar and foreign, sharing what makes schoolkids around the globe so similar, yet worlds apart.

England, Bradford, Year 7, Art

Each photograph captures the same faces we’ve all seen in the classroom growing up: you have the bored and the enrapt, the angry and the apathetic, the eager and the daydreamers. Germain captures all of these and more in his trans-global portraits.

Wales, Felindre, Reception and Years 1 & 2, Numeracy

Yet, just as these photos begin to hark back to one’s own school days, you come across a classroom like the one snapped in Yemen, below. A small room packed with serious-looking men, the only thing belying their young age the dark but faint peach fuzz atop each one’s upper lip.

Yemen, Sanaa, Secondary Year 2, English

Flipping past the slightly militaristic uniforms of a class of Peruvian 4th-graders…

Peru, Cusco, Primary Grade 4, Mathematics

to a colorfully Havanan classroom…

Havana, Cuba, Year 2, Mathematics

and a stark Nigerian one…

Nigeria, Kano, Ooron Dutse, Senior Islamic Secondary Level 2, Social Studies

you are reminded that this (I’m presuming for most of you) is not the childhood you remember.

But while the environments and languages might not be the same, it’s always easy to spot some common ground: in one image a band of sulky pubescents, in another a mob of sticky-fingered kindergartners, and in all the compulsory child with the mischievous glint in his eye, the one who is certainly up to no good at all.

England, Seaham, Reception and Year 1, Structured Play

In each photo Germain has also managed to evoke the gang-like quality found in a room full of students. He positions them with their eyes locked on the camera, staring it down as though ready to pounce at any given moment. Perhaps the one similarity we should be mindful of in every classroom is the courage it takes to stand up in front of a room of these creatures and teach them.

Cuba, Havana, Playa, Year 9, national television screening of film ‘Can Gamba’ (about Cuban participation in Angolan Revolution)

No, in all seriousness “Classroom Portraits” is a joyful reminder of the many fresh young minds out there in the world, and the importance a good education serves in shaping every one of them.

Lagos, Nigeria. Basic 7 / Junior Secondary Level 1, Mathematics

For more on the project, you can visit Germain’s website or purchase his book Classroom Portraits 2004-2012 on Amazon.


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