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In the Classroom: Burton High School’s Do Now with Twitter

| June 14, 2012 | 12 Comments
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This past school year, 50 eleventh- and twelfth-graders at San Francisco’s Burton High School started tweeting in class for the first time.

Many were familiar with Twitter and some use it on a daily basis, but never for school. As in most instances, there’s a major disconnect between the role of social media in their lives outside school — where they use Twitter and Facebook to chat with friends, and update their status — and what happens at Burton. This class also demonstrates what recent studies have shown: that a large majority of kids have cell phones, even if they come from low-income families. In these two classes, 90% of students had cell phones, and 63% qualify for free or reduced lunch.

But the fact that they were tweeting in class was enough to get them excited in the project. The video below looks at the impact of KQED Do Now, a weekly activity for high school students that engages them in topical issues using Twitter, with these students and their teacher Wendy Berkelman.

“I think that using Twitter to do an assignment is maybe the coolest assignment in school,” said Jason Wong. “I like how we are able to do this through the phone and people can see our thoughts.”

Nikko Maraya piped in: “We should do it in every class.”

Beyond the novelty of tweeting, the students said they felt their voices were being heard and they created a connection to the topic. Their friends cared what they wrote and the conversation opened up to a larger community than just the class. They knew it was on the KQED site and enjoyed watching the Twitter feed update on the website.

WHO CARES ABOUT TWITTER?
The class assignment focused on how technology has changed how we communicate, particularly with mobile devices and social media. They talked about the value of these tools in their everyday lives and how students could use these tools in school and as citizens of the digital world.

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Category: In the Classroom

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About the Author ()

Matthew Williams is a filmmaker and media educator who has recently transplanted to Oakland from Los Angeles. He believes that you are what you eat and feels everyone should have a multitude of dietary options for self-realization. Matthew is the Educational Technologist at KQED.
  • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com Paul Barnwell

    While I agree with the premise that students should learn responsible ways to use Twitter and other social media, and I agree that teachers and students should have a dialogue about how modern digital communication has impacted our lives, I have a few problems with this pedagogical approach.
    First, it reflects the value that people should spend more time on social media and with their phones. People, and society in general, need a more balanced approach towards technology use. Just because it’s fun or exists for students outside of the classroom is no basis for bringing it into a learning space.
    Secondly, you don’t need Twitter to begin meaningful discussions. I question the value of conversing via Twitter versus conversing face to face with partners, groups, and the classroom community.
    Thirdly, while Twitter might prompt excitement and engagement in the students, fragmented, 140-word communication is not what students need to practice, even if is related to thoughtful prompts.
    Lastly, authentic audiences for student work is great. But Twitter is a vast sea of blurbs, both good and bad. Students should be taught and strive to publish more extended, thoughtful commentary and media for authentic audiences, not just fragments.

    • http://www.tex2all.com Terry Elliott

      I like your call for balance. And I think that is exactly what this is an attempt at-balance. Linguists call this movement back and forth (balance if you will) code switching. And our students need to know how to do it all. Unless we show them how long form and short form can work together then we will be shut out from their lives.

      This is not either/or. It is both/and.

  • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com Paul Barnwell

    While I agree with the premise that students should learn responsible ways to use Twitter and other social media, and I agree that teachers and students should have a dialogue about how modern digital communication has impacted our lives, I have a few problems with this pedagogical approach.
    First, it reflects the value that people should spend more time on social media and with their phones. People, and society in general, need a more balanced approach towards technology use. Just because it’s fun or exists for students outside of the classroom is no basis for bringing it into a learning space.
    Secondly, you don’t need Twitter to begin meaningful discussions. I question the value of conversing via Twitter versus conversing face to face with partners, groups, and the classroom community.
    Thirdly, while Twitter might prompt excitement and engagement in the students, fragmented, 140-word communication is not what students need to practice, even if is related to thoughtful prompts.
    Lastly, authentic audiences for student work is great. But Twitter is a vast sea of blurbs, both good and bad. Students should be taught and strive to publish more extended, thoughtful commentary and media for authentic audiences, not just fragments.

    • http://www.tex2all.com Terry Elliott

      I like your call for balance. And I think that is exactly what this is an attempt at-balance. Linguists call this movement back and forth (balance if you will) code switching. And our students need to know how to do it all. Unless we show them how long form and short form can work together then we will be shut out from their lives.

      This is not either/or. It is both/and.

  • http://education.kqed.org/edspace/ Matthew Williams

    Thanks for your comment, Paul. I don’t think Twitter should substitute meaningful face to face conversations. KQED Do Now is meant to be a short activity for only part of a class period, once a week. I think it is very valuable for students because Twitter and social media in general have become essential modes of communication in today’s culture and students should be equipped to know how they work, think critically about them, and practice in this space. It’s not just bells and whistles.

    KQED Do Now just skims the surface of the possibilities. Most of the time, 140 characters does not suffice as in depth commentary, but teachers can encourage their students to post more extensive commentary and/or argumentation via other platforms like blogs, podcasts, videos or memes and then link those contributions through Twitter.

    These are 21st Century skills and if we as educators do not provide pathways for students practice them particularly with civic engagement in mind, we are doing a disservice.

    • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com Paul Barnwell

      As an entry point for a larger study, unit, or project, I do think this Twitter project could be useful. I’m all about discerning technology use.
      So I’ll agree with you–if teachers can design instruction so that there is an element of social media or technology that models or teaches responsible civic engagement, I’m all for it. Because as we know, students will default to the unproductive uses of these tools.

      • Bertha Kaumbulu

        Your response is valid if one is considering the traditional model of teaching. However, teaching 21st century skills requires teachers to acquire those pedagogical skills that enable their learners to use digital tools that are both culturally relevant to their lives and that also have the capacity to empower their learning. In this example, students are situated in a virtual space, which culturally, is already indicative of their life practices. At the same time, the educator is adapting tool use to pedagogy that supports learning. Students will continue to write essays, but I can see how twitter would be useful for students to share knowledge in a broader context besides being in a group of four or five. Some students are lost already in the grand discussions that occur in the classroom. By using twitter, in this case, the scope of communication is broadened allowing engagement at a different level of participation. Further, the educator shows how digital tools enable learning using constructivist pedagogy that is based on how students learn, while also teaching them the responsible use of these technologies

  • http://education.kqed.org/edspace/ Matthew Williams

    Thanks for your comment, Paul. I don’t think Twitter should substitute meaningful face to face conversations. KQED Do Now is meant to be a short activity for only part of a class period, once a week. I think it is very valuable for students because Twitter and social media in general have become essential modes of communication in today’s culture and students should be equipped to know how they work, think critically about them, and practice in this space. It’s not just bells and whistles.

    KQED Do Now just skims the surface of the possibilities. Most of the time, 140 characters does not suffice as in depth commentary, but teachers can encourage their students to post more extensive commentary and/or argumentation via other platforms like blogs, podcasts, videos or memes and then link those contributions through Twitter.

    These are 21st Century skills and if we as educators do not provide pathways for students practice them particularly with civic engagement in mind, we are doing a disservice.

    • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com Paul Barnwell

      As an entry point for a larger study, unit, or project, I do think this Twitter project could be useful. I’m all about discerning technology use.
      So I’ll agree with you–if teachers can design instruction so that there is an element of social media or technology that models or teaches responsible civic engagement, I’m all for it. Because as we know, students will default to the unproductive uses of these tools.

      • Bertha Kaumbulu

        Your response is valid if one is considering the traditional model of teaching. However, teaching 21st century skills requires teachers to acquire those pedagogical skills that enable their learners to use digital tools that are both culturally relevant to their lives and that also have the capacity to empower their learning. In this example, students are situated in a virtual space, which culturally, is already indicative of their life practices. At the same time, the educator is adapting tool use to pedagogy that supports learning. Students will continue to write essays, but I can see how twitter would be useful for students to share knowledge in a broader context besides being in a group of four or five. Some students are lost already in the grand discussions that occur in the classroom. By using twitter, in this case, the scope of communication is broadened allowing engagement at a different level of participation. Further, the educator shows how digital tools enable learning using constructivist pedagogy that is based on how students learn, while also teaching them the responsible use of these technologies

  • Ashley

    I personally think that that biggest reason why teens drop out of high school is because of personal issues. For example, family complications at home, no interest in school, and even pregnancy. Yes, I do know a girl who dropped out. I’ve known her since middle school and I also used to have class with her. She was a good student and also had good grades but then after she became pregnant I stopped seeing her.

  • Ashley

    I personally think that that biggest reason why teens drop out of high school is because of personal issues. For example, family complications at home, no interest in school, and even pregnancy. Yes, I do know a girl who dropped out. I’ve known her since middle school and I also used to have class with her. She was a good student and also had good grades but then after she became pregnant I stopped seeing her.