I don’t consider myself a particularly social person but somehow in the last few months I’ve found myself engaging more and more with the social media toolTwitter - and I’ve made some new friends! Ok, maybe not true friends, but I have broadened my PLN (professional learning network) significantly by connecting with educators all over the country. Some would say, “It’s about time! Twitter just celebrated its 10th anniversary.” Whereas for others Twitter brings to mind something used only by young folks, those “digital natives” we hear so much about. No matter, I urge you to keep reading! I had a Twitter account for 6 months before really using it, but once I dove in it didn't take long to see its many benefits.
What used to be a foreign environment has become a place I now visit daily. Mostly lurking . . . sometimes contributing. What hooked me in were astronaut Scott Kelly’s daily “good night” photographs sent from the International Space Station; I watched with excitement as he returned to Earth after a year in space. The compelling thing about Twitter is how it connects you to people both locally and worldwide who are doing things you admire or have an interest in, or to communities talking about things you can learn from.
Want to learn more about what other elementary teachers are doing with math instruction? Participate in (or read the archives of) subject and/or grade-level Twitterchats. Or follow people like the Teaching Channel Laureates who provide insight into their teaching strategies and goals for professional growth. Are thereeducational organizations you often go to for resources? Follow them. You can also use Twitter to connect your students to other classrooms, or to professionals in various fields. For example, some teachers have sent a class question to a scientist who is an expert in the topic the class is currently studying (or to a zoo, aquarium, or other informal educational institute), or they’ve connected with other classrooms to share student work and engage in authentic feedback or discourse. Twitter can also be a great way to connect parents with what is being done in the classroom. (Be sure to protect student privacy and follow district guidelines for the use of photographs.) Hashtags are used to connect conversations or groups and are easily searchable. Recently, @realscientists began a conversation about what inspired people to pursue science; the hashtag #GatewayToScience connected the responses. Another example is the use of hashtag #CANGSS to connect tweets from educators that are relevant to Next Generation Science Standards in California. A hashtag can really be anything you make up, but as you become familiar with Twitter you'll find common hashtags that you can add to your tweets that make them even more valuable to other educators.
When you follow a person or an organization tweets appear in a way similar to how your friends’ posts appear on Facebook. It’s quick and easy to scroll through and find what interests you on a given day. If someone shares a great resource, you can easily email it to yourself - I then save and organize links or documents on my computer for future access. You can be as social or unsocial as you wish. You can simply “like” a Tweet, or retweet it (with or without commenting) if it’s interesting or helpful. These simple actions make you part of the Twitter ecosystem. But trust me, writing and sending out your first tweet is a little exhilarating! It was like writing “hello world” embedded in computer code in my first lesson on html programming. Your written words show up for the world to see—magically! And you feel empowered. You have a voice. (Dont worry! With Twitter there’s no coding involved - you just need to know how to type!) Soon you’ll get your first “like” of one of your tweets and some followers and you’ll find encouragement to continue building your PLN and growing your expertise as an educator.
After using Twitter regularly for just a short time, I found my connections grew exponentially. One big difference between Twitter and Facebook - with Twitter you don’t need to send a request for someone to “accept” you as friend. Just click the “follow” button and you’re in! Twitter will recommend people or organizations you may be interested in based on who you begin to follow (think six degrees of separation). Or you may see an existing connection retweet (RT) something really cool, and then you, in turn, can follow said cool person who wrote the original tweet. Before long, you’ll develop an interesting collection of connections that represent your professional interests.
One of my favorite finds: once I started to follow some science teachers and coordinators talking about Next Generation Science Standards, I learned about a new group called @NGSS_tweeps. Each week a different teacher tweets about their NGSS-aligned lessons and classroom activities, offering the science teaching community a window into their approach to transitioning to the new standards. The idea is that no one teacher is “doing it right” yet, but by sharing our experiences, asking questions of each other, and reflecting on our teaching we can grow our skills together. This is the power of social media - opening classroom doors to the world. The connections, while virtual, feel real and contribute to extending one’s professional growth in ways that may never happen within the walls of our school buildings. Truly 21st Century Learning.
Hover over the screenshot of a Tweet to learn more.
@NGSS_tweeps is a community Twitter account: each week a different educator tweets about NGSS, providing a window into their classroom