We came back to our Canadian elementary school after the holidays to a very uncertain labour situation, and the week finished with the chaos of a planned labour action cancelled by the courts at the very last minute, leaving everyone scrambling. It was a rotten way to start the new year at school, but to my surprise, Twitter, of all things, was my saving grace.
One of the little ways Twitter made things better was the engagement it allowed us with the political situation. The Twitter users on our staff had persuaded another teacher to join us, and I had pointed him in the direction of the hashtag that identifies our union, so he could satisfy his political animal. It brightened my day each morning as he came in all fired up, and excited about sharing what he’d read.
The reporter who covered the late-night labour board hearing on the job action picked up 1300 followers in the space of a few hours as people spread the word that he’d been given permission to tweet about the proceedings. Twitter helped us keep morale up in a difficult situation.
Twitter Bird in space
Chris Hadfield (@cmdr_hadfield) is a Canadian astronaut who arrived on the international space station on December 21, and he is an amazing social media presence. He tweets astounding photographs of everything from the ISS’s solar array lit up at dawn, to massive bush fires in Australia. What’s cool is that he also tweets about the day-to-day things that make up life in space, including vacuuming and cleaning the urine recycling system.
Colonel Chris and the rest of the crew are even nominated for a Shorty award (and they’re in first, as I write!). Combine that with YouTube videos explaining how a space toilet works, the way your watch reacts in space, and even a video on the challenges of cutting your nails in space, and my students are running home to share with their families!
Hadfield is a musician and a genuinely engaging guy, and the kids love him. They have so many questions (they have twitter in space?), and the Canadian Space Agency is working hard to keep his FAQ page up to date.
I walked into my son’s archery lesson, and a friend who is also a teacher said, “I’m so glad you’re here! Can you show me how to set up Twitter accounts for my class?” She was following Hadfield, and wanted her students to be able to dig into his Twitter stream at their own pace, and come up with questions.
I have the sense that this in-depth look at life in space is helping some of our students find a passion they didn’t know they had (though at least one Grade 4 student decided that he definitely didn’t want to be an astronaut after hearing about drinking recycled urine).
littleBits of help from my PLN
My final gift from Twitter started with the power of the PLN. My Kansas teacher friend Marsha Ratzel (@ratzelster) tweeted a link over the holidays about trends in tech for 2013. Joi Ito, prominent thinker at the MIT Media Lab, suggested that hardware startups were a trend to watch, and mentioned one called littleBits. (“littleBits is an opensource library of electronic modules that snap together with tiny magnets for prototyping, learning, and fun.”)
I checked them out, and found great “maker” tools, allowing a combination of magnetically connected “bits” to create electrically-powered inventions, limited only by your imagination.
My older son had been studying electricity during science class, and had spent the first weekend of the break cannibalizing toys for motors, and raiding his dad’s toolbox for wire strippers. He thought littleBits looked amazing, but he’s got a limited budget (as do many schools).
Frustrated, I tweeted my concern about the cost of “maker” materials (specifically littleBits and Lego Mindstorms). To my surprise, littleBits tweeted back, and we had a conversation. End result: 2 of their holiday kits arrived for free (one for my son’s classroom, and one for home), with the added knowledge that littleBits offers a 15% education discount.
Who says 140 characters can’t change the world a little bit? How has Twitter made your week better?