Kathy Cassidy’s new book Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades will be published this month by Powerful Learning Press. This excerpt from Chapter 6, “Connected with Twitter,” illustrates the value of using social media tools in the primary school classroom. Learn more about Kathy’s outlook on the need for six year olds to develop a public global presence in this interview at the PLP blog.
Although we have not always been consistent users of our classroom Twitter account, my six-year old students have had some tremendous opportunities for learning through our use of this popular social network. In 2011, my students had heard about the floods in Brisbane, Australia from their parents and came to school talking about the video footage they had seen on television. They were intrigued because of our classroom connection with a class of seven year olds there called the 2M Gems. They wondered if their friends there were safe, so as a class we composed this tweet.
@2mgems We saw videos of your floods. We hope you are all safe.
— Mrs. Cassidy’s Class (@mscassidysclass) January 13, 2011
Because the Gems were on summer vacation at the time, their teacher, Amanda Marrinan replied for them.
@mrscassidyclass thankyou 4 thinking of us. All of the Gems, our school & our school families are safe & dry, away from flooded areas
— MrsMgem (@MrsMgem) January 14, 2011
She also sent us a map of the area that was flooded. In the meantime, my students had had additional discussions with their parents and had learned of another danger to their friends, so they sent this.
@mrsmgem Thank you for the map. We are glad you are all safe. We heard there are sharks in the water. Please stay out of the water.
— Mrs. Cassidy’s Class (@mscassidysclass) January 14, 2011
A few days later, Mrs. Marrinan sent this tweet.
@mrscassidyclass definitely staying out of the water. Amount of toxins in the water is 190 million times above levels that are safe 4 humans
— MrsMgem (@MrsMgem) January 18, 2011
Six year olds do not usually understand a lot about toxins, but they certainly understood that 190 million was a big number (gasp!) and that it meant that no one should go in the water. My primary-aged students were engaged in a world event that meant something to them because of the connection we had developed with the class in Australia.
Meaningful and authentic
When we read and composed those tweets together on our interactive whiteboard, the students were reading and writing meaningful text—not something that I had invented to teach them a phonics skill or a lesson about world events. They became concerned for their friends through events in the media and wanted information. They got their information in a way that connected them directly to the people they were concerned about.
The tweets we composed together were authentic writing. They came from something that the children wanted to say and were directed at a real audience. Let’s see–meaningful text, authentic writing and a real audience. Isn’t that a good recipe for successful writing instruction? The development of empathy for people in another culture and the beginnings of a worldview were just delightful side benefits.
Twitter builds literacy skills – and more
The immediate curriculum connections for Twitter are the reading and writing ones—and they are important. Some teachers are exploring ways to use Twitter in other subject areas. For example, students can direct questions about space to an astronaut on Twitter, queries about rocks to a geologist or inquiries about plants to a botanist. You can watch tweets in another language you are studying or follow an author or a beloved character. Some zoos tweet regularly as do national park foundations.
Hash tags are another effective way to use Twitter. When my students were learning about the writing trait of voice, we made gingerbread men and took pictures of them in various locations around our school. Then, we used hash tags and joined with other classrooms in tweeting about what a gingerbread man might say (#SaystheGBMan). On another occasion, we imagined secrets that Santa might have and giggled as we first wrote and then read the tweets written by our classmates and other primary students from around North America. (#SantaSec2012).
When my class was focusing on the writing trait of ideas, we sent out this tweet.
Where do you get your ideas for writing? Please use #ideasforwriting
— Mrs. Cassidy’s Class (@mscassidysclass) September 20, 2012
We received several responses, including ideas from a group of second graders in New Jersey, which was especially exciting for my students.
Did these responses help my students to understand where others got their ideas for writing? Did it help them to realize that others thought about the writing process just as they did? Did it help them as they thought about what they would write about themselves? Yes, yes and yes! Another example of the power of connected learning.