Solebury School

Team Members: Cari Nelson, Steve Buteux, Erika Bonner, Diane Downs
Community: ADVIS Year 1, 2010-2011

We decided to look at the use of social media in our 7th grade English class while doing a unit on the script 12 Angry Men. Throughout the unit we incorporated different uses of social media tools to get the students more active in covering the lesson and get them to be thinking deeper about characters within the play. They were also writing more with the use of the Ning instead of writing journal entries that the English teacher was the only one reading.

How does the use of social media affect the learning of the desired content?
  • Enjoyment in English class
  • Writing more deeply about character development
  • Writing more content on the Ning site as their character
  • To use a Ning site and a Google Doc for a 7th grade English class unit on the play 12 Angry Men.
  • We established a relationship with a charter school in Trenton, NJ and attempted to use the ning (primarily) as a way to connect to a relatively different student population.
  • Students were asked to adopt the persona of a juror (not necessarily one of the 12 in the play but an updated version of juror that would more likely reflect an average jury in a “northeastern city” as it’s described in the play) and respond to questions on the ning as their character would.
  • Begin with a survey to learn about students’ familiarity with social media.
  • Show students how to negotiate the ning, post general forum questions to answer (opinion and prior knowledge), have students set up a “my page” on which they describe and assume the character of a jury member whom they have made up, and have them write blog posts in character at the end of each act.
  • End with a survey to learn the students’ perspective on this experience, any increased skills in social media, etc.
  • This was a 6 week project on 12 Angry Men.
  • We realized early on that we weren’t getting a lot of participation from the other school and they’d go in and out of contact. Students still seemed more comfortable responding to the posts of people they know than to the students from the other school.
  • Students had more experience on various social networking sites and web 2.0 tools than we expected, including some with which we were not familiar.
  • 7th graders still need considerable oversight to stay on task. At one point we realized that the chat function was of much more interest to them than the Google Doc on which they were supposed to be working collaboratively.

Change your plan:

  • To make the experience less dependent on the other school, we modified the main project to be an internal collaborative effort at building a script via googledocs rather than between the two schools.
  • Since collaboration with another school was difficult, especially since we did not have much time to plan the lesson together in advance and the other school had scheduling and network problems, we switched to having the students collaborate with other students in class on writing a dialogue between two characters and then on combining those dialogues into a script for a play.

Watch and evaluate plan:

  • Students are writing more in class, though this also could be achieved in other more traditional ways (journals, free responses, etc.). When the social media assignments transition more to being done at home, the writing would be a bonus to the classroom time.
  • Some students enjoyed the writing assignments more because of the novelty of the experience and/or it mimics how they communicate in their free time.
  • Students enjoyed the writing more when we relaxed on standard writing practices (i.e. complete sentences, grammar, and spelling). The challenge then is how to get buy-in and maintain academic standards without squelching what kids see as the cool stuff (one student loved posting images of Van Halen…).
  • Beware of anything planned for class that is dependent totally on technology because it can be unpredictable.
  • Collaboration between students was more difficult for some students to handle than the independent work, possibly because it was a 7th grade class and many of these students are still used to the teacher overseeing/micromanaging every task. We found a correlation between proximity of teacher and student and their productivity.
  • Because these were 7th graders and they had not done anything like this before, we used class time together to do assignments on the ning (for example responding to each other’s blog posts) that ideally would have been done asynchonously and at home.
  • As we hoped, using social media allowed some of the students who in a face to face environment typically are quieter or slower in processing and forming oral ideas to participate more.
  • The nature of the assignments and our interest in experimenting with new tools like the ning pushed us to be creative and develop assignments (for example the collaborative play) that definitely were not done in past years when the play was taught more traditionally.
  • 7th grade admissions for us is a wide funnel in that students come to us with a broad range of academic experience, background, skills, etc. Even a traditional classroom environment requires the teacher to individualize the experience to varying degrees. We anticipate that the added technology component will exacerbate the gap in the beginning of each year before we’re able to level the playing field.
  • Teaching 12 Angry Men using the ning and trying to achieve collaboration with another school lengthened the time typically allocated to teaching this play (and thus cause something to fall out of the curriculum). We wonder whether the longer time was needed to teach kids ning skills and expectations. And if so, is it worth it? Or if they were to do this a second time, would the time required be more in keeping with what was traditionally allocated?
  • Ultimately, did kids think deeper about the themes of the work or ask better questions than they might have otherwise? In at least one case, an emphatic yes. In one of the rare cases of collaboration with the other school, we learned that our students made no assumptions about the protagonist’s race whereas the other school assumed he was African American. This caused each class to have a discussion about why these assumptions were made (unfortunately neither school posted comments about to the ning).

How do we improve our plan for next year?

  • Coordinate with the collaborating school earlier in the year, especially with the counterpart teacher, so as to build common assumptions and expectations about what we’re trying to achieve.
  • When building a classroom experience that involves another school, be sure to build it in such a way that collaboration is a bonus (rather than essential) because it’s not possible to guarantee the other school will ultimately have the same agenda, resources, schedule, technology, experience, etc.
  • Train students earlier in the year on the bare bones expectations of using social media in an academic environment (why it’s important to use full sentences and proper grammar and diction, balancing the fun aspect with the classwork, etc.). In a way, because students knew facebook, they thought they knew what to do and tended to blow off instruction. Also, it’s important to explain to students and get their buy-in to the value of this type of experience.
  • Because we spent so much time having to train the students on how to use things like ning and google docs, we are going to build these tools into the fall 7th grade computer course so English time isn’t spent on teaching the use of the tool.
The team created a Ning community for the school and recorded videos of students performing a scene from 12 Angry Men.

12 Angry Men reading

Student introductions


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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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