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Teaching with Today's Tech

Using social media effectively with students.

By Emma Chadband


Illustration by David Clark

Thanks to physics teacher Michelle Gould Burgess’ seamless integration of social media into her lesson plans, her students are busy launching marbles out of a catapult instead of listening to a lecture.

One homework assignment had them reading Gould Burgess’ blog, watching her lectures via podcasts, and storing their assignments in Google Docs.

Gould Burgess teaches in a “flipped classroom,” so her students complete their “lower-level thinking” for homework, and engage in “higher-level thinking,” like the marble and catapult lab, in the classroom. After watching the podcasts at home, students come to class ready to work on more advanced exercises that build on what they learned from the lectures. Gould Burgess’ students subscribe to her blog, which operates through Wordpress, so all their homework materials are emailed to them when she posts them online.

Gould Burgess’ students have no excuse not to do homework. “They know that I know, that they have everything they need [to do their work],” she says.

In class, the blog/podcast system also allows her to assist many students at once, she says. If she’s helping one student and another needs her, Gould Burgess can refer them back to the specific part of her podcast that will help.

Gould Burgess believes teaching her students 21st-century thinking skills, like familiarity with word processing software and social media platforms, is just as important as teaching them classic fundamentals.  And it doesn’t take cutting-edge software or applications. There are many tried, true, and free programs that educators can easily incorporate into their lesson plans.

Classroom-Friendly Social Networking with Edmodo

Students “need to learn how to communicate through social media. They need to learn how to be polite and well-mannered,” says Scott McDonald, a middle school technology teacher in Bend, OR.

But teachers are understandably concerned about which platforms they bring into the classroom. Some, like Facebook, are blocked in many districts. Enter Edmodo, a free, easy alternative designed for teachers.    

Teachers can sign up on the sight in a couple of minutes. Next, they can invite students to the site, post questions or comments—similar to a Facebook status—and students can reply. Edmodo also has assignment, quiz, and polling applications, and students can submit their homework or other assignments through the site. “The system helps keep kids accountable, and it allows me to provide feedback and annotated notes,” McDonald says.

It also helps McDonald speed up the grading process. He recently administered a test to 600 students, scoring them in only two days.

Busy Work Gets Easier 

Gould Burgess’ physics class is a whole lot of fun. But her class wouldn’t be nearly as fun without new technology.

The educator uses Google Forms to administer quizzes, which students complete electronically. The application immediately compiles all the data and organizes it into an easy-to-read chart showing the class’ performance. Gould Burgess calls Google Forms one of the most helpful applications she uses, adding, “It makes the ‘busy work’ of being a teacher so much easier.” Best of all, storing lab data on Google Docs means students can access it from any computer.

“They never say ‘I can’t find this,’ or, ‘I don’t know this,’” she says, because they always have access to the information they need.

And when her students work on group projects in Google Docs, Gould Burgess can see the revision history of the document—who changed what, and when. She says this keeps students accountable, and it allows her to easily measure how much work they’ve done.

Using Cell Phones at School

Instead of constantly trying to get students to put their phones away, use the devices to your advantage.

Celly, a group messaging service for cell phones is ideal for educators who want to communicate instantly with students via phone, but don’t want to share their personal number.

The teacher can start a “cell,” or group, by texting “Start” to Celly at 23559. Then they set up a username and group name, then text the group members’ phone numbers. After everyone is invited, text “X” to stop. Then the members can text “@GroupName” to join.

Students can use the cells to set up study groups. Advisors for clubs or activities can text the group to quickly cancel or reschedule a meeting, and teachers can text students’ homework reminders or other information.

Celly is particularly useful on field trips, so students can text their whereabouts or any questions to the teacher, and parent chaperones can join in. For added fun, educators can text trivia questions to students on their ride back.  

Getting Started 

Thinking about including social media in your lesson plans? First, familiarize yourself with your school or district’s policy on cell phone and social media use. Then, start small and try integrating a platform you or your students already use. Keep it professional—no “friending” students or non-lesson communication. With a little planning, your students will be more engaged in learning, and they’ll have you to thank when they know how to use social media effectively.

10 sites to quickly bring new media into your classroom


Wordle Is your class particularly interested in a topic? Type some of their comments into Wordle, and see a visual interpretation of all the words they used.

Prezi Are your Power Point presentations putting kids to sleep? Prezi has fun and interesting slide transitions to keep your students guessing about what will happen next.

Teacher Tube Is YouTube blocked at your school? Or worse—did you use it, only to have a less-than-appropriate video pop up as “suggested?” Teacher Tube has classroom-approved videos.

Quora If you have a question, Quora has an answer. Users can post questions and other members suggest and debate answers.

Poll Daddy Quickly and easily set up a survey or poll for your students. You can instantly see the answers—no tallying required!

Thing Link Turn a picture into a visually appealing cluster of links. Tag people in a photo and link to articles about them, or cover an infographic in links for further information. Then post the image to your class’s web page!

Skitch Skitch is a quick and easy photo editing app. Language teachers might find it particularly useful—load up a photo and have the student label everything in it with the correct vocabulary.

Dipity Create visually appealing and interactive timelines. Each event can have an image, and a link to more information. Users can scroll through the timeline and click on the events that interest them.

Wordpress Do you find your district’s web host hard to use? Make your own page using Wordpress. If you require your students to subscribe, they’ll receive an email every time you post something new.

Pinterest Teachers post free print outs, pictures of beautiful classrooms, and links to resources. Don’t forget to follow NEA Today!

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