Using Twitter as an Opportunity in Class

I recently wrote about being an ‘opportunity aware’ teacher and why I think it’s important in classrooms.  One opportunity that came to me only after the Whipple Hill User Conference in Boston was that of Twitter.  I am a very ‘tech forward’ teacher, but ironically have been a staunch hold out of Facebook and consistent basher of all things Twitter.  Needless to say I am now a Twitter convert (though not Facebook).

So here are some of the Twitter-related opportunities I see (for me personally):

1) all students can now carry cell phones in school
2) we’re going 1-to-1 (macbooks) in 2010-2011
3) students spend an incessant amount of time on their mobile devices and home computers.
4) Twitter offers a unique platform to aggregate different parts of the internet
5) Twitter is simple, instantly gratifying, and can be used from many different interfaces (all important to students).

I am sure that there are more, but this is what came to me at first. So the question became how can I use Twitter to enhance my classroom experience or, if I was an entrepreneur, how do I take advantage of this opportunity to add value for my customer?

Given my excitement over this opportunity, I turned to our first unit in US History. The US History curriculum (non AP) at our school starts with the present day first and then begins with pre-colonial North America.  This approach allows our team to highlight the key historical trends that we will be discussing all year with news stories that are happening today. It provides a nice level of relevancy that the students carry with them throughout the year.  Usually, as a team, we put together a plethora of news stories to make a little primer for the two-week unit.

I currently have two ideas for extending this unit, one short term and one long term.

1) short term: cut back on the number of stories that we ‘give out’ and let the students find them on their own and make brief comments through Twitter.  Use the stories and comments to facilitate our classroom discussion.  Allow, temporarily, to use cell phones (or if they are using a laptop) in class to Tweet thoughts on our discussion as we go along (that maybe we didn’t get to or didn’t want to say out loud).

2) long term: request that every student for each chapter highlight one (two?) of the key themes and then find current events stories addressing that theme.  After finding the stories they obviously have to tweet about them with a comment.  Once a month we can come together to discuss parallels, lessons learned, emotions, etc.  Each section already has a ‘note buddy’ that is responsible for taking good notes and posting them online.  I am considering making a Twitter buddy to aggregate the postings per section into a mini ‘report’ for us to use during these discussions.

Just wanted to share a practical way I am trying to take advantage of an opportunity in my school.

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