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An experiment in social media

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A few weeks back I succumbed to the lure of Twitter and created an account for my 3rd grade students.

Over the course of last week’s lessons I had students write a brief "What did we do today?" in their science notebooks. I figured the summary was probably useful on its own and would get kids ready for tweeting the goings-on of our class.

It’s a new routine for my students and me, so remembering to do it and allotting enough time at the end of class to actually get on the computer and type has been a challenge.

My students are very excited about the prospects of having their entries put on Twitter.

Access to computers outside of school is uneven at best. Very of few of students know how to type well. This presents another challenge as each lesson takes X time plus the Y time the entry takes, which must not exceed the 45 minutes I have for each class. I wish I had the time during class to teach typing as well as science, but that does not seem feasible right now.

The two entries we have managed to put up are pretty basic statements about the content of that day’s class. While the students are pleased with just seeing their work on the computer screen, right now Twitter seems like a vacuum. After my 4th graders finish their science PSSA test and the month of testing ends, I will send home the web address to all of my 3rd grade parents. Hopefully lots of families will go on and comment about what their kids are doing.

The operating theory behind using Twitter was to allow the families of my students some idea of what their children do in science class.

I am a prep science teacher, which means 3rd and 4th grade students come to me three times a week for 45 minutes. Homeroom teachers get their prep period, and the students get most, if not all, the designated time for science instruction. Science takes place in a modular classroom, what I affectionately call the science trailer. I don’t have an aide, so most of what goes on in my classroom is known to only my students and me.

A monthly bulletin board of work (which I’ll admit I am not good at keeping up) is the only real link between science class and the main building. Until recently I wasn’t bothered by the anonymity. I taught, the students learned, and nobody bothered us.

I’ve read and heard from various publications and speakers all kinds of ways schools are using technology to share what they do. Some kids in India brought tech into their school by teaching themselves how to use computers.

I started to think about what families of my students think about their children’s science education. Do they think about it at all? What would they like to see their children being taught?

My first year in the District I switched from prep science to kindergarten in the middle of the year. Kindergarten is a great grade for teacher/family communication.

At the end of the day, the classroom doors would open and it seemed like all of humanity was pouring into the room to pick up my students. I’d have sometimes 20 different conversations with moms, dads, grandparents, and older siblings about my students. It was hectic, stressful, and sometimes unpleasant, but we spoke to each other. There was a predictable, accessible path to communicate in place.

These days, after classes end, I run to proctor detention or go to grad school or to some meeting, but rarely do I run into a family member of my students. Reading and math rule the day. What counts for adequate yearly progress is clearly what the School District values, and that rolls down hill to every class and in turn our students and their families. Science is on the backburner, if even on the stove.

My hope is that by using Twitter, I can start to open up my classroom to all the people who want to know what exactly goes on in that science trailer.