Archive for August, 2007

TTP 2: Why Twitter?

In an earlier comment, Bud says the same thing I’d likely say, were I reading this on someone else’s blog:

Interested to see what you do. Convince me that there’s a need that Twitter fills in the classroom. I love Twitter – but I’m concerned – I see people forcing its use for no particular reason other than that it’s Twitter. As I said – convince me.

After rolling this around in my mind a bit, I got to thinking that maybe they key here isn’t to use Twitter in the classroom, but rather outside the classroom in order to extend learning. Can Twitter act as a web-based learning network for high school students in the same way as it does for, say, edubloggers? Assuming that it can, how will high school students respond to it? This is the direction in which I plan to move with this project.

At this point, I can’t see myself using Twitter for anything in class, except to set up accounts and maybe give a demo and let the kids get their hands dirty. Anything I can Tweet to kids in class, I can just tell them face to face, and vice-versa. Outside of class, however, I see the following possibilities:

  • Network of students for sharing class resources that goes beyond social cliques
  • Built-in peer support system for immediate questions about/help with work
  • Easy way for me (or students) to send an “APB” or links to interesting/related sites
  • Convenient multi-user communication – especially useful for group project collaboration

The fourth point may not be as important to teachers in smaller districts, but I teach in a regional district that draws from several surrounding communities. It is not always convenient or possible for my students to physically get together, especially those who don’t yet drive.

So why Twitter?

  • Ease of setup and use
  • Minimal time investment in instruction of use
  • Likelihood of student engagement
  • Ease of teacher monitoring
  • Allows for community connections outside the classroom
  • Later on, possible entree to blogging/social networking for educational purposes

The same could be done with Jaiku or Pownce (but for the private beta); again, the specific tool doesn’t matter, as long as it can serve the desired purpose.

To get back to Bud’s original comment, I think I can already answer it – as far as I can tell, Twitter does not fill a need in the classroom. All I’d like to find out is if it can help to fill in some related gaps outside the classroom. As I’ve previously said, I’m not turning my class into Twitter 101, just trying to work a potentially helpful and minimally invasive tool into the mix.

I’m trying not to enter into this with any preconceived notions (other than, “there’s a possibility that this tool might be useful”), just a lot of questions. By the end of this, maybe neither one of us will be convinced.

The Twitteracy Project (TTP) 1: The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World

Wow – a single Tweet from Will with a link here brought something like 60 unique hits. Now I feel obligated to actually go through with this! (I kid, I kid)

I think the best way to start this off is with a clear statement of what this classroom implementation of Twitter is (or should be) in my mind, but also what it isn’t intended to be. Also, a clarification: in “The Twitteracy Project”, the project is my integration of the tool (Twitter) into the existing course. There is not an assessable Twitter project the kids will be working on. Just wanted to clear that up.

To borrow an old education axiom, I’m just trying out another tool in my toolbox. I’m not going to shoehorn all my class assignments into a Twitter-shaped hole, nor will I expect all writing assignments to be done in under 140 characters. This is just one part of the overall course entity, and one that I think my text-happy kids will enjoy. I cannot stress this strongly enough: this is an experiment. While I have objectives, methodologies, and hypotheses, I can’t say what the end result will be. The only guarantee I can give is that I am invested in this project for reasons I’ll outline below, and I will work my hardest to guide it toward success, because success for this project means benefit for my students. Here’s what I’m thinking as far as educational objectives:

SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To) create and contribute to a cohesive classroom community
SWBAT use the classroom community as an educational resource outside the classroom
SWBAT engage in a social learning environment outside of the classroom
SWBAT utilize an online communication tool to facilitate group communication when necessary
SWBAT exercise creativity in communicating information within specific restraints
SWBAT build upon existing technological proficiencies (e.g., cell phone texting) to learn new proficiencies (still struggling with the wording of this one; I hope the point is clear enough)
SWBAT explore related resources and draw parallels to core texts

Note that Twitter doesn’t play into things until the 4th objective. In my mind, this is less about tech and more about community. One of the best classes I’ve ever taught was an Honors British Lit class about a year and a half ago. At the risk of overusing the word, there was a strong sense of connectedness and community: the kids talked (and argued) with each other about the class after school, and they helped each other with the readings and the assignments (in a good way!). The kids and I connected outside of class as well as in class, and there was a sense that the relationships forged there were bigger than the class itself. In another class about four years ago, my students were faced with a project they created themselves (long story), and it’s fair to say they bit off way more than they could chew in the amount of class time we had left in the year. To their credit, most kids, including those who normally weren’t highly motivated students, came in before school, after school, and on weekends to work on this, under my or my co-teacher’s supervision. By the end, they had not only completed their project, but done such an exemplary job that the components of it have been on public display at the school ever since.

These classes came together from across social cliques and socioeconomic groups, committed to a/the cause. I’m not proposing that signing kids up for Twitter accounts will bring the magic automatically, but I’m wondering to what degree that out-of-class engagement helps kids become self-motivated and self-directed learners, and to what degree Twitter can help that along.

Becoming proficient at Twitter is not the point; developing the community is. Twitter is just one tool of many I plan to use to get us there. Other classroom activities and assessments (not all of them computer-based, believe it or not), as well as the tone I help to set as the instructional guide/co-learner (because yes, I’ll be learning along with them throughout all this; that’s the whole point) will also help get us to that goal.

This is too long already. Next time, I’ll address Bud’s and Paul’s quite valid concerns about Twitter for the sake of Twitter (which I hope I’ve done to some extent already) and some specific applications I’ve been thinking of, as well as my game plan for getting kids all Twittered up while staying safe. My plan for measuring this project’s success will also come a little later down the line.

As always, your feedback is appreciated as this all continues to gel in my mind.

Money, Meet Mouth: Announcing “The Twitteracy Project”

I have decided to implement Twitter as a regular feature in one of my English classes this coming year. It’s still very much in the planning stages now, but I hope to have a full outline of my thought process, intended goals/objectives, and initial instructional implementation up here by the end of the weekend or early next week. Throughout the coming semester, I’ll post lessons & uses, successes & failures, my reflections, and student reactions. Of course, the safety and anonymity of my students are among my primary concerns here, so you’ll understand if I have to be vague and non-specific from time to time.

If you are interested in using Twitter as an educational tool, I hope you’ll stay tuned and contribute thoughts and questions to the mix as this project evolves. I’ll be tagging all relevant posts as “Twitteracy Project” for your ease in following.

The 800 Million Dollar Question

As a student of school psychology, much of my training deals with assessing and accommodating students with learning disabilities. As a psychologist (in my next life), many of my professional responsibilities will be geared towards serving students who fall to the left of the old bell curve, intelligence-wise (and yes, I know that “intelligence” is a highly debatable social construct, but that’s beyond the scope of this post).

A less-widely discussed component of special education, however, is giftedness. John Cloud raises some issues for us all to consider as we head back into our widely heterogeneous classrooms in his piece from last week’s Time, Are We Failing our Geniuses?

For my money, the meat of the article is right here (emphasis mine):

American schools spend more than $8 billion a year educating the mentally retarded. Spending on the gifted isn’t even tabulated in some states, but by the most generous calculation, we spend no more than $800 million on gifted programs. But it can’t make sense to spend 10 times as much to try to bring low-achieving students to mere proficiency as we do to nurture those with the greatest potential.

Cue also the reports of how NCLB has caused schools to slash funding for gifted programs as early after its enactment as 2002. Now, for your amusement, I’ll attempt to crunch some numbers from the article (you may not want to drink anything near your computer while I try this).

Cloud’s definition of “genius” – an IQ three standard deviations above the norm (145+) – only applies to a fraction of a percentage of American students (62,000, according to him), and therefore runs the risk of eliciting the “too minor a minority” response. I’m aware of “gifted” programming being granted to students with an IQ of 130+, a full standard deviation lower. If that’s true in all 50 states, then we now have an additional 2.14% of students (1.3 million, if Cloud’s initial figure of 62 million students is accurate) who are placed in non-differentiated classes with more average age-level peers (read the article to see why this may not be a good thing). Still not a huge number, but it’s almost 21 times the number Cloud describes. NB: If I’ve screwed these numbers up somehow, someone please let me know in the comments.

Incidentally, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is officially against tracking students, regardless of intelligence/ability, but they do support differentiated instruction in order to provide diverse student groups with appropriate academic engagement. Regardless of where you fall on the tracking/no tracking debate, a million students aren’t getting appropriate public educations. Sounds like someone’s getting left behind.

Get In on Beta Projects with InviteShare

UPDATE, 8/19: Wow – I got my GrandCentral invite from another InviteShare member less than 12 hours after signing up for the service! Can’t wait to pay it forward.

Original post follows:

InviteShare contributes to the community feel of Web 2.0 by allowing users to sign up for waiting lists for invite-only beta projects (a la Gmail, back in the day). Of course, once you get your invitation to your selected project and sign up, you’re expected to give back to the community by handing out any invites you accrue. It’s all very karmic.

Personally, I’m excited to try out GrandCentral, and the waiting list doesn’t seem too long (21). I’ve only heard of two other projects currently on the list: Pownce (think Twitter with file attachments) and Spock (a person-oriented search engine – I plan on blogging about this next week), so I’ll be spending some time this weekend learning about all the other offerings. I think this is a fantastic service that can really benefit “the little guy” – the tech enthusiast who doesn’t have the top-level access of more prevalent or established bloggers/”names” in the field.

Finally, in the spirit of sharing and community, I have a priority access code to share with you for This free service allows you to upload and stream your music files (MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, and others), enabling you to listen to your collection from anywhere. It’s a tidy alternative to setting up your own server, and every new user starts off with 1Gb of space. All users are eventually upgraded to unlimited storage, but the code I have gets you an express upgrade (otherwise, plan on waiting 2-4 weeks from the time you fill up your initial 1Gb). It can only be used three times, so the first three folks who leave a comment here (with an email address I can send it to) get it.

And you lucky folks who get the code? You’ll be given three codes as well. Please pass ’em on!