Parkade Elementary embraces social media in the classroom

Monday, December 2, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:20 p.m. CST, Monday, December 2, 2013
Students at Parkade Elementary are learning about social media through classroom Twitter accounts and a school account. The tweeting engages students and also informs parents about what is happening during the school day.

COLUMBIA — It is nearing the end of the day on a Friday this fall. With the weekend ahead and an extra recess in sight, the energy in Chad Bass' classroom at Parkade Elementary School is palpable. The kids are chatty, excited and a little wiggly.

Sitting on the floor, Bass' fifth-graders have one complaint as they review their school's Twitter page on a Smart Board at the front of the room: Bass doesn't post enough photos.

Using his iPad, Bass continues to flick through the class' account and other Parkade accounts so the students can see what else was posted as he answers their complaint.

Accounts for individual classrooms at Parkade are private, available only to those whose requests to follow them are accepted. However, the school's account, @ParkadePanthers, is public. When the school-wide account retweets an individual classroom's post, it becomes public, too.

For that reason, Bass only posts photos in which no student faces are visible on the school's account. The lack of photos enhances their safety, the science teacher explains.

This year, Parkade is using school and classroom Twitter accounts to teach children about the proper use of social media and to let parents know what’s going on in their children’s classrooms during the day.

"Social media is huge," Bass said. "It's really helped Parkade out by not only giving parents, but also the community, a sense of what we're doing."

Enlisting students to tweet

Bass said he tries to tweet throughout the day, whenever he has a moment. The students do some of the tweeting. Sometimes, Bass uses it as a reward for students in the class.

Sitting in a chair facing his students, Bass asks who wants to write one of the class  tweets for the day. Hands shoot up. Looking around, Bass finally calls on Chi'dron. (Parkade has asked the Missourian to not use the students' last names in this story.)

The boy takes the iPad and begins to type.

"Remember to check spelling," Bass reminds him.

Another student calls out that the tweet needs to have a hashtag. The tweet appears on the Smart Board for all the students in the class to see:

"@MrBass5thgrade: We had an awesome day we got are hands dirty in art. We had a dance party this morning! We have a newspaper reporter in our classroom! #MU:)"

Tweets that the school-wide account posts include:


'Follow Me'

For the students at Parkade, using Twitter in the classroom has become increasingly normal. As part of a school-wide theme for the year, "Follow Me," the social media tool has been incorporated as part of a technology integration program being tried for the first time there.

A 2012 study published in the journal "Active Learning in Higher Education" by Michigan State University assistant professor Eva Kassens-Noor found that using Twitter in the classroom provided more material for discussions in class.

The study also found that "'live tweeting' encourages careful listening, paying close attention, gathering information and multitasking."

Bass also is in charge of school's Twitter account. Twenty-three classrooms at Parkade have an account that is used to send out tweets about what the students are learning during the day, Parkade media specialist Wendy Lentz said. An additional 37 staff members have accounts.

The "Follow Me" theme has three scopes, Lentz said.

"The first scope is really just to teach the kids about being a leader," Lentz said. "We are teaching them about becoming someone that others would want to follow. That includes social skills and leadership skills."

Another element of the theme is teaching students how to "research with inquiry." Students are using Twitter to directly connect with experts in the fields they are studying.

"We’re are trying to teach them that through their research and inquiry, that they need to become experts in what they’re learning about," Lentz said.

The third part of the "Follow Me" theme is a student's social footprint, or "netiquette," which is a term the school uses to teach children about manners on the Internet, Lentz said. The school also uses both Twitter and Facebook as a way to keep parents more involved in day-to-day happenings.

"It’s a good way to let the community have a little window into our school and see some of the great things that are happening," Lentz said. "We believe that we are helping the kids become better 21st century learners by teaching them netiquette and all the important parts of being able to use social media outside of school."

Parental guidance

Parents know this routine: "What did you do in school today?" they ask.

"Nothing," comes the reply.

Although the main purpose of the Twitter program at Parkade is to teach students about using social media, it also is letting parents in on day-to-day events in their child's classroom.

"It makes me feel like I'm more involved during the daytime hours in what's going on, and I can see fun pictures and things like that through the day," said Amy Larson, president of Parkade's parent-teacher association (PTA). "I think it's great."

Larson, who has three children at Parkade, said watching the Twitter accounts has made it easier to start conversations about what occurred in school that day.

"With my oldest son, it's been great because it's sparked his brain to tell me more about what's going on," Larson said.

Larson said Parkade has done an excellent job teaching the children about social media and safety measures that need to be followed while using it.

"I think that the school needs to change along with the rest of the world," Larson said. "As long as the school does what Parkade is fabulous at doing, which is equipping (students) in a safe way, then I think it is great."

Larson also said that she would want the schools to constantly inform students about how social media and bullying play a role in their lives. She said that on a daily basis the schools need to remind students of the good and bad that comes with using social media. 

Larson said it could be a useful tool for other schools as well — "as long as they adopt the same principles and really follow it closely and teach the students in a safe way."

Lentz said the feedback from parents has been positive so far.

"The thing that has been really the best tool for us is that the kids are going home and they’re saying, 'Hey, did you see our tweet today?'" Lentz said. "That really encourages the parents to ask questions."

"I think for the kids, using social media in the classroom is creating a really wide and authentic audience for their work," she said. "That really changes the way kids learn. ... If their audience is real, then they learn differently and they get really engaged in it."

Engaging students

For some of the students in Bass' classroom, Twitter has become an entertaining part of their day — and it isn't their tweets they enjoy the most. 

"I like how Mr. Bass is funny when he puts stuff on Twitter," fifth-grader Starr said.

Earlier that day, the class celebrated its 100th tweet.

"We all took a funny picture and posted it on Twitter," fifth-grader Alicia said.

Alicia said her favorite part about the social media site is that they get to share what they do in their classroom with others.

"We get to upload a lot of pictures of fun things we do," Alicia said. "We get to post pictures about our dance parties. We just had an ice-cream party a couple of weeks ago, so we got to celebrate on Twitter."

Alicia also likes to see what students in other classrooms are doing.

"We like to figure out what they are doing and we might also do that," she said. "They do some fun parties, and we always do a party on Friday, so we get ideas from Twitter."

Bass said that using Twitter at Parkade has taken a life of its own.

"Integrating social media into classrooms is huge. It's where schools are going to have to go because that's what our students are doing," Bass said. "In order for us to better connect with them, we have to be involved in what they like and their interests."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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