Thursday, August 25, 2011

Changing Teaching and Learning With 140 Characters

The staff at Manson Northwest Webster uses a variety of social networking tools for teaching and learning, but in conversation among the staff, Twitter stands out as the number one professional learning tool. Learning is part of being an educator, and Twitter has had a tremendously positive impact on the adult learning environment district-wide. The staff has become empowered as they join in on continuous conversations in Twitter that allow them to make connections, share, learn, ask questions, and get answers to improve their own teaching and learning. As I browse Twitter in the evening, it’s not uncommon to see teachers sharing and connecting or participating in live chat sessions such as #elemchat, #sschat, #mathchat, or #edchat just to name a few.

Most teachers were first introduced to Twitter during the spring and summer of 2010 – over a year ago. The early adopters realized this was a gold mine as a supplement to our own district professional development. They soon saw that they had access to other educators around the world and joined in on the daily and self-directed learning. With Twitter, they were able to begin cultivating their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN) of people and information sources.

A year later, results of the Manson Northwest Webster's Technology Integration Survey indicate that over 70% of K-12 teachers are using social networking for professional use on a regular basis. The tool of choice across the district is definitely Twitter. A few examples will help illustrate how teachers use it in their classrooms.

Annie Schreier, a 2nd grade teacher who was once skeptical of Twitter, has now built a valuable PLN. She says, “I have gotten so many ideas from Twitter and found so many dedicated, passionate teachers to follow and collaborate with. When I first joined Twitter about a year ago, I was convinced that it was way too time consuming. After I began using it for professional reasons to help build my PLN, I began to see the benefits and its potential. The opportunities Twitter provides are overwhelming. One of the benefits this summer was joining the #Daily5 hashtag because it allows me to tap into an amazing community of people around the world who discuss, share, and collaborate about reading.”

Mike Richman is a teacher at MNW Jr/Sr High School. Over the last year Mike and I have had many conversations about Twitter and his PLN. He is one of several teachers who have taken Twitter into the classroom and had students use it. Currently he is teaching a leadership class and is now using #leadmnw for his students’ microblogging platform. Through a tweet last year, Mike connected with Shaelynn Farnsworth, an English teacher at BCLUW. Mike elicited Shaelynn’s senior AP English class to talk with his 9th graders as he introduced blogging. Through skype, the seniors taught the freshmen the ins and outs, of blogging. What a powerful lesson!

Jodi Jacobsen, a 4th grade teacher, talks about using Twitter for connecting and collaborating. She says, “I have made many connections with great teachers using Twitter. A few of these connections have led to classroom projects, such as our Skype partners in Ohio. Following hashtags has led to useful websites, resources, and live chats with other 4th grade teachers.”

Christine Sturgeon is the new Teacher Librarian/Tech Integrationist at Manson Northwest Webster. She talks about the value of Twitter for making connections. “Twitter has been indispensible in reaching out to librarians across the state (#iowatl) and the country (#tlchat). Just now, I checked the #iowatl search and a librarian from Solon has a link to U of Iowa football coach talking about being safe online. Perfect as I work on my first lesson plans in elementary tech! I also follow library leaders like Doug Johnson and Joyce Valenza. A Doug Johnson tweet a few weeks ago led me to the ebook program we're now implementing at the secondary school.” Twitter will also be instrumental in a PLN class Christine is co-teaching with high school TAG teacher Kandice Roethler. Students will have Twitter accounts and will use these to reach out to leaders in the field of their study. Without social media it would be nearly impossible to find such specialized instruction, help, information or advice.

And how do I use Twitter? While I depend on it for learning, sharing, and stretching my thinking, it has also become part of the way I do my job. As an example, here is yesterday’s use:

  • Shared information and asked questions about the new version of the Iowa Tests
  • Asked a question and received input on my district’s APR
  • Gave a thumbs up for the new #alignchat, to discuss alignment issues and the Iowa Core
  • Had a short conversation with Prairie Lakes AEA Chief Administrator, Jeff Herzberg, about the ROWE pilot he is starting
  • Commented on question from MNW’s Leadership Class #leadmnw
  • Read and retweeted a blog post by Jason Glass “Learning From International Experience.”

Excitement is in the air as we begin a new school year, and the #mnwcougars hashtag is busy! The staff continues to learn, share, and connect via Twitter. We strive to prepare our students for life beyond school--to be self-directed and independent learners. Twitter is one avenue that helps our staff model that kind of learning,


  1. Amen, Laura. I, too, have learned much from my "lurkings" on Twitter. It's great to hear that your staff members are taking advantage of the enormous potential that it has to offer. Do you have any suggestions on how to get staff interested in being connected?

  2. Hi Ed, In the beginning, we didn't require everyone to use Twitter, but we made time for everyone to create an account. The early adopters talked it up and volunteered to help those who needed it. We offered volunteer "let's learn together" sessions in the summer and again in the fall at the end of the school day. As teachers became excited about the resources they were sharing and receiving, and the connections they were making with other teachers all over the world, it just sort of mushroomed. Although the administration was part of push, having teachers grab hold of it was key. Laura