Shrewsbury EdTech

Tech resources for Shrewsbury Public School educators


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Auto-Posting to Facebook via Twitter

Do you use social media for your classroom as a communication tool? If so, this tech tip is for you! On my team, we primarily use Facebook and Twitter. They tend to serve the same purpose: communicate with parents and students. Unfortunately, most of the parents are on Facebook but not many students have an account. Many students are on Twitter, but most parents are not.

For most of this year, I’ve been trying to post updates to both places, so we reach as large of an audience as possible. I recently discovered a setting in Twitter though that makes this much easier. In Twitter, if you click on “Settings”, you will see a screen very similar to what is posted below. On the left, click on “Apps”. It will prompt you to give Facebook access to your Twitter account. Once you do this, you have a few options for how you want to share you tweets on Facebook. We have a Facebook page for our team. As you can see, I checked the box that says “post to my Facebook page” and selected the 8 Gold page.

twitter2Now, whenever I want to send a quick update, I post it on our Twitter account. It then immediately gets shared onto our Facebook page! In the images below, you will see how my tweet looks on both Twitter and Facebook.

twitter Facebook

The one drawback to this still is that not all parents and students are reached. Our Twitter timeline is embedded on our team website, but it requires parents/students who don’t follow us on social media to check the website, which I’m sure many do not. Another possibility, which I’ve been meaning to learn more about for a while now, is a service called “Remind”. It allows you to send notices to students and parents via a private text messages. I received the email below just this morning from my colleague Meredith, who is a big fan (I’ll be chatting with her soon.) It looks like a really cool service, especially if you are not currently using other methods to send out updates/notices to student and parents.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 9.09.25 PM


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The #Instagram Photo Scavenger Hunt

Over the last few years, the 8 Gold teachers have had new students take a Google “student survey” so we could learn more about them, their interests, and their learning styles. We ask them everything from “Where do you want to go on vacation?” to “which learning style suits you best?” You can read more about this survey in this earlier blog post. There are always a few technology-related questions. The most interesting of which asks students which social networking sites they currently use. When teachers later looked at the results, we were surprised by the results. 

Facebook has been the #1 social networking site for a while now. In past student surveys, more students used Facebook over any other site. Twitter and Instagram have become more popular the last few years while Facebook has seen a decline. Based on student feedback and information online, more and more teenagers are abandoning Facebook because they feel there are too many adults monitoring their behavior. As you can see in the graph below, only 39% of our students have are active Facebook users while 67% use Instagram. Twitter usage is still behind Facebook, but I expect that to change very soon. 

What Does This Mean? 

Even though I pride myself on being “tech savvy”, I am always late on the technology bandwagons. I have only had a Twitter account for the past year or so and finally forced myself to join because I knew there were some great benefits for networking. I have resisted Instagram because I always thought it was just something middle school girls used for taking “selfies”. As I looked into it more over Christmas Vacation,  I realized it too had a lot of possibilities. Plus, I knew it was about time I learned more about the tool that so many of my students were using. As someone once said, don’t fight change. Embrace it! 
Both Twitter and Instagram utilize hash tags (#) to share and search for information. The “aha” moment for me (and the deciding reason why I joined Instagram) deals with my plans for the upcoming summer. As many of my teacher friends already know, I am planning to volunteer with kids in Morocco through an organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions. After doing research into the organization and their destinations around the world, I learned that each CCS destination has its own hashtag. For example, the Morocco hash tag is #ccsrabat. If I search for this hash tag on Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr, I can find pictures and information from past volunteers. Very cool!

The Old Scavenger Hunt

Last year, I had students do a photo scavenger hunt as a fun way of reviewing some of the chemistry concepts we had been learning before vacation. They took pictures of elements, compounds, and mixtures around the school building with their cell phones and iPads. They also searched for evidence of physical and chemical changes. We spent another day in class sharing these pictures in groups and making presentations using Google Drive. Each slide had to have an image, a label (element, physical change, etc.) and an explanation. There was a final day where groups presented to the class. All in all, it was a fun way to segue back into learning after a school vacation. The drawbacks were the troubles sharing pictures in a group, and I thought three days was a bit too long. 

The New Scavenger Hunt

Over the vacation, as I played around with Instagram, I reflected on how to make this year’s scavenger hunt even better by including elements of social media. I decided to give students two options: Instagram or Twitter. 
If students opted for Instagram, they would take pictures or videos (up to 15 seconds) using their own Instagram account. They would choose from a list of hash tags to identify each image. The student must have a public Instagram account for this to work because hash tags are not searchable on private photos.
If students opted for Twitter, they would take pictures and upload to Twitter. If they wanted a short video clip, they would use the Vine app, then share it on Twitter. Like with Instagram, they would label each one by choosing from a list of hash tags. 

The Hash Tags…

#8goldsci (this hash tag would be used for all images)
#mixture
#homogeneous
#heterogeneous
#puresubstance
#element
#compound
#physicalchange
#chemicalchange

How Did It Turn Out?!

Luckily, we had our “team time” first period. I polled the team and realized that while most of them wanted to use Instagram, very few students had public Instagram accounts (which is a good thing for their privacy but not for this lesson!) I ran into another room and created a new team account (@8goldteachers). Luckily for us, Instagram supports multiple log ins for the same account. So, rather than have students use their own account, I was able to have ALL students take photos on their phone using the new 8 Gold teacher Instagram account. There were some small delays uploading photos, but overall it worked out very well.
Students took some great pictures and videos, and most of them (unfortunately, not all) were labeled accurately. The next day, I looked through them all and shared some of the best ones on our team Twitter site. Students seemed more engaged than last year and were very excited to see that some of their photos were “liked” by others. I even noticed a few of them “liked” photos using their own accounts as well. 
There is one improvement I will make next year. It was tough for students to remember all of the hash tags and how to spell them, so next year each group will receive a handout of all hash tags, along with the definitions for each label.
Have any other ideas for using Instagram in class? Please share!


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Finding My "Teacher Voice" on Social Media

As I get rolling with my 10th year of teaching in Shrewsbury, I have been reflecting on my use of technology and how it has changed over the years. Some of you know that my team has had a pretty awesome website (www.8gold.org) since the beginning, and this site has evolved over the years. We embedded a team Google Calendar, converted many of our handouts and nightly homework into Google Docs, inserted an Animoto video, and even added a Google Translate button for families that do not speak English at home.

Recently, the focus has been on social media. It seems like whenever a new social tool emerges, it promises to reinvent education. I have been to a few “ed tech” conferences where there is a feeling by many that if you’re not using social media in class, you’re not a good teacher. I don’t agree with that idea at all. However, like many of you, I have been trying to trying to wrap my head around how (and even if) I should use sites like Facebook and Twitter. Since Shrewsbury public schools seem to be hopping on the social media bandwagon, I figured now is the perfect time to share my thoughts.


Facebook

I started an official 8 Gold Facebook page two years ago. This format allows me to share information without having to “friend” students and parents. I would NEVER recommend for a teacher to “friend” students or their parents. A general rule many teachers I know follow is we will accept friend requests from former students once they graduate high school, no earlier. Our team website has a button that lets parents and students “like” our Facebook page, which allows them to see team updates in their Facebook News Feed. 
There are two primary purposes for the team Facebook page: 
  1. Communicate with alumni (students and parents). This is a great way to let them know about upcoming team and town events such as road races or hiking trips up Mt. Monadnock.
  2. Share pictures and videos. I created a team photo gallery for last year’s students and added pictures from different events throughout the year. ALL students and parents can access the pictures, even if they do not have a Facebook account. They can “like” photos but comment and tagging are both disabled. I set up a new photo gallery for this year’s class. 

Twitter

While the Facebook page came naturally, I have had a tough time embracing Twitter. In fact, I downright hated it for the longest time. Again, I will go back to one of those ed tech conferences I attended with Derek. We were the only two teachers with name tags that included our actual names. Everyone else wrote their Twitter handles instead. Really? The whole thing seemed very pretentious to me.
I’ve always thought Twitter had potential for sharing news in “real time” but wasn’t sure about how to utilize that in an educational setting. Just this past weekend, I sat with a friend in a bar in Boston before the MixFest concert. We thought we could stroll up fashionably late to the Esplanade to see our new favorite band from Iceland, “Of Monsters and Men”. At one point, there was confusion among people at the bar whether the gates had already been closed off to more people. I pulled up Twitter on my phone and searched for “MixFest”. Sure enough, the very first tweet was by the Boston State Police. (see below) As upset as I was that I wasn’t about to get inside the gate, I was secretly impressed with myself that I was able to find an answer to our question in about 20 seconds. 
I started a personal Twitter account about a year ago (@mrmularella). The toughest part was identifying my audience. Who would care about what I tweet? Who do I care about enough to read their tweets? I now “follow” a few friends but primarily use it to follow experts in the field of education. There are some scientists, teachers, principals, and leaders in the ed tech field. I mostly lurk in the background, reading their tweets and occasionally retweet something. Very rarely did I post something myself because I kept thinking, “who cares what I have to say?”
Over the summer, it all finally made sense to me. I could use it as a communication tool with students and parents. I did not want them to follow my personal account so I made a new account for our team (@8goldteachers). I shared the login infomation with the other 8 Gold team teachers so all of us could tweet out under this name. This then led to the most recent update to our website. I embedded the team Twitter feed into our main site so anything we post to Twitter also shows up on the website. This allows us to share team news and events in “real time”!. 
So, how am I using Twitter to communicate with parents and students? 
Here are some of the things tweeted during the first few weeks of school: 
  • Links to online resources (bullying, social media, cross country signups, etc.)
  • Quick reminders and notes like “Great to meet you all at Curriculum Night”)
  • Pictures from class labs
  • Links to team YouTube videos
One of my potential favorite aspects of using Twitter as a communication tool is the act of “retweeting”. The @8goldteachers account is “following” school and district administrators, as well as others in the community. See the full list here. If Dr. Sawyer tweets something I think our parents should know about, we can retweet his thoughts, which add them to our Twitter timeline. 
As of right now, we have thirteen students/parents following us on Twitter, but I’m hopeful that number will grow throughout the year. Other those thirteen, I honestly have no idea how many people are looking at these updates on the website. The parents seemed very receptive to the idea on Curriculum Night, but I may find out I’m still not reaching my desired audience. The experiment continues!


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Creating a "Facebook" with ClassTools.net

Social media has become an integral part of our students – and our own – lives.  Along with this, it has become a classroom tool – many teachers have kids design fake Facebook pages to demonstrate their understanding of a fictional or historic character.  Take this example for A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

 This profile wasn’t done on Facebook, however – it was created using a template on ClassTools.net — a very simple interface that allows anyone to create a profile page quickly and easily.  The page can be saved, printed, downloaded… allowing students to focus on the content, not the layout.

You can view a brief video that explains the tool here.

While you explore Fakebook at ClassTools.net, take a look at some of their other templates —

Post It allows you to upload any image and turn it into a label-type quiz, useful for any time you need kids to learn the parts of something – regions of a country, anatomy, elements of a structure, etc.

Telescopic Topic lets you import any outline / bullet point list and make it collapsible – so students only see the main topics, then can click on them to get more information / detail, and even add in new facts as they learn them.  This could be useful for outlining a paper, letting students see just the main ideas and how they relate to one another, and then revealing details and analysis that support each point.

Beyond this, they have all the usuals – venn diagrams, fishbone, hamburger… even a plagiarism checker for essays.

The site has a number of great templates — give it a look, and give some a try!