Selected readings on US charter schools
More learning encouraged in 140-character bites
Taxation, representation and slavery were up for debate recently at Wauwatosa West High School, where juniors engaged in a multi-day, in-class simulation of the first Constitutional Convention in 1787.
With a modern twist.
“I hope that today’s debate ends with a decision on how representatives are chosen,” Andrew Gleason typed on Twitter.
“More than one executive is not common sense. Only one!” contributed Deon Ellis.
“I have decided to have Ben Franklin run as my VP in 2016,” Garrick Gesell punched in.
Teenagers using social media is nothing new. But in-class use of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube traditionally have been discouraged in most K-12 schools, seen as a distraction from real learning at best and a red-flag privacy concern at worst.
That’s starting to change in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Chris Lazarski, the teacher of the American Public Policy class at Tosa West, persuaded school administration this year to unblock the sites so he could incorporate social media into his lessons, aiming to teach students to use Twitter for serious research and discussion.
In the process, Lazarski believes, he’s better engaging students and reinforcing responsible use of the online tools that have become part of the fabric of modern society.
Lazarski’s students said they enjoy using Twitter in the classroom as a way to engage with their peers and other students around the nation.
“You can see how the other students feel about what we’re learning,” Regina Kautzer said. “You can see what other students at different schools are thinking about what’s going on in the world, and you can compare how you feel with how they feel.”
While many teachers use social media sites created specifically for schools with heavy privacy controls, more educators such as Lazarski are teaching students to engage with the same tools they use in their social life in a more professional and academic capacity.
“I found that students were using Twitter in a very specific way and for a very specific purpose,” Lazarski said. “They were not exploring the more useful or more interesting aspects of Twitter.”
Lazarski thought about using Twitter as an educational tool after he stumbled across KQED, an alternative media site based in San Francisco. The organization’s Do Now program encourages students to use social media tools to keep up with current events. Lazarski began using the program this fall.
“This seemed like a meaningful way to engage students in current event discussions,” Lazarski said. “It also seemed like a format that could be used to teach students how to use Twitter in a meaningful way.”
Lazarski said he uses Twitter to engage students in discussion about the weekly Do Now posts and activities.
Students’ tweets are regularly featured in pieces on the KQED Education blog. Caleb Boldt, a junior at Wauwatosa West, was quoted in a piece on the recent government shutdown by Matthew Williams, the educational technologist at KQED.
Abbey Jones and Kautzer, both juniors in Lazarski’s American Public Policy class, started using Twitter only when it was assigned in class. Neither uses much social media outside the classroom, saying it distracts from their schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
Both students agree, however, that using Twitter has enhanced their classroom experience.
“It helps us learn,” Jones said. “Not only do we get to express our viewpoints, but we get to see what other students are talking about.”
Jones said the tweets from other students can be revelatory.
“A lot of the time, students will tweet things that I never would have thought of,” she said.
‘Genius Hour’ in Oshkosh
Kristi Levy, an English teacher at Oshkosh West High School, recently revamped her curriculum to include lessons and activities that would better prepare students for the technologically savvy world waiting for them after graduation.
“I started to feel like teaching the literature that I loved was not adequately preparing the vast majority of my students for life after high school,” Levy said.
The popularity of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have pushed educators to integrate technology and social media into their classrooms as a way to increase student engagement and prepare them for the future.
“My primary motivation for incorporating more technology and leveraging social media was to increase student engagement,” Levy said. “Education should be about play and experimentation, not absorption.”
Levy’s students are taking part in a new project design used in the business world, which allows students to explore their passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.
Known as the “Genius Hour,” the idea originated at Google. The company famously allows its engineers to spend 20% of their time working on a pet project, which the technology giant believes increases productivity. According to Google, half of its inventions — such as Google News and Gmail — were products of Genius Hours.
“I have 15- and 16-year-old students that are using that time to feed the hungry in our community, plan a professional fashion show featuring girls from our local Boys & Girls Club, and much more,” Levy said.
The students coordinating the fashion show want to raise money for the local Boys & Girls Club and collect used prom and homecoming dresses for the girls. Students use Twitter to reach out to local businesses for donations and connect with professional event organizers, and will also use it to promote the event to the community.
Levy’s students also use Twitter to conduct research. She said redefining Twitter and teaching her students how to use it professionally and academically opens new doors for them.
“They are intuitively aware of the functions of Twitter, which serves as a great foundation for our use of it as a research tool,” she said. “Once they understand how Twitter works, teaching them how to leverage it for their research is mind-blowing for them.”
Other teachers around Wisconsin are using online educational tools to beef up their curriculum.
Claudia Felske, an English teacher at East Troy High School, began integrating technology into her classroom after observing how her students interacted with one another.
“It’s pretty apparent that mobile devices are (students’) primary mode of communication,” she said. “It only makes sense then, that in trying to reach them and in trying to teach them, we speak their language.”
Her students use My Big Campus, which is similar to Facebook. They use it to practice grammar, react to articles or collaborate on projects.
Each student also has a Chromebook that can be used in class to update personal websites, which Felske said serves as an “electronic cubbie.”
Felske said the website has everything the students may need — including the syllabus, handouts and links. Students are able to customize their websites with photos, gadgets and links to their blogs.
For Felske, integrating technology and social media into her curriculum has allowed her to become more relevant to her students, increasing student engagement in the classroom.
“Social media is creating a different kind of learner — one that leverages many different sources and collaborates with multiple voices as part of the learning process,” she said. “It fosters a set of collaborative skills needed in today’s high-tech, global society.”
Source: Journal Sentinel – by Monique Collins and Erin Richards