Twitter in the classroom

Recently, I’ve been exploring how to incorporate ‘outside of the box’ technology in my Music classroom. We have a Mac Suite, equipped with many a delight, such as GarageBand, Sibelius, Logic, etc. but over the past few months, I have been using various forms of techie ideas/activities to push the boundaries of students’ learning, somewhat (also see previous Google Apps post).

Yesterday, I had a very nice Year 9 class who I knew could handle what I was asking of them: To take part in a Twitter conversation, using an agreed hashtag for our ‘conversation’. Here was the process I went through with them:

  1. Asked students to explore the pros and cons of using Twitter in the classroom
    I felt that this gave them ownership of the activity. They identified what could go wrong with it and they took hold of what they might do with it; exploring possibilities along the way. Some cons identified: “we could be tempted to look at other people’s Twitter feeds and send them messages”, “people might write inappropriate things/post inappropriate links”, “there’s not much space to write” and so on. The pros were nice, with students saying: “it means we get to hear what people think about a topic”, “we can interact with others in a new way”, “we can work independently or collaboratively” , “having only 140 characters helps us get to the point”.
  2. This linked nicely into setting the ground rules, which the class identified and agreed on: basically, those mentioned in the ‘cons’. Don’t look at famous people’s Twitter feeds; Don’t write inappropriate comments; Respect people’s opinions…. a good behaviour for learning activity.
  3.  Introduced Twitter and what it does
    Some students have Twitter accounts, but it was good to show my department’s Twitter feed to use as an example for the students (which, by the way, I had posted their starter activity to, so they had already interacted with it and seen it in the lesson). I then showed them what hashtags can do and asked the class to then reflect on why using specific hashtags was important in this activity. Part of this introduction to Twitter was to get the students who didn’t have a Twitter account, to set one up. This really didn’t take very long.
  4.  Decided on a unique hashtag
    We used a tag that would be unique to us as a class, decided by them. It incorporated their class name and the subject. On reflection, this could be something the teacher decides, to save time. 
  5. Off we go!
    I set the discussion topic, along the lines of “The music industry is manufactured and fake and cares more about image than music. Class discussion. Go!” 

    The monitoring of the activity was quite easy as we have Remote Desktop on the Teacher Mac, which means I can see everything they’re doing! It works well as you can send direct messages to their screens, lock their screen, take control of their computer etc. If the students know this, they’re less likely to drift into distraction.

The response was quite overwhelming to see. Students all respected the ground rules and came up with some fantastic responses. You can see some (not all) of their tweets here. (NB: the search engine used there, was built by a student in this class, so was very helpful and provided a list of the tweets for me to print out….I was amazed!)

As you can see, if you read the tweets, one of the History teachers, who I’m working/discussing this work with (@kenradical) joined in on the conversation and added his point of view. This then made the students more engaged!

What I’ll do better/differently next time:

With this activity, it has to be well planned. Also, I recommend choosing a class who will cope well with it – not all classes will, not all year groups will. This is probably a ‘one-off’ activity to do and if it works well, use it in future with the same class/GCSE/A-Level.

My colleague and I reflected on it afterwards and thought about asking ‘experts’ to join in the Twitter conversation. This could be through contacts we have, or approaching Twitter followers that have expertise in the subject you’re discussing. We both have links in the music industry and could ask them to join in – imagine how different the students’ engagement would be if they knew someone ‘famous’ (and real) was joining in?!

Just like any Twitter chat you take part in (#ukedchat, for example), it’s good to see a review of that conversation. I hope to make that available to my students, such as a summary of the discussion. If anyone knows how to do that, I’d love to hear from you!

I’m going to try this with my GCSE class soon and hopefully get someone in on the chat with a bit of expertise.

As ever……….let me know your thoughts and……….watch this space.

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Learning sponsored by Google: Google Apps in the classroom

Today I decided to use Google Apps in the classroom. I was so excited – the Year 8 class were loving it. Something new, something exciting, something to get hold of.

Their task was to, based around their current scheme of work on Indian music, research three Indian instruments (sitar, tambura and tabla) and create a Google presentation. Also, at some point in the lesson, they were to contribute to a class discussion taking place on a Google document shared with the whole class. By sharing a document, it means whoever you want to view/edit it can do so. The cool thing is that when you have editing rights, alongside many other people, you see ‘live’ writing happening on the screen – 28 others all adding their thoughts. Amazing to see. I almost videoed it, I’m that much of a geek.

The presentations that the students completed could also be shared with me, so I can view and mark them either in the lesson or at home/work. I can add ‘comments’ which appear at the side of the screen with a Twitter-esque style format, e.g. “@ewilson168 Can you expand further on that point?” etc. So many possibilities!

Benefits of Google Apps in learning (in no particular order):

  • immediate. paperless. printer-less.
  • teacher interaction
  • student ownership
  • collaborative learning/sharing
  • lower achieving students can see examples of higher achieving students’ work = motivation
  • learning meets the 21st century students
  • stimulating for students = something different
  • can be accessed at home. easy to access.
  • easy to monitor 
It’s a good idea to download Google Chrome if you’re using Apps. I found this out the hard way when I booked laptops for my whole class and the browser didn’t support the full features of Google Apps.
Today has inspired me and excited me. I have really enjoyed exploring how we can bring learning out of its/our comfort zone. This is when effective learning takes place; when we’re willing to take risks, get uncomfortable and push through. The learning atmosphere of my lessons was different today. I loved it.
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Music Education for 21st Century Learners

There’s a lot of talk being banded around at the moment about the future of Music education. It scares me sometimes and I often have to focus on the ‘now’, rather than the ‘what could be’.

It does, however, get me thinking about how the subject may change and has changed already, even over the past 15- 20 years or so. The only experience I can draw upon is my own, which I have to say, is probably the reason I’m a teacher today. My school encouraged, engaged and enabled the musician inside of me to emerge due to the level and quality of teaching there. But not everyone has that opportunity or that experience. (I’m biased slightly because I am a musician; my peers may have thought differently.)

My school has a dedicated Mac Suite; a room of 21 lovely, shiny Apple Macs equipped with GarageBand, Logic Pro and Sibelius. I’m lucky to have such a facility and even better, the students are timetabled in there every other lesson. I genuinely believe that engagement in my students has increased due to the the use of Macs and music tech in their learning experience. The majority of music is produced digitally these days and it’s pretty easy to knock a dance tune together in half an hour, using loops. This is engaging for students – they find that they can produce good results with quite a bit of ease. Then there’s a stretch and challenge aspect, in which certain students then go on to record their own parts in the piece, or even start from scratch, depending on their level of ability.

I know for a fact that some students who have had their lessons in the Mac Suite have then gone home to produce music on their family computer and spend time exploring the program’s capabilities (namely GarageBand, it’s free = wow!). I’m not sure I would hear the same stories if we didn’t have these lessons. I’m not saying that my own lessons aren’t engaging and inspiring (ha ha!) but there seems to be a depth of engagement when technology is put in front of them. They are being asked to learn and produce results using the same kind of technology they enjoy and engage with every day (at home/social networking/home work/ video games etc.). I think when I was at school, the equivalent was the maths times tables being sung to popular songs of the time on CDs………..there’s probably an app for that now.

I probably have more to say about this, but I’ve since been to a meeting and lost my train of thought. Watch this space and comment if you want.

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It dawned on me today just how many students use Twitter. When I saw that #mathsgcse was trending at 4pm and the exam finished at 3.30pm, it was clear that young people are using the Twitter tool to communicate about their learning/exams experiences. Some were exchanging panic/angst at the exam and reminded me of when I would huddle outside the exam hall after a daunting exam exchanging ideas on questions and worrying I’d got one wrong. Our students are doing the same thing, but virtually, through Twitter.

A colleague and I are exploring Twitter’s use in school and the classroom and we have recently both developed departmental Twitter feeds (RGSMusicDept and RGSHistory) which are aimed at keeping students informed about home learning, exam/revision tips, curriculum content etc. Its pros far outweigh the cons; it keeps students, parents and staff up to date on the life of the department/school and gives them a sense of involvement.

It’s not for everyone, but I think it could be huge. There are possibilities I’m exploring at the moment which involve cross-classroom links with my friend’s school in Texas and how we can use Twitter and Skype in a learning context. I’m excited about it.

I’d love to hear how other schools/practitioners are using technology in the classroom, particularly Twitter and mobile technology…….

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First day of Term 6

Well, like a snap, it’s back to business as usual and the week I’ve just spent relaxing ends!

I’m new to ‘edu-blogging’ (maybe I’ve coined that term?) and looking forward to sharing thoughts and ideas with like-minded colleagues. I’m a teachgeek eager to learn and explore my job. I love it.


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