Fortune Favours The Bold

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‘Fortuna fortes adiuvat’ – an ancient Latin phrase linked to both Pliny (the younger) and Virgil. The phrase urges one to take chances. I love the idea that teachers should be willing to try new things if they want to experience exciting learning for their students. Teachers, however, have legitimate reasons to be cautious, don’t they? When they think outside the box, they put themselves at risk and provide potential ammunition for detractors of all types, whether they be colleagues, administrators, or parents. I really believe that in some instances (students safety for example) teachers do need to play it safe. Sometimes, however, we are so concerned with safety that we hesitate to even entertain making a big change or trying something different. I believe that advances in technology (and the way we think about things like social media) mean that teachers need to reconsider the ideas they might have once considered impossible.

I’d like to share two situations with you; each showing how using social media with your students can be a potential success or failure.

Situation #1: My mom starts a classroom blog.

My mom has been a teacher for almost 40 years (with a substantial break early on to stay home with my brother Mark, my sister Jess, and I). While she falls into that demographic of teachers that we are quick to assume have little use for classroom technology, she has been a prime example of how age is nothing but a number. She was an early smartboard adopter and has always been creative in all aspects of her teaching (I wish I could figure pull off the rectangular desk formation that she’s been using for years). So I didn’t hesitate to recommend that she start a classroom blog.

I had been using the Edmodo class blog since the start of the year and was really enjoying it, so I showed it to her. She liked what she saw and over a couple of phone calls that weekend, she got her blog set up. She and her class used it excitedly for the next couple of weeks. Things were going great.

And then it happened. That thing we all fear. A ‘security’ breach. Someone (“Dr. AwesomeSauce” or something like that) appeared in the middle of her class with no explanation. It shouldn’t have been possible. And yet it happened. Next move? For many of us, we shut the blog down immediately and say to ourselves, ‘won’t try that again’. Mom did nothing of the sort.

Summoning the calm and courage that 40 years as an educator bestow, she called me for assistance and we hashed out the problem. Then she contacted Edmodo to sort out the rest for her. A student had the rather clever idea to make his own class blog on the same site. Then he connected to the class blog with the same password he used as a student and voila – ‘Mr. WickedSick’ was born. So there was no real security breach (although it wasn’t long after that Edmodo contacted me looking for more detailed teacher credentials – perhaps in an effort to make sure that little ‘hack’ would no longer be possible). Confronted with this development, my mom chose to use it as a teaching experience. The student in question apologized to the class. Certain students expressed the anxiousness they felt when the stranger appeared in their digital midst, and it launched into a productive conversation about the responsible use of social media. They have used the blog for the rest of the year without incident. A good reminder that this is a learning experience for students and for us, but we don’t give up on our students after one issue. Nor should we give up on new technology the first time something goes wrong.

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Situation #2: Students on Twitter?

For a couple of years now, I have encouraged my students to follow me on Twitter. Not to get accounts of their own, but simply to take a look at my page from time-to-time so I could share online resources with them (I previously taught in a web-less portable) and post rubrics and success criteria for assignments they were working on at home. This year, after being inspired by the amazing work done by a former ‘mentee’ of mine, Christian Litonjua, I decided to take the plunge by having my students complete an assignment on Twitter. You can see my previous post …But I’ve never been to Afghanistan! for the details, but essentially, I wanted my students to improve their perspective writing by taking on the perspective of the characters in ‘Lunch With Lenin‘ (a terrific book of short stories by Deborah Ellis) and tweeting in character. I hoped that the engaging format and small character limit would encourage some concise and focused writing and I was excited to see how it went. After reviewing the goals of the activity, I created accounts for the main characters we were examining, gave the kids the password and sat back to see what would happen.
After all, a lot could go wrong. They could they could invite or follow strangers. They could delete the account or change the settings. They could mess with the tweets of their peers. I held my breath.

This is what happened. They tweeted. They tweeted a lot. Over 250 tweets (the minimum requirement was a total of 125 for the class). One girl tweeted 30 times. They got pretty good at it, too.

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They tweeted questions and answered each other. They figured out hashtags and the proper etiquette to direct a tweet towards another character.

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They tweeted to characters in other stories. Characters who never met in the book.

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And they tweeted back.

All in all, over 250 tweets without one inappropriate action. Not one. They grew in their understanding of perspective. They made connections between stories. They worked on their social media etiquette. They showed me a thing or two about letting go. They showed me that I can trust next years class with this.

We were bold, and fortune favoured us.

(P.s. My mom is still having a hard time using Twitter effectively. If anyone wants to start the conversation, perhaps we can get her to answer. You can find her at @CMcPteacher)

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