The idea of using digital tools such as Twitter, NY Times Chronicle, or GapMinder have just as many pros as they do cons. From experiencing using tools such as Twitter in the classroom I believe it can be a great leverage for teachers who are engaging with a very technology literate generation. During a recent ED class, my peers and I used Twitter as a device to hold discussions not only with each other, but with other Social Studies teachers across the nation. Due to the limited character count I was forced to paraphrase my thoughts, which I think is a fun and novel way to get students to really grapple with understanding their own ideas, and how they can convey it in a concise explanation. After experiencing a lesson such as this myself, i witnessed just how focused students could be if guided to use this tool correctly. The cons of using Twitter in a high school or even middle school, in comparison to a college class, is the fact it is a social media, and can easily distract students.
Other tools such as NY Times Chronicle or NGram though are fascinating. Although there is still that fear that students will get distracted and use these tools for whimisical pleasure, it allows students to have a visual and chronological understanding of a word of phrase, and give rise to new curiosity as why it is displayed on the graphs as so. How I would use these digital tools in my own class I for a lesson I am still not sure of, but I’m sure something will come to mind later in the future.
Our Digital History class was definitely a fun experiment. Taking a site like Twitter, which is often one of the social networking sites that get blocked in school, and making it an actual tool to be used for learning was impressive. Thinking about how that would translate into a Middle/High School class is a bit challenging for me though because it was hard to keep a room full of graduate students focused on the single task at hand without getting distracted by Miley Cyrus or The Walking Dead or whatever other nonsense Twitter has the tendency to throw at users. One thing that might have reigned it in a bit is if the class as a whole had a larger, classroom conversation on the #engsschat questions and then, as a class, contributed some of the highlights of what we discussed.
The second highlight of the Digital History class for me was being able to get my hands on really cool data machines… my favorite was the NYT Chronicle website (check out my search here). Giving us resources to explore our own curiosities led to some serious engagement… obviously there’d be some issues with students looking up problematic/inappropriate information but I think that could be cleared up with clear and concrete guidelines set ahead of time. Ultimately, resources like NYT Chronicle and GapMinder was incredibly engaging and letting kids explore and play discover/historian in a Social Studies class could be a breath of fresh air for students.
In regards to how “historians” can leverage these digital tools for research/instruction/professional growth, I’ll focus primarily on instruction. Going all the way back to our first day of class, when we were asked to work in groups to create an image of what was needed to be a good Social Studies teacher, I think these digital tools could be a really cool opportunity to see what students can create/find/produce. I could see a teacher showing students how to use GapMinder and then telling them, “In a group of three, use GapMinder to find different social/economic/health data that has a strong positive or negative correlation. After your group feels that your data is strongly connected, think of a way to creatively explain how they connect to each other.” Products may be all over the place but students would have to tap into multiple skill sets to complete the task: team work, research, reasoning, etc. I love the idea of using these tools in a classroom!
In this week’s class, we played with various methods to incorporate technology directly in our classrooms. We used tools such as Twitter, GapMinder, nGramViewer, and NYTimes Chronicle to explore different ways to present information to students and engage them in research and information-seeking. While we were working with these tools, it wasn’t difficult to think of ways that I could incorporate these tools into lesson plans, such as having students search different names for classifying people in the NYTimes Chronicle tool to analyze changes (see my example here). However, whenever I think of incorporating technology into my lessons, I always try to ask myself whether or not the addition of technology is effective, or if the lesson could help students learn just as well without the use of technology.
I think, when it comes to technology, teachers like the idea of incorporating it into their lessons, but often get stuck with the same sorts of technology, always using the same resources and never really analyzing whether or not the technology is helping students. For this reason, I was skeptical of our use of Twitter in this class. I’ve seen various teachers use Twitter as a tool to encourage students to summarize their ideas “in 140 characters or less.” This is great when it comes to some lessons/content, but doing it after every lesson can get monotonous. I don’t think this is Twitter’s most effective use in the classroom.
One thing that I highly valued in our class-time engagement with twitter was the session in which we participated in a live chat. We had the opportunity to share our ideas and learn from other teachers across the country. It was a great lesson in collaboration, not to mention self-validation (when teachers across the country favorited or re-tweeted my comments, it made me feel that I had some good ideas, even though I may not have had much classroom experience).
I think there might be a way to use Twitter (real Twitter, and not just the Twitter format) in our classrooms as well. Giving students the opportunity to share their work and seek help or comments from people they might never meet could be a great way to engage and motivate students. In many ways, allowing them to share their best work with someone other than a teacher or family member gives them perspective they might not get otherwise, and shows them that they can be proud with a certain product. I don’t think this necessarily requires Twitter or other social media. But I do think their is value in using those types of digital information gathering and sharing to inform how we create our lessons.
As educators it is our responsibility to take advantage of every tool at our disposal that can benefit our students and their education. At this point in time we are able to access and demonstrate a lot of information using a variety of tools online. Although I see a much greater use for the internet in terms of professional development, there can be some advantages to the flipped classroom.
Twitter is an excellent tool for extending your community for professional development and advancement. It can be an opportunity to share ideas, concepts and lessons that can benefit students. It is also of great use for students preparing to become teachers. It allows us to learn from more experienced educators. Additionally, it can be a great way to demonstrate your involvement and personal drive to better yourself and your classroom curriculum.
In the classroom:
I enjoyed playing with and using GapMinder as a visual aid to demonstrate changes over time. This would be of a lot of use to me in a class on Word History to narrow in on specific nations over time even when we have to bounce between nations in the same time period. Additionally, I think this is an excellent way to make thinking visual for students working to make connections over time and to help students make meaningful connections.
This leads me tonGram Viewer and NYTimes Chronicle. I would use this in my classroom to demonstrate trends, changes in diction and priorities over time. My first thought was to measure three words that mean the same thing but are more or less politically appropriate at any given time. It was incredibly interesting to play with and that may be the way I encourage my students to use it, as a tool for investigating their own interests and hunches about trends and connections between time and language. I may use it occasionally as a visual aid.
Ultimately, I think that the most important tool for learning history is discussion, dialogue and analysis. These tools are worthless without that. I am not fond of students spending more time in front of a screen but it can be an interesting beginning of a class discussion.