It is not easy for most parents to keep up with their tweens and teens when it comes to maneuvering their way around technology and social media. (see my blog on Social Media Week) These kids have a huge advantage over parents in that they have been exposed to technology of some sort from toddlerhood! Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter…these are the places that have captured this age group’s attention. In my house, the iPhone and iTouch are like an added appendage.
Schools have been taking note too. More recently, some schools have begun to embrace forms of social media rather than deter it. As Education Week’s article Social Networking Goes to School points out, these children have been using sites like Webkinz and Club Penguin since they were in grade school, so it makes sense for educators to involve them in a similar way.
In New Jersey, a high school principal uses the school’s official Facebook page to update the community on sports events and academic achievements. He uses Twitter to communicate with parents and network with fellow educators for ideas and professional development. In Florida, an educator uses Skype and social networking to introduce her students to children from various countries around the world. A friend of mine from the state of Washington says her child’s teacher posts math lessons on-line.
Locally, Cary Junior High put together a Facebook page for the first time and started using Twitter. Assistant principal Eric Larson explains, “What I post on the Twitter and Facebook feeds are geared mostly toward students, but the hope is that parents follow us so they know what is happening as well. Presently we have 249 followers, many appear to be parents and/or community members, but some are students and teachers as well. We are trying to communicate with all of our stakeholders in a different way so people know what is happening in our school.”
Teachers have embraced the internet and host webpages with assignments posted and links to their emails. A convenient phone app alerts parents as soon as grades are posted (try as you might, you can’t avoid being a “helicopter parent”) The app has each child’s schedule with subject, teacher, room number and time. It also has a direct link to each teacher’s email. My sixth grader recently emailed his teacher for clarification on an assignment and he got a response within minutes.
Part of the challenge of middle school is keeping students engaged. At this age in particular, kids become easily distracted by non-academic subjects. It is even more important for school to draw them in and be more interesting and engaging. So, it was brilliant when the teachers got together to produce a music video parody to welcome students back to school. It featured teachers dancing and lip synching to “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen – a take-off of the Harvard University Baseball team’s viral video.
According to Cary Junior High assistant principal Eric Larson, “the Building Leadership Team decided to start the school year off with something exciting and engaging. The goal was to send a message to the students that while we are here to learn, this is also a fun and inviting place to be.” The video was so successful, students were singing along during the assembly when it was shown. It welcomed students back to school and highlighted academic and sports activities offered by the school. Since the parody was posted on Facebook, it has been viewed 1000 times and shared at least 100.
A short time later, a Bears vs. Packers spirit day was held and students were encouraged to support their team by wearing their favorite team's colors to school. Assistant Principal Sara Elfering represented the Packers and Eric Larson, the Bears. Pictures of the two were posted to the Facebook page and kids were actually talking about the event.
As a parent, I love how the school is using social media to encourage interest and involvement. If it could help create positive feelings toward school and capture some attention, maybe those positive attitudes could even translate into a more positive learning environment, better behavior and participation? It is an attempt to communicate with students in a way that is relevant to their world. With a phone app, Twitter, and Facebook, parents can stay involved with a lot more ease as well.
According to Larson, “my personal opinion is that social media has been embedded in the culture of society. I think that schools should take advantage of the opportunity and connect with people. Websites are wonderful tools as well, but we live in a time where people want instant access to information, and Facebook and Twitter provide that. Our school website does receive anywhere from 900 to 1500 hits every day, however, I still run into parents who are unaware of our site. Facebook helps fill that void a little bit, and since we started using Facebook, more and more people have been visiting our homepage too.”
Is your school using social media? How is the school using it? Please comment, tweet, share, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org