Mar 07 2008
Plan, Tweet, Teach, Tweet, Learn, Smile
That was the first reply from @deangroom to my Twitter request in support of a maths lesson earlier this week. I had asked my network to explain to my class of Year 5s / 4th graders what the probability of snow was for the following day. In my planning I had included this activity as a plenary to my maths lesson on probability. The children were exploring a range of statements and deciding what the likelihood was. The conclusion of the session was planned as follows:
Explore with the children the language that they have used in the session. Ask: Is the same vocabulary used in other countries? Ask Twitter network to respond to: “What is the probability that it will snow where you are?” Explore the responses and discuss the reasons for any differences.
“Buckleys mate” threw me a little though, I shared it with the children and after a little searching we discovered that it is an Australian slang term meaning “No chance” – so we figured out what @deangroom meant!
One of the most important things that I have learned from successfully using Twitter to impact on my lessons, teaching and ultimately the children’s learning is that you have to be time aware. I sent out this tweet, as you can see, at just after 9.15 GMT.
I did not need the responses for a further hour but allowing your network time to respond is very important. By the time that I was sitting with the class to finish the session we had approximately 20 responses to explore, and more was rolling into twhirl as we were working. I simply displayed the “Replies” view so the children could see specific responses to us.
I was also very aware that America was still tucked up in bed and only those very early risers, insomniacs and those burning the midnight oil would be responding at the time from the US. The morning session worked out that we continued our maths on until lunch so I retweeted 2 hours later and then again around 1.00pm. This may seem like you are pestering your network but single tweets can get lost in the torrent for many of your network – some may not respond because they simply may not have seen the request. I knew that the 1pm tweet would nudge those in the US and many added their responses to the stack of examples we had to discuss with the kids.
Shaping the learning experience
As you can see from my planning and the request I sent out the focus was on the language that other people would naturally use to describe an event’s probability. And the coincidental geographic information that justified such a likelihood helped our discussion. We were able to establish from the early responses that they were mainly from Australia and the children were amazed to read the responses:
This naturally lead to a discussion about why residents of this country would give this sort of response, we discussed their climate and the ostensibly long history of no snow days and how this leads people to believe more fully that it is highly unlikely. Then came a response from closer to home.
I swooped upon the language that @jonesieboy had used in his tweet and saw it as a good teaching point. I focused the children’s attention upon his use of “1 in 4 chance” and we explored how this could be rephrased as a a quarter and that led us naturally to the equivalent percentage – 25%.
The children had been using 5 words to describe their own statements in the main part of the lesson. Certain, probable, possible, unlikely, impossible. After reminding them about this I asked them to position “1 in 4″ or 25% on their own scale and to give a word that best describes the chances of snow in East Lothian. It is amazing what a single tweet can do to a lesson.
Creating a learning experience
In a similar way to how our Geotweets lesson proved successful the quality and quantity of responses from my network offered me an opportunity to create a new learning activity. The initial plenary was really successful, we discussed the tweets we had received at that point and the language differences it presented. I decided to continue with the maths lesson for the rest of the morning and spent 10 minutes, whilst the children were outside for breaktime, creating two additional SMART Notebook pages that incorporated the Twitter responses.
The main focus was of course the language individuals used and although we concluded many people, when asked about probability, responded with a figure/percentage, I challenged the children to juxtapose the responses onto our original scale.
The second notebook page was an additional bonus, but the geographical information is very important to explore with the children when reviewing any responses in Twitter. In the case of this maths lesson the probability could be justified by geotagging the tweet. I used a rudimentary map and we discussed the location of the respondees and how this affected their responses. I could have looked at a map+Twitter mashup but this would not challenge the children’s geography knowledge, rather it would just display the locations.
To create these pages in SMART Notebook I simply used the screen capture tool to snip the individual tweets from Twhirl. You have to ensure that the inactive opacity is set to 100 as Twhirl becomes inactive when you switch to the SMART screen capture tool. You can download the notebook file with these two pages in here.
I was delighted to use this networking technology in this way and it was great to finally execute what I had long conceived to be possible in my head. The lesson was so much richer for the carefully planned introduction of Twitter responses. The two SMART Notebook pages supplemented the original nbk resource and the discussion in the plenary. The parallel Y5 class was able to benefit from the depth and quality of responses as they also located the tweets and scaled the responses using the notebook. In terms of my own teacher assessment of the lesson I think that the children had a truly global picture of what this question meant to real people and a far greater understanding of the variety of vocabulary used to describe probability. For some people who responded the possibility of snow was almost far fetched and for others it seemed they were having to literally defrost the very keyboard they were frostily typing on! When I look back at the short paragraph of planning I had written it’s brevity does not reflect the depth of opportunity it actually produced. I move on from this lesson knowing that when you invite responses from your network to expect much more and to be flexible enough to make the most of the learning opportunities it readily presents.
With a careful, planned approach I think I have proven (in this instance) that Twitter can be used to impact on the children’s learning. That may be a very narrow impact in terms of a wider curriculum but it is an impact nonetheless.
Make it work in your classroom
- Think carefully about what topic to support – the simplest questions are the best.
- Phrase your 140 characters with great care. Get as much in as you can. I must have taken a good 5 minutes redrafting the original tweet.
- Be time aware. Think carefully about who will see your tweet when you send it out. Send your request for information prior to the time you actually need it, to allow the network time to respond.
- Don’t be afraid of retweeting a request so that people who have just logged in can pick it up.
- Request a location from your network as this can form some excellent points for discussion.
- Display the responses using the Replies view in a Twitter client like Twhirl or Snitter, this way you will not be distracted by the other conversations passing by.
- Share with the children the language of Twitter and what it all means, one of my children heard the alert sound of a reply and said “That means someone has tweeted us!”
- Be flexible and prepared for the direction that the tweets can take you.
- Save an image of your replies for future reference – you can see all of the replies we received for this lesson here.
Many thanks to all of you who responded to our question – thankyou for contributing to our maths work this week.