I have been thinking about social networking in the classroom. I have watched my students become engrossed in an online environment called Animal Jam, from National Geographic. Essentially the site is an online environment where a child signs on, and interacts with others as animals, moving though various habitats and playing challenges to gain point. The animal avatars can connect with others they know, or with whoever is in the environment. I have observed their enthusiasm, engagement and passion for this game, and I have seen the readiness of my students to be part of virtual learning communities. Imagine if there was a kid (ages 5-10) friendly environment where teachers could input content, and student could, like in a flipped classroom model, interact and learn the content with their peers, on their own time!
In the past week I have come across two other articles that have solidified my thoughts on the need for social networking in the division one classroom. I was reading a study done by the Media Awareness Network, a Canadian not for profit organization which focuses on providing resources to children, teachers and parents about media, and media literacy. In the study, a Canadian kindergarten teach was discussing how her students blog on a regular basis. This comment surprised me, as there are many primary level blogs, but they are written by the teacher. It really got me thinking about the literacy and media learning that would be taking place. You can read the study here. Young Canadians in a Wired World- Teachers' Perspectives
I also read an article in the paper about how successful young people and companies are moving away from email, which I found shocking, and moving towards communicating through social media and instant messaging.Calgary Herald article I clearly am the generation of email dependents as I can’t see a corporate world without it, and this article really surprised me. But it is often said that many of the jobs our students will be doing don’t even exist yet, and our job as educators is to prepare them for the world they will enter. I think that this article is giving us a clue that social media will only gain importance in the world, and that we should be modeling it’s effective use as early as we can.
These three observations, as well as my own use of social media, has encouraged me to break down another wall that exists between my classroom and the world my students live in. While I know that the curriculum is the keystone to what happens in my classroom, exploring concepts through social media can be just the ticket to balancing what must be taught and what will not only engage students, but encourage them to move higher on Bloom’s taxonomy from simply knowledge of the concept to analysis and synthesis, in their seven year old minds.
As I think about how I will set up an online environment for my future class, I reflect on a wiki that I set up for a grade 6 class who wanted a space to share and communicate. I read somewhere about a continuum for adopting new technology, that goes from adoption through appropriation and invention, where at first one simply uses a technology similarly to how they have worked in the past, like sending chain letters through the mail, to now sending them via email to inventing new ways to use a technology to meet one’s needs. Looking back on that grade 6 wiki, the students and teacher adopted the technology to meet their needs. As I think about it, the teachers and students could have gone far beyond the way they initially used it, and used it as a space that was an extension of the classroom to discuss ideas and share their expertise.
Social networking in the classroom is an exciting new(ish) idea for teachers and students to explore!