Monday, January 4, 2010

The Year of Twitter

by Tara Seale

So did you try out Twitter in 2009? If you didn't, then apparently you weren't one of the 18 million who did. Several websites claim that 2009 was the year of Twitter.
Mashable's How Twitter Conquered the World in 2009

Yahoo! News: The Year of Twitter and Facebook

and Time Magazine explains "How Twitter will change the way we live"

I tried Twitter in early 2009, and I really didn't get it. I left a few measly tweets and thought there was nothing I could possibly say in 140 characters that anyone would want to read. I picked it back up again after a few months, and I lucked out by finding and following teachers who shared links to great resources that I could use in my classroom, so I began to share my ideas and to learn how to abbreviate and convey what I wanted to say in 140 characters. I currently use Twitter to keep in touch with teachers from all over the world @tseale.

As I began to use Twitter effectively, I wanted to share this powerful communication tool with my students. Luckily, I am in a school district that allows me to experiment with Web 2.0 to enhance my classroom curriculum. I created a teacher account @bryantenglish, next my students signed up for a Twitter account, and then we followed each other. We began by tweeting about outside reading, and I used Twitter to send out homework reminders.
I decided to use Twitter to engage my students while we read Edith Hamilton's Mythology, required for 9th grade students at my high school. Some students love the book and enjoy mythology, and some students think I am trying to torture them by forcing them to read about Greek gods and goddesses, so my hope was that students would want to read about Greek mythology if I connected it to a fun web tool, and I also decided it could help me teach one of our 9th grade required literary terms: persona.
I began by creating a list of mythological characters spread throughout Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I did not use any of the major gods or goddesses because they are all covered fairly quickly in the front of the text. I then gave the list to my students and asked them to look up the characters in the index and decide who they most wanted to be on Twitter. Students picked their top three, and I used their preferences to assign each character to one student. The students were sworn to secrecy to not share the identity of their Twitter persona. Students, over a period of ten days, created ten tweet clues in character as if they were their actual Twitter persona. They even changed their Twitter photo to match their character. The first student to correctly guess everyone's identity received the incredible award of sitting in my big comfy rolling chair for the day. I was surprised that this award was so appealing and inspired so much competition. By the second day, students were already on to me though. They claimed that I came up with this assignment so that they would have to read through the whole book to discover everyone's identity - busted- but it didn't matter because they kept participating. Plus, students learned how to create a persona. In the beginning, student tweets were rather weak. See some examples below:
I am the master builder.

I made the god's angry.

I labored long and hard.

Students tried their best to follow the rubric I provided in class, but I realized I had to create better models of a Twitter persona. I became Apollo and added my tweets to the rubric as an example. I also have to recommend the book Oh My Gods! by Scholastic for example tweets. The book even provides example Facebook pages for the Greek gods. I began to post my favorite student tweets on our class blog page to inspire students to create better tweets. See a few of my favorites below: think you have a big mouth... you apparently haven't seen what I have eaten. (Cronus Persona)

Ha Ha King Minos you can't catch me now. (Icarus Persona)

Hey Theseus you know I am a better hero than you. (Hercules Persona)

I am so selfish...How could I have let it get this bad... a war over me... It's really not that worth it. =( (Helen Persona)

I can't wait to open my gift! (Pandora Persona)

I used a Google spreadsheet to create a list of each Twitter account and a word bank for each persona that students had to research. Students filled out the spreadsheet as they guessed each identity, and they shared the spreadsheet with me when it was complete. If you are interested in seeing the links to my rubric, spreadsheet, and the directions I gave the students, visit the link to the Twitter Assignment on our class blog page.

I am considering how my students might use Twitter next. I like NPR's recent use of Twitter. They asked people to tweet about the year 2009 in one word; participants could also Facebook the word. Then NPR created a wordle out of the words they received. In a wordle, the most repeated word is the largest. I am going to steal this idea because I am Hermes, the God of Thievery (all of the good teachers are Hermes), so I think I will ask my students to tweet the one word that sums up 2009 for them, and maybe they will also find 2009 full of change and challenge, but somewhat awesome and hopeful too. See the NPR wordle below:

Read the NPR article here: NPR's The Year 2009 in one word.


Meredith (@msstewart) said...

If folks are interested in trying Twitter one easy way to get a jump-start is to follow the ECNing list I created. It's over 50 English educators, including Carol Jago, Kylene Beers, Jim Burke, and many more.

Wanda Porter said...

A great post, Tara! Your use of Twitter with your students is an inspiration, especially for a techno-dinosaur such as I am! I, too, gave Twitter a try, then backed away. But using your ideas, I will try again. Thank you!

Tara said...

Thank you Wanda!
If you do decide to try Twitter again, Meredith provided a great link for English teachers to follow. Also, Jennifer Ward has a blog post with great information for people new to Twitter.

Dan Bruno said...


What a fantastic post. I realy want to try this Twitter assignment now. Thanks for an encouraging post for those of us who haven't yet broken into Web 2.0.

Ms. Ward said...

Tara - thanks for mentioning my post. Glad others find it useful.

I love how you are using Twitter in the classroom. I find it to be such a great resource for connecting with other educators that I sometimes forget what a great resource it can be to use with students and for students. You have me thinking about ways I might include Twitter in my classroom. Thanks!

Kay Parks Haas said...

I've loved reading about how you are using Twitter in the classroom. Unfortunately I'm in a district that blocks Twitter, although we have many teachers wanting to implement the types of activities you've described.

Like others, I've set up a Twitter account but, because I'm no longer in the classroom, I've not felt I've had anything to say worth following. Then yesterday I received an email that someone, whose name I didn't recognize, was following me on Twitter. In one sense, I had to chuckle; in another sense, I feel pressured to get with it to learn more about how to use it so I'm worth following! I'll definitely seek out the website posted through the EC Ning to get with it!

Thanks for all your help and inspiration!

Anonymous said...

What about for students who don't have access to a computer at home. The schools computers don't allow for social media websites. How do those students participate in this assignment?

Anonymous said...

What about for students who don't have access to a computer at home. The schools computers don't allow for social media websites. How do those students participate in this assignment?