Using twitter on a school trip

November 17, 2009

4OQ Visit Selly Manor

I always think one of the most powerful uses of the social media that has grown around twitter is for reporting and reflecting on live events on location.  Some time ago a friend and I experimented with some ideas for a club night based around social media and, although we eventually shelved it, it made me think about using social media for our school trip today to Selly Manor in Birmingham.

I have been using twitter and blogging with my class since September to reflect on learning, share their work with an audience, and get them to the different places on the web easily on their 1:1 netbooks. Some of this has been through twitterific on my iPhone , which has allowed me to tweet their reflections outside of the classroom, and get them all to links quickly without having to return to my own computer.

Today we used Twitterific to document our trip, both using text and its capability to take  photograph with my iPhone and upload it straight away to our twitter news feed. I also used the iPhone app tweetmic pro , which allows you to make audio recordings and immediatly upload them to your twitter feed. Whilst I had to mediate the text updates as I am the only one proficient with the iPhone keyboard, this allowed the children to more immediatly and personally make their observations and reflections.

So, whilst this is a very ‘cool’ thing to do, many people may be asking what the value of it is for the children. Personally I think there are a few things it adds to our trip, the first is a nice timeline of the day, and the activities we engaged in. Whilst this could easily be achieved using a class blog or just a camera, the ability to mix text, audio and images and have them arranged chronologically should be very useful when it comes to reflecting on the trip when we are back at school. Of course this could be achieved by other means, but it is so immediate using twitter. Once it has happened and been captured it is documented, and there is no need for someone to upload photographs, organise them into order and publish them.

This immediacy has another benefit- although we were short of time when we got back to school we could immediately open up the twitter feed and all the material we had collected was there to be reflected on straight away, even as the children were sat in their coats waiting for home time. No doubt some of them will have also logged on when they got home and shared their day with their parents well before I would have had time to update our class blog.

Another purpose of these tools was to encourage reflection on learning throughout the day. Undoubtedly this could have been done by teacher questioning, but the act of recording and publishing their reflections should be a huge factor in engaging the children and encouraging them to think more meaningfully about what they are experiencing. Let’s face it; you are going to try harder with your reflections when being broadcast to the world than if you are scribbling them on a piece of paper that will often be only seen by your teacher.

I was really hoping to use these tools today to encourage some solid reflection from the children, but given the lack of thinking time beforehand, and the fact this was my first school trip as an NQT I did not fully achieve what I had hoped. We certainly created a record of the day, which hopefully will help with later reflection. However, the amount and level of reflections were not quite what I had hoped for as my time and energy was largely taken up by making sure none of the children got on the wrong bus, fell down the stairs of the tudor house or got lost going to the toilets! Despite this I do think with a bit more experience these tools could be really useful in encouraging reflection and extending learning on a school trip, and I will certainly be using them in a more focused way next time.

Twitpics: http://img188.yfrog.com/i/gofk.jpg/

http://img256.yfrog.com/i/4slq.jpg/

http://img685.yfrog.com/i/v36.jpg/

Audio tweet: http://tmic.fm/ox6b1o54azd

Our class twitter news feed: http://twitter.com/4oq

Class blog on the trip: http://class40q.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/trip-to-selly-manor/

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1:1- Using twitter to get a young class to the right resources

October 11, 2009

One of the fundamental issues in a 1:1 primary classroom is getting the children to the websites they are meant to be using as quickly and painlessly as possible. In a conventional classroom you can just hand out copies of worksheets and resources to different groups, but when working with web based tools this is much harder to organise. My class of 8 year olds find copying exact URLs very difficult, due to their still developing typing and reading skills.There is no way there are going to copy ‘http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/ks1bitesize/numeracy/numbers/index.shtml’ just to get to a quick maths game, and a google search could land them anywhere on the net.

Therefore I had to find a way to get them all on the same page (or differentiated pages) quickly before we could get anything done.

Edmodo
In the summer I thought Edmodo would be the answer to this. This service provides a private, walled, twitter like service which you can restrict to your classroom. I had visions of using this to send out links to the class, but in practice it didn’t work for the stage we are at. My class are still learning about logins and remembering passwords, and the process of having to log into something before they could find where they needed to go (and possibly log in to that service as well) took some considerable time. Edmodo also lets them communicate with the class by sending out short messages, and they soon discovered this and my own messages to links I wanted them to visit were drowned in a timeline of noisy classroom discussion!

Twitter
Therefore, I decided to have a re-think, and use something more static and more easily accessible. Basically I decided to set up a twitter account (@4oqlinks), so that I could tweet out links and they would immediately be accessible to the pupils. Now, when I want pupils to go to a certain site I just tweet out a link to it, it updates our twitter feed instantly, and pupils can be on that site in moments by visiting  www.twitter.com/4oqlinks, without needing a login. This is really powerful, as if one student finds a better source of information for what you are working on, you can just tweet it out and the whole class can access it straight away, allowing you to take the lesson in any direction very quickly and easily. This is actually faster and more straightforward than handing out resources on paper!

If you are in a 1:1 environment I would hugely recommend setting up a system like this. It gives you a really quick way to get pupils where you want them to be, and is only as difficult as registering for twitter and making a big sign with the address of your account to put on the wall for the pupils to visit. You can keep the twitter page open on your computer and send out links to your whole class in an instant: much quicker than having them try to copy them from the board!

Now to complicate it: Implementing this in a class home page
However, I was not happy about pupils accessing the twitter page directly because it just wasn’t slick enough! I also wanted to have multiple feeds on the same site, so pupils could see our class news, blog, and links for lessons all on the same page. Therefore, I decided to create a class home page with the feed from twitter as part of it.

I had already bought www.4oq.co.uk so that I could set up google docs accounts for my class, so I set up a google site as the home page for that domain, and embedded a twitter gadget to display the feed on that site, which I could also use for class news and links to regularly used tools. Unfortunately I could not find a way to get any gadgets to open the links in a new page, so users always got their page opening in an unusableframe within the site:
Picture 1
After much experimentation I decided to ditch google sites and go for a website made in Apple’s iWeb. I have always liked iWeb for very quickly putting together slick looking websites, but previous versions have always fallen down when it came to wanting to extend your page beyond a basic, static site. Thankfully in iWeb ’09 Apple have included a great widget called ‘HTML snippet’. If you drop one of these into your site you can past HTML into it to achieve anything you cannot do with the program, but can with HTML or javascript.
Picture 3

I played around with a number of third party widgets, but found all of them to be slow to load, overly flashy, and still with the same problem that links would load in a frame. I therefore decided to go back to basics, and mashed together some code to access the twitter api directly and render the feed as text. Even if you are not that technical, you can use the code below to drop into the HTML snippet box in iWeb, or into the HTML of your website to render a twitter feed as a column as it is on our home page. Just copy it in, and change the text that reads ‘YOUR_TWITTER_USERNAME’ for the username of your twitter links feed. If you are doing this in iWeb the frame will go a bit mad for a few seconds, but wait for it to settle down and it will be fine.

<style rel=”stylesheet” id=”mainStyle” type=”text/css”>
html {background-color:#FFFFFF}
body {background-color:#FFFFFF; font-family:Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size:14px;
margin-left:1%; margin-right:1%; border:3px groove darkred; padding:15px}
h1 {text-align:right; font-size:1.5em; font-weight:bold}
h2 {text-align:left; font-size:1.1em; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline}
.buttons {margin-top:10px}
</style>
<div id=”twitter_update_list”>
</div>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://twitter.com/javascripts/blogger.js”&gt;
</script>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/YOUR_TWITTER_USERNAME.json?callback=twitterCallback2&count=10″&gt;
</script>

The only problem I have found is that you sometimes have to refresh the page a few times for the feed to render, but I have just told my class to press f5 a few times until it does. In the rare cases that it doesn’t I put a hyperlink to the twitter page right above it.

And the result:
Picture 2

Now I just have to tell my class to ‘Go to 4oq.co.uk’, and I can get them anywhere on the internet in seconds.

Hopefully this is useful to some of you in getting children to the right page as quickly as possible so the learning can begin!