How to Use Social Media in the Classroom

By Nancy Chavira

Teachers will know that using many different instructional tools in class, at all grade levels, is beneficial to students, and this is also true for using social media in the classroom. This can be especially relevant to students ranging from elementary to post-secondary classes. Incorporating social media in the curriculum will have many benefits like teaching networking, communication skills, and support for the classroom.

  1. Support to students outside of school

More and more, students are searching for ways to get feedback and answers outside of the traditional classroom, and social media provides expectations of immediacy of information. Social media and other online tools make it possible for students and teachers to connect quickly and support each other outside of the classroom, not only between students and their teacher but within their community of students. 

Facebook

One great example of this would be the creation of a Facebook page or group, that’s set to private, for the whole class to use outside of school. Teachers can use the page to post assignments, provide extra guidance or explanations, and answer questions, making full use of evening and weekend hours to expand student learning. Students can also share ideas and suggestions between each other which is great for brainstorming and gaining critical thinking skills and creativity. 

YouTube

Another option available to teachers is creating a private YouTube channel that allows them to teach their students through videos. By taping your lectures and posting them on YouTube afterward, students can reference them later in the week when they’re working on their homework assignments outside school hours and they need a refresher on the subject matter discussed in class. 

Twitter

Another great social media option is using Twitter to share key information with your students like status updates on classes, reminders, and reinforcement of important points from a class, as well as any supplemental learning tools and materials. This can be beneficial for teachers who want to send reminders to their students about tests and assignment due dates that are approaching. If there’s an important article online or a good television program, they can post it immediately when it would otherwise be too late to wait until the next class.

2.  Networking

When students are a bit older, learning about and using social media tools like LinkedIn which are primarily for networking will help them get an early start at building important connections for job opportunities and post-secondary studies. According to Francine Drury, a tutor at Research Papers UK and Writinity, “lessons should also include information about building and using toolkits for professional communication, creating a resume, cover letter, and portfolio, and researching online for pertinent material on their future career or degrees. Facebook is also a good option for learning about networking, communicating in a professional environment, and how to make good impressions on employers and during an interview process.” 

3. Parent involvement

Another great benefit of integrating social media in the classroom is allowing parents to become more involved and aware of their child’s educational process. As Frank Boone, an educator at Last Minute Writing and Draft Beyond explains to his readers that “parents can get updates during field trips, look at assignment requirements, and even support the students by sharing their own knowledge and education experiences to the whole group.” 

4. Weighing the benefits

When teachers are considering bringing social media into the classroom, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. This allows you to understand the benefits but also being prepared for the downsides and having an action plan in place. Despite all the benefits of social media, it can be a distraction, hard to monitor, can lead to cyberbullying, and reduce opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Teachers have to be aware of these negatives and have a plan in place to make sure their online platform is a safe and beneficial space. 

Social media is more and more present in society, especially in younger kids’ lives, so it’s important to show proactively all the useful ways social media can be used to further learning, and preparing children for future communication. Social media benefits the students, the parents, and the teachers in providing educational support, improving communication after hours, and preparing students for their future careers. 

Nancy, a freelance writer at Lucky Assignments and Gum Essays, loves to research and write about educational issues and initiatives, and her goal is to create an engaged community that can discuss different teaching and education tactics. 

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel – Reuse It

By Brian Rock

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may recall the article, Not Every Lesson Is a Lexus. The thrust of the argument was that you cannot – and should not – try to go above and beyond while planning every lesson. It’s not sustainable, and you’ll burn out. Well today we’re going to talk about a corollary to that. Don’t reinvent the wheel – reuse it.

Many teachers are overwhelmed by stress and work. Some of this comes with the territory, but a lot of it is caused by undue pressure from a number of sources.

Lesson plan templates that call for excruciating detail.

Administrators who harp on student engagement and expect every lesson to be as engaging as an amusement park.

New initiatives that call for every iota of content to be relevant and for every task you assign to be high on Bloom’s taxonomy.

The expectation that every piece of student work receives substantive, meaningful feedback.

It’s just not possible.

That’s not to say any of these things are bad. But as the old saying goes, moderation in all things.

You can’t turn it up to 11 every day. From time to time, you should bust out one of those Lexus lessons. But you need to have some tried and true, work-a-day lessons to sustain yourself in the meantime.

This is where having a core set of procedures, methods, and activities in your bag of tricks goes a long way. The wheel has already been invented. You shouldn’t re-invent it every day. Adapt it to your circumstances and re-use it.

Assembling Your Toolbox

When I was in grad school and preparing to become a teacher, one of our assignments was to create a methods log. At the time, I thought it was a bit mundane. In the years since, I’ve realized it was one of the most valuable things I did while at Rutgers.

The methods log was a part of our methods class and practicum. While we learned about how to teach and while we completed our various field placements, we kept a log of different activities and methods we used. This included a short description of the method, an example of how it was used, and an explanation of the circumstances in which it would be useful.

I vaguely remember scrambling at the end of the semester to complete my log and fill it up with a sufficient number of entries. But at the end, I was left with something extremely useful – a bag of reusable tricks.

When I started teaching that fall, I fell back on this bag of tricks.

I did take some time at the end of the summer to thoroughly prepare for those first few weeks. But pretty soon, I was caught up in the day to day hecticness of teaching, and I didn’t have hours to spend planning a single, 40-minute lesson.

Separate the Content from the Process

So instead, to expedite the process, I focused on two simple questions. What am I going to teach? And how am I going to teach it?

The first question was simple. It usually involved looking at the curriculum and pacing guide and knowing that I had to teach something about, say, the War of 1812. Then, I’d think back to my methods log, pick something off the list, and presto. Instant lesson. Sometimes there was a little more preparation involved, locating primary sources or creating graphic organizers. But really it all boils down to the same process: Students consume information. That could be a lecture, a reading, a video, a set of primary sources. Students complete an activity. We assess and continue.

Before I came to teaching, I was considering becoming a software engineer. And an analogy about computer programming is useful here. Software is built on functions. A function is a process where you feed in some kind of data, the software does something with it, and then it spits back out the data you want.

For example, a simple function might take a date – October 18, 2019 – and return the day of the week – Friday. When you’re writing your code, it doesn’t matter how that function works. The process itself has been abstracted so that you don’t have to worry about how it works. You just supply the information and use what you get back.

Amateur programmers have a tendency to hardcode these functions. They write everything from scratch, instead of reusing existing functions. One of the most challenging things about first learning to program is how to think abstractly and how to break your program down into functions. But once you do, it’s a game-changer.

Similarly, you may have a tendency to think about each lesson as unique and try to build it from the ground up. But once you learn to abstract the process and separate the content you’re teaching from the process that you’re using to teach it, it’s a game-changer. You might as well be doing mad-libs. Insert content here, select method there, and voila. Lesson.

How I Reused the Wheel in My Class

Throughout the years, I reused a lot of methods from that methods log. The jigsaw was a popular one, as was the think-pair-share. Gallery walks are great for getting people up and moving, and historical heads give students an opportunity to communicate their ideas in pictures. But I’ll close with a specific example of how I’ve lived this philosophy in my classroom – weekly current events.

As a social studies teacher who cares deeply about civics education, I made a conscious decision to allocate a significant amount of class time to current events. I wanted my students to know what was going on in the world and have an opportunity to discuss and think about those events.

So once a week, typically Fridays, we do some variation on the same lesson. I ask students to share anything they’ve heard about in the news or on social media. We watch a couple episodes of CNN10 and discuss each one in turn. Then, they write as an exit ticket a summary of what we saw and their opinion about one of the stories.

It achieves my goal of giving students an opportunity to learn about and discuss current events. It alleviates the need for me to spend any amount of time planning for the day. And it also gives my students a sense of familiarity with my expectations for writing.

To spice things up, we vary it from time to time. Instead of CNN10, we might watch another video – like the President’s State of the Union Address or a similar speech. Or we might spend some sustained silent reading time with a newspaper and then share out what we’ve read. But these are all variations on a theme, and they are simple adjustments to make.

So think about your own class and your own curriculum. Try and abstract things to separate the “what” of your teaching from the “how.” Polish those methods, and reuse them. Pace yourself, because this is most assuredly a marathon and not a sprint.

Brian Rock is a social studies teacher in New Jersey. He writes a blog about civics education – The Civic Educator. You can read more about proven practices for improving civics education, like teaching current events, in this post: “Six Research Based Methods for Teaching Civics Education.” You can also follow the blog on Facebook and connect with Brian on LinkedIn.

Signs of Classroom Compassion Fatigue

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph.D.

It seems like the children we work with come to us with more baggage than ever before. Some face poverty, violence, abuse, hunger, divorce, trauma, and illness. We are reminded daily of their struggles when they enter our classrooms hungry, tired, dirty, or even afraid. Good teachers can’t help but feel compassion for these children. Over time, our compassion for our students can become more than we can handle, and we experience compassion fatigue. We can get overwhelmed by the magnitude of their problems and our desire to help. Yet, no matter what we do, we can’t alleviate all their pain so that they can focus on learning and being the happy, healthy children we long to see.

Signs of Compassion Fatigue

The toll that this level of compassion takes on teachers leads to burnout. Compassion fatigue happens when teachers care so much and become so emotionally invested in their students that they experience psychological, emotional, and even physical impacts such as insomnia, lack of focus, anxiety, and depression. This is a relatively new concept to teachers, but it’s been around for nurses, therapists, and other “care” providers for quite some time.

If you are working with children in crisis or living with trauma or chronic factors that place them at risk for trauma, there are specific symptoms that you should be aware of. These symptoms are similar to those of depression, including self-isolation, difficulty focusing, anxiety, sadness, anger, and appetite changes.

Avoiding and Treating Compassion Fatigue

What can be done to help keep high-quality, compassionate teachers in the classroom and prevent burnout through compassion fatigue? Thankfully, there are steps that teachers can take to support themselves and the students they long to help.

Know what you can do. Having the self-awareness to know what you can do, and what you can’t, helps you avoid taking on more than you can realistically handle. You may want to be the hero to this child, but that may not be realistic. Just because you’re a good listener and empathetic doesn’t mean that you have the responsibility for solving all the children’s problems, nor should you try to do that alone. You can’t prevent all their pain. You can help them to feel as safe as possible in your classroom.

Take care of yourself. Do things outside of school that you find relaxing: bubble baths, walks, and good books. On tough school days, taking even a few moments for yourself can help you calm down and reset. It’s okay, too, to share this with your students. Tell them you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and need to take a moment. Then model a coping strategy like deep breathing to both help yourself and show them a healthy way to deal with stress. Remember, you can’t take care of your students if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Keep a journal. The stress and worry that come with compassion fatigue will eat you up if you don’t let it out somehow. A journal is a great way to privately express your feelings, your sadness, and your frustration. Reading it helps you reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and actions as you put them into perspective. It also helps you realize when compassion fatigue is setting in so you can get some help when needed.

Monitor your feelings. You can sometimes feel so emotionally spent after an entire school day that you just want to lock yourself up and be alone. That’s fine for a while, especially if you need that. But don’t let yourself become too isolated. You don’t have to deal with these feelings and emotions alone. Talking to someone helps you get those feelings out in a healthy way, so you don’t experience burnout. Other teachers and care providers often experience similar things and can empathize with what you’re going through.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the emotions of teaching and showing signs of depression, don’t ignore them. Talk to your doctor or a therapist to help you cope with these feelings without experiencing the burnout that often accompanies compassion fatigue.

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Dr. Crystal Ladwig has taught online and face-to-face college courses for 20 years. She specializes in training future teachers and conducts research on training teachers to work with students with challenging behaviors. 

The Brown Cars of Education

My wife and I were being old and reminiscing while driving to the airport last weekend. Since we were surrounded by cars, we stumbled on the topic of Cars We Used to Own. I’ve owned a blue Pontiac Sunfire, a white Pontiac Grand Prix, and a black Chevy Impala. Jeanie has owned a white Chevy Cavalier that she bought with her own $3,000. She drove her parents’ Buick Regal for awhile. Dubbed “The Mom Buick,” it was originally white, but half the paint had peeled so that it resembled a molting deer. But as bad as that car was, the worst was a brown 1980 Mustang she drove as a teenager. If you’re a Millennial, you might be picturing the kind of brown occasionally seen on the road today. Something like this:

Or this:

Or even this:

Looks orange to me.

Wrong.

Back in 1980, brown meant brown. 1980 Brown was the color of tree bark, of Count Chocula, of turds. It was a hue that inspired nicknames like “The Crapmobile” and “The Rustang.” When new, the car looked something like this.

My wife’s car was not new. It was a butt-ugly vehicle that cost $800 and was held together with twist ties and duct tape. And as we talked about that car, we couldn’t help but notice the paucity of similarly colored automobiles on the highway. Brown cars, true brown cars, have gone the way of the dodo.

Here’s a graph that proves it:

No true brown. Sad!

Car manufacturers just don’t make many brown cars anymore for an obvious reason: Brown cars are disgusting and nobody wants to own one.

But the fact that they used to exist is interesting and provides a couple of useful lessons for those of us in education.

Education has had its fair share of brown cars over the years. There have been many ideas and practices that were once fashionable and are now passe. Learning styles used to be a big deal; now we snicker at teachers who still reference them as if they’re a real thing. When I was in school, no one thought anything of a year’s worth of instruction that consisted of having students open their textbooks, read some pages, and write answers to those questions on lined paper. Today, that’s bad teaching and we should “ditch the textbook.” Homework used to be a given; not it’s contentiously debated. Principals used to literally spank kids with paddles. Now, teachers are scolded for using clip charts. Naughty children who fought on the playground used to be suspended for a few days. Today, we “clear the room” and let students destroy property that should have been purchased by a school district but was just as likely bought by an underpaid teacher.

What’s important to remember is that a lot of the people who drove those brown cars in the 1970s thought they were pretty damn fancy. They looked down on those pedestrian souls who selected white or gray for their vehicles and saw themselves as just a little bit better. A little hipper. A little more with it. At a time when society first began to pay attention to the damage humans were causing to Mother Earth, you could signal how socially conscious and in harmony with nature you were by driving around in earth tones. Greens, browns, and even yellows were far more popular back then than they are today.

Those drivers of yesteryear were no different than teachers who once used methods we think of today as outdated and wrong.

And it’s even more important to remember that some of what we’re doing in our schools and classrooms today are the brown cars of tomorrow. Someday, we will all come to our senses, shake our heads, and wonder what the hell we were thinking. Just as our forefathers believed they were pretty groovy for cruising around in cars the color of trees, grass, and fall foliage, we believe the same today when we take to Twitter and brag about how cutting edge our instructional practices are.

I’m integrating technology into my lessons, while old Denise is still using a textbook.

Our school is using restorative justice with our students while the school across town is still suspending kids.

I’m teaching my students about the marshmallow test, growth mindset, and grit, but Mr. Davis is still teaching the same way he did ten years ago.

History suggests that some humility might be prudent. Like motoring around in a brown car in 1976, you’re doing things today that will be seen as old-fashioned and embarrassing tomorrow. Things you won’t admit to in 20 years. And your leaders are asking (and in some cases telling) you to do things that you (and they) will someday look back on in shame. Some day, we may ask:

How could anyone have thought that taking away art classes for test prep was a good idea?

How could anyone have ever believed that testing kindergarteners was going to help anything?

Why in the world did we take away recess in the name of getting higher test scores?

Why did we give so many benchmark assessments, especially when the evidence showed they did no good?

Why were we so worried about integrating technology?

Why did we squander billions of dollars on secure school entrances?

The next time someone attempts to sell you on the next wonderful thing in education, whether that person is an administrator, a vendor, a colleague, a think tank writer, or an educelebrity on Twitter, remember that once upon a time, car salesmen were able to convince a bunch of adults to buy cars the color of poop. Maybe show a little less enthusiasm and allow for the possibility that the thing you’re being sold isn’t as great as the person selling it to you says it is.

And if you’re being forced to teach in ways you disagree with, take solace in the fact that you recognize what everyone else eventually will: Brown cars are ugly, even if people are choosing to drive them, and even if they tell you you should be driving one too.

Always Running Out of Time? Apply Scarcity and Budgeting to Your Classroom

By Brian Rock

We’ve all been there. There was a cool project you wanted to do with your students, but you didn’t. Or there was a timely event going on, but you didn’t discuss it.

Because there’s so much to get through in one year, and there’s just not enough time.

Well I’ll let you in on a little secret. You’ll never make it through everything in that thick curriculum guide. The sooner you realize that, the better. You shouldn’t feel guilty about glossing over some things and skipping over others in order to spend time teaching what you really enjoy.

After all, that’s what your students are actually going to remember.

We’re Set Up to Fail by the Curriculum

When I first started teaching, I took a look at the curriculum guide for my course, Early U.S. History. It listed sixteen units, and we were supposed to cover everything from pre-colonization to the end of the 19th century.

It seemed daunting, but I tried. I moved as quickly as I could, but something always got in the way. There was an assembly or a fire drill, and I’d have to spend some time re-grouping. Or students bombed a test or were absent, so I’d have to reteach some things.

A few months in, I realized that I would never make it through everything. For a moment I panicked… until I realized that I was further ahead than the other teachers and they weren’t worried. As it turned out, everyone just accepted the fact that they would get through the Civil War, maybe Reconstruction if they were lucky, and that was that.

Everything else from the 1870’s to the early 1900’s just disappeared. It never happened. Because the Modern U.S. History teachers didn’t have time to go back and cover it. They had the same pressures that led them to teach as much as they could until they ran out of time somewhere around the modern civil rights movement.

When you look at the underlying standards, you realize this isn’t just a local problem for my school district. It’s based in policy.

New Jersey’s Student Learning Standards for Social Studies contain almost 200 discrete progress indicators. Someone thought this was a reasonable number of things to master over the course of two school years – approximately 360 school days. It’s not.

From the get-go, this is an impossible task. And once you realize that, it doesn’t feel so bad to make a conscious decision to gloss over something or skip it altogether.

Apply the Principles of Budgeting and Scarcity to Your Classroom

Early in my career, I didn’t worry much about budgeting. I made a decent salary, I paid all the bills, I led a good life. But when the end of the month came there usually wasn’t a lot of money “left over” to put into long term savings.

Eventually, I realized the error of my ways and put together a strict monthly and annual budget. Now I know how much I’ve allotted to spend each month on various things. When I run out, I stop spending. And lo and behold, I found that there actually was enough money to stash away for the future.

This is the principle of scarcity. You only have so much money, and you need to be intentional in how you spend it. Hence, budgeting.

The same principle applies to time in your classroom. You only have so many days in the classroom, and you know a certain percentage of that time will end up being eaten up by other things.

If you just go through the year, spending time willy-nilly, you’re going to run out. In the moment, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to spend an extra day or two here and there. But when you multiply that across ten months, you’ll have wasted entire weeks and robbed yourself of time at the end of the year.

Instead, be as ruthless about your classroom time as you should be about your household budget. Set out a strict timeline of when you’ll teach each topic. Mark it on the calendar – down to the day.

You can teach the same topic in one day, one week, or one month. It just comes down to making different decisions. So once you know you have exactly nine class periods to teach a particular unit, you can make the appropriate decisions.

No matter how much you might want to in the moment, don’t try to add a day, unless you’re willing to subtract it from another unit marked on the calendar.

How I Budgeted My Classroom Time

Once I came to this realization, I entered the next year with a strictly mapped out budget of my time. Miraculously, I made it through the entire curriculum guide and taught every one of those sixteen units.

I also felt really rushed and felt like I had glossed over a lot on the surface without getting into the details. So I started to tinker with things over the next few years. I combined a couple of units that were similar and taught them as one unit. I took a few of the less important units, and I combined them into a unit of independent study where my students chose topics to read, research, and present about. Then I took that extra time to focus on a few areas with much greater depth.

Eventually, I even carved out a few days each month to talk about current events. This is a critical part of social studies and civics, but it’s often seen more as an add-on than a must-have. So without planning, it could easily end up being a never-was.

Be Ruthless With Your Time This Year

So as you go through this school year, be ruthless with your time.

You have a finite number of days, and you can literally count them up and mark them out on a calendar. Every day that you use now is a day that you won’t have later.

Ask yourself, “What’s really important in my class?”

Then allocate your school days accordingly. Spend more time where it matters most, and budget less time where it matters least. Stick to your calendar, and only make adjustments where you’re willing to make a corresponding adjustment somewhere else.

When you appreciate the principle of scarcity and budget with that in mind, you might just find that there is enough time in the year after all.

Brian Rock is a social studies teacher in New Jersey. He writes a blog about civics education – The Civic Educator. You can find plenty of ideas to incorporate civics into your classroom in the post, “How to Teach Government in a Fun Way: Six Ways to Bring Civics Alive.” You can also follow the blog on Facebook and connect with Brian on LinkedIn.