Social Media in the Elementary Classroom
Social media use is prolific in today’s society, and I, personally, use a number of platforms for various purposes. I share photos and news with family and friends via a private Facebook account; engage with my PLN on Twitter; follow others on Instagram; share videos on YouTube; maintain a LinkedIn profile; the list goes on. Each of these activities allows me to curate and interact with an authentic audience to share with, learn from, and understand others.
We, as teachers, want to prepare our students for the digital world, and we understand that digital literacy and citizenship skills have become as important as English and Math. While our elementary students have not yet aged into social media accounts, there are a number of ways to integrate social media experiences into the elementary classroom. Curating an authentic audience for our students is a key component in the social media experience, and there are many tools that help our teachers do just that. Below are different tools and project that can bring a protected social media experience into the elementary and middle school classrooms. I tried to organized them by grade levels, since some apps or projects require reading and writing levels of upper elementary.
What is social media?
Before I share some of our social media integrations, a quick note about “what is social media?” Certainly, one immediately thinks of the mainstream social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. However, in my classroom, social media includes any platform where users are sharing media with an authentic audience. This is a very broad definition, encompassing email, blogs, video conferencing, note-sharing, along with the more mainstream social media platforms. These tools can all be used very effectively in the classroom to help students develop digital literacy and citizenship skills.
Social media tools for any age
- FlipGrid is an online video-sharing platform designed specifically for educational purposes. Teachers post a question online, and students submit short video responses. This tool works for all ages, abilities, and language skills, since students don’t need to read or write. It’s a great opportunity to teach on-camera presentation skills, main idea identification and summary skills, and digital literacy & citizenship skills. You can try out this tool and check out the two topics that I created this summer: 1) Where Do Teachers Go In the Summer? (check out my blog post on this great PD use for FlipGrid), and 2) a video log of My Daughter’s Summer Reading before Kindergarten.
- Explain Everything is a collaborative interactive whiteboard app. It provides a wonderful way to begin integrating digital skills into early elementary classrooms by introducing the concept of an authentic audience. My 5-year-old daughter loves to draw pictures and upload them into Explain Everything as images. Then she can record her voice to tell the story of the picture and share that with our family. It’s a great way for her to share her art and think about an authentic audience for her work.
- We’ve used Google Hangouts for a lot of purposes. We had a student who was in the hospital for most of the school year. Hangouts let him participate in classes virtually, work on group projects with his classmates, and share his own experiences with the class. I also use Hangouts for tutoring students online. It has great features, like screenshare, chat windows, etc.
- Although it is typically text-based, and requires typing skills, I have seen Twitter “hacks” that have made it a useful social media tool in all grade levels. You can read about some of these projects in my other posts: Twitter in the Elementary Classroom and Help Your Students Build Their Own SLN (Social Learning Network).
- Instagram is fantastic for curating and visually documenting student work. Teachers can create a classroom account and set privacy settings, then assign a hashtag to each student and project for easy sorting. Students or teachers can add a caption and description to the photo, and the audience can comment. While there are a lot of tools designed to for this educational parent-teacher communication, I like that Instagram is a universal social media tool that can be accessed easily by parents and families. And students can easily translate the good digital literacy and citizenship skills that they develop in the classroom over to their own Instagram accounts when they age into the tool.
- Screencasting is a fantastic skill for students to develop, and I love using Screencastify via our Google accounts. Students can tape what they are doing on their screen, and add a voiceover if they like. Reviewing a screencast is a great way for a teacher to observe, or student to self-evaluate, her/his process. I also have students screencast projects as a summative activity. When my students built Ancient Roman buildings in MinecraftEdu, I had them screencast guided tours of the buildings to demonstrate all the history & culture that they learned and integrated into their buildings. Suddenly, their work no longer lived on the MinecraftEdu server, but could be easily shared with authentic audiences via their screencast tours.
Social media tools for Grades 3 and up
- Email is perhaps the most ubiquitous form of social media, and each school has its own policies about email in elementary classrooms. I’ve seen third grade students who can email their teacher, 5th graders who can email within their school domains, and older middle school classrooms with even more open email permissions. It’s important for administrators to consider what makes an appropriate authentic audience for the elementary and middle school age groups, and for teachers to be trained in teaching appropriate digital literacy and citizenship skills using email. Each fall, our 6th graders needed a refresher about email etiquette – how to address an adult on email, appropriate reasons to send an email, etc. We put together this quick guide for students and teachers to reference: Email Etiquette 101.
- Padlet is an online bulletin board where students post sticky notes of text, pictures, or videos that other users can view. It’s great for brainstorming, sharing resources, or documenting accomplishments. I love this tool for running professional development days. Teachers can add thoughts to the board throughout the day, and we can revisit the board at the end of the day. Check out my public EdTech Tools Padlet and add a post to tell us about your favorite edtech tools!
- Blogging is a great opportunity to highlight a different style of writing. Students are used to writing narrative or research essays in other classes. But they can engage in thematic writing with personal influences and visual representations woven into their blog entries. When I taught Latin, I allowed students to blog on our class website, de re Latina, about where they see evidence of classical cultures in the modern day world around them for extra credit. Their authentic audience included our school community and the occasional conference attendees when I presented their work. Students combined digital literacy and citizenship skills with the curricular goal of learning outside the classroom.
Clearly, it is so important for social media to have a presence in the classroom. As students become comfortable with social media and develop good digital literacy & citizenship skills, they will be better prepared for the day when they age into mainstream social media platforms. These are lifelong skills that will stay with students well after they have left their elementary school classrooms.
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