Once blocked, Twitter and other social media become classroom tools

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Wauwatosa West juniors Allie Grabow (left) and Allie Meyer check Meyer’s Twitter update in teacher Chris Lazarski’s American Public Policy class at Wauwatosa West High School. Teachers like Lazarski are finding ways to have students engage on real-world social media platforms, but in an academic capacity.

Mike De Sisti

Wauwatosa West juniors Allie Grabow (left) and Allie Meyer check Meyer’s Twitter update in teacher Chris Lazarski’s American Public Policy class at Wauwatosa West High School. Teachers like Lazarski are finding ways to have students engage on real-world social media platforms, but in an academic capacity.

More learning encouraged in 140-character bites

By Monique Collins and Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel
Dec. 1, 2013

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Mike De Sisti
A list of tweets are projected in Wauwatosa West teacher Chris Lazarski’s American Public Policy class at Wauwatosa West High School.

                    

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Mike De Sisti
A list of tweets are projected in Wauwatosa West teacher Chris Lazarski’s American Public Policy class at Wauwatosa West High School.

Taxation, representation and slavery were up for debate recently at Wauwatosa West High School, where juniors engaged in a multi-day, in-class simulation of the first Constitutional Convention in 1787.

With a modern twist.

“I hope that today’s debate ends with a decision on how representatives are chosen,” Andrew Gleason typed on Twitter.

“More than one executive is not common sense. Only one!” contributed Deon Ellis.

“I have decided to have Ben Franklin run as my VP in 2016,” Garrick Gesell punched in.

Teenagers using social media is nothing new. But in-class use of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube traditionally have been discouraged in most K-12 schools, seen as a distraction from real learning at best and a red-flag privacy concern at worst.

That’s starting to change in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Chris Lazarski, the teacher of the American Public Policy class at Tosa West, persuaded school administration this year to unblock the sites so he could incorporate social media into his lessons, aiming to teach students to use Twitter for serious research and discussion.

In the process, Lazarski believes, he’s better engaging students and reinforcing responsible use of the online tools that have become part of the fabric of modern society.

Lazarski’s students said they enjoy using Twitter in the classroom as a way to engage with their peers and other students around the nation.

“You can see how the other students feel about what we’re learning,” Regina Kautzer said. “You can see what other students at different schools are thinking about what’s going on in the world, and you can compare how you feel with how they feel.”

While many teachers use social media sites created specifically for schools with heavy privacy controls, more educators such as Lazarski are teaching students to engage with the same tools they use in their social life in a more professional and academic capacity.

“I found that students were using Twitter in a very specific way and for a very specific purpose,” Lazarski said. “They were not exploring the more useful or more interesting aspects of Twitter.”

Lazarski thought about using Twitter as an educational tool after he stumbled across KQED, an alternative media site based in San Francisco. The organization’s Do Now program encourages students to use social media tools to keep up with current events. Lazarski began using the program this fall.

“This seemed like a meaningful way to engage students in current event discussions,” Lazarski said. “It also seemed like a format that could be used to teach students how to use Twitter in a meaningful way.”

Lazarski said he uses Twitter to engage students in discussion about the weekly Do Now posts and activities.

Students’ tweets are regularly featured in pieces on the KQED Education blog. Caleb Boldt, a junior at Wauwatosa West, was quoted in a piece on the recent government shutdown by Matthew Williams, the educational technologist at KQED.

Abbey Jones and Kautzer, both juniors in Lazarski’s American Public Policy class, started using Twitter only when it was assigned in class. Neither uses much social media outside the classroom, saying it distracts from their schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

Both students agree, however, that using Twitter has enhanced their classroom experience.

“It helps us learn,” Jones said. “Not only do we get to express our viewpoints, but we get to see what other students are talking about.”

Jones said the tweets from other students can be revelatory.

“A lot of the time, students will tweet things that I never would have thought of,” she said.

Read more from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/once-blocked-twitter-and-other-social-media-become-classroom-tools-b99144895z1-234020921.html#ixzz2mo23LUvb Follow us: @JournalSentinel on Twitter

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