Using Twitter with students has gotten easier

It’s been over two years since the last time I had my students send tweets during their field trip. The folks at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (one of our field trip stops) wrote a fun article about my students’ recent Twitter-filled visit.

Such may have been the disapproving sigh of an observer watching a busload of teenagers tour Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory last week. The 11th and 12th graders from Appleton, Wisconsin, spent an awful lot of time typing away on their cell phones. But be not dismayed, O horrified observer. They were just doing their homework. [read on…]

In two years, making this project work has gotten a lot easier. Here’s why:

  • a lot more students have cellphones with unlimited texting- and they all know how to text
  • many students have smart phones that allow easier tweeting via an app
  • students with iPod Touches just hopped on the public wifi they found available during the trip (we even had wifi on the bus!)
  • I didn’t have to explain Twitter to any of  the students- they all knew what it was and no one asked how to setup an account this time around
  • Twitter’s lists feature made grouping our field trip tweets super easy

This makes me think about what we’ll be able to do in two more years.

I do have two more things to add to my list of things that teachers should consider when using Twitter:

  • remind students that anyone will be able to read their tweets- they should never post about others unless they’re comfortable having that person read what they wrote
  • instruct the students to be discrete when they’re using their cellphone- ringers should be off and the activity of texting shouldn’t be any more disruptive than traditional note-taking

Lastly, check out the students’ tweets from this year’s trip.

Incoming Text: Warning, pop quiz ahead

pop quiz

A survey by Common Sense Media of more than 1,000 students ages 13 to 18 found that 48% of teens with cell phones call or text friends to warn them about pop quizzes.

I say, “who cares?”

If a pop quiz is given to offer students a chance to review past material or to provide teacher feedback on how the class is doing then the text warning is only going to trigger more students to study. That’s a good thing, right?

However, if the pop quiz is given to punish students who haven’t been studying, stifle bad behavior or just take up some class time, then Who’s Cheating Whom?

Don’t blame cellphones; put them to work

Put that cellphone to workRecently I’ve had two separate conversations about blocking cellphone signals in school. Some teachers are a so frustrated with the interruptions caused by cellphones that they would like to put up cellphone jammers in their classrooms. Fortunately, this is against FCC regulations as outlined in the Communications Act of 1934.

I can see where all this frustration comes from. Students get addicted to their cellphones- particularly the text messaging feature. They’re sneaking it out under their desk to get a glance at the latest gossip, note from their sweetheart or even the answers to next hour’s quiz. Some student’s are even skilled enough to reply back by tapping out a message on the keypad without even looking down. Those with poorer texting skills just ask for the bathroom pass to type out their messages.

To make matters worse, there’s cyberbullying. Students are being harassed and threatened throughout the school day via cellphones. With problems like this, one can easily sympathize with schools that wish to put a stop to cellphones entering our schools.

However, sometimes new problems are actually not that new. To me, texting is like any other distraction in the classroom. In the past, students would pass notes. I know that some notes were used for cheating, many where love letters and some could have been called paperbullying.

Another example is graphing calculators. With enough memory to store games and cheat notes, the graphing calculator presented a new set of problems as they became more powerful.

My point is this- cellphones are not the problem; it’s the inappropriate usage. Banning cellphones to stop texting is about as practical as banning paper to prevent note passing. The cellphone is not going away. As smartphones become more mainstream we will see our students surfing the web from their phones next. You thought texting was disruptive? Wait until they start updating their Facebook status via their Internet connected phone.

The good news is that we’re getting more technology in our classrooms. In many ways the cellphone can be a great classroom tool. It’s time we put those phones to work for learning. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • daily planner: why not teach them to enter those deadlines and assignment due dates into something they’re always carrying
  • text them back: set up a Twitter account that students that can follow via text messaging. You can send out assignment reminders, homework hints, and much more. My students have use Twitter accounts too.
  • take some pictures: last week I needed students to take pictures of their lab. Only a few students had a digital camera but every lab group had a few camera phones. Put those cameras to work. Some even do video.
  • conduct a survey: at you create a survey, students respond via cellphone, and you get a spreadsheet of the results
  • students create podcasts: set up an account with Gcast, students record and post audio online just by calling an 800 number. I had students do this during a field trip.

Cellphones can be used in the classroom but only if you set the ground rules first. While they do present some new challenges, I think cellphones can be part of the classroom just like calculators and notebooks. We just have to give them a chance.

Journal via text messaging during field trip

Last week I took my physics students on a field trip to the Yerkes Observatory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  This is the forth year I’ve done this trip, and each year I offer the students a variety of assignments to pick from.

This year I added text messaging as one of the assignments.  Students used their cell phone to journal about things they saw while on the trip.

Students send their messages to an account they created at Twitter is a micro-blog that allows you to post messages (up to 140 characters long) from the web or from your cell phone. The site also allows you to follow other people’s posts; this makes Twitter an impressive networking tool. (Note: there are many teachers exchanging ideas on Twitter; you can find me at:

Twitter on field trip

I took advantage of the social networking side of Twitter by setting up an account that followed all my students as they posted messages during the trip.  The students who couldn’t go on the trip were able to watch their classmates add messages in real time.

Here is a sample of the messages posted by my students.

You should keep a few things in mind if you plan to use Twitter.

  • Students may incur fees when texting from a cell phone. My assignment wasn’t required; student could pick another assignment if they didn’t wish to send text messages.
  • Twitter is blocked at many schools.  My students had to set up their accounts at home.
  • Make sure your students set up and test the service. I had all my students get things working before the trip.
  • As always, remind your students to not disclose personal information online. For example, all my students used fake names for their username at Twitter.