Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Using Instagram as a Classroom Tool

Have you ever heard that phrase, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?" Well, that's what led me to create a class account on Instagram.

So the kids are technology pros. We get that. They know all kinds of Internet-y type stuff before I do, and I'm pretty tech-savvy myself. The kids have a billion different types of online accounts and are on them ALL. THE. TIME.

Do I believe that 5th graders should be using all this technology? That's not the point. The point is - they are using it. So, I figured, I should too.

How'd this all begin? We were getting ready for our big end-of-unit assessment on the 1920s/1930s. There's a lot in this unit; I try to make the teaching fun and interactive, but there's a lot to remember. I'm sitting in class, talking with the kids, and BOOM. It hit me. And it rolled right out of my mouth.

"Hey, I'm gonna create a class Instagram account. Yeah. Hang on..." [creating account while they are sitting there] "Okay, here's what it is..." [pause to write it on the board] "If you're on Instagram, log on when you get home. I'm going to post some review questions there. Go through and see which questions you can answer."

Student: "What if I don't have Instagram?"

Me: "That's okay. I'll post it on my blog, and you can come in and look at it first thing in the morning." (This also applies to anyone who doesn't have Internet at home. The kids know that all online opportunities can also be done in class. That's only fair.)

Another student: "But what if I go on and answer, but my answer is wrong?"

Me: "Who cares! You are actively trying and working on your learning outside of class! Give it your best shot! I will be proud of you for trying!"

Another student: "Could I use my notes to answer your questions?"

Me: "Absolutely! That's why you take these notes every day - so you can use them! Go for it!" (I use a lot of exclamation marks when I write because I use them when I speak - ha!)

Another student: "Could I look up the answer on my computer?"

Me: "You mean research? At home? About a school topic? Absolutely! I love that!"

Another student, hesitantly: "What if... I post the answer... and then someone, you know... copies off of me?"

Me: "Great question. So if you know the answer, and you post it, you are sharing your knowledge with someone else, right? I kind of see that as helping someone learn. Do you? I mean, it's not on the actual test. It's like you're helping them study, but you're at home on your phone, and they're at home on theirs."

Another student: "So... it's like we're having a study group, but we're not together, and it's more fun, because we're on Instagram?"


That conversation right there proves to me that it was worth doing. The kids GOT IT. They understood why this teacher stopped what she was doing to create a new account on social media at the end of class. Maybe that sounds like a no-no, but to me, the positive effects far outweigh any no-no others might see.

So let me walk you through how I use it. (I'm a visual learner, so there are going to be lots of pictures.)

I use it to review content:

So you can see here that the kids are building off of each other or repeating, but we discussed earlier how that's okay. This is one of my first posts to the class page.

I use it to send out notifications. (I also sent through email and Remind101 to parents, but this was just for the kiddos.)

We had several days out because of snow and ice, so I updated them daily about whether or not we had school. Also, if you look at the comments, we had a new teacher coming in. The kids were excited to get to meet her! One of our colleagues retired in December to move with her husband for a new job hours away.

Over breaks, I use it to keep in contact with them and to share some fun!

I found this online and thought it might be fun to share it with the kids. You can't tell from the picture, but the guessing kept going!

I use it to share books about topics we've studied in class that we're interested in. 

We had been talking about the crisis in Sudan, and I discovered these books and loved them. The kids ended up loving them too!

I use it to encourage the students - with memes, no less!

Standardized testing isn't fun - let's be real. So I used this opportunity to share a little meme with them each morning before the test! It was actually pretty fun :)

I use it to share books - in general.

In Georgia, we have a Reading Bowl competition. The books are selected as part of the Georgia Book Award winners for the year. When I'm excited about books, the kids get excited about books.

I shared this to-be-read (TBR) stack over Christmas break. The kids posted their TBR stacks and tagged me in their pictures :) LOVE!!!!!

I use it to prepare them for big projects.

We went screen-free for a week in our class! Most of the students participated - some for just a day or two, but most for the whole week! This was a fun picture to get us pumped up!

One of the kids asked me to post pictures of my career project sample. I took pictures of every part of the poster and posted it on our account. The kids commented on all the pictures saying they were glad I had posted it! Wish it had been my own idea, but glad that one of the kids thought of it!

I used it to say goodbye :(

The kids had a lot of sweet responses to this. I'll miss them!

Over the summer, I have continued to use our Instagram account to connect with my students. Even some 4th graders coming up into 5th grade have started following the account. I'm hoping it's getting them excited about coming to 5th!

My family and I went to Fort Sumter on vacation, and I posted some pictures since Fort Sumter is part of our social studies standards. I love that one student's response - "Respect." Indeed!

My students loved them some writing contests this year! I didn't want it to stop just because we weren't in school.

Important events or remembrances happen outside of our school year. I don't want them to lose the relevance of the important events we studied.

So, a few tips.

1) Make it private. If you're posting any pictures of the kids, then you need to know the people who are joining your account. Give your kids the name to follow and let them ask to follow you. You don't want any ol' creep coming on your account just to look at your kiddos. *shudder*

2) Be appropriate. I don't think I need to say much about this. There's a fine line when it comes to using social media, I think. Be yourself. Share enough so the kids feel like they know you and can trust you. But don't overshare, y'know?

3) You need to think about whether or not you're going to follow your students in return. I choose NOT to follow my students. The main reason is that some of them post things that bother me. I tell their parents, then I let their parents deal with it. The purpose of me having a class Instagram account is not to police them, but to share educational opportunities with them. And I choose to leave it at that. What you do is up to you.

If you have any other questions about how I use Instagram, please let me know in the comments! I did see the following on Twitter and thought it applied to this post, so I'm going to share it with you as my final comment.


@fuse711 on Twitter

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lazarus, Learning, and Lazy Days

Oh dear readers,

Do I even have readers any more?! It has been nearly 11 MONTHS since I last blogged! What?? To be fair, the year started off with my mom going into the hospital, and she was in the hospital for 8 months. She was in a hospital about 45 minutes away, so adding that on top of my day-to-day life of being wife, mommy, and teacher, and there was really no free time. But... I am here now! (Shout-out to my #nctechat friends from tonight for motivating me to pick this back up!)

So, I kinda feel like I should rename my blog Lazarus since I'm trying to resurrect it. Hopefully it will be going through some *GOOD* changes in the near future (the best of which will, I hope, be more blog posts, and done regularly to boot). Alas, as happy as I am about resurrecting this blogging thang, I still can't shake the nerdynerdynerdy inside me!

In case you're wondering what's new with me, let me give you a little update. Just to remind you, I have taught 5th grade reading, ELA, and social studies for the last 6 years. This summer, I found out that I'm also teaching math for the 2014-2015 school year. I was SO NERVOUS when I found out. I haven't taught math in 6 years! And now we're using Common Core, which I know is a lot of work. (Mad props to all my math teacher friends out there!)

My biggest concern about teaching math was that I was afraid I wouldn't do a good enough job for my students. I'm pretty much a perfectionist, so this really stressed me out. However, I'm really glad that I found out while on mission trip (working with orphans and victims of sex-trafficking in Costa Rica). When you're in such a situation, you realize that all the problems *WE* think are problems really ARE NOT. It's easier to put things in perspective when you're working with people in desperate need.

So, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps (or, as I'd prefer to say, I put my big girl panties on) and decided to dive head-first into learning. I'm on my 3rd professional development book about teaching math, and now I am SO EXCITED! I can't wait to work on math with my new students. I want them to truly know that math makes sense, and that it can make sense to every single one of them! (I struggled with math in 5th grade, middle school, and 9th grade. I get the fear that some kids have with math.)

But yes, dear readers, it is summer. Some days, I am so geeked out over learning new math methods that I can't put down my PD books and paper and pencil. Then some days, I am SO LAZY! My son is almost 10 (shut up, can't believe it, say it's not so, etc.), and we have had a great time just lounging around and hanging out together. Gotta balance it all, my friends!

Well, that's about all the update I've got right now. Watching Rising Star and it is TOTALLY DISTRACTING ME! :)

Keep on keepin' on, friends!


OH, and I have redone my classroom blog... I love the way it looks! Do you blog for your students and parents?