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3 Friendly Reminders for Teachers With Social Media

As the school year begins, teachers start fresh. New ideas, new plans, new room layouts. While the new year prep work is completed, teachers shouldn’t forget to double check their social media accounts.

From Facebook to Instagram, Snapchat to Twitter social media has found its way into our lives. Not everyone is on social media, but those who are, especially teachers, should remember to keep these points in mind:

  1. Privacy– It’s always good to do a privacy check every now and then for all of your social media accounts. Check to see what things are shared publicly, and how easy it is to find you. Some teachers opt to use different parts of their name instead of their true last name. This is really up to the individual’s tastes and desires. However, do keep in mind that no matter how locked down you think your account is, it is not private. Those party pictures, drinking, or somewhat inappropriate posts can easily be used against your with screenshots by any of your friends or family, no matter how unlikely you think it is to happen.
  2. Friend Requests– As the year begins and things begin to settle into a routine, you may find yourself receiving friend requests from students and parents. Student requests should never be accepted. Some teachers opt to tell the student that they may send a friend request the day after their graduation from high school, while others do not want to friend students at all, even beyond high school. Parent requests are a tricky beast because while you may get along with the parent at the time, there’s always the chance of fallout. It’s better to be safe than sorry and refuse parent requests. I usually message students and parents who try to friend me to let them know my thoughts, and then I leave them in friend request limbo. Leaving them in limbo means they are always showing on your friend requests page, BUT they can never send a second friend request as long as they still have one pending.
  3. Content– Content brings our social media to life, but it can also be used against us at any time. No matter how locked down you think your account is, it’s not going to keep your content absolutely private. If you’re sharing drinking photos, party images, or anything that might come across as possibly offensive to someone, be cautious. The rule of thumb I usually tell others is that if it’s not something you’d want to share with a respected older person or religious figure, then it’s probably not something you want on your feed. Even if your account is locked to a certain group, always consider everything you post as having the potential to be very public.

If you keep these three things in mind, then you’ll find your life on social media much easier. Of course, you can avoid social media all together, but then you leave yourself open to other issues. That’s a story for another time!

Social Media & Feedback

The school year is winding down here in Fluvanna County. Our students only have a 1/2 day to attend tomorrow, and they are out for the summer. Staff have 3 days next week, and I have more beyond that. My mind is wrapping things up for this year, and beginning to make plans for next year. I have received my contract for next year, and am happy to be returning to the district. I have plans to improve on what I’ve done, and am working with leaders in the school board office to try and make some of it happen.

As many of you know, social media was a focus of mine this year. In fact, I’m going to be presenting on it at the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. I believe that social media branding is very important for schools to take part in, and that more schools need to tell their stories. Alas, not everyone feels as though it is a necessary task when added to the other bits and pieces of work for school, but it does pay off and parents do take notice.

Because I am presenting, and because I want to make improvements next year, I needed to turn to our main viewership base- families of the students. I needed to get their feedback on their thoughts about social media, and I needed it to be honest so that improvements could be made. I know our first year really pushing it didn’t go well in some areas, while it excelled in others. Reading over the responses so far, I see many parents who agree with the observations that I have made.

However, first years never go as planned, and are usually meant to be ways to work out the kinks and problems for the next year. If professional development is my main passion, then school social media branding is my second one.

When it came time to develop my survey for parent feedback, I considered the following:

  • It needed to be anonymous
  • There needed to be a separate survey link for each school
  • It needed to be quick and easy
  • It needed to ask the few burning questions on school media

The anonymous part is pretty obvious, but I stated it anyway. The reason a separate link was needed for each school was so that parents with students in multiple schools could separate their comments based on the school’s page, and give feedback regarding both schools if they wished. Quick and easy was a point because no one wants to spend forever doing a survey on anything. Rating scales were key to making it quick. Finally, it needed to ask my target questions and get written feedback from parents. That way I might gather some specific topics or points to address when preparing for the next year.

Here are the questions that were decided on for each survey:

  1. Think back over the school year. What types of posts do you recall seeing on [School]’s Facebook page?
  2. How often do you feel [School] utilized their Facebook page?
  3. How satisfied are you with the frequency that [School] posted to their Facebook page?
  4. How did adding school stories, identified with #flucostories on the Facebook page, impact your overall view of the school?
  5. How satisfied are you with the frequency that #flucostories appeared on the Facebook page?
  6. How satisfied are you with the types of #flucostories that appeared on the Facebook page? (clubs, classroom activities, sports, events, etc.)
  7. Please provide any suggestions you have to help [School] improve the Facebook page for next school year.

With the exception of Question 7, all questions were based on a 1-5 rating scale, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best. The survey was designed in Google Forms, and handed off to each school. If your school uses social media and wants to get feedback from families, feel free to borrow the questions I’ve listed above.

I am looking forward to analyzing the data and determining the weakest areas for each school. I am also looking forward to (hopefully!) developing a more uniform plan for the district, instead of going on a school by school basis.

Mindset Switch: Schools & Branding

Social media has brought many positives and negatives to the face of education. However, today we’re going to focus on just one: branding. When you think of branding, you often think of a business. A business uses their brand to sell a product. They make money, and in turn, continue to build their brand in hopes of selling more products. Social media has made branding easier than ever in terms of reaching many people in one fell swoop. Whether Facebook, Twitter, or something else, various platforms exist to help brands make their image memorable and trustworthy. Gone are the days of buying a product only based on the advertisements alone. What kind of company does the business promote itself to be? How does the business assist communities? How does it interact on social media? How does it use social media to combat negativity about the brand itself?

Branding doesn’t apply only to businesses anymore. It can also be applied to schools. It seems odd at first, as schools aren’t looking to sell any kind of product. If the school is in any kind of business, it’s the business of educating future generations. So why brand a school? Many reasons, actually. Branding schools and social media make something possible that wasn’t before. Social media branding can transform how the community and other stakeholders view the school, for better or for worse.

Stop a minute and think: How do those in the community view your school? What stories are shared by others about your school on social media currently. How do both of these affect the culture of your school.

Now think about the barriers that can stand in the way of branding your school:

“I don’t have time to do just one more thing.”

“It’s just one more thing for my teachers.”

“We already share announcements. Why do more?”

“It doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

“Nothing bad has happened at our school.”

“We have good test scores. What more do they want?”

There are probably other barriers that are rolling about in your head right about now. Choosing to believe these barriers and not do anything about them places the school within a fixed mindset- just because social media is around doesn’t mean it affects my school. Oh, but it does, just as these barriers do.

The barrier of not enough time is common no matter what the topic or task is. The truth is, when something truly matters to us, we make time for it. We find a way to fit it into our schedule and make it work. School branding is no different. There will be time spent up front learning to use social media tools to share school information, but once it’s learned, the task flows more smoothly. If the administration has this mindset, they can help spread it to the teachers as well.

If your school is already using social media to share announcements, that’s great! You’re off to good start. Getting digital versions of school announcements to families is one way to share information. However, is that the only thing your school wants to be known for in their story? Announcements are a necessary part of school, but they don’t have to be the only thing, especially if you still implement paper versions of announcements. All you’ve done is take the offline skill and make it an online one.

Let’s combine the next two barriers- It doesn’t make that much of a difference and Nothing bad has happened at our school. The latter is a dangerous thought to have about anything. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. And when it does, it’s when it’s least expected. Once a negative event hits, then anyone will be looking to find out the dirt on your school, and chances are, they aren’t looking for positive stories. If the only stories about your school available online are negative, then there’s a good chance that reporters, community members, and other stakeholders will stack those against you. Posting positive stories about your school does make a difference, especially in this case. These positive stories can help to combat the negativity currently facing your school.

And that brings us to the final barrier- We have good test scores. What more do they want? If a test score doesn’t define a student, then why should it define a school? Schools are doing activities and hosting events all of the time. The only problem is that often others in the school don’t even know these things are going on! If you, as a teacher, put in the time and effort to organize, coordinate, and execute the activity, shouldn’t you want to share it with others to showcase that hard work? Indeed we should, and it’s our families and community members that would love to see the school and teachers brag on the things students have the opportunities to participate in. In many cases, these activities set the school apart from similar ones in surrounding districts.

In order for a school or district to begin sharing their story on social media, the above barriers need to be taken for what they really are- excuses. Gone are the days of trying to escape up and coming social media, disregarding those who are into it and shunning platforms. Gone are the days of only sending home weekly or monthly newsletters to families. Why not meet them where they already are? Why not tell your school’s story? If you don’t, someone else will, and chances are, it won’t be positive.

My First Edcamp Experience

Early this morning I made the short trek to Yorktown, VA for EdcampEVA (Eastern Virginia). I had been looking forward to this event since early February. Edcamps are something I had been told to attend, that I would love them, and find them a great place to be. My buddy Derek Oldfield is an experienced veteran, so he always kept encouraging me to attend. EdcampEVA was the first edcamp that wasn’t too far from me and it was on a date that I was available. I signed up and bought the t-shirt, too. (Because, really, what better way to commemorate my first edcamp?)

Having heard such great things about edcamps, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Since edcamps are organized by different groups, I figured that every edcamp had its own unique flavor infused into the model that all edcamps used. After today, I’m pretty sure that is a sound theory.

If you haven’t heard of edcamps, imagine this: a place where passionate educators join together on a weekend to learn from each other. Upon arrival and check-in, the schedule is still blank; as an attendee you’ll help make the schedule for the day. There are no set presenters for each session that does end up on the final board; instead, groups of people get together to talk and discuss and ask questions. Once you’re in a session, if you don’t like it, or are trying hit multiple sessions in one time slot, you’re encouraged to use the Two Feet Rule- don’t like it or feel like you’re not getting something out of the session, then use your feet and go somewhere else.

After I checked in this morning, I chose a random open table, and settled in to complete my tasks. Well, wait. First I needed a bathroom break and had to change into the new edcamp shirt I’d received. Then I began filling out my post-it note ideas for the session board and putting my name on my tickets to enter drawings for great prizes from edcampEVA’s sponsors. There was some pretty cool sticker swag on the table, and in my folder I’d received I found a 60 gold trial for Nearpod and a license for Chromville. I added some sticker swag to my folder. During that time I gained 3 new tablemates and we got to know each other and ate breakfast.

During this time, announcements were made, and the schedule was created for the day. After all of the sessions were posted, I knew I wanted to go to the following sessions: social media, technology integration, professional development, and Minecraft/Sphero. We were dismissed and off our two feet took us to Session 1.

Session 1 was Social Media for me, so it was a chance to see what other schools were doing with social media, and share things my schools had been doing as well. Not only did we talk about becoming connected educators, but we also talked about school social media- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo. Someone also brought up social media releases for students, so we focused on that for a bit as well. Before I knew it, an announcement was being made that session 1 was over, and that it was time for session 2.

Session 2 was Technology Integration. We were seated within a circle, and folks took turns sharing some tools that they had found helpful in their classrooms. We had some folks that didn’t have very much technology in their classrooms, and I realized that Fluvanna County is very lucky to have the Chromebook carts that we do, even though most teachers share a cart between 2 or 3 teachers… the teachers that I learned from today were lucky to have a few carts to share in their entire school. Most of the tools I was already familiar with, but a new one I learned about was Dotsmashing. I plan to explore this more and do a write up on it in the future because it seems like a great addition to the tools I already use. I was honestly surprised I had never heard of it before today.

In no time at all session 2 was over and it was time for lunch. I ended up returning to my same table as in the morning, and my tablemates also joined us. Lunch for us was from Texas Roadhouse and Domino’s. They gave away some prizes as well and reminded us about the afternoon sessions, and the Smackdown/Prize giveaway. Then it was off to the races once again!

Session 3 was professional development. We had a mix of people in our session from teachers to those who give PD to teachers. I did learn that there are districts that don’t seem to require their ITRTs, or whatever they label them. Other districts also have trouble getting PD opportunities approved, or they use systems to receive their certification points, and the system rejects it. Some were interested in what I did in my district to give PD, but we all seemed to agree that outside of technology giving PD, there often were very little opportunities provided in district for PD in specific areas. It was definitely thought provoking to hear input from the other side.

Finally session 4 was up. This one was a combined session on Sphero and Minecraft. Some teachers had brought their Sphero and talked about ways that they used it in their classroom, and some others chimed in. Then we moved on to Minecraft. I ended up speaking more than I wanted to because most people were there because they didn’t know how to use it in the classroom, or much about it beyond what they’ve seen of their kids playing it. I ended up being the one to take the notes for the session so I tried to add in some helpful pointers to at least help teachers get pointed in the right direction.

The last event of the afternoon was the Smackdown, where participants shared some of the best things they learned. After that, there was the prize giveaway. Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything, but that’s all right! Two of my tablemates did though and they both won things they had really wanted.

Overall, I enjoyed my first edcamp immensely, and I would definitely go again. There are 2 in VA that are over a 2 hour drive away coming up next month, and I’m not sure if I want to do a drive that far for a 1 day event. I may or may not choose to attend one of them. If not, I’ll keep an eye out for future camps nearby. If you’re interested in seeing if there’s an edcamp coming up near you, check out this link. It lists all of the official edcamps and links to their webpages.

Presentation Reflection: Social Media and Student Voices

 

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Today the last of the students gave their presentations on their solutions to involving student voices in social media. They’ve been working on this project for awhile, and they ended up with many different solutions, though some ideas tended to overlap with each other. We were able to get a few audience members to join us as well- an administrator from the high school, a school board member, and the superintendent as well. We made sure the students had a genuine audience available during presentations. Presentations occurred over two days, and students chose their date and time.

Each presentation took between 5 and 10 minutes, with students and other audience members asking questions at the end of each one. Presenters were asked to dress professionally during their presentation, and this was definitely noticed by the audience members, who complimented them on this effort. Mr. McCauley and I had made sure that the students had a realistic presentation, as though they were presenting to a marketing firm. With the exception of one student, every presenter wore professional dress. We did assist any student with this requirement as long as they let us know in advance that they did not have an outfit that met the requirements.

The first day of presentations, we had Mr. Lee, our administrator, and Mrs. Johnson, our school board member, watching the students who presented. Both were familiar faces to the students, and some of them were former students of Johnson’s. On the second and final day, Mrs. Keller, our superintendent, joined us for presentations, tweeting out about each one as the students finished. All audience members complimented the students on their hard work, and seemed to be pleased with the information given.

Having viewed and graded each presentation, I can say that I saw many doable ideas. I think the best option that was presented (that met the needs of the entire student body) was one that formed a “Student Voices” club. The club members would take on the task of using Twitter to share information relevant to and by students. She chose to use Twitter as her medium, and, in order to combat moderation, looked into using a program called GroupTweet to keep negative posts from appearing online in the school feed. Because it would be a club, new members would be gathered each year, and trained by the older members on how to run the club. One teacher or other staff member would be needed as an advisor/moderator.

Another useful idea was geared to athletics. Though our school already has many clubs/groups on Facebook and Twitter, one just for athletics is severely lacking. This particular student plays football, and came up with ways to make sure scores for a variety of sports are posted via Twitter and Facebook feeds. What I enjoyed so much about this particular presentation was that the student took the problem and discovered how it was relevant to his own life and interests.

Some other good points made by students:

  • Showcase a Twitter feed in the cafeteria area
  • Send direct messages to the social media accounts to have something added and shared.
  • Vet the students running the sites based on teachers, applications, etc.
  • Add in social media projects as part of an elective course, like marketing

I really enjoyed seeing what the students came up with in the end. I think we definitely could work with them some more on mock presentations and presentation skills. We did give them tips, but just because they were written out doesn’t mean that students read/followed them. It might be good to practice the tips a few times before the actual presentation. Giving students the chance to do a mock presentation to get feedback and suggestions from classmates was a great idea. Those that mock presented took the feedback to heart and made changes before their final presentation. Part of me wishes that the mock presentations had been mandatory, but only because could have helped more students be successful.

Overall, I was very impressed. I will soon do a recap of the project as a whole. And yes, I’m still aware that I haven’t finished my VSTE updates!

#IMMOOC: What If?

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Recently I described my Fluco Game Designers club to someone else. I can’t recall if I mentioned if it was a club at the time or not. I was then thrown this question: How does it tie to the SOLs? (aka, Virginia’s standards of learning). I sort of bristled at this, but then realized I couldn’t recall if I mentioned it was an after school program, rather than something during the day.

I answered honestly. Fluco Game Designers is an after school club meant to help students learn about the video game design industry. While the beginning focuses on getting the basics down, the time after that will focus on imagining, designing, and creating. Yes, I am sure I could easily tie ELA standards to it, as there is reflective writing, feedback, and storytelling. However, I’m more focused on showing and letting students discover how those things apply to the video game industry. I want them to see the real world application.

I have quickly learned that SOLs are a huge target in Virginia. Part of me is glad I am not teaching in a classroom because I don’t think I could handle the constant assessment that goes on through testing. I don’t like it, and I’m sure I wouldn’t like my job much if I had to do that. I’m used to being able to do all types of assessments, not just pencil and paper or computer tests. I digress though.

The list of What Ifs in Chapter 7 of The Innovator’s Mindset got me thinking about all kinds of possibilities. However, the one that struck the biggest chord with me was What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners,” as opposed to students being the only learners? I am only in my 8th year in education, yet no matter where I’ve ended up, I’ve always found small pockets of educators who want to learn more outside of what the school day entails. It doesn’t matter if that’s book study, professional development, Twitter edchats, or personal research.

What if…. instead of a handful of people attending voluntary PD, the room was packed full?

What if… teachers shared the educational books they’ve read or found helpful?

What if… teachers attended a session run by students to learn something new?

I love when I can find educators who are eager to talk and share and discuss. I love edchats for this reason, though typically can only find time to participate in one per week. I love doing the #IMMOOC book study. What makes it fun though is finding others to talk to and share in the study, whether through blogs or the Facebook group or even Twitter. In fact, I’d love to see more book study groups like this one for other books.

It seems like it’s time for educators to show and model to the students that we are learners too, that we never get too old to learn something, and that we *gasp* fail and make mistakes. We are not invincible and we are not perfect. We are all human, and we all struggle from time to time. It’s only natural. A teacher does not have to stay on the pedestal to earn a student’s respect and admiration. There are other ways to do so, and it all starts with being a lifelong learner.

Fluco Game Designers

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In my new district, I was asked to start a STEM club of some kind at the middle school back when I interviewed and was hired. I was happy to do this, as I did want to try something new. I eventually decided on game design after having taken the Coding, App, and Game Design I training earlier in the summer. The training was meant to be used at the high school level, but I figured I could easily rework some of it to be used at the middle school level.

It took me some time to come up with my ideas on how to proceed. Unlike with previous clubs, I wanted a neat timeline of events for working with the students. I decided to use 3 different tools- Gamestar Mechanic, Minecraft, and Construct 2. I also want to have students review different games based on gameplay. I wanted there to be an end goal for the year for students as well, so I’m going to have each of them participate in the STEM National Video Game Design Challenge. I believe this will be a good way for them to put their skills to the test.

The basic idea is that students will learn gameplay mechanics by using Gamestar.

After some back and forth with the principal where we worked out details on dates and meetings, forms got sent home with student progress reports. This was probably not the best of ideas, even though it did expose the club to everyone. I ended up becoming more popular than I could have imagined.

Within the next few days, I had over 40 responses. I had to cap the numbers on the club, and in the end I ended up with 66 students. I have to split the group into two groups so that they meet every other week. I also needed volunteers, and so have ended up with 3 potential parent volunteers. Great, I was off to a good start.

Some time passed and I had to set aside my planning for a little bit due to other obligations. The week of the first meeting I began doing my final preparation. I focused on Gamestar and used their resources and lessons to design my own. I knew I needed to be prepared with so large of a group. I also began setting up Google Classroom for my group as well. I knew it would be a big help in getting information to the students. Finally, I set up the Facebook page and Twitter account for our club.

Thursday, October 6 was our first meeting. In the end I had 55 of 66 students show up. We worked in the library. Two parent volunteers showed up as well and they were a huge help in getting materials to students, as well as helping me observe and keep them on track. I could not have done it without them.

For our first meeting, we got things set up. Students completed a game designer profile I had created, and then they joined the Google Classroom and Gamestar Mechanic. We completed the first lesson on the parts of a game and they also completed episodes 1 and 2 of the first quest. We then played a match game based on the parts of a game before wrapping up and dismissing the students.

Overall I was really pleased, and so were the remarks I heard from parents as well. We’re going to meet as a whole group until behaviors keep us from doing the planned materials. They did well so far, so until something keeps us from accomplishing our goals, we’ll keep meeting in a large group.

Looking forward to the next meeting!