Two big milestones were hit recently. First, the population of Earth hit 7 billion, more than double what it was fifty years ago. Second, the population on Facebook hit a billion users, meaning that roughly one in every six humans has a Facebook account, something that wasn’t remotely possible fifty years ago.
Social media is changing the way we communicate. By extension, it’s also changing the way we get our information and how we learn. Rather than banning social media from the classroom, many secondary schools are reaching out to students on Twitter, Facebook and a host of other services — and it’s working.
From daily questions to pertinent updates, here’s what the top schools, teachers and administrators are doing with social media.
- Piedmont High School in Piedmont, Calif. Principal Richard Kitchens (@piedmonthigh) uses Twitter to help students and teachers reach the school’s goal: “Achieve the Honorable.” This high school places a lot of emphasis on supporting students, so taking that to the digital realm makes perfect sense. Students can reach out to their principal, who moderates the stream, responds to mentions and direct messages, congratulates school teams, and posts updates about calendar events, educational tips, useful resources, and links.
- Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, Calif. This independent K-8 school’s mission, “underscored by core values of respect, responsibility and compassion, asks children to become skilled learners and ethical human beings, motivated to make a difference in the world.” Founded in 1956 by an “adventurous” group of parents and educators, Marin Country Day School is staying on the cutting edge and making learning the joyous, lifelong process it should be. Parents can follow @MarinCountryDay on Twitter for gorgeous shots of trees blooming on campus, videos of student performances (including 8th graders reading Shakespeare and 3rd graders showing off their international dance moves) and blog posts from school head Lucinda Lee Katz about respect and kindness.
- Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pa. A partnership between The Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia, the Science Leadership Academy is active on Twitter. The main account (@SLAnews) is managed by a student, and the stream is packed with posts by teachers, school news, and event and guest speaker information (with pictures). They’re even posting about the fundraiser to help one of their teachers go to Harvard for graduate school. The media group on campus has their own stream (@SLAMedia), and both are highly communicative with students, teachers, parents and anyone else reaching out.
- La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, Pa. The teachers and administrators at this independent, Catholic, college-prep high school pride themselves on staying ahead of the technology curve. A school for young men only, their goal is to “educate the whole person, developing young men in their unique talents and strengths” with a core program that balances academics, community service and athletics. Parents and students can sign up for text alerts and RSS feeds, “like” the school’s Facebook fan page, follow the school on Twitter (@LSCHS or @LaSalle_Sports — both of which live-tweet sporting events), join the school’s alumni network on LinkedIn, or watch certain events live on the school’s website with UStream. In short, this school is connected.
- New Milford High School in New Milford, N.J. The principal keeps up the Twitter feed at New Milford High School (@NMHS_Principal), which makes sense for this infamous educator, Eric Sheninger. He’s the subject of a recent article in USAToday about social media in the classroom, and he’s written a book about the same subject called “Communicating & Connecting with Social Media.” To his 20,000+ followers, he tweets articles he’s written about using the hottest new social networks, other ed-tech issues, school events and financial aid — very regularly. At the school, students are encouraged to take out their “mobile learning devices” (i.e., phones) to answer quizzes in class and participate in discussions.
- George Middle School in Portland, Ore. This middle school uses the more educationally oriented social networking tools like Wiggio, Edmodo and EduBlogs. Each one is used a little differently, and they’ve taken student engagement to a new level. “We now have two sections of technology learning social media techniques. [...] Our kids blog, text, whiteboard and tag. They post links and create videos,” says counselor Elizabeth Delmatoff. These systems are being used for accountability, too. “Our tardy or absent kids (and their parents) get texts to their cell phones and we have implemented a 1:1 online tutoring program. We have peer chat groups, peer study groups and teacher led groups. Not only do we have them, the kids love them.”
- Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, Minn. The curriculum at this high school is geared towards getting students ready for success at colleges and technical schools. Using the University of Minnesota’s DigMe (short for “digital media”) program, Roosevelt High teachers and administrators started weaving social media into the curriculum at every level. Students use social sites outside the classroom constantly, and bringing it inside the classroom has increased participation and student engagement dramatically.
- Litchfield High School in Litchfield, Minn. The goal of this school is to help each and every student become a person of good character with the skills to be a contributing member of our society, and English teacher Candace Boerema (@MrsB_N103) is using Twitter to add to those skills. She uses tweets to teach about symbolism and personal narratives, send out writing prompts and assignment reminders, and just to keep the conversation going and inspire students.
- Half Moon Bay High School in Half Moon Bay, Calif. A.P. U.S. history teacher Mike Putnam assumed that his students knew everything there was to know about using social media, but what he found was that that was only true about Facebook — Twitter was a different story. Emphasizing the role Twitter is playing in politics, revolution and the general unfolding of history, Putnam gives students daily questions and teaches them to be concise through Twitter. The program is on hiatus due to privacy and cyber-bullying concerns — built only until legal policies can be drawn up.
- Freehold High School in Western Monmouth County, N.J. With a medical science learning center, a culinary academy and a computer science academy all right on campus, Freehold High School takes their four-year program to prepare students for post-secondary studies very seriously. On campus, cell phones have been decriminalized and are now being used for Twitter, Skype and a host of other social networking tools aimed at preparing students to market themselves.
Now that it’s been accepted into our hearts, minds AND classrooms, it’s only a matter of time before social media is everywhere. It’s a bold, brave new world out there — and everyone is talking, tweeting, Facebooking, pinning and Skyping about it.