Tag Archives: Twitter

Twitter’s problem is it’s too literary

Twitter’s second quarter earnings release last Thursday sent its stock tumbling as the market reacted poorly to the news that net user growth was flat. The stock dropped more than 16% on the news, and the lack of user growth seemed to confirm the long-running skeptics’ narrative that Twitter is doomed to join Myspace in the social-media-platform graveyard.

The argument has always been that Twitter is too arcane with its @-mentions and hashtags, and the character limit means that it’s just for people with short attention spans who want to chase celebrities. But does that argument really hold up under greater scrutiny? Snapchat, beloved by adolescents everywhere, is actually more confusing to master, and the interface is disorienting to new users. Instagram, the other fast-growing social media platform, has borrowed the hashtag and @-mention vocabulary from Twitter, and is in fact more #-ridden than Twitter.

Twitter’s lack of growth may actually be explained by a narrative that is paradoxically the opposite of the one that dominates the conversation: The platform is too full of intellectual and literary depth, despite the much maligned character limit, too appeal to the lowbrow masses.

While my Facebook feed is mostly full of memes, links to YouTube videos that I won’t follow, and uninformed political opinions from acquaintances who were never really my friends in the first place, Twitter brings me the latest thoughts of Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates), Simon Schama (@simon_schama), Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) — you know, actual writers. The platform makes it easy to follow leading intellectuals in any field, plus serious journalists whose opinions on current events aren’t nonsensical bloviating. Anyone can join in the conversation on Twitter, but unlike the walled garden of your selected friends on other platforms, your shallow and ill-informed opinions, when broadcast on Twitter, are free game for mockery and derision from the quickest-witted wags in the world, and yes, they can demolish you while using only 140 characters. The Twittersphere is a hostile place for illiterate morons. (Not that that stops them from tweeting, but you can block or filter them out, or create lists, etc.)

The pessimist in me worries that society’s anti-intellectualism does spell bad times ahead for Twitter. Their new plans to monetize the platform sound horrid and could ruin the service, so hopefully the rumors will finally prove to be true and one of the tech behemoths (Google?) will swallow Twitter and hide its lack of earnings growth inside their massive, synergistic whatnots.

Alfie Kohn on “Growth Mindset”

As I sat down to participate in #sunchat on Twitter this morning, I discovered the Connected Educator world was abuzz with reactions to Alfie Kohn’s new article for Salon, The education fad that’s hurting our kids: What you need to know about “Growth Mindset” theory — and the harmful lessons it imparts.

Kohn went after the “grit” fad last year, and now he is taking on an even more entrenched, but still recent, educational fad: Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset,” which is official doctrine in many schools (including mine). I love Kohn’s iconoclastic willingness to tackle the school orthodoxy, but I’m a little surprised that he took on the mindset devotees. I would think that he would see this as support for his intrinsic motivation focus, but he distinguishes between the two in his piece in Salon.

The common thread that unites Kohn’s take-downs of both grit and the growth mindset is his concern that the focus on these non-cognitive skills is distracting attention away from the real enemy: soul-crushingly dull classroom instruction that forces kids to sit still and march through tedious, mindless exercises and drills. He worries that teachers who are lecturing at their students each and every class, and then assigning hours of useless homework (busywork?), are using the grit and growth-mindset trends as excuses to avoid having to confront their contribution to their students’ lack of interest or engagement. It isn’t their fault that they are doing nothing to find more interesting ways to hold their students’ attention; it is the students’ fault for not having grit or for having a fixed mindset.

On a different note, Twitter is also alive this morning with tributes to Julian Bond, who just passed away at age 75. An alumnus of George School, Bond was a frequent presence on campus in the last few years, and it was a privilege to have met him. The number of GS alums who have taken to social media this morning to pay their respects is moving. We have many alums who do us proud, but none like Julian Bond.

Flying the Flag (Adaptability Project, Day 10)

Sorry for the tease: This post isn’t about the controversy over the Confederate flag or a celebration of SCOTUS’s decision regarding marriage equality. It’s about flying the flag of my tribe. On Day 10 of the Adaptability Project summer seminar, we discussed whether or not it was okay to blog about some of the details of our work; especially since part of our process is “stealthstorming.” There are good arguments on both sides of the issue, with some folks favoring stealth and some favoring transparency. In the end, I feel compelled to blog about the Adaptability Project because I am who I am: Hoist the Jolly Roger! I’m a Connected Educator!


Many Connected Edus are influenced by Dave Burgess’ book, Teach Like a Pirate.

On the first morning of the Adaptability Project’s summer seminar, I shared a chart with my colleagues that showed the structural problem with independent schools’ business model. (See this post.) The chart ended up in the presentations of both of the teams who were selected as the winners by the shark tank. Where did I first see that chart? I found it (via Twitter) on the blog of a fellow Connected Educator a few days earlier. (Tap –> Send to Pocket . . . trigger an IFTTT formula –> Send to Evernote) My fellow Connected Edus are out there sharing the best of what they know, night and day, and their knowledge and inspiration strengthens me. But it isn’t enough to take without giving. The dues you pay to be a Connected Educator are simple: You have to share, too.

Why do we do this? Why do we stay up late into the night hammering out blog posts that might be read by five people? Why do wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to participate in #satchat? Why do we get to conferences early to participate in an “unconference”? No one is paying us to do these things, and to most of our colleagues, these activities go unnoticed. What’s the point? Why bother?

Passion is the answer. Passion for our students, passion to build a better education system, passion for self-improvement, passion to use the most effective methods, passion to know what’s going on, passion for true comradery. We believe that there is strength in numbers, and when we get together to talk to each other on Twitter, we are usually trending. Is the American education system broken? If so, we’ll fix it. This isn’t a movement that’s content to sit around and accept the world as we find it. We challenge the status quo, we push for evidence, we are never satisfied. And when we see something that’s awesome, we retweet it or repost it, one thousand times if necessary.

These days I have two sets of colleagues. There are my fellow faculty members at George School, and then there is my PLN. The faculty at GS is limited to the number of people we need to run the school and educate 540 students in a residential setting. The potential pool from which to recruit one’s PLN is staggering.

Looking for a Head of School? You can’t do better than the enlightened (and argumentative) @JosieHolford. [blogs at http://www.josieholford.com/] Or check out @gregbamford or @zacklehman or, of course, @daar17.

Need to see what great teachers are up to? You better check out @Smacclintic. [blogs at http://smacclintic.edublogs.org/] Or check out the tireless @mssackstein. [blogs at http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/] Or my new PLN-pal @TrNancy13. [blogs at http://constanteaching.blogspot.com/]

Need a new dean for your Quaker school? I’m a little jealous of my FSL rival over at Westtown @lindamcguire_ . [blogs at http://www.lindamcguire.net/]

Now that I’ve gotten started on this list, I realize that I need to include about a hundred other people. All of my old #TABSchat friends, the moderators and contributors of #edtechchat, definitely the usual group at #isedchat, the deity @cybraryman1 [http://www.cybraryman.com/], @thenerdyteacher [http://www.thenerdyteacher.com/], @TheWeirdTeacher [http://hestheweirdteacher.blogspot.com/], and on and on. And you better follow The Pirate Captain @burgessdave [http://www.daveburgess.com/new/category/blog/]!

Some of these folks blog and microblog for an audience of their peers. Others are blogging for their students, or for the parents of their students. Some are blogging for an academic audience in higher ed. Some just want to get their thoughts down, and a blog beats paper because you can search it and hyperlink it. Maybe some of these folks want to be “thought leaders” or “build their brand” or whatever. That’s a fool’s errand, but if it leads to a generous sharing of ideas, I’m not going to judge. It takes a lot of fuel — emotional, intellectual, and spiritual  fuel — to get out of bed every morning and work in the field of education. The Connected Educator movement is my I.V. drip of pure passion, and when I’ve got a bag of serum to spare, I need to get that thing hooked up to help all of the other teachers and administrators out there.

The school world would be a better place if everyone got connected. Sure, there would be more noise and tedious repetition. But the good ideas rise to the top. The ideas I’ve been working on with my teammates in the Adaptability Project were fueled by the Connected Educators movement, so I feel obliged to report back to my PLN on how their influence finds expression through this work. I’m proud of what we’re doing at George School this summer, and yes, I want everyone to know about it. We should fly our flag proudly.

Coda: I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of Grant Wiggins. [His blog, now silent, is here.] I first became aware of Grant’s work at the Klingenstein Summer Institute in 2004 where he gave a day-long introduction to UbD. Then I worked with him briefly when he was hired to do some training for the faculty at The Hun School of Princeton when I worked there. Finally, when I came to George School in 2006, I discovered that Grant was a current parent, and three of his children are now GS alums. (I mentioned my proficiency with UbD in my interview when I applied to work here. I had no idea that Grant was part of the GS community at the time. I’m convinced it helped me get the job.) There are countless teachers online trying to break through the clutter and become “thought leaders.” As far as I’m concerned, Grant was one of the tiny handful who deserve that moniker. He was generous in his online interactions with scores of teachers who looked up to him, and he modeled civility in a Twittersphere that has no referees. I haven’t entirely finished processing the fact that Grant is no longer with us. His passing has left a giant hole right in the center of the educational blogging community. I don’t see how anyone is going to be able to fill that void.


How I’m using Twitter with my students

This year I’ve required my students to use two apps to assist their learning: Twitter and Evernote. It may be some time before I’m ready to report back on how our shared Evernote notebooks alter my teaching and the students’ experience, but I’ve already done a number of things with Twitter that have worked fairly well. I tried several of these activities last year when using Twitter was optional for my students, but since I threw myself over the cliff and made participation mandatory this fall, the results have been more satisfactory.

Here are some of the ways I’m employing this social network for educational purposes:

a) Plain old back channel. My students look befuddled whenever I use the term “back channel,” but they are starting to get the idea nonetheless. I’ve been using our class hashtags to encourage silent conversation; especially as students are finishing up quizzes at different rates. I can tweet out a discussion prompt to get the conversation started (e.g. “What do you think about the referendum that is happening in Scotland today?”), and as students finish their quizzes, they silently join the conversation. I want my students to take all the time they need on quizzes, but I also don’t mind the fact that they are eager to join the conversation in the back channel, so they will go ahead and hand those quizzes in rather than obsess over tiny details.

b) Exit ticket. Asking students to tweet out a summary of what they learned in class, or one take-away from the lesson, prior to leaving the room is another way I’m employing Twitter. With Tweetdeck up on the screen, students tweeting using our class hashtag create a collaborative record of what we covered. The social media element to this is a boon: parents, administrators, and colleagues all can enjoy a transparent view into what my class is doing.

c) Review sessions. I tried using the Twitter chat format to hold review sessions prior to the big departmental grammar test last spring, and it worked well. However, I only had about five participants. This year, with Twitter required for my class, I held an optional review session for my freshmen prior to our first vocabulary quiz, and I had about 20 participants. The energy was very positive, and since I held the session during our school’s evening study hall, a number of proctors got to see what was going on as it happened. The students asked me to do this again, and I certainly will, but it is a fair amount of work to set up. I prewrite review questions and print them out, then I take photos of them with my cell phone. As the chat is going on, I tweet out a new question using my phone every five or so minutes while also managing the chat from Tweetdeck on my laptop simultaneously. A lot of things can go wrong, but the two times I’ve done this, it has worked like a charm.

d) Haiku summaries. When my sophomores wrote short essay responses to a prompt concerning Antigone last week, I asked them to tweet out a summary of their essay’s argument in the form of a haiku (and with the class hashtag, too). These haiku were wonderful; in some cases one might argue that they are better than the actual essays! I love that a visitor scrolling through our class hashtag would see this wonderful, aesthetic collection of aphoristic pronouncements on the nature of tragedy.

That’s just a taste of what I’m doing this year. I continue to think about my motto: “Classroom first — Classroom everywhere” and how it guides my use of Twitter with my students. I want to use Twitter to both project my classroom outward and to bring the outside world in. I showed my students a couple of tweets from a best-selling author with whom I was Twitter-chatting (I asked him for writing advice for my students), and I want to do more to bring inspiration to them from beyond the four walls of our classroom.

Also, I need to get a school-wide #gschat on the schedule again. Note to self . . .

My (modest) goals for the year

viva la #edtech revolucion!

Monday marks the first day of my sixteenth year as a full-time teacher. At age 40, I’m thoroughly mid-career, and really, what have I got to prove anymore? In recent years I’ve set four or five goals for myself on Labor Day weekend, but I’m pretty exhausted right now, so I’ll just settle for one, modest, goal this year.

Goal: To be the most innovative teacher at George School.

Okay, okay, I was sandbagging. In truth I enter this year with more energy, enthusiasm, and optimism than ever before. The influence and inspiration of the multitude of Connected Educators keeps me from standing still. This will be a year in which my teaching evolves drastically, and I’m not planning to play it safe. How will I innovate?

  • More backchanneling. I’ve got my class hashtags posted to my LMS pages and on the wall of my classroom. I’m asking all of my students to participate via Twitter, so I’ve had to write up clear expectations and guidelines. I’m looking forward to expanding my use of this powerful tool.
  • Elephants never forget! (And they have excellent executive function.) I’m rolling out Evernote for resource-sharing to all of my students in all four sections. I’ve already created the class Notebooks and invited the students. It will be aggravating for a couple of days as students move in and out of sections, but once it all settles down, this looks like it will be easy to manage. I’m especially excited to use the shared Notebook with my AP English Language and Composition students since they’ll be reading a lot of nonfiction articles and essays in Term 2. On my iPad I can save articles I like to Pocket and then move them over to Evernote. The formatting looks great, my students will always have access to them, and we can save trees.
  • New BYOT mindset and policies. I rewrote my class policy on handheld devices. Students may assume that cellphone use in class is permitted (quizzes and tests are an exception). I’ve laminated some yellow and red warning cards to use in a new classroom management system I’ve cooked up to keep students’ use of technology on track. I mentioned my new policy to my comrades in the English department at our first meeting, and I already have a colleague who is going to join with me in this new approach.
  • I love Roland Barthes’ book S/Z (pronounced “Ess Zed”), so I’m using “L/Z” as my abbreviation for “lecture zero.” I barely lecture at all as it is, but this year I’ll replace the tiny amount of lecturing that I used to do with online video. I’m using Adobe Voice to create movies to replace shorter lectures and Doodlecast Pro to convert more complex PowerPoints into online video. The links to the videos get posted to the class LMS pages directly, so I probably won’t even need to use my YouTube channel.
  • My sophomores already have blogs due to the big Summer Blogging Project I led. Their blog URLs are posted to our class LMS page now, and they’ll have weekly blogging assignments from me all year. The freshmen will remain blog free until Term 3 (after Spring Break), but I may have them contribute posts to this blog. (Perhaps I need to add a page specifically for that purpose. Hmm.)

Obviously innovation isn’t just about technology, and I want to use the once-a-week lab periods (block periods, for non-GS readers) more creatively. I wavered back-and-forth in recent weeks about whether or not to do Twenty Percent Time with my students this year (a.k.a. Genius Hour), but I’m just not well enough versed in the movement to make it fly this year. I don’t yet know how well it works in an AP setting; external exams are a heavy onus. Instead of using 40 out of 75 minutes of class for Twenty Percent Time, I’ll try to program creative lessons that have students working on their own or in small groups to produce something that speaks to the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Creating). When I’m not tough on myself, I often revert to lesson plans that I’ve been using for years, so this year I need to force myself to generate new plans for these lab periods.

I realize that if one of my colleagues at GS is reading this post, they might say, “Hey! I’m going to be the most innovative teacher this year! Who do you think you are, anyway, punk?” And that’s fine by me. If half-a-dozen other teachers set this same goal, and I turn out to be only the seventh most innovative teacher at the school this year, that’s a win for the students. Bring it on!

Class hashtag poster on the wall of my classroom. Courtesy of Canva.

Double-sided yellow and red cards to remind students to check their cellphone use (first warning), or put it away (second warning).

Overdue round-up

Things have been so busy in the last week that I haven’t had time to put my thoughts down on my blog. Leaving out the personal stuff (my wedding is this weekend), here’s what’s been going on:

Presentation to the board: On Saturday our Associate Head of School and I gave an hour-long presentation to the board on the topic of “Trends in Education.” Our PowerPoint (yes, we used PowerPoint — sorry) was actually titled “Disruption Technology,” but that was just our internal working title. I’m not interested in summarizing the whole presentation here, but a few highlights include:

  • One member of the board referenced Thomas Friedman’s book That Used to Be Us, and I wanted to get into a tangential conversation with him about it. There wasn’t time, so I’ll make my point here. We had a slide in our presentation about the STEAM movement and how it reimagines STEM. That’s the whole reason why STEAM appeals to me: instead of focusing our education here in the US on skills that would have us competing with Asian nations in the STEM areas, it aims to continue the legacy of companies like Apple that have distinguished themselves from the crowd via innovation and great design. We should hope to continue to be the source of ideas for the world. Why do we want our kids to grow up and do the low margin stuff?
  • A highlight that was actually a lowlight occurred when I was a little too strong in my stereotyping of home-schooled kids. In truth, I respect the home-schooling movement, and I was trying in the moment to explain how it could become a more worrisome competitor for schools like ours. The State of Pennsylvania has a free online high school that is designed to be a tool for home-schooling, and although it is not yet on par with what we do (in my opinion, of course), it might be . . . soon. Our Director of Admissions helpfully corrected my comments by pointing out that we have been very welcoming to home-schooled kids who apply to attend our school. I regret that the correction was necessary!
  • The key success of the presentation is that it got the people in the room to embrace the idea that we need to be thinking about technology as we draft our next strategic plan. That was the outcome I was hoping for, but I and my co-presenter didn’t want to just write that on a slide speak it as our truth. We must have done our job correctly since the members of the board were able to reach the conclusion we hoped for without being led by the nose. I’m not surprised by their insight; they are a wise and experienced group. I am surprised that I made it through the presentation without totally embarrassing myself. 

PSA to Department Heads: Two days after the board meeting, I found myself with 30 minutes on the agenda of the Department Heads meeting. I was there to tell them about what I’m doing with blogging in my class and how the English department is planning to incorporate blogging into our summer reading assignments. I had overprepared for the board meeting, so I was underprepared for the Department Heads. Fortunately it was a friendly crowd, and I received lots of useful feedback. I was glad to hear several department heads express their support and suggest that they would pick up the ball and run with it next year. In other words, if the students come back from summer vacation with academic blogs already set up, they can see themselves and their department-mates assigning those students some blogging assignments from time to time. I wish that I had spoken far less than I did and left more room for questions and comments. There were many friends in the room trying to get a word in to show their support, and I kept doing most of the talking. If they are reading this, I apologize. 

#gsgrammar: In the midst of all of this, I held an online review session for the big freshman grammar test. The session ran from 8-9pm on Sunday night, using Twitter. I had about six active participants and something like eight lurkers (out of a freshman class of roughly 115 students). I was hoping for twenty-plus participants, so I was disappointed, but the format and all of my preparation worked well. I printed out the review questions, then took photos of them with my cell phone, and then tweeted them out at a rate of roughly one every four minutes. I ran through sixteen questions in all (eight in each of two formats), and the students who participated got a solid review experience. It was interesting that some adults who follow me on Twitter (teachers, of course) started reacting to the questions. There might be room out there for a weekly grammar quiz open to everybody, not just our students. I haven’t Storyfied the chat yet. Sorry; I’ll try to insert a link later. 

That’s all for now. Busy time. 

Sample for my students

This post is just a placeholder. I’m teaching my students some basic skills for promoting their blogs, so I’m going to demonstrate what happens when you tweet out a promotional link in real time. Then we are going to zip over to https://ifttt.com/ to look at other ways to make our blogs talk to assorted social media sites and note-taking sites. I’m not an Instagram user, but I’m guessing some of my students might like the ifttt recipes that allow them to tag an Instagram shot so that it auto-posts to their blog. I also back up my blog posts in Evernote using an ifttt recipe. Do I look at those back-up copies very often? No, I don’t. But it could be useful some day when I want to take advantage of Evernote’s excellent search function. Overall, I want my students’ blogs to be more than just something they are doing for my class. They are hopefully going to find uses across the curriculum.