Chief Instagram Officers

InstagramLast year I wanted to involve my students in sharing the learning taking place in my classroom. I decided to try this by creating a rotating “executive office” I dubbed the Chief Tweeting Officer (CTO) for each class. After recognizing (and giving in to) the growing popularity of Instagram, I decided to add another executive office this year, our Chief Instagram Officer (CIO). (So you know, I also have a Chief Operating Officer (COO), a Chief Distributions Officer (CDO), and a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) on my rotating executive staff. I serve as the CEO.)

Our class Surface tablet is still designated for use by our CTO. Instead of having both social media executives share the tablet, the Chief Instagram Officer uses my iPad 2. I wasn’t completely comfortable with this idea at first. I use my iPad quite a bit, and it syncs with all my email accounts, my Evernote, my Google Drive, and all my personal social media accounts. I love and trust my students, but I’m not sure I want them to have that much access to my information.

My solution to this problem is to lock the iPad to just the Instagram app using Guided Access. I love the way the Guided Access works because I can “gray out” any area on the app that I don’t want students to use. So far it is working pretty well. I introduced the role by talking about the need to share our story of learning over the course of the year. We discussed how pictures help tell stories and what types of things we could capture and share about our learning. We also discussed the things we shouldn’t share and talked about the need to represent ourselves, our class, and our school honestly and respectfully. I’m sure we’ll continue those discussions all year. You can check out the stream here.

I’m not sure if there are other middle-level classes using Instagram, but I’m hoping we’ll find a few to connect with and follow. I’m interested to see how the role will develop as the year goes and see what my students decide to share. I’m already finding it interesting and informative to see the pictures the boys capture and to read the captions they write. I’m learning much about their perspectives.

Here are a few of my favorite images so far:


One logistical thing I changed from last year is that my officers serve for a full week at a time this year instead of changing daily. This gives the students more time to grow comfortable in the role and to become more adept at using the tool to share our learning.

So what do you think? What questions or feedback do you have about the idea? I’d love to read your thoughts. If you are an educator, we’d love to connect with you or your class. You can find us sharing online here or here.

4 Tips for Getting Started with Social Media in Class

social media in classOver this past week I’ve been asked a couple of times about my experiences using social media in class. The fact is social media is already part of our students’ daily lives. The are active in various digital spaces. While the media focuses mainly on the potential negatives of kids sharing online, there are many positive aspects to social media. It’s a fun way to find and stay connected with friends, but it’s also a way for us to learn new things, show our creativity, voice our opinions, and collaborate with others.

Many of my sixth graders already have Twitter and Instagram accounts. I know that some are on Tumblr, Facebook, and Google+, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn some are using Vine, Snapchat, Kik Messenger, WhatsApp, or Whisper. There are so many social apps and websites it’s impossible to keep up, and new ones are developing all the time. It’s not important that you or your students master a particular tool because the apps will come and go. What matters is the deeper thinking, learning, and connecting that social media affords and the dispositions it helps us develop.

Here are four suggestions to help you get started using social media in the classroom:

  1. Teach and model good citizenship. Don’t differentiate between how one acts in person and how he acts online. The same guidance should apply. Teach students how to use social media in all the positive ways. Model these things through your own use of social media and talk about it with your students. Show them how you learn through Twitter, how you express your creativity on Instagram or YouTube, how you express your opinions through blogging, and how you collaborate with others through Voxer. Most importantly, help them see how you show thoughtfulness and kindness in what you post. Set up guidelines, practice sharing, and offer grace as they make mistakes along the way. A great resource that might help as get started is Common Sense Media’s Social Media Topic Center.
  2. Connect with other teachers and classrooms. There are many ways you can do this effectively. In the past few years, we’ve connected with other classes on Edmodo during the Global Read Aloud. We’ve also Skyped with other classes to help with research projects and to learn about schools in other countries. This year, I’m considering Quadblogging to help my students develop an audience for their blogs and better connect with other students around the world.
  3. Share what’s happening in your classroom. Create a Chief Tweeting Officer role in your classroom so different students tweet the learning that happens each day. Your CTO could tweet several times throughout the class period, share a creative headline to summarize important learning, or pose questions to followers to draw in outside opinions. One idea I may try this year is adding a Chief Instagram Officer role to my class. Maybe we’ll share a photo-of-the-day complete with a caption to express our thinking and learning.
  4. Consider and talk about safety and privacy concerns. Obviously, not everything needs to be shared online. Students need to know the dangers in location-sharing apps. Talk about privacy concerns with your students. One reason I like using class accounts is that my students aren’t sharing their personal information. We identify ourselves in our posts using only initials or first names, and we always get permission before posting a photo of someone else. People have the right to not use social media if they choose and that’s okay. When I a student doesn’t want to use social media, I engage them in a conversation to learn their thoughts on the matter. Why do they want to opt out? Then, we decide together how to move on from there.

Using social media can be a positive addition to our classrooms, but it can also become a distraction if we aren’t careful. Remind students the primary goal is to deepen and share our learning. The tools shouldn’t get in the way of that. If they do, it’s time to reconsider what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.

What tips do you have for using social media in class? What resources have you found useful? What new mediums are you planning to try this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Chief Tweeting Officers

twitter in classI’m trying something new this year using Twitter in class. I’ve designated a Chief Tweeting Officer (CTO) role in my 6th grade reading class. I created a class Twitter account, @MrCsClass, a couple of years ago, but I never really did much with it. Occasionally, I used it to share things my students were learning and doing in class, but it was always from my perspective and I used it very inconsistently. I want this year to be different. I want my students to have a greater voice and I want us to share regularly. I hope our rotating CTO job will help us down that road.

Our school has a dedicated hashtag #PDSmem, and in my room have a dedicated Twitter device, too. While at ISTE 2013 this summer I received a free Surface tablet that I wanted to integrate into our learning environment. Using the Surface allows me administrative control, but gives the students the easy access they need. So far, I’m liking the way that it’s working for us.

When introducing my classes to Twitter, I gave the students a handout at the beginning of class to use for Practice Tweets (PDF). (Let me know if you’d prefer a Word document.) We talked about what kinds of things people might want to know about our learning and how we might use Twitter to connect with learners around the world. We discussed including images, hashtags, and links and the importance of adding value to others with what we share. The students had to write two or three tweets during class time while we went about our other class activities.  The handout had to be submitted back at the end of class as a “ticket out the door.” Here’s the handout I created (each space represents a character):

twitter in class

(Next time, I might have students send their tweets through a Google form, but for this first exercise I wanted them to use the hashed lines to see the number of characters available.)

I took my class rosters and have assigned students different days where they will serve as our CTO (Chief Tweeting Officer). When the CTO enters the room, he picks up the Surface tablet so he can tweet a few times during the class period. We’ve only been at it a few days, but the boys have done a good job so far. Here is a sample of some of their tweets

As I said, it’s a good start. Hopefully, as the semester goes we’ll be able to connect with some other learners and other classes. We’d love to make some global connections and develop some friendships around the world as we go.

Do your students use Twitter in class? We’d love to hear how they use it. We’d also love to connect with other middle school classes. Consider following us at We’d love to hear from you.

The Threads That Run Through: Making Connections

making connections texts human experienceAn important skill readers use to comprehend a text is to make personal connections to it by accessing their own background knowledge. We link what we are reading to what we already know by making text-to-self, text-to-text (text-to-media), and text-to-world connections.  As I design my 6th grade reading class, I want my students to connect not only to the books we read but also to other people and their experiences. I want them to recognize that reading and writing help us develop empathy for others. Reading and writing deepen our understanding of experiences we might not personally have. When we read and write, we are not only making connections with the text but also making connections to people’s experiences.

To help my students connect with the texts and with the lives of people from different backgrounds I have selected books from around the world that address global issues. We begin making these connections when the boys read the assigned summer text: Andrea Warren’s Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. Surviving Hitler tells the true story of Jack Mandelbaum, a 12-year-old boy taken prisoner during the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.  The story serves as an excellent introduction to the Holocaust and the boys really connect with Jack. The book ties in nicely with the theme of conflict studied in our sixth grade social studies classes.

In the first trimester of the school year, the boys read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars in small group with Mrs. Parker and Anne Holm’s I Am David in small group with me. The characters in these books are easily accessible to 6th graders and the boys make connections with many of the experiences in the stories. After reading each book the boys complete a project where they make stronger, personal connections with the book.  In my class we focus on making strong text-to-self connections while reading I Am David, and our work culminates in an “I Am” project where the boys create a 3-D metaphorical monument that represents their connections to the experiences of David.

For the second trimester all the boys return to my room for core group reading. (Alice teaches small group reading with fifth grade.) We focus our study on human rights reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis and making connections to the South African apartheid novel Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo. With these books we focus on making strong text-to-text connections between, and the boys show an understanding of how global the problems of racism and discrimination are. My students are privileged people, but I’m impressed with how deeply they connect to the struggles of the characters in our books. They also have a strong sense of justice and develop feelings of empathy for those facing injustice. Their compassion is inspiring. Currently, the boys are designing their own project-based learning as they move from connecting with someone’s experience to taking action to help that person in need.

During the last trimester my students will have more choice over what they read and how they approach each book. I have selected several works I think the guys will enjoy including: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Nothing But the Truth by Avi, Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen, and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. (I’m considering adding a few others so please let me know if you have suggestions.) After I introduce each book, the boys will select which book they want to read and organize a “book club” that they will plan and lead. I’ll occasionally sit in on face-to-face book club meetings as a visitor, but also I’ll primarily keep up with their discussions through the Livescribe pencasts they’ll share in Edmodo as they go. A primary goal of their book club discussions will be making text-to-world connections as they read and discuss the novels.

The class design helps students connect to the experiences of others. However, the course needs further development in actually connecting with people beyond our classroom. In the future, I want to use Skype, the Global Read Aloud, and blogging as ways to connect with people around the world. Instead of reading about apartheid-era South Africa, I’d like my students to connect with South Africans living in and striving to overcome the prolonged effects of apartheid. My hope is that someday my students will not only be making connections to our books, but they’ll be making life-changing connections with others.

What’s your opinion on these ideas? What are some more ways that I can help my students better connect with others and better understand the human experience?

This is the third post in a series of reflections on the throughlines for my 6th grade reading class. If interested, you might want to read the overview or my post on thoughtfulness.