To say that today’s adolescents have a fascination with social media and communication might be an understatement. According to webwisekids.org, 73% of teens have a social media account. Once they go on a social media site, the website found that students do the following:
        86% of social network-using teens comment on a friend’s wall
        83% comment on friends’ pictures
        66% send private messages to friends
        58% send IM or text messages using the site
        52% send group messages
Instead of focusing on the problems that these statistics create, I would rather look at the opportunity that they present and how we as educators are beginning to capitalize on them. Our students enjoy the level of interaction that social media sites such as Facebook provide them and willingly engage with each other on them. How then can a school harness these tools to enhance student learning?
Back when I was teaching Rabbinics at Krieger Schechter, I created an assignment where the students were interacting via Pinterest (You can read about that experiment here and here). The potential was there to engage students at a deeper and more meaningful level through a format they wanted to use. For me, this was just an initial foray and I knew that more could be done.
 
While we have primarily used Moodlethis year as a tool for posting assignments, it has the potential to do so much more. 10th grade Tanakh teachers Becky Friedman-Charry and Esther Dubow have created a series of online forums in Moodle where 10th grade students in both sections of the course are extending their classroom conversations about various psalms. In a traditional classroom discussion only a limited number of voices are heard.  In the online discussion each student has the opportunity to share and be heard. Students are encouraged to post regularly and to read and comment on each other’s thoughts. Take a look at just a few of the postings about Psalm 13.

 

Student engagement in these discussion forums goes beyond their desire to be successful in a graded course.  They’re connecting to each other and they’re connecting to our Jewish tradition.
Social Studies teacher Kelly Delaire is similarly reaching out to her students through social media. As previously reported in Paw Print Now, Ms. Delaire realized that if she wanted her students to be more in touch with current events, she had to reach out to them where they were. On this Facebook page, news articles and essays are being posted that are relevant to her students’ studies and extending the learning outside of the classroom.
Each of these projects is an incredible way to make learning more meaningful and engaging. The assignments and information is interesting and allows the students to interact in a forum that they are comfortable with. They demonstrate our willingness to embrace a trend towards blended learning that combines online and traditional classroom interaction. But, perhaps, most importantly, they create opportunities for students to learn and model the online behaviors that we want them to present as they boldly venture out onto the Internet.

 

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