Today, the same teachers are encouraging children to log on and get connected. Some New Jersey educators say they’re not going to beat youths’ affinity for social networks, so they might as well join them: A growing number are doling out info on Diigo, tailoring assignments to Twitter and getting student feedback from Facebook as part of the curriculum.
“The important part on our end is to realize that the horse is out of the barn” when it comes to social networking and kids, Freehold Regional High School District Superintendent Charles Sampson said. “To try to pretend otherwise would be foolish on our part.
“So, now the context becomes how do we embrace it? How do we most effectively utilize it?” Sampson said. “That’s the work.”
The district has its own Twitter account, @FRHSD. Sampson blogs on his own Web page. A handful of district teachers use Twitter as a teaching tool and their numbers are expected to rise, officials said.
District science teacher Heather Sullivan — @heasulli on Twitter — said she uses the social media platform to post assignments and help students plan, with hashtags like “#heasullibio” and “#sulliforsci.” The tags allow users to see a thread of posts about a certain topic.
Students would, in turn, update her — and each other — from home on their progress or any trouble they’d had with assignments, she said.
Language arts teachers here also have used the site — which limits posts to 140 characters — to teach students to keep writing concise and on message, Jeff Moore said. Moore is administrative supervisor for curriculum and instruction.
“Students need to learn to work together to solve problems — schools heard a lot of that in the ’80s and ’90s from businesses and the community,” Moore said. “This technology makes it so much easier for teachers to engage students. … It’s taking the school out into the real world.”
Admittedly, the technology has its pitfalls for schools. A Paterson teacher, Jennifer O’Brien, recently made headlines for writing on Facebook that she was a “warden for future criminals.” She’ll learn the fate of her job in November. A Massachusetts teacher last year was asked to resign after calling students “germ bags” on the popular social networking site.
The gaffes are one of the reasons Marlboro public schools introduced a social networking policy draft in August, district spokeswoman Sharon Witchel said.
“Sometimes people don’t take the time to review what they’ve written before they post it,” Witchel said. “And what people have communicated (on social media sites) goes out to millions of people in real time. Those things are stored forever.
“(The draft policy) is providing guidelines, telling them to be mindful, to separate their personal and professional identities,” Witchel said, “because when they’re in a professional capacity what they do, what they say may reflect not only on themselves but the district.”
Edison Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley said he worries about missteps. But he worries more about students not keeping pace with modern technology.
“I think schools are probably three to four years behind the rest of the world in how we’re communicating,” O’Malley said. “I think we need to take more of an approach of being on the forefront of visionary tools. That’s what we’re doing this year.”
The Edison school district is the first K-12 system in the nation to have its own mobile application, according to O’Malley. The Blackboard Mobile Central platform was launched here this year in a partnership with Blackboard Inc. The app, he said, will provide students, parents and others in the community with school news, events and more via mobile devices.
Students learned their new homerooms this year on the district’s new Facebook page; the district also is launching its first Twitter account this year, O’Malley said.
“I can see the future being posting their homework or videos helping students with long-term assignments,” he said. “The potential is just enormous.”
Rene Rovtar, superintendent of Long Hill Township schools in Morris County, said her district will train teachers to live-blog for students this year. She said she anticipates about 20 to 25 teachers will blog for about 475 students in the fifth through eighth grades.
If a class is reading a particular novel, a teacher may blog about characters or plot lines, she said. Students may comment on the posts to supplement classroom discussions, Rovtar said.
“It’s just part of us trying to integrate technology into instruction a little bit more; it’s the wave of the future,” Rovtar said. “We’re trying to give them the skills they need as they move past elementary school. It’s a way for us to deal with learning and academic subjects in a medium they’re totally familiar with.”