Thursday, September 6, 2012

The #Tweet180Project

I can remember back to elementary school dinner table conversations with my parents and siblings, they even continued into middle and high school. The question was always the same, "What'd you learn at school today?" My responses evolved over time as a student and the level of detail seemed to diminish for some reason. Verbal pattern baldness, perhaps???

Now, looking back to those supper-side chats, I realize that they held a far greater function than I was able to see at the time. The question of "what did you learn in school today?" is really a motivation for a student to reflect on the day. As a teacher, I want my students thinking about my class after they leave. Reflection is something that I hope to foster in my students. But often times, students forget, just as I did at that time in my life, to stop and reflect on the school day. Thinking about what took place, what was memorable, or how the learning connected to outside life are typically low on the priority list and get overlooked. 

It was not until this past summer, when I took the modeling workshop in chemistry (at Mansfield University in PA) that I really got a contextual understanding of the power of simple reflection. I decided that I was going to blog about the workshop every day and what I learned in the workshop session that day. It was an arduous process to blog every day for me, but I adapted and eventually completed my 15-day project to chronicle the #ModChem12 experience. As I read through my blog posts, and as I chat with others who have read them, I realize that those blog posts solidified my learning in that workshop. Those blogs helped me articulate my take-aways from the workshop and realize how it all went together. It's crystal clear to me, now, how important reflection is to the learning process and to active engagement. 

As an homage to that timeless dinner table conversation starter, "What'd you learn in school today?" and motivated by my experience with daily blogging after class myself, I wanted to do a project this school year to get students reflecting on class in a digital way. I considered blogs, discussion boards, and chats; however, for a first crack at a project like this, I wanted it to be easily accessible to everyone. Two other considerations I had in developing this project included my nascent rethinking of homework (thanks @mpershan and @kellyoshea) and the 180 Photo Project by an outstanding science teacher in NYC, Frank Noschese. Frank's 180 project sought to document the entire school year in a photo-a-day reel. Thus, I give you my project for this school year--the #Tweet180Project.

This project seeks to continue those dinner conversations and have students answer the question "what'd you learn in school today?" in tweets each day. That's it. Simple objective; simple execution; simple motivation. The value of being able to answer that question, in 140 characters or less, can start a conversation, keep a conversation going, or illuminate a new conversation that needs to take place. The #Tweet180Project will encourage students to be succinct in their reflections and provide formative feedback to me in working with students in my teaching. 

The project definitely has the overarching theme of "what'd you learn in school today?"but the exact iteration of that question may differ from day to day. Each day, I will list the question for students that the will answer. They include our class hashtag in their tweet and answer the question. Pretty straight-forward, right? I hope so. And I hope that this becomes a spark for student growth in reflective thinking. 

Each day the Twitter task differs slightly, yet still keeps in theme with "what'd you learn in school today?"

On day 1, it was: tweet something memorable from class today.
On day 2, it was: tweet something unfamiliar from class today.
On day 3, it was: tweet something surprising from class today.

And so on, and so on it will go...

From time to time, I will try to aggregate example tweets along with the the task prompt and post them. At the end, I hope to have a full timeline of the school year from the student perspective. This will serve as a running record for students as well as to how their thinking progressed throughout the year. Our school has several initiatives going this year, including to get students writing as often as possible in all classes; incorporate collaboration, creativity, communication & critical thinking; make thinking visible; teach digital citizenship; and, to foster a growth mindset in students. The #Tweet180Project aims to target both the propagation of dinner-style "what'd you learn at school today?" questions as well as our building and district initiatives.

I'm really excited about the response so far to this project. Hundreds of tweets are going around each day so far, some including photos, about the topics. Igniting small conversations, questions, and good "chatter" about physics and chemistry. As time goes on, I imagine these will increase in quality and quantity. The #Tweet180Project is just one of many things I am looking forward to in my classroom this year with students.  

It's going to be the best year ever!!

**For anyone who is interested in this project idea but perhaps does not use Twitter in class with students, this project resembles what my English teacher colleagues call 'quick writes' and can be done as short journal entries in a notebook at the end of each day. To maintain the concise nature of the Twitter approach, you can even consider putting a character or word limit on their quick writes if you chose to do them in notebooks. Make sure that the prompts honor the main objective of this project--"what'd you learn in school today?" Just find a way to share those ideas aloud among students so that it can become a conversation too.


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