Meeting Students Where They Are, SCSD Teachers Use Social Media as Educational Tool

     Published on 10/5/21   Tagged under:    District News    Grant Middle School    Lincoln Middle School   

“Miss! I found you on TikTok!”
Lincoln ELA teacher Megan Himes is accustomed to being somewhat of a social media celebrity among her students after starting a teaching-exclusive TikTok account a couple of years ago.
“Initially, I made a TikTok to summarize a story because I had a student who was absent one day,” she explained. “It just caught on from there!”
With a strict policy of not accepting student requests on her private social media accounts, Ms. Himes had a clever idea: creating a TikTok account and letting her students think it was meant to be private. As students would search for her online, they’d find and follow the TikTok account, commenting to her with pride that they found her and were watching her content.
“The students are all on social media,” Ms. Himes pointed out. “Times have changed. Especially now, our kids are screen oriented. So why not use what they know and let them be the experts – I play into it. They’re the experts – but they don’t realize that by watching this content over and over, they’re learning it. It’s so important to show them we’re humans outside of the school building – they see me making a fool out of myself and they love it… they’re hooked. I’m tricking them into engaging!”
To kick off this school year, Ms. Himes had an idea one morning: she stood on her desk and sung a modified version of a popular Lizzo song:
I gave my claim: that’s the answer, you know
Two quotes from the text – evidence, there you go
I bet you thought you were done, but that’s not it
You still need your reasoning to explain it
You’re supposed to prove your point, use the text and your brain
Yeah, we get it – it’s such a pain
Claim, evidence, evidence, reasoning
CER, that’s the reason why I sing…
“I knew they’d love the song,” she said. “I actually just heard a student in the hall – who’s not my student – singing it!”
She selects content that will be recurring throughout the year in the ELA curriculum, like theme or CER, which will be covered over and over in various units.
“The students will find what I post on TikTok before a lesson, in their free time on a weekend, and come to class already talking about the content,” she explained.
The students also talk about social media itself, prompting her to use those opportunities to help students better understand the power of the platforms.
“Sometimes the students will bring up social media trends,” Ms. Himes shared. “We talk about them. But social media doesn’t have to be evil – I continuously stress professionalism. What weight it carries to post something online, and how everything can be tracked. I am clear with students that I’ll never accept student requests, nor will I check their personal feeds. I tell them that I am a teacher – I am a professional… social media is a resource. It’s all about how you choose to use that resource.”
This is a photo of three students standing behind a table balancing a camera to film calculators laying on the table.

Prompted by the Pandemic

Grant Science teacher Justin Canfield said that he started using both TikTok and Instagram as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as a way to show students hands-on experiments. The platforms were so successful in forging connections with his students that he has continued using them this year!
“First and foremost, they have been great just to build relationships with students,” Mr. Canfield explained. “When students see their teacher outside of school with family, dancing and having fun, it makes them more relatable; and in return, there is a better chance of connecting to build relationships.”

He noted that due to remote and hybrid learning last year, students have grown accustomed to being on their devices.

“I decided not to fight it but figure out a way to have kids use their phones productively,” he shared.

For their first assignment this year, students were tasked with making a video, letter, or poster showing their ideal classroom. Many students elected to make a TikTok showing how their perfect classroom would look – from lighting to seating and even discipline structures.
“I used this feedback to make my classroom as comfortable as possible for my students,” Mr. Canfield said. “Because I know what I post will show up on their social media feeds, I continue to post science information and uplifting content. Imagine if, instead of violence and negative things, their feeds were filled all day with positive and educational posts… it would be an amazing world!”
Mr. Canfield noted that he uses the social media platforms as a discussion starter, speaking with students about the idea of being a leader, rather than just “following” others and doing things because they are trending.

Changing the Stigma

Grant English as a New Language (ENL) teacher Tiffany Duquette has been using social media as a teaching tool for more than five years, having created YouTube and Instagram channels that are exclusively for her teaching.
First year Grant teacher Kendall Edwards is new to using social media as a teaching tool, but partnered with Ms. Duquette to make a song for CER writing, which they uploaded to TikTok. Then, they took it a step further: they created a schoolwide CER challenge, using #GMSCERChallenge! Students were encouraged to record a fun video (with or without filters) singing the song and showcasing their knowledge of CER writing.
“We decided on TikTok because that’s the biggest platform for kids this age,” Ms. Edwards explained. “We’ll see them doing them in class, but we want them to focus during class time. So this made sense as a way to allow them to teach us some things while still engaging with the content. I don’t have to stress that ‘C is for Claim, E is for Evidence’ anymore… they know it right away!”
“Our goal is to get students interacting with the content outside of the classroom,” Ms. Duquette added. “It helps integrate into their lives a little bit. With the challenge, we told them if they participate in it, we’d give them a free homework pass or a participation grade. Some kids created a duet with it so it looks like they’re singing with us. The awesome part of it is that now they know CER and the parts of it. In the future, they’ll know those are the parts of writing, because we’ve connected students with the curriculum in a way that they normally don’t.”
Referencing the national TikTok challenges that have been making news for the wrong reasons, Ms. Edwards said it’s important – especially as middle school teachers – that they show students how social media can be used in a positive way.

“I want to start erasing the negative stigma that comes with middle and high school students using social media,” she said. “I want to help students see the best way we can use it – we can use it as a communication tool. If your friend wasn’t in school, you can use it to show them what they missed. We can turn that stigma into something positive and I look forward to working on that this year. We’ve talked about the challenges and how as they get older, there will be consequences to having participated in them. Instead, we talk about using social media in a beneficial way. You can use it to show that you know something. It’s a positive thing to show that you’re smart!”
“We’re being role models for appropriate social media use,” Ms. Duquette added. “It can be used for more than just these viral challenges that encourage you to go against your integrity. You can make good choices.”
We appreciate all the teachers who are finding creative ways to not only engage students, but also prepare them for responsible social media usage in today’s digital world!