I read a great article last week about social constructivism, an aspect of social learning theory*. The concept says that learning is most effective when students interact with other learners, and theory proponents suggest the ability to participate in small learning groups is the strongest determinant for college success. Dr. Richard J. Light from the Harvard School of Education advocates that social constructivism is more important than an instructor’s teaching style. The article goes on to cite research and reports discussing the point that social media creates opportunities for students participate in these types of learning groups, allowing them to interact and share online.
The article was timely, and mirrored observations I made while visiting the Burlington-Edison School District last week. I popped by a sixth grade classroom at Edison Elementary and was immediately intrigued as I saw curious students taking photographs with the classroom iPads. It turns out that this classroom has an Instagram feed and students are asked to post weekly in response to a writing prompt.
I walked in to see students answering the question “What is the best part of me?” Instead of taking out a sheet of paper to write a paragraph, they were using the cameras to zoom in on their hands, feet, and hair. They used these images to create Instagram posts with insightful captions like, “With my feet, I can dance. With my feet, I can run…” Another student posted a photo of his hands with the caption, “My hands are my natural tools…”
While there will always be value in the paper and pencil method, it is impossible to miss the enthusiasm that accompanies a writing assignment that encourages cameras and online tools. Part of Light’s report discusses the fact that technology deemed “cool” can attract younger learners, and that is certainly the case in this classroom. It also gives parents an opportunity to interact with student writing by liking and commenting on student posts.
I am really fascinated with the idea of using social media in the classroom. My visit to Edison made me start to wonder what other ways we could put this into practice. This article on the website Edudemic has some great ideas, and the possibilities are seemingly endless. When done thoughtfully and carefully, there is so much potential for students with these tools.