The influence and integration of social media in our lives is undeniable. It is reflected in the places we shop, the websites we visit, the items we purchase, and the ways we connect to relatives, friends, and new acquaintances–and our schools. But, the question that many educators are asking is this: how can we effectively integrate or utilize social media in our classrooms and in our academic lives?

sandiAs many of you know, before coming to MPA, I taught college academic writing and history at a variety of colleges and universities. One of my ‘go to,’ and I might add, successful, college writing assignments was the essay prompt: how has social media affected the way people communicate? Students read articles which had already begun investigating how social media affected our everyday lives, and they crafted arguments discussing the ways in which social media has profoundly affected communication between people. The discussions surrounding this assignment were thoughtful, and the essays produced forced me to think about this question in ways I had not done so before. The reason was simple: unlike me at their age, my students were living their lives through social media. They were documenting what was happening to them at that moment: getting engaged, receiving news of a scholarship, going on Spring Break with their friends, getting married, graduating, starting a new job, and even watching their kids grow up. All of these moments were being documented every day by these students as the event itself happened, sharing with family, friends, and strangers.

I became even more aware of the significance and integration of social media into our lives after coming to the Academy and teaching middle school students. Suddenly, I realized that these students, even at such a young age, had woven social media into their daily lives so intricately that they saw social media as a primary way to communicate with each other and with others in their world. This realization forced me to consider something I had never thought of before: how can I use social media in my classroom both as a teaching tool and as a way to communicate with students?

I began to think of ways I could incorporate social media and its constructs into my classroom instruction. My first year I created a Twitter board in my classroom for the 7th Grade Romeo and Juliet unit. Just as I’ve written before, I wanted to make Shakespeare relevant, fun, and exciting for students. I saw using Twitter–the 140 character limit and ‘real time’ posting–as a way for students to ‘translate’ or interpret Shakespeare’s language. As we progressed through the play, they saw that the story filled with tragic love, family pride, and bad decision making was a story that seems to play out again and again, then and now. Although written in the early 1600s, suddenly the story of Romeo and Juliet–@FreshPrinceofVerona and @Jules–were as relevant and understandable as it was during Shakespeare’s time, making the play much more accessible to Middle School age students. It was so successful that I’m recreating the experience this year for 7th Grade English.

However, it is not just in the classroom that we can connect to our students. Integrating social media into our outside classroom experiences can also provide a bridge of communication between the teacher and the student.* Using such sites as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and even SnapChat to document classroom activities, field trips, and cross curricular connections–the hallmarks of experiential learning–shows students that their teachers are seeing them and feel that this moment is significant and special. Not only does it promote a fun sense of accomplishment, but students can also remember that moment through this special type of documentation and allow them to fondly recall the learning and community experience.

The reality is that social media is not going away. In fact, it is changing every day to reflect the new globalized world around us. Today’s students–true digital natives–are utilizing social media daily, connecting with friends, learning about current events, and exploring new worlds. Constructing a space for social media in the classroom allows teachers to not only ‘speak’ the language of their students, but also promote the learning and experiences happening in their academic lives, making the case that #LearningIsFun.

You can follow me–and our Academy students–on Twitter at @SBurgessMPA and on Instagram at @sburgessmpa.

*I need to give two shout-outs to colleagues: former MPA teacher, Peter DiLalla, who as MC Lala used YouTube as a way to make history fun for his students, and Dan Peters, who uses Twitter and Instagram to communicate to the outside world about MPA and promote the learning and activities of his students.

By Sandra Burgess

Ms. Burgess teaches Middle School English.