Published Online: March 13, 2012
Published in Print: March 14, 2012, as Twitter Evolves as Tool for Little Ones to Tweet About School Activities

First Graders Read, Write, and Tweet in Ill. Classroom

Erick Goble, 6, types a message on a touch screen in teacher Jodi Conrad's class near the end of the day at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Glen Ellyn, Ill. The 1st graders tweet every day to parents and other followers. Ms. Conrad sees Twitter as a way to keep communication open with parents, and to help children learn typing, spelling and reading.
—Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune/MCT

1st graders update parents on class news

When Ed Knight wants to find out what his 6-year-old did in school, he can scroll the Twitter feed on his iPhone for clues to start a conversation with his quiet son, who sometimes holds back when recounting details of his day.

That's because Evan and others in 1st grade teacher Jodi Conrad's class use Twitter to send out a weekly newsletter, update the day's activities, and give parents reminders about upcoming programs.

Ms. Conrad's class at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Glen Ellyn, Ill., is among a growing number around the country that use social media and other technologies to supplement lessons, even for very young students.

"These are tools that come standard in life right now," said Ms. Conrad, 36, who controls the account and the messages that the class, as a group, delivers. "I do it outside of class, so why not do it inside?"

Her students also contribute to a classroom blog, make videos for a private YouTube account intended for parents, and write books using computer software.

Like many other school districts, the K-8 Glen Ellyn District 41 has equipped its school libraries with iPads, netbooks, and laptops that can be checked out. It also has a lab outfitted with desktop computers, said Christina Kellam, the 3,600-student district's technology specialist.

Ms. Conrad and other teachers who use child-friendly blogging programs and social media are finding the tools are becoming integral parts of their classrooms.

Ms. Conrad's class tweeting sessions, which usually come at the end of the day for about 20 minutes, keep communication open with parents and help the children learn typing, spelling, and reading, she said. Getting to push the "tweet" button is also an exciting privilege.

"It's kind of our class meeting at the end of the day," Ms. Conrad said. "This is really great for reflection."

'Educational Tools'

Educators are realizing more and more that modern technology has a place in elementary school classrooms, especially since children are motivated to use the tools, said David Vinca, the founder of eSpark, a Chicago-based group that aims to personalize programs for iPad-equipped classrooms.

"Kids actually want to use the technologies, and if we make them education tools, we have kind of a win-win," Mr. Vinca said.

Whitney Crouch, a 1st grade teacher at Churchill Elementary School, said her Glen Ellyn students use secure blogging software made specifically for classrooms. She said they use it to share ideas or stories, and she sees some who may not be confident writers with paper and pencil soar in front of a laptop.

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Ms. Crouch, 31, said students like knowing they have an audience for their missives and being able to reach out to their loved ones who may live in other states.

"They see it as something that adults do," Ms. Crouch said. "It really builds their confidence."

Starting student training on social media at a young age in a safe environment with the guidance of a teacher also is a valuable tool.

These young students are "going to have an entire life that exists on the Internet in the virtual world," Ms. Kellam said. "They need to understand the difference between the different social-media tools. Starting in first grade—I don't see any negative."

For parents, it's a good opportunity to teach young children that technology isn't for entertainment only, Mr. Knight pointed out.

"It's not just about computers are good for playing games on," he said.

Vol. 31, Issue 24, Page 9

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