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Twitter: Bringing the World into Your Classroom

Twitter_Josh_Teacher

Illinois Teacher of the Year Josh Stumpenhorst has done something unusual in his sixth-grade language arts classroom.

He’s let the world in.

For many teachers, opening the classroom through social media networks like Twitter or Skype can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be, says Stumpenhorst, who teaches at Lincoln Junior High in Naperville, a Chicago suburb.

Rather than exposing his students to the potential pitfalls of the outside world, he acts as its filter. Using Twitter, his blog and other outreach, Stumpenhorst helps his students make connections they might never make otherwise.

“My kids are sixth-graders. At that age (social media) isn’t just part of what they do yet. But that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from what it has to offer,” Stumpenhorst said.

What has social media added to his classroom?

  • A famous storm-chaser Stumpenhorst met on Twitter is going to speak at his school because of that social-media-based relationship.
  • A student was able to interview someone who had real-life experience with her research topic — the Hershey plant in Hershey, Pa. — because Stumpenhorst shared her work on Twitter.
  • Students acted as real-life experts on President Lincoln (their school’s namesake) for a group of second-graders in another state when the younger students Skyped into Stumpenhorst’s classroom with questions about the 16th president.
  • Stumpenhorst’s sharing of student work occasionally leads university academics to share their related work with him and, in turn, his students.
  • His students connected with others in Oregon and Nebraska through a picture blog shared with students in rural China who added their own images.

“My kids have interviewed people all over the world through Twitter,” Stumpenhorst said. “It’s crazy how that kind of stuff can add to what they are learning. It is more really than they’ll get out of an encyclopedia.”

Stumpenhorst, who was named Illinois Teacher of the Year for 2011-2012, didn’t start with the intent of being a technology fanboy of a teacher. In fact, it was only by happenstance that he signed up for a Twitter. And he didn’t use his account until months after he created it. Sitting next to someone at a conference and seeing the resources she was posting to the microblogging service prompted him to act.

For Stumpenhorst it is, in fact, never about the technology.

“It’s just a tool to make you better,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from connecting with people online.”

Stumpenhorst knows a lot of teachers shy away from using technology to bring the world into the classrooms. But, he said, they shouldn’t.

“The big hang-up is the technology piece,” Stumpenhorst said. “People think they need to be a nerd to do this. But that isn’t true, especially with Twitter. It is so stinkin’ easy.”

Want to follow more of Stumpenhorst’s adventures? Find his blog at www.stumpteacher.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter at @stumpteacher.

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