Saturday, November 3, 2012

#HurricaneSandy: An Authentic Twitter Adventure

Last weekend my student visited NYC and got stuck as Hurricane Sandy rolled in.  Luckily, his family was able to take shelter at a friend’s house in Brooklyn.  On Monday morning, I projected our classroom Twitter account on the Apple TV and suggested we tweet our classmate to see if he was ok.

He responded much to the joy of my six and seven year-olds.  

After connecting with he and his mom via Twitter, I asked if they could update us throughout the day.  The family was generous with their time and tweeted frequent weather reports and photos from the storm. 

As our day continued, my class used The Weather Channel app to learn more about Hurricane Sandy.  We looked at radar maps and talked about the timing of the storm and how it would fall on a full moon when tides are at their highest which would cause flooding in many areas (a nice connection to our current solar system inquiry).

After seeing photos and short video clips on The Weather Channel, my class had lots of questions. Here are few they tweeted to their classmate:

My student in NYC took the role of Hurricane Sandy reporter very seriously and answered all the questions his friends posted. 

In class, at least once every hour, students asked, “Did we get any new tweets?”  I sent an email to our staff and invited other classrooms to learn along with us via Twitter. Soon, our 1st grade friend was sharing his storm experiences with our school.

The following day our Hurricane Sandy reporter continued to update us in the aftermath of the storm.  He walked around Brooklyn and shot various short videos that he posted to Twitter explaining some of the damage and storm clean-up measures.  Back in class, my students felt knowledgeable about the storm and were excited to learn more.  It also became an outlet for kids to connect with their classmate, since he would miss several days of school.

As the week progressed we continued to get updates from our reporter.  Checking in with Twitter became an opportunity to connect with our friend who would end up being out of school all week.  Throughout the week I watched my students—both near and far—share their learning and use social media to connect and collaborate.  Hurricane Sandy provided us an authentic opportunity to thoughtfully use social media in the classroom.   

Here are a few take-aways:

My students were empowered to be part of a learning network that was for students, by students.  So often, young children only have access to information that is filtered through an adult channel. While oftentimes that is appropriate, kids also need the model of other children as information providers.  By watching a peer research, report and field questions, student now have a "mentor" experience for what it looks like and sounds like to be an information sharer.  As Peter H. Johnston shared in Choice Words (2004) kids need to visualize themselves as a "can do" kid.  When young learners internalize the belief that "I'm the kind of kid who works as a reporter. I'm the kind of kid who asks good questions. I'm the kind of kid who ________," they experience the success, feedback and confidence that inspires them to make additional attempts in the future. Over time, this repetitive process produces kids who desire to think, learn, share and are inspired to do it again and again. My students were thrilled to see their classmate work as a reporter and now believe that any first grade student can do this important work. 

For the first time,  students saw Twitter as a place to ask questions, conduct research and gather new information.  Previously we had only used it to tell others about our learning. Now, students see Twitter as a tool for learning.  I spend a lot of time in first grade teaching my students where they can go to find answers to their questions; now they can add school-supervised Twitter to their list of resources. 

Connecting with a classmate via Twitter allowed students to emotionally process the storm.  Their peer told about his safety plan and how residents were told to prepare for the storm.  My students were able to see that unusual things--like superstorms--do happen, but that adults around the country prepare for these events and have a plan for when they occur. Watching their peer's video tweets and seeing NYC clean up and get back to normal was therapeutic for all  involved.

After tweeting and blogging to our reporter, my class now sees social media as an effective tool for connecting with others.  In addition to our classroom tweets, each day students commented on his Kidblog.  Students posted comments to see how he was doing or to ask for an update on the hurricane.  As a result of this collaborative learning experience, my kids now think like connected learners.  This was apparent Friday afternoon as we said goodbye to a student who was moving.  As students sat on the rug and said goodbye and good luck to their friend, one girl said,  "Make sure to tweet us ok?  And send some of those video tweets so we can learn about your new house and your new school." Another child chimed in, "And leave lots of comments on our blog!" 

YES! I cheered silently in my head as I saw my students think like connected, empowered learners.  This is why we do this!  I am very grateful to my student and his family for engaging in this authentic learning experience.  Together, we have provided students a foundational experience for using social media in the classroom. I can't wait to see what we learn next!

Do you have a classroom Twitter account?  We'd love to connect with you! Follow us @Burley106

Video used with permission from the family


  1. This is such an incredible learning experience! Thank you for sharing it with the world!

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    2. Thanks Amy! It was a tremendous experience for all of us! The family was unbelievably generous with their time and worked hard to keep the class informed. It was the perfect way to show how technology connects people over distance and time. Best of all, my class is now thinking like connected learners!

  2. This is an amazing use of technology to support understanding and to share experiences.

    1. Thanks Anita! This weekend as I was thinking about student understanding and comprehension, I realized the multi-modal aspect of this project allowed kids to interact in so many ways. They studied images, read posts, responded in writing, and viewed videos. Active literacy in action! It was a wonderful way to use technology to further understanding.

  3. What a great story! It amazes me how little this world seems now that we are connected. The learning that happened from using Twitter in your class is fantastic. Just another reason to have a class twitter account!

  4. Thanks Kristen! It is such a crazy, connected world :) I feel lucky that Twitter has brought our classrooms together. Who knew we could learn so much?! I love blogging and tweeting with your class and am thrilled about our transnational collaboration in first grade. Looking forward to much more!

  5. Great story. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully it'l be an inspiration for lots of other shools. Not only does your story show the value of twitter - that the least part - but it shows the benefit for learning through connectedness and opening the classroom.

  6. That's really great, really, really great. We love twitter too although we don't use it as often as we could. My students love to let classes know that we've responded to their comments via tweets. They love to ask questions of other classes.

    While the storm was on my class was connecting with a school in Manhattan through the Global Read Aloud. We lost all communication with them for ten days so we were very thankful to see that everyone was physically okay when we finally did reconnect. It made that hurricane VERY real for my students.

    Thanks for sharing. :-)