When Should We Introduce Social Media?

Each month, I go to "New Teacher Training" run by our district. It is a monthly meeting for anyone new to the school district, regardless of age or experience. Many of the teachers are new teachers and we spend time discussing many of the "little things" that can come up during your first year that they don't necessarily teach you in college.

We began yesterday with a couple questions, one being: "What was your biggest disappointment thus far?" Responses varied from parents not coming to open house to being cussed out by a student. I was talking with one of the teachers near me when I heard one person in the group say, "I was very disappointed when I found out that some of my 3rd graders have Facebook accounts."

Without getting into a major debate over lying about your age to get one and what role the parents play, this comment really made me sad because I think there is a learning opportunity that is being missed by teachers, just because it is Facebook. I do understand the age requirements and the issues that can arise from signing your child up (or the child signing themselves up). Those issues aside, my question is why shouldn't 3rd graders (or any learner) be exposed to social media in the classroom?

The reason I asked myself this question stems from the truth in that children will learn about social networking somewhere...why shouldn't it be in school? That way, a responsible adult can help them work through things like their digital footprint, social etiquette, and the responsibilities associated with being a digital and global citizen. If we don't take the time to teach or even model social networking skills in our classes, learners will be left to navigate the jungles of the web on their own, and maybe even make some mistakes that will follow them for the rest of their lives. I don't mean to be heavy or alarmist, but that really is the nature of the world today.

Inevitably, there is the question of how to expose learners to social media without asking them to sign up for an account? I don't mean showing them your Facebook page, I mean actually bringing learners into the social media world and giving them an opportunity to be active participants and contributors.

The easiest way to expose learners is to take a day or a couple of lessons to set up a class Facebook or Twitter account. It becomes a window to the rest of the world, where the sky is the limit. Bring in other classes, create virtual pen-pals, learn a new language...in short, show learners how to use the web as a resource and not a destination. The younger we expose them to this idea and help foster responsible use, the better off they'll be in middle and high school when they have their own accounts and are on their own.

Social networking can also be used to build literacy skills. I find, many times, learners are too "wordy" in responses. You can use a class Twitter account to help them communicate concisely, with vibrant and descriptive vocabulary while following a 140 character limit. Another idea I had is a problem solving activity of sorts...maybe set up a mystery in which someone can only send clues through tweets, and the class has to solve the problem using the short clues they get. You can ask them to consider context, the audience, tone, word choice...again, the sky is the limit.

There is more and more evidence showing there is no such thing as a "digital native."(1, 2) No one is born knowing how to interact and connect using the web...it is a skill that is learned as you use it more and more. Further, learners are great at "cutting and pasting, texting, Googling, and Facebooking, their range of skills does not necessarily extend to more complex technological tasks, such as creating and publishing digital stories or websites." (3) If we don't take the time to teach them these skills in school, I can assure you, they will take the time to teach themselves.

Don't be afraid of using social media in your class. Embrace the connections that can be made. Model good citizenship and networking skills. Encourage children to actively participate and contribute to digital learning networks. Who knows...you could very well be learning something from them someday.


Update: Thanks to Deb Wolf for passing along another article I had a hard time finding: Open University research explodes myth of 'digital native'

7 thoughts on “When Should We Introduce Social Media?

  1. tom Whitby says:

    The next time someone questions kids on Social Media, ask if they ever heard of WebKins. It is a Social Media Network site of over 5 million members most under 10 years of age. Penguin World is another site of Kids social interaction and its membership is even younger. Facebook is an easy transition for kids. It is the adults who don’t get it. Social media is a large part of the culture of today, not yesterday. We have no idea what will be tomorrow. We have a responsibility to at least prepare kids for today. How can we expect to hold kids responsible for doing the right thing on the internet if we never teach them what they need to know? I live on an Island,so I taught my kids how to swim before they could walk.

  2. Phil says:

    I am a big advocate of Social Media being allowed in middle schools and high school so that we can make sure we have a chance to guide our students in using it responsibly and also effectively. However, as the father of a 6 year old I find myself reacting quite negatively to the idea that the best way to prepare kids for using Social Media is to expose them to it earlier. This is the same logic that has us testing kids in Grade 1 to get them ready to the test s they will have to take in High School. I would much rather my daughter spent her primary years engaged in a lot of face to face interactions with her peers where she can learn to read body cues and learns the consequences of her actions. I think that this will set her up to be much more empathetic and thoughtful about her online behaviour once she reaches middle school.

  3. G Wells says:

    I agree a 100% is saying that learning social medea should be taught in the class room instead of by peer preasure from other 3rd graders. Parents need to be more responsible in knowing what their kids are doing on the net.
    GW

  4. Dan Spencer says:

    This summer I’ve been trying to teach my own kids how to be better swimmers. I have plenty of option of places I can take them to swim. We could head out on a boat in Lake Michigan, dump them off and hope for the best. But while they are just learning, I’d prefer to have them start swimming in the shallow end of a pool that has lifeguards and work their way up to the deep end. That’s just my preference but I feel it should work the same way with SM.

  5. TJ Wolfe says:

    You are absolutely right! Young people are online and using social media to connect! As a middle school teacher I saw this all the time. I began implementing as much technology in my class as possible. When students became excited about our class together, other teachers noticed. I helped them as much as I could, until the planning of my own lessons became difficult. I decided to leave the classroom and go back to school to find a way to help teachers incorporate technology in their classrooms, in an easy and efficient way. I came up with a solution I believe helps any teacher, no matter where they are on the technology understanding and implementation spectrum.

    Again, I believe you’re absolutely right, young people are online and using Social Media (SM), but who are they going to learn from when it comes to their digital footprint? Teachers need to consider spending time understanding technology themselves before they can tell their students what is good and not good on the internet and through SM. Please visit http://www.thecatchsystem.com for details on how I think teachers can be helped in their learning and understanding of technology! Thanks for the great post!

  6. Seth Parrish says:

    I absolutely agree that the guided learning of social media skills is an important thing. I also think that if a site explicitly states that its users must be of a certain age, then it important for us as educators to support those rules. To teach kids, especially very young ones, to break a rule for the sake of something better is to give them a cloudy sense of morality, which is of greater consequence than the learning of social media skills. Why does FB have the rule? I am unsure, but it is their “house,” and they get to set the rules.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I agree that the rules need to be followed and modeled by teachers and parents alike. We can’t be hypocritical in our approach to media.

      As far as age limit on Facebook, I’m sure it has something to do with inappropriate contact with minors, etc. Now, it isn’t very effective because all you have to do is change your birth date, but they (lawyers) can still say it was in place and that it isn’t their fault if something happens through their service.

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