• Jul 252014

Twitter For Teachers — Part One: The Skittlefall

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This article is Part One in our Twitter for Teachers series.
Part Two is here: Twitter For Teachers — Part Two: Un Oeuf is Un Oeuf
Part Three is here: Twitter for Teachers — Part Three: Tips for Schools

DOWNLOAD THE ENTIRE SERIES IN PDF FORM. Print out and subtly leave on your staffroom coffee table as a Ninja Professional Development strategy. Silent but PDly. Right-click here to save. An idea from @MsHMFL on Twitter is to leave a bowl of Skittles on top. Soon get ‘em interested!

By way of apology for what is to come and a nod for being good sports, here are the Skittles and the Ben and Jerry’s homepages. Both are wondrously tasty.
This article is intended for three groups of people…

— those who aren’t on Twitter and don’t see what the fuss is about
— those who are new to Twitter and want to get the most from it
— those who are trying to persuade colleagues to get on board and want something vaguely lively to show them by way of persuasion…

So, rather than doing this the usual, boring, way we’re going to attempt this article through the medium of Skittles (Twittles, so to speak). Sweets can be very persuasive.

Here goes… Let’s start with a simile…

1) Twitter is like a waterfall (or a Skittle-fall).
Imagine a constant stream of Skittles like a waterfall. This is, in essence, what Twitter is like. You think we’re idiots? Google “Skittles” and look at what’s in the description for their homepage. “An endless color stream of bite-sized content.” If that doesn’t describe Twitter, we don’t know what does. There’s method in our sweet-based madness.

Unless you search specifically for something, you see what’s being talked about at that moment (in real time). Reading tweets is the Skittlefall equivalent of sticking your arm out and getting a handful of candy to munch on. Sometimes you get good stuff, sometimes you’ve missed it because it was tweeted earlier. The advantages of such an immediate method of communication are clear — for example, Twitter is fast becoming the place to go for news (if there is an earthquake somewhere in the world it will often be tweeted about long before it is ever mentioned on TV news). Another advantage (particularly for teachers) is that you can tweet a question (e.g. “Any creative ideas for my English lesson on myths tomorrow?”) and get responses pretty soon after.

One disadvantage, however, is that a constant stream of Skittles can be rather distracting…

2) Each tweet is limited.
Each tweet is limited to 140 characters. This includes things like punctuation and spaces, so a tweet saying: “Hello world!” would be 12 characters long (10 letters, a space in between and an exclamation mark on the end). Presumably the point of keeping things brief is to ensure the more verbose of us don’t write whole essays…

3) What you see depends on who you follow.
Unless you go searching specific people or subjects, your Twitter feed is very much dependent on the number of people you follow and how often they tweet. If you only follow your Auntie Marge who was persuaded to sign up to Twitter one Christmas afternoon and hasn’t been on since, your waterfall of Skittles will be non-existent. Similarly, if you follow as many people as you can, you’ll get to a point where you’ll have too many tweets to read. This principle of “what you see depends on who you follow” is important to remember when it comes to subject matter too. If you find the tweets you’re reading are very argumentative, it’s because you’ve chosen to follow some argumentative people. If they feature too much talk about teaching, try following some non-teachers to balance things out. To follow someone, search for their Twitter page and then click the blue ‘Follow’ button.

4) Who you follow depends on what you want to see.
So, having decided to give Twitter a go, you’ll want to find some folks to follow — from famous people (the blue tick by their name shows that they’re “the real thing”) to your own colleagues or friends. The teaching community on Twitter is huge and very much alive and kicking. There are thousands of teachers out there tweeting fantastic websites, sharing ideas and writing blogs. Like any group of human beings you’ll find some that only want to talk about themselves, some that love a good argument and some that just want to quietly take it all in. Our advice: find those who inspire you, make you smile and get you thinking.

If you want to start off with someone, we’re @SparkyTeaching — tweet us a message too and we’ll help you on your way. To give you some idea of how we use Twitter, we try to steer clear of those who tweet mind-numbing updates in an official capacity, folks who tweet about how wonderful they are and argumentative types, instead choosing to go for more positive people, websites and companies. We follow loads of teachers, creative types (poets, artists, websites that post art), we try to follow new teachers (try to encourage them with RTs, ideas and so on), companies/websites we like the ethos of and no politicians whatsoever! But that’s just us!

Each person’s Twitter feed is different. It’s really easy to think that what you’re seeing is what everyone on Twitter is seeing, but it’s a feed of your choosing. If everyone on your feed is talking about their kids, it’s got something to do with the fact you chose to follow a load of parents. Never be fooled into thinking your Twitter feed is it.

To give you some ideas, we’ve made a list of some of our teaching Twitter recommendations. It’s called Sparky’s Skittles! It’s a work in progress at the moment (33 members at the time of writing), but you can do two things with it. Firstly, take a look at the folks on the list and follow those who sound interesting — here’s the list of names. Secondly, even if you don’t end up following any, take a look at what they’re tweeting as an example of how Twitter can be used to share great ideas. It’s just a taster and we’ve missed off many inspiring people.

How do I get followers of my own?
There are a few ways to do this — some people will automatically follow you back if you follow them, for example — but the best is to put interesting content out there with a hashtag on there so people can see it. If you think of a great idea for a lesson, tweet it with the hashtag #SparkyIdea and we’ll retweet it for you. Also, make sure that your Twitter bio (and name) makes people think “They sound interesting”. And, whatever you do, get rid of your default Twitter egg avatar — put something else there instead — it’s the most visual thing that makes you you on Twitter.

5) So why should teachers use Twitter?
It’s probably fair to say that (along, perhaps, with Pinterest) teachers have commandeered Twitter more than any other profession. It’s a source of professional development, whether recognised officially as such or not and most teachers on Twitter could rattle off many examples of how Twitter has helped them develop as a teacher…

Here are some scenarios when Twitter might be useful to you as a teacher (these are all based on real-life tweets we’ve seen)…

5) Your Skittles
Theoretically, you could use Twitter just to glean from other people (and many users do), but to get the most from it, try tweeting yourself… Add your own shiny Skittles to the waterfall, so to speak. It’s easy enough to tweet — just type your message in the “Compose new tweet” box and click “Tweet”. If you go over the 140-character limit, it’s easy enough to see…

And then you face the challenge of working out which grammatical or spelling mistake to make in order to get it down to the correct size!

To get someone’s attention, type their Twitter name in your tweet…

Although this tweet can be seen by anyone who follows you, the mention of @BenAndJerrys would bring it to their attention (if they weren’t a multinational ice-cream company who must get thousands of tweets aimed at them every day).

If you start your tweet with someone’s name, only they (and anyone else who follows both you and them) get to see it…

But sometimes you might want to make a point to someone and want everyone else to see it. In that case, you need to ensure your tweet doesn’t begin with their name. What better way than to put a tiny full-stop at the beginning. That way the whole world can see what you’re tweeting in response to someone…

6) Favourites, replies and retweets
If you come across a tweet that you think is particularly inspiring, you can do one of a few things.

Firstly, you can favourite it (by clicking the star symbol underneath). This is the candy equivalent of fishing out an orange Skittle and saving it for later (are you fed up of the simile yet?). As well as favouriting interesting/useful content, people sometimes use this function to say “I’ve seen your tweet and it caused me to chuckle, but I’m not going to deign to send a reply saying so.”

Secondly, you can reply to it (by clicking the L-H pointing arrow symbol underneath). When you do this, you’ll notice that a message box opens up with your addressee’s name at the start. Remember what that means? The tweet will be seen by them.

Thirdly, you can retweet it (by clicking the square arrows symbol underneath). To stretch a dying simile, this is just like taking a Skittle from the waterfall and then throwing it back in so that everyone who follows you can see it. The more retweets a tweet gets, the more eyes that get to see it.

Another way of retweeting a message is to type it out for yourself with the letters RT (retweet) at the start, together with the name of the person who originally tweeted it. Some people do this to try and get some retweets of their own, sometimes it’s because they want to add a comment…

On the subject of RTs, sometimes you’ll see initials in the middle of someone’s tweet. RT stands for retweet. MT stands for ‘modified tweet’ (it’s been changed, usually to save space). OH stands for ‘overheard’ (ie. “I noticed someone saying this hilarious joke, but it was in a conversation with someone else, so I can’t really retweet it”). HT stands for ‘hat tip’ or sometimes ‘heard through’ (ie. “I thought this link was pretty good and I want to credit the person who originally put it out there”). As a general rule, all of these initials are about giving credit. Don’t just tweet someone else’s witty comment or wonderful photo — say where you saw it first. One thing we like to do is to is to do some Googling and actually mention the actual cartoonist’s or designer’s name if possible as well as the person who tweeted it.

Finally, you can do things like block or report a user if you receive tweets that are offensive, spam etc. Don’t bother engaging with someone whose sole purpose is to argue. Unfollow, block, move on. Life’s too short.

7) The hashtag
Hashtags (a word or phrase beginning with the # symbol) are ways of allowing your tweets to be found by others and vice versa. At the risk of annoying you now, searching for a hashtag is the Skittlefall equivalent of pulling out all the strawberry flavour Skittles on their own…

This can be useful if you’re taking part in a scheduled chat (e.g. #ukedchat is used for an education chat for UK teachers) or want to see all the tweets about a given subject (e.g. #CCC14 might be a hashtag used for the Connecticut Cheese Conference 2014). Some people use hashtags just as a form of expression, but it doesn’t really mean anything when they do… Here’s an example of pointless hashtagging:

You can invent your own hashtags as ways of tagging your own tweets. At Sparky Teaching, we use the following hashtags of our own. Feel free to join in with them:
#SparkyIdea — denotes a teaching idea that we think might be useful
#HmmmsTheWord — is the hashtag we use to post our links to our 365 Things To Make You Go “Hmmm” and for anything to do with our new book of the same name
#SparkySchool — is used when we come across a school with a similar ethos to us
And then there are the one-offs… At some point in our time on Twitter we came up with one on ninja CPD and also #ClassroomPracticeInspiredByFootballManagers. Ah, happy days…

There are so many Twitter hashtags used by teachers, this post isn’t the place to deal with them. We hope to write a follow-up post listing them. However, purely to be encouraged as a teacher, do take a look at #PedagooFriday which mainly UK-based teachers use to tweet about something great that happened that week in the course of their teaching. It never fails to put a smile on our face and is exactly what teaching is about.

In fact, #PedagooFriday is probably exactly what Twitter is all about too. Be an encouragement, share your encouragements and be encouraged.

If you’ve found this post at all helpful, do leave a message and be sure to say hello on Twitter.

This was part 1 of our guide to using Twitter as a teacher.
Part Two is here: Twitter For Teachers — Part Two: Un Oeuf is Un Oeuf
Part Three is here: Twitter for Teachers — Part Three: Tips for Schools

DOWNLOAD SPARKY’S TWITTER FOR TEACHERS IN PDF FORM HERE. Enjoy.

To find out more about what we do, take a look at our resources for creatively-minded teachers here and if you like the sound of a fantastic offer on top of an already fantastic offer, take a look at this — a FREE copy of our new book ‘365 Things To Make You Go “Hmmm…“‘ with every summer sale of The Everything Pack. All of the resources in this video (and others) feature in The Everything Pack…


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So, what do you think?

  1. Thank you!! I have just started using twitter and this helped a lot! I have been a bit overwhelmed and this has calmed me down!!! Keep them coming!!

    Mary Lou Barnhill
    8:39 pm on July 28th, 2014
    1. Thanks, This is a great, simplified explanation of Twitter. I am sharing it with my faculty.

      Sabrina Minser
      1:20 pm on August 7th, 2014
      1. New to Twitter. Love it but wading through treacle. Thanks for the guide.

        @DonPG
        8:37 am on August 8th, 2014
        1. […] Guide to Twitter for Teachers by @SparkyTeaching is excellent – highly recommended for those who want to learn […]

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