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Teaching with Twitter

I recently finished writing a story about Twitter for Education Week's Digital Directions, which included a profile of one teacher in Silver Spring, Md., George Mayo, who is using Twitter with his students for a variety of projects.

Mayo set up a Twitter account called Many Voices and invited students to submit a sentence or two to a rolling collaborative story, which he then published and made available to purchase in print or as a free download. As you might expect, Mayo said his students were thrilled at being able to participate in the project, and they found seeing their work in print to be a satisfying experience. Coming in to school to find that a group of students in a different school had added a new chapter to their story was extremely motivating for his students, Mayo said.

The story itself is a dark science-fiction story about a mermaid who is turned into a human after his family is captured by fisherman. And I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical before I read through the story, but now that I've read through it a couple of times, I am impressed by the depth and consistency of the plot. Seeing as how the whole thing was written one or two sentences at a time from a variety of contributors, I was expecting to feel somewhat jolted around by all the different voices, but the story is actually a fairly seamless tale.

And it's not a light read, either. On my first read, I was struck by how bleak and depressing the whole thing was. The narrator struggles with a sudden loss of family and impending death within the first few chapters. Those seem like pretty hefty topics for elementary and middle school students to tackle.

Mayo is definitely one teacher who has embraced Web 2.0 tools in his classroom. He also used Twitter to promote a project called Many Voices for Darfur, which drew responses from almost 700 K-12 students about raising awareness for Darfur. Read Mayo's blog post about the project here.

Although Twitter does has some drawbacks--such as not being able to control what students are saying or using it for, and possibly cutting into more traditional grammar and writing skills--this teacher's work is one example of how it can be a useful and motivating tool for the classroom.

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