Why students should blog and tweet…

Science literacy and….

The torrent of current scientific information shared via Twitter through journals like Scientific American, from scientists themselves, and from organizations like the CDC, NIH, and NASA (and whatever other acronyms you can think of) is amazing.

It’s unprecedented access to science and scientists, both for the typical high school student and the teacher.

For me, though, it’s so much more than just scientific literacy.  Using Twitter and Blogger allows the students to begin a learning arc towards being professionally social. (The same arc I have found myself on for the last nine months.)  This will not happen overnight nor is mastery achieved in a semester, but I do think (hope) this will plant a seed toward life long learning; that’s not to say there are not short term goals associated with this.

The first goal has to do with the notion of ‘voice.’

The set of all the different choices a writer makes determines, and the collective effect they have on the reader is, what is often called the “voice” in a piece of writing. (Teaching that Makes Sense)

I want students to find their voice and discover the importance of their voice to the community.  However, just adding to the cacophony is not appropriate; there should be a purpose.  They should add value to the discussion.

The idea of ‘value’ is the second goal.  Each tweet and each blog a student produces or shares can be gauged by how well they demonstrate learning and how well they increase the awareness of their community.  This leads to a variety of discussions about what should be shared, science-only stuff?  Ultimately, arriving at the ‘and,’ the more than just scientific literacy.  For example, Cal Newport (author of the blog Study Hacks among other things) constantly writes on the attainment of success, the work and diligence required to be successful.

a deeper truth: getting good at something is not to be taken lightly; it’s a pursuit measured in years, not weeks. (Study Hacks, 29 Jan)

His posts often cover the difference between effective hard work and just working hard and are peppered with reminders about the importance of concentration (“hard focus”) to achieve any end.  As Rod Beavon has on his page Learning to Learn, “Learning is not instinctive” and

To know something takes time, real physical effort, and a period of assimilation and reflection.  To know something you must develop a whole host of techniques…

Would a student sharing something from these authors add value to the discussion?  An emphatic, “absolutely” resounds in my head.  It’s also not scientific literacy, but much of what they share is essential to attain it.

The flow of information via Twitter, then, gives a student an opportunity to begin developing both goals.  The very choices they make in who to follow and what to retweet starts them down the path of evaluating information, evaluating value, developing their voice.  This continues as they determine what other information to share through their original tweets: comments on class topics, links to interesting articles, dialogue with another Twitter-er.

Blogging, then, is the next step.  I view it as part of the ‘assimilation and reflection’ Beavon mentions.  Students have traditionally done this through writing prompts in class or keeping notebooks and journals.  Now, though, they do this with, and for, an audience beyond the teacher and the four walls of the classroom thanks to this age of self-publication.

Most students learning to write today have any number of places on the web to post their work… in a persistent format that is aggregated in search engines, and an international audience. (AssortedStuff, 1 Feb.)

Yes, there’s a little pressure with this.  So?  It incorporates a bit of struggle, a bit of trial-and-error, a bit of failure.  This opportunity to fail will do more to eliminate specious statements and reinforce the need for evidence in an argument than it ever did with an audience of one.  This fosters discernment: discernment of fallacious statements or illogical arguments, in themselves and others.  A hallmark of scientific literacy.  The goal of both the National Science Education Standards and the Common Core.

However, this does take patience and diligence on my part (perhaps even the drinking of the Kool-aid on theirs?).  As written previously, it does not (and is not) happening overnight.  I currently have students tweeting about crystal skulls, I have empty paper.li‘s, and cat posters; not the typical grind of an intellectual furnace.  But, in the midst, there’s also a tweet about learning something new in school, or sharing something they know about a topic tweeted by someone else, or just asking questions like, “If the universe is infinite how can it expand?”  This is repeated in the blogs.  I have everything from blank to interactive and informative and all manner in between.  It’s those bright spots, though, that help me know I’m on the right track; that I know will coalesce and build upon each other; that show the efficacy of these tools in the process of learning.

Blogs will be your chance to explain what you understand and show what you have learned.  Tying these to your twitter and Paper.li (even Diigo) activity will allow you to have an active role in the development of your understanding of the concepts in the class.  Ideally, this will also translate into personal and community development of scientific awareness through your professional use of these various social media.

Ideally, it’s the beginnings of a journey; a journey that is sustained, persistent and exacting in effort.  “Ideally.”

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