During an after-school help session last week, I decided to do a little research for my upcoming Coetail post on empowering students to use technology to make a positive impact in their world. I wanted to first figure out how and for what purposes are my students predominantly using social media.
We were having a just-for-fun read-aloud moment on an article titled, “A Teenager’s View on Social Media: Written By An Actual Teen”. The writer basically breaks down (in teenage lingo) what each of the most popular social media sites mean to teens these days. Between the conversations I was having with my students and the snarky factoids written by the “actual teen”, I learned quite a bit.
For example, I had no idea that Facebook is basically “dead” to most teens – a fact stated in the article and promptly confirmed by my little group of 10th graders. I was also informed that Tumblr is, in fact, used by more students than I had suspected and was described by one of the girls as “A great place to share videos with only our friends.” Some of the platforms mentioned by the “actual teen” – YikYak and Medium – not even my students knew about, so I didn’t feel too bad.
The most fascinating part about the afternoon though, was the candid, funny and doggonit, inspirational comments from my very own students. When asked about how they mostly used/accessed their social media accounts, they said simply: “to share cool stuff”. I asked about cyber-bullying, “sexting”, trash-talking, stalking, creeping, lurking, gossiping, etc…I don’t know if they were giving me the “teacher-answer” (it seemed authentic to me), but their answers were endearing and sweet. They said that yes, there is a bit of bullying that happens but, for the most part, their posts were either their own funny or cool photos/vines or “reshares” of some other internet star.
Finally, I got down to what I really wanted to know. I asked them: “Give it to me straight. Are your online experiences mostly positive or negative?” their answers were a resounding “positive”. This gives me hope.
If there’s one thing that Coetail is teaching me (and there are many things, rest assured), it’s how to feel better connected to my students’ world. I now know 100% more about social media platforms than I did at the start of this semester. Those alone are exceptional statistics! I know, for example, who Alex from Target is and that he is now on tour with a variety of other internet stars. I can also discuss in detail the various subjects of Christian Leave’s Vines and know that several of my students have major crushes on this dude. Those connections – funny and priceless.
But now the talk needs to turn. The conversations need to move beyond the “who’s hot because they do funny stuff” to “who’s hot because they contribute to their community”. So the question remains: how can we empower our students to “use their platforms” to contribute positively to the community, to make an impact?
This past quarter, these same 10th graders (with whom I was engaged in the enlightening discussion) were assigned to write a persuasive speech on any topic as long as they linked it back to our school’s theme for the year: “You, Me, Community.” For inspiration, we showed them this year’s Toastmaster’s International Speech Competition winner – Mohammed Qahtani’s “The Power of Words.”
The result? The speeches that they delivered were overwhelmingly positive, hopeful and inspirational. And yes, they were all written and delivered by 15-year-olds. So what’s the next obvious step? Just as Qahtani delivered his powerful message to the world, these same 10th graders get to deliver their speeches for an in-the-works Tedx talk at the end of this school year. When I told them that our Superintendent himself had made this suggestion, they were (in order): stunned, incredulous, nervous, anxious and then…excited. Really excited. Excited to share their positive messages of inspiration with their classmates, school, and global community. Excited to have their voices heard. Excited for an authentic experience. And I have to say – their excitement? It is contagious.