Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Do students care about the provincial budget? They do if you let them "tweet" about it!

Grade 6/7 students participated in a live "tweet-up" event
while watching the Saskatchewan Minister of Finance
deliver the 2012-13 budget speech.
Figuring out how to engage middle year students in politics and making them understand that government decisions apply to them is a challenge. One of my goals in my classroom is to make students feel connected to what they have to learn and to encourage them to make a difference in the world around them. The provincial budget is an abstract idea to most students and I decided to challenge myself to make them better understand the event.

Some of the budget themed
snacks enjoyed by students
during the event.
I organized two classes of students in Grades 6 and 7 into student response groups, each responsible for a certain part of the budget, i.e. health, education, agriculture, etc. I then created a generic twitter account for each group and their job was to listen to the Finance Minister's speech and the Finance Critics' response and tweet about their assigned area of the budget and anything else they found interesting. Reporters had also offered themselves up to answer questions via Twitter so they were allowed to tweet them to ask questions of clarification on their topic. Students worked as teams to compose relevant tweets and also participated in the online budget discussion about the provincial budget that took place under #skbudget. The assignment follow-up is listed on my website here: SK Budget 2012-13 A Live Tweet Event

It was fascinating to observe students, who are not normally engaged in class discussions, participate actively in this activity. Most groups started by tweeting the facts that they were hearing, but later, they started tweeting their opinions about what they were hearing in the budget. The received questions about what they were saying and had to justify their "tweets" to people and support their opinions when challenged by others.

We received some attention online from others who were excited to see students get engaged on the topic. Some of the tweets included:
Saskatchewan School Board Association
Sheila Coles, CBC Radio
Murray Mandryk, Regina Leader Post
Using social media made an otherwise boring event engaging and relevant to the students. If I had simply made them watch the budget speech and then discuss it in groups or as a class, we would have been able to have a conversation about it, but it would have been limited to the knowledge and understanding in the classroom. The opportunity to ask others questions and engage in conversations with other people was a huge incentive for students to participate. There were definitely risks involved. We discussed the importance of being responsible digital citizens who were representing our school online. They had to ensure their tweets were appropriate, correct and would not embarrass our school or myself for allowing them the opportunity to participate in a live event. In the end, I had no inappropriate tweets show up. The students understood their responsibility and rose to the challenge.

Given the success of the activity, I would not hesitate to participate again in a live social media type event. The students' understanding of the budget and the conversations that took place were rich and impressive for their age. At the end of the day, I was rewarded by receiving tweets from students about their experience. Here are a couple of examples: