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Making science social at Peacehaven Community School

How one teacher is using social media to get students excited about science

Posted by Julian Owen | December 10, 2017 | Teaching

Kane Chapman, science teacher at Peacehaven Community School in East Sussex, has found social media channels are boosting students’ interest and understanding of his subject. He began by using Twitter to showcase exemplary pieces of his students’ work and is now pioneering Snapchat, the mobile image and messaging app, as a revision tool.   

How did you get started, Kane?   

Young people consume huge amounts of information on social media, constantly scrolling from one thing to the next. I thought that if I could scatter some bite-sized nuggets of science into their streams then it might help to get some important messages through to them.

Initially I used Twitter, posting images of diagrams that I’d displayed on the whiteboard. I then began sharing examples of students’ work, partly to praise the student, but also to showcase to the wider community how well our young people were doing. This approach went down very well and our following has been growing ever since.  We are attracting other schools and organisations, which is helping to build our reputation for science and technology. 

Why did you choose to trial Snapchat?

I’m always looking for better ways to engage the students, so I simply asked them what channels they used and which ones they thought would work best for science posts.  Snapchat was the most popular suggestion so I decided to run a pilot scheme to push revision resources for Key Stage 4. We launched it in October this year and so far it has been proving very popular. It’s very easy to evaluate the engagement as I’m able to see who’s following us, who’s looked at the post and who has taken screenshots of the content to use later on. We’re currently getting between 40-80 views per post and around 15%-25% of users will take a screenshot. 

Kane Chapman

What makes good content for posts?

The key is to have something with instant appeal, otherwise people just scroll on past. Whizz-bang demos are very popular, and anything with a bit of drama. I try and find ways to illustrate complex ideas, so images of equations and diagrams of processes work well. Video tutorials are popular – I film myself working through a process or problem, which I speed up so it’s condensed into a 20 second film. Students seem to respond better to a teacher they know rather than a random person – even if it is because they just want to see to what Mr Chapman is getting up to now! I also post work that our students are doing – it celebrates success and creates a real sense of excitement to share a practical assignment that has been carried out in one lesson with everyone else.

What improvements in student engagement and performance have you seen?

Students are definitely more engaged with science. I’m often stopped in the corridor by someone struggling with a particular topic or idea and asked if I’ll put a post up about it. The students also like seeing their own work, so I think they try harder in the hope that I’ll choose their work to showcase.

In terms of performance, Year 11 students have just sat their first round of mock GCSE exams; I heavily pushed revision content on Snapchat and got lots of positive feedback about how it helped them consolidate a topic. We will have to wait for the full results before we can say it had an impact, but the initial impression is that the calculation element is much stronger than in previous years. 

How can you ensure your students are safe when using social media?

Our school has a very robust digital policy and teaching students about safety online is part of our curriculum. Our social media scheme has provided another opportunity to talk about safety, so the science department has launched a digital awareness campaign about how to use social media and technology responsibly. 

Snapchat has an age restriction of 13, so anyone younger can only open an account by lying about their age. If we do find under-age users then we report them to the head of year who will make the parents aware. If younger users want to see our posts, they can find them on Twitter, which can be searched without an account like a news feed. We only follow schools and relevant professional organisations, so there is no inappropriate material for us or our students to see. When posting we never use student names or show their faces, and we make sure all location settings are turned off. We make sure that we don’t post content late at night or during lesson time, and never contact or converse with students through social media channels. If students start a conversation on social media we point them to email or good old fashioned face-to-face.  

How much of much of your time does it take up? 

Most of my posts are content that I produce for lessons anyway, so I just have to remember to take a device with me to class so I can capture work. The tutorial videos take up more time, but I really enjoy doing them and the benefits definitely outweigh the extra work. I’m hoping to launch a YouTube channel soon, so watch this space!

 

 

 

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