Collecting Tweets

Occasionally I get interested in the science of social media. I think: wouldn’t it be interesting if I can analyse this in some grand way. Wouldn’t it be great if I could collect a load of tweets about something, crunch them and then make some world-changing conclusion.

Of course there’s Storify. I’ve not used it until today, but I’ve seen others produce interesting stories of events from them. I made my first one today. 2 minutes of signing up and clicking things created this (a story of posts about the recent London Google Teacher Academy).

What intrigued me is that during the same event, I noticed that broadcast a way of collecting tweets. There is now a recipe for collecting tweets with a certain hashtag and sending them all to a Google Spreadsheet. I’ve done this a few times with the #gtauk tweets and collected the tweets in three separate spreadsheets here:

Of course, the next challenge is to do something with all that information. This is where something like Storify comes in handy – it already has a way for publishing the posts in some interesting ways.

My first #gtauk word cloud
My first #gtauk word cloud

All I could thing of doing was making a Word Cloud of the tweets, which I did on my iPad (for the first spreadsheet) using an App called ‘Word Clouds‘.

For the second spreadsheet, I again took the tweets to word cloud, but this time used Wordle, which is slightly ironic because Wordle uses Java Applets and so doesn’t work on either of my chromebooks, nor my iPad. I increased the irony by posting the Wordle-generated images to the Google Teacher Academy Google+ Community.

I admit, that publishing this information is a word cloud is not the most interesting thing to do with these collected tweets – I’m still trying to think of a more useful or interesting way of crunching this data.

The 2nd #gtauk word cloud
The 2nd #gtauk word cloud

I have now finished this experiment by seeing how many #fail tweets are generated on Twitter in an hour. Here’s the Spreadsheet. I’m a bit disappointed really: there were only 74. I thought there would be more than that.

Real Life has greater bandwidth

The first person I heard say this was musician, artist and educator: Bobbie Gardner. “Real life has greater bandwidth” she said and then waited for me to take in her words of awesome wisdom.

It has a phrase that has stuck with me, so much so that it has become one of my pub theories. Get me in a pub, give me a pint of beer, mention social media and I’m bound to utter those words. I really am terribly predictable.

It means a lot to me, because sometimes I have got so much into social media that I have become almost dependent on seeing the next tweet in which I’m mentioned, or yearning for someone to comment on my blog.

But the thing is, real life has greater bandwidth.

You gain things from Twitter, from Facebook, from blogging, but you can’t gain as much as you can from sitting with someone and talking. Or standing in stadium and watching. Or walking somewhere in the rain.

On Twitter, you can’t smell the coffee. On Facebook, you can’t appreciate the subtle complexities of an Islay malt. And when you receive a comment on a blog, you can’t see the ironic smile, or the encouraging eyes, or the slightly disappointed frown.

I’m trying to blog more this year, to help me reflect on things I believe and things I’m trying to learn. But I’ve got to remember that real life has greater bandwidth: sometimes it is more important to take in the view than to take a photograph it.

To help me, I’m using scheduling on my WordPress site. This means I can post things on different days, but write them all at once if I want. Right now, it is Wednesday, but I know this post won’t go live until I’m just brewing my first coffee in my Bialletti on Saturday morning.

I’m also planning not to broadcast at all on Sundays. Sundays are going to be a social media Sabbath for me. Time to go to church, spend time with family and generally not look at too many screens.

Developing Digital Literacies. #2: yearn to be literate

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

2. Yearn to be literate.

A few years ago I was a rather jaded IT co-ordinator. I had fallen out of love with an area of the curriculum that I once thought could change the world. The reasons were many and varied: underfunding; cynicism amongst IT technicians; the monolithic nature of IT services within my city; a disillusionment amongst fellow teachers about the impact of IT; the lure of senior management.

And then I heard Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference.

He showed a simple visualisation of his contacts – there were about 6000 at the time and about a quarter were teachers. Yet nearly all links to the teachers looked different on the visualisation from everyone else because they did not contact him – they only listened.

The teachers were either too busy or too scared to talk. Too busy or too scared to do any kind of two-way communication. Too busy or too scared to be literate. His point was that just at the time when students were grappling with growing social media, teachers were shying away from it – choosing to be illiterate in an area where their influence could be really beneficial to society.

It was at that point that I started yearning to be digitally literate with ‘new stuff’ like Twitter. I got an account and started tweeting. I followed some key people from whom I heard about something called the Google Teacher Academy. I applied and, by the miracle of telekinesis, I got in. I carried on communicating, debating in education, growing my digital literacy. I started to blog. I made some videos.

This rubbed off onto my school. We now have a team of Year 6 who make videos each week. Children in Key Stage 2 create wikis and websites. Children set up email groups and email each other about things that interest them. And for those of you thinking standards, standards, standards – our children have ‘outstanding achievement’ in English and maths – so it’s not as if we drop the essentials just to do the fun stuff.

Nor can I say that it has been all ups. Sometimes I have lost my ‘yearning’. Like a few days ago when I posted this. Sometimes I question whether it is all worth it – let’s just teach spelling, punctuation, grammar, reading and maths I say to myself – after all, that’s all we are measured on. I suppose we all have our moments of doubt. But then I remember (or someone reminds me) that the children deserve more than that.

You have to believe that being digitally literate is important for yourself to make it appear anywhere on the priority list at school. I started to believe it was important and I believe this has impacted my school in the long run too.

Developing Digital Literacies. #1: Be out there

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

1. Being Out There.

Schools have got to have an online presence. Aside from the legal requirement, by being online you show your online parents that you care. A study by Weber Shandwick shows that company bosses who use social media are 10% more likely to be seen as open, honest and respectful. If this is true for business, surely it is true in education too.

The legal requirement, I hear you ask? Yes, there is now a comprehensive list of things that are required to be published online, including the school prospectus, how school spends the pupil premium funding and how school spends the new sports funding. A more comprehensive list can be found here.

In my own experience having a Facebook page for my school has drastically cut down the number of cyber-bullying incidents that were happening two to three years ago. Instead of it being a regular distraction to the business of school, there is at most one incident per year – just on a time-saving basis this has been worth it, but add to it the negative impact on learning and the emotional hurt of cyber-bullying and I would say that having a Facebook Page for a school is a must. I would direct you to my school’s Facebook page, except that I know of a better one – my colleague Chris Talbot at Broadmeadow Junior School has a better one than mine.

Of course in small schools, managing an online presence can be painful and time consuming, or expensive. You’re already spinning thirty seven plates and now you have a website and social media to think of too. Myself I’ve cut down the time and expense by using Using this service I write one post on Google+ and it automatically posts to Twitter and Facebook, so instead of having to write something in three places, I can write in just one.

Schools that are being digitally literate are encouraging their students to be digitally literate too. It’s a role modelling thing. Take Lyndon Green Junior school for example. Their Twitter stream is full of content that it must help their students and parents improve their digital literacy.

So be out there. Be online. Be on social media. If professionals at schools can’t do it safely, how can we expect our communities to do likewise?

Why use Twitter

Watch on Posterous

A few minutes ago, James Yorke asked to me (and I assume others) to fill in a questionnaire about how I use Twitter. It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, especially as I’m not sure quite how to bring the practice into school – I’m pretty sure I should, but I’m not sure where to start and what precautions I may need.


Very ambitiously, James also asks for a little web video of how to do it too. Here’s my initial thoughts (via video).


If you want to fill in his questionnaire, it’s:

Scattered and Superficial Thinker

A few days ago I finally turned to some academic work that I had been putting off for a while. I turned off all my distractions – Tweetdeck, Googlemail, my phone, the tv. Then I sat in a quiet room and did the work using only a PDF of the arthcle I was studying and notepad on my laptop.


I had spent the week leading up to that being in charge of childcare, but nevertheless had grabbed a few minutes here and there to get some work done – planning, preparation, admin and the like. I had also held some really interesting conversations on Twitter, read some interesting blogs and responded to the odd e-mail. You may be wondering exactly how I care for my children, but it’s amazing what you can fo with CBeebies on in the room…


Somehow I’d never felt able to focus on the academic stuff with the kids about, and when I came to the study itself, I had also felt the necessity of turning off the online distractions.


I hadn’t thought conciously about that decision until today when I read a really good article in the Telegraph called ‘How the Internet is making us stupid’ by Nicholas Carr.


He has pulled together various bits of research that show how all the distractions we engage reduce the depth at which we think. We are becoming shallow thinkers.


He writes things like: ‘people who juggle many tasks are often less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.’


And: ‘People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read words printed on pages.’


He also quotes developmental psychologist, Patricia Greenfeld who says that while ‘every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others’ there are ‘new weaknesses in higher-order cognitive processes.’


And Roman philosopher Seneca who said: ‘To be everywhere is to be nowhere.’


He goes on to quote neuroscientist Michael Merzenich who said that as our brains adapt to this shallow way of thinking, ‘the long term effect on the quality of our intellectual lives could be deadly.’


Now I’m not to sure about that. I think we need to be able adapt to different ways of thinking for different purposes, which is what I found the other evening when I successfully engaged in some study. But I do agree with him when he says that ‘skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought’. I’ve been guilty of spending too long in skimming mode recently and that whole way of thinking has stopped me from even being ready to attempt any academic study.


My conclusion


I must be determined not to let ‘skimming’ be my default mode and schedule myself time to engage in different types of thinking.


Do you agree with Carr’s article? Have you read any research that indicates the positive impacts on thinking of using social media?

Unsticking the stuck

“Twitter is too hard for me to use.” That statement stopped me in my tracks earlier today when I was trying to persuade some colleagues about the benefits of networking via Twitter.


I’m on a maths training programme called MAST. It’s a big 2 year academic thing that can contribute to a Masters degree (if you want it too). Myself and the other participants are at different stages of study and some of us are stuck.


Some of us are stuck because the university’s VLE is old and outdated, without the functionality and flexibility of the kind of interfaces we’re used to like facebook.


Some of us are stuck because the material is hard. There are hard words to understand and apply, like ‘didactic’ and ‘quotitive’ (a word I used in my last post).


Some of us are stuck because in the local area network meetings we still haven’t actually formed a network – we come to them, we learn some stuff but then we don’t talk about it in between.


Now it seems to me that Twitter would be a good solution to this. We could have a tag for our group and communicate when we’re stuck to each other, post useful links, help each other with the tricky parts of the course. It might even make the rest of the face-to-face meetings more meaningful.


The problem is that out of the 28 participants and 2 course tutors, only I use Twitter. A small group of them use Facebook and have set up a Facebook group, but say that ‘Twitter would be too hard for them to use.’


That was such an interesting statement and I have to say that 6 months ago I would have said the same thing. Since then however I’ve decided that it is my responsibility to learn about new technologies so that I can help the children I teach and their parents understand them better and use them more safely. On the way I have discovered that they have really helped me plug in to learning networks and be generally more effective.


So how do I persuade the others that Twitter is the thing to do?


Firstly, am I wrong – is there a better solution? For example, setting up a wiki page buckling down and setting up a discussion on the university’s oh-so-clunky VLE? Something else.


Secondly, maybe I should just join the Facebook group and convince people to come to Twitter from there?


Any other solutions? Does anyone know how to create a Twitter epiphany amongst thirty sceptical maths specialists?

Leaps in technology

Some of us are a bit slow in the uptake.

We’re teachers.

We’re a bit slow because we’re so busy doing what we think we should be doing that we don’t take time to make our lives easier.

If only we spent a few moments finding the things that would make our lives easier, then we’d be less busy and teach better.

The pipe is more important than the contents of the pipe.

Today I made my life a bit easier. I learnt how to do Twitter. It took me 10 minutes. Then I learnt how to e-mail remotely into my blog. I’m doing that now from my phone.

Leaps forward in technology – for me anyway…

Fashion and the Illiterati

Creative teaching for the 21st Century


My key learning from this conference can be summed up in these 3 points:


1. Don’t be lazy: be literate.

2. Arts and culture education is important.

3. Change for creativity takes time.


I arrived at the conference at 10 past 10, not quite realising that it was a national thing. My vaguely formed expectations were around the normal conferences and courses put on by Birmingham LA. I suppose I was expecting conversations during the day to linger on the depressing notions of potential cuts in the authority and to hint at rather negative thoughts of what the next few years in Birmingham schools might be like. I should prepare better.


It was a real treat to be given a flavour for the national picture on creativity in English schools; to be invited to subscribe to a new body for creativity (SCNAG) and to speak to colleagues from all over the country.


Don’t be lazy: be literate



The challenge from Ewan McIntosh was to not be illiterate with new technologies. I’ve always prided myself on being able to pick up new technologies with ease but I have to admit to falling within a certain comfort zone over the past couple of years (and that’s partly why I’m writing this post today). I’ve settled with my phone and haven’t changed it for over 4 years now, so completely missing out on the revolution in ‘apps’. I started to blog and then I stopped again. I use Facebook a bit. I thought it would be a good idea to use Twitter, but I never did.



And I’m the ICT co-ordinator at school.



Mind you, it has become more and more difficult to use technology within school. Facebook and Twitter are inaccessible due to restrictions set by the local authority. Youtube was also banned by the LA for a while (but isn’t now). Policy Central runs on the school system taking snapshots of any ‘illicit’ activity (which has included such things as a worksheet on capacity with the word ‘jugs’ on it). While Policy Central doesn’t directly affect the use of new technologies it does take up considerable time to monitor it. Time that could be spent developing use of new stuff instead.


It was especially encouraging to here Ewan talking about the kind of skills that would avoid making ICT gaffs. When he talked about the young lady who had slated her boss on Facebook only to find that her boss could see everything she’d written, he (Ewan) made the point that the young lady should have been taught to keep a learning log at school. The type of log where she might have recorded 2 stars and a wish in a review of how she was getting on. Then she would see the need to write constructively whatever the mode she was writing in.


I liked the bit where he talked about the kind of spaces people communicate in:


    1. Secret spaces (like e-mail and text)


  • Group spaces (like Facebook, Twitter and VLEs)



  • Publishing spaces (like blogs, Youtube and newspapers)



  • Participation spaces (I can’t remember what these were)



  • Performing spaces (can’t remember these either)



  • Data spaces (like that online mapping project)



  • Watching spaces (where you just watch what other people are up to in all the other spaces).



As you can see I’ve still got some words to learn to regain my literacy.


Arts and Culture Education

It’s important – really important. Professer Anne Bamford talked about arts and culture education. I tried to mnd map some of the important facts (see inset).


Some of the key facts included:


  • Fashion is the 2nd biggest industry in the UK.
  • You pay £4.00 for a coffee in a posh coffee house, but only £1.50 for the same coffee in a polystyrene cup on a train. That’s over a 150% mark up because of design.
  • Children who are taught arts and culture have better brains.
  • An Arts-rich 26 year old is 5 times less likely to be dependant on state assistance than a non-arts-rich person of the same age.
  • Schools with an arts rich education have better standards. They have a shared identity and ethos and perform better in the ‘soft measures’ that are increasingly being measured.
  • Teaching arts badly actually stifles creativity. It’s better to not teach arts at all than to pay lip service to it and do it badly – this places the teacher as the person of primary importance.

Change for Creativity Takes Time

It was really encouraging to see schools who are already doing what I’d like us to be doing here at Paganel Primary School.

Well actually I felt really envious initially.

But then, when I discovered that these schools had been working for 8 years on developing creativity I felt really encouraged. Affirmed even. We’re only 18 months into our change school programme. Already we have seen some great things happen although it wouldn’t be fair to see yet that we’ve achieved complete culture change. Ewan McIntosh said that risk-embracing teachers using new technology achieves real social capital. I agree with that – it just takes some time to get there.

With the election to come there may be some unsettled times ahead. With the huge budget deficit there will certainly be some cut backs to face. The lessons that I’ve learned from this conference won’t change – cut backs aren’t going to stop me using Twitter and neither can they stop me talking positively about the benefits of arts and culture education. And me a mathematician too…




Next time…

In my next post I will discuss how the original National Numeracy Strategy devised in 1995 and 1996 under the last Conservative government stifled the creativity of the nation.

  • Social Slider