If you were hanging around Twitter on Thursday night, you could have watched about a dozen teachers from up and down Delaware talking shop.
Twitter has "hashtags" that allow users to sift through the colossal volume of tweets to find a topic that interests them. On Thursday, "#delachat" was the go-to place for the state's teachers to share ideas they've found helpful in their classrooms.
The Twitter chat was about collaboration, with a structured set of questions and set times when all the teachers participating would answer them. At 9:06 p.m., for example, they answered the question, "How do you ensure that all students are collaborating?"
Many of the answers led to conversations that branched out from the main thread.
By the end of the session, two teachers had set up a face-to-face meeting to go over how they were helping students understand a book they were reading. One teacher was handing out links to a site that lets teachers and kids stream video and live-chat at the same time.
Welcome to teaching in the Twitterverse.
Teamwork is certainly not a new skill for teachers, but the Internet and social media have allowed that teamwork to extend way beyond the co-worker down the hall.
"I think the big thing is that you can make these connections that go further than just inside your school," said Melissa Tuttle, a teacher at Shields Elementary in the Cape Henlopen School District. "You can connect with teachers not just outside your school, but outside your state."
Take Thursday's chat, for example. When the discussion turned to ways to get students to collaborate with their teachers, Scott Sibberson, a technology specialist all the way from Dublin, Ohio, recommended that teachers create a shareable page on Google Docs on which students could ask questions.
The teacher could then answer those questions so that not just the student with the question, but the whole class, could get an answer. Sibberson called it the equivalent of "office hours."
Education technology has advanced so quickly that it can sometimes be hard for teachers to know all the different tools they can find. Twitter connects them with other educators who have tried lots of different options and can talk about what worked well and what didn't.
A relatively small percentage of teachers use Twitter right now. Most of those on Thursday's chat were either Colonial School District educators or folks from Shields, which has a strong Twitter contingent.
"I think the group of people on Twitter now are sort of on the cutting edge," Tuttle said. "But I think it's going to become more and more common. You always hear about how teachers are looking for professional development that fits their specific needs, and Twitter is a great way to have that."
Want to connect with Matthew Albright on Twitter? He's at @TNJ_malbright. You can also e-mail him at malbright@delawareonline.com or call him at (302) 324-2428..."