Teaching with Social Media: Creating Upward Learning Trajectories

Visiting classrooms is a favorite part of my job. It is motivating seeing teachers embracing instructional technology to the point I get lost in the engagement of the deeper learning along with the students. In other classes, it is clear the teacher is very uncomfortable using even the simplest technology, let alone advising kids on appropriate or safe use of social media and diving into deeper learning using technology.

According to Gee & Esteban-Guitart (2019), deeper learning is a way to provide meaning in ways that improve themselves or others. Students want to affiliate themselves with a cause or idea creating opportunities to enhance their life or others’.

Frequently, I follow up with teachers after lessons and ask if they had conversations in class about safety and accessing authentic sites vs “fake news” to enhance deeper learning for student projects. I found it’s 50-50. Some teachers admit they leave it to the Digital Learning classes to learn the importance of Digital Literacy or Citizenship, or state they don’t know exactly how to teach appropriate use of the internet. Deciphering between real and fake news articles online can be confusing for both kids and us at times!

We have countless choices for instructional learning platforms through online programs and curricula to use in classrooms. Some new educational websites, such as Educators Only Source, house comprehensive, alphabetical lists of PreK- 12 educator-friendly websites (most are free) in all subjects including instructional technology (IT), which you can use to freshen-up a lesson to engage with deeper learning.

Bridging Instructional Technology Strategies with Social Media

Educators taking the next step and delving into popular social media sites employed by kids, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc., in the classroom can be scary or taboo. We may get professional development with new technology platforms, but rarely do we get it for social media. Yet these social media sites, used in conjunction with well-designed instructional technology strategies, have the potential to create an upward learning trajectory that caters to student engagement and deeper learning discoveries.

According to Pew Research Center (Anderson & Jiang, 2018), the top three most popular social media platforms for teenagers ages 13 through 17 were YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%), and Snapchat (69%). Facebook came it at 59% and Twitter at 32%.

Kids, particularly adolescents, are attracted to social media because it colorfully enhances communication. I am going to use examples from an informal interview I recently had with Madison. According to Madison, a 20-year-old female I interviewed about social media use in high school and now in college stated,

what makes social media real and a strong draw for us is the ability to see the expressions on someone’s face while communicating, whether friends or family, making it a strong connection”. In other words, the ability to relay facial expressions and pictures or visuals are an effective form of communication reaching beyond words in texts and creating a social presence.

A concern about common instructional technology we utilize in schools is that these platforms may tend to feel impersonal and are therefore disengaging for students (Kear, et. al., 2014). Although improving every year, many platforms still lack the ability to create a cohesive social presence that students desire, whether professional or personal. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube, draw students’ attention and generate strong affiliations or connections with others. In our best instructional practices, we as educators need to avoid overlooking attributions that social media platforms offer and begin to employ these concepts in the classroom for deeper connections to learning.

Internet Safety to Avoid Social Media Predators

However, there is a dark and dangerous underground side to social media that we may ignore when educating students. This, unfortunately, is part of the social media package. Madison mentioned she wished the school provided more opportunities to learn healthy ways to post and use social media. She openly admits she is addicted to being on the sites 4 – 5 hours a day, because she gets lured into the immediate gratification of the “likes”, or seeing where her friends are and what they are doing.

For example, Madison’s favorite niche is following self-proclaimed fitness gurus that profit from projecting unrealistic body images proclaiming they can look like the models if they just follow their methods or buy their fitness product. Madison states,

there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way and post for everyone to see. Social media causes problems for self-image”.

She further revealed that she is not aware of potential predators that could be trolling her. GuardChild (2019), a site that compiles social media data, shows that:

  • 24% were victims to embarrassing and private information shared publicly without their consent
  • 39% of teens believe their profile and information is private from everyone, including their parents
  • 67% know how to hide information from adults
  • social media related sexual assault cases have increased by 300%

Enter Internet Safety

Two great missed learning opportunities here. First, appropriate internet use about self-image with real and fake online images, and second, internet safety around predators. Knowing these statistics screams the need to address the gap and scaffold our instruction with teaching an appropriate and safe social presence. Kids look to us for direction and to decipher between right and wrong.

Netiquette Do’s and Don’ts to Use with Kids

Some Do’s and Don’ts to consider when designing lessons and creating safe Netiquette in your class.


  • treat everyone with respect
  • keep posts at a level you wouldn’t be embarrassed to show your parents, friends, teacher, or principal
  • pause and wait before posting as well as reread before sending
  • keep personal things private
  • protect your digital reputation


  • post a series of locations
  • over share information
  • post personal information (full name, address, phone number, etc.)
  • post something about someone without asking or getting permission


Connecting the Dots

We need to triangulate the aforementioned information and teach students to:

  1. Access authentic sites for information and content to connect to deeper learning
  2. Create an appropriate social presence using the Do/Don’ts
  3. Nurture self-confidence and avoid internet predators through appropriate and safe internet use of the internet

In other words, step up and embrace the platforms kids are taking “selfies” on and use it to your advantage. Let’s face it, kids are not on Excel all day long.

It’s Time to Try a New Lesson

How do we embrace, capture, and bridge the most popular social media used by kids and transfer that to learning?

We need to speak the same language by designing lessons that allow our students to dive into learning in a safe environment.

Merge the Dots with adding content to Instagram or Snapchat (check age requirements, usually 13,  as they adhere to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA); check school policy requirements).

Geocaching and Jigsaw Strategy…Meet Instagram

How? Be creative!

Create small groups in your classroom, each group researching and gathering facts about a historical figure from the Revolutionary War era using authentic sites (jigsaw strategy). Create a “Histagram”, or Instagram account using the historical figure, to post facts (like a character from an online role-playing game) and learn about an appropriate social presence. Other students in the class “friend” each other’s historical figures, get information, asks questions through Instagram to help solve your overall essential question.

An essential question could relate to a sequential timeline leading to a significant event (geocaching strategy). For example, the final, combined product from each of the groups will reveal how the historical figures impacted the Revolutionary War.

Wow! You just gave your old lesson a fresh, engaging new look! Here are a few more lesson ideas using social media.

Be Strong. Embrace the Struggle for our Future Leaders

Educators broaden perspectives and prepare students for a global future with an international mindset, especially as technology and global communication advances exponentially and changes lifestyles (Fedorowicz, 2017). This is why it is pertinent to teach students deeper learning and the importance of having an appropriate online presence.

Embrace the struggle. Adapt your teaching strategy. Overcome the social media challenge with your kids.

Plus, the biggest bonus…your kids will think you are cool!

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Anderson, M. & Jiang, J. (2018). “Teens, Social Media & Technology”. https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

Fedorowicz, Sharlene M., “An Examination of Educators’ Perceptions of Host Country Cultural Dynamics in International Schools Abroad” (2017). Educational Studies Dissertations. 122.

Gee, J.P. & Esteban-Guitart, M. (2019). “Designing for Deep Learning in the Context of Digital and Social Media”. Comunicar: Media Education Research Journal, 27(58), 9-17.

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., & Jefferis, H. (2014). “Social presence in online learning communities: the role of personal profiles”. Research in Learning Technology, 22, article no. 19710. DOI: http://oro.open.ac.uk/40771/