Technology Turns Teacher Into 'Tweecher'

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Wearing bright red rimmed sunglasses matching his red hat and red shoes, he high-fives his students who tell him, “You got swag.”  That’s student speak for ‘you look hip.‘  At Hollenbeck Middle School, Thirty-one-year-old U.S. History teacher Enrique Legaspi says he’s not trying to be cool.  He wears red to make sure the kids see him.  But it’s his love of social media that has their full attention, and keeps him ahead of the curve when it comes to teaching with technology.

Mr. Legaspi teaches Social Sciences and Leadership.  His lessons come with a twist.  No text books.  No paper.  Everything is done online with online text books and attachments shared through the social network Twitter.  He calls himself a ‘tweecher” and believes it’s a glimpse into the future of teaching.  A ‘tweecher’ is defined as a teacher who educates through the use of Twitter.  “Tweeching is like an interactive notebook, without paper, and in real time,” he explained.

Mr. Legaspi ‘tweaches’ a class of 28 eighth grade students with the help of donated technology: an interactive white board, laptops, desktop computers, and smart phones.

“Everyone turn on your devices and sign in to your Twitter accounts,” announces Mr. Legaspi as he begins his class.  The students aglow with the light from their smart phones and laptops, sit focused on their screens before looking up to the interactive white board displaying the @EnriqueGLegaspi Twitter account.  On it he writes, “Why is Twitter a tool for learning?”   They start to tap their smart phones and laptop keys as they tweet their responses @EnriqueGLegaspi, and watch their tweets appear on the white board for the entire class to see.

Using technology has opened a new world to Legaspi’s middle-school students.  Christina Cervantes says she used to be too shy to raise her hand in class, and never wanted to participate.  The opportunity to text her answers to Twitter gave her a voice she didn’t realize she had.  Speaking through tears, Cervantes explained how Legaspi engaged her, “He really got me out of my bubble.  I was so close to being so far apart from people.. he changed my life.”

“When you start ‘tweeching’ you allow students to open up, and if you’re trying to build community in the classroom that’s very important,” explained Legaspi.  “Before I was talking to a vocal set of students, and now I’m talking to the entire class and the entire class is talking to me.”

The Social Sciences teacher says he came up with the idea to fulfill his vision of having an environmentally friendly, paper-free, classroom.  “The internet is full of lots and lots of information.  When you ‘tweach’ you’re mindfully creating a road for students to explore with the help of links and attachments that will teach them about the subject you are studying.”  Legaspi says it only took the students one week to learn how to use Twitter, and they quickly became comfortable with the terms like RT (retweet), DM (direct message), and hashtag.

Students often further explore the subject they’re learning about by using a hashtag, or pound sign, on Twitter.  They’ve learned if they search a subject such as #Obama, they’ll find out a lot about our president including getting access to his Twitter feed.  “When you tweet it’s what you are doing at the moment,” said eighth grade student Ruby Villarreal.  “When you ‘hashtag’ you’re explaining that you’re talking about that.”  Villarreal says this is the first class where she’s ever explored the learning environment available on the internet, “In my perspective, Mr. Legaspi is like the first teacher that I’ve seen with technology.” 

Now that the students have learned about social networking, they’re very active using both Facebook and Twitter to explore their community.  “I love liking stuff and following people because I get to know what’s happening,” said Cervantes.

Legaspi’s students were thrilled to learn that they’ll now be able to follow what’s happening in their school district on twitter @LASchools and on Facebook/LosAngelesSchools.  Mr. Legaspi displayed the new handle @LASchools on his interactive board exclaiming, “The official twitter for LAUSD!  Isn’t that cool?”

Even students who are absent from his classes often participate virtually.  “They know what period they’re in, so they can not only follow the class but add their comments as tweets on our interactive board,” he explained.

Running this virtual classroom would not have been possible without the help of Partnership for LA Schools.  The Partnership’s Communication Manager, Luz Maria Castellanos, says it cost about $30,000 to make Mr. Legaspi’s vision a reality.  They got Microsoft to sponsor the school and support much of the technology like the promethium board and the laptops for his students.

Mr. Legaspi may be the LAUSD’s first tweecher, but he is one of many teachers interested in integrating technology.  The Partnership for LA Schools has their own handle @PartnershipLA, and has got a handle on bringing their 22 schools into the 21st century.  Castellanos says, “With our initiative, Blended Learning in the Classroom, we spend over three million dollars on technology throughout our schools to teach these kids with technologies that they’ll need to understand when they graduate to use in college, and in the workforce.”

Mr. Legaspi may have summed it up best in the less than 140 character limit on Twitter @EnriqueGLegaspi,”Use Social Media to advance student learning. CREATE + CURATE +SHARE.” 



By: Stephanie Abrams

April 30, 2012