Posted in Google Plus, Hashtag, Inquiry, Search, Social Media

How a Common #Hashtag System Could Change Education for Students

Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.
– Simon Mainwaring


The hashtag has become one of the most recognizable symbols of our time. Much like the peace sign, Apple, or Batman logo. When you see the hashtag you instantly know what it is and how it is being used. This only became clear to me as I stood in line for a crepe at my favorite mall in Nagasaki, Japan. While standing in that long line I began looking at all of the signs to the various boutiques. That’s where I saw it. The hashtag. Only what followed was not recognizable to me. What followed the hashtag was something written in Japanese. That’s when it hit me. The hashtag is a global phenomenon. And there’s power in using it in K12 academics.

The Power of a Hashtag

The five hashtags that begin this thought are, as you probably guessed, good morning in 5 different languages (Japanese, Spanish, Korean, French and English). If you search with any of the five hashtags on Twitter, or G+ you will see how others have tweeted, or posted using that hashtag. When I searched there are pictures of sunrises from various parts of the world, breakfast plates, clouds in the sky, a cat (of course) and a Japanese teenager’s selfie of her in her school uniform on her bed in a rather interesting position that I’m pretty sure her father would not approve of.

Commonly Used Hashtags for Academics

Educators already use commonly accepted hashtags when they tweet, or post to G+. An education conversationalist uses #edchat, an educational technology conversationalist uses #edtechchat, Google Apps enthusiasts use #gafe and educators in Iowa use #iaedchat. If we began using commonly accepted hashtags with our students the possibilities would be nearly endless.

If I were teaching 3rd multiplication I could use #3rdgrademultiplication to search for content, or even better to connect with other classes that are learning the same thing at the same time as my class. We could have challenges, either through Google Hangouts, or Skype. We could conduct projects and spin-off the hashtag for our own purposes. We could organize everything by using the hashtag and make it simple for our learners to search for and thus find later when they need it.

With older students learning more about #formsofgovernment they could organize content and resources around their hashtag. They could also use the hashtag to connect with other learners in their age group who are studying the same thing. Projects could be created, but even better students could offer peer feedback and assistance.

The best part about using the hashtag is that it is archived and future learners searching by using that hashtag can then tap into the content, resources, or peer assistance and feedback as well at later dates and times.

We Have to Start Students Early

Daily calendar is a widely used strategy for teaching the days of the week, basic counting, weather and using appropriate symbols in early childhood education classrooms. Imagine if early childhood teachers used #dailycalendar to organize their content around. We could begin to teach our young learners more about the world in which they live. World weather and thus graphing, or charting, could be added by teachers gathering the daily weather that other teachers from around the world are sharing through the use of the hashtag. Global connections could be made through this. Teachers could also search the archive of past uses of the hashtag and gather weather data to create charts, or graphs and have their young learners make predictions before they reveal the actual answer.

This is a lot more interesting that just searching Because there is a teacher, and class for that matter, on the other end of that hashtag tweet, or post, the students can begin to form global bonds and thus begin the early stages of learning more about digital citizenship. The earlier we teach this the more likely our young learners are to become digital leaders by the time they hit middle, or upper levels of their education. Other benefits of this could include global pen pals and teacher connections. Imagine using other commonly accepted hashtags for your age group to connect on other projects, of if you are like me, build thematic inquiry-driven units around.

Hashtags for Experts

By developing a commonly accepted and thus used hashtag system educators in the K12 space could encourage experts and other scholars to engage with our students around the content that they specialize in. If I am having my students learn about #formsofgovernment politicians, or scholars of government could follow the hashtag and participate in the conversation, share their own resources, or content, or even better connect with the class/student(s) that are learning about the subject.

Hashtags for Inquiry-Driven Research

Future learners would also benefit by this by being able to search the hashtag for answers to their own questions.  As with any learning that happens online, students would have to learn if the source is reputable, and reliable. Previous tweets, or posts from the expert could be examined as well as links in their Twitter masthead, or through Google searches of the person.

The hashtag also presents a way for learners to engage with primary sources. Hashtags are already being used around historic events. #ArabSpring, #syria, #japantsunami are just a few. Chances are if something major is happening in the world that there is a hashtag for it. Learners can search for the hashtag and begin to read first hand accounts, often in real-time as the event is happening. And again, all of this is archived and can be accessed at any point in the future. Search #japantsunamai and you’ll see photos from the scene of Japan’s March 2012 tsunami if you are willing to go back in time to view them.

Where Do We Begin?

At the beginning of course. Start by creating a hashtag for the content in which you are going to teach. If you blog post an article about your newly created hashtag. Tweet it, post it, do everything you can to spread the word. Encourage other educators that you know to use your hashtag for that specific content and to create their own new hashtags for other specific content. Have them blog it, or you can as well, tweet it, post it, pin it, share it, whatever. The goal is to get your hashtag out and used. The more people who know about it and begin to use it the more likely it is to stick and become a commonly accepted and used hashtag.

You will also have to use the hashtag to connect with other users of that hashtag. Think about the age group that you teach and are targeting. If younger this makes a great circle time teacher-lead activity.  If older it makes for a fantastic inquiry-driven project. I suggest starting small, one concept, one hashtag. I also suggest paying attention to other educators sharing their hashtags and taking note. If you don’t have the time to write them down believe me there will be a rock star out there that will and they will share the academic hashtags that they encounter. Hey, what an awesome use for a collaborative Google Sheet.

Endless Possibilities

As I mentioned earlier, the possibilities are truly endless. If K12 educators began to develop and then use a commonly accepted hashtag system you would essentially be cataloging the Internet. Not only would you be benefiting the current generation by creating an easier way to connect, gather and share, but you would be also giving future generations an easy way to look back and see how we learned and how we used social media to deepen our own understandings, connect globally and become responsible digital leaders


18 thoughts on “How a Common #Hashtag System Could Change Education for Students

    1. Thanks, Terri. This is something that I really want to see happen in 2014 for us in the K12 space. So much potential for a common hashtag system to benefit inquiry-driven learning, and build global minds. I could see myself checking other countries common hashtags as well as a way to deepen my students learning.

    1. There are already a lot of educators using hashtags to connect with other educators based on their interests. #edchat, #edtechchat, #2guysshow, ect. I have seen fantastic spreadsheets with a collection of all of the education related hashtags. There are also a lot of excellent blog articles out there with some of the more widely used hashtags. I recently even saw a spreadsheet with a list of all of the teachers using Twitter with their classes. The first step is to connect with other educators that are teaching the same content as you and create the common hashtag. Some will stick, some will not. The first step is just getting the name of the hashtag out there so that others can begin to use it. What comes after that is entirely up to us. Start with one hashtag and go from there.

  1. You’ve definitely given me food for thought as I look to start planning for next semester. I use class hashtags regularly, but maybe now it is time to start including more general ones in course content. I currently find, though, that it is only the more academically-driven students that go out on their own to find and use hashtags. Perhaps this is a trend I can help change in the new year?

    1. This idea may be a rethinking of how hashtags can benefit us. In order for it to be successful it will require educators working together to forge common hashtags for their standards/content/subject areas. From there it will take teaching the students how to tap into this power. That’s why I recommend starting them young by using teaching guided lessons. At the elementary school where I work morning calendar is a widely used lesson. A common hashtag would make connecting and thus finding other teachers that were using morning calendar as a lesson. The teacher could not only use the common hashtag to connect with other teachers that were teaching the exact same thing, but they could share weather, favorite color of the day, you name it. The lesson also begins to teach the young learner about social media and how when used responsibly that it can lead to the betterment of our global community.

  2. Thanks, Evan! As an “old-timer” teacher educator keenly aware that I need to lead my pre-service teachers to incorporate social media in their lesson planning, I appreciate the leg-up this post provides. My first step this spring will be to require all my Reading I students to get a Twitter account. Then we’ll learn together how to use hashtags. Who knows where we go from there!

    1. I have found that the best way to lead the social media charge is to model how to use it for professional gains. I would showcase the positives that being a connected educator has made for you. But be careful not to push your colleagues too hard. I would also recommend not making a Twitter account a requirement for your students. What I would do is create a class account and begin connecting with other classes that use Twitter. Connect with other educators ahead of time and decide what common hashtags you would like to use. Then model how to use Twitter to your students. I also highly recommend involving your parents in this. Many parents will not like that you required their child to have a social media account. By involving your parents you show a willingness to work together and that you are willing to listen to their concerns. While there is a lot of power for learning with social media use there is also a lot of potential for misuse. Good luck and keep me posted on your progress.

  3. Liked your post Evan. See what I’ve been doing with my 5th graders at . Super user friendly, and yes Google Docs also combined with this tool is just out of this world. I used to think that “fancy” apps were for execs and frequent fliers. But no! Education has been revolutionised and has not even scrated the surface in technology! Lets collaborate Twitter: @JoseBerrios1212

    ¡Buenas Noches!

    1. Thank you, Jose. And thank you for sharing your class website. Looks like you’ve got a lot of great projects going on in your class. I’d love to collaborate some time. Let me know what you have in mind.

  4. It is a bit of a phenomenon that they haven’t taken off more, in the K-12 arena as you discuss. I suspect the reason why is that educators are nervous about using them with students due to the privacy issues. I’m not a proponent of filtering, in general, but the open end of a hashtag on Twitter is a little scary when we’re talking about little ones doing the searching. For instance, the Japanese girl posting a semi-questionable photo that you mentioned above.

    I use them all the time, as a former teacher and now instructional technology consultant, but when using them with students I think I’d be a little more hesitant to have them exploring openhandedly.

    Just a thought…thanks for sharing your post.

    1. Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your comment. I believe that there are ways to still protect student privacy and use a common hashtag system. All in all I believe that we have reached a point where education needs to take on more of an active role in teaching social media responsibility. I don’t think I would just let a young student go off and use social media without there being a lot of teaching first. As an educator, I also would not ask students to search a hashtag without first having done so myself. The goal of a common hashtag system in education would be to create connections and teach global mindedness. There is a lot of untapped potential in using social media as a learning tool. There are safe and educationally sound ways to make this happen. I know that I would love to begin having those conversations with other educators and stakeholders out there.

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