A Tale of Snapchat and Service Learning

I am not a fan social media (for personal life). I think I last updated Facebook 6 months ago, but I have been toying with the idea of posting that I just paid off my student loans (shameless brag). I didn’t have Twitter until 2 years ago, and I didn’t start posting until I went to ISTE in June this year. And yet I just signed up for Snapchat. I know, I’m surprised too!

There’s two reasons for this, and the first is that it should have happened a year ago, but I’m lazy.

I did a Service Learning project with my students last year, and part of it was that they had to do an awareness campaign for the various issues. There was the usual roundup of videos and skits and posters, but one stood out and was really popular with the students – Snapchat. They created a Snapchat account and everyday of their awareness week would post different stories, pictures, videos, and links to the organization we were working with. By the end, almost every student in our middle school was following them and checking it multiple times a day as it updated. Regrettably they deleted it, but it was such an innovative idea and tailored to their age group that it should have made me sign up then. Bonus – my students for this year remember it!

This year I used it as an example of how social media can be used for positive ideas, and how a small change/action can lead to big change. I gave the students very few boundaries on their projects last year, and this is what grew out of it. If they can have that impact in our school in 1 week, what could they do if they had more time? Now that they really know I mean it when I say “be as unique and creative as you can,” are they willing to rise to that challenge? Here’s hoping!

I also believe there is room for a discussion with the recent US election and the spread of vitriol and fake news on social media, and how powerful it would be if we could reverse that and replace the negative messages with kind and inspiring and accepting ones. If the internet can use used for hate, surely it can be used for love as well.

Fair warning, the second reason is not quite as directly connected to the main topic of this post and gets a little weird. 

Sigh, so this happened recently.  Posed by students.
Sigh, so this happened recently. Posed by students, picture pulled from Snapchat.

I also did so because I was becoming a Snapchat star amongst my students and I never got to see it. I have a tendency to get a little weird in class, and I figured instead of trying to stop the kids from doing what they are going to do anyway, I may as well make it an open environment. Rules are they can include me but no other students (without permission), I get copies of any pictures or videos from class, and no hidden recording (meaning if they are filming, I can see it happening). It’s actually been pretty liberating, and I have some…let’s call them interesting…pictures of my teaching in action. When I got Snapchat, kids were literally running to show me how to use it

It only looks like I'm winning. I lost. Bad. Twice.
It only looks like I’m winning. I lost. Bad. Twice.

(I’ll spare you the stories of their agony as I pressed the wrong thing and acted like my mom did when she was trying to type), and immediately following me and asking me to follow them. I try to post at least 1 thing everyday of something that happened in class – usually the weirder moments, but the other sections always want to know “why were you arm wrestling Jack?!” the next day, so at least it’s a talking point.

There has been an unexpected side effect – I see EVERYTHING they put on Snapchat. Pictures from my class? Yup. Pictures of them at home being silly? Oh dear Lord, yes. Pictures from their night at the music award show? WAY more than I ever needed to see.

Happily, nothing I’ve seen has been too inappropriate or disturbing. I like joking with them about the things they post and they get red as a tomato when I point it out – but they don’t block me. It actually works really well to start small discussions with them about posting online without having to do it in a formal lesson where they know all the things to say that we want to hear as teachers. I also get to work their pictures/videos into conversations that they may prefer I not. Example? Since you asked so nicely, ok!

Me: What are you struggling with on this writing project?

Student: I dunno – no ideas. My brain is a desolate wasteland of creative inspiration with a distinct dearth of imagination.

Me: LIAR! I have seen you tell a 5-minute story to your sister about why you got in trouble with your parents. Instead of the truth, your version involved evil fairies, unicorns, and a lightsaber!


Me: Snapchat. I got weird(er) looks on the subway because you made me laugh out loud (literally, not the usual snort through the nose that LOL means). It was really funny and creative! Why not start with that story as your basis and we can go from there?

Student: WOW! I never thought of that! You are the best teacher in the whole wide world!

I took a few liberties with the phrasing (but so subtle I doubt you even noticed it). The story is real though, and has happened a lot. Maybe it doesn’t relate to class, but I have said “if you have time to do the Single Ladies dance at 2am, you have time to read for 20 minutes at home.” The point is, many of them have realized that their digital life and school life are way more interconnected than they think. Also, that they can be exposed at any moment for what they have put online. Hopefully it will make them think twice about what they post or what they say. Maybe, just maybe, it will make them a little more honest and thoughtful and kind. *fingers crossed.* I like to think maybe having more accountability will make them more aware and responsible.

Thoughts on Snapchat in the classroom or positivity instead of hate on the internet?

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Snapchat and Service Learning”

  1. Hi Laura,
    I’m looking for buddies to collaborate on the course 2 project. I’m very open to either topic 1, 2 or 3. Are you already part of a group?

  2. I do find it fascinating that you were relatively late the social media game and quite hesitant and yet jumped on Snapchat. I’m the other way around. I’ve been on Twitter since 2007, FB since around that time, Instagram, etc, but haven’t jumped on the Snapchat train.

  3. Hi Laura,
    I was looking for some ideas to create some awareness with my Upper ES students and Elementary Students. I think your awareness week is a great idea for them to record and start noticing what is around them and think about how or what they would do differently. I think during my digital citizenship unit with my MS students, I might have them do a quick video about good online behaviour as well.


  4. Dear Laura,

    Such a great way to use Snapchat. I have struggled to figure it out and suffer groans from my daughter when I continually resnap a photo before sending it. This is one of those examples of the kids being so much better at tech than we are. Our job, then, is to help them figure out how to use it responsibly and you have done just that. I love it so much.


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