Sunday, August 11, 2013

Instagram: Getting Started

Imagine Scenario A: as a parent, you drop your student off to school every morning, hoping that she has a good time and learns something along the way. At night, you sit around the dinner table and ask little Susie, "What did you do in school today?" Her response: "I dunno" or "Nothin'." This occurs night after night after night...

Now imagine Scenario B: as a parent, you drop your student off to school every morning. At night, you sit around the dinner table and ask little Susie, "What did you do in school today?" Before she can even respond, "Nothin'," you whip out your cell phone and show her a picture of a fun-looking activity her teacher posted on the class Instagram. Susie's eyes light up as she excitedly remembers and tells you about what happened at school today.

Doesn't Scenario B sound much more pleasant? I thought so, too. 

YOU could provide that opportunity for the parents of students in your room. You could open up lines of communication about school. YOU could remind students about the exciting things they did today. YOU could give parents an inside look as to what is happening in your room on a daily basis. ...All with a free app and a couple clicks.

I've been using Instagram in my classroom since August 2012, and I tell you what: I love it {and so do the parents I've spoken to about it}!

Instagram used to be a mobile-device-only program, but it has now expanded to a full website. You still cannot post anything via the website {you have to do it from a mobile device}, but you can at least view everything from a regular computer. So any of your parents -- regardless of what devices they own {or don't own} can participate in this class activity.

What it is:
Instagram is a social media site based solely on pictures. Instead of status updates, you post pictures or short videos.

How to get started:
  1. On your phone or tablet, surf the App Store for Instagram and download it for free. 
  2. Register with an e-mail address, provide a username and password, and your account is up and ready for use. 
  3. Upload pictures to your account by taking a picture directly within the app, or by uploading a picture from your camera roll. Instagram only accepts square pictures, so you'll be directed to a screen that allows you to crop it accordingly. Apply a variety of simple filters to improve your photo or make it look more "artsy" and creative. Add an optional caption and post. 
  4. Link your Instagram account to your Twitter or Facebook page so that every picture you post on Instagram will automatically show up on those social networking sites, as well {do this in the settings portion of the app}. This expands your sharing capabilities with one easy click. 
  5. Find friends and "follow" them to see their photos automatically in your feed. From there, you can "like" or comment on any public picture. 
Privacy concerns:
You can adjust your privacy settings to make your photos private; doing this means that users will have to request to follow you, and you will have to approve their friendship before they can see anything you post. {However, keep in mind that if you link your Instagram to post automatically to your Facebook or Twitter and neither of THOSE are private, your pictures will still be viewable to the public on those social networking sites.}

How to use it in the classroom:
I use it to document our work and activities, plain and simple! Since I teach Science Lab, I use it to take photos of documents, artifacts, experiments, and investigations that my students are using/creating/conducting during class. Parents and admin of the school can "follow" my account and are able to see what we do in class on a daily basis.

I try to take at least 1-2 pictures per activity, rotating who I capture on film so that, hopefully, every student can be featured before the year is over.

Time commitment:
Our school encourages staff to keep cell phones handy anyway, in case of emergency, so I almost always have my phone close by. It literally takes me 2 seconds to open my camera app and take a picture with my cell. {I find it harder to snap a picture during younger grade levels' classes -- such as kindergarten -- because I tend to need to help them with investigations during every second. With older students, however, there are plenty of days where I give them instructions and just let them explore, so it's the perfect time for me to take snap some pictures.} I upload during class {under the document camera so students can see}, during plan time, during lunch, or at the end of the day when I'm waiting for my computer to turn off. Contrary to what you might think, this does not require you to invest a lot of time or effort!

I spend anywhere from the first 5-20 minutes of class helping students set up their science notebook and teaching/prepping for the investigation of the day. After that part is over, I usually let 'em fly on their own. This is when I walk around with my phone and capture really great teamwork, detailed science notebook entries, and/or the "meat" of the investigation.

If your class isn't set up that way or you don't think you have the time to be the class photographer, make it a classroom job! Pick a kid to be the photographer for a day, week, month, or semester. Give the kid your cell phone during class and allow him/her to freely snap pictures of the activities.

Don't trust your student to keep themselves from going through the personal information on your cell phone? If you have an iPhone, no need to be worried. Set a pass code for your iPhone, lock it, and hand it off. Apple has a handy quick-and-private photo feature for locked phones: press the home button to make your phone light up, and swipe your thumb up over the camera icon that appears in the bottom, right corner. You'll be taken directly to the camera app. The best part is that you can only view the pictures you took during that photography session -- nothing else. If you press the lock button to make your screen dark, and then try this process all over again, you won't have access to the pictures you took earlier unless you enter your pass code and unlock the phone fully. The class photographer will never be able to access your phone or other private information unless you give him/her your pass code. At the end of the day, pick the best photos and upload them to the class Instagram.

-Just like on Twitter, Instagram allows you to hashtag words or phrases so that they are easily searchable by others. Since I see every single student in the school, I created a hashtag that's specific to our school and each grade level. I "tag" each photo with the appropriate grade so that parents can quickly search and find the pictures they want to see.

  • If you want to be really fair about it, print an extra class list, and check off the names of students who have been featured on the class Instagram. That way, you can ensure everyone gets a chance to be featured. 
  • Generate a QR code linked to your username and put it on strips of paper on a bulletin board outside your door. Students/Parents can grab a QR code on their way out the door, go home and scan it, and immediately be connected to the class account. 
  • If Instagram is going to be your primary social media for your class, you may consider downloading the free app #notestagram -- it allows you to post text to Instagram, in the event that you need to post a message for everyone instead of a regular picture. 

Click HERE to view additional ideas for using Instagram in your classroom.

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