#TBlesson Using Twitter to Explore the Language of Probability

Two years ago I had the idea of using replies from my Twitter network to gather responses about the probability of snow. What was planned as a plenary to a session ended up being expanded into a full hour long lesson. This week I taught the same maths topic and this post outlines the approach I took this year to my lesson.

Context

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This was the second lesson in the week – the first was a basic introduction to some of terminology in basic probability of events. We talked about the ways we would describe events such as a deer jumping through the window or a cat wandering into the classroom. We then looked at a load of different statements and positioned them on the scale: IMPOSSIBLE – UNLIKELY- POSSIBLE – PROBABLE – CERTAIN. The Twitter lesson would extend this understanding of the language used by exploring the tweets from my network.

Set-up

One of the things I have written about before is the planned tweets that should take place before a lesson if you want to do this type of lesson. You can elicit responses on the spot, live, but you have much more control over how you use the responses if you allow yourself some time to do so. I tweeted this the day before and encouraged as many responses as I could:

Twitter message

With a good handle on the sort of responses I was getting I could plan to make the tweets into any sort of resource I wanted. Another reason to tweet early is to encourage members of your network in other countries to participate. This was crucial to the probability question I was posing.

As the lesson was beginning I repeated my request which bolstered the responses that were coming in live, indeed it gave some people the chance to adjust their snow estimates from the previous day.

Hashtag

At the end of the tweet you can see that I have asked people to respond using the hashtag #TBlesson. In terms of organisation this allowed me to easily copy and paste from a Twitter search page into a Google Doc. If you leave it to your replies you will have to edit out all of the odds and ends that are not relevant to your lesson which is time consuming.

Resources

  • I decided that this time I wanted the tweets to be something the children could hold. I turned the digital into analogue and printed the tweets off. They were laminated and cut into individual cards. We made 3 sets for the different activities in the lesson.
  • For the location activity we had 2 floor maps of the UK and Europe. I also had a SMART Notebook file from previous years that had tweets and a world map to work with.
  • Finally I cleared some of the tables away and used masking tape to make a great big probability scale on the floor. I printed off some labels using the language from the previous day and placed them accordingly.
  • 5 or 6 laptops for the location activity.
  • The children’s maths books and pencil crayons.

Introduction

Using the #TBlesson hashtag I displayed a Visible Tweets presentation as the children were coming in from playtime. They were soon enthralled as the responses span and twisted their way onto the IWB display. I listened as the children began pointing out something to a friend or spotting a particular country.

Twitter prob lesson 1

I began by talking about my network on Twitter and how I had used it to find out about the chances of snow across the world. We spent some time watching the random display of tweets from the search and we talked about the language we discussed in the previous day and if we could see any examples of people using it.

I think Visible Tweets is an excellent way to display Twitter replies and I would highly recommend it if you are doing the same. This is another reason to use a hashtag when gathering responses as it is much easier and more controlled if you are displaying a specific search term.

In the image you can see a Tweetdeck column – this is another useful tip. I deleted all of the other Twitter columns and I was left with the #TBlesson hashtag search I had running. A simple and easy way to focus your classroom display on just what you need to show.

Listen to me introducing the session to my class. “Twitter Lesson Audio

Activities

The children were put into mixed ability pairs and we had 5 pairs on each of the three carousel stations. After a 10 minute introduction I rotated these groups every 15 minutes which would allow some time for a short conclusion too.

Location

Twitprob (2)I wanted the children to begin to explore the location of the responses and to think about the climate of different parts of the world. The children had two floor maps of the UK and Europe to place a set of the tweet cards on (I filtered the cards appropriately). There was also the IWB which had a world map and a bunch of tweets from previous years.

I put out half a dozen laptops for the children to use to help them locate some of the places mentioned in the tweets. All of the children decided to use Google Earth to help them find the places and they then placed the cards on the floor maps.

The children had the option to use the technology to support them if they wanted and were confident enough to know the correct tool to help them. This is a good example of children independently choosing a technology to support their learning.

Probability Scale

Twitprob (1)There were many fascinating mathematical discussions in this group about the best place to put the different cards on the large scale. The children were having to interpret the plethora of terminology in the tweets and match them to the commonly used language on the scale.

This was a good challenge and the children worked in pairs to support each other in positioning the different statements. All three groups put the statements neatly above and below each other along the scale, even though many were the same. I extended their thinking by inviting them to place them alongside each other if they were equivalent.

A further step was to get pairs to check a small section for accuracy and to look closely at the ordering. I was able to direct different pairs or individuals to review the position of specific tweets that I knew would challenge them appropriately. (For example someone used 0.05)

Language Examples

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In the third activity the children simply gathered examples of the language used, writing these out in their books. This would eventually lead us to a major conclusion we made as a class in the plenary.

This fairly straight forward task meant the children were really engaging with the variety of terms used and their records helped them to see the breadth of it.

They recorded fractions, decimals and percentages as well as slang and local phrases used for likelihood.

Reviewing the lesson and the language used

As a whole group we finished the lesson by discussing the different language that we had encountered during the session and shared some of the ways people were using it. We briefly explored the climate differences between locations and heard some examples of places that had an impossible chance of snow.

We concluded that the majority of people used percentages rather than words to describe the likelihood of an event. This lead us to think about the important mathematical link between a number and a word and how even though words are easier to understand they are less precise than giving a numeric value.

The children enjoyed the lesson and the carousel style of activities. After another quick tweet to my network we were able to enjoy some #snowpics to show it really was 100% certain some people were going to get snow!

Lesson Outcomes

The range of activities and the chance to explore the nuances of probability language gave the children a great opportunity to:

  • consolidate what they had learned about basic probability language
  • experience the full range and variety of terminology used
  • begin to understand the link between a lexical and numeric representation of probability

Since my lesson on Tuesday I have already seen two other examples of teachers looking for responses from their Twitter network for specific lessons. Even 2 years on from when I first did this lesson I still think that the opportunity to use your Twitter network to provide insight, responses, input, challenge and data is overlooked by many. What makes it so manageable for us to contribute is that only 140 characters is needed.

A big thankyou to everyone who helped by making a contribution it is really appreciated. Hopefully this post shows you how your 140 characters fit into the bigger picture.

Why not have a look at what you are teaching in the next few weeks and consider making a request for your network to make a contribution. I hope this lesson has given you some ideas and real methods for how this can work and making the most of it in the classroom.

  1. Thanks for the comment Umm – feel free to use the Google Doc link in the
    post that has all of the replies. Looks like you have the start of a network
    on Twitter – you just need to keep building, keep expanding and nurturing
    it.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the lesson – I do think using your network for specific
    learning resources or for making contributions is really overlooked. I hope
    you find a way to extend some of your lessons using Twitter.

  3. I agree, no doubt the framing of the question acted as a lead to those
    answering it.It certainly is an interesting insight into the group that
    responded in terms of their own appreciation for percentages.

    Can you see more and more of this type of lesson/network interaction going
    on in the near future? Or do you think it is still far too niche?

  4. Yes Tod I think that the lesson was successful due to the live interaction
    with those who responded as we were working and how engaged the children
    were with the comments from real people. It made the maths real too.

  5. Absolutely bloody brilliant! As a History teacher – I could use this approach by using my PLN for opinions on their thoughts on, for example: 'create a 6 word story that sums up the slave trade' , 'who is the most influential Briton' , 'Who was to blame for WW1' etc. As an Assitant Head Teacher – I gotta get this form of collaboration whole school 🙂

    Superb
    @jamieportman – twitter

  6. I wonder if you used “how likely it is to snow” rather than “probability…” whether you would get more informal language rather than percentages? ie. Suggesting that the form of the language used in the question dictated the replies. Also, given that percentages are widely misunderstood, whether their dominance suggests quite a mathematically literate Twitter network

  7. This lesson used relationships to move it forward. And that gave the lesson meaning. I imagine the students were intrigued by the participation of other people from different parts of the world. This elevated their engagement and made the lessons learned more sticky than if they had just used a math textbook to explore probability terminology. That's what makes it successful, isn't it? That it's a meaningful lesson. Surprisingly meaningful to the kids.

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