Collecting evidence of learning with hashtags

Finding an effective way to communicate with parents can be very difficult. At Macquarie Primary School, a simple but innovative communication method has become a powerful sharing tool, and is also becoming an easy way for teachers to reflect on practice and demonstrate their own development.

When teachers at Macquarie Primary started using Google Apps for Education, those of them that were already comfortable with social media saw Google+ Communities as a potential tool for communicating with parents. Each teacher set up a community for their classroom, invited their students’ parents to join, and began posting a variety of updates about what the students were doing in the classroom. After all, for adults familiar with Google+ or even Facebook, it isn’t much of a stretch to apply those skills to a new area.
At first, the posts were what you might expect: here’s a photo of us working together; here’s the artworks we created; here's our latest shared book...which the parents enjoyed, but the executive team at Macquarie saw the potential for it to go further.

Sharing rich learning using hashtags

Macquarie Primary School’s program and strategic approach is based heavily on Inquiry learning, drawing on the work of Kath Murdoch. The executive was looking for a simple way to highlight specific areas of learning, but also to keep track of what the different classes were doing in relation to some of the inquiry-based skills that are at the heart of teaching and learning at Macquarie.

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They settled upon a list of hashtags that all people in the school could use to organise content. They were very careful not to include generic ‘literacy’ or ‘numeracy’ tags, instead using tags that linked to the school’s strategic priorities around inquiry learning across all learning areas. The final official list includes:
  • #MAQPinquiry
  • #MAQPselfmanaging
  • #MAQPthinking
  • #MAQPcommunicating
  • #MAQPresearching
  • #MAQPcollaborating
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Teachers can also add other hashtags that fit their particular purpose at the time.

How do the hash tags work?

When a class Community page is created, all staff are invited, as well as the parents of the students in the class. When teachers are posting content to their class community page, they include a hashtag that links to what the student/class is demonstrating.
This way, when parents, teachers or the executive are looking for evidence of a particular skill, they can search for that hashtag and see everything that has been tagged.

What is the impact?

One of the things that the executive has noticed since introducing the hashtag system is that the type of content that teachers upload has changed. Teachers have found themselves seeking out examples that exemplify the particular Inquiry skill that they are targeting. 
This makes the conversations that occur between parents, students and teachers much richer, and gives both teachers and students lots to talk about in their conferences and reporting. The staff have found it so powerful that they have even gone back to their older Community posts and added the relevant hashtags. Now all work shared within the class community pages is organised and searchable.

What’s next?

The school is now exploring the potential for this information to go even further. Having a rich collection of evidence available at the click of a mouse adds lots of value to the professional conversations that teachers have with each other, with their executive, and potentially, with the world.

Imagine the difference in professional staffroom conversations when a teacher can say, “have a look at what my students are doing around communication”, or “I saw that your students had some great experiences around self-managing”. Or presenting a professional portfolio that links to clear examples of practice. This is the exciting new direction that the school is now moving in.

Special thanks to Lisa Ison and Sami Wansink for sharing work from their classroom.