Panel to use Twitter in talk

The social media tool Twitter will be connecting Irvine Unified School District teachers, students and parents in a daylong discussion Wednesday about the dreaded "H" word: Homework.

IUSD parents and students will be talking about the role of take-home school work via Twitter during the first of two sessions scheduled for the district's annual Curriculum Council meeting. The Wednesday session marks the first time that the district will use Twitter to solicit input from the community, IUSD officials said.

"This year, there is so much interest in the topic that we wanted to find a way to invite the whole community to join in on the discussion, but without overflowing the room past capacity and not make the conversation unmanageable," Cassie Parham, the assistant superintendent for Education Services, said in an interview.

A presentation followed by two panel discussions on homework will be led by the council, a 50-person group of district educators, parents and students. The council meets two to three times every February to discuss strategies for improving learning across the district.

Wednesday's session will open with an 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. presentation on research into and snapshots of debates and philosophies about homework, district officials said in a news release. Afterward, teachers will take part in a panel discussion on the topic. An afternoon discussion among a panel of parents will follow in the afternoon.

During both of the panel discussions people watching a live TV broadcast will be able to "tweet" in questions and comments for the panelists. The two panels will focus on the latest research on homework relating to the amount given to students, how homework is selected, measuring student progress through homework, and other subtopics.

Students can also weigh in on the discussion — although that isn't advised during class time. A video presentation consisting of recorded interviews with students will ensure that their opinions are heard as well, Parham said.

So many people are interested in the topic this year because "homework transverses the boundary between school and family," she said.

And everyone has different ideas about where that line should be drawn, she said.

"This is potentially a really divisive topic," agreed school board member Gavin Huntley-Fenner.

Using Twitter will help bring in the broadest range of participation possible, which is particularly important in an ethnically-diverse population such as that in Irvine, he said.

One area that Huntley-Fenner believes is particularly important is adapting education strategies to today's technologies, he said.

Teachers could use online resources to provide individualized lesson plans and the corresponding level homework to students based on their performance, thus solving the issue where often times "quantity is substituted over quality" when it comes to differentiating student lesson plans, he said.

"We have a one-size-fits-all mentality for homework and that doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Huntley-Fenner said.

This is just one of the ideas that the Curriculum Council will consider the possibilities of during Wednesday's meeting and the second meeting, on Feb. 23, which is not expected to involve the use of Twitter. The information resulting from the meetings will be reported out to the school board by the council, which will then work with the district's school sites to implement the recommendations, Ian Hanigan, the district's spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Let's Tweet

What: IUSD Curriculum Council on Homework

When: Teacher panel discussion from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday; and parental panel discussion from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Wednesday.

How: Watch live on IUSD's channel 39 and submit questions or comments via Twitter at twitter.com/IUSD# or by posting a tweet with "@iusd."

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