An avalanche of tweets temporarily froze the 3G phone system around the White House last Wednesday.
It probably wasn’t Emily Jolley’s fault – who knows whose tweet tipped the network into overload – but the Millbrook High School civics teacher was there on the South Lawn, smart phone in hand, giving her students a virtual firsthand look at the arrival ceremony for British Prime Minister David Cameron.
She told them what Cameron and President Obama would be discussing – Iran, Afghanistan, the world economy – and their words on the importance of the shared values of freedom and enterprise.
“(The president) also said that even though we share the same language, he had to teach the (prime minister) what “bracketology” meant,” Jolley tweeted.
The White House held an official “Tweet-up” for the event on the lawn open to select registrants who follow the White House Twitter feed. Jolley nabbed an invitation and convinced Millbrook to find a substitute teacher for the day – though she first had to convince them that the invitation was legitimate.
“When she showed the invitation to me, I said, ‘Now Emily, is this real?’ ” Assistant Principal Kelly Aman said, laughing. “There are a lot of scams out there, how could it be real? But it was.”
Starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jolley kept students abreast of Cameron’s arrival and Obama’s official comments, along with some good-natured presidential joshing “During his speech, (Obama) joked that the British really lit up this place,” Jolley tweeted. War of 1812 humor!
Back on Spring Forest Road, the school was buzzing. Teachers pulled up Jolley’s live Twitter feed on classroom projectors. Students loved Jolley’s photo of the First Dog, Bo, and puzzled over a picture she posted of a patriotic M&M. They were surprised by how close she got to the White House. They tried to send her questions to ask during the special Q&A with White House staff after Cameron’s arrival, but were thwarted by the 3G failure.
“Students are already using all of these tools, so it’s a good way to connect with them and give them interest in this subject area outside their textbook,” Jolley said.
This isn’t Jolley’s first foray into using Twitter in the classroom. She tweeted with students during this year’s State of the Union speech.
“Kids can take these things as being kind of stuffy, but this makes it come alive – these are real things happening that we’re learning about in class,” Jolley said.
Millbrook as a whole also incorporates technology into learning as much as possible, including asking their exchange students in China to post regular blog posts during their stay. Twitter, a message-distribution website where users post updates of 140 characters or less, is increasingly popular among students, Aman said.
This isn’t the first tweet-up for the White House, either. Obama has hosted a Twitter Town Hall and a State of the Union Tweet-up, along with a tweet-up similar to Wednesday’s for the Republic of Korea arrival ceremony.
It was a first for Jolley, but she hopes it won’t be her last.
“I’ve done tours of the White House, but this is the first time I feel like I’m behind the scenes,” Jolley said. “Being able to share that experience is amazing. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity three or four years ago.”