Clovis techie teacher uses the tweet method

The Fresno BeeJune 24, 2014 

Teacher Joe Marquez strolls along aisles between desks in his Alta Sierra Intermediateclassroom, sliding his finger softly along the frame of his Google glasses. As he swipes to read tweets sent seconds ago by his students, day-glo green letters spelling "test next week" scroll like a stock ticker across his electronic belt buckle.

Marquez's eighth-graders are learning about the formation of the solar system. They've just finished watching a video about the surfaces and atmospheres of the planets when Marquez tells them to grab their cellphones.

"I want you to tweet one thing you saw in the video," Marquez directs. Fourteen-year-old Jamin Jones pulls out his smartphone, fingers moving fast to tweet "you can melt or freeze on Mercury" at his teacher's Twitter handle, @MarquezScience.

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It's all part of the tech-savvy teacher's daily routine. His students are tweeting, Facebooking and on the photo-sharing application Instagram throughout the class period. If they don't have a cellphone, Marquez lets them use his tablet.

Using social media as a teaching tool makes a lot of sense, he says. Students already know how to use it, and they stay engaged when asked to tweet and share photos about what they're learning. "I have them take out their cellphones like they take out their books," he said. "They love it."

It helps that Marquez is kind of a big kid himself. He would be in the nerdy-cool clique if he was seated amidst his middle-schoolers.

It's no wonder Marquez was one of just a handful of people picked to test a beta version of Google Glass, the Internet company's wearable device that displays updates and lets you snap a photo by winking.

When his students send tweets, he quickly scans through them using the glasses. Marquez uses more basic technology, too, like a webcam that live streams his classes online for students who are home sick.

"He understands in today's classroom, students do not have to be seated in rows and be quiet to be learning," said Steve Pagani, Alta Sierra principal. "It's almost tricking them into learning. He makes learning fun."

Marquez's students say he is certainly one of their most inventive teachers.

"Today he told us to tweet about what we thought about the moon landing," said Malyia Walters, a teen in thick-rimmed glasses and a hot pink tank top that reads "Selfie." "Kids like to do that stuff."

Monserrat Gonzalez-Ruiz, 14, said Marquez's creativity makes him more relatable than other teachers. As part of their daily lab assignments, Gonzalez-Ruiz and her classmates take photos on Instagram to chronicle what they've learned. By the end of the year, each student has a complete timeline to look back on.

"In all the years I've been in school, he's the only one that's done this," she said. "It's really cool, and I'm lucky to have him as a teacher this year."

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But Marquez says his methods get a lukewarm reception from some teachers, especially when he mentions the F-word -- Facebook -- or tells them his students use cellphones in class.

Don't they get distracted, or take advantage of the freedom they're given? Not really, students say.

"Everybody knows he's not a person to mess around with if we want to use our technology. He wants it to be used right and that's the way it should be," said Parker Fritsch, 14.

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Many Alta Sierra teachers, from the newest to the most veteran, have begun experimenting. Pagani said several let their students use laptops and personal cell phones to do research during class.

Marquez is on a mission to win over his colleagues.

"No matter how much technology they use, or how small, if they just incorporate it into their everyday use and they learn to teach with it, it's just going to grow on them more and more," Marquez said.

"Even if you start with something small, it can blossom into something large."

DID YOU KNOW?Since 1996, more than 45,000 Clovis Unified middle school students have participated in the district's laptop program.

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The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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