DALLAS -- Last year, Dallas High School science teacher Lee Jones decided to take something most teens are using outside of school -- Facebook -- and use it to enhance his advanced placement chemistry class.
It was more successful than he had hoped for.
"They actually used it a lot outside of class," Jones said. "They would be online and you would see these long lines of conversations. They were helping each other out."
Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but Jones tried using more conventional class websites to get assignments and messages to students with minimal success.
"I tried webpages, but getting kids to log on to them and me to update them, it was tricky," he said. "I would post something on there that I forgot, but they would never see because they wouldn't log on. There was no incentive to log on."
It seemed logical to turn to Facebook. However, Jones had to wait for the right time to introduce using it for classes.
"There's always been kind of a stigma against Facebook just because you have teachers and students and `friending' on there," Jones said.
He said with the parameters set up to maintain professional separation -- no friending -- it is possible for social media to be an educational tool.
"It's becoming a lot more mainstream," he said. "More people are realizing what's it about. It's a lot more acceptable, I think."
He had little trouble convincing his students of its value.
Senior Kristi Pedersen took Jones' AP chemistry class last year.
"Most of us spend a large amount of time on Facebook, and a lot of people are on or around a computer when they are doing homework," she said. "It just makes sense to use all of the available resources when we can."
She added that the problems the class studies are complex and often there's more than one way to approach them. Through Facebook "study groups," students could share ideas.
Meanwhile, Jones could monitor the group and offer more guidance if needed.
Jones said another benefit to using Facebook is that it's a great way to send out reminders about homework, tests, or links to further reading.
"They are all on Facebook," he said. "They don't have to physically log on to see posts. They are going to see what I wrote, whether they want to or not."
It's also a time saver. If Jones notices a common question or issue, he can post an answer on Facebook and most students will see it before they return to class.
Jones said he's noticed improvement in his students' homework. He said they feel less overwhelmed when they know they have somewhere to turn when they are stuck on a problem.
"It encouraged them to keep learning outside of school," he said. "It's good for them to practice something outside of class, so they are solidifying that knowledge."
Junior Thomas Braun, who is currently taking the class, said more teachers should use Facebook. He said it's a convenient way to collaborate with other students.
"It will not only help them with studies, but also help keep them engaged with the class outside of school," he said.
This year, fellow science teacher Travis Godkin has begun using Facebook, too. Jones said his new AP chem class is getting used to Facebook being, in a sense, an extension of the classroom.
"I'm trying to get this group sold on it," he said. "Some of them are nervous about posting their questions. I'm kind of trying to break that."
He may receive some help with that: Pedersen said last year's AP chemistry students still check the page and offer advice to current students.
"It was a very useful tool, and I think that it helped our class," she said.