Starting with the youth’s own world – TikTok and life hacks as a pedagogical tool

Saara Pullinen, Sofia Engström , Vili Kinos & Maiju Mustonen

We took on a task to produce a fun and an inventive way of teaching teenage students about ecological cleaning methods. After some brainstorming and a little analytical thinking, we found ourselves scrolling through TikTok looking for cleaning life hacks. We wanted our project to be strongly rooted in the youth’s own world, rather than starting from our group’s own perspective. TikTok turned out to be a great fit for our needs. It’s widely used amongst teenagers, is free to use and with it one can produce a great variety of content with music, effects and all kinds of interesting little flavorings to make the videos stand out in a personal way. All these taken into account, we felt confident that TikTok was an appropriate tool for our project. We got valuable information about using social media as a pedagogical tool from the 2012 research Social media’s educational uses (original: sosiaalisen median opetuskäyttö) by Harto Pönkä, Niina Impiö and Venla Vallivaara.

Life hacks on the other hand, we weren’t so sure about. Our project would never fake flight amongst the internet-fluent millennials if our chosen topic of life hacks was “two-thousand-and-late”. Luckily, our hesitations turned out to be pointless, as the students were excited working with the project. This left us happy and smiling on two levels. Firstly, our project was a success, and secondly, we are still in touch with the fast-developing world of the millennials. That means we’re not boomers yet, which is a relieving realization, considering all of us in the group are still in our twenties!

We noticed that a lot of the content on the internet concerning ecological cleaning revolved around using everyday household products for cleaning purposes. Salt, baking soda, carbonated water and lemon amongst other citrus fruits are a few examples of common products that were used for a wide range of resourceful cleaning. We chose sodium bicarbonate, or in other words, regular baking soda, as our ecological cleaning agent. Baking soda is a cheap, widely available and a very versatile household pantry staple, that also happens to be environmentally friendly. All of these factors were important for our project, especially the availability of the cleaning agent, since all basic education with all of its materials has to be free of charge in Finland. We designed the cleaning tasks so that, if the students didn’t have baking soda at home, they could substitute it with salt instead.

After all the planning and researching was done, we started testing our project with three different upper comprehensive school classes ranging from the 7th to the 9th grade. As the teaching part of our project was in progress during the early part of 2021, we had to adjust to the mandatory restrictions set by the Finnish government to control effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This meant our teaching was going to have to be provided remotely using Microsoft Teams as our platform. For the first two classes we were able to have one of us from the group in the actual classroom with the students while the rest of the group joined via Teams. By the third class, basic education was once again transferred to a remote setting, so the whole class was performed remotely.

How to clean a coffee cup using baking soda (Photo: Saara)

As mentioned in the first paragraph, in the core of our project was the youth’s own world and their ways, so we wanted our methods to be connected to that standpoint. The students worked together in small groups to come up with the best solution to a given baking soda cleaning task. The tasks were cleaning a stained kitchen sink, cleaning a burnt pot and removing unpleasant smells from a refrigerator. We used  Classroomscreen as a tool to demonstrate the classes’ structure and contents. The tasks, a countdown timer, an instructional video, a QR-code for a feedback sheet and the classes’ main structure points were all shown on the screen. The screen could be seen throughout the class on the smart screen.

Screenshot from Classroomscreen (Photo: Saara)

Before the students started searching possible cleaning uses for baking soda, we showed an instructional baking soda cleaning video made by Martat (The Marthas), a Finnish Home Economics organization. After the video, the students were given ten minutes to complete the given task. Once the given time had passed, the students presented their chosen ways of completing the task. The conversation surrounding the cleaning methods was good and rich, despite the difficulties we had with sound while joining via Teams. Communication and interaction in a remote setting turned out to be the largest problem in our project for a few reasons. Firstly, online communications are not always completely reliable. A problem in the WiFi-network might be the downfall of an entire project. Luckily, we only had minor problems with internet connection. Secondly, an online introduction of three new teachers doesn’t exactly spark conversation. Without a face-to-face meeting with the students, we felt that the students couldn’t really connect with us, which resulted in very little interaction between us teaching from home and the students sitting in class. Between the first two classes we made some modifications to our project, so that we could create more interaction. We had minor success with increased interaction, but our limited connection with the students still kept the conversation level low. We started wondering possible fixes for the third class.

Unfortunately, our third class had to be performed in a completely remote setting, so we decided to take a slightly different approach. We started with a live demonstration on how to clean sneakers with baking soda, while the students participated from home. For the absent students, we had filmed similar videos for them to learn from. After the demonstration we showed three baking soda cleaning hack videos on TikTok that were made by our friends and family. The performers were of different ages and sexes, which we felt was an important factor to consider when showing students demo videos. Next, the students got to work. They could clean their sneakers during the class or later and make a video of the process. The students were truly excited when they saw that they were able to clean their sneakers so that they look like new again!

Life hack: using baking soda to clean your sneakers

As we concluded our project, we were happy for the results and experiences we got. Videos have become such a natural part of the youth’s own world, and platforms such as TikTok are present in their everyday life. Using this already existing interest and enthusiasm, we were able to produce an effective and compelling set of classes that needed little outside motivation. The biggest challenges for social media and video-based education projects seem to be the privacy protection and data safety aspects, as well as up to date knowledge of the school’s rules on the matter. Know-how of the platform and the equipment are also needed for a successful project. So, with good planning and preparing, a set of classes like ours can certainly be performed in upper comprehensive schools. It’s always refreshing to step out of one’s comfort zone, and we encourage teachers all around to take the step!

Pönkä, H., Impiö, N., & Vallivaara, V. (2012). Ohjeita sosiaalisen median käyttöönottoon ja pedagogisen käytön arviointiin. Teoksessa: Pönkä, H., Impiö, N., & Vallivaara, V. (toim.) Sosiaalisen median opetuskäyttö. ss. 109–118. Tampere: Juvenes print. Saatavilla:

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