backchannel

Today’s Meet

Currently, I teach 8th grade Social Studies.  We are learning all about the development and creation of the United States.  One of the many perks of being an 8th grade Social Studies teacher is that every 4 years we are able to discuss the Presidential election in class.  Since I’m a fairly new teacher (and a very new 8th grade SS teacher), I have not had the opportunity to cover the election in class until this year.  And lets just say…it’s been a fun few weeks.

This past week on October 3rd, Obama and Romney squared off in the first of 3 Presidential debates.  Needless to say, you probably heard of all that happened and the analysis that came with it.  I won’t bore you with the gritty details.  However, my students have had a hard time buying into all the hoopla over these Presidential candidates.  So during this past Presidential debate, a colleague and myself used a tool called TodaysMeet (http://todaysmeet.com/) to engage our students as the debate was happening live.

TodaysMeet is normally used as a backchannel.  A backchannel is “everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter” (http://todaysmeet.com/help/backchannel).  The idea of TodaysMeet is very similar to Twitter in that you must write your responses in 140 characters or less.  However, “TodaysMeet gives you an isolated room where you can see only what you need to see, and your audience doesn’t need to learn any new tools like hash tags to keep everything together” (http://todaysmeet.com/about).  The room is simple yet engaging.

My colleague and I created a chatroom  at http://todaysmeet.com/MrMiles and told the students to visit the URL at 9:00 and be prepared to discuss the debate as it was happening live.  I asked them to be sure to use their first names to indicate who they were and leave off their last name for privacy reasons.  After they became familiar with how TodaysMeet worked (that took 90 seconds or less) we started discussing the live debate.  I had a few rules they had to follow while chatting:

  1. Be respectful – You must respect other people’s opinions. No name calling or insults even if you disagree.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
  2. Pay attention to the chatroom – There might be a lot of people in this chatroom so if you are chatting with just one person you will need to follow the chat very closely to see what they are saying.
  3. Answer my questions – If I pose a question, please answer it.
  4. No TEXT talk – It’s okay every now and then, but we need to understand what you are trying to say. However, you only have 140 characters.
  5. Do not ask who anyone is voting for.
  6. Do a little research beforehand. (I gave them a list of resources on my class website)

For the most part I served as the moderator of the chat.  I posed questions to the group or guided their thinking as they discussed certain things about each candidates.  I also made sure the rules were followed to protect the online learning environment.  At the of the chat and debate, TodaysMeet allows anyone to view the transcript of their chat, which I archived and shared with the students that participate. It was a great activity, and I received a lot of very positive feedback. With the exception of a few minutes, the backchannel worked flawlessly and provided a great technology tool to engage my students as they had fun learning.  It was a different and unique experience for them.

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The Debate Project

Recently, my students and I just finished learning about the Middle East, but more specifically, we studied the Iraq War from the U.S., the Iraqi, and the world’s vantage point.  It turned out to be a fascinating unit, and my students worked really hard and seemed to really enjoy themselves.   I was so impressed and proud of how hard they worked and how much they chose to learn about the war that I had to share it with all of you.

During the unit, we spent a lot of time preparing for a debate on the Iraq War.  Should we or should we not go to war?  The debate was staged in late 2002, and the students had the opportunity to make the biggest decision in world history.  Should we declare war on Iraq?  However, they were not allowed to choose which side of the argument they were on…

I assigned students to their debate argument: For the War or Against the War.  I did not let them choose which side with hopes it would challenge a few of them to critically analyze the debate from a different point of view…you know challenge their brains a bit.  As individuals, each student had to create 5 arguments supported with facts from creditable sources, an opening argument, a closing argument, and prepare for 3 possible retorts during the argument.  I used a prep sheet to guide them through this process.  We worked on the research part for 3 days in the media center.  At the end of the research, the 2 argument sides worked together to craft 5 of their strongest arguments using all of their individual research, create a dynamic opening and closing statement, and prepare for any possible retorts from the other side of the argument.  Then things got really interesting…

The debate was divided into 3 parts:

1) Real-time Debate:  Each debate team consisted of 5-8 debaters.  These students participated in a regular debate that was filmed.  The students took turns speaking and delivering their arguments in a normal debate format.  Due to school regulations and permission issues, you have to visit my website (http://miles.onfizz.org) to view the debate videos.  Click the video tab at the top and the first 4 will be the debates.

2) Voicethread Debate:  4 students from each class were selected to do their debate through voicethread.  I created a basic voicethread using text to guide the students with prompts through the debate process.  Unlike the real-time debate, these students were responsible for all parts of their argument and the debated against each other 1 on 1, which resulted in 2 complete debates on voicethread.  Below are examples of a voicethread debate completed by 4 of my students:

http://ed.voicethread.com/share/1030758/

http://ed.voicethread.com/share/1030393/

3) BackChannel: The remaining students were given a laptop and put into a backchannel (edmodo) to discuss the real-time debate as it happened right in front of them.  The students critiqued arguments, gave their personal opinions, critiqued delivery, and decided on the winner.  They used their research to judge the students in the debate and used the research to explain their opinion.  Each class tackled this part of the project very differently.  Periodically, I would interject into the discussion with questions to refocus the conversation or get them thinking in a different way.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of my expertise with edmodo, I am not sure how to make a conversation public quite yet, but check back soon and hopefully, I will have it figured out.

Prior to the debate, none of the students knew they were going to be assigned to a voicethread or the backchannel.  I was afraid if I told them about the backchannel or voicethread ahead of time then they might not have worked as hard to prep for the real debate.  However, every student worked very hard and seemed to enjoy the project no matter what role they had in it.  Obviously, once students found out about the other options some wished they could have had a different role, but I gave them the chance to tell me that for next time in their reflection.  Overall, the experience was awesome, and I have never been so proud of how much my students learned through me and their own efforts.