Melissa Butler and the 6th grade ELA teacher at my school was looking for a way to teach argument writing to her students while incorporating technology. When Melissa and I started working on this unit we were looking for a way to make the debate process a little more exciting to the students. Melissa came up with the idea of debating another school and tweeted our friend Dana Sirotiak, a 7th-grade Social Studies Teacher at Frank R. Conwell Middle School #4 in Jersey City, NJ. She said she was willing to do it and then we decided to open the event up to PA. We had recently met Thomas Murray, the director of technology for the Quakerstown School District at the NJASA conference and we asked him if he had a good teacher to connect with. He connected us with Shawn Storm who teaches 6th grade ELA. We then decided it would not be fair to have one PA school vs 2 NJ schools, so Melissa tweeted Joe Mazza the principal at Knapp Elementary School in Landsdale. Both Melissa and I recently spoke to his teachers via Google Hangout during an inservice day on the benefits of being a connected educator. Joe asked Gabby Morrison a 6th-grade ELA teacher if she would also participate. Now that we had the four schools set, we needed to have them all meet and flip a coin to see which side would be arguing each side of homework. We decided to all Google Hangout together.
You can watch the recording of this here: http://youtu.be/l8sDshpR6m4
We also set up a shared Google doc between the four schools where we could plan the event. Here is the link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1w0fyB_J2zZL-SRtgLpADnxu6hG6i7QbJZ-wUqqC7ruw/edit
After we flipped a coin and realized that we would take the side of being in favor of homework, we set up an Edmodo group, so the two NJ schools could communicate and collaborate together. This is the code svkk2z for the group. This was the main way that the students and teachers communicated. We also set up a Google doc that the students could post the research they were finding, and also a place where, we as teachers, could communicate some ideas we had with the students. Here is the link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ADctcwrJItlNvm_gasOLuMVzwpQ_LjfDQsKOoQ90fKc/edit?usp=sharing
After the students compiled some of the research onto the Google doc, I thought it would be easier for the students if we had a Livebinder http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=818758 filled with websites and articles the students found. As you can see I made the tabs into groups so that all the articles that were pro homework were in one tab etc. It helped to organize the websites and made it easier for our students when they were looking for information. We password protected it so that PA could not get into the binder :-).
We also put a link to the binder on the Edmodo group so that the students could access it this way.
Our next goal was to try to find experts to talk to our students about homework. After doing research one night on the topic Melissa saw that our Twitter friend Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) had an entire page on his website devoted to homework. She tweeted him to see if he would Google Hangout with our students the next morning. He agreed. Here is the link to the video of the hangout: http://youtu.be/i8ka4rnulaU
The students learned a lot from Jerry and we posted the video on our edmodo group so that the Jersey City students could see it.
I also reached out to Dr. Harris Cooper who has done extensive research on homework. He could not join us via Google Hangout because he was traveling but he did email us back with an article that I added to the Livebinder.
Our students spent the next few days working on researching their parts of the debates. Melissa divided the students up into groups. Some worked on the introduction statement, some researched the affirmative side of homework and others worked on the counterclaim/rebuttals. See the attached pictures for the debate format.
Melissa and I realized that we needed judges for this and we decided that we needed impartial ones too. So I tweeted a number of my friends and asked them if they would come on the Hangout and act as judges. We received more than the six virtual judges that we needed, and one who watched a tape of the debate because he got pulled to cover a class at the last minute. We had previously sent them all a email with a debate rubric (see attached) that we asked them to fill out while watching the debate.
We also realized we needed a moderator, so we asked the Village President (aka Mayor) of South Orange, Alex Torpey to moderate the debate.
Melissa and I also decided it would be great to backchannel the event so we started a hashtag #hwdebate on Twitter.
The students were so into the project that almost all of them stayed till 4:00 on both Thursday and Friday, school gets out at 2:45! Melissa and I also worked with a number of the students via Google docs over the weekend helping them to publish their speeches. Melissa also made up charts with all of the speeches on them so that the students did not have to memorize what they wrote. We have a number of classified students in the class. See the attached pictures for examples of the charts. The students were also waiting for us at 7:30 AM, the day of the debate, ready for last-minute preparations.
At 10:45 AM on Monday, I invited all 10 people into the Hangout and at 11:00 we started the recording of the debate.
Here is the video of the debate: http://youtu.be/i0vk7aorhGc
We also had a number of her students tweeting the debate live to the #hwdebate via the class twitter account that I set up for the students @msbutlerclass . We got permission from administration to unblock Twitter for the day so that the students could live tweet.
We did have one issue with Dana's class dropping off the hangout because she had to use her own personal hotspot because her district blocks Google Hangout. We were able to get them back on the debate. Even though her students missed part of the debate they did not miss a beat and came out strong with their argument.
After the debate was over we opened up a Edmodo group to all of the students from all four of the schools to join and meet each other. We also put a link to the debate video on it so that the students could re-watch the debate.
On Monday night, I received all of the judges' rubrics and tallied the votes and NJ won 8-3. The judges thought that all of the teams did really well and were very prepared. The scores were very close but NJ won!!
We announced the winners on Tuesday morning and our students were very excited.
Both Melissa and I felt that this was one of the best days we ever had as educators. It was amazing to watch four classes of students so engaged in a project. We also know we could not have done this without having access to technology like Google Hangouts, Edmodo, Google Drive, Livebinders and Evernote.
Elissa Malespina is the Middle School Teacher Librarian in Somerville and a Presenter, Author and much more. The views are my own. Find my full resume above.