Friday, March 15, 2013

Flat Classroom Debate Project: Eracism - How we operate and prepare

I wanted to create a post about our current project we are exploring in 6th grade. I am working with a small group of students for a global debate project, Eracism, conducted by Flat Class.

We are debating the following topic:  "The use of Facebook by students around the world to communicate with one another does more harm than good."

We just wrapped up our first round debates. We faced a  very powerful school from Indiana, Forest Ridge Academy. As we now prepare for our next debate and wait for the judges decision on which school won I wanted to take time to write up a post sharing how we prepare and conduct class for a global debate.

The whole process and information about this project can be found here: http://eracism.flatclassroomproject.org/

Step 1: My situation is a bit unique. I teach extensions/enrichments. Our 6th grade is currently focusing on the theme of bullying. I thought this debate topic was relevant to this theme. I talkd with the language arts teachers and we assembled 10 students who we thought could handle the workload of regular language arts class and attending class with me. I meet with these students three days a week during their language arts class - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They come out of various class periods throughout the day so we are never all together at the same time. I have a group in the morning and a group in the afternoon. We work collectively. So we are not only working in an asyncronous environment online with the other schools, but also in our very own school.

Step 2: Getting Organized: We use Google Docs for everything. We create the following documents:

1. Global Debate Research: Negative
2. Global Debate Research: Affirmative

The next time I run one of these debates we will create both of these right away. This time we created just the negative document because that was our side to argue. In hindsight we should have created both so when we conducted research we could store items for both sides accordingly.

3. Global Debate Script: Negative
4. Global Debate Script: Affirmative

We create two more documents where we can transfer the research into a script to read and practice with while preparing for our debates.

5. Google Form/Survey - We created a survey to poll our school population.

Step 3: Getting Started - Daily Classroom Operations

Each class we meet in my office around a little table
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The picture above is one of the groups I work with. We all sit in a circle. I have found collaboration to be more effective this way. In other groups we would go the library, but the computers are in rows so the kids don't talk. This feels more open and the kids really open up, talk, collaborate, connect, and move around as needed. They are little professional workers.

I start each class discussing where we are and where we need to be. We always start with a small group discussion about goals, mini teaching lessons(speaking, word articulation, how to reuse key words, etc.), and then I let them sort themselves out. I will be honest it is difficult for me to not structure it all. I let them figure it out even if it is the hard way. I provide suggestions, but don't force anything. They choose to either use it or go their own route. I really feel that this is the heart of learning. For example, my students know they can do better especially after listening to the other team speak. They followed their process and now know what to do to improve.

After having short conversation the students get to work. They divide themselves into tasks and work. I sit at my computer(to the right of this table when looking at that picture) and I read the script and notes take place. I interject as needed and make sure they are staying on task. I don't tell them directly what to do or write. It is all on them. I give guidance. Each day I will write up a bullet point list on the document of my thoughts and ideas.


I have also made video recordings when I don't see them for days due to scheduling. This example I give more direct insight than normal, but we missed several times to meet and had to record when we returned so I felt the need to really give some specific guidance.




Step 4: Preparing to Record and Record

The debate is all conducted online using Voicethread.

We use my own personal Mac to record because the audio quality is always the best. Before we record we will have practice runs where we time the script, study word count based on various speakers(rate of speech so we can gauge how many words needed). I make everyone speak. We have to have different speakers for all the parts. The rules state that we cannot have one person do all the talking. I go a step further and I don't allow anyone to record twice. Everyone must try to practice and gain experience.

When it is time to debate here is what we do. We have 5 minutes to respond after listening to simulate live debate protocols. We cannot sit and prepare for days for a response. It is a highly stressful moment of time. It is high octane discussion and scramble to assemble a rebuttal. We have our notes pulled up on the laptops and we listen.

Here is our rebuttal process

Here is what we do just to share our strategy for what it is worth. On our end we listen around one computer and take notes on paper. After listening we spend 2 minutes quickly sharing out what we heard and think we should focus on. We then open up our laptops and quickly tidy up our script with the remaining 3 minutes. At the 5 minute mark we start recording with our next speaker. While that speaker is speaking the rest of the crew can go ahead and finalize any last rebuttal notes and ideas. We slide those papers to the speaker and he/she then has to make sense of the notes and speak on the fly. It is very stressful and always a relief to have it done

When we record the speaker sits at my desk as shown below. While he/she records our opening remarks you can see the others working behind the scenes to get the rebuttal prepared. On the desk you can see the notes the others have placed down for him to use to speak on the fly and make it work.
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Here is a note exchange en route

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We have little note reminders to help the speakers and the note takers like this

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After we finish recording we always stop to talk about how it went, what we can do better, did we miss anything, etc.

As of this writing, we have reflected on the process as a whole. We do not have the judges remarks yet. We listened to the whole debate and studied it. It is not personal, but we look at what we can do better and learn from. We have many key take-aways from our first round to get better. That is the great part of this project.....we can always get better.

Now we wait the judges feedback. We are now working to create a script for the other side of the debate so we are prepared. We have to change our whole mode of thought and basically start over.

This is a great project. I hope this post helps shed some light on how we operate. I am sure I am forgetting key things that I will later realize I forgot to discuss. If you have questions, advice, or tips we would love to hear from you!

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