@FlatClassroom @EracismProject Global Debate Learning From Teacher Perspective

I know, you are probably thinking what in the world can I possibly have to talk about in regards to the Eracism Global Debate project?

I have blogged about this project several times(see the end of post to see past reflections). Well, I have some more ideas to share. I have learned that I am not good enough yet and have made preparations to be better as an educator. Talk about a model learner! Yes, I admit that I could have been better as a teacher. That is the truth and I accept that.

Doing this project for the second time, but with a younger group of students was essential for me to realize that I have more to learn. Without this opportunity I would have never known.

Working with sixth grade students on this project has really changed the operations of this project. Here are some issues that I did not discuss in the first 6th grade reflection.

1. They need more strict guidance and focus because they are just too immature mentally and socially.
2. Many don’t use Facebook or social media tools so this just debunks the whole notion of them all being online using these tools.
3. Wait……why are they not online connecting to learn besides the apps that lead to nowhere good?
4. Structure on how to do research because they really have no idea how to gather research and piece it together as a team.
5. Teach them how to listen. They don’t know how.

So, what I am going to do about it?

1. Google Research in Google Drive – I recently realized that I am an idiot for not using this tool. I will require this tool for them to research. I will teach them and the first thing we will do is create an annotated bibliography using the tool to gather research and work through the How-To’s. I made the mistake of assuming that they could find an article, extract the proper information and share it with their team. They made a feeble attempt, but I needed to give more step by step direction and then let them go. I left it too open too soon and we struggled in this area during the first round.

2. From the annotated bibliographies of each student I will have them critique the information provided to get them ready to create rebuttals in the debate. Having them look critically will help them listen. I think by doing this activity throughout in terms of arguing the merits of the article or book will help them process the information while at the same time working on persuasive skills needed to debate. While debating we wanted to talk like it was a summary and not really sell our ideas.

3. Teach them to create a chart and how to document the information shared by the other team. As opposed to just a blank piece of paper to capture ideas I will give them a template to follow. I have found that the open piece of paper is too broad and they miss out on key phrases and facts to respond to. There is not enough time to listen to the debates twice so they have to be on the spot. When I judge debates for this project I use a grid system and for some reason I never thought to teach my students the method. We used it second round and it worked so much better. It forces them to key in on key facts and phrases and learn to scheme and strategize much more efficiently.

4. Evaluate their scripts and statements for grammar and spelling. We often don’t have time to cover this in great detail, but with so much time on speaking, listening, writing, and research why am I not hammering this big time? Time to bring out the guns and teach them. This will help them in organizing ideas as well as speaking.

5. Kick kids out who don’t work. I give them several chances to work and warnings, but this is not a required class. If you are just going to goof around and mess up the document, leave immature comments in the Google comments, and not contribute…..see you later. Grow up and try again. Sometimes I need to be a bit more harsh. I like to let them learn and let the group bring them in, but 6th grade they don’t do this. In 8th grade they will call the person out, but not at this level. I need to be that person. I think if I remove them after giving some warnings and vision about what to do, then they have had their chance. If it continues, then remove them. They need to realize this is a great opportunity to learn. If you don’t want to be passionate about it, then perhaps this is not for you. I really believe that sometimes removing a student from an opportunity like this can be a wake up call that they need to take advantage of what is being provided to them. I don’t think they always understand this. Once they have lost that chance, they will realize it and next time around they will be more focused. And yes, I have that luxury over most teachers as this is an enrichment opportunity. I am blessed to hold that over their heads which I know most classroom teachers don’t have this, but I need to use this when needed.

It has been an interesting journey for me. I have found myself more frustrated with the sixth grade compared to 8th grade, but I have to remember they are lacking several key tools, skill sets, and thought processes that 8th grade came to me with. My frustrations stem from me not preparing them as well as I should have and therefore I point the finger at myself and not them. I have to step back and teach them. I assumed too much and that lead to my frustration. Next time I will take care of the gaps and I know that it will resolve the frustrations I felt during this sixth grade enrichment. I have high expectations and I need to remember that if don’t equip them properly how will they ever achieve this status?

With that all being said, I am so proud of how much we turned things around from the first round to the second round. I implemented some of these ideas and the students realized they did not quite work to their potential. I think it was a great wake up call to not win the first round. It knocked them down a notch and made them realize they had to improve and I had to do the same. We were in this together as a unit, the students and I, and as a unit we modified our system to make it work.

It has been another wonderful experience for myself as a teacher and creating a classroom that was able to see growth in learning and engagement. The learning did not stop with a letter grade as I did not give a grade. I told them the world was listening to them and that should be all they needed in order to do well because who wants to sound unprepared to the world? The learning has continued beyond the debate class and I am so excited to work with these students on new projects this year and the years to come.

Any suggestions or thoughts? I would love to hear them. Especially on how to teach listening?

6th Grade Debate Project: Eracism

March 15th, 2013: Flat Classroom Global Debate Project: Eracism
“How do I operate my classroom and run the day to day operations of preparing for a global debate?” 

8th Grade Debate Project: Eracism 

December 19th, 2012

December 14th, 2012
December 12th, 2012

October 25th, 2012
Flat Classroom: Eracism Round 1: AMAZING!

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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

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.

Here is a note exchange en route


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


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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Round 2 Reflection of Eracism: Global Debate, An Amazing Learning Experience

The team at work

This morning I was lucky enough to have another group of students take part in a championship round debate in bracket B of the Eracism project. We came to school early arriving around 7:15 to get ready for a 7:30 am debate. This is a small sacrifice to make compared to our friends and debating opponent, AISG from China, who had to stay at school until 9:30 pm to take part.

I have not had the luxury to actually meet with my students since the semi-final debates which were a few weeks back. Between then we have communicated through some emails back and forth. I was just hoping that we would have enough students to come in early to debate as I had not heard from many of them. However, they were all there except for a few so we were ready to go.

Trying to make sense of notes and rebuttals

More random notes to organize on the fly!

We did have a major scare. I am not sure where the miscommunication was between the students and myself, but my students came to my office ready to debate the wrong side of the debate. They had all their notes and information ready for the negative side. We did not catch this error until 7:27 am which was three minutes before we started. In a mad scramble and panic we printed off a few notes for the affirmative side and the students were left to quickly change their mindset, their arguments  and really to have all plans fall to the wayside.

To say that I was proud of these students is an understatement. Here we are hearing the beep of Blackboard telling us it is time to speak and we have nothing prepared. Our first speaker took our notes and crafted a great opening based off the bullet points of our research from months ago. During this time we quickly assembled small squads –

The winning pose!

  • some were developing a framework for our second speaker for rebuttal, which when even organized and prepared proves to be the hardest speaking part of the debate
  • some were constructing a conclusion to wrap up and drive home key points that we were speaking on the fly 
  • some were simply working on organizing any notes that we had and preparing for the other team and getting prepared to argue back
Our secret ingredient: donuts!

If you read my first reflection on this project then you have seen the office that we work in. It is small and quite cramped. We have to shut all the doors which makes the room cook us like hot dogs as the heater in the ceiling pumps a ton of hot air. As we started and continued through the debate not only were we sweating from the heater, but from the intensiveness of this debate as we scrambled to sound intelligent.

In the end, both teams did an amazing job. The topic is difficult.  It is not easy, but to listen to these students articulate their thoughts is impressive.

I am not going to be redundant from my first post reflections because many of those ideas still reign true(click the link above to read), but I would like to reflect on some other ideas.
  • I love the ideas that AISG brought up in the debate. The whole notion of new emerging leaders who are empathetic is a great thought to absorb and think about. I need to follow the new emerging leaders and start to figure out how their empathy affects the countries that they lead. We argued back stating that conflicts of many lands go back generations to almost the beginning of time and a new leader cannot make change, but I would like to believe that this is perhaps a start of something positive
  • I love the whole notion that AISG brought to the table about education. Projects like this where students from all over the world work together to increase their learning is powerful. How can we continue to push this global education concept to the next level? We debated against one another, but how can we take these projects further where students can begin to build empathy and understanding of one another so that when these students become leaders the acceptance and equity of all people are just common nature? As I was wrapped up with the idea of current events and education from the debates last week, this new thought of mine is also taking hold of any extra brain cells that I have.
  • Debating and communicating with students from all over the world does two great things
    • Raise the local bar of expectations – Our students knew that they had to bring their A game in order to be ready for these debates. We came across some amazing students, research, rhetoric, and speaking skills. This was a good wake up call that perhaps we are not as amazing as we sometimes like to think. (I don’t think the students would ever admit this, but just an observation from a teacher perspective)
    • With all the hype in the media about American schools falling apart and not being ready to compete globally with other children is just that….hype. Our students proved that despite all the negative press of education in America, our students are doing high level thinking and can do anything they want to do. The key as a school system is create more opportunities for them to feel motivated enough to challenge themselves while they are within our walls and school days. If we don’t provide the necessary challenges and relevant issues we miss opportunities for our youth to expand and explore.
As I bring this post to a close I just want to say that all credit goes to the kids. I shared our victory with my staff and they were all very happy. The kids were ecstatic who participated. It is the joy of their emotions that reminds me that projects like these must continue. They were beyond the notion of grades. They were beyond the notion of just doing school for the sake of school. They wanted to do well. They wanted to make sure they could articulate their thoughts. Even during the moments of this debate when we struggled here and there to figure out what to say they continued to work hard and take measures to do all they could do(being ready for the correct side would have helped with this :)) The intrinsic motivation to learn was beyond anything that I could create in a regular room.
My new favorite line that I read on another blog was –
 I’m the chief learner in my classroom of middle school students.

This line is so true. I have acquired many new thoughts, ideas, questions, and development of my teaching skills through the observation of these students. Eracism has given me a new sense of how amazing students can really be and when we don’t think students can do this or that, they can(that is a great reminder for ourselves as teachers!)! Today they could have just quit and said no when we realized we prepped incorrectly. Instead they thought on their feet and did awesome. Their quick thinking to prepare in 2 minutes was more impressive than actually thinking on their feet during the debate. 
Thanks to everyone who judged, participated, and helped to organize. There are too many to name. However, I would love to create a Google Hangout to talk with others about their takeaways, questions, thoughts on global ed, etc. Let me know if interested and I will work on setting a date.
As Vicki and Julie state, “Once you go Flat, you never go back!” My passion for global education has only gotten stronger through the participation of this project.

All of these students that I had the opportunity to work with through both teams that we operated have done nothing but remind me why I love my job! Kids are amazing! Simply put. When they shine and show their talents and you know that it is all them that have done the work, then as a teacher/leader you know you have done your job. I simply sat back and watched them blow my mind. It is amazing what kids can do when you place them in a situation where there is no ceiling but the ones they place on themselves. When they remove that ceiling WATCH OUT! because it is a spectacle to behold.

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Flat Classroom: Eracism Round 1: AMAZING!

This year I have students participating in another Flat Classroom Project.

I have 16 8th grade students taking part in the Eracism project which is an international debate.

A link to this project is here

The debate topic is

Debate topic:
“Global management of natural resources will cause conflict between cultures”

Talk about intense! My students had to take time to focus on the content, deciphering what this really means, creating research, outlines, arguments, etc. Everything that goes into a debate. These are some of the top students in our building. This project has not only opened their eyes, but my eyes as well.

Aside from gathering researching(basic skills that they are sick of), these students have to take their thinking to a whole new level that I really feel they have not reached before or not too often.

After a team dropped out, both of my teams are debating against THINK Global school located in Argentina. What I found to be most fascinating about this process is during the first day when I exposed the students to this project they all had a common reaction:

  • We have to go against other schools from other countries? Awesome! Oh wait, they are going to tear us up. 
  • We are the only public school? That is not fair!
  • How are we going to beat these teams?
I found this so striking. When time presents itself I am going to have a class discussion about why they felt this way without even knowing who these other schools are and what they do.
My 16 students are spread across three class periods. They don’t get to meet together as a collective team due to scheduling so they have to communicate and work together through Google Drive and gmail. It has been interesting. What we have discovered is that nothing works better than face to face communication. In a tech saturated environment, these kids are realizing the power of human interaction.
We are in the midst of our first round debates. We have had two of our speakers speak so far. One team is done presenting and just waiting for the final speaker of the other team. 
What do we think?
Well, I think my kids felt inferior. The speaking skills of the other teams were amazing. We have done an outstanding job preparing. I am quite impressed with the scripts and research we have conducted. One student contacted an author, has been asking questions, obtained a copy of the book, and just started to explore beyond Google. 
My kids felt the pressure of thinking on your feet. They only get 5 minutes to plan a rebuttal after listening to the other team. I cannot even begin to describe how intense my office felt while they were talking, discussing, planning the strategies, and then speaking rebuttals. I am not going to lie. I was sweating I was nervous. And I am the teacher and really play no part in the process. I really wish I took pictures. Actually, I am going to take pictures and video next round so I can show how we operated. It is quite amazing to watch them break down the information, make a plan, write some ad lib scripts and begin recording in a matter of minutes. I am so proud of these kids.
There is such a sigh of relief when the recording ends. Then we talk and celebrate for getting it done. 
As an educator I feel like I am being challenged. This platform challenges me to think of more ways to push my students in this way without it being detrimental to their learning. I think that they are enjoying this project. They know there is a real audience listening to them. At this stage they could care less about grades, but instead they care about sounding intelligent, making sound arguments, and winning!
Now that they have done a few speeches(for a lack of a better term), I feel like we have a grasp on things. We know what to expect. We know how to better prepare. Regardless of how we do first round, we have second round. 
This is their project. I don’t even have access to their scripts. I fill their minds with ideas, strategies, how to work as a team, etc. I leave it up to them to organize content, find content, write the words, etc. Should I proofread their scripts? I don’t know. Some might say I should. I have decided to be an advocate of the “team concepts” and “thinking skills”. I feel that if I read the script, offer ideas, give links, etc. then the arguments become mine. I don’t want that. I want them to find their voice. I want them to discover their ideas. I want them to feel like this is truly 100% theirs.
I am fortunate enough to be working with another amazing teacher that runs the Argentina schools. This teacher communicates back and forth daily. It has made life great. This teacher helped when another team had to drop. I feel blessed to be competing against THINK Global. We have learned a great deal from the effective speaking and articulation of their speakers. They are examples of where we are trying to be. 
This is phase one. I will keep things updated and will post pictures and video next time we go through the process. It is too much fun to not document. Education is good when at the end of the day the teacher has learned as much as the students.
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