Edmodo is an educational website and app that takes the concept of social networking and refines it for use in the classroom. In addition to allowing students to communicate with each other, Edmodo allows teachers to answer questions after hours and guide students through assignments and projects. Edmodo also functions as a classroom providing a platform for students to turn in assignments electronically, take quizzes online and a plethora of other apps and functions.
My teaching partner, Wendy Dowler, is an Edmodo aficionado. She and I have used it for many projects these past few years, and during the first week of August, she and I presented at EdmodoCon 2016, “a live online event where educators from around the world connect with each other to share how they’re using Edmodo and other digital tools to personalize learning.” Both of us were honored to have been chosen, and we had an awesome experience at the Edmodo headquarters in San Mateo. Our project was called “Live Feed: Facilitating Audience Engagement During Debate.” CHSSA members may be interested in this project either in content or form.
Some background is necessary. At our high school, history and English classes are fully integrated. We must stay aligned the entire year, and we have combined assignments and projects each quarter. As many can imagine, this involves compromise and creativity. My experience is that history can move quickly through various eras whereas English often needs time to finish a literary work or time to gain writing skills. We immediately hit a roadblock within the first week of school when as English teachers we wanted to teach The Crucible and as history teachers, they wanted to quickly review the founding fathers and the Revolution which students had already learned in 8th grade, and move on to their district mandated standards. And so we were at an impasse. How could we possibly cover two different time periods at once? Wendy and I had a brainstorm: what if we actually did cover two periods at the same time with a combined project at the end? This led to what we call the Puritan/Founding Father Smackdown.
We decided to have the kids debate this essential question: Who has had a greater impact on American society and culture: the Puritans or the Founding Fathers?
This is how it works: The English teachers covered the Puritans through their study of The Crucible, John Winthrop and Jonathan Edwards. The history teachers covered early America including a focus on Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin’s autobiography and the letters of Abigail Adams to her husband. The students were assigned a specific historical or literary figure to research. Through their research, they answered questions such as: What is your figure’s opinion about separation of church and state? Or, what does your figure see as the role of government? These questions prove challenging since they ask students to a) develop an answer that cannot simply be lifted from the Internet, but must be inferred from what they’ve read and b)develop an answer from a perspective that is independent of their own perspective–exactly the skills that colleges are looking for and the skills that argumentation teaches.
They turned in their research via Edmodo, which satisfies our school’s commitment to paperless projects. Both history teachers and English teachers then divided up the research notes and scored and commented on them. This is one of the most wonderful parts of collaboration–the lessening of everyone’s work load. Each of us took on only 40 – 45 papers instead of a full load. We all used the grading features of Edmodo to score the research; this ensured that everyone had access to their students’ grades. We also used this opportunity to offer comments and hints to those students and groups who had gone astray by not adopting the persona of their figure or by using spurious sources. In this way, we were able to ensure the highest quality debate.
In the meantime both history and English teachers were covering argumentation in small chunks. After finishing each act of The Crucible, students take a poll on Edmodo. For example, after act one students decide the motivations of the girls for crying witch. Were they afraid of Abigail? Or were they afraid of the Puritan elders. The next day, I show students the results of that poll and we have an impromptu group debate. Each student has to provide evidence from the play to support their opinion. History teachers used resources such as Ben Franklin’s autobiography to flesh out what his values and beliefs were and to what extent these values were supported today. All of this culminates with a debate in September over the essential question.
We were inspired by March Madness brackets. Our tournament begins with “quarterfinal” rounds during which a group of students portraying a Puritan face off against a group of students portraying a Founding Father. Students vote for winners and the second day we hold the semi-final and final rounds. Those who advance are entered into a drawing for gift cards provided by our ASB. The winners of each period win a pizza party.
On the day of the debate, English and history classes for each period are combined. Students groups are pitted against each other. Student teams take on the persona of Ben Franklin vs. John Winthrop or Thomas Jefferson vs. Jonathan Edwards. The audience for each round are armed with iPads, iPhones, or Chromebooks and were all logged into Edmodo. The English teacher serves as moderator of the debate by first throwing some general questions to each team from their research. From there the teacher/moderator expands the questions to the presumed attitudes of these literary/historical figures toward modern day events. All the while Edmodo is projected on the screen at the front of the room, and the students audience is asking questions. In this way, the Edmodo page becomes a “live feed” of student questions for the panelists. I assign one student to monitor the live feed so that I can focus on “crowd control” and continue to moderate the discussion. At certain points I turn to the student who is monitoring Edmodo who asks the best questions that come from the audience. After the debate is over, audience members vote via Edmodo poll to choose a winner of that debate. In all, the students heard four debates on the first day. The second day were the semi-finals and final round. The format is slightly different on day two. We ask each advancing team to deliver an opening statement to prove that their historical figure has had the greatest impact. Day two is also challenging depending on which teams win the first day. It is possible that on day two Alexander Hamilton might have to debate Thomas Jefferson. This requires students to understand the nuances between both Enlightenment figures and Puritans. At the end of the final round, students voted for the winner of the entire “tournament.”
Finally, all students write an essay that offers their opinion on the essential question of who has had a more lasting impact. They turn in their essays via Edmodo which again allows both the history teachers and the English teachers to divide up the responsibilities of scoring. And again, all students’ grades are visible to all the teachers.
This process of “dividing and conquering” is not limited to English and history classes. There are unlimited opportunities for integration. As those of us who practice it know, it requires compromise and communication; however, the payoff is huge. Student understanding is enhanced, it allows both students and teachers to delve deeper into content and it allows teachers (and students) to work smarter instead of harder.