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Teaching Debating Skills

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I, along with many others, have been impressed with how articulate the Parkland students have been regarding their school shooting and gun laws.

When students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High debated gun control in class last November, they never imagined they were preparing to lead a national discussion on how to prevent school shootings. As the debate team filled Google docs with research on state laws, brainstormed arguments for and against universal background checks and wrote speeches, they were amassing information that would later help them formulate arguments on national TV, in face-to-face meetings with Florida legislators and at vigils for their murdered classmates.

What really explains the students’ poise, said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, is the school district’s system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age. Every public high school and middle school in the county has a debate program, along with more than two dozen elementary schools. It’s one of the largest debate programs in the country — and, amid the heartbreak, it has helped Broward students position themselves on the front lines of the #NeverAgain movement. (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article201678544.html)

I used to do debates in my face-to-face teacher education courses; and they were always a great success – proved to be a valuable instructional tool. It slipped my mind when I moved into online college teaching. All of the press regarding the Parkland students and their debate experiences reminded me of the power and benefits of debate.

In general, the benefits of debate include:

  • Gaining broad, multi-faceted knowledge cutting across several disciplines outside the learner’s normal academic subjects.
  • Increasing learners’ confidence, poise, and self-esteem.
  • Providing an engaging, active, learner-centered activity.
  • Improving rigorous higher order and critical thinking skills.
  • Enhancing the ability to structure and organize thoughts.
  • Enhancing learners’ analytical, research and note-taking kills
  • Improving learners’ ability to form balanced, informed arguments and to use reasoning and evidence.
  • Developing effective speech composition and delivery.
  • Encouraging teamwork.

(http://www.qatardebate.org/debate-and-debating/benefits-of-debating)

Because of my interest in the Parkland students and my research about the benefits of debating, I decided to have my gifted students, grades 5 and 6, do a debate on teachers being armed in school. The steps for their debate were as follows:

  1. Decide what side of the issue they wanted to be on. I stressed that sometimes being on the side you don’t necessary agree with can be a good exercise, especially for understanding the other side of the issue.
  2. Explore the issue through online research.
  3. Meet with team members to decide what angle of the issue each member would take.
  4. Do online research to find hard evidence to support each of their issues and angles.
  5. Meet with their groups to review their arguments and go over their presentations.
  6. Learn about the structure of the debate
    • Each side presents their argument – all members of a side present their argument (decided by a coin flip) and then the other side does so.
    • While one side is presenting their argument, learners on the other side write out questions to ask during the rebuttal round.
    • In the rebuttal round, questions are asked of the opposing team.
  7. Review the evaluation criteria – on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest. Each learner is evaluated by a panel of judges (some other students and me)
    • How well did the person articulate the argument?
    • How well did the person use references to support his or her argument?
    • How well did the person ask questions of the other team?
    • How well did the person answer questions from the other team?
  8. Do the debate.
  9. Get the judges’ feedback. Add together their scores for each individual and then add these as a team. The team with the highest score wins.

Highlights

Reflection

Although these students did some mini-debates in their regular classroom, it was obvious they had some problems with a more formal debate such as this. If I was to do this over or in the future, I would:

  1. Have each learner share his or her research with me and we would check the reliability of the sources together.
  2. Ask the learners to practice what they are going to say with their teammates several times.
  3. Have the learners watch example debates online and prepare questions for the speakers as if they were there.
  4. Ask learners to present their arguments to their family and/or friends to get feedback from them.

More Resources About Debates in the Classroom

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 7, 2018 at 12:22 am

Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations

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I am a process-oriented educator. I focus on how to learn rather than what to learn. I’ve addressed this in Freedom to Learn:

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In order to facilitate these desired elements of learning, I believe it is important to focus on the process of learning rather than the products of learning.

When learning is viewed as a product, and the same performance measure applies to all students, learning facilitation can be reduced to cookie-cutter teaching: same pieces of information and instruction are seen sufficient for all students. In a product-centered learning environment emphasis is often in doing activities – worksheets, charts, pre-designed projects – that are either teacher-made or provided by the publisher of the curriculum. The important part of completing these products is getting them right because these products are usually graded! Skilled and obedient students comply with these requests and try hard to get their tasks done right, yet there are many students who just leave them undone.

What about viewing learning as a process? Because students begin their daily/weekly/yearly learning from different levels of knowledge and understanding, they also will end up in different competency levels. And that is okay, honestly. We are not clones. Students shouldn’t be treated like ones. When learning is understood primarily as a process of acquisition and elaboration of information, the natural consequences in the classroom are ongoing differentiation and individualization. Approaching learning as an individual process helps us refocus learning and teaching: the student is in the nexus of her/his own learning, (Is Learning a Product or a Process?)

The following principles from Rogers’ Freedom to Learn are directly addressed when the process of learning becomes the intent of instructional practices:

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. “When he chooses his own directions, helps to discover his own learning resources, formulates his own problems, decides his own course of action, lives with the consequences of these choices, then significant learning is maximized” (p. 162).

The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change. If our present culture survives, it will be because we have been able to develop individuals for whom change is the central fact of life and who have been able to live comfortably with this central fact. They will instead have the comfortable expectation that it will be continuously necessary to incorporate new and challenging learnings about ever-changing situations. (pp. 163-164)

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved from https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com.

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for my learners include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • Natural differentiation and individualization result.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

The benefits for me, as the educator, include:

  • I work hard to pre-plan process-oriented classroom activities but the learners work harder than me during class time. Students should work harder than the educator during class time.
  • I am continually surprised at and elated about what learners produce. Because of this, I get to learn from them, too. We become a learning community.
  • I get to directly observe how each individual student approaches learning tasks. This furthers my ability to plan learning tasks tailored to the learners’ unique abilities and interests.
  • I get to experience the joy with them as they accomplish a learning task on their own using their own personal abilities, intelligence, learning strategies, and struggles. This joy rarely occurs with standardized curriculum and assessments.

Here are some examples of process-oriented learning activities I have done with my students:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences

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I often read via social media about the importance of student centered, student-driven instruction. I wholeheartedly agree. My blog post is called User-Generated Education for a reason. I also believe one of the roles of an educator, in the context of maker education, is to scaffold learning experiences so the end result is students becoming self-determined learning.

Thinking about the importance of learner autonomy and independence reminded me of my early career when I did counseling work with at-risk youth in wilderness settings, taking them on 2 to 3 week wilderness trips. We did what was called Huddle-Up Circles. Huddle-ups were called by the instructors and/or the youth participants any time a concern or problem arose. Everyone stopped what they were doing to gather in a circle to discuss the problem and generate solutions. Needless to say, the instructors were the ones who most often called and facilitated the huddle-ups at beginning of our trips.  Our goal, as instructors and counselors, was to have the young people run the huddle-ups themselves. We knew we were successful when we asked to step out of the huddle-ups by the young people because they wanted to run their own huddle-ups. During these times, we would stand outside of the huddle-up circles and silently observe their processes, only stepping in upon their request. The results not only included the development of skills and strategies for their own social-emotional development, but their success with their earned independence boosted their self-esteems.

This is how I approach facilitating maker education activities. Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions.

In response, I created and proposed Stages of Maker Education:

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In my robotics and coding classes, I use Ozobot, Spheros, Dash and Dot, microbits, Scratch, to name of few. I use a full spectrum of activities starting with direct instruction associated with the Copying stage, then assisting learners to move through the Advance, Modify, and Embellish stages by providing them with examples and resources, and finally, encouraging them to move into the Create stage. Sometimes I show them examples of possibilities for the Create stage. I show such examples to spark and ignite their creative juices. Because almost all of my learners have not had the freedom to create, these examples help to get them motivated and going. Here some are examples of two ends of the spectrum – Prescribed/Copy and Create – of some of these robotic and coding activities to show how learning basic skills can lead to creative activities:

My ultimate goal is to have students drive their own learning and I want to help them learn skills to be successful in their self-determined learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

What Learners Want

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I teach gifted students, grades 2 through 6, part time at two Title 1 schools. I pull them out of their regular classes for 3 hours of gifted programming each week. Sadly, but predictably, even though they are classified as gifted, they lack some basic skills in language arts and math (ones like basic grammar and math that they should have by this time in their educational timeline). This makes me question lots of things:

  • Is this because of a form of experiences-deficit during their early years? Their parents often lack the funds and time (working several jobs) to take their children to after school classes, visits to local museums and cultural events, and/or go on out-of-city and out-of-state trips.
  • Is it due to a lack of academic rigor and vigor in their classrooms? Schools with a higher number of students living in poverty tend to do more grill and drill in an effort to raise their test scores.  My personal belief is that grill and drill does not translate into academic vigor and rigor.
  • Do the teachers have lower expectations for the students given their backgrounds?
  • Do their parents have different expectations for their children in terms of academic achievement and college attendance?

I witnessed a conversation between my students yesterday that I found surprising and further had me wondering about the questions I posed above. In one of my schools, where I serve a class of 4th though 6th graders, I have three students from one of the 5th grades and another three students from the other 5th grade. One of the 5th grades has a teacher who is friendly with the students and does fun things in class with the students like showing them clips from major sports events. The other 5th grade class has a very strict teacher. She has a strict and rigorous class schedule and demands that the students work hard in her class. Personally, I like him better. He is friendly to me and often checks in with me about how the students are doing. She is not friendly with me, never checks in with me. I assumed that the students would also like him better and rave about him as a teacher. Yesterday, the kids started talking about the two teachers. One of the 6th grade boys, who had the nice guy teacher last year, had this to say, “I had Mr. Nice Guy as a teacher last year. If you want a friend, then Mr. Nice Guy is the best class but if you want a teacher, then Ms. Strict and Rigorous is the best class. I didn’t learn a single thing in my entire 5th grade year with him.” It was a short conversation as I don’t talk about teachers with the students and directed them to their computer assignments.  But it was a huge shock to me. I really expected the kids to rave about Mr. Nice Guy during this conversation.

I shouldn’t be that surprised. Students often know what it is best for them but sometimes have trouble expressing it. This 6th grader (who, by the way, is far from compliant – way too often talking to his male friends about sports during our class activities) is very articulate so he was able to clearly express his needs. What did surprise me, though, is that his need to learn is stronger than his need for fun and relationship with the teacher. So even with what some might classify as having some disadvantages, he still recognizes the importance of learning.

I went to Google to explore the topic of what students want in their classes and from their teachers. Most of the posts and articles were from educators – not from the students, themselves. So even though I think I know what students want, I may not. What I did re-realize, though, is that what I can do as an educator is keep the lines of communication open with my students, continually inviting them to give me feedback about our learning activities, facilitating conversations about what they are actually learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 2, 2017 at 9:23 pm

Introduction to Design Thinking for Educators Workshop

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I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on design thinking for educators at the New Mexico Association for the Gifted Fall Institute. Here is a round-up of what we did.

Warm Up: Instant Challenge

Participants were asked to warm-up for the session with a challenge from the Destination Imagination Instant Challenge App.

Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless! https://www.destinationimagination.org/blog/new-instant-challenge-app/

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Introduction to the Squishy Circuits: The Medium for the Design Challenge

I then had the participating educators familiarize themselves with Squishy Circuits to prepare them for the upcoming design challenge and to deepen their engagement with the workshop content.

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An Overview of Design Thinking

The following videos and graphics about design thinking were introduced and discussed with participants.

John Spencer’s Video on the Launch Cycle

Design thinking was introduced to the participating educators through showing them John Spencer‘s video.

The Characteristics of Design Thinking

The following graphic, which I created for this workshop, was discussed.

characteristics of design thinking

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education developed by Barbara Bray and me was then introduced to the participants.

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The Design Challenge

The major challenge or task was to create a design using Squishy circuits based on a partner’s specifications. Only the designer could touch the materials not the “client” who verbally described her desired design. To further explain this challenge, I showed a video of my gifted elementary students engaged in the challenge.

. . .  and some photos of the participating educators doing this challenge.

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Sidenote

One of the partner teams was one of my colleagues, Anna, an amazing art teacher, who was the client paired with a gifted ed teacher, the designer. Anna provided the verbal directions for her partner to make an elephant drinking water. We were reaching the end of the session without its completion. I told them to just let it go – the elephant was complete but the lighting was not. During the time that the workshop participants were walking around looking at one another’s creations, Anna and her partner completed the elephant using the LEDs to light up his eyes. The look of pride and empowerment in both Anna and her partner, who obviously has never completed such a project and was glowing with well-deserved pride, was priceless – touching me quite deeply. The moral of the story for me: Teachers should be provided with PD opportunities to deeply engage in learning to the point where they feel empowered. I believe this will help increase the transfer of learning to their own classrooms as they will want their own learners to feel that same sense of empowerment.

Here is the slide deck from my presentation:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Specific Ideas for Intentional Creativity

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Recently I wrote a blog post about Intentional Creativity. Here is the graphic created for that post. Below the graphic are specific ideas I am using with my gifted elementary students this school year.

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What follows are the activities I am using this school year to be intentional with sparking creativity in my gifted education classrooms. The titles are links for these activities.

Destination Imagination Instant Challenges

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Goal: To spark creative divergent thinking for STEM, STEAM, and science based learning.

Description: Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless!

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Write About

Goal: To get learners’ primed to do some creative writing.

Description: Don’t look at Write About as another thing to add. It’s a platform for writing and a community for publishing writing…regardless of the genre, purpose, length or audience. We believe a balance between digital and physical is a healthy thing, and support your pencil/paper writer’s notebooks whole heartedly! But when you want students to transition their writing skills into a digital space…when you want to empower them with choice and visual inspiration for creative sparks…when you want them to have an authentic audience for their writing…when you want them to leverage multi modal tools like audio and images…that’s where we come in!

Minute Mysteries

Goal: To help learners to think outside of the box; to develop alternative perspectives of perceived reality.

Description:  Minute mysteries are riddles where students ask yes or no questions to try and solve the riddle. They are called minute mysteries because they are usually a bit more complex than your average riddle.

Rebus Puzzles

Goal: To help learners playful interact with the symbolic nature of language.

Description: Rebus Puzzles are essentially little pictures or riddles, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying.

Classroom Icebreakers

Goal: To build community; help create a classroom climate with a sense of fun and whimsy.

Description: Useful for the beginning of a class period or toward the beginning of a semester when students don’t know each other well, Introduction and Breaking-the-Ice games can dramatically transform the dynamics of your classroom. More ideas can be found at: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/classroom-icebreakers/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 2, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Intentional Creativity

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Torrence, whose focus was on creativity, developed the Torrence Incubation Model of Creative Thinking (TIM) model.

As emphasized in this video, embedding creativity into the curriculum can and should be a strong component of content area teaching and learning. In other words, educators don’t need to plan to teach creativity as another part of curriculum.  Creativity is often an integral part of the practices of professionals including scientists, mathematicians, business people, artists, writers, and is an important part of their content area expertise. It follow, then, that learners should be taught in ways that help them think like a scientist . . . like an artist . . .  like a writer . . .  like a business person.

E. Paul Torrance, perhaps one of the most prominent scholars of creativity, conducted a variety of studies exploring the teaching and learning of creativity. His studies identified specific skills associated with creativity, and demonstrated success in the teaching of creativity through the Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning. The Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning can be applied to a lesson, unit or project. The application of TIM and the identification of a specific creativity skill is an effective way to teach creativity, without impacting the teaching of core objectives or curriculum content. TIM, has three stages: Stage One, Heighten Anticipation, is designed to adequately and mentally prepare the student (or students) for the project ahead. Torrance describes this as a ʻWarming Up Periodʼ with the following six functions, (1) Create the Desire to Know, (2) Heighten Anticipation and Expectation, (3) Get Attention, (4) Arouse Curiosity, (5) Tickle the Imagination, and (6) Give Purpose and Motivation. (Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM))

Specific active methods for heightening anticipation include:

The benefits of educators being intentional with heightening anticipation include:

  • Increased engagement in and motivation for the learning activities.
  • Increased interest in content area learning; possibly stimulating new learner passions.
  • Deeper learning.
  • More generalizable skills related to creativity.

So just with a little planning, the educator can set up conditions that can significantly motivate learners and create an energized learning environment climate.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

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