I know, Digital Learning Day was February 5th, but on the 6th I got to be involved in a fantastic example of technology tools being used effectively to break down the walls of the classroom and allow students to learn and connect with students and teachers beyond their school. I was fortunate to be asked to judge a Virtual Debate! South Orange Middle School sixth graders debated with Lower Alloways Creek sixth graders about the merits of homework.
Before I talk about the technology, let me first say that these boys and girls were wonderful. They were prepared with strong arguments, they formed coherent rebuttals, and they presented convincingly. I was impressed with the amount of support that was cited on the subject from people like Alfie Kohn, Robert Marzano, Harris Cooper and other researchers in the field. The students understood that presentation is an important part of debate and they worked to put forth a compelling and convincing argument for their given side. The only part that was unfortunate was that I had to fill out my rubric and decide on a winning team. They both did such a remarkable job. If you don't believe me and you have about an hour, you can check out the debate here sfy.co/aZxd .
I was invited to be a judge by Melissa Butler, one of the teachers involved in the project. Here is the first instance of technology playing a role. Melissa (@AngelinaShy) is a member of my PLN. We connected through twitter and are both part of the planning team for #edcampNJ. Using twitter as an avenue for professional learning, growth, and connection has afforded me various wonderful opportunities (like this debate) and introduced me to some of the most amazing and passionate educators. Melissa co-teaches with Elissa Malespina (@SOMSlibrary) (another #edcampNJ organizer), who is also the media specialist at South Orange Middle School. They were connected with Ruth Williams' and Kristen Ayling's students in Lower Alloways Creek, NJ through another twitter connection, Jay Eitner (@iSuperEit) (you guessed it, #edcampNJ organizer), who is the Superintendent of the district and a strong proponent of technology as a tool for learning.
The students used various methods to research their arguments. It was clear during the debate that the boys and girls were using laptops and desktops to quickly get information to use in their rebuttals. I can only assume that with their teachers facilitating the process throughout, the students utilized resources in the schools' classrooms and media centers, including books and web based tools.
The debate, itself was held using Google Hangout. This is a personal favorite tool of mine. We use it often to hold meetings in the evenings to plan. However, the debate illustrates an amazing use of the tool to allow students to interact with people from other locations. Of course, there were their adversaries in the debate who were several hours away in another part of the state. In addition, the judges consisted of:
Tim Charleston @MrCsays - District Technology Coordinator of Green Brook Twp Public Schools - NJ
Tom Murray @thomascmurray - Director of Technology and Cyber Education for the Quakertown Community School District - Bucks County, PA
Annie Taranto @tarantoannie - Literacy Consultant for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, NY
Frances Ann Squire @FASquire - Jr. High Technology and LA teacher - Prince Edward Island, Canada
******Her entire class viewed and served as judges!
Bruce Arcurio (me) @PrincipalArc - Principal of Bear Tavern Elementary School, Hopewell Twp., NJ
As you can see by my highlighting above, the Google Hangout allowed these two schools to debate with judging from 3 states and a Canadian province! This was a wonderful example of
how technology serves as a means and not an end. The tech was NOT the ultimate goal. The goal was to allow the students to research and conduct a debate using persuasive techniques. Technology served them in their research and presentation. It allowed for a connection between schools. In addition, it provided an authentic audience with judges bringing their expertise to the process. It is unlikely that these students would have been able to debate for a similar judging panel live. However, in my case, I was able to close my office door for an hour and participate fully without the time and schedule juggling of going to one of the schools.
I was thrilled that technology allowed me to be a part of this experience and hope to participate next year. As far as I am concerned, the verdict is... Everybody wins in this situation!
What did you do to celebrate Digital Learning Day (#DLDay)?