Monthly Archives: March 2015

Navigating the Waves of the Backchannel

I’m a huge fan of the Socratic Seminar, but the drawback is always getting kids involved who don’t like to speak in a large group setting. I’ve tried many different configurations with moderate results. One of my PLN colleagues, Travis Phelps wrote about using Chromebooks to create a backchannel during the discussion. (Read his blog here.)

Like Travis, I used TodaysMeet to create my chat room, projecting it on the board, so all could see. I organized my room: chairs in the inner circle, desks with Chromebooks on the outer. As students came in, I let them choose their spot, but gave them a heads up that we would be switching halfway through the period.

What I learned

  • Assign seats, at least inner or outer circle. Letting students choose which circle they participated in first wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The discussions were sometimes unbalanced. Too many strong personalities in one group, not enough in the other.
  • Give guidelines on the nickname students choose for the chat. I basically told them I couldn’t grade them, (I grade for participating with useful evidence or insight), if I didn’t know who they were. “Farting Burrito” had to fess up to his handle.
  • Talk to them about spamming and set rules. I teach 8th graders. Writing “poop,” 14 times always seems like a good idea. I let them be silly when they first logged in, just to try it out. However, once the discussion started, the chat needed to be on task. The stream moves so quickly, if someone is typing, “Johnny is Bae,” or even, “LOL,” the other stuff is lost. Just talking about it made all the difference.
  • Change the chat room for each period. This is something I did not anticipate. I had students on Chromebooks in other classes, spamming our conversation. It was done in good fun, but became rather annoying.

The Good, the Bad, and the Silly

I asked the kids at the end of each period what they thought of this different Socratic technique. Most really liked it. They liked that the inner circle was smaller, so it was easier to talk. They also mentioned that they could check the chat on the board if they were stuck for something to say. Mostly they liked that in the outer circle, they could look stuff up on the internet to add to the conversation. The biggest drawback was that the board was sometimes distracting. In some classes, the inner circle would stop talking and take to just reading the board. Plus, there was always that one kid who had to try to make everyone laugh.  But I guess, that’s just what makes it an 8th grade classroom.

I’m looking forward to trying it again soon. Hoping Farting Burrito is too.

Genius Hour: Part 1

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a research assignment, ever. Three weeks ago I introduced Genius Hour to my 8th graders, a concept made famous by Google, where 20% of work time is spent on a project of the employee’s choosing. It’s become a bit of a phenomenon in the educational world with teachers who recognize that choice motivates students. For my class, this means working every Friday until June, approximately 12 weeks. At first, my students were confused, maybe a bit dumbfounded. “We can do anything?”

I only have three rules for our GH project:

  1. You can research it
  2. You can blog about it
  3. You can do a presentation on it

Week 1: The YES Day

My students were still a bit confused on our first Friday. Each time I’d circulate the room, a student would stop me, “Can I do–” “Yes.” It was pretty amazing watching their fingers fly on the Chromebooks, searching for various topics. Still, though, some had no idea where to even begin. I just kept asking, “What do you want to know?”

Week 2: Life Ring

By the next week, most were super excited to continue their research. But definetly not all. I could see the ones drifting off task. I had to give a few stern warnings:  “If you waste 20% of my instruction time, I will give you an alternative assignment.” This extinguished the fires right away. However, I still saw a few flounders. It was time for the life ring. I shared with them a list I had been compiling from various sources of possible Genius Hour projects. Just seeing the possibilities, those who felt they were drowning were able to come up for air. I wouldn’t have done this in the beginning, because I truly believe in the power of discovery, but some kids just needed a helping hand.


Pitch Day: Where the light bulb begins to flicker

Today was pitch day. Students had to get up in front of their peers and give a 30 second pitch on their idea. They had to state their guiding question, explain what they would research, then how they would present in June. After, the other students were encouraged to ask questions and give advice. What a powerful process. Students were able to hear each other’s ideas and learn ways to improve their own process. Plus, I got to hear all the topics. From learning to buy and sell stocks, to practicing different techniques of shooting a basketball properly, to the effects of smoking, to why the brain reacts to music, the topics are not only incredibly varied, they are INTERESTING! So much better than if I would have assigned a topic.

Friday we continue researching. Fridays are truly the best day of the week.