Phil VanKampen's 5th graders have been taking on the roles of Patriots and Loyalists from the Revolutionary War and having "real time" debates. They have also been asking each other questions about the role each played in the history of the country. They have been speculating about their relationship after the war and making predictions. They have been switching their roles, debate style and starting new conversations.
Does this sound like a lively discussion in a typical classroom?
This discussion has been taking place virtually on Edmodo. Edmodo is a free social networking site created for educators and students where students interact only with others who have the code to their group. This means that students would be posting only to an entire group or the teacher, rather than among themselves individually. It is a place to practice netiquette, the online rules of courtesy and respect. But also to have online discussions which may draw out shyer students' comments. It also provides opportunity for students to respond to a range of comments, rather than one at a time.
Here are some samples from VanKampen's class in the Patriots vs. Loyalist discussion:
Discussion Thread 1:
Jordyn D. to VanKampen Tech:
will anybody find out who took the frist shot before the war started? If i had to guess the patriots took the frist shot because they were sick of getting there homes taken away and getting taxed alot.
Nick S. - That's not true you british regulars started everything in Boston. We were having a little peaceful "meeting" when your highly armed men started shooting at unarmed colonists. Don't you remember it the Boston Masacare!
Jordyn D. - you are right but will anybody find out who took the frist shot in the war.
Nick S. - I told you it was the British, first in Boston, then when they sent their army to Lexington and Concord. If the army had never been sent then there would have been no shot fired. So it doesn't really matter if we can find out who actually fired the first shot it's the fault of the british.
Discussion Thread 2:
Kynzie W. to VanKampen Tech:
those african americans are free because of those patriot captains so now there are free slaves roming everywhere so we can capture them and use them as slaves.
mike a. - ireally diss agree with you kynzie. that sounded must up to me . really
Madeline A. - that has nothing to do with the war unless they were free because the loyalist were on there side but the loyalist and patriots needed sllaves to work on there farms I AM CONFUSED!
Kynzie W. - Well mike thats what happend the war ended in 1782 or 1783 and slaves werent free till 1865
Alex L. - slaves werent really a big deal in the war
Kynzie W. - madi captains in the war said to slaves if you fight in the war you you get freedom so thats whgy i wrote the post.
jalin u. - Um thats kinda offences us that does sound kinda messed up.
mike a. - still thats is affensive to some of us thats messed up.
Discussion Thread 3:
Chloe K. to VanKampen Tech
everybody i got a question did any of the loyalist become friends with the patroits.
Madeline A. - No not a bit they hated loyalist and loyalist hatted them back.
Chloe K. - I ment at the end after the war
Bekah R. - Probably but at firt sthe werent
Heather T. - i'm not sure, but what if a loyalist really cared about the patriots and became one
Anna B. - i would not think that they did cause loyalist are loyal to the king and patriots dont like the king.
Mr. VanKampen also noted that he jumped into the discussion from time to time to play "devil's advocate," sparking even more discussion. He also mentioned how engaged his students were. When he prompted them to take the other side in a subsequent session, his students protested until he explained that a good debater is able to take on both sides.
Online discussions are not only engaging, they can be free-wheeling, so teachers may want to think that through. In any case, you have a document of the student discussion to refer to and have students re-read for future discussion: face to face or virtually.