Eracism Debate: A Powerful Learning Experience

Before our winter break, a group of diligent sixth grade students at Lounsberry participated in the Eracism Project, one of Julie Lindsay’s and Vicki Davis’ awesome global learning experiences known as the Flat Classroom Projects. According to the Flat Classroom Project blog, the Eracism Project, “joins diverse cultures and includes authentic debate for global competence and international mindedness”. In all honesty, the experience of debate was not my impetuous for joining this project; it’s the global connect piece that piqued my interest. As I’ve written before, it is imperative that our students connect with people of different cultures in order to participate effectively  in an increasingly flat world.

Characteristic of my impassioned and somewhat impulsive behavior, I requested to join the project, without plans for how it would be implemented. In most cases, a teacher needs a class to work on these projects, and without a class of my own, I needed to find a teacher that could fit a project like this into their already way too filled curricular requirements. The project began at the same time as our Critical Thinking class students had just finished a unit on questioning and were starting a unit on resource evaluation and a review of search; I consulted with Kathy Singerline, and we decided to have all students in all three classes first ask questions and then search and evaluate possible resources, and we’d figure things out from there. We were given the topic from the start as  “Global management of natural resources will cause conflict between cultures.” We were assigned the negative side for the first round and would bedebating The American International School of Guangzhou, China.

First Realization: Before finding resources about something that you know nothing about, find someone who’s an expert or at least somewhat knowledgeable about the topic to help  bring it down to a 6th grade level of understanding! We did contact our district’s science department administrator and a high school environmental science teacher, however we failed to realize that this was more of a political science issue. We desperately needed background knowledge and since part of our responsibility was to clearly define the topic, it was difficult to know where to start. Not only was this topic difficult to grasp, mainly because it could be defined in a multitude of ways, it was also extremely difficult to find information that was comprehensible for sixth graders with little to no background knowledge in this area. If they couldn’t understand the information, how could we ever expect the analysis and synthesis necessary to build a formative argument.

Second Realization: Don’t expect to teach students how to evaluate resources if they have little  background knowledge and can’t even  understand most of what they’re reading, and don’t expect to gather and access resources from 75 students, about a a multidimensional topic, with the hopes of finding 5-10 sources of information that can be used to support an aligned argument!

At this point, I realize that you’re probably pondering the positiveness of the title of this post; it does get better and although our experience was somewhat frustrating, the possibilities are now oh so clear!

Kathy Singerline’s Critical Thinking students needed to start their next unit on Game design, so this project soon became an extracurricular learning experience. Although our experience so far felt somewhat frustrating, a number of students were intrigued about the concept of an international debate and agreed to stay after school and work during enrichment periods, when possible, to continue participating. We would have loved to have had all students participate in the learning activities referenced on The Eracism Wiki but we simply ran out of time.

The first rounds were held in a simulated-synchronus fashion using Voicethread. We collaboratively prepared an opening statement, which included our definition of the topic, our argument statement (stating the case) and three reasons, with examples, to support our argument. ReadWriteThink has a graphic organizer that was helpful for our students.  We followed with a rebuttal and closing statement in response to the Affirmative team’s recordings from China. Much to our surprise, we won, and did so again in the second round against the Wellington School, in Columbus Ohio.  Note: Before the second round  Julie, Vicki and other organizers decided to simplify the topic to read, “Global control of natural resources cause more harm than good.”

The final round was recorded live using Blackboard/Collaborate and although the competition from the Quality Schools International Bratslavia, Slovakiawas fierce, we won; we actually won!

OK , here’s the important stuff, what we learned and what your students could also have the opportunity to learn, through the process of debate:

  • The CCSS’s emphasizes research and Information fluency skills, expressing  the need for questioning, refocusing inquiry when necessary, and assessing the credibility of resources. Covered in a big way!
  • I think________ because________. The CCSS  for Reading and Writing are all about argument and evidence and what better way to make this need real than through an authentic, real-world experience such as debate. Students were required to identify arguments, citing evidence from multiple authors and media sources, which they then synthesized to create and support their own arguments and evidence in their presentations.
  • CCSS emphasize collaborative speaking and listening skills; no need to explain how this project met those standards, right?!
  • More specific to the Eracism debate experience was that it fostered the “understanding of other perspectives and cultures” as expressed in the CCSS and well, just something that makes plain old good sense!
  • This learning experience also helped students foster habits of mind necessary for learning including:  curiosity, perseverance, flexibility, risk-taking, humility, and open-mindedness.

Most importantly, there was a reason for all this learning; it was purposeful. It gave this group of students a listened to voice and they knew that their voice mattered.





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