Currently, I teach 8th grade Social Studies. We are learning all about the development and creation of the United States. One of the many perks of being an 8th grade Social Studies teacher is that every 4 years we are able to discuss the Presidential election in class. Since I’m a fairly new teacher (and a very new 8th grade SS teacher), I have not had the opportunity to cover the election in class until this year. And lets just say…it’s been a fun few weeks.
This past week on October 3rd, Obama and Romney squared off in the first of 3 Presidential debates. Needless to say, you probably heard of all that happened and the analysis that came with it. I won’t bore you with the gritty details. However, my students have had a hard time buying into all the hoopla over these Presidential candidates. So during this past Presidential debate, a colleague and myself used a tool called TodaysMeet (http://todaysmeet.com/) to engage our students as the debate was happening live.
TodaysMeet is normally used as a backchannel. A backchannel is “everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter” (http://todaysmeet.com/help/backchannel). The idea of TodaysMeet is very similar to Twitter in that you must write your responses in 140 characters or less. However, “TodaysMeet gives you an isolated room where you can see only what you need to see, and your audience doesn’t need to learn any new tools like hash tags to keep everything together” (http://todaysmeet.com/about). The room is simple yet engaging.
My colleague and I created a chatroom at http://todaysmeet.com/MrMiles and told the students to visit the URL at 9:00 and be prepared to discuss the debate as it was happening live. I asked them to be sure to use their first names to indicate who they were and leave off their last name for privacy reasons. After they became familiar with how TodaysMeet worked (that took 90 seconds or less) we started discussing the live debate. I had a few rules they had to follow while chatting:
- Be respectful – You must respect other people’s opinions. No name calling or insults even if you disagree. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
- Pay attention to the chatroom – There might be a lot of people in this chatroom so if you are chatting with just one person you will need to follow the chat very closely to see what they are saying.
- Answer my questions – If I pose a question, please answer it.
- No TEXT talk – It’s okay every now and then, but we need to understand what you are trying to say. However, you only have 140 characters.
- Do not ask who anyone is voting for.
- Do a little research beforehand. (I gave them a list of resources on my class website)
For the most part I served as the moderator of the chat. I posed questions to the group or guided their thinking as they discussed certain things about each candidates. I also made sure the rules were followed to protect the online learning environment. At the of the chat and debate, TodaysMeet allows anyone to view the transcript of their chat, which I archived and shared with the students that participate. It was a great activity, and I received a lot of very positive feedback. With the exception of a few minutes, the backchannel worked flawlessly and provided a great technology tool to engage my students as they had fun learning. It was a different and unique experience for them.