2nd Attempt – Socratic Seminar

Today I made my second attempt at a Socratic Seminar.  The kids seem to really enjoy these as they are the ones running the show.  This time, different from the first time, I had the students generate the questions.  We used three sources for our discussion about wealth and consequences.  The first source was the character Bob from The Outsiders (we read this novel as a class).  Our second source was an article about Ethan Couch from NewsEla.  Our final source was the story by Anton Chekhov called “A Problem”.  After reading the three sources and discussing them in class to make sure the students understood the content, these were the questions they generated:

1. Put yourself in the shoes of the victims’ parents.  How would you feel about the decision made in court?

2. If you were one of the uncles of Sasha Uskov, what side would you take and why?

3. Why would the adults try to defend the child after they made bad choices and caused bad things to happen?

4. Do you think people with more money get away with more things just because of their wealth?

The students all participated in creating the questions and posted them to Verso (a virtual board where students can post answers and thoughts anonymously to peers) so that I could see all of the avenues of inquiry.  Quite a few were the same so I knew they wanted to talk about those specific ideas and so I chose those questions and amalgamated their wording into one question.

Before we did our Socratic Seminar, the students were able to have access to the four questions and then did some preparation in class and at home annotating the story and article to find evidence to support their answers to the questions.  They needed to prepare to answer all of the questions.

On the day before the seminar, I had student create groups of four.  That means that they were in charge of answering one of the questions, but they didn’t know which one they would get until seminar day.

On the day of the seminar, we reviewed the rules:

Socratic Seminar Rules

  • This is a comfortable discussion, not a debate.
  • Pilots must speak at least 2 times. Wait for 2 people to speak before you speak again.
  • Do not dominate the discussion.
  • Co-pilots must contribute at least 3 times.
  • You are in charge of your learning. Do not look to the teacher for help.
  • No right or wrong answer.
  • Cite where you are getting your info.
  • Support your statement with textual evidence.
  • Look at others when speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer screen.

Then we got the desks set up so that the pilots would be in the center circle and the other three team members (co-pilots) were in the outer circle (see images below).  The pilots in the center are in charge of speaking on behalf of the team.  Then after about ten minutes of discussion led by them (I am not involved at all…no reactions, no comments, etc.) we go to question number two and so on.  Each time we switch questions a co-pilot becomes a pilot.

While the pilot is speaking, the co-pilots are sending them quotes and ideas to share through Today’s Meet.  This is an online source like a chat room that you can set up for each team in advance.  I provide each team with a QR code so they can get to their specific chat room and they log in with their first names so I can follow their conversations after the seminar has concluded.  The conversations can be looked at on the screen or can be downloaded as a PDF.

I keep a tally sheet of who is talking so that I know who might not have spoken at all and who is dominating so I can address that issue, if needed.

This is a rubric I use to grade the students.  This was the rubric I used for the first Socratic Seminar, not this second one so that is why the title is a wee bit different.

The students did a really nice job answering the questions.  I had to jump in a couple of times with reminders that they needed to provide evidence with their answers as they find this a struggle.  Which I totally get…it’s difficult to do!  After the reminders they were much better about stating their opinion and following it with evidence.  Some students were able to connect to social studies from 6th grade, which was awesome!

As I went through their Today’s Meet feeds I noticed that some co-pilots also mentioned Lindsay Lohan, but their pilot did not share this information during the discussion.  Another great real world example of somebody of wealth not facing the proper consequences for their poor actions (totally my opinion).  Another thing I noticed was that a few students did not prepare and announced this on Today’s Meet.  This was evident during the discussion.  The co-pilots had to prop their pilot up a lot and build their confidence in what they should share because they were not ready.  I was sorely disappointed when I saw these confessions.

These are two images of the students as pilots in the center (blue chairs) and the co-pilots around the outside.  Some of the co-pilots are hard to see as they were sitting on the floor.  I have many different seating options in here which I will share in another blog post. 🙂

If you have any questions about running a Socratic Seminar in your class…I would be happy to help out!  Give me a shout!


Minds are Changing!

We are into week three of our 20% Project and the students are working hard.  I have students that are learning to cook, solving a Rubik’s Cube under three minutes, archery, smelting metal, learning sign language, raising money for charities, raising awareness about pollution and raising awareness about cruelty to animals.  It is such a variety!  A few of the students, however, have changed their mind about their topics.  After this week, no topic changes can be made so that each student has a good amount of time to pursue their project and aim to complete all of their goals.  This year is the first year where the students had a harder time coming up with their project choices and more have changed topics than in previous years.  I am going to reflect on why this is happening and see what I can do about helping the students make their choices next year so that it is something they will stick with through the process.

Blogging Practice

Each week the students will blog their experience through the 20% Project.  Last Friday (before spring break), I had the students begin to blog.  It was a planning week for us so that the students could think about where they were headed and what they would accomplish each week.  Because of this, I made the first blog optional.  I want the students to click around and learn the Edublogs site (like I had to) as I think they will remember it more than if I just show them.  It was a practice blog week.  Those who have started blogging and are becoming more comfortable with the site can then become coaches in class to help others become more comfortable (if you teach it, you learn it better!).  As they write more, they will get more comfortable with the site and their posting abilities (adding video, images, links, etc.).

I am eager to see if they will vlog instead of blog (posting their videos on their blogging site).  It is a wonderful option so that students can include video clips of what they have been doing (if they are recording their progress this way) and so the audience can really get a feel for the student and their enthusiasm (or lack thereof if it was a rough week, LOL) for their project.

It is quite a lot of reading, once all of the students get going for real on recording their experiences, but I love it and it is an awesome way to keep track of where they are and offer them feedback.  Edublogs.org does make it nice and easy through their “reader” so that all the posts and comments are all on one screen and you can just fly through the posts (grade them) and publish them (if you have chosen to monitor postings as the teacher).

A HUGE thank you to all who are following the students and providing them that authentic audience.  I know they will be excited to hear from you! 🙂

Here are the rubrics that I use for their blog or vlog.

Collaborative Quizzes

I attempted something new in class yesterday!  It is something that I learned about at the Summer Literacy Institute which was provided by our district.  I was a little trepidatious at first because I wasn’t sure how the students would react to the plan for their first social studies quiz of the year.  The instructions for the quiz were as follows:  “You are going to take this quiz together, collaboratively.”  Confused faces stared back at me.

The more detailed instructions were as follows:  Each person gets their own paper to complete.  This quiz was a fill in the blank on the Roman Empire and its rise to awesomeness!  They were not allowed to fill in the answers and then just share what they had written.  They had to explain why they wrote the answer they did and convince the others at their table, especially if there was any disagreement.  The students also needed to whisper and keep their answers within their table group (no helping other tables :D).  When everyone was done with the quiz, I collected all of the papers at each table and shuffled them.  The one paper that ended up on top was the one I graded for the entire table and everyone in the group got the same score.

I LOVED the conversations that I heard!  There was much debate going on.  Lots of convincing had to happen for some of the questions.  Everyone was engaged in the conversations and had a vested interest because they were all getting the grade of one paper from the group and they didn’t know which paper it would be.

I believe by the students having these conversations that they will remember the information and be able to utilize it in future discussions and activities.  Not only that, the grades were wonderful and really boosted the confidence of my students because they were successful in collaborating! 🙂

I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and will definitely be doing it again.  The next time I am going to try it by having the students write notes instead of discussing…it will have to be silent!  Writing only allowed.  We shall see how that goes and I will be sure to keep you all posted! 🙂

A New Year Begins

A new year is upon us…September 3rd is the first day of school and I am rather excited to begin another year with the dreaded teenager! LOL!

I have been working slowly over the last week to prepare for the invasion and I am glad I have done so.  It is always nice to take the time to think about things from last year and how things will be different this year…to improve the quality of the lessons so the kids get the best experience possible.  It has also been great to ease in slowly as I have started my Masters in Educational Technology and there is homework involved, so I can really put myself in my students’ shoes and share that experience with them.  I will need to be on top of my time and work wisely!

This year will be a little different than last year.  As a Digital Learning Coach, in addition to being in my own classroom for two periods of the day, I was in other classrooms and at other school sites, but this year I am just staying at my school site and will be back in the classroom 100% of the time.  I am thrilled that I have been given a new opportunity of designing a class on the elective wheel.  All sixth graders will take my class in technology and research.  I will be able to build their foundation of skills to help them be successful in middle school and beyond.  I will be teaching them Google Docs, Haiku, MLA Format and word processing skills, research, citing sources, typing (without looking at the keys!), iPads and apps, and helping them access their grades through Aeries.net.  I am sure there will be many changes and additions to this as I go through it for the first eight weeks before getting a new crop of sixth graders.  It is going to be, as Tony the Tiger says, GRRRRRReat!!!

To all the teachers out there…I hope you have a fabulous year!!!


Reflecting on your teaching practice is always important.  It is also vital that the students reflect on their experiences.  The final step to our adventure was for the students to reflect on their 20% Project.  Time for me to reflect also!

The students were instructed to utilize some technology as an aid to their one and a half minute presentation in class.  This could have been a Prezi, a Google Presentation, PowerPoint, Flowboard, Wikipage, etc…  There were a couple of students that missed this information and didn’t have the technology piece, but they all did the reflection and that is what I considered the most important part.  Next year, I will be sure to be discussing the requirements with the students on a more regular basis and will post them on Haiku to make sure everything is clear.

The kids’ reflections were great!  They really did put a lot of thought into what they shared with the class.  I know it is difficult to get up and speak in front of others as it is not my most favourite thing either.  There were categories that they had to address…brief summary of project, their successes, their weaknesses, any unexpected changes, and what they would they do if they could do another project.  They were allowed to use notecards to help them with their speaking points.  I would say that most of the kids chose not to use them and they utilized what was in their digital presentation to guide them.

Things I noticed about their digital components…they were quite wordy.  We had a chat after day one and I shared with them that the important thing was for us to listen to their speaking and not be trying to read too much on the board where their work was projected.  After that quick chat, the students that came after made changes.  I was not grading their digital presentations, so by talking to them in the midst of our presenting days didn’t affect anyone except to make future presentations stronger.  A lot of the students chose to put titles and some images rather than typing out everything they were going to say…I was glad I had intervened.

In the future I think I also need to give them more direction in the reflections I am looking for.  There was a lot of summarizing of the project in their successes and failures.  I need to figure out how to get them to go deeper…what were the big picture successes and the big picture of what they learned from their experiences???  Must work on this!

This project will definitely be something I will do with my seventh graders again.  The highlights of what they learned: How to work well with others and compromise, make adjustments to be successful, how to plan and accomplish a long range project, how to present to community members and build their confidence, and so much more!  Not only did they learn their content…they learned MORE!  Life skills that they can carry with them to the future! 🙂  This makes me happy and I know they will remember this experience for a very long time.

Ah.Mazing! What a Night!

The Pitch Night Event was AH.MAZING!!!!!  The kids were phenomenal in sharing all they had learned (and sounding so professional), the parents were so proud and their teacher was beyond proud!  I confess to tearing up a little at one point because I was just bursting! 🙂

Not only were the parents here, but we had board members, the superintendent, school staff, and other community members who had received our flier.  I had a former student’s little brother see the flier at his school and he insisted on coming so he could see me and Mrs. Ash-Bala (his big brother also had her for a teacher).  How sweet was that?  The positive feedback from everyone was fantastic and just makes me want to do it even more next year.  I really appreciate everyone that came out to support the event.  Thank you!!!!

My mum was planning on coming to the event by herself as my dad had to work.  To my surprise, when I went to let them in the gate for their special parking spot, my dad was there too!  He had switched his shift so he could be there.  How awesome are my parents?!  They are so supportive!!!

The students were great at getting all the tables set up.  Turns out they were not all utilized, but that is good information for next time.  It took us about forty-five minutes to get them all in position (with nineteen kids working hard) and with Mrs. Ash-Bala’s kids, at the end, about fifteen minutes to break it all down and clear up! 🙂  Of course there were over 100 kids at that point and a few parents pitched in also.

The food truck choices were a HIT!  What great food we had…the Grilled Cheese with macaroni, pulled pork and caramelized onions did not disappoint!!!  We will definitely utilize them again for a future event!

I have to share a prank that the school librarian and vice-principal played on me.  This week was iPad collection week, so I was in the library helping to scan iPads in when the students returned them.  I had already talked to the office to follow-up on the table delivery as they hadn’t yet arrived near lunch time.  The VP called the library and all I heard was the librarian saying, “The tables aren’t coming? What are they going to do?”  I am sure I had a look of stark terror on my face.  I took the phone and said, “Please tell me you are joking!” and the VP cracked up!  So not funny!  LOL!!!!!  The tables arrived within an hour, thank goodness. 🙂

I will be posting pictures from the event in another post – hopefully this weekend – so you can see how it all looked.

Again…thank you to all who came out!  It was a phenomenal evening and you helped make it happen!