The one off lesson – what to do?

We’re nearing the end of our school year. Reports are written, exams are underway, assessment tasks are all done. What do you do that’s meaningful in a lesson when your students are in switched off mode?

Today, I was inspired by the morning news. I listened as a prominent Sydney broadcaster made disparaging comments about Julian Assange and the Wikileaks release of incriminating data damaging to the US administration. It got me thinking. What did my students know about this and what would we be able to find out if we spent some time investigating those terms?

Using old fashioned media, a whiteboard and whiteboard marker, I wrote Julian Assange and Wikileaks on the board. I asked the students to open their laptops and, in the next ten minutes, endeavour to locate as much information as they could about them. I told them that this is what assessment in the future may look like. They’ll be assessed on the quality of information they can locate, the authoritative nature of it, their ability to analyse what they have found, and then create meaning from it. Giving them a time frame had them beavering away. Some were on the Wikileaks site, some were on YouTube watching videos about Julian Assange and his association with Wikileaks, others were using Wikipedia. Despite me telling them earlier in the year to use delicious or Twitter for search, none were doing this.

After the ten minutes were up they shared their findings with me and I wrote their answers on the board. Yes, old fashioned tech once again. If I were thinking, I could have used a Google Doc that I could have shared with them, or even better still, I could have had them adding to it as they went. Sometimes you think after the fact, and sometimes working the old fashioned way is just fine. Today, it was just fine.

They’d found an enormous amount of detail, especially about Julian Assange. We didn’t spend any time discussing the sources of their information because conversation was flowing and there was interest in the detail they’d found. They were contemplating the nature of the Wikileaks site and some of the controversy surrounding Julian Assange. After 10 minutes or so of discussion I asked them to consider their position on the Wikileaks site and whether it not they thought it was ‘right’ for the site to publish ‘sensitive’ information. Those who thought the site had the right to publish I asked to stand on one side of the room, and those who thought they should desist went to the other side. The fence sitters sat in the middle.I then told them they had 5 minutes to formulate an argument for their position that they would present to the fence sitters who would decide where to give their allegiance.

The supporters were vocal and generating lots of arguments, the objectors less so. When it came time to present their cases, the fencesitters overwhelmingly sided with the supporters. And that was it. Lesson over.

I think it was worthwhile. We explored a topical issue, we know a lot more now than we did this morning. We thought about our position and made considered decisions regarding this, and I’m pretty sure the majority of those students would have made links to what they did today with some of the reports they might have seen tonight on the evening news. A tad better than the ‘let’s show a video’ tactic that sometimes rears its ugly head at this time of year. I think so anyway. : )