At the end of SY2017, one of our partner middle schools — James Otis School, a rising neighborhood K-8 school on Chicago’s near northwest side — implemented the mock trial project we developed for a unit on the early Jamestown colony in North America in the early 17th century, based on the excellent and multiple-award winning young adult novel, Blood on the River. The debatable issue at the heart of this argument-centered project is
Was the British aristocracy (i.e., those who ruled because of the family they were born into), according to Blood on the River, responsible for poisoning the colonies’ relationship with the native population in America?
And the full project was laid out in an earlier Debatifier post, here. This post will consist of several video clips from this implementation, led by veteran educator Janet Smith, along with brief analytics attached to each clip, highlighting two proficiencies and one deficiency.
Policy debate? Sure, as long as the home team always wins. Politics today . . . is attitudinal, not ideological. The reason to be for someone is who is against them. What matters more than policy is your side’s winning, and what matters more than your side’s winning is the other side’s losing.
— James Poniewozik, New York Times, May 4, 2017
All those problems [e.g., economic inequality, urban violence, climate change] are serious, they are daunting, but they are not insoluble. What is preventing us from tackling them [is that] we now have a situation in which everybody is listening to those who already agree with them, and are further and further reinforcing their own realities, to the neglect of a common reality, that allows us to have a healthy debate, and then try to find common ground and actually move solutions forward.
— President Barack Obama, University of Chicago Forum on Youth Leadership and Public Service, April 24, 2017
We wanted to share a small set of video clips we recently gathered from partner schools who this spring implemented argument-centered projects en español on authentic beauty and its relationship to cosmetics, and on the comparative value of ancient Sparta and ancient Athens as models for societies today (in English, for a social studies classroom).
These short clips can give teachers and administrators a further glimpse into argument-centered classrooms, as they engage students in debates on issues that they have researched, studied, organized their ideas about, and built arguments on.
This is a comprehensive argument-centered mini-unit on the United States’ decision to use atomic bombs against Japan at the end of World War II. Students study this momentous decision and its consequences through videos, primary documents, and analytical essays. They use these sources to formulate and build out arguments on the fundamental and enduring debatable question:
Was the United States justified in using atomic bombs against Japan in World War II?
Simultaneous table debates take place on this issue across the classroom. These debates are followed up with a focus on the academic means and methods that are used to evaluate competing arguments on a complex, rooted, significant controversy such as the historical question that envelopes America’s use of atomic weapons in WWII. Students conduct one-on-one argument evaluation, using a model debate flow sheet. Then they conclude the mini-unit by evaluating the argumentation in a fully modeled debate and its tracking form.
We have been working with partner middle schools on the argument-based science/social studies project, called Shaping Arguments on Natural Resources. The Debatifier posted on this project recently. We have observed certain patterns of student practice in the implementation of this project, patterns that have elicited some of our feedback “analytics,” which we think may be of interest to the broader educator community using argumentation in the classroom.
The patterns of student practice itemized really do transcend the science/social studies content in this project (on whether the world faces a severe shortage of specific natural resources), and they also transcend the grade levels in which our partner schools have so far implemented it — both because Shaping Arguments on Natural Resources can be readily adjusted for implementation in high school, and because the patterned strengths and weaknesses that students have revealed are common to students across grade levels.