I always start my 7th grade Jewish History class by talking about identity. Students create identity charts, identify aspects of their identity which they consider “public” and aspects they consider “private” and then we move on to a discussion during which students explore deeper questions such as “What might be the benefits and drawbacks of having public and private selves?” and “How do the labels we give others affect how we see someone as part of an ‘us’ or part of a ‘them’?”
- Students create identity charts
- Students categorize identity-factors as “public” or “private”
- Students write silently about discussion questions
- Students discuss questions in Fishbowl
- Debrief Fishbowl
- Exit card
In previous years, students created identity charts using pen and paper. The activity was quick and we were easily able to use the identity chart graphic organizer and public vs. private self graphic organizer as a springboard for thoughtful discussions.
The challenge, however, was that there were times later in the year when I wanted to refer back to the students’ identity charts that they had created that first day. For example, I teach about the Spanish Inquisition, a time when Jews had to make the choice whether to stay Jewish, become secret Jews, or convert to Christianity. I wanted to ask my students to look back at their identity charts and find
- an aspect of their identity that they think would be difficult to hide and
- an aspect of their identity that if they were to remove it from their chart, they would no longer be themselves.
But by a month into the school year, many of my students had lost their identity charts and so I, in turn, lost out on this opportunity for students to use their identity charts to connect meaningfully to choices Jews made in history.
Additionally, I often have my students talk in a Fishbowl discussion during which part of the class talks about an open-ended question while the other half of the class listens. Even when I had the observers take structured notes on the discussion, I found that a fair amount of the observers were spacing out, and I always had at least one or two observers ask to use the restroom at this time (a sign to me that they didn’t see their role as observers as important or necessary).
Rebecca is one of 6 Facing History Teacher Leaders experimenting with various tech tools to "power up" Facing History lessons this year.
"Powering Up" with new tech tools
This year I decided to use Lucidchart as a tool for students to create their identity charts. Because Lucidchart is a Google App, students could share their identity charts with me on Google Drive and their identity charts are automatically saved on their Google Drive accounts. Therefore, no more lost identity charts! Also, instead of doing a second public-private self graphic organizer in which students copied factors from their identity chart into the “public” or “private” categories, I had students color-code their identity charts: yellow for factors of their identity they considered to be public, blue for factors they considered to be private and green for factors that might be both public and private.
In an attempt to foster higher levels of engagement for the students who were observing the fish in the Fishbowl discussion, I introduced the website www.todaysmeet.com. I set up a chat room (super easy to do 10 seconds before the discussion begins) and students on the outside circle had a virtual conversation about what the students on the inside circle were discussing.
Reflections on Lucidchart
Overall, Lucidchart worked well to create identity charts. Almost all students reported that it was a positive experience for them, as one student remarked:
I really liked how we could execute our ideas on such a neat chart that was so easy to use and is easy to access for future activities. I loved LucidChart and think you should definitely use it again next year.”
A few caveats:
- Because my school is a Google school, all students already had Lucidchart accounts if they signed in through Google. I’m not how easy/challenging the sign-up process would be if students did not already have Google accounts.
- Lucidcharts took a lot more time to complete than the pen-and-paper version. Whereas pen-and-paper identity charts take 5 minutes, Lucidcharts (including logging in, explaining directions etc.) took at least 30 minutes. I’m hoping the investment in time will pay off later when I refer back to them in future lessons.
- A few students’ accounts were not working and students were not able to log in. Middle school kids do not always take frustrations in stride. In the future, I would preface the lesson by saying that “some of us will experience frustrations and if your account doesn’t work today, it’s not your fault. I will help you figure it out.”
Reflections on Today's Meet
Students were very excited about using www.todaysmeet.com. Overall, I think it helped student engagement but was somewhat distracting at the same time.
Students were honest with their assessment of this tool:
I think that by having todaysmeet.com we were more engaged in the conversation that was happening inside the fishbowl because before we would wait until the end to share our ideas but now we could share our ideas right away."
Another student had a different view:
I think using todaysmeet during fishbowl did not help me engage in fishbowl because instead of the outside people listening to the inside people, most people were typing the whole time and that is distracting. You should use it again, but make sure that everyone is listening and not just typing the whole time."
After the first time using Todays' Meet as a back channel for Fishbowl, I realized that I needed to better teach how to use it as a tool for discussion so that it wouldn’t become a continued source of distraction. The next few times I used Todays' Meet in my class, I spent more time modeling what types of comments students should write. For example, I did not want my students to write “I agree” every three seconds. Rather, I wanted them to say specifically what they agreed with and why and/or ask a question that would further the virtual discussion. I also gave a limit on how many comments (3-4 total) they could write during the ten-minute discussion. I emphasized that listening and thinking was just as, if not more important, than typing. The second and third times students used this discussion platform they were much more successful than the first time; some of the novelty had worn off and they were better able to use Todays' Meet as a tool for thoughtful discussion.
An important note:
I found out a few weeks later that students had continued the conversation I had set up in my Todays' Meet chat room and were using the chat room to send inappropriate messages to each other. Though I had talked during class about writing appropriate comments during discussion, I did not explicitly say that this requirement applied to outside of the classroom as well. In retrospect, I should have set up the room to only be open for an hour (rather than a day or a week), thereby ensuring that the room would only be open while I was monitoring it.
After participating in the Fishbowl Discussion, one student wrote in her Exit card:
Because we want to know someone we give them a label to classify them by. Labeling can be helpful/positive because it gives a sense of who you are to other people. However, it can be harmful because the label might be false and not what the person wants you to classify them by.”
Students’ exit cards showed me that students had met the objectives of my technology-rich lesson--that students would be able to identify aspects of their identities that were public and private and be able to articulate the pros and cons of having a public and private self.
Furthermore, just as I had hoped, we did use the identity charts throughout the whole first unit. During one lesson I had students open up their Lucidcharts and highlight in red one aspect of their identity for which, if it were to be taken away, they would no longer be themselves. Students highlighted such words as “black,” “female,” “dancer” etc. and we talked about what it would mean to give up such an important part of who you are. This was the perfect segue to talk about the choice Jews had to make of whether or not to give up their Jewish identities in the time of the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion.
Though I was already using the Facing History approach in this 7th grade History Unit, these technology tools - Lucidchart and todaysmeet.com - helped me to make my unit even more engaging for my students.