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Grade 8: Renaissance Debates

As described in previous posts, here and here, our grade 8's have been working through a study of the Italian Renaissance, examining the conditions that existed, and then making comparisons with life in contemporary Calgary.

In order to help bridge the gap between the Italian Renaissance and contemporary Calgary, we made use of a number of local experts on various topics including arts, religion, science, technology, education and communication.

Some of the experts who worked with our kids over the last month included:

Taco van Leperen, Programmer for Smart Technologies
Pedro Sabarita, Former Calgary Art Gallery Owner, Energy Consultant
Stuart Crichton, C.A., Vice President Kinnear Financial Limited
Geoffrey Pradella, Vice President, Public & Government Affairs Calgary Chamber of Commerce
Dave Robinson, VP and Chief Geologist Temple Energy
Allan Dyer, Calgary Science Centre
Tod Hirsch, Senior Economist ATB Financial
Brian Pincott, City of Calgary Alderman for Ward 11
Rob Anders, MP Calgary West
Laurence Abbott, University of Alberta Instructor, PhD Student
Steven Engler, Professor Mount Royal University
Garry Mckinnon, Education Professor, University of Calgary
Terry Rock, Calgary Arts Development
David Scott, MEd, Humanities 8 Instructor Calgary Science School
Gord Ferguson, Sculpture Program Head, Alberta College or Art and Design
Keith D'Eall, Pastor, Varsity Bible Church
Zak Paschak, Alderman Candidate for Ward 8, Calgary

The students collected information from these experts on wikis, which allowed students to share their research and findings on their own specific topics with all the students in the class. This is where wikis can become a powerful tool in the classroom, allowing students to collaborate and share their research from a variety of topics. You can view one of the class wiki pages here.

Using wikis in this way creates a knowledge building environment in the classroom, where students "participate in the creation or modification of knowledge - knowledge that lives ‘in the world’ and is available to be worked on and used by other people." (Scardamalia) The tool provides a platform for the work to be public - and in this particular project, that public audience was both other students in the class as well as experts across the city.

After completing the interviews with experts and documenting the results, the students participated in a final horseshoe debate as a way to synthesize the many parts of the project, including the findings on both the Renaissance and the conditions in Calgary.

The format of horseshoe debate we used was developed by the Galileo Educational Network. In these debates, students participate with 12-13 students at a time. Students sit in a horseshoe shape; their placement is random, not related to which side of the argument they are on. Each student delivers their 3-4 min opening speech, and all the speeches are delivered before students begin to respond to each other. This is a great opportunity to practice close listening and note taking during the debates.

After the opening speeches are all delivered, the second half is the open debate. Here students have the opportunity to earn extra points, by (1) asking other students thoughtful questions, (2) responding to questions, or (3) providing additional evidence in support of questions and arguments. This third element allow students to support other students who have taken their side of the debate, and to earn points for bringing forth specific supporting evidence. The debate facilitator moves around the horseshoe debate in order, allowing all students to contribute.

Leading up to the debates, teachers assisted the students in building effective arguments, supporting their ideas with specific details, and incorporating sources of knowledge into their speeches. One approach to designing clear and well supported arguments is the "Rule of Three" where students use a framework of (1) stating, (2) explaining and (3) supporting their arguments. Teaching materials on the rule of three are given below.

After completing the first draft of their speeches, students had the opportunity to peer edit as well as practice their speeches at home, before the final debates.

This is the rubric designed by Galileo for the Horseshoe Debates, with information on the Rule of Three and practicing their debate speeches at home:

Here's some sampling of the audio from the Renaissance Debates:

Finally, here's one of the opening speeches written by the students:

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