Mock Trials in the Classroom

Knox County Courthouse (Nebraska) courtroomI’ve found that mock trials embody critical thinking in the classroom. I wrote a number of cases which proved to be effective tools for improving student analytic skills. I developed fictional yet, realistic fact patterns which provide ample “fodder” for solid direct and cross examinations. They needed to be built around compelling social issues that transcended the evidence and put people’s values to the test. I used these trials in completely homogenous classrooms. Ironically in this setting, students who had formerly been considered “at-risk,” often outperformed their “AP peers.”

Students prepared their roles and questioning as attorney or witness from the fact patterns.  Cases were argued before real judges and juries made up of adults from the community. After they reached a verdict, the juries returned to the classroom to debrief the students on their interpretation of the evidence and presentation of the cases. Years later, former students I encounter still fondly remember the excitement and accomplishment they felt as part of the trial. Link to Trials

Judging from my webstats and emails, these trials continue to be used in classrooms across the globe. My favorite email:

“Dear Mr Pappas,
You asked on your site for people to let you know how the trials turned out, so here I am! I am teaching English as a foreign language here in China, and needed something a bit different for a conversation class. Nothing I was coming up with was working, when my Director of Studies (who is American) pointed me in the direction of Mock Trials, which I confess to never having heard of. I admit to being skeptical, but gave it a bash with the Donna Osborn case, and as the judge ended up going in favour of the prosecution due to the way they argued – which goes against everything I thought about it! Today I am trying the rape case, so wish me luck. Basically, I wanted to say thanks, you helped a lot, and also gave me a whole new thing to think about in terms of lesson plans for the future.”

More frequently, I get late night emails from anxious students looking for advice on their closing arguments.

“Hi my name is … and I am in a Law 12 class in Prince George, British Columbia. I am the head of the crown prosecution for our mock trial.  I was just wondering if I could get a few tips from you on what would be a good closing statement.  I have brought up the points that
… The main point I have brought up is that under the Criminal Code of Canada …  What would you recommend for a good closing statement?”

Or

“hey there, im a student and in law class we were doing the Brian Edwards case and i was on the crown…im wondering if you have any tips for me? Like pretty much any tips at all would help, we had our case basically won when we started but we werent as organized as I thought and i noticed the case on the internet…I guess we are done our case now but any tips or help for the closing statement would help alot because the closing statement is our only chance pretty much to try to prove he is guilty, we ended up running out of time so yeah! any tips on anything we could use for the closing statement? “

The flow of information in the Copy/ Paste World has moved from a top-down broadcast model – to a horizontal connection that is both personal and collaborative. It allows you to your own researcher, editor, and entertainment director. And it creates new digital communities – linking you to the people who share your interests.

Image credit Wikipedia Commons / Knox County Courthouse (Nebraska) courtroom

 

Question: How is Google Maps different from NCLB?

Answer: It creates an environment to construct your own knowledge.

Most have used one of the popular online map sites. What makes Google Maps different is it’s has left its source code open to encourage programmers to link to their data bases to develop their own web-based geographic information systems. The result is an explosion of interactive map sites – UK autumn colours, Indiana University housing, records of bird sightings in India, and New Orleans businesses that have reopened. They’re growing so quickly that there’s a site  Google Maps Mania to help you keep up with all the new Google Map mashups. I used a free web-based service to do a Google Map of my recent clients.

Do I expect students to learn how to design Google Map-based program? No, but couldn’t students be given a chance to use information in more original and creative ways. The digital revolution has unleashed a flood of creativity with scores of new tools to copy, edit, alter, mix and redesign.

It’s too bad NCLB wasn’t based on a similar philosophy. Driven by growing accountability, students are rushed through an overcrowded curriculum with little time for reflection and few chances to create their own meaning. Last I checked “synthesis” was near the top of Bloom’s taxonomy.

“Too often school is the least engaging part of a student’s day”

That’s a pretty harsh assessment that comes from the recent report of the 21st Century Literacy Summit – A Global Imperative. It goes on to say,

“Students come to school equipped to learn on many levels … but today’s curricula do not meet their needs… Schools do their students a disservice when they fail to teach literacy in the expressive new language that their students have already begun to use before they even arrive.”  Download report (808 kb) pdf

Loads of teachers are working hard to create classrooms where  students can take on the challenge of intellectual work – rather than just look for the right answer. They want school to be more rigorous, relevant and engaging. Places that give students opportunities to learn how professionals approach their work – scientist, engineer, artist, historian, mathematician, writer, and musician.

But I couldn’t help but think that while teachers are fighting for market share of their students’ brains, Rupert Murdoch announced his purchase of MySpace.com. This two year-old site functions as a student lounge for an estimated 33 million young people. It has more page views than Google and is currently adding 4 million teens a month to its ranks of “addicts.” MySpace engages students because they are both the audience and the content providers. As one educator recently said to me, “my nephew loves MySpace. He posts his original music and artwork there and then uses the feedback from his viewers to improve his work.” All the strategies we’d love to use in our classrooms can potentially flourish there – cooperative learning, peer evaluation, differentiation, multiple learning styles, self-directed learning.

Students are used to controlling the flow of information in their lives. They can get what they want, when they want to – store it, catalogue it, alter it, and share it. What “market share” of student attention do our schools still retain? When students walked in the door this fall, did they feel more like they’re going back in time or into their futures?

We need to bring this movement into our schools rather than compete with it for the attention of our students. After all, I’ll bet our students are more concerned about their MySpace rankings than their school’s “adequate yearly progress” on state tests.

Reinventing your high school? Be sure to focus on instruction.

On October 1 – 3 over 2,000 education leaders from 35 states convened at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. to learn about exemplary high schools across the country and how to apply their successful approaches and strategies.

Over the course of the weekend I presented a six working sessions called “Focus on Instruction” to most of the attendees. My pitch was very direct – first forge a common view of teaching and learning, and then treat the organization as an instrument for accomplishing the vision.

On October 1st, my talk targeted creating a common vision for rigor and relevance. I included video interviews with the teachers and students at the Eastridge Ninth Grade Academy in Rochester NY. Download PowerPoint notes  (726kb) Visit my Small Learning Communities Website to see my Ninth Grade Academy Video and other resources.

On October 2nd  I offered insights into the elements of a common vision of instruction. Download PowerPoint notes  (934kb) Download PodCast (45 mb) 47 minutes

I was joined by Susan Gunderman, Principal of Kennesaw Mountain High School, Kennesaw, GA (also Dr. Mimi Dyer- Coordinator – Academy of Math, Science & Technology and Lenora Nyeste, KMHS Instructional Lead Teacher) Download their PowerPoint notes (831kb)

The Symposium explored in depth the successful approaches identified in schools involved in the high school initiatives being conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the International Center for Leadership in Education.

“Literacy in a Copy / Paste World”

Keynote Address
Learning Through Literacy Summer Institute
, Toronto, Canada August 11, 2005

Download PodCast (27.7 mb) 30 minutes

The new information technologies put all of us in charge of the information we access, store, analyze and share. They have unleashed individual and collective creativity. This 30 minute Audio PodCast redefines the meaning of literacy in the digitial age and explores exciting new opportunities to interact with students, colleagues and information in ways that can revitalize teaching and learning.

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