Last week I tried something new with my sixth graders, actually it wasn't new for me, or for them. I created a lesson about ancient Rome where my class viewed a 20 minute video on the Roman Republic and simultaneously live chatted about what they were viewing. This is called back channeling. When I described what we were going to do in social studies, the response was, "Cool!" The kids grasped the concept immediately and within those 20 minutes, we had the most relevant conversation of the school year. We used our student/teacher Moodle accounts as the platform for the chat. I moderated while the video was showing. I often found myself just reading the comments my students were leaving each other as well as the higher level questions they were asking and responding to each other with. It was amazing the engagement and level of conversation taking place with all 26 people involved in the chat. At no time did anyone get way off topic. The kids would police themselves whenever anyone strayed too far from the topic.
I have participated in back channel chats in the past. Whenever I have participated in Elluminate sessions, whether it be through the PLP cohort I was a part of last year, or other sessions I have been a part of through twitter feeds, the experience is always rewarding and I learn so much from both the presenter and my peers. Learning not only from the keynote or speaker, but also the people in attendance really makes for a true learning experience.
At first I was not sure how my students would grasp the concept of a back channel chat. Once I described what we were going to do, one of the kids in my class said, "It is kind of like when we are texting our friends’ during a TV show to see what they think about what is going on, right?" YES! I instantly realized that kids do this all of the time. Whether it be through text messaging or instant chat, kids are utilizing this form of multi tasking communication on a daily basis about a topic on television, movie, or social event. I truly believe this is why my students took off with the idea and embraced it. They are doing what is common place to them.
Where do I go from here? Well, I would like to not be the moderator of these chats. I am trying to incorporate at least one back channel a week. My next chat will include me as a traditional lecturer talking about topic X with a visual to represent what I am saying. I will have the kids self moderate and a few teachers and administrators in my district have shown interest in being part of the next chat.
Two weeks ago I decided to try something new, and look at the result.....my kids have been doing this for years. Sometimes it takes the courage to let go of what you have always done and embrace the world your students live in. We did a follow up chat durring a CNN Student News podcast and one of my kids said, "I was fearful when I heard about the Rep.Gifford shooting. My grandparents live in Tuscon, and I was scared that they may have been in attendance." This is an example of kids taking real world events and making them part of their lives. Making education real, what a great idea!