Ethical Questions in a History Class

I usually focus on the use of classroom response systems at the university level here on this blog, but I have to share a video recently posted by Greg Kulowiec, who teaches 9th grade history in Massachusetts.  In the video, Kulowiec asks his students some challenging ethical questions about the Holocaust.  His students respond via text-messaging using Poll Everywhere, and the results are displayed on screen for the class to see.  You’ll note that Kulowiec is using a Wiimote to interact with his projector screen, which is pretty cool.

A few pedagogical observations on the video:

  • These questions, asking students to consider various people’s responsibility in the Holocaust, are potentially very engaging ethical questions.  I can see these questions generating a lot of small-group or classwide discussion in high school or college settings.
  • Kulowiec gets the discussion started in his class in a couple of different ways on the video.  In one instance, he asks the student who disagreed with most of his peers to argue for his answer choice.  In another instance, he asks for volunteers to argue for the most popular answer choice.  Considering arguments for and against each response is a useful approach to take for these questions and many others.  Having students voice those arguments is even more useful as it engages the students in the act of critical thinking.
  • You’ll note that the bar chart showing the responses is visible to the students and changes as the responses come in.  I don’t know if Kulowiec had a particular pedagogical reason for letting his students see the votes as they came in, but this is generally a risky way to use a classroom response system.  It can lead to a “lemming effect”–once one of the answer choices gets a slight lead, many students select or switch to that answer choice out of peer pressure, leading to less independent thinking among students and less accurate assessments for instructors.

Thanks to Greg Kulowiec for sharing this video.  I find that observing classroom response systems in action (live or on video) can lead to productive discussions among instructors about teaching choices one can make when using classroom response systems.

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