LTGR Ep. #23 – Debating, Live Online


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In this show, Susan and Dan learn about an amazing live online debate program involving special education students across New York City. Their guest is Cara Coffina, a social studies coach in New York’s District 75 who coordinates the unique and successful program.



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Show Notes:
Susan and Dan welcome Cara Coffina, Social Studies Coach for District 75 in New York City, who has been involved in a very innovative program of online debating. Currently all of the students Cara works with attend special education schools that serve students with severe emotional disabilities and behavioral issues. This was not mentioned at the start of the interview, but is important for listeners to know.

Cara’s official title is Literacy coach in the content area of social studies. She works with students and teachers across the 5 boroughs to participate in online debates. This was at the request of the superintendent, Bonnie Brown. The district already had a relationship with LearningTimes and used technology for professional development but wanted to bring it to the classroom level.

Cara had to learn about debating and the technology.

Jonathan Finkelstein from LearningTimes moderates these and provides the structure.

Dan asks how Cara prepared the students and teachers for this experience. It began with professional development about debate (what is it, why do it, and so on). Then Cara worked with teachers individually. They began with 4 and expanded to 19 schools in the second year. That expansion necessitated the partnering of experienced teachers with those who hadn’t tried this yet. In some cases, Cara visited mostly to train teachers how to set up the technology, but there was a debate curriculum that she worked with as well.

The topics have included gun control in NYC, immigration policy, whether students should be permitted to bring cell phones to school, and the current topic on the possible withdrawal of troops from the Iraq war. Students had to learn how to do research. It is an interdisciplinary project.

Cara works to give every child a meaningful role.

Meaningfulness is also an important part of the topics they selected. Cara’s goal is to get each student to be able to discuss current events in an informed manner.

Participation in these debates has fueled school spirit and excitement. Cara explains the positive feedback and enthusiasm for the project.

Susan points out that this kind of set up could be beneficial to rural districts as well as urban ones.

Cara further explains that the final round of the debate competition is held face to face. The experience is less threatening by warming up online. This is particularly important given all of the students currently involved in debating have been diagnosed as having severe emotional and behavioral disturbance and these needs are often coupled with various learning disabilities.

Listeners, we’d like to hear if you have any experience with online debating!

You can respond using the “Comments” link below or talk to us in LearningTimes. Or call us at 1-800-609-9006 x8055 (US and Canada) or 678-255-2174 x8055 (outside US and Canada). Join us!

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