A Star Chamber is a modified fishbowl discussion activity wherein students in the class discuss a topic, and slowly get persuaded to join one side or the other as the discussion ensues.
The topic of the discussion is given ahead of time (this can be a matter of just minutes, or days). Brief articles may be provided outlining each position on an issue. However, students do not need to limit themselves to the material provided in their preparation for the discussion.
The Star Chamber starts out with a small group of students (relative to the class size). These students either volunteer for the first round, or they are chosen at random. The Star Chamber sits within an inner circle of chairs (anywhere from two to six chairs, with even numbers on each side). Only the students in the Star Chamber may speak. Students outside the Star Chamber must listen off to the side in the gallery until they are persuaded to join one side or the other. Once persuaded, a student may seat themselves within one of the two backbenches of the Star Chamber (see diagram above). After six minutes of discussion, an alarm will sound, and students on the backbench will trade places with their representatives on the Star Chamber.
As students enter the Chamber, they hand their Star Chamber ticket to the teacher (The Star Keep). Students earn a Round 2 ticket every time they coax students from the gallery to join their side’s backbench. (A pat on a shoulder indicates which student persuaded the newcomer.)
All Round 1 tickets must be redeemed before Round 2 tickets can be redeemed.
The side with most participants at the end wins.
See the attached PDF below for blackline masters of the classroom setup and the Star Chamber entrance tickets. Enjoy!
Note: This particular Team Management overview and program kit was originally published on newlearner.com back in 1997. The approach has since been adopted with great success within a number of schools and programs. Give this approach a try if you find yourself looking for a new way to manage large numbers of diverse learners within your classroom.
As education budgets shrink and class sizes expand, teachers may at times wish to explore new ways of managing large numbers of students. Although I have the privilege of working in an environment that maintains a reasonable cap on class sizes, I have none-the-less found a "Team Management" approach to be quite effective within my Grade 9 classes. As a teacher of business studies, I have been quite pleased with how effective this approach has been at encouraging students to take an active role in managing their behaviour, as well as providing them with actual experience in team management. I invite other educators to examine this program and consider incorporating it within their regular class routine.
The Management Meeting
The management meeting at the end of the class is a great way to collect formative data to guide the programming for the next class, and it's also a great way to collect evidence of observations and conversations. Not only do the managers record observations for their teams, but the teacher can just focus on four to six managers on any given class, and has the opportunity to have a conversation with this smaller group at the end of the class.
The Management Binder:
The Team Management binder is comprised of five resources, organized in the following order:
The binder generally requires only one Duty Roster and one Attendance Sheet per term. However, it requires a separate reporting sheet (two-sided, with the Conduct Report on the front and the Achievement Report on the back) for each class.
The entire binder kit can be downloaded as a PDF below. Feel free to use this kit and adapt it to your needs. As always, I invite you to let me know how this approach works for you and your students.
The Correlation Study Icebreaker: Learn about the tools of social science and break the ice in a single class!
Looking for an Icebreaker for your first social science class?
I've used a certain icebreaker exercise in my economics classes for years, and it never ceases to amaze me. I first go over the basics of how field studies and investigative science work: how scientists will propose hypotheses, gather data, identify correlations, and then attempt to explain causal relationships.
I then ask the students (alone or in groups, depending on the class size) to develop a hypothesis that they might be able to examine by just studying the students in our class. Each student (or group) must then interview each and every student in the class in order to collect the two variables that they wish to examine. Do their classmates have any siblings? How tall are they? Do they wear corrective lenses? Do they wear a watch? How many languages do they speak? The possibilities are endless.
The students plot the data they collect on a graph, and then present both their hypothesis and their findings to the class. The study / icebreaker portion of this exercise can take place in a single 80-minute class, and the presentations can generally be completed in the next class.
Google Spreadsheets Serve Up Excellent Scatter Graphs in Three Easy Steps
Google spreadsheets provide a particularly quick and easy way to illustrate a correlation between variables. If you have access to Google Apps in your school, then a Google spreadsheet can plot the data points and illustrate correlations in three easy steps:
ii) Highlight just the two columns of data (without any names), and then click on the "Chart Wizard" button. You will see a variety of chart options, but click on "more" chart options to find the scatter graph option. (You must select the "scatter" graph option to plot correlations between variables.)
i) Set up three adjacent columns: the first column being for the names of the students interviewed (so the interviewer can track who she has and hasn't interviewed), and the next two columns being for the two variables that are being analyzed.
iii) Click on the "Customize" tab and then scroll down to exercise the options of setting your chart title, naming your X and Y axes, and even generating a line of best fit. (The line of best fit is a particularly handy feature of Google spreadsheets that Google had previously been criticized for not including. As you can see, Google Apps are constantly evolving.)
These mini-studies are a great way for students to meet and learn about each other while also exploring the tools of investigative science. Every class will inevitably find themselves exploring issues of correlation, causality, sample bias, split effects, and even post-hoc fallacies.
Try this the next time you're looking for a way to break the ice in your social science course, and let me know how it goes.
Please note: While computers help, you don't need computers to do this exercise. I did this exercise for years before my school became a laptop school. You can download a PDF below that will facilitate a pen and paper version of this exercise.
Over the years, I've seen my students make so many amazing discoveries right before my eyes. For example, did you know that people who wear watches tend to enjoy greater academic success in school? How about this one: Did you know that blue-eyed people tend to wear corrective lenses less than brown-eyed people? Finally, would you believe that people who speak two languages tend to do better in school than people who speak one - or even three - languages? These are just a few of the incredible findings that my students have unearthed during this exercise. While these are just correlations, not causations, they are still pretty amazing discoveries.
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