I met Kelli Etheredge just over three years ago. She was selected to attend the Partners in Learning 2009 US Innovative Education Forum and was there showcasing her work as a literature teacher and teaching & learning lead at St. Paul’s Episcopal High School in Mobile, AL. I only recall parts of the project she had submitted that year, but what I do recall was her extensive use of an early cloud-based product Office Live Workspace (RIP) - remember that one? Well it’s okay if you don’t, as it has evolved into much, much more as Office Web Apps & SkyDrive, but more importantly was her emphasis on use of these tools to enable collaboration in (and out) of the classroom using teaching strategies to encourage students to share information and combine ideas and activities to produce a better end result.
I’ve continued to stay in touch with Kelli over the years and it is fascinating to see her level of motivation, energy and commitment to her profession. She continues to favor collaborative activities and she and her students regularly use OneNote, Office Web Apps and SkyDrive to collaborate on in class notes and even using some of the frequently overlooked features of voice and video recording within OneNote to embed podcasts into OneNote notebooks to help guide her students.
This past summer Kelli applied again to the Partners in Learning 2011 US Innovative Education Forum with an inspired project she titled: What’s the Verdict? The Count of Monte Cristo Murder Trial where she asks her 10th grade World Literature students to read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. As the culminating project for this unit the class puts the main character, Edmond Dantès on trial for murder, borrowing her words for your world lit refresher: “In the novel, Dantès seeks revenge on the men who destroyed his life. Although he does not harm anyone directly, Dantès sets events in motion that cause the death of seven people, the kidnapping of two, and the loss of wealth of another.” That would seem like a enough intrigue and controversy to grab any 16 year-old!
The novel’s premise sets the stage for the mock murder trial of Dantès that her students conduct taking on the roles of prosecutor, defense lawyer and witnesses. Ms. Etheredge uses a shared OneNote notebook to enable students to consolidate the novel discussion notes taken in class and she guides students on how to prepare questions for witnesses (this is where the podcast comes in which she adds to the class notebook) and students use Word or OneNote to create a cause and effect chart to make connections throughout the book.
Now, I will let you in on a little secret, again in Kelli’s words, she is a “recovering lawyer” (the picture to the right is not Kelli as barrister, but playing judge in the classroom). This is her second career, but as they say that is not germane to this project. However, if you’re not feeling too confident on conducting a mock trial in class, Kelli penned a great post (with video) on conducting a mock trial on Peter Pappas's insightful Copy/Paste blog which includes tips for making a mock trial successful.
So why do it?
The book itself has a certain appeal to most students, but the trial provides an engaging hook to motivate students to be prepared, while they also learn to read literature for a specific purpose. What Kelli sees is how student’s improve their critical-thinking skills, as well as their persuasive speaking and writing skills while the collaborative work encourages effective time management and working together to achieve a larger goal.
In addition students practiced writing for different purposes including, chapter summaries, letters to attorneys, questions for witnesses, opening and closing statements, and persuasive writing. You can learn more specifics about the project here.
It is this project that Kelli submitted to the Partners in Learning 2011 US Innovative Education Forum where she took home the well-earned honor of 1st place in the Knowledge Building & Critical Thinking category. It was exciting to see and I look forward to hearing what she is working on now when she represents the US with 10 other peers at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in Washington, DC next month. Track this event on our Facebook site.
(Follow on @TeachTec)