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Skype Conferencing between Putauaki and Pongakawa

What did we do?

Jeanette Murphy, the ICT Facilitator for PeaK-ICT http://peak-ict.wikispaces.com/works as an ICT teacher on Mondays with 16 e-Learners at Putauaki Primary.  Her hours were reduced this year as two schools had withdrawn from the Kawerau cluster and so Jeanette also took on the role of ICT teacher working on Thursdays with Y7-Y8 students at Pongakawa School in the Western Bay of Plenty. Although Pongakawa is not part of the PeaK-ICT cluster, Principal of Putauaki Mr Noel More supported Jeanette’s involvement.  Mr More has connections with a number of teachers and the community of Pongakawa and like Jeanette envisaged students in both schools would eventually be able to collaborate.

What was important for us?

For the past four years e-Learners at Putauaki alongside Jeanette, have collaborated and conducted skype conversations with teacher Lois Smethurst and students of Berwick Primary in Australia.  http://onedayonearthprojects.weebly.com/. They have enjoyed sharing sessions http://elearnersteamatputauaki.blogspot.com/ and celebrating their ICT successes in schools.

Every year e-Learners along with other selected students from Putauaki are also involved in learning about and conducting face-to-face debating with peers in schools across the Eastern Bay of Plenty. 

Putauaki students are fortunate to have had teacher Mr Grant Sutton provide them with professional development around debating. e-Learners have also trialled sessions of debating with teams of students at Berwick Primary in Australia.

Jeanette spoke this year with Mr Sutton about the possibility of teams debating online.  She had also considered the idea of skype debating with students from Pongakawa. 

When Jeanette began teaching at Pongakawa she worked alongside all Y7-Y8 students.  http://techteamatpongakawa.blogspot.com/.  She assessed their ICT skills and capabilities then planned a unit and a website around digital photography and the use of Powerpoint.  She also introduced three teachers of the senior team to skype. Over time it began apparent that a core group of students from Pongakawa were emerging who would require e-Learning extension in some way or form. 

What happened as a result?

With the support of one teacher from Pongakawa the emerging group started skyping Jeanette and over a number of sessions, introduced themselves to members of the e-Learners Team at Putauaki. 

Jeanette consulted Mr More suggesting both groups meet with the intention of collectively learning about the process of debating working towards the idea of skype debating. A professional development day was set for Monday 09 May 2011.  Mr Sutton who in recent years was involved in debating at both primary and secondary levels, conducted the day at Putauaki for all students and teachers concerned.

The day began with icebreaker introductions and Jeanette prompted students’ to write down their questions or wonderings. 

“Students in both schools were somewhat familiar with skyping and debating.  Many of their questions focused around what the debating process might look like and how the two groups were going to collectively agree on rules for skype-debating” – Jeanette Murphy.

Mr Sutton then spoke for some time about how to prepare for a debate http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDTk-_Lt6sQ  the moot and the roles, obligations and order of the speakers. He also shared a number of videos based on debating techniques:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26intm7aNaI&feature=relmfu (visualise success)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nXhAjuICTA (voice inflection)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-4AwcgJkrQ&feature=relmfu (eye contact)

 “Students seem to really enjoy learning via video and this teaching method certainly helps get the message across to them faster.  They also have the opportunity once this day is over to replay the videos in their own time” – Grant Sutton.

“Love the use of videos  - keeps children focused on the debating process” – Pongakawa Teacher.

Mr Sutton spoke more about looking and sounding persuasive as a speaker and then invited students to participate in a number of group exercises that centred on expression, gesture and turning a statement into a question with a raised voice at the end.

“Debating is about playing a game.  I’ve just got to learn the ‘body’ rules like keeping my hands open, standing tall and making sure my feet are slightly apart” – Maliq.

“I don’t really feel confident standing with my hands to my side or about turning a statement into a question using a raised voice.  I might have to go home and practice heaps in front of a mirror” – Eythn.

 “I like how we have the chance to learn these techniques as a whole group.  Will we get this opportunity when we return to our home classes?” – Sam.

After lunch Mr Sutton shared what a debating mark sheet looked like and the weightings of each debating component being subject matter, manner, method, teamwork and reply.  The two groups were then divided into teams and given the time and opportunity to practice an argument, the moot being ‘That it is better to be a kid than an adult’.   Putauaki were affirmative and started the argument.  They spoke about being born a Kiwi kid - young and having fun, the luxury of minimal responsibility and very little stress.  Pongakawa argued that the values of responsibility and accountability are needed at every age and the group often referred in their argument to the obligations of the New Zealand law.

“It’s interesting to see the students actually playing out the roles in their groups and while some are enjoying the art of arguing and are aware of their obligations as speakers, others see it strictly as a job role and lack depth.  Learning rebuttal and repeating what the other team said and counter arguing is a skill.  I am sure that given lots of practice, all individuals will over time, make for perfect” – Jeanette.


As the debate was considered a practice session no adjudicator or judge had been assigned.   Mr Sutton provided all speakers with much needed feedback and feed forward and also shared a video demonstrating Obama’s public speaking ability.

What have we learned?

We learned that students in both schools have varying degrees of confidence, like to debate and all came to understand that there is a debating process to follow.  Students realised that they often conduct sessions in their classrooms but without rebuttal and could now justify how important it is to refer back to what the last speaker said when presenting an argument and the skill of being able to counter argue. 

 “I am new to debating so the process at first seemed complicated.  I think having an order of speakers is great and helps us work together as a team” – Shar.

“Debating is the art of arguing.  I would personally like to get better at writing quick notes and using my zap or q-cards” – Ben.

While the professional development day around debating was enjoyed by students, parents and teachers, both schools were yet to decide on how the skype-debating process would work, the topics and what times the sessions might be.  It would have been advantageous to have pre-planned a day of one more get together this time at Pongakwa School to share ideas about the skype-debating process would be managed.

“e-Learners have been maintained this year and Jeanette has worked with these students one day a week to continue their journey.  I am satisfied that these children are developing the skills and attitudes that will propel them into digital learning.  A very positive outcome has been a liaison with another school in the Bay of Plenty (Pongakawa).  This has involved Skype conferences and actual visits from those children.  For those of our children involved – both e-learning and debaters, this was a very affirming action as to the value of such contacts and use of digital media” – Mr More.

What were the issues?

Internet connectivity when skyping between schools did at time pose some problems.   Planning around school curricula activities also had to be taken into consideration.

For personal reasons Jeanette resigned from the role of ICT teacher at Pongakawa School at the end of Term 2, 2011.  Her decision was not an easy one however it also meant that the connection between both schools would no longer be there.

So where to from here?

If the opportunity to set up skype debating between two schools came up again, Jeanette would consider trialling the process. 

At this point in time however e-Learners have been using skype to share with students at Berwick Primary in Australia and also people of the community their stories about the Ministry of Education Initiative and closure of schools happening in Kawerau. 

e-Learners have also recently spent three days teaching students at Thornton Primary about digital photography in Powerpoint and a small group will later this month attend the Gifted and Talented Mini Symposium in Whakatane to pecha kucha style showcase who they are as e-Learners and how they view today’s world.    

Link to photos: http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/23907528