Harkness

Hark! Through yonder window breaks ... Yup, that's the best I've got. When I hear the word Hark I immediately think of medieval squires and Shakespearian plays. In short, it's not a word that you hear frequently. Yet somehow, it's worked its way into the vocabulary of my AP Bio class. Let me rewind. This summer I had the opportunity to attend a PBL workshop sponsored by North Carolina New Schools and the Buck Institute. Two organizations that are working hard to push the boundaries of education. In that workshop I was exposed to a vast array of ideas related to project based learning, many of which have fundamentally shifted the way that I've run my classroom this year. A discussion protocol employed by our facilitator, however, is the subject of today's rambling.

The harkness protocol (no clue as to the origin of the name) is a discussion format designed to lay responsibility for dialogue directly at the feet of the students. Here's how it works. Ideally the class will sit in a circle. The teacher will lay out a few ground rules (everyone must contribute and the teacher won't drive the discussion). Then toss the students a question for discussion or debate. As the students drive the conversation, the teacher's role is twofold. Prod the discussion along as needed and map the student interactions (write the names of the students in the circle and draw connections as the dialogue progresses). Once discussion has concluded, show the students the diagram and debrief the process.

Last week I gave this protocol a test run. Our topic for discussion was the role of ethics in scientific research. After kicking off the session, I stepped back and listened to one of the most mature, well-reasoned discussions I've ever heard in a classroom. I was most impressed by the way that the students were able to engage complex and highly controversial ideas of genetic engineering with maturity and grace. The discussion went so well that we tried it again a few days later and will probably give it another run today.

Now that you have a little background on the method of discourse, I would like to step aside and direct your attention to this week's installment of the week in review (11/11-11/15) by Ana Gomez.

Ana Writes:

On Thursday, we were assigned to listen to a podcast about stem cells. In that podcast, many controversial topics were discussed. We then had our own little discussion. We all got around the table and began to discuss some of the topics that were mentioned in the podcast. One of the questions was whether an egg donor should be paid for donating her egg cells. Some said that they should because it was compensation for research, others disagreed. Another topic that we "debated" was whether an embryo created through nuclear transfer holds the same status as an embryo created through fertilization. Some believe that it did while others said that although it was close, it wasn't completely the same. It was really interesting to hear other people's opinions on such sensitive topics.

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