This is a guest post by Cason Given, 8th grade social studies teacher at The Trinity School in New York City.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am a fan of Ponder. Ponder is a tool that allows students to read current event texts (student-selected or teacher-selected), and then tag those texts with sentiments and themes. It’s a great tool for increasing student engagement, for giving students a stake in their own learning process, for monitoring student comprehension, and, generally, for developing student awareness about what’s happening in the world around them.
This week, I had the pleasure of meeting Ponder’s founder, Alex Selkirk, at the 1776 Challenge Cup, a start-up competition in Chelsea. Personable, incredibly smart and humble, this guy is awesome! I got to hear all about Ponder’s origins, and how the tool really started out as an interactive reading tool for friends to have insight into what their buddies were reading. I’m so glad this idea was then applied to an educational setting; it has been a tremendous success in my own classroom.
In the wake of meeting Alex, I have had all sorts of ideas for the application and expansion of this tool. What if sentiments were differentiated for readers of differing strengths? What if articles could “talk” to one another (interactive debates from left-leaning and right-leaning sources reporting on the same issue; fact-checking; presenting the “devil’s advocate” position; supporting a point or elaborating on one with another source)? What if some of my elementary-school-teaching friends picked this tool up and began applying it in classrooms for younger students? What if tutors began using this product to monitor tutoree’s comprehension in the days between sessions?
I see endless possibilities for this product. I am excited about opening communication with the team. It’s so encouraging and energizing to be around people who want to promote learning tools for learning’s sake. After all, isn’t that why all educators (those of us who teach formally and those of us who teach in less traditional spaces) get into teaching?
As for my own use of Ponder, it was applied in a new way this week in my classroom. On Friday, 8s opened up their laptops to read three pre-selected articles regarding the recent House budget deal. Two articles were overviews (taken from CNN and Time, respectively), and one was a piece regarding how Senator Cruz is already pushing back on the deal because it funds Obamacare (taken from Politico). This lesson approach is a new application of Ponder for me; I have previously used it for independent reading and class discussion. Since our periods are relatively short (40m), we only touched on our discussion by class’s end. We will continue analyzing the articles on Monday after 8s finish taking their Intro to China quizzes (FUN!).
Some screencaps from student discussion [Note: I am limited by what I can show because of student usernames and protecting their identities; this is only a very small sample of the discussion going back and forth!]