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Steve Bunce reports on a project which uses Voting Pads

Voting pads | Guy Fawkes on trial | Warning - Hot coffee! | Author

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! - The pupils know the phrase and they know the phrase 'looking guilty' as they can do it so well, but do they know about justice and how it relates to Citizenship? This was the challenge we wanted to face. Two local middle schools had recently purchased new voting pads, so could we use these to teach about justice?

Now what about the context? Do we look at the current court system or the past? So, the idea was formed that we could look at different trials from history to the present day. We could use the voting pads, so the pupils could offer their opinions as the evidence was presented. We didn't know if this would work as an idea, but we were really excited to try. The first ideas were the Salem witch trials, the Spanish inquisition and the trials of Guy Fawkes, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Jesus.

The project offered the opportunity to link the two middle schools in the area to develop liaison activities. Ponteland has two middle schools, Ponteland Middle and Richard Coates Middle, with approximately 600 and 460 pupils, respectively. A Year 5 class in each school were chosen to be 'new juries'. In the past, we had carried out Citizenship lessons and in one example the pupils had to respond to different scenarios by standing in the corners of the classroom - decision corners. However, we noticed that the pupils and especially the boys were influenced by their peers and so the result may be misleading. This is where the voting pads offered a tremendous opportunity to gather opinions without the peer influence.

Voting pads

Voting Pads
Figure 1. Voting pads – easy to use, just press a button

Each school had different voting pads systems, Turning point and Promethean. It was decided that the teachers needed to develop expertise using their own system, however, the activities could be used with either technology. The Turning Point system has the advantage that it can link to Powerpoint files, whereas, the Promethean system works seamlessly with the Promethean whiteboard software. There are many other voting pads types, however, the pedagogy should remain the same. The main areas to address were the classroom organisation and the use of questioning. Distributing the pads and showing the pupils how to use them was simple; trying to present the evidence impartially, without leading their thoughts, was very difficult.

The format for the lesson was explained to the pupils. We would consider each piece of evidence; briefly discuss it and then vote. After each vote, the results would be displayed to show the current opinion of the jury - guilty or not guilty.

Guy Fawkes on trial

Presenting the evidence for Guy
Figure 2. Presenting the evidence for Guy

The first trial held was for Guy Fawkes. This was the appropriate time of year, as it was the beginning of November and near Bonfire night. The themes for the trials could easily be themed around events in the year, for example, the Salem Witch trials around Halloween or Jesus' around Easter.

To find the pieces of evidence, we carried out extensive internet searches and found an excellent website, School History (www.schoolhistory.co.uk). The basis of this example was developed from a piece by Mr. Huggins on Guy Fawkes.

The first piece of evidence was fairly general, but it was obvious that the children brought previous knowledge to the classroom. They voted and Guy was definitely in trouble.

Pupil: ‘Guy Fawkes wanted to blow the king up’
Teacher: Is there a mention of Guy Fawkes in the evidence? It just says the protestants were worried about the Catholics.

As a teacher trying to be impartial and encourage the pupils to think, it was difficult not to intervene too much. Later in the debrief, we discussed about how a lawyer can lead the jury. The pupils particularly liked the idea of saying a statement and having it struck from the record, even though everyone had heard it.

We looked at the next evidence, Lord Mounteagle was warned not to attend Parliament and Guy was found in the cellars with the gunpowder. Nearly 100% of the pupils voted that Guy was guilty.

Pupil A: ‘He definitely did it, because he was there with the gunpowder’
Teacher: ‘Does anyone else have a different idea?’
Pupil B: ‘Maybe he was lost and ended up there by accident?’

The next evidence did not help the defence. The other plotters were gathered up and Guy confessed.

Evidence to consider
Figure 3. Guy and the plotters – evidence to consider

Source: www.schoolhistory.co.uk/year8links/gunpowder/gunpowder.pdf

With the pictorial evidence of Guy Fawkes with his fellow plotters, the pupils continued with a convincing 92% saying guilty.

Teacher: ‘What do you think about the picture?’
Pupil D: ‘I think they look guilty.’
Pupil E: ‘They look like they’re whispering.’
Teacher: ‘So do you think the picture makes them look guilty?’
Pupil F: ‘Yes, they’re bunched together and look shifty.’

We moved on through the case, but the guilty verdict kept coming up and the class could see the results instantly on-screen.

Now, the next evidence started changing the opinions of the pupils: ‘the government knew about the plot on 27th October, but did not do anything until 4th November. Also, all of the gunpowder was carefully controlled by the government and had to be kept in the Tower of London. The records for 1605 have mysteriously disappeared.’

Pupil A: ‘Maybe Guy stole the records’
Pupil B: ‘No, I think someone was trying to make it look like Guy, because they could say it was him.’
Pupil C: ‘Why didn’t they just fake his signature?’
Pupil D: ‘I think he might have got his gunpowder somewhere else.’

The idea of leading the jury appeared again, through the use of language.

Teacher: ‘Why do you think they used the word ‘mysteriously’?
Pupil E: ‘It makes you think something’s up.’
Teacher ‘Could the evidence have the same meaning without the ‘mysteriously’?

As the trial continued, the verdict swung from guilty to innocent. King James gave permission to use torture. Then, Guy’s denied the plot, but days later changed his appeal and confessed. Again after the lesson, we discussed how the order that the evidence was presented in can affect the outcome. The teacher explained that in a real trial the prosecution goes first before the defence, so they must consider all of the facts.

Guy’s Signature
Figure 4. See how Guy’s signature changed after alleged torture

The original idea was that everyone would be on the jury for the whole trial. However, another idea to link with the justice system was to select a jury. All the pupils would vote, but at the end of the presentation, a random jury would be chosen by voting pad number. They would come to a decision and the foreman of the jury would give the result. So, our twelve went and conferred while the remainder of the class discussed the case.

NOT GUILTY! The jury was unanimous, unfortunately for Guy, we were too late!

Warning - Hot coffee!

We considered which courtroom drama to attempt next. To try to make it more relevant to the pupils, an example came from the Citizenship Foundation: Running a mock trial (www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/main/resource.php?s100).

This is an excellent resource which outlines the justice system and provides information about running a trial with the pupils. The case to consider was about a lady who bought a cup of coffee at a drive-through. Unfortunately, she spilt it and scolded herself quite badly. She brought a case against the fast food company saying that it was their fault, because the coffee was served too hot.

The class can see the results instantly
Figure 5. The class can see the results instantly

For this trial, two Year 5 classes, one from Richard Coates Middle and one from Ponteland Middle were mixed together. The trial was then run twice to allow all of the pupils to be involved. The first piece of evidence was presented:

The first evidence
Figure 6. The first evidence

The children were in disbelief – how could it not be her fault?

Pupil A: ‘It’s like if I walked into the wall – it would be the school’s fault?’
Pupil B: ‘That’s daft, she shouldn’t be allowed to ask for money – it her fault.’

With this first vote, all but one of the class were in favour of the fast food company. With this way of running the trial, everything is anonymous. So, after each vote to keep the users unidentified, we could not stop and ask the class who agreed or disagreed and why.

Nearly everyone in favour of the fast food company
Figure 7. All bar one – nearly everyone in favour of the fast food company

More pieces of evidence were presented, for example, the coffee was marked hot, she was seventy years old, she tried to sip it straightaway. The pupils voted and the results swung between the fast food company and lady.

After the sixth article of evidence, the surprising result was the pupils were exactly divided 50:50. So, what would happen next?

Hung jury - equally split
Figure 8. Hung jury – equally split

The next evidence, explained how the fast food company had used cheap coffee beans which needed the water to be heated above the recommended, safe temperature. The result was predictable, the pupils answered quickly and in favour of the lady. At this stage, we showed the pupils their response times. For each question, they had ten seconds to answer. The software allowed us to see which pad had answered first and last. In this example, it was a game who answered when, but this feature could be really useful during a test; it could indicate which pupils really understood the work.

After the final evidence had been considered, we needed a verdict. The evidence was balanced between supporting the fast food company and the lady. On each table, there was a mixture of pupils from each school. To find a verdict, each table jury needed to find a consensus. Then a foreman would present to the class with decision and feedback on how the table had arrived at their result.

Teacher: ‘Who do you find in favour of?’
Pupil A: ‘The fast food company. Five of us said it was her fault for trying to drink it straight away when everyone knows it’s hot, but she said it was the company’s fault, because the water was extra hot.’
Teacher: ‘How could we get more evidence? Is there anyone else we could ask?’
Pupil B: ‘What about the video cameras? They could watch the video and see what happened’
Pupil C: ‘What about the passenger?’
Pupil D: ‘No, she would just back her friend up.’
Teacher: ‘Would you always support your friend? Quick vote – if you saw your best friend secretly steal some money out of my bag at break time, would you tell me?

We used the voting pads to test this dilemma and the result was not a clear-cut yes or no, but a mixture. This was an impromptu use of the pads which could easily lead to further discussion in another lesson. The advantage of using the pads here was the anonymity to gain an opinion.

The class continued their discussion and you would be forgiven to think they were all from the same school, apart from their different uniforms. As a liaison activity this had been a great success.

The pupils learnt about the justice system and even played out some of the roles. They developed their problem-solving skills by considering the evidence and at the end of the lesson they justified their reasoning.

Who will win?
Figure 9. Who is going to win? We need to think carefully

The voting pads motivated the pupils as they liked the idea of the new technology and the instant feedback. The teachers saw the potential of the voting pads in collecting opinions, asking questions, testing knowledge - both for assessment for learning and summative assessment.

So, what next - another example from history, Amistad, the Mutiny on the Bounty or the Saddam Hussain trial? Press you voting pad now!

Many thanks go to the pupils of Ponteland Middle School and Richard Coates Middle School and their teachers Rachel Dunwoodie and Red Willcox, respectively.

Author details

Steve Bunce is an ICT Consultant in Northumberland and is passionate about ICT and pedagogy. He will happily answer any questions regarding the article (email ).

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