South Orange Middle School Students Compete in a Four-School Virtual Debate

South Orange Middle School students in virtual debate moderated by Alex Torpey
South Orange Middle School Debate prep work
South Orange Middle School Debate in progress
South Orange Middle School student tweeting during the debate.
(Left to Right) Melissa Butler, Alex Torpey and Elissa Malespina
Melissa Butler on the YouTube video of the debate


SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Sixth-grade students at South Orange Middle School participated in a structured debate on Monday via the internet with students in Jersey City, Quakertown, Pennsylvania, and Lansdale, Pennsylvania, on the topic of the value of homework.

The group from South Orange teamed up with a group from Frank R. Conwell Middle School in Jersey City to argue in favor of homework.  The anti-homework argument was made by students at Strayer Middle School in Quakertown, PA and Knapp Elementary School in Lansdale, PA.

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Conducted in cyberspace utilizing Google+ Hangout technology, the debate was conceived and organized by South Orange Middle School Language Arts teacher, Melissa Butler, and South Orange Middle School Library Media Specialist, Elissa Malespina.  The proceedings were moderated by South Orange Village President, Alex Torpey, and judged by a panel of objective observers who were spread across the county.

With the computer images projected onto large screens in the classroom, students in Ms. Butler’s sixth-grade Group 6B class were able to see their counterparts in the three other schools as the debate progressed.  Meanwhile, on a laptop computer at the rear of the room, students took turns posting messages on Twitter, using the hashtag #hwdebate, to communicate with students in the other classrooms.

The project was a successful learning experience for the students on three fronts.  They learned parliamentary debate structure and methods, as well as the technology used to engage with the other schools, and they researched the topic at hand, namely the merits of doing homework.  As Alex Torpey said, “This was a great way for the students to learn, and to actually think about their own education.”

Melissa Butler noted, “The kids were so excited.  They stayed late on Friday and worked all weekend,” in order to be fully prepared for the debate, which actually took place in what would normally be the students’ lunch period. 

The work put in by the students prior to the actual debate also utilized quite a bit of modern technology.  They researched the debate topic on the internet, communicated with teammates in Jersey City via Edmodo, a safe social networking site for schools, and shared notes using Google Documents.

The students in all four classrooms were ready for the spirited debate and presented their arguments in an organized and thoughtful manner.  In the end, the judges decided on Tuesday morning that New Jersey had won the debate, but it was clear that all of the participants in this groundbreaking endeavor were winners.

A recording of the debate may be viewed at:

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