Chatroom-style teaching can change teenage apathy towards classroom discussion and citizenship, reports Jan Trebilcock
It can be an uphill struggle convincing bored or less than confident teenagers to be enthusiastic participants in a lively classroom discussion.
But giving them the chance to contribute to topical debates online on the HeadsUp forum, with their own personal avatar or 3D image to represent them online, can change all that.
HeadsUp is a secure and structured online debating space, organised by the Hansard Society's citizenship programme, where 11 to 18-year-olds can take part in a debate with their peers - and have their voices heard by MPs and decision makers.
Margaret Olive, assistant head of Ringwood School in Hampshire, has used HeadsUp several times in her role as head of citizenship. "The debates are a great forum for pupils to express their ideas, particularly for pupils who have a view but are not confident enough to express it verbally in front of their peers.
"And the resources can be used in many ways. An English teacher used the law and order debate for lessons on discursive writing with Year 10s."
More than 450 schools have signed up to take part in the HeadsUp debates.
Five debates are organised during each academic year and young people themselves vote on the topics they want to discuss.
Bill Edgar, a sociology teacher at the Howard School in Rainham, Kent, used HeadsUp with his AS-level critical thinking class of Year 12 pupils.
"They took part in the forum on the criminal justice system and were really enthusiastic. It brought the issues to life for them. Taking the debate out of their classroom and into the real world, and sharing their ideas with other young people across the country adds a new dimension," he says.
Parliamentarians contribute to the debates, which aim to build young peoples' levels of political awareness and participation in the democratic process.
"The pupils are keen to have their voices heard by the MPs who take part,"
says Bill. "And they enjoy seeing their arguments appearing on the site in real time."
The website includes teachers' notes and ideas for classroom activities, as well as background information and reference material. Teachers can register a whole class or school year by completing a simple online form.
Pupils can choose an avatar when they log on to the debate The next debate: Protecting the planet - Is climate change being treated seriously enough by political parties? It runs from June 11 to June 29. For more information, visit: www.headsup.org.uk