It occurs to me I never did say how the trials turned out. (I had the 10th graders put the United States on trial for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan at the end of WWII; I assigned head lawyers to the defense and prosecution and had a student judge and jury. There’s more in the December archive.) I had assumed that all the trials would find the United States not guilty, since the overwhelming majority of my students had asked to write speeches for that side.
1st period went 5-0 in favor of the United States.
5th period went 8-0 in favor of the prosecution. (I was floored.)
6th period went 5-1 in favor of the United States.
I think having an all-girl jury in 5th period really affected the outcome. It wasn’t intentionally all-girl; I have six girls in that class who are supposed to be in self-contained special ed classes, instead of my mainstream class, but due to some administrative incompetence they aren’t. I didn’t want to make them present speeches to the class, so they ended up on the jury.
The students loved the trial; I was overwhelmingly asked to do the same thing again next semester, or next week if possible. (Sample comment: “Miss, why don’t you teach everything like this? This was actually interesting.”) And although it is terribly self-indulgent, here are some sample comments I got from students in writing in the class debrief (all [sic] because English grammar does not come naturally to my students):
One thing I like is that there was no right answer. I also like being on the jury because I get to look at both points of view. It’s difficult because you think both sides are right.
What I liked about this was that I was in the easier side. Meaning that the side that I was, was obviously the one that had the rights.
What I liked about this is that I had to argue about something that I really learn during we had fun writing the arguments.
I liked that you can understand better the class.
I enjoy getting into groups and writing about something I knew hardly anything about, at the end I learned a lot.
I learned that there can be more than 1 story in history.
I learned that it is no right or wrong questions, that both sides had their reasons.
I learned that it is a hard decision to decide who is guilty or not.
I learned that it’s very hard to stand up in front of people. But it’s easy to defend your side.