Last year during the 2008 election cycle I explored a plethora of websites with my students, at times the amount of tabs I had open scared the students (it was amusing). One of the links that we investigated was WhyTuesday? In the heat of the most exciting election of my lifetime, the students were incredibly engaged and interested in all things election. They were curious about the idea of change and how it was manifesting itself on the WhyTuesday? site. It was all about citizen action and moving the people toward more political participation. Good stuff.

Fast forward one year to the 2009 election cycle. Night. Day. The students were once again in my class talking about the election, but whatever electricity had existed last year had long faded and we witnessed a lackluster election cycle in Philly. One thing had not changed, though, I still introduced my students to WhyTuesday? and talked about the work that was occurring. They were once again intrigued. This year, however, I shot out a message on twitter that I used the website with students.

Enter twitter searching.

Jacob Soboroff, contributor at WhyTuesday? reads tweet about use in my classroom, retweets and this is how the story goes…

We trade emails, then phone numbers to organize a time when I can get both of my classes in the same room at the same time and when he is awake (we are EST, he is PST). It is a little surreal to have the person iChatting into History class also be interviewing Clint Eastwood in the same 12 hour span of time.

While Jacob and I are arranging for times and such, the students are working on a mini-project which asked them to propose a reform to the US voting procedures. They were specifically challenged to look into what change would bring about the largest increase in voter participation in the US. To prepare for this we looked at voter turnout history in the US, investigated other democracies in the world and evaluated current US voting procedures. After all the investigation was complete, the groups came to consensus about a reform they were going to propose and chose a slogan. Then in each group: one person wrote a position paper, one wrote a rebuttal, one recorded a radio ad and one produced a print ad. The goal was to have a consistent theme/slogan and be presented as a package reform proposal. The project portion was essentially completed in two classes, the research spanned about four classes. Some sample final projects can be found on my wiki.

Last Tuesday (how fitting), Jacob iChatted in at the end of the school day to 60 juniors all jammed into my classroom. They spent the next 45 minutes trading ideas and questions about voting, civic motivations and US history. It was spectacular. When we debriefed on Thursday, many of the kids felt like this was a wonderful way to ‘have class’. A majority of hands went up when I asked if they would like me to try and arrange for other experts to iChat in. When I asked them what they liked about the iChat, they were most impressed that during their conversation with Jacob, he didn’t just talk *at* them. They genuinely felt like he was interested in their ideas and the process of sharing thoughts, rather than just hearing himself talk. (so good)

From my perspective everything mentioned above was wonderful but, having a real person that uses their life to try and improve civic engagement in the US, iChat into my class to speak with students is superb. The fact that it all went down because of 140 characters on twitter is, well, perfect.