I wanted to share a project that I recently posted on my school’s Technology Blog. I had the opportunity to work with one of our English teachers as her classes discussed the principle of existentialism. Pear Deck was introduced to allow students to begin rating the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I am an existentialist.” Pear Deck provided a medium for the teacher to project cumulative responses from the class as the basis for further discussion, while preserving student anonymity. Because students responded on their laptops, privately, they weren’t swayed by the response of their friends or classmates.
If you’d like to read more about the complete activity, please read on!
In studying Albert Camus’ The Stranger, students in honors English IV learn how authors use literature to explore a philosophical stance, specifically in this case the principle of existentialism. This year the students also used two technology tools to explore whether or not they self-identified as existentialist. The tools provided students non-judgmental and private environments to begin exploring where they aligned, personally, on an existentialist spectrum. Both tools succeeded in opening students up to anonymous self-identification and led to lively, educational and productive class discussions on a topic that can be difficult to grasp.
Before introducing the technology and asking students to think about their own response to existentialism, teachers Amanda Lombardo and Laura Heninger introduced the very abstract concept in two very concrete ways. First, they analyzed Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream.” Students noted the richness of the colors and the movement of the natural world and discussed how the straightness of the bridge could symbolize an existentialist point of view of life–one in which there is only one way forward and no way out. They noted how the figure is alone in the painting, with his back facing all the other humans in the picture. Loneliness and isolation are inherent in existentialism. The words they used to describe this image included terror, fear and horror.
After this initial conversation, students began to explore whether or not they identified themselves as existentialist thinkers through a “speed dating” exercise. In this activity, students were asked a series of agree/disagree questions. For each partner matching, they had one minute to discuss the question presented. After the minute was up, they rotated and discussed a new question. This activity helped students begin to consider where they might align, personally, on an existentialism spectrum.
Next, Pear Deck was introduced. Equipped with an expanded vocabulary and having been given two class days to ponder what existentialism means, students used the software to rate whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I am an existentialist.” Pear Deck provided a medium for anonymous answers on the spectrum.
Students were asked to move the dot on their computer screen to indicate how strongly they agree/disagree with the prompt. The above image is a snapshot of the cumulative responses from a class.
Pear Deck allowed students to respond on their laptops without being swayed by the response of their friends or classmates. After all students moved their dot to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, the cumulative responses from the class were displayed on the projector. These responses remained anonymous until students opted to discuss where they placed their dot and why they chose to respond the way they did.
Finally, the students participated in an online discussion to define why (or why not) they were existentialist using the topics discussed during speed dating and by adding references to another Camus story “Summer in Algiers.” By having students engage in an online discussion prior to coming to class, all students could process their response in an environment and at a pace most comfortable for them.
Online discussions have been shown to build connections and class community, contribute to the development of stronger critical thinking and writing skills, give students a differentiated experience in terms of time to process and reflect, and empower all students to express themselves.