There are so many memorable trials in history, but two stand out in recent memory – the mock trials held at Bryan Middle School earlier this year. They were an opportunity for students at Bryan to learn how to communicate in a different way, and according to a very specific set of rules. It also provided an opportunity for all students who participated to see how our legal system works.
Aaron Pearson, Spectra teacher at Bryan, served as the judge and the Bryan Learning Commons served as the courtroom. Pearson put an emphasis on having his students think and communicate differently. “A big part of Spectra is having the students learn how to communicate in different ways, Pearson said. “They practice formal and informal presentations, communicating within a group, and even communicating nonverbally.” Lawyers and witnesses have to follow rules regarding how they convey thoughts and ideas; and lawyers must formulate a plan for the case. “This involved a lot of problem solving, critical thinking, and creative thinking to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together,” said Pearson. “Finally, the students had to collaborate with a large group and work toward a common goal. This was a new way of collaborating for them I think, where everyone had a specific role with different responsibilities, but they all work toward the same goal.” Click here to view a picture gallery of one of the trials.
Part of the due process of the lesson is that kids get to learn more about the Constitution of the United States of America, as well as US court procedures. While that may sound like heavy learning, Pearson and his students kept the atmosphere light. “I think it was fun for the kids,” Pearson said, “because they got to dress up like they were going to court and compete against each other in a fun way. It is one of my favorite units because I studied history in college; and my wife is an attorney, so that is also a point of interest.”
Student competition for the different roles was part of the process. “I just took a survey of who wanted to do each role,” Pearson said. “If there were too many students who wanted to do a particular role, I had them write something about why they thought they would be best for that role. The preparation is a team effort though. All of the roles are integral in preparing for the trial, and we had lawyers, witnesses, and a manager for each team.”
With plenty of roles to go around and a fun competitive feel, there were no habeas corpus complaints filed by the students. “The students who are not part of that particular case were members of the jury,” Pearson said. “I think they had fun listening to the other case and then collaborating to come up with a verdict. The students all told me it was way more fun than they even expected. It seems to be one of the bigger highlights of their three years with me.” And making learning fun and engaging is exactly the kind of precedent teachers such as Pearson love to set.