Teaching High School Debaters: The Whitman National Debate Institute (WNDI) 2011

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend two weeks working with a small group of high school students at the Whitman National Debate Institute. Words cannot describe how much fun we had, and how much joy this kind of teaching opportunity brings me. It is endlessly rewarding to see students learn about the most intellectually challenging games on earth - Lincoln Douglas and policy debate.

The Group Photo - WNDI 2011

Working with high-ability individuals is the focus of my life - from documenting their psychology as a scientist (here I come, graduate school!!), to studying with true masters such as Dr. Fred Travis (researcher and instructor at Maharishi University of Management), Randy Herbert (professional drummer), and Aaron Nickell (national champion powerlifter) - learning from and about exceptional individuals is my passion. In fact, that's the whole reason for this site, in the first place.

That being said, a whole new level of purpose and meaning is reached when I have the chance to pass this knowledge on to others. And, the Whitman National Debate Institute was a fantastic opportunity for me to work directly with highly motivated students. The WNDI and other debate camps are a truly unique teaching and learning opportunity. These institutes are held on college campuses across the country, and vary from 2 to 7 weeks in length. During this time, students are in lecture, researching, or debating all day, every day. Needless to say, the results can be very astounding.

As I mentioned, working with such bright students is extremely rewarding. They catch on quickly, they are eager to learn, and they love debate. A camp environment like the WNDI provides unmatched focus. This is not just a teaching job - but an isolated window of time where we can really get to know students, pay special attention to them, and work with them as debaters without any other distractions. Although it is impossible for them to digest so much information so quickly, the experience of being immersed in debate gives them the drive to re-visit all of the things we cover at the camp after they leave.

Sheldon Kreger (left), Hanne Jensen (right), and students (center).

From a psychological perspective, the social environment is highly supportive of learning and personal progress. Unlike most public high schools, learning is actually the cool thing to do, and competition drives students to work as hard as their minds will allow. By the end of the first week, even the laziest of students are completely turned around - working frantically to get their research assignments done, and paying close attention during lectures on argumentative theory. It's really quite astounding to see just what these kids can accomplish in such a short period of time, when given the chance. I judged a semi-final debate at the camp tournament involving a student who had never participated in debate before - but, due to her focus and dedication, was able to prove herself as a serious contender even among the most experienced debaters at the camp.

I plan to pursue debate camp teaching opportunities in the future, not only for the teaching experience and great times, but to learn more about what exactly makes these camps so successful. I am extremely interested in using the debate institute to form an educational-environment model which can be applied generically across domains. Utilizing the debate camp as a framework for other training institutes holds high potential for inspiration and implementation in other fields.

So, who is ready for my 4 week computer programming institute? : )

Sheldon is Serious About Research ; )

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