Beyond the Election: Teaching Civics in 2017

“An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” —Thomas Jefferson

Being an informed citizen involves more than just staying current on the issues. Now more than ever, it is important that students also understand how our government operates and what powers are given to specific branches and the people who constitute those offices, from the federal level down to the county level and to the voters themselves. In this article from our February issue, Carrie Ray-Hill and Emma Humphries discuss the great resources available at iCivics that make learning about our government both interesting and fun.
Subscribers can see all of the February online issue here.

For educators across the nation, a presidential election represents a teachable moment—a months-long period in which the nation’s attention is predictably focused on the lead up to one singular event. Everything we see—news coverage, spot ads, even car commercials—are themed for this time of year. It is relatively easy to create in-school connections to the interesting, relevant, and often controversial content that the election season produces. But what about when the election is over?

The political conversation does not go away; it merely evolves from a laser focus on the horserace to an under-the-microscope examination of the new president’s activities: the inauguration, the cabinet building, the first foreign visit, the first state dinner, and so on. Just like a presidential election, the president’s first six months in office, especially those critical first 100 days, also represent a nationwide teachable moment, except even better! Why? Because there are many more lessons about our government and political system to be found after the confetti settles.

The president is not the only new elected official settling into his or her new desk in January. Countless new members of Congress, governors, state legislators, and local government officials are sworn in and expected to quickly learn the job…on the job. Indeed, elections are the only type of competition in which the prize is awarded before all of the hard work is done. After the long lead up to the election and all of the media and hype surrounding it, it’s easy to think of the election as an ending; but it’s only just the beginning! Continue reading “Beyond the Election: Teaching Civics in 2017”

Civic Learning and Primary Sources

 

capitol-three-rights-clearElection Day is the perfect time to remember the importance of teaching students about citizenship and civic responsibility. In this article from our November issue, Noorya Hayat and Abby Kiesa with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement discuss ways school library practitioners and K-12 educators can work together for high-quality civic learning linked to primary sources.
Subscribers to SLC can read more articles like this by visiting School Library Connection.

Engaging Students in High-Quality Civic Learning

Civic learning is an important mission of schools, and school library and media educators can and should play key roles. Not only do these educators play a role in what information and media youth are exposed to, but engagement with information, news, and other media also creates the opportunity to emphasize and develop literacy skills needed in many parts of life, including civic life and democracy. At the core of civic life is the ability to research issues and candidates to understand policies and related discussions, as well as finding and developing solutions. As such, the skills developed through interaction with and communication about information on public issues is a critical piece of civic learning.

In 2011, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools published the “Guardian of Democracy” report, which outlines a comprehensive view of civic learning outcomes with six proven practices as inputs and civic outcomes focused on building knowledge, skills, and dispositions. These involve in-class and out-of-class activities that can all use primary sources to provide holistic civic education. These six promising practices for civic learning are:

  • Classroom instruction for knowledge in government, history, economics, law, and democracy;
  • Discussion of current events and controversial issues in the classroom;
  • Service-learning connected to school and class curriculum;
  • Simulations of democratic processes;
  • Extracurricular activities in school and the community; and
  • Student participation in school governance.

These practices can be used simultaneously in an activity or integrated over the course of a semester to teach powerful civic lessons. Coordination between educators in different roles and subject areas deepen and connect lessons for students. These practices can ensure high-quality civic learning outcomes in K-12 students—including through the integration of digital primary resources. Continue reading “Civic Learning and Primary Sources”

Authentic Learning with a Simulated Campaign

olson-teaserLooking for ways to get students interested in how the political process works? In “A Campaign Simulation for Authentic Learning” David Olson describes a popular collaboration that helps his AP U.S. Government students practice what they’ve learned by working together on simulated U.S. Senate campaigns.

Subscribers to SLC can read more articles with great ideas like this by visiting School Library Connection.

The school library is, at its best, an incubator of democratic values and a haven for inquiry.  At James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wisconsin, where I teach social studies, our students utilize library resources, with the support of school librarians, in nearly all courses. Starting as first semester freshmen, our students approach the issues of immigration and migration by exploring their own families’ journeys. Through modeling, think-alouds, and mini-lessons from the librarians, students use Ancestry.com (purchased by our library) to find primary resources relating to their families, learn proper citation and database search techniques, and connect their personal stories to broader themes using the ABC-CLIO American History database and a curated collection of print materials. Eleventh grade students use Biography in Context and Gale Virtual Reference Library to create fictional universities centered on the social and political protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. My upper-level students visit the library several times during the course of the semester to conduct research from books and databases, play iCivics games, explore webquests, and collaborate in small groups. All of these lessons are planned and instructed in collaboration with the school librarian.

A few years ago, when my department began offering AP U.S. Government and Politics, I was faced with a conundrum. In a second semester AP course in a state where school doesn’t end until June, what do I do with the last three weeks of class? I found my answer with my school librarian, Robin Amado, who helped me craft a campaign simulation using library resources. In each class, my students divided into campaign teams to run for a U.S. Senate seat. Campaigns featured a candidate, campaign manager, website team, advertising team, social media team, and policy wonks (specialists in policy details). The project allows students to simulate the election process and put into practice everything they’ve learned about the political world. Continue reading “Authentic Learning with a Simulated Campaign”

Are Your Seniors Ready for College, Career, and Civic Life?

The Presidential Citizens Medal
The Presidential Citizens Medal

School Library Connection’s own Paige Jaeger reminds us that in this political season of change, pontificating, bloviating, orating, and more…the truth gets buried deeper than normal.

Now more than ever we need to teach our students to make informed decisions— based upon evidence—and ensure that they see the link between history and real life.  Now may be the best time to ensure we understand the new College, Career, and Civic (C3) readiness.

new-picture-2Swept up in the tsunami of educational standards reform, the National Council for Social Studies completely overhauled their teaching framework so that social studies content is aligned with the Common Core (CCSS) reforms. Even if your state has not adopted the Common Core, it’s likely that they have been influenced by it. State education departments use the national standards to inform changes at the state level and it often takes a few years for the aftershocks to be felt by the students. Be ye hereby warned: The changes are massive.

It’s likely that your state will be, is currently, or has reviewed their state Social Studies Standards for alignment. Here are a few thoughts to ponder as you start the school year and begin to review possible social studies (SS) projects for alignment with new national standards.

The Arc of Inquiry

Storytelling may still be alive, but lecture is dead. There is no doubt about it—new standards want students to manipulate content, get down and dirty with the past, draw informed conclusions, and deeply uncover, discover, and understand the why behind our (hi)story.  In fact, the crafters of the C3 put it up front and center in the change.  If you are not familiar with inquiry-based learning, now is the time to embrace this learning model that fits the learning styles of the NextGen students who want to be in control. The inquiry model is defined in  “dimensions,” where students are asking questions, researching, deliberating, and making claims, all wrapped up in a knowledge product, thus making them more capable of taking informed action. Continue reading “Are Your Seniors Ready for College, Career, and Civic Life?”