Trayvon Martin’s death five years ago ripped through my classroom. My sociology and government students were completely baffled; they could not understand how a kid who seemed like a student they may encounter in our schools’ hallways could be murdered for walking home alone. My students’ frustration and yearning for context and understanding started a personal dedication in my own classroom. At the end of each year, after all other instruction is over I devote the final month and a half to the study of race relations in America. Key to this unit is a detailed analysis of American history and politics that requires students to examine their conceptions of democratic values such as majority rule, minority rights, rule of law, limited government, equality, and liberty.
Because the discussions of race and class in America today is transectional and relevant, this unit is necessary. I have experienced my own struggles in doing the research, writing, and sometimes even being white and teaching this when I have no relevant life experiences to inform my instruction. I know what I know through text and talk... and talking to my own students (of all races, religions, classes, genders, etc.) has been instructive for myself. These experiences, in turn, influence the unit.
As the narrative has evolved over the past five years, my unit has grown. Originally it examined just the fallout from events like Trayvon and Michael Brown. Responding to my own students’ questions and reflecting on their own level of understanding, I decided to broaden the scope to examine the entirety of identity politics in America. In the summer of 2015, I was introduced to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and Common Core C3 Framework and Inquiry Arc. The framework requirements, particularly the requirement for informed action – and the opportunity for students to share their experiences with the community – was the perfect design for this unit.
My syllabus mirrors language seen in so many other AP Government classes around the country, and it essentially tells my students that this is a college level course, and I expect them to be able to perform on college level assessments, damn it.
But here is the riddle. What is a college-level assessment? I have done some soul searching here, thinking back to what my own experiences as well as what I have come to understand college assessments to be through unscientific research and interviews of college professors.
Factor 1: My Personal College Experience My 100 and 200 level political science, history, sociology, urban planning, and law courses back in the way back when had maybe roughly 2-4 multiple choice tests per semester. There was always at least one research project, and possibly several small position papers or essays. They were largely lecture and discussion based, consisted of reading one textbook. On occasion, I found myself before the dreaded blue book tests that were short answer and essay based. Oh vey. The short answer.
Analysis: The FRQs are reflected in the short answers and essays. I do not remember quizzes, but I do remember vocabulary incorporated into my blue book tests. Multiple choice questions are multiple choice questions, and I remember them being very challenging.
Factor 2: College Professors' Assessment of AP Government Curriculum The back story on this is that when I do not know the answer to something, I ask a college professor. I still retain contacts with one of my college professors (shout out, Snarr), and often have many, many, many questions that I will ask of college professors via email, in-person discussions, and social media. (Do you want to know something really cool? College professors absolutely love random inquiries into their fields, especially when its their expertise or about a book they wrote.) When we get to chatting about selective incorporation, or the mandate theory of elections, or expansions of suffrage, or even about the evolutionary theory of government at play in Afghanistan and Appalachia (breathe here... that was a long list) the professor often asks, "Why do you want to know this?" My answer is frequently, "Oh, it's on the AP Exam." The frequent response is "WHAT? My undergrads don't even learn about this." And it's true. I never, not even once, learned about selective incorporation in my Constitutional Law class. Or any of the above concepts from above.
Analysis: The AP Government and Politics course (which has a reputation of being an "EASY FIVE" in my school) is actually surprisingly NOT easy. In fact, it has the fourth lowest pass rate nationwide. I literally fell out of my seat when I read that.
Factor 3: Making a College Level Course Mass Produce-able It stands to reason that in order for these courses to be assessed reliably and validly, and all kinds of other statistically important concepts I have forgotten but know exist... College Board has to produce a test that can be delivered to the 303,938 students who took the exam in 2015 in early May and assessed by early July. This is a daunting task. In the time of standardized tests, a multiple choice/short answer variant in the form of a free response question format is a logical choice.
Factor 4: This is a Course Populated by High School Students I can't get away from this factor, folks. In my world, I get about 80-120 students who self-enroll. Most of my kids have taken 4 AP courses, but many are taking 4 to 5 courses at the same time. I hear again and again from my students that despite having study halls and intervention time and after school tutoring, my kids just don't have study skills, time management, and core literacy/note taking skills I would expect them to have. Crazy, I know. But it is the truth.
Two years ago, I accepted a position at a new school within my school district. The job offered was to teach AP Government. I had requested for years to teach AP Gov, but seniority constantly found me passed over in favor of more senior and experienced teachers. The opportunity to teach AP Government was exactly what I was looking for, and I gladly accepted.
Not knowing much about my new school and student population, I decided it would be a good time to roll out something I had heard about at Solution Tree training: Standards Based Grading (SBG). Consequently, SBG was also being rolled out in my school districts' elementary schools. As a parent, I really liked the concept of knowing how my own children were doing on skill sets and learning goals. Grades assessed mastery of these goals and skills. Grades now enabled me to look at my own children's work and be able to assess independently of the teacher whether or not my child was learning and progressing. If it helps me as a parent assess mastery, why would a high school student not be able to do this?
The concept of Standards Based Grading is pretty simple. Assessments are grouped by learning goal or target. Students are assessed on these targets, and their grades reflect each of these individual goals in a clear language. Traditional test grades (like 78%) just emphasize a score. It takes considerable effort on the student's part to determine what concepts they did not understand. Even test corrections just isolate learning to individual questions students got wrong, and how to correct that question. It is hard to discern patterns. I feel in love with SBG because the patterns are evident with minimal effort, and kids focus on their knowledge of the course instead of just fixating on their score (although I am not kidding anyone... I know that grades = college, so it is still super important to my students).
Every job has occupational hazards. I have learned in talking on a regular basis to 1300 of my nerdiest peers that one for government teachers is that we like to talk politics. This can be hard even among peers. There is a lot of feverish "typing-and-backspacing-and-retyping-and-double-checking-and-OMG-did-I-come-off-too-strong"-ing going on.
This gets even harder in the classroom. I tell my students all the time ALL THE TIME my opinion is irrelevant; think for yourself; I will challenge all views; I will present all sides; and most importantly what do you think.
I have this class this year that really wants my personal opinion. I get all shy and bashful and awkward...
"No, kids... I'm not important."
"No brainwashing going on!"
"Some __ would say this... while others would say this..."
But these kids, they are relentless.
A discussion the other day centered on what-I-have-no-idea because I was trying to teach, but in essence they were trying to guess who I have voted for in the past.
I interrupted to say, "HEY! LET'S WORRY LESS ABOUT SILLY LITTLE ME AND MORE ABOUT YOU!"
But I caught a snippet of what one kid said about my vote.
"I betcha she is probably ___, but knows too much and so she can't decide how to vote most of the time."
Oh? Am I that transparent?
Why, yes. Yes, I am. (But guess what: We all are.)
So you ask, why is this an occupational hazard?
See, peeps don't like indoctrination in education. Not at all. So I have to be delicate, respectful, and most importantly: balanced. And I respect that. A lot. It teaches compromise to students; after all, cooler heads prevail. Kids dig it because it makes it okay for their ideas to develop and change... to be fluid.
But I have a new occupational hazard. (I will approach carefully.)
I like kids doing democracy. That's lower-case democracy. No, not Democrats, not unless they want to. Same thing for Republicans; not unless you want to. Heck, as long as decorum is in the classroom and we are not being offensive, you can be any party you want. Key. DECORUM. Key. NON-OFFENSIVE. Key. RESPECTFUL.
See, I have a very diverse student population. Kids constantly amaze me with their lives, and I have learned MORE from my students than they have from me. And that diverse population is asked by myself and my school district to participate in politics in ways from old-school canvassing to new-school twitter chats.
Some kids dig it; some don't. But what is making me really sad these days is that I am very nervous to encourage kids to do any and all volunteering, but especially any brand of political volunteering.
Why? Because no one is showing respect these days. Yes, some are worse than others, but from White House pressers to candidates doing other, more disrespectful actions (of which I will not name because what is the point?), I feel like my little government bubble is bursting. In essence, I can't wake up and tell myself my kids are going to like doing democracy, much less be safe.
Not to be all kumbayah, because I respect the fact that we are all entitled to our views. I am not here to tell you not to have them. Particularly, I understand the economic and political forces that are frustrating so much of American culture... The shrinking middle class... the perception that no one is on your side... interestingly enough, this is a perception alive for whites and minorities alike. These are very real problems. However, the signal is lost in the noise. These discussions, bound in facts, that is what makes discourse compelling and influential. (At least for me. Read The Victory Game and you will find personal contact and emotion is what wins votes.) But I take my discourse with a side of data, not dirt. I try to teach my kids the same thing; that personal attacks and rhetological fallacies will kill your argument. Always check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I have been thinking about this a lot. In fact I was lost deep in thought this morning... I found out Diane Rehm, one of my favorite people is retiring, and her reflection on the radio encapsulated so much for me...
Things are different politically in America. I would not be so bold to tell Americans that you are not entitled to your opinion. That is that privilege of an independent mind. However, discourse that is civil... and maybe a bit more of the "typing-and-backspacing-and-retyping-and-double-checking-and-OMG-did-I-come-off-too-strong" would be in order to really examine these issues. If for nothing more than your own kids are watching. And trust me, they know a lot more than you suspect.
The other day, my daughter asked me when I had last written anything on LovGov.
It was an interesting comment from my astute little ten-year-old, seeing that LovGov takes time away from the family. I asked her why she wanted to know, and it seems that she is "proud that [her] mommy cares so much."
Driving into work today, I wondered if I would have time to squeeze in an entry, seeing that I have a million things on my plate. After firing off emails for an hour, I decided I could drop a line to assure readers that there are still good things to come, it just may take me a while. Here is why I am distracted (aside from the usual work/life balance).
New School, New prep(s)
In June, I said goodbye to my family of eight years at a certain high school in Northern Virginia. I was leaving behind great friends who were a bit like family in search of a shorter commute (you'd have to live here to know) and a chance to teach AP Government.
I have landed in a new school, and have found myself challenged with AP Government and US History. Two new preps! US History has been a challenge as I have not taught it in eight years, but I have found a great CT who has been a total asset to my transition and has allowed me to continue to geek out government style.
Switching to AP Government hasn't been that bad. Why? Here's the deal. Yes, there is an accelerated curriculum that is far more rigorous and detailed than Honors. Yes, I have FRQs (free-response questions). Yes, I have to get all of this done by May 10th, 2016. (Trust me, the pacing is the hardest part). But, I have found that if you ask for help, help you shall receive. I have two great co-workers who help me out, as well as two great mentors in Ken Halla and Frank Franz of usgovteducatorsblog.com with whom I periodically chat on Google Hangouts. And to cap it all off, I have the AP Government Facebook Group. Seriously, I couldn't have found a greater support group. I can't get you closer to Ken and Frank, but I can tell you that the Facebook group is a life-saver, just like co-workers and mentors! And these are resources you can use! (Warning: Membership in the FB group requires some proof of your status as an AP Gov teacher.)
Switching to Standards Based Grading
I have also decided to switch to standards-based grading. I was skeptical at first, and have found some self-doubt at time, but the time and effort that goes into restructuring your grading practices to emphasize mastery instead of whatever we call the old-school program is eventually worth it. I feel better about what my kids are learning, particularly in advance of the AP test.
More about that later. I promise.
Advocating for Government Teachers
In short, I have been trying to "lobby" organizations like the American Bar Association, Sunlight Foundation, Virginia Public Access Project, iCivics, and OneVirginia2021 to create materials for the high school government classroom.
Sounds weird, I know. But let me assure you, I am not a self-appointed anything. What I am is someone who listens to my peers and seeks solutions. I love this content, I want to make this content understandable and teachable, and sometimes I find that I need to rely on subject matter experts to do this.
So, I write emails, make connections, and try to bring challenging content in textbooks to these individuals to encourage them to think about using teachers as a way to encourage civic engagement.
It doesn't always work, but I have had some pleasant results that I will have to write about in the future. Another entry for another day. That's two now.
Going to the Big Ball
Humble Brag: I got to present at NCSS this fall! Exciting! I will admit, that was very cool. I did not get to stay the whole time, but it was fun to run into old friends from other PD I attended in the past (Shout out, Trish, a former contributor who has added "Contributing Editor" at Politicolor to her awesome resume! )
I did some work with the National Council of Social Studies to help pilot their C3LC Inquiry Arc framework in a non-Common Core state as best practices. The framework is a great way to add direction and affect to your lessons, and I am proud to say that I use it frequently in my class. Again, more on that later.
I figured that my students take you more seriously when you show them that as a teacher, you make a commitment to civic engagement beyond the classroom. This year, I became an election officer and then a chief election officer for a precinct in my area. It is fascinating work that helps me teach elections, voting, and campaigns a bit better. I highly recommend it... although it is a long day. And one day, I will tell you a story on that, too.
So, now I owe you four stories in the upcoming year on what I have been up to that may (or may not) be informative to something important to you... And with that, I bid you adieu. Lesson planning and grading call this teacher out of the land of the blogosphere.
As you know, I span the gap between two different social media-based digital PLCs. All my peers are cramming for the exam, which happens in two days.
One of my peers on twitter, @ramosclass, has an ab fab review mechanism. Twitter is about being succinct, but we can put photos to convey messages. She calls these photo review cards 'placemats.' What I love about this idea: In one tweet, she is sharing this with other AP GOPO folks to improve instruction, and they are also using media kids themselves are able to access and review. They are so creative, I had to share them out with the rest of my digital PLC crew. Enjoy, Governerds. And thanks to @ramosclass for letting me share this out with the Governerd community.
Y'all know I do a bit of traveling when I can to get some professional development in government. In each case, I have met someone who is passionate about We the People. I am talking impressive, fanatically dedicated educators who firmly believe this program is the way to go.
I have friends who are active in the Virginia We the People program, which is heavily sponsored by the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier. Ross and Alex, I am talking about you. Ross has finally convinced me to do a week-long seminar put on by the ever gracious and infinitely supportive Center, and I intend on leaning into my ever expanding network of awesomeness as I attempt to fly. Ross and Alex will be prominently featured in future discussions of my experience with WTP. I guess there was one other conversation that really did me in for WTP, which brings me to the following introduction.
This spring I met someone who participates as an educator in the program, but also can attest to the experience as a student. She is Trish Everett of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She and I bonded one night over a particularly amazing meal at the King's Arms Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia midway through our Liberty Fund/Ashbrook Center seminar in March of this past year... and I convinced her she had to share this experience out with whomever would listen.
I am so excited to have my second guest writer on LovGov. And with this as the background, I am going to turn it over to Trish.
Why We the People?
I come from good, solid nerd stock. Growing up, I tended to plow through books the way some folks go through tissues. As an adult, I literally wear a pendant with a picture of the US Constitution on it, and have done so every day for the last 3 years or so. But in the ultimate nature-nurture debate, I’ve gotta ask, “How did I get here?” Sure, we had more bookshelves than closets in my childhood home, and my first classroom decoration style was once described as looking like Uncle Sam threw up, but somewhere along the way something must have flipped the switch, directing my enthusiasm toward all things Americana and political. Not everyone can pinpoint the catalyst for their professional aspirations, but I am one of the lucky few.
At the end of 11th grade, I made a decision to take the Competitive Gov/Law class to satisfy my civics graduation requirement, and it changed everything. I already knew I wanted to be a teacher, probably of Social Studies, as my Interdisciplinary American History and Literature class has shown me the year before. But when I got a letter over the summer before my senior year inviting me to the teacher’s house for a BBQ, it occurred to me that this was already unlike any course I had previously encountered. My first memories of the We the People The Citizens and the Constitution Program included the smell of burgers on the grill, on a warm Indiana summer afternoon, sitting on my instructor's driveway with his toddler climbing on my lap, and literally. Drinking. Kool-Aid.
I am constantly amazed by the ingenuity of government teachers in this great land of ours. I run into them at PD in my home state of Virginia and abroad. I read what they are gracious enough to share with me on Facebook and on Twitter (and boy, do I get a huge sense of awe). Teachers may feel like we are crushed in the maw of modern culture... yet despite the odds there are amazing classroom experiences and dedicated educators who are crafting educational art.
Recently, a discussion on one of the boards I follow turned to Civil Rights.
The response from Andrew Elliott McBurney (until very recently a government teacher but now an Advanced Academic Specialist for Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas) blew me away. I love that he really frames the definition of fundamental rights as an evolution, which can be really hard to crystallize. Many cases can be thrown out as an example; Griswold v Connecticut being an easy court case to examine, but there is so much more to explore.
I asked Andrew if he would do me the honor of being my first guest lecturer. He agreed, and I am pleased to share with you his thoughts on teaching Civil Liberties.
Thoughts on Teaching Civil Liberties
Civil Liberties is obviously one of the most important units for Government. The idea that fundamental rights may be held inviolate over the notion of parliamentary supremacy did not originate in the United States, but the United States is the first nation to establish that principle in its Constitution. However, though this was a clear intention of the Founding Fathers and the Framers, based not only on their own writings but on the text of the Constitution itself, the issue has become clouded over time: Which rights are “fundamental” rights? How does the Supreme Court recognize fundamental rights that are not listed? Are there reasonable exceptions to the absolute language used in the Bill of Rights, and if so, what are they and who decides?
Answers to these questions and others like them involve much more than memorizing the Bill of Rights and famous Supreme Court cases. They involve the foundational elements of our system of constitutional law.
The course description for Advanced Placement U.S. Government & Politics states that both Civil Rights and Civil Liberties together will comprise 5 – 15% of the multiple-choice questions on the AP exam. As a result, it is a challenge for a teacher to figure out how best to present those topics, given that relatively little time may be spent on it without compromising the vast majority of the rest of the course.
My last two semesters I tried something fairly unconventional. I think it worked all right for some students, but I’m not sure if I would do it the same way again. Sharing it might be useful for generating ideas. This isn’t a formal write-up of the unit by the way—just those elements that were key or unconventional (or both). My purpose, since there is so little time for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, was to have class discussion be at a higher level, while relying on students to read from the texts at home. Additionally, some of what I taught did not relate directly to the civil liberties content on the AP exam, but, to be honest, I have always considered myself first my students’ Government teacher, and second their AP Government test prep instructor. All told I spent about seven class days on Civil Liberties.
The “Four Freedoms”: Setting the Stage for Individual Rights.
I had posters of Norman Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" up in my classroom. (I only recently accepted a position as a specialist. The fall of 2014 was my last semester in the classroom.) I would handout out the relevant excerpt from FDR’s “Four Freedom” speech (January, 1941) and ask the students to read it. Then I would ask them to give me examples of each and began a discussion about rights in that way. I got to the point where I would ask them pointedly about the language used—two of the rights are “freedom of” while the other two are “freedom from.” I would ask them what they thought the significance of that language is. I did not encourage them to draw solid conclusions, because, I said, we would later revisit this issue.
After this beginning, I would continue in a more or less conventional way, with a focus on primary sources, such as the Bill of Rights, of course, as well as the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and Federalist No. 84, among others.
Due Process of Law: The Foundation of Our Fundamental Rights. Maybe.
During the unit, I would actually spend a fair amount of classtime focusing on due process of law—both procedural and substantive. I would hand out a sheet of excerpts related to due process of law, including Clause 39 of the Magna Carta, the 5th Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and two quotes—one from Justice Frankfurter and one from Justice Harlan II—describing what due process is. The point here is to get students to see that even Supreme Court justices have different takes on it. On the back were eight fictional scenarios involving procedural due process rights, asking students to decide what is “fair and right and just” (from Justice Frankfurter’s definition).
Then, I had students watch the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” (here begins the unconventional part) and respond with a short informal essay about what is “fair and right and just”. We discussed their thoughts. The assignment permits them to reference the episode but they do not have to. Incidentally, if you haven't seen it, the episode is an allegory of McCarthyism.
Then we moved more to substantive due process, and we went back over Justice Harlan II's quote to refresh our memories: “[Due process] is a rational continuum which, broadly speaking, includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints . . . .” I would show them the Twilight Zone episode “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” with a similar informal short essay assignment with discussion.
After that, we would look at a couple of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion cases, including the core ones, like the Gitlow and Engel. I would use more conventional methods for this.
“Second Bill of Rights”: What are Rights, Exactly?
As we finished the unit, I would give them an abridged copy of FDR’s 1944 State of the Union, otherwise known as his “Second Bill of Rights” speech. There were guided questions that went with this. I would lead the class discussion of it back around to the Four Freedoms with questions about the nature of what rights are or are not. Almost any observation on the part of the students may be challenged.
For example, the idea of health care as a right is almost certain to come up. Usually, there is at least one student, often several, who will make the argument that a “right” cannot compel a service to be performed by others. “What about jury duty?” Pause. “After all, trial by jury has been called a ‘sacred right’ in some documents from the Framers’ time. Unless you meet an exception, you have to show up for jury duty or you can be arrested. Isn’t that compelling a service from others?” “Well, but that’s different.” “Okay, think about for a few minutes. If you’re going to convince anyone, you’ll have to be able to say how it’s different.” And on goes the debate.
There are myriad paths the discussion may take. The primary purpose isn’t to guide students to particular “right” answers for these broad, over-arching questions. The purpose is to get them to think about what they believe and why they believe it.
Over all, it held their attention and I think they got something out of it. If I were still in the classroom, I would likely devote a full two weeks to Civil Liberties, as well as a full two weeks to Civil Rights, and further develop a number of lessons so that they would tie in with the units on institutions, policy-making, and political opinion—probably by reorganizing the lessons into dedicated case studies. But I would definitely continue to bookend Civil Liberties with Roosevelt’s two speeches. They are provocative and help generate excellent discussions.
About Andrew Elliott McBurney
Andrew McBurney is a Texas schoolteacher with over ten years’ classroom experience, and five years’ experience as an instructional specialist. Mr. McBurney received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin in 1994 and began his teaching career in the 1995-96 school year. He is certified for life at the secondary level in Social Studies Composite and English Language Arts. He has earned both a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center, and a Masters of Education in Administration and Supervision from the University of Houston-Victoria.
He most recently taught AP U.S. Government & Politics, Dual-Credit Government, and Government at Alief Hastings High School in Houston, Texas, and was a member of his school district’s Social Studies Pre-AP/AP Vertical Team. He is also an adjunct professor at Houston Community College where he teaches American National Government and Texas Government at night.
Through his career, Mr. McBurney has facilitated several professional developments, served on campus technology committees and textbook adoption committees, and participated in campus and district leadership teams. When he has free time, he usually doesn’t know what to do with it, but he often finds himself in state parks, roadside diners, and used book stores.
In January 2015, Mr. McBurney began a new job as the Advanced Academic Specialist at Educational Service Center (Region) 4.
It has been over a year since I wrote my 2014 resolutions for LovGov, and looking back on them leaves me feeling pretty durn satisfied.
I really want to share some things that I accomplished... really because I want to let you know about the depth of fantastic-ness that is out there for us govnerds.
I really feel like it is possible for government teachers around our nation and around the world to get the 'inside track' to teaching government so that it is almost real time. To not share would be a crime. So here is run down on my resolutions, plus where else I have traversed, and what I am looking forward to in 2015.
Reading for absolute pleasure.
If you are like me, your passion for knowledge eclipses your text to infinity. Every question, point, and example creates questions that I must answer. And as I read more, I realize that I am becoming unhinged from the text. It's primarily because the text's broad generalizations become almost untrue. I should also mention the 2009 publication date of my text that makes a decent amount of information contained therein untrue.
So, I read. I read to such a degree that it becomes absurd. I can't sleep without reading, so that is the source of this voracious appetite.
I read much of my list this year: Congressional Anecdotes, Scalia Dissents, and The Alchemists. I picked up a handful of books on the gripping history of the 14th Amendment and the process of incorporation. I read Six Amendments by former Justice John Paul Stevens. Glenn Greenwald's latest book kicked my butt.
Each of these has made its way into my class in some manner... spicing up conversations in class in such a way that isn't in the text.
I have decided to link my Good Reads nerdcation bookshelf to the website so you can comb through.
And, hey... gotta recommendation? I'd love to start a virtual book club.
Creating kick ass lessons.
I said I wanted to finish my Constitution Unit, which I did last year. I rounded out the year thinking to myself that my graduating seniors really understood the content, but also were decent at presenting ideas and research, whether it be in traditional written paper format or using digital media.
This year's seniors have a weakness in writing that the previous batch did not have, so we have spent an insane amount of time writing. I have killed myself with grading and creating major units like one on the book Boomerang, but my kids are starting to get the whole writing process, and are producing material that they are literally damn proud of. I am excited to be there when kids want mad props for great writing, when the smile at the congrats at the bottom of their paper. It's thrilling. You know why, because you teach... but I'll connect the dots. It is because they are LEARNING. and COMMUNICATING. and they are getting better and better at it as the year flies by.
I have spent as much time writing. I spend less time on LovGov because I am literally rewriting my course textbook.
There is this awesome website called Versal. It is free. (There is a pro subscription). You can literally throw your class notes in there, with videos, images, galleries, annotated pics, graphs, timelines, quizzes, surveys, and other connections to services like quizlet.
I. Freaking. Love. It.
The only draw back: I have kids without digital access outside of school. My solution: Condense each reading to a single double-sided handout for the students to walk out of class with and read. (I have been selling them on my TpT store, usually embedded in a unit plan. I also include a bibliography so you know I am not full of crap.)
Continuous Learning is Legit.
Look, I am just one woman. I can't say I know damn well near anything about this course. I love it, but I can get stuck on stuff, too. So I have started to treat myself to awesome adventures in professional development. But not the ones my school board wants. Those are, well... hell.
Here is what I have done this year:
1. Attended a weekend seminar at Montpelier to talk about Congress with Dr. William F. Connelly out of William and Lee University. He was amazing. I had so much fun, ate great food, toasted with new friends I still talk to on FB, and geeked out for a weekend. It was free. I am itching to go back, but they so damn popular it is hard to get in! Good for them!
2. Worked with a close friend at my school to create a unique unit on Comparative Government and monetary and fiscal policy. I did this simply because I wanted to attend the Virginia Council of the Social Studies Convention in October 2014. They accepted our proposal to come and talk about it, and while we had a humble turnout, I really enjoyed sharing our experience with these fellow educators. I asked my school district to pay the entrance fees, and I am incredibly blessed to work with a group of administrators who like to say, "Yes." If you can, do something with your state Council of the Social Studies. It is fun.
3. I started saying yes to taking time off to go be a student of government. In September, I attended a campaign finance conference put on by the Sunlight Foundation, which was free. I heard Senator Jon Testor speak about his experiences with campaign finance... I was tickled since he was featured in Frontine's Big Sky, Big Money.
Immediately after the election in November, I went to a conference put on by Virginia Public Access Project to discuss lessons learned from the Warner/Gillespie campaigns, which was free. Equally gripping was listening to the campaign managers discuss tactics, victories, and losses during their campaign experiences. All of these things can be packaged up and brought right into your classroom.
December brought me an experience of a lifetime; another close friend was able to get tickets for her and I to attend the Supreme Court for two hearings, back to back. Listening to the audio files of hearings are enjoyable, but it is electrifying to see the Justices in action. To see Justice Breyer fall asleep during oral arguments, joking around withScalia and Thomas... to see RBG flip through her resources, and hear Sotomayor get testy with the Petitioner and Respondent's council is pretty cool. Equally impressive is the mental fortitude it takes to hear and present oral arguments. Literally, it has to be my best day to follow along with every point and counter point. To be stripped of my cell phone and easy access to reference material is exhausting. I was so focused for the first hour's more mundane discussion that the second hour had me nearly collapsing out of fatigue.
All of these things were free. I know that the Supreme Court is truly unique to living in the DC area, but much of these opportunities are replicated around the country. Do yourself a favor; take a day and be a student of government. It is fun to be on the other side of the desk. In fact, I am going again to another FREE event with the Brennan Center.
Taking it to the web
Not all teachers are blessed with like-minded educators. This year has taught me that kindred content spirits are easier to reach than I would think... to help you with a unit your shaky on; to let you vent; to push you to be a better educator. Discussion always breeds new angles, new ideas on how to get government into the vernacular of our young.
Some of these networks are created the old school way, by meeting people at events, meetings, etc. Swap those contacts, get talking. I am looking to work with some of my new friends this year on units yet to be created, and I am pumped.
But I have found Twitter and Facebook to be valuable resources, too. Most Sundays you will find me hangin out on Twitter at 9pm EST chatting with gov educators coast to coast. Look up #hsgovchat, and join us. I have gotten sooo much out of this. Let me tell you, I have met some exceptional educators on-line, and feel blessed to be in their presence.
Try reaching the media, special interest and non-profits via Twitter and Facebook. They will reach you back. To date, I have chatted with @StampStampede, @VoteSmart, @SunFoundation, @TheNewsLP, @YourWeekly, @aljam, @CSpan_Classroom @NormOrnstein, and @MateaGold.
Here is where I am: No precise resolutions for 2015; just more of the same. Each experience makes me love my content, which really gets back to giving my students the best damn education I can possibly muster. And you can do it, too.
This is one of my favorite units, only because it is such a Janus head. Personally, I am torn. I love special interest, and am a member of many myself. But the impact of special interest, the potential corruption and minimization of the majority is so dangerous and alluring. It makes teaching this unit so particularly thrilling.
Here is the rundown on my unit.
Work the Bloom's Taxonomy
Standard and Honors alike will be moving up and down the Bloom's taxonomy. We have the lower levels with vocabulary and identification. We spend time on websites in class applying concepts, look at primary source documents, and analyzing raw and processed data. And at the end, we evaluate both special interest in lobbying and in campaign finance to determine its value.
The only level I fail to reach consistently is creating. I will be back for that later in November. I plan to cap off my entire experience with a group project that evaluates the impact of all linkage institutions.
However, many kids chose to actually create their own political message during the grassroots activity. Students stamped their own money, posted it on Twitter, and got SOs from @StampStampede online. It is thrilling to see the kids geek out over political discussions online. Good stuff going on here!
Wanna recreate this unit in your classroom and get awesome resources along the way? Check me out on TeachersPayTeachers for the entire unit. That's right. 19 pages of resources and handouts. All for you.
I love giving freebies, too. So here is something I threw together to help kids understand the concepts of iron triangles, issue networks, and the revolving door.
I want to start by thanking Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for their uncompromising dedication to giving the NSA violations air time and transparency. I wanted to share some of the most important things I have learned from this book bef...
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
by Bill Bishop
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
I lovgov. LOVE IT! I love teaching government, learning about it, debating, discussing, asking questions about government. And not the standard boiler plate questions, but the hard ones that are NOT in the books.