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.
It's election day here in 'Merica. (Why is this not a national holiday?) I am sitting at my desk thinking, writing, planning for voters, and how I taught this last year.
I have two classes to plan for now: one Honors Government and one Standard. (I teach in VA, and we don't do Common Core. So I am going to talk Virginian, and you can translate.)
This year I am trying to craft a course that meets diverse learners. What do I need to get across to each of these learners, and what is the most interesting way to get there?
Let me take you on a tour.
1. Both courses use my on-line course notes. I use Versal to divulge all kinds of information. My textbook is from 2009, and woefully inadequate. So, I have started typing up notes on the course and incorporating video, quizzes, images, graphics, and other apps you can throw in there. Kids need a user id and password, but that information is not shared with me.
Versal is great in that it allows me to circumvent funding issues, but it is a huge sink of time for me right now. My thoughts are that I will be able to update it as I see fit next year.
I like it better than blackboard in that it feels like a blog (like this) and access only requires a wifi and connective device. Kids should appreciate that.
2. Evaluation versus application. Both courses get the history and current events of voting, what the Constitution and the states do, and laws that cause states and federal agencies to battle each other.
I focus more on collaborative review activities with my standard class, while my honors kids delve more into the actual process, players, and impact of voting.
3. Skills, skills, skills. We work with statistics in this unit, an essential skill that is requested by all curriculum everywhere. We work with primary and secondary resources. Honors, again getting a bit more extension, gets to chew on some extended radio interviews actually questioning some of the folks who are active in creating voting barriers.
There are a lot of things in this unit that are up for sale on my TpT site... check it out to help you completely roll this unit out!
I woke up one morning thinking, what if there was a facebook page that summarized the history and evolution of Federalism? What if it tied together the argument between North and South from before the penning of the Constitution through Reconstruction to today? What if we could see the roots of modern insurgencies in our own political parties in such a way that it made it easier for students to understand?
I looked for one such page, but it didn't exist.
And then, with a little hard work, it did.
I hope you enjoy it more than I did making it, and it helps reinforce your lessons on Federalism.
(I feel like this should be a regular series.)
I am positive that many of my students following the primary elections thought me a huge, stinking liar while following the fall of Eric Cantor.
For they have been told that Virginia (enter airy, idealic music and images of birds fluttering and chirping over the dawning of a new day over a pastoral landscape) has open primaries that use public declaration.
And that is it.
So then, pray tell, how is it that Ed Gillespie was nominated as the GOP's candidate for the US Senate against Senator Mark Warner in a closed-door, members-only convention?
Yeah, I lied. So did the textbook.
I mean, if you look at Politico's analysis of the primaries, it gets even more complex.
I found myself returning to this question at the very end of our Courts, Rights, and Liberties unit.
What is the purpose of the courts? How do they function so differently from other two branches of the government? Why is their work done in such a quiet and private way? How is it their actions, while few (relatively) have such epic impact on the US?
Essentially, it has to do with the difference between politics and governance; majority rule, minority rights; and the rule of law.
Examining the definition of the two is a great way to start.
Majority Rule: Politics and Governance
I view politics as loud, chaotic, public, full of discord, acrimony, and debate. And hopefully, compromise.
NO! You know you want to. The AP test is over... and, well, the soft lull of movies is so calling your name.
Okay, this is totally on the fly, but I thought I'd try to jump start you into having AMAZINGLY AWESOME discussions with your somnambulent students in their post AP haze. How do you, how do they stay interesting?
Here are some ideas... and if you have some you want to share LEAVE A COMMENT! IT TAKES A VILLAGE, GURUS!
Pardon my theatrics... I hate to be morose, but I can't teach this unit without thinking of that awesome song by The Clash. There are really so many great songs out there with which you can open this unit, and kids really gravitate to issues surrounding these rights, or what little they know of them.
I take my time (relatively) through this unit. Besides the fact that I get more way more interest and lively debate, which always freaks me out, I find that there are some kids out there who really excel in logical "lawerly" thinking. Maybe they have never applied it to less objective reasoning than math and science... and find that they like these hypothetical, no-one-is-100%-right kind of arguing for the sake of arguing (I call it word math.)
I have my kids work through basic precedent by completing the Gallery Walk in the previous post, which is fun, but gets mixed results because... well... not all the kids put forth equal amounts of effort. So, I need to come in and clean it up.
The biggest problem that the students seem to have is whether or not a case is incorporated or not.
When the dreaded AP Testing window opens, I have to get creative to keep up with the bizarre scheduling and fried kids.
I also, generally, have a metric ton of material still to get through, and I don't think the kids can stand another lecture. So, getting to the SCOTUS cases I need to requires some creativity, flexibility, and patience. And FOOD. Lots and lots of FOOD.
I love the idea of turning this over to Project Based Learning... telling a kid, "hey, we need to know more about Clinton v NY. How about you teach me?" In the past, I have lectured, I have jigsawed, I have videoed, and the result is flat. And I end up repeating myself over and over and over again as new rounds of kids show up.
So here is my solution: A major project that I count as TWO test grades (one for the project presentation, which I do online and therefore I can have kids from different classes that meet on different days teach each other) and one for harvesting the data. It's food and art themed through and through... The possible activities kids can do (like boiling cases down into tweets, recreating facebook battles over the court case, prettying up major quotes into art) comes in a menu form, and since we have food on the Gallery Walk Day, it's kind of like dining with the SCOTUS. I got most of my cases from this lovely little synopsis of major court cases...
I can deal with the revolving door of kids coming and going, and I get to listen to kids get excited to learn things like how to jazz up a QR code so it isn't so boring. (They were totally excited to learn about canva because they can make pretty posters painlessly.)
When we do our Gallery Walk, I will post pictures of the festivities, but if you are interested in getting this for yourself, head on over to my store and get yourself a copy.
You won't regret it, I promise.
Pull out your white wigs and your gavels, it's time to play 'You be the Judge.' (Think I am kidding... I even have a cute stamp I put on the kids papers...)
My final stab at reading and writing skills AND interpreting the Constitution is a whopper. I assign the kids to play Supreme Court Justice. They get to decide issues of constitutional interpretation, judicial philosophy, precedent, and politics. All in one nice, neat little two page paper. I guide the students through two of them (it makes for a great class discussion!) and leave them to their own devices on the last one.
Per the student's request, our first of four papers is Sebelius v Hobby Lobby. My students are asked to tackle two plain-english derivations of the case before the SCOTUS, as well as two, more technical discussions.
I lead them through the various questions on the assignment, and take time to tackle some of the more complex legal maneouvering. In this case, the question before the court requires application of strict scrutiny. I find strict scrutiny, as well as all judicial tests, to be a problem for most students. This little video is super helpful.
Once I get through this video, I take care to explain the different tests, including intermediate scrutiny (the lesser used due to VMI.) Point here is whether or not the federal government has to treat Hobby Lobby as a "person," as it is not explicitly stated in the 1st Amendment, and "person" is loosely defined in the Federal Dictionary Act. Hmph. Pesky little boogers.
So, if they, meaning Hobby Lobby and the Green family who owns this chain of stores, are a person, then the government will have to employ a strict scrutiny test... and that requires the federal government to show:
-A compelling (or necessary and.or crucial) interest
If Hobby Lobby can show that their fundamental constitutional right to free exercise has been compromised, the then the government has to argue through evidence that Hobby Lobby's free exercise rights are NOT being infringed. But that is if the courts agree first that Hobby Lobby is a person. And if Hobby Lobby finds the Court seeing them as a person, then the government has about a 60% chance that the Courts will find in their favor. (That whole 'strict in theory, fatal in fact' argument is not as fatal as previously advertised.)
And below, because I have to 'make life impossible' for my students, are my notes on the case. If they find it, great. Key is you found it.
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.