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  Workshop 4: Constitutional Convention  
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Workshop 4

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Lesson Plan: Context

The Teacher
Matt Johnson is chair of the department of social studies and teaches AP U. S. Government, AP Comparative Government, U.S. Government, Law, Economics, D.C. History, and Global Perspectives to students at Benjamin Banneker Senior High School in Washington, D.C. Students in his Law class have won the District of Columbia Mock Trial Championship for seven of the past nine years. In addition to his course load, he has served as senior class sponsor, coordinator of Congressional internships, law club sponsor, stock market club sponsor, and outdoors club sponsor as well as coached varsity softball, boys JV basketball, and varsity cross country. Prior to teaching, Matt Johnson interned at some political think tanks in Washington, D.C., and was a legislative librarian at a law firm. Matt Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science in political science from Ripon College in Wisconsin and a Master’s degree in political science at George Washington University in the District of Columbia.

The School
Benjamin Banneker Senior High School is a small, college-preparatory, public high school in Washington, D.C. Nearly 93 percent of its 432 students are African American (1999-2000 data); other students are Pacific Islander (3.2 percent), Hispanic (3.2 percent), or White (0.7 percent). The high school has an attendance rate of 96.4 percent and a promotion rate of 98.1 percent. In 1999, 92 percent of its students graduated. SAT rates in that year averaged 522 in mathematics and 553 verbal.

The Course
Matt Johnson’s constitutional law course explores the political and constitutional organization of five countries—China, Russia, France, England, and India—all of which have been studied prior to this lesson. The U.S. political system was covered in a previous course on U.S. government. The typical class unit starts with students being assigned to complete a data sheet—looking at basic socioeconomic, political, religious, and societal forces in the particular country. At the same time, Matt Johnson assigns each student a one-page research paper on a specific topic, e.g., the House of Lords, and provides about a week for its completion. The class then begins three to five days of student-led presentations, each of which is followed by questions and answers about the topic at hand and discussions about what has been learned so far. It is each student’s responsibility to go out and learn enough to teach his or her peers. Each student comes to class with 25 copies of a one-page summary of his or her presentation. In effect, the students have created a textbook. The teacher’s role is to get the class started, call presenters in turn, and moderate the question-and-answer discussion after each presentation. At this time, the teacher would also fill in with additional information as needed. The simulation lesson seen in the workshop is an end-of-the-year activity that draws on all the units that have preceded it. The class meets on a block schedule every other week.


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