Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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  Workshop 4: Constitutional Convention  
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Workshop 4

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Teacher Perspectives: Constructivism and civics

Matt Johnson: The biggest deficit among my students has been knowledge of the [political] process. That may be true of almost anybody in high school. They understand how the three branches work together [but] there are a lot of misconceptions about where the Supreme Court comes from and [why] the Supreme Court never changes. They just haven’t studied it. I think that they also feel--at least in this school--a certain disenfranchised attitude that their vote doesn’t count. [Ed. Note: Washington, D.C. is not a state. It has one Delegate in the House of Representatives (who cannot vote) and no Senator. Its citizens vote for presidential electors and pay federal income taxes.] That’s a tough thing to win kids over with, especially with what happened in Florida in 2000. There is definitely a jaded view of the process. Hopefully in discussing it, they can at least understand how these things come about.

The use of group learning and simulations puts the kids into the lesson and they become active participants. I think you can make a connection to them becoming active participants in society. Their status in my class is almost one of equals, at least with each other, definitely, and at times with me. I think that teaches them to speak their mind, to ask questions. There is not a fear factor that I’m going to judge [that] what they do is wrong or out of place. My hope is that I’m teaching them to become active citizens, also. I have had some students who have called me to let me know that they are working on local elections and I’ve actually met students at the Metro [handing] out flyers for their candidate of choice. I’ve had a lot more kids tell me that they are now thinking about [majoring in] political science. I don't know if that has anything to do with my class, but I’m going to brag about it.

I would take great pride in knowing that every student, or a large percentage of the students I’ve taught in civics, are active participants, and not just in voting because, as you know, this population doesn’t have a great track record with turnout and they can make a big difference. I hope that they continue to vote, pay attention to politics, get involved, work on a campaign, join organizations. They don’t necessarily have to run for office, but be active and involved and informed citizens. I haven’t done any studies to see if they vote, but I try to register every senior.


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