Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers
Civic Engagement Civic Engagement — Teacher Perspectives
Bill Mittlefehldt teaches human geography, a social studies elective, to juniors and seniors at Anoka High School in Anoka, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities. During the nine-week course, students work in teams on a service-learning project in which they identify a community issue related to their curriculum, select a community partner whose work involves the issue, research the dimensions of the problem, brainstorm potential solutions to the problem, and present their ideas to the City Council. Bill Mittlefehldt was interviewed during the sixth week of the course.
Bill Mittlefehldt: Today’s kids are intellectually narrow, emotionally flat, and politically disengaged. They are obese and anorexic. They are depressed and violent. But these symptoms suggest that they need to be grounded in the on-going drama of their community. They need to be grounded in the issues of their tribe. Without the challenge to be civically engaged, they may become passive consumers of empty, but nicely packaged, lives.
Today’s communities suffer from numerous problems that are unaddressed by our political leaders. Business health, community health, and environmental health all need addressing. Unfortunately, we cannot buy the solution to these problems. They must be built in each community.
The excitement about what we are doing in civic education comes from the fact that we are expanding the curriculum to include community issues. And we are enlarging the teaching team beyond the school walls to allow other concerned and motivated adults to ground kids in the drama of their own locale. The businesses, communities, and environment will only get better if we have more understanding and collaboration. This is where kids come in.
Service implies putting a short-term solution to a small, short-term problem. This is bigger than that in scope. It builds on the accurate sense of change and how our institutions are failing to keep up. We need curriculum and instructional vehicles like these to literally invite kids to share their civic engagement with others who share their commitment to the future. We need the kids’ help now. And the kids need the community’s help now. The school can be the institution to broker these needs with curriculum design and instructional strategies. The community offers perspective in terms of current data, dimensions of the problem, associated issues, other organizations and partners, and especially maps. Maps invite the kids to get grounded.
Civic engagement is more important than simple service learning. Curriculum and instructional systems can link the needs of students and the needs of the community.
Flow of the class
Bill Mittlefehldt: We begin with an overview for the week, outlined on the board so the kids have a cognitive map of where we’re going. Then we jump into the learning activities, called Connection Points, where the kids have to share orally or in written form how they connect the curriculum, the vocabulary, the theories, and the examples with things they see going on around them. Then we make a transition, usually to some teacher-structured activity that would look a little like a mini-lecture or presentation, where I’ve organized the learning resources. Then we make [another] transition [in which the students work on their projects]. It starts off kind of slowly but as we get deeper (we’re in the sixth week of a nine-week term), more class time is devoted to getting ready for the projects.
Service learning sequence
Bill Mittlefehldt: It’s a requirement at Anoka High School [that] before you graduate you have to do 10 hours of service. We’re the only school in the district that has that requirement. Service can be simple—shovel somebody’s walk after a blizzard. See a problem and generate the solution. We move it up the cognitive and affective continuum through the four years to be something where they’re applying their skills and knowledge to understand problems and then actually work on solutions. It grows over the four years to become more powerful and autonomous. Service learning varies in complexity. Some of the ninth-graders who come in and are ready to do service will often do what they’re told, either through their faith community, their parents, civic groups, whatever. They go to a site, they do some service that’s outside of the school, and hopefully they have a learning experience about serving something larger than themselves. We’re trying to use this to grow their characters to understand there’s something bigger at stake, basically the American republic. Over the four years in our high school program, we get them to involve themselves in more and more challenging venues of service. A couple of these kids have already presented at the state level and some of the people who have presented at the state level will go on next year and maybe do lobbying in Washington, D.C. Our kids have presented at the U.N. in New York, and they’ve presented before the House Budget Committee in Congress.
Ninth Grade: We begin in ninth grade with the government class. The kids study the Federal government and the state government and understand that they are responsible for adding to the quality of life in their community. That’s pretty much a standard government class but the kids are engaged in a project called an MMP, Minnesota Public Policy Project, where they have to analyze a public issue and make a presentation in their classes. That kind of sets the groundwork to apply knowledge and understanding and demonstrate skills. In ninth grade, kids begin the process that includes a little service. Generally, they end up doing things through their faith community, through organizations that they belong to, or specific government or civic activities that the teacher asks them to attend. They get credit, just by becoming a more informed citizen.
10th Grade: In 10th grade, the kids get into U.S. government. That’s a required course. Again, they study the whole panoply of U.S. history, and there are research projects. A number of our kids participate in what’s called the History Day National competition and we’ve done very well over the last years.
11th Grade: In 11th grade, they go into the emergence of modern global societies–basically the world since 1900. Those kids who start taking initiative in their 11th grade year end up doing gangbuster projects in their senior year. This year, we’ve had a number of teams who have worked with the Minnesota state legislature. They get service credit for that, but it’s also related to this four-year sequence of learning activities that generally grabs the kids wherever they are and challenges them to take their skills and their applications up another notch. 11th-graders begin to take initiative, and now, as their adolescent identity is getting stronger, they realize that they are the center of some action and initiative. They have some courage and creativity to share. Some of the juniors are taking hold and saying, “This is my community. This is my river. This is my land. I am going to make a difference.” It’s very powerful. It’s more than just doing what you’re asked to serve your community. It’s assuming some responsibility to initiate part of the solution to some of your persistent community problems.
12th Grade: In 12th grade, they take both a required economics class and a required law class. It’s usually in the 11th- and 12-grade classes that the teachers involve them in projects where the students have to take some initiative and demonstrate their civic competencies. When they get into it, they enjoy it because it displays their leadership and their creativity.
The kids who are doing service in 11th and 12th grade are often doing it in association with projects where they feel they’re making a contribution. That’s what we’re after, and that’s what I think Jefferson and Franklin had in mind. In the American republic, it says you need a new kind of citizen, which the world hadn’t seen much of by 1776. You need a citizen who can bridge the differences and come together with a sense for a shared hope and a common ground. American kids really need that. But it takes four years to change that psyche from the inherent immaturity of a ninth-grader to the 12th-graders who are ready to be global citizens and assume their responsibility for fixing the system if it’s broken.
Our school board and our school district have a strong emphasis on character development. We specifically feel that the critical importance of that is to stop and wait for the kids to initiate [their plan]. This goes across all ability levels, too, from your most gifted kids down to kids who have very special learning needs. We wait until they respond, and then we try and hook them up with learning resources in the community. That’s where we see the growth of autonomous learning. We think in order to monitor character development, you have to hold the kids responsible and measure their increments of success. Service learning is a key factor in character development.
Service learning credits
Bill Mittlefehldt: At Anoka High School, you have to do 10 hours of service to graduate. Now, that’s not a very high criterion but the fact that we have 3,300 kids makes it significant. Service learning [credits] are given for doing [things] out of school, [for example], working with a community partner. The team that was making signs for four hours with the commissioner and the mayor is getting four hours of credit. The kids who interacted at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, they’re getting credit for the hours they spent out of school working on that.
Your government teacher in ninth grade might say, “Why don’t you go to a party caucus meeting? Or why don’t you go interview somebody from the Republican Party?” When you do what you’re told, you get the service hours because it was done outside of school to try and understand your community better. In 11th and 12th grade, I say, “When you do these hours outside of school, I’m going to give you as many hours as it takes for you to give an effective presentation before the county, the state, the city, whomever.” The kids who present [to the City Council] are getting hours of credit for serving the community. We try and use it as a vehicle for reinforcing and affirming their contributions to the community. It’s a very cheap reward but it shows the kids that somebody’s paying attention and we’re affirming the best part of their adolescent character. We try and make sure that all the kids have a venue outside the school to demonstrate their service.
[Students] have to fill out a form and turn in the hours, and we log it on the computer that’s keeping track for the entire school. Just to manage that is significant. So we have one staff person who gets one hour a day to manage the entire database. Service learning at Anoka High School is managed through our Office of Service Learning. However, it’s administered through the social studies department, generally speaking.
Bill Mittlefehldt: Part of the research for their projects is that they meet with their community partners–half the ball game is finding your community partner–an adult outside the school who has more information, resources, and maps than your teacher does. We try and get the kids hooked up with those elements in the community. They get print information, data, and maps from the partners, which they then put into a summary at the end of the term. Our kids really dig deep. They work hard on these projects. We try and team them up with neat people, and then we put them on stage and we say, “Now it’s your turn to deliver. What do you care about strongly enough to deliver a nicely organized set of recommendations after you’ve clearly described the problem?”
Bill Mittlefehldt: In grouping geography students for working on teams for the nine-week project, I generally let the kids self-select. Other years I arranged for gender mixing and some other learning style characteristics, but it’s kind of a wash, so I’ve found that by letting the kids pick people they want to work with, you get a little better result in the long run.
Bill Mittlefehldt: The state of Minnesota has mandated graduation standards. In our school district, we have mandated that the state curriculum goals will be achieved in specific courses. That’s not the way all school districts are dealing with that issue. The effort to balance all the needs and the demands on limited time and energy is very important. It’s an important issue to address because the state standards could be considered offensive impositions on my priorities as an educator. But I’ve had a very successful experience working with a number of teams here and in other schools.
There is a fair amount of flexibility in District 11 for how you implement the graduation standards for the state of Minnesota. [Service learning will] achieve a whole bunch of state graduation standards. [The standard] I’m working on has to do with managing resources. The way it’s interpreted in our district, the kids have to use geographic information, maps, and data about their place to help understand and analyze some issue of public import. We’re getting better and better geographic information, so this generation of kids has perhaps the most geographic information for understanding their area and how it’s changing.
I think the parents especially and the business leaders in our community are very pleased at the results. The principal sees the value of this in terms of character, aside from the kids getting stronger and more focused and making better [and more] positive decisions, when so many American teens are making negative decisions. My district supervisors like the way these kids are demonstrating success with the state standards. In fact, last term, we presented in the Governor’s Reception Office, and a woman there was [emotionally] moved when she heard these kids deliver their economic development recommendations to a team of state leaders. I take that as a hundred percent endorsement [that] we are doing the state standards the way they wanted them applied.
Total community quality
Bill Mittlefehldt: One of the things that we’ve developed here in Anoka over the last 12 years is targets for teamwork. There’s a whole business side to this. In 1992, I was writing software for improving schools in America and in the process of getting trained for that ran into some very outstanding business partners, who were very willing to share with a curious educator the notion of continuous quality improvement. When I shared that with some of our education partners and some of the people in the community on the civic side, we blew that up to say, “Why shouldn’t every community be improving the quality by engaging every student in the shared process?” That’s this notion of total community quality. It’s really a business idea that we’ve exploded in Anoka to include all the citizens, especially kids and senior citizens, who we call our tribal elders because we want to give it a connotation of respect. We try and affirm each other’s strengths and gifts so that we can contribute to the American republic.
We assembled a business team, a health team, and an environmental team, which include teachers and students, to analyze the targets that we need to hit if we’re going to improve our entire system. In 1993, we made them available to the community, but they’re also now in the school. When we challenge the kids, we say, “Which one of these targets–business, health, or environment–would you like to fix for the future of our system?” It’s very challenging. We [believe that] if they can feel they’ve made a contribution to improving any part of the system in their high school experience, then those kids are going to be very well prepared to be team leaders on any team they play on for the rest of their life. We’re really talking about workforce readiness issues and how you integrate that psyche, that character, so that they feel like they have a responsibility to contribute and be a team leader.
Bill Mittlefehldt: Assessment is a big challenge in this domain. Traditionally, social studies has been oriented toward a cognitive domain, i.e., tell me what you know, and I can grade it with a Scantron machine. This gets into the affective domain, which is a more complex area to evaluate because you have to have gradations of achievement. What we look for is how the kids are actually applying and demonstrating skills. We have assessment rubrics. [A rubric] is a technical term for how we use a form to evaluate your progress as you move up the hierarchy. We sometimes invite community partners. For example, the mayor may be filling out a rubric on the student groups that present. And we have tribal elders—some of our senior citizens who have watched the kids grow over the four years in high school. We have some business and health leaders at the meeting. They will all be encouraged to give the kids feedback about how they’re using their emotion, courage, and creativity to add quality to the future. That’s where this notion of total community quality comes in. We try and ground our learning success in the community, not in the school. If we were just gathering data to put in the wastepaper basket, there would be very little effect of the assessment. But when the kids receive feedback from other kids, they read those comments. When the kids get feedback from the mayor and the City Council and some of the business leaders, they’re going to read that stuff. They take it to heart because it’s really the community affirming the character of the developing adolescent’s psyche, and it’s a powerful mix.
This project will demonstrate various degrees of competence. A four [on the rubric] is like college-level functioning, using a breadth of information to integrate, synthesize, and come up with some original statement. There will be a few fours. Three is pretty capable high school functioning with cognitive and affective domains involved in some kind of presentation, but the presentation might not be at the highest level of delivery. [Another part of the rubric measures teamwork] and working with community partners who are of a different age and expertise. It goes all the way down to ones. The rubric I’m going to give to the City Council and the ones in the classroom where we’re doing peer assessment are very much in line with the graduation standard for the geography class.
Importance of curriculum
Bill Mittlefehldt: I’m sure if you watch any group of teenagers, it’s like there’s a culture change going on. Our kids are being raised by all kinds of electronic media. They spend maybe six hours a week watching TV and 40 minutes with parental supervision. They’re spending a lot of time with each other, and there is a separate youth culture. Part of this is healthy adolescent development, giving them the independence to develop their own adult personality, but a lot of our culture is gearing these kids to be passive consumers.
Our program is gearing them to be civically engaged, and we expect them to show us the creative courage that America needs to deal with some of these huge environmental, health, and economic issues. We challenge them. We say, “Hey, these are some of the issues challenging your community. Which one do you care about?” And then we stop—and that’s a critical juncture—because the curriculum doesn’t move forward until they start to show us what they care about. We didn’t tell them, “Hey, you do the train. You do the brownfield.” The kids selected these once they understood that the whole community needed their help.
I believe this is what Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and some of the founding fathers had in mind for creating a new type of citizen who could work together with people who are different because they shared a place, America, and they shared a vision of their destiny. We’re growing American teamwork because we train kids to care about their place. The most important part is we say, “We need your help. What do you care about?”
Bill Mittlefehldt: The affective domain is not just what you know, it’s how you use it and how you’re motivated and induced to actually show your talents and demonstrate your civic concern. I’ve taught government, which tends to be a ninth-grade class in this neck of the woods, and the stuff that kids get that’s cognitive, that’s not tied to affective, deeper levels of motivation, will drop off their monitors after they’re out of school for a while. When you pair it up with something they’ve been invited to display, demonstrate, care, create–that’s where you build bigger circuitry in their neural networks, as if their brains and the way their psyches work mattered to their community. We think the brainpower they demonstrate is an extraordinary resource available in every American community. If they’ve initiated that, they may trigger what’s called autonomous learning, where they think they’re in control and they can be more responsible. They can be better stewards, and they can be more active citizens. That’s what we’re after. I don’t think you can get to the best part of the human nervous system, certainly not in adolescent Americans, unless you give them the respect of pausing and waiting for them to initiate a response.
Bill Mittlefehldt: Educational psychology helps you understand your learner. Unless teachers understand the needs of their learners—what’s going on in their brain and their motivational system and their priorities—you will totally miss the mark. We say, “What do you care about?” That hopefully triggers something lower down in the brain, called the midbrain. This is Paul MacLean’s theory of the triune brain—that you tap into what motivates them and what they care about. If they show us anything, then it’s our responsibility to engage them, to construct something bigger and more powerful from that. That’s where our magic and our sorcery is.
The students working on their presentations are actually trying to demonstrate they understand part of the solution. That is much more than service. That’s service that’s linked to strong character–[students] are assuming responsibility for improving their civic fabric. That is exactly what today’s kids need. Because of the age group [and] the speeding of cultural change, a lot of old-timers are frightened by today’s kids. There’s a separation, which is a potential hazard to their character development, unless more schools and communities can develop the vehicles for tying character to the community. So we have the screaming needs of the kids’ character on this side, and through service we link them up to community problems. What’s nice is, if you do a good job, you get great fabric.
His development as a teacher
Bill Mittlefehldt: My mother was a teacher. My dad was a public servant, a probation officer. I grew up respecting public service. There are many people in our country today who undervalue public service, which I find very ironic in that it has helped us become the strongest nation on the planet with some of the strongest democratic institutions.
When I was in college, I was [preparing] for the Peace Corps. Part of my training was in Brooklyn in 1967. It was a tremendous eye-opening experience for me. I lived next to Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is not your nicest neighborhood if you’re an outsider. I was an outsider, but the people were very decent to me. It just kind of opened the world to my suburban brain. I was a young man at that time. Cities were burning, and we were in the midst of Vietnam and civil rights, and I thought it would be hypocritical for me to go to another country to help them with their problems when my own country was so confused and conflicted. So I changed my major. I decided to go into education so I could get involved in a hands-on way in my own country. I graduated in ’68 with a degree in education and I decided that I needed to go on and further my [education] because I was kind of a late bloomer intellectually. I went to Chicago Theological Seminary. I got two Master’s degrees from there. Then I went to teach for two years in the Chicago suburbs. My wife and I decided we’d come to Minnesota and raise Minnesotans and we were fortunate to get jobs teaching here. I got another Master’s degree in curriculum and instructional systems at the University. I also taught at a Chicago reform school and because of my background in Brooklyn, it was a great introduction to what’s going on in those kids’ psyches.
Evolution of his teaching strategies
Bill Mittlefehldt: I’m a hands-on learner. I’m a concrete random–that’s a category of learning styles–but I’m a doer and a thinker. In the early ‘80s, I wrote a book about the brain and learning. In the process of doing that, it got me fired up for understanding [the] learner and improving the quality of [the] product, which for me is the source of my educational challenge and my ability to engage you in learning. I’m getting better at evoking that. I don’t think my style has changed much. I think I’m a socially talented person. I have a lot of charm. I have a lot of energy. I can be intimidating. I can be funny. So my character has been a good mix. I love learning. That’s probably one of my highest priorities. The thing that keeps me going is my ability to learn from my students. One thing I can’t stand is a bored student because they’re going to make me feel punitive and vindictive, and it’s going to be bad chemistry. I try and challenge them and engage them in some level of learning where they’re at. To do that, I’ve had to develop some of these structures and processes outside the school because a lot of kids that I’ve seen over 30 years tend to be bored. By enlivening the community side of the equation–to affirm their character–we’ve brought a lot of power into the kids’ lives.
Presenting projects to the City Council
Bill Mittlefehldt: When our kids present at the City Council, they are stepping onto a stage to provide some free brain power to the people on the City Council whose average age, I’m going to guess, is 52. What you’re going to see is like free consulting from fresh brains that haven’t been colored by cynicism and other things. It’s uplifting, quite frankly. I would say the kids hit a home run today. The City Council was very receptive, and the kids were right on task. They benefited, I think, from the assessment in the dress rehearsal, and I think the goods were delivered in very good shape. I think the community that was watching through our cable network saw that these kids have creativity and courage. We took kids of different ethnic and religious backgrounds and we wove together a common focus. I think because this was in public space, being cabled live, that [Council members] couldn’t give you their [full] response, but they were going to be highly motivated on this Schwartzman issue. Because of the possible contamination of the beautiful and scenic river, that could be the kiss of death for the community.
Commuter rail project
Bill Mittlefehldt: This is a team of three junior females who engaged in this voluntarily because they had heard about it in our modern global class. One of the issues that they deal with is population growth and transportation. On Route 169, the traffic volume has quadrupled since they cut the lanes down—two lanes are shut now out of four. The girls are trying to get the state legislature to allocate funding. President Bush, in his budget proposal for this year, has allocated $147 million to build a train in Minnesota along our most urban corridor. There are a million more people that are going to move into this corridor in the next 20 years. If we don’t have a rail option, people are going to shoot at each other on some of our freeways and expressways. The girls have a total combined driving experience of two and a half years. They’re smart enough to realize this is not fun, and it’s going to get a lot worse when you add one million people to it. So they wanted to dig in, grab hold, and try to make a difference.
Last week they were at the state legislature lobbying, working from the Senate majority leader’s office. The Senate majority [leader] is very much in favor of this, but he’s had a problem politically getting the House to go along with it so, partly as a political ploy, the girls delivered a 12-page petition from Anoka High School students saying, “We, the students of the future and the next generation of commuters, want that train for this region.” That team has also worked with the county commissioner and the mayor. We had a City Council member in class, and [he mentioned] that he thought the North Star Rail Corridor was dead at the legislature for this year. This is a critical year because if we don’t allocate $30 million or $40 million, the 147 million federal dollars go to another state to build their infrastructure, which is just totally stupid. The girls understood that so they went and did some double-checking, and they found out that it’s not dead, it’s just bleeding tremendously, and it’s going to be dead by May 20 if the legislature doesn’t allocate the funding. The Senate had passed the funding for it, but the House had not, so it was in a political stalemate. When the county and the city heard that there was a team of very talented Anoka kids ready to make a go of it, they rallied the troops, helped train the girls, got them maps, got them information, loaded their cannons, and then sent them down to lobby for the county and the city. It was a tremendous deal. They were down there for six hours. They ended up having a press conference where the commissioner of transportation came and spoke. But the girls organized the press conference, and this was after they delivered 12 pages of signatures on the petition from Anoka High School students saying they wanted that rail corridor to be funded.
Those girls have worked with three levels of government and they’ve gotten fabulous support. They were soft-pedaling the political thing, because they identified the political enemy, and it was consistent, no matter whom they talked to. They identified the people who were going to nix this thing, and that means the community is going to kiss away $147 million. That just makes no sense. So, I think the city will try and do something, but there’s only about seven days left in the session, and the girls are willing to make a videotape and the cable people will be willing to air it. [They] produced that video in two weeks. Those young women are going to be very politically savvy by the time they’re done with college.
River clean-up project
Bill Mittlefehldt: That’s a team of two talented young men who love our beautiful Rum River. It’s a scenic and protected river and it’s quite beautiful in Anoka and north of Anoka. They had learned from some local media that there may be a soil contamination site less than a block [from] the Rum River. In Anoka County, we have very sandy soils left from four or more periods of glaciation. That sandy soil lets contamination move quickly through the soil. Pollution in the soil moves and may threaten your aquifers, which are the layers of water that you suck up in your city well or your home residential well. So it got the guys’ attention. They come from the Fresh Water State and they know that their community has wells in the aquifer and they enjoy swimming and fishing in that river. So they teamed up with a state entity to get the background on how big that [sandy area] is and it was bigger than they thought. They had tremendous support from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The site that generated [the pollution] has been an industrial site since the turn of the century, so there’s some [question] about who is responsible [for] that particular land. These guys decided this is an issue that they care enough about because I think they want to swim and fish in that river some more or have their kids do it. They’re trying to make a difference by bringing to light more information from the city and the state.
[The City Council is going] to be highly motivated on this issue because the possible contamination of the beautiful and scenic river could be the kiss of death for the community. It was kind of cool that the team that did the presenting actually educated the Council, because they didn’t know how much it was going to cost to dispose of it, how many acres it was, and how deep the contamination runs. The City Council knew they had a problem. In fact they worked with the kids. Once the kids took the ball, they ended up going down to MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] to get more detail.
The mayor on service learning
Editor’s Note: Bjorn Skogquist graduated from Anoka High School less than six years ago. Today, at the age of 23, he is Anoka’s mayor. In his junior and senior years, he participated in major service learning projects, which inspired him to run for office.
His high school experience
Bjorn Skogquist: When I was a junior, I presented a project about prairie restoration. When I was a senior, I presented a project about restoring an amphitheater that’s about two blocks from City Hall. I was encouraged by the City Council to form a nonprofit organization [to] save and renovate the theater and get tax-exempt status, and I’ve done that. That’s been one of the things that has shaped who I am. The presentations taught me how to approach the City Council, how to be in front of a group of officials. It’s a very different thing from other presentations, and it taught me the preparedness and the knowledge that you need to have in order to be a candidate. I think it has shown me, as it has shown the students tonight, what the government perspective on the world is, and how you gather information and present to a government entity versus your teacher or your parents, for example.
Running for mayor
Bjorn Skogquist: That City Council [made a decision] in regard to a development project that I didn’t particularly agree with. They went through the motions, but they didn’t really get public input. I felt that was particularly wrong. I had a couple other issues, but that was the plank of my platform. I ran and won in 2000.
City Council presentation
Bjorn Skogquist: I was part of the process about five years ago. I believe in it. I think that it’s something valuable [that] gives students a sense of ownership of their community. Not too many people would conceive of an idea, work through the potential problems and benefits, and then actually find somebody that can do something about it. I think it’s encouraging both to the community and the students to tell the City Council [their ideas]–somebody that might actually implement your idea for you, and make the community a better place.
Bjorn Skogquist: I think the final part of any project or presentation is feedback. The students have presented to us, not just to speak at us, but to hear our comments in return. I think it’s very important for the students to take their project and gauge it to a real-world response. It’s a non-threatening way for them to hear what [our] responses are to some of their proposals and ideas, so they know what the government is all about.
They did an excellent job. The students who worked on the North Star Commuter Rail project have it right on. They’ve assessed the situation correctly, and it seems like they know what they’re talking about. I have sympathy for them for picking an issue that seems immovable, but sometimes it’s fun to watch high school kids take seemingly impossible projects and really try to come up with solutions.
Importance to citizenship
Bjorn Skogquist: We’ve gotten away from civics in education. I think school districts, just like other entities, have been separated from the city. [In the old days, schools] were overseen by churches and people in the community. Everything is compartmentalized these days. Students don’t necessarily have an opportunity to be involved and I think it’s very important to give them that in their education. Otherwise, they walk through the adolescent years not knowing what civics is or why it’s important or why they need to be involved. I think these presentations give those students a chance to see there is a need for their opinion, there is a need for their helping hand, there is a need for their ideas because people that are in government, that are in places to make decisions, don’t necessarily have the same ideas that they do. Even by presenting, they can help form a better opinion in the leaders’ minds.
Support Materials: Workshop 6: Civic Engagement
A tool for individuals and facilitators of workshop sessions.
Lesson Materials: Human Geography: Applied Civics Project--Sequence of Learning Activities
Bill Mittlefehldt’s teaching materials
Lesson Materials: Applying Geographic Information to Analyze Public Policy Issues
Bill Mittlefehldt’s teaching materials
Lesson Materials: Applied Civic Possibilities: Areas and Topics
Bill Mittlefehldt’s teaching materials
Workshop 1 Freedom of Religion
Ninth-grade civics teacher Kristen Borges involves her students at Southwest High School in Minnesota in a simulation of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on a First Amendment case. Students assume the roles of Supreme Court justices, attorneys for the school district, and attorneys for the families. They first work in groups to prepare for the hearing, then participate in the hearing, and finally, debrief their experiences and write short papers stating their positions on the case. The methodologies highlighted in this lesson include questioning strategies and mock trials.
Workshop 2 Electoral Politics
This program shows the conclusion of a 12-week civic engagement unit developed by the national Student Voices program. José Velazquez's 12th-grade students at University High School in New Jersey divide into small groups to brainstorm and research community issues, prioritize the issues on the basis of what they have learned, present their findings to the class both orally and through a visual presentation, and develop a whole-class consensus on a youth agenda that they present to the mayoral candidates in a televised question-and-answer forum. The methodologies highlighted in this lesson include issue identification and consensus building.
Workshop 3 Public Policy and the Federal Budget
Leslie Martin's ninth-graders at West Forsyth High School in North Carolina create, present, revise, and defend a federal budget, and then reflect on what they have learned. After assuming the roles of the President and his or her advisors to create a federal budget, students are introduced to the actual 2001 federal budget, and in a whole-class discussion, discuss some key concepts involved in creating it. Next, students return to cooperative learning groups, revise their budgets based on what they learned, present their revised budgets, and simulate a Congressional hearing. This lesson highlights the integration of teacher-directed instruction with small-group work.
Workshop 4 Constitutional Convention
Matt Johnson teaches an AP Comparative Government class to seniors at Benjamin Banneker Senior High School in Washington, DC. In this lesson, his 12th-grade students create a constitution for a hypothetical country called Permistan. Matt Johnson uses this lesson to help students review for their final exam and the AP exam by having them draw on what they have learned during the semester about international governments. Students work in cooperative learning groups to discuss and debate issues relating to the executive and legislative branches of government. The lesson closes with a simulation of a constitutional convention. Simulation is the primary methodology highlighted in this lesson.
Workshop 5 Patriotism and Foreign Policy
The students in this program are seniors at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a public magnet school in Washington, DC. In this lesson, U.S. government teacher Alice Chandler has her students create a Museum of Patriotism and Foreign Policy. The lesson alternates between whole-class discussion and small-group committee work as students create a gallery for the museum using their respective arts concentration as the medium. The lesson concludes with students presenting their gallery contributions in dance, music, theatrical performances, and visual presentations, along with rationales for their selections. This lesson highlights small-group work as a constructivist methodology.
Workshop 6 Civic Engagement
This program shows a group of 11th- and 12th-grade students at Anoka High School in Minnesota engaging in service learning — a requirement for graduation. In this human geography class taught by Bill Mittlefehldt, students work in teams to define a project, choose and meet with a community partner who can help educate them about the issue and its current status, conduct further research, and present the problem and a proposed solution first to their peers, and then to a special session of the Anoka City Council. The primary methodology presented in this lesson is service learning.
Workshop 7 Controversial Public Policy Issues
In this 12th-grade law class at Champlin Park High School in Minnesota, JoEllen Ambrose engages students in a structured discussion of a highly controversial issue — racial profiling — and connects student learning both to their study of due process in constitutional law and police procedure in criminal law. Students begin by completing an opinion poll, which they discuss as a group. Students are then put into pairs in which they conduct research on the topic. Next, students participate in a debate in which each partnership argues both sides of the issue. A debriefing discussion completes the lesson. The methodologies highlighted in this lesson include role playing and structured academic controversy.
Workshop 8 Rights and Responsibilities of Students
Students in Matt Johnson's 12th-grade law course at Benjamin Banneker Senior High School in Washington, DC, engage in a culminating activity to help them review and apply what they have learned. Students write and distribute one-page briefs of Supreme Court cases they have studied. Next, students are assigned to small groups and given hypothetical cases related to student rights cases from the Supreme Court's 2001-2002 term. Students prepare their cases and present them to the Justices. Justices deliberate and present majority and dissenting opinions, after which the class discusses both the process and the disposition of the cases. This lesson highlights the use of case studies for synthesis and analysis.
Supporting Materials Introduction: Making Civics Real
Supplemental material for educators/facilitators