Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers
Constitutional Convention Workshop Session
Key Constructivist Methodology:
Teacher: Matt Johnson
School: Benjamin Banneker Senior High School, Washington, D.C.
Grade Level: 12th Grade
Course: AP Comparative Government
- to review the political and constitutional organization of five countries that were previously studied and apply what was learned to a new situation.
This program concentrates on Matt Johnson’s use of a simulation in which students create a constitution for the hypothetical country of Permistan. The lesson—which Mr. Johnson uses to help students review prior to taking their final exam and the AP exam—was videotaped over a three-day period near the end of the semester. Students work in cooperative learning groups to discuss and debate issues relating to the executive and legislative branches of Permistan and then come together as a whole class to participate in a constitutional convention.
The support materials found under Sections will lead you through the viewing of the workshop video and the related activities and discussions for “Constitutional Convention.” These materials can be used by individuals and by facilitators of workshop sessions.
The support materials identify key concepts, provide discussion ideas for each video segment, and recommend follow-up activities for after the workshop session.
The following materials—Lesson Plan, Teacher Perspectives, Student Perspectives, Essential Readings and Other Lessons—provide background and context for the lesson seen in the workshop video. They also supply the tools you need to adapt this lesson and its teaching strategies for your classroom.
Information on Matt Johnson’s method of teaching the lesson on the constitutional convention, the national standards this lesson addresses, additional resources, and his teaching materials, including:
- Constitutional Convention Rubric
- Basic Data Sheet: Permistan
- Executive Branch Worksheet
- Legislative Branch Worksheet
- Judiciary Branch Worksheet
See Lesson Plan
Matt Johnson’s reflections on the following topics:
- Using simulations
- Combining methodologies
- Constructivism and civics
- Creating groups
- Guiding the process
- Debate rules
- Gauging success
- Teaching challenges
- Lessons learned
- Advice to other teachers
- His background
Matt Johnson’s 12th-grade students’ reflections on the following topics:
- Group work
- The issues
- Matt Johnson’s teaching methods
- Constructivist learning
- Civics education
Honoring the Learning Process
By Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Martin G. Brooks
In this chapter from In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms by Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Martin G. Brooks (Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1999), the Grennons introduce one of the most basic ideas about constructivist teaching—how children learn. Jacqueline Books is Associate Professor in the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Martin G. Brooks is Superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School District in Valley Stream, New York.
Student Exercise in Democracy
Excerpted from Constitution Translated for Kids by Cathy Travis. Dayton, Ohio: Oakwood Publishing, 2001. Pages 69-72, 75-77.
In this article, Cathy Travis, a long-term Congressional staff person for Congressman Solomon Ortiz (D-Tex.), presents a lesson on how to amend the U.S. Constitution and engages students in consideration of the pros and cons of potential new amendments. She focuses particularly on current topics and those of particular interest to students, e.g., the voting age, smoking, campaign finance. The lesson is written in a manner that can be shared directly with students.
See Other Lessons
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