Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers
Controversial Public Policy Issues — Workshop Session
Key Constructivist Methodologies:
- Structured Academic Controversy
Teacher: JoEllen Ambrose
School: Champlin Park High School, Champlin, MN
Grade Level: 12th Grade
Course: Social Studies 12 Law
- To engage students in defining, explaining, and evaluating an issue; presenting well-supported arguments; and reaching a consensus.
- To build on students’ own opinions and experiences and help them develop a deeper understanding and more complex picture of key public policy issues.
- To examine the tension that exists in our democracy between the government’s interest in promoting public safety and individual rights.
In this 12th-grade Law class at Champlin Park High School in Champlin, 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 to police procedure in their study of criminal law. She begins by having students individually complete an opinion poll, which they then discuss as a group, realizing that the issue of profiling becomes increasingly complex as examples of it get closer to their personal experience. By physically engaging the students (they move around from “Agree” to “Disagree” to “Undecided” positions as the discussion proceeds), they get both a visceral and visual sense of the controversy. The poll is primarily a motivating activity to engage students’ interest. Next, working in pairs, they delve into studying a research packet that JoEllen Ambrose has prepared, reading local and national sources on the topic of racial profiling. The next activity pairs students in a structured debate. The framework for this debate is highly specific with regard to both time and task and is designed to have each partnership argue both sides of the issue. Each group of four is next charged with the task of developing a consensus position on the issue and presenting it to the class. A debriefing discussion completes the lesson.
The support materials found below under Sections will lead you through the viewing of the workshop video and the related activities and discussions for “Controversial Public Policy Issues.” 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 and 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 JoEllen Ambrose’s method of teaching the lesson on controversial public policy issues, the national standards this lesson addresses, additional resources, and her teaching materials, including:
- Structured Academic Controversy: Student Expectations and Evaluation
- Student Self-Evaluation Form
- What’s Your Opinion?
- Racial Profiling: A Structured Controversy
- Consensus Sheet for Group
- Bibliography of Research Articles
See Lesson Plan
JoEllen Ambrose’s reflections on the following topics:
- The importance of the lesson
- Lesson goals
- The issues
- Getting started teaching controversial issues
- Debate preparation
- Structured controversy
- Consensus building
- Her role in discussions
- Group-learning strategies
- Lessons learned
- Timing issues
- Assessing individuals
- Assessing groups
- Advice to other teachers
- Using constructivist methodologies with other topics
- Using textbooks
- Using technology
- Her background
- Her legal education
- Evolution of her teaching style
- Professional development
- School administration and community
- Judging effectiveness
- Modeling democratic principles
JoEllen Ambrose’s 12th-grade students’ reflections on the following topics:
- Discussing controversial topics
- Racial profiling
- Lessons learned
- Working in groups and with partners
- JoEllen Ambrose’s teaching style
- Hands-on learning
By David Johnson and Roger Johnson, University of Minnesota Center for Cooperative Learning
Johnson and Johnson have pioneered research on cooperative learning. In this article they provide further guidance on the debate method used by JoEllen Ambrose in this lesson.
Creating Strategies and Conditions for Civil Discourse About Controversial Issues
By John Allen Rossi
John Allen Rossi, an assistant professor of education at Virginia Commonwealth University, examines several major approaches to teaching about controversial issues, explores their benefits and weaknesses, and looks at how they might be combined with a variety of constructivist methodologies. At the end of the article, Rossi presents an annotated list of instructional materials for teaching controversial issues.
See Other Lessons
Supporting Materials: Workshop 7: Controversial Public Policy Issues
Supplemental materials for educators
Assessment: Making Civics Real — Structured Academic Controversy: Student Expectations and Evaluation (PDF)
Supplemental materials for educators and students
Lesson Materials: Racial Profiling: A Structured Controversy
Supplemental materials for educators and students
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