Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers
Electoral Politics — Workshop Session
Lesson Topic: Electoral Politics
Key Constructivist Methodologies:
- Issue identification
- Consensus building
Teacher: Jose E. Velazquez
School: University High School, Newark, NJ
Grade Level: 12th Grade
Course: Law in Action
- To research and identify community issues students want the mayoral candidates to address and connect those to candidate platforms
- To develop consensus-building skills
- To engage students as lifelong participants in the political process
The lesson seen in the program culminates a 12-week unit developed by the national Student Voices Project to engage students in the civic life of their community. It was videotaped just prior to the 2002 mayoral election in Newark, New Jersey. Students divide into small groups to brainstorm and research specific community issues, prioritize the issues studied on the basis of what they have learned, present their findings to the class both orally and through a visual presentation, develop a whole-class consensus on a Student Voices agenda of issues they think the next mayor should address, and study the candidates’ positions on the issues they have chosen to track.
The downloadable Support Materials listed under Sessions lead you through the viewing of the workshop video and the related activities and discussions for “Electoral Politics.” 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 materials described below—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.
The Lesson Plan provides information on Jose Velazquez’s method of teaching the lesson on electoral politics, the national standards this lesson addresses, additional resources and his teaching materials, including:
Evaluation Form: Outcome or Product for Cooperative Learning Project (PDF)
Rubric: Outcome or Product for Cooperative Learning Project (PDF)
Teacher Perspectives offers Jose Velazquez’s reflections on the following topics:
- Civic involvement
- Connecting constructivism and citizenship
- Teaching challenges
- Building consensus and closure
- Student challenges
- Informal assessment
- Getting started
- Forming groups
- Students’ presentations
- Lessons learned
- Advice to other teachers
- Newark mayoral campaign
- Remaining neutral
- His background
The Student Voices Project
The Student Voices Project is a national initiative that works with schools in selected cities to engage high school students in local political campaigns. This article explains why it came into being and how it operates.
The 26th Amendment and Youth Voting Rights
by Wynell Schamel
One effect of the Vietnam War on the United States was to lower the voting age to 18. Schamel, an education specialist at the Education Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, introduces the 26th Amendment.
The San Diego Unified School District Triton/Patterns Project developed this guide to help both students and teachers understand what consensus means and how to achieve it in group settings.
Voting Isn’t Enough
By G. Dale Greenawald
Citizenship education must go beyond the “hows and whys” of voting to explore leadership, conflicts over power, and the issues at stake in elections. Instructional activities to promote enduring democratic behaviors through broad voter education are presented. G. Dale Greenawald is an educational consultant who has published extensively in the field of social studies education, and recently served on the faculty of the University of Northern Colorado.
Voting Is Essential
by Rick Blasing
Blasing, a social studies instructor at LaCrosse High School, LaCrosse, Kansas, who also serves as a part-time faculty member in the social science department at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kansas, describes a lesson plan to help students formulate their own political opinions in an election campaign through a critical examination of political advertisements, candidate debates, and political cartoons.
See Other Lessons
Lesson Materials: Student Issues Agenda Developed by Students at University High School, Newark, N.J.
Supplemental material 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