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Making Civics Real Workshop 4: Constitutional Convention  
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Workshop 4

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Teacher Perspectives: His background

Matt Johnson: When I first graduated from college, I did odds-and-ends jobs. I moved to Washington, D.C., [and] worked for a couple of political think tanks, sort of as an intern. Then I made my way into working as a legislative librarian for a law firm and did that for four or five years and enjoyed learning about the practice on the Hill. Then I said, “I have to do something where I’m my own boss.” So I took courses at night and then student taught at a junior high here in D.C. and the principal put in a call and I got an offer to come here. So that’s how I ended up at Banneker. I had studied political science in college so civics was the natural fit.

I began teaching at Banneker ten years ago. I began teaching with the idea that teachers should be the center of the learning process--the traditional way. That’s how I had been taught. I had had a course that was reinforcing another way, which is to turn things over to the kids. When I student taught, the teacher that I worked with was pretty good about cooperative learning. But once [you get your] own class, you fall back on what you assume is the best way and gives you the most control. After the first year, and even during the first year of my teaching, [I began to] notice things. Kids weren’t retaining information. They might do well on a test on Friday but when you went back and talked about it or related the material a week later, there were blank stares. They hadn’t really taken any ownership in what we had studied. In lecturing, if you’re observant, you notice [when] kids aren’t paying attention. They’re doing other work. They are nodding off. So there are a couple of things that really focused me that this wasn’t working, and there are other ways to do it. I realized if I have control [over the class] it’s maybe through boredom. So I just started to go back to some of the things that I had been exposed to--getting kids into groups, doing projects in class.

I approach any lesson [asking], “How can I have the kids manipulate this? What can I do to get them more involved?” Because these are seniors, they're very calculating. They'll just read it, learn it, and forget it and move on to the next topic. That's not what I want. I'd like them to continue to learn, continue to add to what they already know. Through trial and error, I realized you can’t just be the ‘sage on the stage.’ As I started to evolve and do more cooperative learning, I could see a greater understanding of the total picture when we would look at a unit. And to be honest, the kids had more fun and I had more fun. I still have to know the material and I still have to reinforce what we've done in a cooperative learning activity, but it doesn't require me to stand up and regurgitate it in front of the class for three straight days. I think it's just more enjoyable as a teacher and I think the kids enjoy it also. They have a bigger stake in what goes on every day.


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