Civics Lessons Beyond the Election

I’ve seen the flurry of election related blog posts in the last two months, and I’ve read about some exciting ways to use the Internet in your classroom to teach election politics in an engaging way, but what happens after election day? When all of the campaign messages go off the air, the frenzy and energy that students bring into the classroom about the election is gone, and we rediscover what life was like 18 or so months ago, how do we find ways to carry on lessons about civics and democratic values beyond the hype of the election season?

I’ll admit that I’ve used the election to prime my 4th graders for studying the Core Democratic Values, in hopes that their excitement will lead to a better understanding of what it means to take part in a democracy beyond simply voting. Since the CDVs seem to be taught at almost every level to varying degrees, I thought it would be best to have my 4th grade classes put them into their own words, so I visited the American Epic website to get some ideas. A joint effort by several American and German institutions, including many Michigan organizations like our own State Department of Education, the American Epic website hosts a large number of engaging, and interactive movies and role playing games that allow students to see the Core Democratic Values in action.

I’ve blogged before about their “You Be The Judge” activity, a favorite of mine, that focuses on helping elementary-age students discover different way they can exercise constitutional rights. As the students follow the story of a small grade school trying to keep a historic tree from being cut down near their property, learners can make different choices that affect the outcome of the story. This time around, I’m using the excellent Core Democratic Values series of movies to help students create their own movies about the CDVs. The movies work well with my 4th graders, but they could easily be used with early middle school as well. Other movies and activities include real-life examples from issues of slavery to the building of bypasses through neighboring communities. Many of the movies play well to later elementary and middle school students working independently, but the movies could also be used as an anticipatory set for early elementary students.

And like most good websites that help students learn about civics, it’s free (YAY!), with offline activities in the form of illustrated notebooks students can create. There’s also some nice interactive demos geared towards 1st and 2nd grade teachers that delve into ancient history and significant world events of the 20th century (World War 1, Post War America in the 40s, etc.).

It’s a fantastic website to use as an engaging hook, and while it isn’t suited well to older students in high school, many of the movies could serve as good examples for projects students in high school could create. I’ll definitely make sure to share my 4th graders’ movies when they’re finished, some come back around Thanksgiving to see what we’ve created.

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