Tag Archives: civics

Civics Across the Curriculum

So much to teach and so little time to teach it all! Educators are tasked with preparing students for a multitude of tests while they are also pressed to prioritize STEM education. Furthermore, the growing interest in adapting lessons to personalized learning and performance-based tasks only adds to the demand on their time. As a result, some subjects seem to be falling by the wayside. One subject that is often sidelined is civics.

civics across curriculum

A recent 2018 nationally representative survey conducted by Education Week Research Center noted, “More than half of principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders say schools don’t focus enough on civics…” Still, educators are finding different ways to incorporate civics in other curriculum areas. Continue reading

EdTech and Civics

Throughout history, technology has served as a driving force of human society. The advent of the internet and, subsequently, the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990, altered how people interact with their environment, institutions, and each other. In the realm of education, this transformation has been no less profound. Technology and the ability to leverage electronic devices afford opportunities for improving and redesigning approaches to student learning. This is especially true within the context of civics education.

Computer-Assisted Instruction

Technology that allows content to be distributed in an online format is often referred to as computer-assisted instruction (CAI). Generally, CAI products have a fixed structure and employ knowledge-based pedagogical approaches. Think of an online civics textbook that a student can digitally access, or a website, such as CampusActivism.org, that provides consumable content and allows the user to engage with interactive features (online discussion forums, social networks, etc.). Thus, CAI products can be extremely effective in civics education.

Victory’s Boston Massacre performance-task lesson serves as an excellent example of a CAI tool. The lesson engages students in critical thinking exercises and explores the complexities of this historical event. As performance tasks guide students through each lesson component, they are given the opportunity to interact directly with the content. Students can assign weights of importance to individuals’ actions preceding the event, highlight sections of primary source text representing biased language or perspective, and interpret visually represented data. Ultimately, the students produce a piece of original, unbiased writing describing what factors most contributed to the event and a critical analysis of why the event occurred.

CAI programs allow for a wide distribution of material and provide numerous opportunities for engaging students in civics instruction. However, different applications of technology offer additional forms of instruction and learning outcomes.
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Innovating Civics Education

Thomas Jefferson once said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” Universal and timeless, Jefferson’s sentiment is especially relevant to our republic today. In a renewed focus on promoting civics education within the United States, students, teachers, and communities across the country are finding innovative ways to improve the quality of instruction, with the intent of cultivating the next generation of both leaders and involved citizens. Here are just a few examples of how they’re doing it.

Simulating the Democratic Process

A Junior Achievement program called BizTown® provides the opportunity for students to participate in a simulation of the democratic process. BizTown is a scaled-down city built for kids and designed to model many communities in America. It includes a bank, a medical clinic, television station, public utilities, and even a city hall. The simulation allows students to learn about voting in real-life scenarios as they take on active citizenship roles, such as business owners, consumers, and elected officials.

In Tucson, AZ, fifth graders from Senita Valley Elementary School use an 18-hour classroom program to introduce economic fundamentals, such as banking procedures and economic terms. Students then work together to raise money to pay for their virtual trip to BizTown. Upon arrival, the students engage in a democratic process to staff jobs and choose public officials required to run the town. They elect a mayor, appoint a CEO for each business, and pay taxes for the town’s public programs. Also, elections are held for sheriffs and judges. If a rule is broken, the offending party can hire a lawyer and present a case before one of the elected judges.

Senita Valley Elementary’s principal, Connie Erickson, says of the program, “All of our kids look forward to 5th grade and the BizTown experience.… We are always encouraging our kids to think about what they are doing for themselves, their community, and their world.”
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Why It’s Critical to Implement Civics Lessons and the C-3 Framework

Recently, citizens once again exercised their right to vote. They used the power of voting to have their voices heard. But what does it all mean? Now is the time for civics lessons that teach students civic responsibility. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and students must know how to act, deciding which actions are responsible and which are not. How do students treat others while making their voices heard? Civics lessons provide answers to these questions.

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” —John Locke

Focus on the Thinking and Motivation Behind Actions

Students need to see that every civic action has a reaction and a consequence. The actions establish a chain of events; each action is linked to a subsequent one.


© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The heart of civics lessons is not necessarily the content, but rather understanding the thinking and motivation behind the actions taken by individuals or groups. When students read about events in history, they should be able to answer the following questions:

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Insights From NCSS 2016

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Mark Twain said, “What gets us in trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know that just ain’t so.” Today’s students are bombarded with information and images and there is a need for lessons that foster critical thinking and civic responsibility. The time for strong, innovative social studies lessons has arrived. The National Council for the Social Studies conference provided a showcase of lesson, organizations, and companies that are working to meet those classroom demands. Here are some insights we gained from the NCSS 2016 convention:

  • Learning from the past is critical in thinking about the future. Primary sources are perfect tools for seeing how events unfolded, the thinking and emotions behind the events, and the impact those events have on the world today. Organizations such as The Library of Congress, The Civil War Trust, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Pennsylvania Historical Society are treasure troves of primary sources with lessons and programs that allow students to see the links between the past and the present. Companies such as Pearson highlight primary sources in their social studies programs. Gibbs Smith Education offers fine state history products. As we discussed in a recent post, it’s worth checking out your state or local historical society for primary sources that will enhance and enrich history lessons.
  • Often events are driven by economic decisions that continue to affect our daily lives. Students should learn to review and think about how the government spends money and how citizens benefit. Organizations such as the Council for Economic Education have many lessons and programs for students to explore these important issues.
  • Geography is about much more than learning map skills. Geography tells us about people, their environment, their movements, and how geography affects our daily lives. As individuals in a global world, geography knowledge is critical. The National Council for Geographic Education and Core Knowledge support geography teaching and learning at all levels where students learn not only about physical geography, but also human geography.
  • Social responsibility is critical in today’s ever-changing world. Students need to understand both the backstories of current events and must comprehend the why as well as the who and what of current events. Access to current events through videos, social media, print, and magazines is offered through Scholastic Magazines, Time Education, CNN Classroom, and Studies Weekly. These companies have products that allow students to focus on specific current events, discussing, thinking about, and understanding why things happen and what are the consequences.

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