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.
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
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.
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.
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.”