Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Political Participation, Professional Development, Projects, Required Documents, Teachable Moments, Teaching Tips

Teaching Controversial Topics… like abortion laws

 

Love is a much needed emotion in today’s world and it is always welcomed. It is a great way of cashing in on your own moral savings. Many people donate to charities that they are passionate about, they also donate to

 

As I scroll through social media, it’s hard to miss that Georgia and Alabama have recently passed the nation’s strictest abortion laws. So, naturally, when students walk in they want to know what I think.

I think that certain factions are trying to overturn Roe v. Wade (my standard response, which my students understand.

I’m not about to discuss my views because in my classroom, it’s not relevant.) I will not discuss this right at the beginning of my class because I need time to get to know my students. This is why I do my Civil Liberties and Civil Rights unit at the end of my class. When discussing the 2nd amendment or abortion case law as civil liberties, I need my students to know the procedures and be comfortable in the classroom. In my classroom, opinion is not relevant. You can have your opinion, but we aren’t about to debate gun rights or abortion. My job is to give you information about the Constitution, how to find relevant and trustworthy sources, and teach you how to develop an educated argument.

I’m going to assume that this issue will continue and have already started to consider how I will address it with my students next year. Here are some I have collected to help with #1 and #2 on the 5 ways to improve your practice. If you are curious about #4, I discuss it in The New York Times Op-Ed in AP Government.

  • This USA Today article gives information on the states’ abortion laws. The quantitative analysis could be a great warm up to discuss federalism (Unit 1)
    • How do states have the ability to pass laws that differ from others based on Supreme Court cases?
  • Discussing the sides of abortion in relation to factions and Federalist 10. Abortion will likely be a constant source of division because there are so many factions within the argument.
  • A great source for teachers to learn is Body Politic from Oyez. It features Roe v. Wade, Casey v. Planned Parenthood (and Justice O’Connor’s famous undue burden standard), Gonzales v. Carhart, and Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
    • In my classroom, I skip over Gonzales because of the content. Roe v Wade is a required case, Casey sets a different standard, and Whole Women’s Health is the case I was at the Supreme Court for so I know a lot about it. 
  • The Future of Abortion Laws: “Two leading voices from organizations on different sides of today’s biggest debates over reproductive rights and abortion laws—Catherine Glenn Foster of Americans United for Life and Dr. Kelli Garcia of National Women’s Law Center—join host Jeffrey Rosen to explore the key cases making their way up to the Supreme Court. Garcia and Foster also share their views on landmark abortion precedent like Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and the more recent case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and predict how precedent might affect the outcomes of challenges to pending abortion laws at the federal level and in states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi.” The Constitution Center.
    • I love the Constitution Center so much. The podcasts show both sides and have a very educated discussion based on law.
  • FiveThirtyEight Politics
    • This podcast goes through political ideology, polling, how cases go through the Court system, and the 2020 election. I would assign this to listen to at home or listen to it in class so that I am available to answer questions since I am the content expert.
  • The Words We Live By by Linda Monk
    • First of all, I love this book. Secondly, pages 222-224 has a great explanation of abortion under the 14th amendment.

 

With all controversial topic, knowing your kids and having your kids know procedures in your class is super important.

I plan for the comments that get us off track or may be inflammatory. My standard response is, “I appreciate your opinion, but we need to stick to the facts and get back on track.” I may not appreciate their opinion, but I want to keep my classroom a place where students can make mistakes and learn.

How do you navigate controversial topics in your AP Government class?

 

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Political Participation, Projects, Required Documents, Teaching Tips, Writing for AP Gov

Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government

Besides teaching AP Government, I also teach 8th grade. In one of my classes, I have 31 students and the other has 10. Every time we do class discussions, I have to really figure out how to vary the instruction to allow all students to talk and learn. This also allows me to try new techniques!

I’ve also been reviewing the year and my AP Government students just could not fully grasps really using evidence and reasoning. I loved this with my 8th graders and will incorporate it with AP next year, especially after reflecting on my practice as my students are currently sitting in their test.

The set up: We just finished our economics unit and I needed a transition to our final exam, which is a Moot Court on a current case (the students haven’t yet decided which one and yes, I do Moot Court with my 8th graders) Our DBQ is from Voices of History from the Bill of Rights Institute (requires a log in but is free and an amazing resource, including eight of the required cases). We chose to do Kelo v. New London. Let me tell you something, it’s a beast! It also lends PERFECTLY into an argumentation essay.

Day 1: read and annotate the background essay and have a small class discussion to ensure understanding

Days 2-3 (depending on time and length of documents) I split the handouts into sections for groups of 4-5 (depending on class size). In those groups, the students become ‘experts’ in those documents. They answer the questions and think about how to use that evidence to answer the question provided, in this case “Evaluate the Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London”

Day 4- Four minute Socratic seminars:

  • Students within their groups will have a Socratic discussion regarding their assigned documents and the overall prompt. There are leading questions within the DBQ.
  • I give 4 minutes for the discussion within the group. The rest of the students are taking notes. In my classroom, I have 6 groups, but this can be adjusted for any number of students.
    • For my class of 10, I will have each of them become an expert on a set of documents and talk us through them as I record the evidence on the board.
img_0519
I took notes during their Socratic seminars

It’s very simple and can be adjusted to accommodate any classroom. I was able to sit with some groups and help them with some of the meatier pieces. After this round of Socratic discussions, students should be well equipped to write an argumentative essay. My kids killed it because we read AND discussed before they wrote.

If you are doing this with your first DBQ, it’s a great time to introduce the argumentative essay rubric and discuss what is expected of them. At this point, students will write their argumentative essays. (Oh, and the famous Brutus 1) After the first one, you can lessen the time in class needed as the process has been established. For me, the Socratic discussion is the most important part to do in class.

Here’s the clincher- Students either get all the points OR a Z. I learned about this from a college professor. Earning a Z means you aren’t quite done yet. You have the rubric and have seen what you’ve earned, but you also see what you haven’t earned and you have an opportunity to go back and adjust your writing to earn those point. The purpose for this is to get them to a point where they know they have an opportunity for feedback and revision. The end goal is to ensure they know how to write an argumentative essay and how to understand the rubric to get all of the points. Depending on your schedule, you can give up to two weeks (or for me, the end of the unit) to submit their revisions. I realize this will be a lot of front loading, so I may do it as groups to start with. Luckily, I start school in July so I will be able to test it out before many of you are in school.

Continue reading “Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government”

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Projects, Required Documents, Teachable Moments

The State of the Union Twitter Party

Article II, Section 3

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient…”

Well, this State of the Union address has been mired by the government shutdown and a disinvite to the chambers by the Speaker, so at this point I wonder when and if it will happen. Regardless of this, I wanted to think of an extra assignment that students could participate in that would require them to apply their knowledge.

In my younger teacher days, I have been guilty of giving a bingo card with just words, which in it’s own right it fun, but I wanted something this year that would require them to show what they know, not just check off a box when they hear the word. I also want to keep this as scientific as possible, and less political.

In the past, my students have used Twitter and our class hashtag. So this year, I’ve decided to plan a SOTU Twitter party. You can also do this in class without technology as you watch a SOTU speech. Since the current year is up in the air, teachers can use older speeches and paper BINGO cards.


Objective:

Students will watch the State of the Union (current or past) and find examples of the main concepts of the unit to show understanding of current application of the concepts from Unit One: Foundations of Democracy. {This can also be done with basically all other units from AP Government}

Warm-Up: The History of the State of the Union. Fun facts and a quick overview on what the State of the Union is.

Concepts: (You can use more or less depending on where you are in your units. I teach semester classes so we just finished Unit One) Students can fill out their own BINGO sheets.

  1. Participatory democracy
  2. Pluralist democracy
  3. Elitism
  4. Federalism
  5. Popular sovereignty
  6. Check and balances
  7. Separation of powers
  8. Limited government
  9. Enumerated powers
  10. Implied powers
  11. Inherent powers
  12. Reserved powers
  13. Fiscal federalism
  14. Mandates (funded or unfunded)
  15. Grants

Two examples of each

  1. Examples from Brutus I
  2. Examples from Federalist 10
  3. Examples from Federalist 51

 

On the back, reflect on observations from the speech. Where there times some people stood and some did not? Who was there and who was notably absent? What was the tone of the speech? What is important to the President and how do you know that?


During the SOTU address, students will check off boxes as they write down the example of the concept mentioned. For the Twitter Party, students will use our class hashtag and #SOTU. We will do a live tweet so as soon as they hit a BINGO, they can claim it! (for extra points) This gives students opportunities to participate in a positive social media experience. I will set guidelines for our class hashtag, as I learned my lesson last semester.

Tweets will look like this: Checks and Balances, the President mentioned his veto power over the federal budget because he ultimately approves or vetos laws Congress makes. #sotu #apschley19

*You can do this in class as they watch or with a live SOTU. The possibilities for engagement are endless!

As an assignment, I will give it the week because not every student can watch the speech live. I’d like to have a whole class discussion once this is done to ensure students see different examples from

lbj
LBJ Library

My hopes for this is it allows students to take a non-partisan look at the speech and be scientific about their observations. If you have a particularly political area you teach in, taking an old speech may help. This is the first evening televised speech by LBJ or you can have students choose their own. The main point here is to find examples that illustrate the concepts.

*** Update February 5***

Since we were able to go over the roles of the Presidency, I updated the assignment to reflect.  This can be used in class with any assignment and changed to not include social media.

 

How do your students interact with the State of the Union speech? What has worked for you in the past?

Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Projects, Required Documents

Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana… A Moot Court

It has begun. We’ve started our week of deep diving into Street Law’s Winter SCOTUS in the classroom case, Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana. This is the final exam for my AP Government class as well as my accelerated 8th graders. I have discussed how I do this in a previous post. This is how I’m doing it for this year!

We end our semester in AP Government with Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Since this case was argued November 28, the media is fresh and there is a lot of information out there. It’s in the news, it’s on podcasts, it’s part of our everyday lives.

This is how the last week and a half goes:

Preface: I’ve given them case and assignment before to allow them to look it over and decide what they will want to do or what they will be successful at. I’ve developed these roles because I know students show their knowledge in different ways. It’s an ever developing project as I get feedback from my students.

Day 1/2: Listening to oral arguments and discussing what we hear.  I started to write down the cases as they were mentioned, do a bit of research to see if they were worth a look by the students, and list them on the board. (I also get for graduation robes so the students can have robes and be a bit more official)

img_0747

Related cases:

  • McDonald v. Chicago (HELLO required Supreme Court case)
  • Bennis v. Michigan
  • von Hofe v. United States
  • US v. Bajakajian
  • Austin v. US
  • Kokesh v. SEC
  • US v. Halper
  • Van Oster v. Kansas

Vocabulary to Know:

  • in rem
  • in personam
  • civil forfeiture
  • stare decisis

 

img_0746

Day 3 (Block Day) Full practice exam– not related, but I want one last exam before they leave so I can see where they are at and personalize review assignments for the spring AP test.

Day 4,5: Research case, amicus briefs (example from SCOTUSblog), related cases, etc. I like to do a few days in class so they have each other and me, the content “expert”. There is also a podcast from First Mondays called “8,000 pounds of shark fins”. (Even though the actual case is called United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. Yes, that is real. There is also a John Oliver clip, however I don’t show it in class because… well, we all know John Oliver…

Day 6: Finalize papers and turn in. Run through what to expect with Moot Court. I look through all papers that night to ensure quality before the moot court date.

Day 7: Moot Court (It’s our final exam day and we have 90 minutes)

I will update as we move forward, but wanted to give an overview of what I’ll be doing the next few weeks!

 

Update:

Man, this was fun! I even had a student come up with their own media company to live tweet the case.

 

Things I will change for next semester:

  1. As much as I trust my students, there was an issue of misuse of technology and a student tweeting something with inappropriate language tied to our class hashtag. I had it immediately removed, but it taught me a valuable lesson.  Next time, I will review appropriate use of technology as it relates to using class hashtags and have a set punishment for. It is the unfortunate byproduct of using social media in a classroom. Lesson learned.
  2. Because I had my 8th graders do this as well, they came up with the idea to write a newspaper as they watched! {Twitter wasn’t an option}5th hour
  3. One class got off topic and the Justices were asking irrelevant questions. I need to be better at preparing them as to what to ask.
  4. The Justices in a few classes were on a mission to be tough. Next semester, I will be more specific with what they need to do. I caught one class and reminded the Justices that they are to let the lawyers answer their questions and to not try to trick them.

 

All classes were unanimous in their decisions and had so much fun!

img_0890

img_0839
We had to pack a Court because of class size. 
Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Projects

Supreme Court Hand Turkeys

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and our school is hosting a blood drive. This means sparse classes and excited students. Yesterday, I assigned them a Supreme Court case from the list I made so they could prepare for Supreme Court Dating next week. {My students loved the Bureaucratic Speed Dating we did and last year appreciated the Supreme Court speed dating because they were able to get a lot of info from it!} With the new cases, I want them to have a firm understanding of the case. It’s an easy assignment, it’s fun, and it’s awesome to see what they create! Hand Turkeys assignment.

To really get the cases, we will draw them, talk about them (Supreme Court speed dating), and write about them. I loved the way these turned out! 

Political Participation, Projects

Keeping Interest Group Interesting

As you know, I only get a semester to teach AP Government and that requires me to get a little creative when I want to make sure that students “get it”.

Enter the Interest Group Project. I introduced the project on a Thursday and made it due the next week on their block day {Wednesday/Thursday} with limited in class work time.

I like to sometimes give more creative licensing to my students. I don’t care about the format, I care about the content. This is why I didn’t put specifications on having to use PowerPoint, although most did just that or used Google Slides. Just follow the rubric. I also didn’t give them a list of interest groups because I want THEM to do some research! Per usual, they did incredibly well and I was so interested to learn about each group!

img_0321
This was the AARP group. They took it up a notch with dressing up! 

Here is a student example from the AARP. {posted with student permission}

What I will change for next time:

  • I want to add a portion of how they use high tech media to get their (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc)
  • I didn’t teach them anything about interest groups yet, because I wanted them to do this FIRST and then be able to tie it all in. I liked this, but I think I’ll try it the other way to see if it works just as good.

What I REALLY LIKED:

  • Letting them be in charge of their own learning because inevitably they chose groups they had an “interest” in researching {pun intended}
  • Giving space to research without giving too many guidelines
  • Being flexible with the guidelines
  • Requiring that most work be done outside of class since they had a choice of groups or to do the work individually.
  • They turned NOTHING in. It was all a presentation grade. I LOATHE papers everywhere, so this suited me nicely

If you try this project, let me know how it goes!