View Lessons by Subject > Social Studies & Government > Clarity
My favorite area of study at school is Geography and I therefore took AP Human Geography my Junior Year. Although I found the entire course engaging, the unit of study I found most interesting and that I felt particularly motivated in was the international politics and relations unit. The combination of class activities, readings, and discussions created an environment in which I could understand and delve into the material more thoroughly than I may have in other units. All the units were structured in a similar manner but this module happened to be the one that worked best for me. I really enjoyed the articles we read since they helped me to understand and relate material we covered in class to real world situations. The group projects allowed me to apply my knowledge to current events I find interesting and the group discussions helped me to view the material from many different perspectives.
One of many projects that I have enjoyed this year is a project where we explained what it means to be an American citizen. The first day of school my teacher gave us a blank card. Knowing nothing about American history, we wrote what it means to be a U.S. citizen for us. After our first unit, again we wrote what it means to us to be an American citizen, again on a bigger card. Our answers had grown so much since the first day of school, which made me realize how much I had grown in just one unit. Just a week ago we finished our second unit. So again, we wrote another card that was even bigger than the second one, showing how much we have grown over time. This made me realize how much I have learned over the course of the semester. I am so excited to learn more and see how much I know by the end of the year. This project was great for me because I could see the progress I have made. It is great to see the steps of the learning I have gone through.
I am a 7th grade U.S. History/Government teacher. One lesson I have that is particularly effective is when I teach about how a bill becomes a law. There is a really nice model in my textbook that explains the entire process from the House to the Senate through various committees all the way to the President signing it or vetoing it. The three things in my lesson that really make it work are 1. Using a current example of something here at school in place of a bill so they can relate to it, 2. Having them write their own bill, breaking them up into committees in both the House and the Senate, having them debate and either reject or pass a bill before I, as President, sign or veto it and 3. On Grandparent’s Day, having their grandparents, as the Senate, debate various bills the girls, as the House, have created strictly about the school. The first part allows me to make the material much more understandable and relatable to the girls as opposed to some random example from the textbook. This year, I used the example of our school, along with our brother school, debating over whether German should be taught in the High School. This was an actual discussion had late last year at both schools. Second, when the girls get to write their own bill, the only requirement I have is that it makes either the city, state or country a better place. I am always impressed with the ideas the girls come up with. Actually, that is one of my favorite parts of being a teacher; when a student thinks of something you didn’t and it instantly makes the lesson better. They really enjoy trying to get their bills passed, lobbying their fellow Representatives and Senators and compromising in many different ways with people they normally never agree with in class. Even when it isn’t their bill being debated, they really get into serving on the committees, updating bills and voting on them. They REALLY enjoy passing bills over my veto, which does occasionally happen. Finally, I have them write a bill just for something they would like to see changed at school. This is a homework assignment right after we have completed the previous lesson and right before we have Grandparent’s Day. When the grandparents come to class, the girls, as the House, present their bills and usually pass them because they have to do with abolishing the dress code, limited homework or half-day Fridays. The grandparents play the role of the Senate and almost always vote down every bill sent to them. The really interesting part is to watch the girls get frustrated and then realize they have to limit their expectations in order to compromise with their grandparents. By the end of class, out of 15-20 proposed bills, 5-7 amended bills have been passed.
I teach 11th Grade U.S. Government and Politics (both an A.P. and a regular section), a course that can appear remote and uninteresting to girls because they tend to feel that government is remote and uninteresting to them. One question that I field regularly is “why do I have to learn this?”, a just question in my mind, when I’m asking a student to memorize the powers delegated to Congress in Article I of the Constitution or to recreate the intricacies of the legislative process or struggle through the Federalist Papers. I spend a lot of time considering how to answer that question, both in response to specific complaints but also when I sit and think about my course over the summer and revisit my essential questions and the scope and sequence of my curriculum. I have truly come to believe that teaching government makes no sense if it does not empower each and every student to feel confident that she can have an impact on shaping the type of nation she wants to live in. This is all in way of introducing a particular project that has become a center piece of my course: the pathways of action project.

The project challenges girls to create a pathway of action in an issue that she cares deeply about (my criteria is that it must be an issue that she would be willing to get out of bed early on a Saturday to do some work for). That pathway of action must reflect her nuanced understanding of government and the way in which she--as a citizen--can interact with that government to create change. The project extends over the course of several weeks because the girls add to their pathway as they learn new content. So, for example, one part of the project asks the students to identify allies both in the government and out of the government. As they learn about interest groups, they examine interest groups through the lens of their issue, finding allies who are engaged in advocating for the same things that they are advocating for. As they learn about the legislative process, they learn what Congress can and cannot do (based on delegated powers) to create change in their issue area and learn to distinguish between responsibilities that reside within the government and those that belong with citizens or communities. They have a series of prompts to answer which they keep organized on a Google doc that I have access to. These prompts are not assessed as final products but instead as steps along the way to a culminating presentation. The Google doc allows for a lot of collaboration between myself and the individual students in my class. In the end, they are required to present a speech to their classmates--modeled on the TED speeches--which presents an idea worth sharing: how they would create change in the issue that they care most deeply about. Out of all the projects and activities that I do all year long in government, this is the one that seems to get the students working outside of class, and even outside of school. Not all of them, but certainly a group each year, will turn this from an academic interest into something more substantive and reach out to make contact with other like-minded individuals. Often times I receive feedback from students telling me that they’ve never had a teacher ask them what they wanted to study-as opposed to being told what to study. And the project has resulted in several senior mentorships the next year. I’ve also seen students who are shy about participating in seminar discussions or class in general stand up before.