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“Assemble!” – Teaching Civics in an Election Year

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  • Kayla Fletcher
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The right teacher – either in the classroom or at home – can change everything in your present and in your future. When students connect on a “real-life” level, it encourages and makes them want to participate and engage, and I’ve seen it happen as a student, an educator and an Arkansas PBS Education Program Specialist.

However, until my senior year of high school, I’m not sure I really had a favorite subject. The point of taking world geography as an elective was to earn an easy grade, but Mr. Futterer (shout out to Dardanelle High School) opened my eyes to a completely new way of learning. At first, I didn’t seek a career in education. I went on to complete a BA in Journalism with emphasis in broadcast and public relations, which gave me an opportunity to see how mass communication plays a huge role in the importance of the social sciences. I then made the decision to go back to school and earn a BA in Secondary Education with emphasis in Social Sciences and Journalism. At the time, I didn’t know exactly how I would combine what many see as two completely different careers but, in time, it happened.

The Beginning

Well before it became “Assemble! Teaching Civics in an Election Year,” back in the summer of 2016, the idea for this civics curriculum came to me. I created it with the hopes of engaging my students in the election, which is hard in general, but even harder when you teach virtually. I was thankful for the opportunity to teach civics in an election year, and I wanted to do something meaningful, exciting, thought-provoking and memorable. What started out as an idea led to an incredibly full-blown project that could have continued on into many more discussions and tasks. At the end of each week, I wrote a reflection over what the students and I had covered and how I felt that it went, what I could do better next time, and self-reflect on my own teaching style in order for future improvements.

Adapting for Virtual Learning

This project was everything that I hoped that it would be and more. With virtual learning, I felt that challenging myself to think “outside of the box” was necessary if I wanted my students to think critically about the content. I adapted lesson plans that were meant for a “brick and mortar” setting and turned them into something just as challenging for my students who were hundreds of miles apart. Through this venture, I was able to incorporate individual work, group work, critical thinking, self-evaluation, peer-evaluation, numerous questioning techniques, multiple formative assessments and seminar-like discussions that became student led, which is really every secondary educator’s dream.

Civics Education in Action

My students enjoyed getting to discuss issues and topics that both mattered to them and were critically important for the culture of my classroom. The students were able to hear multiple sides to every issue that was brought up, analyze it and show empathy for one another with an understanding that we are not all the same and that is okay. I was able to learn even more about my students through this project. I saw their personalities shine through in different ways. Some students were very comfortable speaking on camera and engaging in the lesson, while others were better at putting their thoughts down on paper. Many students who didn’t say much about the election or candidates during the process made sure to speak up after the results were revealed.

These students were so incredibly intellectual and were filled with a mass amount of knowledge that was yearning to be released. I believe that connecting with students on a “real-life” level, encourages and makes them want to participate and engage. When these students began to understand that they had a voice, and that it mattered, the puzzle pieces began to come together. Even though we were talking about issues, candidates, the voting process, the media, amongst other topics, the students were able to connect the dots to the material they were learning through their Learning Management System (LMS).

I was, and still am, so proud of how seriously my students acted during the course of this project. They put both time and effort into their responses and in their virtual discussions. I am hopeful that this will be something that they remember in the future and are able to look back on as a fantastic “hands-on” learning experience.

Growing With ArkansasIDEAS

I always said that I looked forward to making this project better each time that it is taught and hoped that future students will both enjoy and learn from it as well. And now, what started as a small idea, is known as ArkansasIDEAS course “Assemble! Teaching Civics in an Election Year.”

Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, numerous politicians have voiced both their fears and the potential consequences of being part of a government “for the people and by the people” that lacks the initiative and drive to arm themselves with knowledge of our country’s election process and the power the American people hold. Teaching the foundations of American government and the democratic process is necessary to build a more engaged, active future citizens and informed voters.

This “Assemble!” toolkit for educators will help you examine the investigation of problem solving in society and the importance of civic participation in the democratic process. The toolkit will also help provide you the tools necessary to support your students, both face-to-face and virtually, in modeling the participation and deliberation of civic duties in an election year.

Going Beyond the Classroom

While the toolkit was initially designed for classroom civics and government teachers with students in grades 7-12, the Arkansas PBS team found the value in expanding this beyond just the general classroom. Thus, plans were made to create another version that modified the existing project to provide resources and activities for parents of children of all grade levels, which can be found in the “Assemble!” toolkit for parents.

I believe it’s highly important to start civic education early if we want our children to develop an understanding of how to ask questions, become educated voters and learn how to speak to other citizens in productive ways in order to solve problems.

LEARN MORE:

Civics Education With ArkansasIDEAS and AR-CAN

GET STARTED:

Assemble! Toolkit for Educators

Assemble! Toolkit for Parents

About the author: Kayla Fletcher, Arkansas PBS education program specialist, is a licensed 7-12 educator who has previously taught civics, economics, world geography, Arkansas history and sociology. She earned both of her Bachelor of Arts degrees from Arkansas Tech University.