Classroom Resources for this Election Season

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

This week, marked the beginning of both the holiday shopping season and the official start of the midterm election season. As Shawn stated in an earlier blog, less than a week remains for candidates representing established parties in Illinois to file their petitions for the March primaries.


While resources for presidential elections are plentiful, teachers are often left scrambling for midterm election materials to engage their students. There are a number of tools from civic organizations and educational partners that provide a foundation for involving students in the 2018 election season. Here is a list to start with.
We hope this list helps support your efforts to engage your students in the upcoming election season. What materials are you using that are NOT listed above? Please share in the comment section below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.

'Tis the Season to Pass Petitions

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Attention holiday shoppers: Only one week remains for federal, state, and county candidates representing established political parties in Illinois to file petitions for the March 20, 2018 primary. The December 4th deadline (today is the first day candidates may file) requires legislative and congressional candidates from the Democratic and Republican Parties to furnish valid signatures equal or greater than half a percent of total votes cast for the office they are seeking in the previous election.

As detailed in this Illinois Issues article, third party candidates must clear a higher five percent threshold, making Illinois one of the most restrictive states challengers to the two-party system. This requirement survived a recent court challenge, but another is in the works taking on the standard that third parties must field a full slate of candidates for constitutional offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, and Comptroller).

The race for Illinois Governor is in full swing, with hotel heir J.B. Pritzker leading a crowded field of Democrats seeking to take the (renovated) mansion back from Bruce Rauner. The incumbent Governor has attracted a challenger of his own in State Representative Jeanie Ives. The Wheaton Republican threw her hat in the ring shortly after Rauner signed legislation that increased access to abortion through the state’s health care system.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s surprise announcement that she would not seek a fifth term unleashed a wide open primary among Democrats. State Senator Kwame Raoul, Chicago Park District President Jesse Ruiz, and former Governor Pat Quinn are among the favorites for a position that would place them on the frontlines in battles over federalism with President Trump’s Homeland Security and Justice Departments. Former Miss America winner and Champaign attorney Erica Harold will likely be the Republican challenger come November 2018.

Illinois Democracy Schools are leading the way by engaging students in the petitioning process and parallel primary debates. Stevenson High School Social Studies Teacher Andrew Conneen, the suburban coordinator for Mikva Challenge's Elections in Action programs, recently organized a Petition Palooza for Lake County high schools that are part of the Mikva Challenge network.

This is the first opportunity for Illinois students to take advantage of a change in Illinois election law that allows any registered voter (including 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the general election in November) to sign and distribute candidate nominating petitions.

Students invited candidates from both parties who are seeking election to offices ranging from Governor to Lake County board.

With competitive primaries expected in the 6th and 10th congressional districts as well as the 59th state representative district (including a current college student and Stevenson graduate), more than 30 campaigns were represented at the Petition Palooza. Most impressive was the 130-plus students that showed up to sign petitions as their first civic action as newly registered voters.

Finally, Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream is hosting a candidate forum for the eight challengers seeking the Democratic nomination in the 6th Congressional District. The forum will begin at 7pm on Tuesday, December 12, and be moderated by Mary Ann Ahern of NBC-5 Chicago.


This seat held by incumbent Peter Roskam, also of Wheaton, is one of 23 districts won by Hillary Clinton and a Republican congressional candidate, making it among the prime pickup targets for Democrats dreaming of winning back the House.

Civics in the Spotlight at #NCSS2017

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

This past weekend, thousands of educators from across the nation gathered in San Francisco for the annual National Council for the Social Studies conference. Civics took center stage at many workshops with recognition of innovative practitioners, new resources for classroom teachers and affirmation of the importance of empowering ALL students for college, career and civic life.


Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation led an exciting session about the Action Civics initiative. The highlight of the presentation was the participation of a panel of youth from around the country that shared the significance of informed action in developing the knowledge, skills and dispositions of effective civic engagement.

With support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) debuted a new resource called Civic Online Learning designed to help students acquire, “the ability to judge the credibility of the information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets, and computer screens.” Educators will find a series of flexible assessment tools in both paper and digital form for classroom use.

Joe Kahne and Erica Hodgin from the Civic Engagement Research Group highlighted materials they developed in partnership with the Teaching Channel. Educating for a Democracy Deep Dive provides a curated collection of videos accompanied by educational resources related to preparing youth for civic and political life in the digital age. It provides a way for educators to see civic education in action and find resources to support their efforts.

I was privileged to serve on a panel related to using current and controversial issues in the classroom and present on behalf of PolitiCraft, an action civics card game. In PolitiCraft, students construct a narrative around an issue of importance in their community and learn the various avenues they can pursue in order to take informed action. The game has curriculum aligned to both the Illinois Social Studies standards and Common Core Literacy standards.


One of the more exciting events I attended at #NCSS17 was the planning session for next year’s conference in Chicago on November 30- December 2, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency. The theme of the conference is Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow, The Future of Social Studies. Proposals for the conference will be open in December. Stay tuned for more information on how you can help with planning and volunteer efforts to make #NCSS18 in the Windy City a success.

Did you attend the NCSS Conference in San Francisco? What were your favorite sessions from the conference? Please comment below. We would love to learn from you and share with others how to best prepare students for civic life.

Classroom Resources for News Literacy

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

A recent report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) highlights the importance of news literacy as a complementary stream to the proven practices of civic education embraced by the civic education requirement for graduation in the state of Illinois.

Kei Kawashima Ginsberg and Peter Levine, co-authors of the report titled, The Republic is (Still) at Risk- and Civics is Part of the Solution, explain that, “young people are increasingly empowered to influence the topics and stories that are widely shared. At the same time, they are deluged with unreliable information and actual propaganda, and research shows that most young people perform poorly at distinguishing fake news from reliable news. This skill can be taught effectively in schools, and students can learn to be effective producers of news.”

The proven practice of current and controversial issue discussions in the classroom has explicit ties to the need for students to acquire the knowledge, dispositions and skills associated with media literacy. In addition, the new Illinois Social Studies standards requires students be healthy “consumers” of information as they evaluate sources and use evidence to address essential questions facing their communities. The inquiry arc of the new standards ends with students communicating conclusions and taking informed action with an authentic audience in mind, creating the need for helping students be wise producers of information.

In a previous blog post, Shawn Healy remarked that, “daily integration of these (media literacy) practices into our classrooms, will help to rebuild trust in and consumption of the high-quality journalism that is arguably more abundant than ever before. If successful, we will better inoculate ourselves and our students against the competing misinformation campaigns that are truly fake.” There are a number of resources that can help teachers empower students with media literacy practices.
  • The News Literacy Project has lesson plans, archived webinars and a digital platform called Checkology that can be used one to many or in one to one classrooms. Don’t forget to subscribe to their weekly newsletter called The Sift for weekly updates on “teachable moments” related to news literacy.
  • The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University has a Digital Resource Center that teachers can sign up for to curate resources for classroom use.
  • Newseum ED has wonderful infographics for classroom use as well as lessons plans.
  • Facing History and Ourselves partnered with the News Literacy Project to create a timely unit on media literacy called “Facing Ferguson” that is appropriate for high school students.
  • The American Press Institute has activities and lesson plans for all ages.
  • This link from Edutopia has vetted a 5-minute film festival with nine videos on news literacy.
  • LAMP, or Learning about Multimedia Project, has materials that shine a light to “challenge stereotypes, fake news and more.”
  • While we many schools recently celebrated Media Literacy Week, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), sponsors of the event, celebrate information literacy year round.

Do you have a favorite resource tied to media literacy? Please comment and share below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.

Media Literacy Week Highlights Importance of Healthy News Diets

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

A modern definition of informed and engaged citizenship includes media and news literacy. I write today in honor of Media Literacy Week, sponsored by our partners at the National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). NAMLE hosted its conference in Chicago last summer, and the McCormick Foundation is proud to support and collaborate with a number of its members, including the News Literacy Project and the Center for News Literacy.

Like civic learning, media literacy must live across the curriculum. When I began my teaching career two decades ago, the daily newspaper served as my textbook. Media diets have since evolved, but the currency of news for democratic discourse and participation has only appreciated. While our students are indeed digital natives and often more adept than us with their devices, it is wrong to asssume that they possess the skills and dispositions to be media literate.

Media literacy is fostered by inculcating daily news habits. In the company of many of you, I mourn the pending extinction of print newspapers delivered to my doorstep, but we must not allow this technological transition to stand as the death knell for news consumption more broadly. The reality is that the digital revolution has placed more news and information at our finger tips than ever before, some of it very high quality, and our role as educators is to develop the news attentiveness of our students as they navigate emerging information flows.

Identifying reputable sources for news is a gateway skill. Encourage students to follow both news outlets and individual reporters on Facebook and Twitter, sign up for daily news digests like Politco’s Illinois Playbook or the Chicago Tribune’s Morning Spin, and subscribe to podcasts like NPR’s “1A” or CNN’s “The Axe Files.”


The modern era has also lowered the barriers of entry to journalism. One no longer needs to own a printing press to produce media and journalism. School-based publications are age-old incubators of media literacy regardless of whether student journalists later parlay these experiences into a paycheck. And Chicago has a healthy local youth media ecosystem of its own, working both within and outside of schools to amplify youth voice and teach transferable media literacy skills.

But teachers themselves can integrate news production into civics classrooms as students examine public issues. Encourage students to start their own blog, use an existing or invent a new hash tag, or submit traditional letters to the editor or opinion-editorial pieces. Because of virtually infinite digital capacity, the former often run online with greater frequency nowadays than the space-starved print editions permitted.

I’ve avoided the topic of “fake news” thus far and promise to tackle it in future posts, but buried the proverbial lead because I contend that the phenomenon is a second-level problem. First, we must build healthy news habits and diets. Then, and only then, do we have the luxury of teaching students (and adults) how to better discern good from bad. Indeed, “fake news” is often used as a moniker to disparage news coverage of facts that conflict with our personal political beliefs. My hope is that Media Literacy Week, alongside daily integration of these practices into our classrooms, will help to rebuild trust in and consumption of the high-quality journalism that is arguably more abundant than ever before. If successful, we will better inoculate ourselves and our students against the competing misinformation campaigns that are truly fake.

Propagating Civic Education Practice in Illinois

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

I’m delighted to share some of the results from the first full year of our civics course implementation efforts. In 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed bi-partisan legislation requiring high school students to complete a semester-long civics course effective with the Class of 2020. The McCormick Foundation, in partnership with other local funders, committed more than $1 million annually to support statewide implementation efforts in the form of intensive teacher professional development opportunities paired with related curriculum and resources.

We have also partnered with the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), based at Tufts University, to evaluate our implementation efforts. By utilizing real-time evaluation data, we have made timely adjustments and adaptations to our programming, and also been able to communicate our progress to key stakeholders, policymakers included.

Through surveys of our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors, a broader statewide teacher survey, and interviews with partners and advocates, CIRCLE compiled a Year One report on our progress.

Our implementation model is articulated in more detail here, but CIRCLE elegantly summarizes it as follows:

By seeding champions, demonstrating use, and fertilizing judiciously with training, support, resources, and connections, the Illinois civic education efforts seeks policy implementation through a cultural shift in practice germinating from the ground up (see figure 1).


Interest in the new course requirement varies by audience, as mentors and teachers have had the most success in reaching out to social studies coordinators and colleagues in their own buildings, with some traction among principals, other teachers in the region, and superintendents. Local leaders and parents present growth opportunities for future outreach.

CIRCLE did find evidence of civics-oriented relationships forming at all levels as social studies teachers leverage opportunities previously afforded to only math and English Language Arts peers.

The extent to which schools have implemented the civics course requirement varies by practice. Controversial issues discussions are most implemented, and service-learning the least, yet the latter practice is at least two-thirds partially or fully implemented (67% combined; see figure 3).


Yet service-learning is listed as the most challenging practice to implement, far outpacing outreach to school leadership, alignment with the Danielson Framework, and using simulations of democratic processes (see figure 4).


These challenges considered, the #CivicsIsBack Campaign has room for growth as we are well into Year Two and begin planning for 2018-2019. This past summer, we offered eleven regional workshops, with new sites in Bloomington and Rockford, and Lead Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels is on staff full-time during the current school year to deliver customized professional development sessions for regional offices of education, districts, and even individual schools. Mary Ellen and our teacher mentors are designing standards- and course-aligned lesson plans for immediate classroom use, and in partnership with Illinois State University, our mentors have designed and are currently teaching a free online tutorial on the course requirement and embedded practices.

Stay tuned for further reflections on our Year Two programming, and please contact us with feedback on how we can better meet your course implementation needs.