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Showing posts from 2020

Creating a Safe and Reflective Online Community When Teaching Remotely

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
School reopening plans are slowly coming into shape for this fall. Whether you are meeting with students on an online platform or in a blended format, creating a safe civic space for remote learning takes intention and reimagining of typical back to school routines.


This past spring, we had the advantage of already knowing our students when school buildings were closed and classes were shifted to distance learning. This semester, all stakeholders will have to create room to put “Maslow before Bloom” and create a foundation for relationships to be built in virtual and/or blended spaces.

All teachers are civics teachers. We send messages to students about power, equity, justice, and representation by our classroom routines, relationships, and curricular choices. With this in mind, IllinoisCivics.org has created a Remote Learning Toolkit with resources to support: Best Practices in Distance Learning for EducatorsBest Practices in D…

Courageous Conversations to Support Anti-Racism

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

For the past few weeks, IllinoisCivics.org has partnered with the DuPage Regional Office of Education to respond to current events with a series of webinars to explore how to have courageous conversations about race, equity, justice, and progress in the classroom and the community. Experts discussed ways to support and train students to become socially responsible, empathetic allies of minority and marginalized groups as they strengthen our constitutional republic into “a more perfect union.”

The series began with an offering on How to Raise a Socially Conscious, Anti-Racist Kid. Panelists including Amber Coleman-Mortley from iCivics, Dr. Shawn Healy and Sonia Mathew from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation wrestled with questions about how families can: Building cross-racial coalitionsLearning full and complete historical accountsUnderstanding how our justice system is experienced differently by different groupsEliminating the in…

Teaching Civics through History with the National Archives

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This week, IllinoisCivics.org hosted Dr. Charles Flanagan, Outreach Supervisor for the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives and Records Administration, for an interactive webinar to demonstrate how primary sources can be used to teach civics through history. If you missed the webinar, you can view a recording of the one-hour session that modeled how their popular lesson plan, Teaching Six Ideas in the Constitution from the Center for Legislative Archives, can be iterated for virtual learning.

Direct instruction on democratic institutions is one of the civic learning practices embedded in the Illinois civics course requirements for both middle and high school. The National Archives has numerous resources through both its Educator Resources and DocsTeach websites that allow students to evaluate sources and use evidence per the Illinois social science standards to dig deeper into the foundational concepts that und…

Understanding How Government Works: Popular Sovereignty

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This fall, “we the people” will have the opportunity to “form a more perfect union” through participation in the 2020 election. Popular Sovereignty, or “people power” has deep roots in our constitutional republic. This week’s #CivicsInTheMiddle webinar explored the concept of popular sovereignty throughout our history and calls to make our republic more democratic through changes in public policy.

The Illinois Social Science standards and civics course requirements suggest that teachers use essential questions to engage students in current and societal issue discussions around enduring constitutional concepts. Inquiry to informed action per the standards examining popular sovereignty can be supported through essential questions such as: Has suffrage expanded far enough?How can we make our republic more democratic?How can I exercise my power to make the government more representative of “we the people”?How do competing interests in…

Understanding How the Government Works: Judicial Review

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This summer, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a series of landmark decisions that will reverberate in civics classrooms and society as a whole for years to come. Whether you find yourself on the left or right of the political spectrum, these precedents offered “wins” for both sides of the aisle and opportunities for classrooms to explore essential questions surrounding judicial review and the role of the courts. How does judicial review influence American culture and vice versa?To what extent is our justice system fair and impartial?To what degree is the judicial branch political?How do competing interests influence how judicial review is exercised and perceived?How does the judicial branch balance the rights of individuals with concerns for the common good?How successful has the judicial branch been in helping build a “more perfect union?”To what extent has judicial review been successful in limiting the risk of tyra…

Understanding How the Government Works: Separation of Powers

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
From the award-winning musical Hamilton to current events involving the upcoming elections and government response to COVID-19, essential questions surrounding the separation of powers loom large in political discourse. To what extent are the branches balanced?Who has power and why?To what extent have Constitutional structures been successful in limiting the risk of tyranny?Is a strong president in the best interests of the nation?To what extent should the executive and judicial branches be involved in creating public policy?How do competing interests influence how power is distributed and exercised?To what extent is the judiciary political?Does the system of checks and balances provide us with an effective and efficient government? This week’s IllinoisCivics.org webinar tackled separation of powers through exploring its constitutional origins, how courts interpreted this concept over time, and how political factions differed over …

Understanding How the Government Works: Limited Government

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The Illinois Social Science standards and civics mandates facilitate student to student exploration of essential questions of power, legitimacy, authority, justice, fairness, and equity. The concept of limited government is central to these current and societal issue discussions as illustrated by the sample essential questions generated by our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches. What is the balance between individual liberty and the common good?How should the government balance freedom and security?What does the government owe us and vice versa?What is the purpose of government?What do we do when certain civil liberties conflict with one another?How is legitimate authority determined? This week, IllinoisCivics.org used our weekly Wednesday morning webinar to probe many of these questions through a broad survey of how the concept of limited government has been addressed over the years in both interpretation and practice in both…

Understanding How the Government Works: Federalism

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The IllinoisCivics.org Summer Webinar series shifted this week from the proven practices of civic education embedded in both the middle and high school civics course requirements to focus on disciplinary content for direct instruction on democratic institutions, and specifically the concept of federalism.

There have been a plethora of current and societal issues related to federalism recently. Essential questions about the division of power between the state and federal governments have taken center stage in deliberations surrounding the government response to COVID-19, access to the ballot and election security, immigration policy, criminal justice and police reform. As Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation shared, Federalism, like separation of powers, is an ongoing debate, a perpetual balancing act.

Debates over federalism can be traced back to before “the room where it happen…

Understanding the Proven Practice of Service Learning through Informed Action

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Our colleagues in math teach mathematical formulas and principles to students and students practice by doing math. Our peers in science have students do science through labs that apply the scientific method to understand phenomena. No language arts classroom would be effective without students (doing) reading, writing, speaking and listening. Yet, in many civics classrooms, students engage in curriculum focused on essential questions related to justice, equity, power, and other rich concepts and then…take a multiple choice Constitution Test?

Just as passing the Rules of the Road exam does not sufficiently demonstrate a person is ready to operate a motor vehicle; the ability to pass a 200 question Constitution Test does not illustrate adequate preparation for civic life. The Illinois Social Science standards and new civics course requirements prompt new thinking about how students do civics.

Both the high school and middle scho…

Challenging the Narrative

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Fanny Diego-Alvarez, Program Officer, Grand Victoria Foundation
Sonia Mathew, Program Officer, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Brandon Thorne, Senior Program Officer, W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation
Forefront Education and Equity Committee Co-Chairs
The Forefront Education and Equity Committee plans programming for both philanthropic and education nonprofit partners to educate ourselves and others on policies and practices that create and perpetuate disparities in educational outcomes so we can promote equitable policies that build an education system that serves all, with an emphasis on racial, ethnic and class equity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold across the country, we were faced with the reminder of the deep racial inequities that exist in our society. These inequities have been further emphasized by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless number of Black men and women that have been victims of violence since th…

Understanding the Proven Practice of Simulations of Democratic Processes

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This week, IllinoisCivics.org continued our support of the implementation of the new middle school civics requirement with our third #CivicsInTheMiddle webinar on the proven practice of simulations of democratic processes. Both the high school and middle school civics mandates go beyond “what” to teach per the Illinois Social Science Civic content standards and school code requirements, but also “how” to teach using the proven practices of civic education.

As Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation shared in the webinar, there is a great opportunity for educators to use simulations to teach students about the 2020 elections. According to the 2012 Illinois Civic Health Index, Illinois’ youngest voters are among the least likely to report voting regularly in local elections, ranking 47th among 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, according to our friends at the Center…

Political Expression is Our Tool for Survival

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by Byron Terry, Research Intern, Democracy Program
Not to minimize the severity of the COVID-19 global pandemic, but in this moment, it feels like a distraction from the ever-looming nightmare that many would call the “American Dream.” During a time where I thought for once there was a large consensus across America, I allowed myself to fall into a false reality that I was a part of a world that put the lives of its people above anything else, but then the other shoe dropped. Even in isolation due to stay-at-home orders, I felt connected to people because we were all going through the same struggles. But as I watched the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and talked with college friends from my once home in Louisville, Kentucky about the death of Breonna Taylor, I began to feel even more isolated as it felt like the walls of this false reality began to close in with each of these deaths to the point where I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe.

Social distancing and othe…

Understanding the Proven Practice of Current and Controversial Issue Discussions

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This fall, middle schools will join their colleagues in high school in requiring at least a semester of civics for students in the curriculum. The mandate goes beyond “what” to teach, but also “how” to teach using the proven practices of civic education. This week’s topic was Understanding the Proven Practice of Current and Controversial Issue Discussions, which is especially fitting in light of recent events. If you missed it, we shared classroom room resources to address issues of racial injustice earlier in the week in our blog, Be Present, Listen, and Refuse to Be Silent.

IllinoisCivics.org joined with our partners at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) to survey middle school educators in the Land of Lincoln about their needs and concerns regarding the new civic mandates. As Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation shared in the we…