News Literacy Resources for Distance Learning

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
The recent closure of Illinois schools in an effort to #flattenthecurve has required many schools to engage their students in meaningful learning experiences to further develop student knowledge and skills in a homebound environment.

Many schools are leveraging technology to deliver instruction. With the increased use of technology comes the need to make sure students are wise consumers, engagers, and producers of information with their devices. Rumors are swirling in this current crisis. We can help our students navigate this “infodemic.” Here are some news literacy resources to start with.

General News Literacy Resources

  • The News Literacy Project provided open access to its Checkology subscription-based service to teachers and parents for the remainder of the school year. The package is twelve interactive lessons building on news literacy skills.
  • Crash Course - Navigating Digital Information” is a ten episode series that covers fact-checking, lateral reading, deciding who to trust, using Wikipedia, interpreting data and infographics, click restraint, social media, and evaluating evidence, photos, and videos.
  • The Stanford History Education Group has a portal for Civic Online Reasoning that provides free lessons and assessments that helps teach students to evaluate online information that affects them, their communities, and the world.
  • iCivics created curriculum units for both middle and high school students around news literacy as well as an online game called NewsFeed Defenders.
  • Factitious is a game that tests students’ news sense. They updated the game to include COVID-19 information.
  • 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 as well as lesson 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.
  • Edutopia has vetted a five-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.”

COVID-19 News Literacy Resources

What are you doing to help students navigate information during this pandemic? Please comment below. Together, we can support students for college, career, and civic life.

Current Public Health and Economic Crisis Necessitates Urgent Equity in Civics Conversations

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

During the current public health crisis, educators are scrambling to move lessons online for students while balancing the numerous needs of our own families. The pedagogical conversations I participated in assume a middle-upper class perspective given our socioeconomic status. I would argue that we are blind to the needs of many of our less privileged students and their families who may instead be in survival mode and at a minimum don’t have one-to-one access to technology or high-speed internet connections. This lack of privilege is a product of structural inequities facing many of our students’ families.

I am honored to serve on a national Equity in Civics steering committee led by Generation Citizen and iCivics, and during a virtual meeting last week, my friend and colleague Amber Coleman-Mortley, Director of Social Engagement at iCivics, raised a profound point. She said that much of the current K-12 educational infrastructure is designed to work around parents, as schools typically connect educators directly with students. The current crisis scrambled this equation and laid bare fundamental inequities related to family engagement that break decisively by race and ethnicity, surfacing a longstanding equity challenge.

To illustrate this challenge, my final analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) will address family background questions, with responses disaggregated by race/ethnicity. Previous installments addressed the degree to which students experienced civic learning opportunities and school cultures aligned with a “lived civics” framework, media literacy opportunities and outcomes, and the extent to which civic learning is threaded across the curriculum at selected Democracy Schools.

Students’ civic knowledge and skills, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Civics, are impacted by their race/ethnicity, school lunch eligibility, language proficiency, and maternal educational attainment, with white, non-school lunch-eligible, native English-speaking sons and daughters of college graduates outperforming their less privileged peers (see Essential School Supports for Civic Learning, Chapter 5). Each of these variables exerts an independent force on student performance, and in many cases, issues of race/ethnicity, poverty, language proficiency, and social class are intersectional.

Educational attainment is used as a proxy for social class given the strong relationship between education and class. Maternal education attainment, rather than parental attainment, is preferred given the high percentage of single parent families and tendency for children to live with their mothers.

I disaggregated students’ maternal educational attainment by race/ethnicity at selected Illinois Democracy Schools and the differences are profound. The maternal educational attainment for the vast majority of Latinx students is high school or less (63%), compared to fewer than one-in-five white students (19%; see Figure 1). A plurality of Black mothers attended some college (37%), whereas white (37%) and Asian (30%) mothers peak at college graduation. Moreover, nearly one-in-five white (19%) and Asian mothers (18%) hold graduate degrees, far outpacing Latinx (5%) and Black mothers (11%).

In public presentations, I often lament that I am the face of civic engagement in America: white, highly educated, middle-upper class, and a native English speaker. As these features are pulled away, one is often exponentially less likely to engage civically in our democracy, particularly in measures beyond voting. Our data from selected Democracy Schools supports this claim, as a plurality of both Asian (27%) and Latinx students (37%) reported that their parents/guardians never engage in political activity (see Figure 2). By comparison, two-thirds of Black students (67%) and three-quarters of white students (76%) reported familial political engagement at least once a year.

Dinner table conversations about community and world affairs are considered a staple of civic engagement, and while more common than familial political engagement, also break decisively along racial and ethnic lines (see Figure 3). Whereas a plurality of Latinx and Black students are neutral in response to the question (both 35%), “In my house, we talk about what’s happening in our community and the world,” a plurality of Asian (35%) and white students (36%) answer in the affirmative. Moreover, white students are the only racial/ethnic group with an above-average percentage who “strongly agree” (24%; 21% average).

Please know that this post is not meant to cast blame or dispersions, nor do I pretend to have ready answers to the challenges surfaced in the charts above. Instead, I hope to inspire reflection and a conversation where issues of equity are central. These issues are by no means new, but warrant urgent attention in this moment of social distancing and economic dislocation.

We must recognize that students come into our classrooms with varying definitions of familial civic engagement and related engagement experiences. We must also recognize and leverage the fundamental assets that students and families of color bring into our classrooms and schools, underlining once more the importance of a “lived civics framework” to designing cross-curricular and schoolwide civic learning opportunities. Starting lines are fundamentally staggered by race/ethnicity. More can be done to engage parents in the process of the civic development of their children, and the current moment forces the issue, providing our field with opportunities to engage students and their families in different, better, and more equitable ways.

Creating Safe Civic Spaces in Troubling Times - Part 2

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

In March of 2018, shortly after the tragedy at Stoneman-Douglas High School, we shared a blog that stressed the importance of creating a civic safe space for students to process current events. Little did I know how relevant that blog would be for the times we live in today.

COVID-19 has upended many of the routines and traditions that undergird our lives. Teachers have been called upon to create meaningful learning experiences to further develop student knowledge and skills in a homebound environment. We must take care, however, to prioritize and model civic dispositions in our interactions with students. Dispositions like empathy, commitment to the common good, community involvement, and personal responsibility are crucial during this pandemic.

As a pre-service teacher, we were required to take Educational Psychology 101 where we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization. You might remember that there is a hierarchy to this pyramid of needs in that one cannot self-actualize, let’s say master content and skills, unless they have a firm foundation of having their basic and psychological needs met. There are students who are scared of the unknown right now. Others may be upset because they may miss important milestones like graduation and prom. Some students might know someone who has symptoms of this disease and are living in uncertainty because of the current scarcity of testing.

COVID-19 is not our fault, but its repercussions in our students’ lives IS our problem. Those repercussions extend far beyond the traditional content, but reverberate in the very core of the pyramid of their needs. To ignore these realities in our students’ lives is to ignore the foundation that must be present for learning to take place.

Here are a few ideas and resources to support you in creating that safe civic space for your students in these troubling times.
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first. This is a trite but true metaphor for today. Review these blogs from We Are Teachers and iCivics for the support you need to meet the needs of your students.
  • Your students might reach out to you with questions about COVID-19. The News Literacy Project created a web page to address misinformation about the virus that can be a valuable resource for you.
  • This is NOT the time to try out all of the new tech tools you have been curious about. This will only add extra stress on you AND your students as you try to navigate the nuances and glitches of new technologies. Start with what you and your students know.
  • If you decide to try something new, try one thing at a time and look for supplemental tutorials and resources that can support both you and your students. New EdTech Classroom has several YouTube videos to help you navigate How to Teach Remotely Using a Google Slides HyperDoc, How to teach Remotely Using Flipgrid and other resources. There are also several Chrome extensions to support struggling learners.
  • Virtual learning can take many forms as illustrated by this brief blog from Empowering ELLs. See what might be the best fit for you and your students’ situations.
  • You and your students are living through history right now. Consider having them keep a journal of their observations, questions, experiences, and challenges. You can also have them respond to prompts with a daily bell ringer or exit slip. Students can express their lived experiences in words, images, or another medium. They are writing the history others will learn from. In the short run, this can be an important formative assessment tool for you to use to calibrate your teaching. In the long run, these lived experiences can help your students take informed action to inform civil society and policymakers in adjusting protocols and support for future events.
What resources and ideas are you using to support your students during this difficult time? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Students Primarily Experience Civic Learning Opportunities in Social Science and English Courses at Democracy Schools; Cross-Curricular Applications Abound

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

My previous analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) touched on the extent to which students experienced civic learning opportunities and school cultures aligned with a “lived civics” framework and media literacy opportunities and outcomes. As the Democracy Schools Network convenes this week for the tenth consecutive year with a theme of ‘Every Teacher is a Civics Teacher: Best Practices for Civic Learning and Organizational Supports in Schools,” I am returning to 2019 student survey data to explore the extent to which civic learning is threaded across the curriculum at selected Democracy Schools.

Civic learning’s natural home is the social sciences and 93% of students surveyed said they learned about civics content in these courses, but English also ranks perennially high, with nearly 63% of students experiencing civics content here, too (see Figure 1 below). The drop-off in other subject areas is steep, with nearly three-in-ten students identifying civics content in world language courses and 18% in science courses, but less than ten percent of art/music, physical education, and math included civics content. There is limited variation in exposure to civics content by students’ race/ethnicity, although Black and Latinx students reported below average exposure in social science and English courses, the category leaders.

Figure 1: In which classes have you learned about
civic content (i.e, the US system of government and how it works)?

The data broke down similarly in measuring other proven civic learning practices across the curriculum, including discussions of current and controversial issues, civic role-playing activities, and service learning, with a majority of students experiencing these practices in the social sciences (82%, 73%, and 61%, respectively), but among other subjects, only English/Language Arts demonstrated a majority for controversial issues discussions (65%). Moreover, there is evidence of a civic opportunity gap for Black and Latinx students when it comes to civic role-playing in social science courses and Latinx students in English courses (see Figure 2 below).

Figure 2: In which classes did you participate in civic role-playing
activities (i.e, political leader or politician)?

In sum, there are numerous opportunities for Democracy Schools to further integrate civic learning opportunities across the curriculum, particularly beyond social science and English. Given that the latter two subjects offer the bulk of current civic learning opportunities, teachers and schools should also make stronger commitments to ensure they are offered equitably to students of all races and ethnicities. And schools statewide should adopt the mantra that students’ civic development is not the sole responsibility of the social studies.

Exclusionary Discipline Decreasing in Illinois Schools, but Racial Disparities Persist

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Last year, I assessed the impact of a series of recent laws passed in Illinois to limit exclusionary discipline and public schools and instead employ restorative practices. Recall that the School Code now:
  • Requires districts to report exclusionary discipline measures (expulsions, suspensions, and transfers to alternative schools) by student subgroups, including race and ethnicity;
  • Eliminates broad-based zero tolerance policies in favor of restorative practices;
  • And prohibits preschool expulsion from state-funded facilities.
My previous analysis of data provided by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) found a 15.1% drop in exclusionary discipline and the number of expulsions halved from 2014-2018, coinciding with passage and implementation of the aforementioned statutes. However, expulsions were offset almost one-for-one by transfers to alternative schools. Whereas the 2017-2018 numbers regressed from the previous year’s gains, 2018-2019 data reveals across-the-board reductions in expulsions, suspensions, and transfers, representing a collective decrease of 22.5% from the baseline year of 2014-2015 (see Figure 1 below).

Such progress is to be celebrated, but it comes with a caveat: racial disproportionality in punishment remains stagnant, with the state’s Black students bearing the brunt of exclusionary discipline. In 2014-2015, Black students represented 44.9% of those expelled, suspended, or transferred, despite composing only 17.5% of the state’s K-12 student population. This equates to a disproportionality factor of 2.6.

Fast forward to 2018-2019, Black students composed 41.3% of combined exclusionary discipline targets, but only 16.7% of the student population. The rate of disproportionality fell only a tenth of a percentage point to 2.5, a rate 4.2 times that of white students (see Figure 2 below).

Students identifying with two or more races are also more likely to face forms of exclusionary discipline than their percentage of the population would predict, and the rate for Latinx students is 50% higher than whites.

These alarming findings provide further evidence that public policies present opportunities more than predict outcomes. Implementation, or lack thereof, is where policies succeed or fail. To this end, the McCormick Foundation, in partnership with our grantees, is exploring how a gallant implementation effort led by the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative, can be better resourced.

We will detail these interventions in full later this month. In the interim, please review the presentation I delivered last Friday at the DuPage County Social Studies Conference with Dean David Schumacher of Metea Valley High School titled “Restorative Justice Implementation.” I provided an overview of existing statutes, progress to date in implementing them, and further interventions necessary to reach their letter and spirit, while David highlighted how his school is deploying restorative practices.

March Madness: Classroom Resources for the Illinois Primaries and Super Tuesday

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Do you have your brackets ready for March Madness? No, we are not referencing the college basketball playoffs, rather the flurry of political contests next month that provide a unique learning opportunity for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms, as nearly two-thirds of the delegates to the national conventions will be selected by month’s end.

The nation will be closely watching the results of Super Tuesday on March 3rd as the race for White House heats up. Closer to home, the March 17th Illinois primaries will provide an opportunity for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms to explore candidates for congress, the Illinois General Assembly, the state judiciary as well as important local races.

This past week, Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, hosted our second #Election2020 after school webinar that reviewed the presidential contest results to date and previewed what to look for on Super Tuesday. Dr. Healy also provided an overview of the races to watch in Illinois. If you missed the 45-minute webinar, you can access a recording.

Each webinar concludes with classroom resources you can use to engage students during this election year. Here are some of the resources shared in the last webinar:
  • The 2/17 #SSCHAT shared resources around Teaching the 2020 Primaries.
  • The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) created a 2020 Election Center to track youth voter registration rates, their views on the candidates, and their involvement in the political process.
  • The Teaching for Democracy Alliance has resources to equip teachers and administrators to engage students in elections and voting is a productive and safe way.
  • Mikva Challenge curated five lessons to help students take Elections to Action.
  • iCivics has a number of online games and lesson plans to help students navigate the Road to the White House.
  • Looking for some online quizzes to match your students with candidates? Try iSideWith or
  • Ballotpedia has resources for students to see who is on the ballot in their region
  • FiveThirtyEight is tracking polls in contested congressional races
  • The League of Women Voters of Illinois has an overview of the election calendar for Illinois and links to non partisan voter guides.
  • Project Vote Smart’s Vote Easy platform compares candidates in both presidential and congressional races by their positions on key issues.
What resources are you using to engage your student in #Election2020? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Teachable Moments: Presidential Pardons

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

This past Tuesday, President Trump announced a flurry of presidential pardons and commutations. Illinois residents were particularly interested by the president’s decision to commute Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison term, releasing the former governor more than four years early and drawing to a close one of the state’s most notorious corruption cases.

Students in #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms may have questions about the Blagojevich case and the president’s power to pardon. Here are some resources to help.
What resources are you using to help your students understand presidential pardons? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Guest Blog: We Shouldn’t Talk about Voting without Talking about Voter Suppression - Complicating the Ideal of One Person, One Vote

by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, Illinois Civics Instructional Coach
Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz taught high school in the St. Louis area prior to earning a PhD in history. She was a James Madison fellow, class of 1999, and graduated from Knox College with a BA in history and secondary education. She is the social science teaching coordinator and an associate professor of history at Eastern Illinois University, where she teaches social studies methods courses as well as the U.S. history survey, women’s history, research methods and writing, and courses in the online MA for teachers. She is the Civics Instructional Coach for Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Lawrence, Massac, Moultrie, Pope, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Wabash, Wayne & White Counties.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
We are set to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the moment when American women became voters. Coverage of this centennial abounds, and while some of it offers the nuanced, complicated, and sometimes disheartening story of how women fought for and won suffrage, I wonder if our students sometimes just see this as a moment of progress, a metaphorical checkmark next to another group of people who had once been disenfranchised and are now voters. A similar story might be offered about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, often framed as putting an end to the violence and opposition that disenfranchised African American voters despite the 15th and 19th amendments.

As American patriots, we love stories of upward progress, slow and steady work to expand the bounds of our democratic system, to include more and more voices. I love these stories, too. They are comforting, even inspiring. And yet, I don’t believe that this is the story we should be telling about voting rights in American history. While sixteen states have enacted automatic voter registration, other states have passed stricter voter ID laws, made it harder for college students to vote, closed polls, and decreased the early voting period. Prior to the 2016 election, for example, southern states closed down over 800 polling places.

As we discuss the 19th Amendment, of Shelby v. Holder, and of the upcoming Illinois primary and November’s Presidential election, I believe we should frame voting rights as being contested throughout American history, not just in the past but also in the present. The adage of “one person, one vote” may be our vision of what democracy is, but in the United States each adult person does not have equal ability or access to vote. In his recent book, Give Us the Ballot, Ari Berman makes the case that sophisticated tactics aimed at suppressing the vote have been used in the American past and, very importantly, since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

We know that cases of voter fraud are very rare. Despite that, voter fraud is often used to justify strict voter ID laws (recently struck down by the state Supreme Court in Missouri) and the kind of voter roll purging that recently made headlines in Wisconsin. The Brennan Center produced an extensively researched report arguing that “fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators.” If we believe this report and other such research, we are doing a disservice to our students if we present an argument about voter ID and the need to combat voter fraud that doesn’t consider voter suppression alongside voting rights.

We are also creating unjust cynicism in our students, who we hope will take voting seriously. As Anya Malley points out in Teaching the Truth About Voter Suppression, “For some folks today, there is a lot standing between them and the polls. When we write off all non-voters as lazy or unengaged, we ignore the impact of voter suppression. Instead of pretending that voting is equally easy for everyone, we should explain to students how voter suppression happens and how it affects election outcomes.”

Resources for Teaching about Voting and Voter Suppression

Resources for the State of the Union Address

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

This week is a cornucopia of “teachable moments” for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms. The week begins with the Iowa Caucuses. Next, a vote in the Senate to conclude the impeachment proceedings against President Trump is expected midweek. A Democratic Debate in New Hampshire rounds out the week on Friday.

Tuesday will be marked by a Presidential address to the nation on the State of the Union. If you are looking for resources to help students understand the history and significance of the State of the Union address, here are a few resources to start with.
What are you doing to use the State of the Union address in your classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare all students for college, career and civic life.

Rethinking the "Both Sides" Reflex

by Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, Illinois Civics Instructional Coach

How often do we in American life talk about the need to represent both sides? I saw an intriguing interview last week in which a Congressperson complained to a member of the media that they were being unfair by not presenting “both sides.” We critique headlines, we talk of the silos in which we receive our news, and we discuss the importance of preparing our students to be smart consumers of media. But I confess, even with our good intentions I think at times we are led astray into thinking that presenting “both sides” is the best path towards objectivity and better news habits.

One example concerns the discussion of Confederate monuments. It might be tempting to set up an exercise in which students debate if monuments should be removed, with a reading representing “remain” and another posturing “remove.”

This feels neutral; we choose readings from two sides, structure student reading, and help them reach informed decisions, right? But are these both sides we as social studies teachers should represent? Or do we need to attend to nuance in this discussion, making sure to provide readings that accurately present the history of monument building and, moreover, to take into account the many possibilities that exist if monuments are removed?

A few years ago I read a memoir by Mitch Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans who oversaw the removal of four monuments there. He spent a book outlining his and the nation’s history and thinking about the background and presence of the monuments in his city. His thinking is nuanced as well as a great example for students of how to mull and arrive at an informed opinion. He gave a famous speech on the topic, too, and that could be great to use. This is not to imply that his is the only right position; rather, it is to say that his is a position steeped in an understanding of the history of the monuments and thoughtful in consideration of their place in American life today.

Isn’t this what we really want our students to be doing? Asking students to carefully examine his opinion alongside three pieces: a news article about the specific sides in New Orleans, a progressive mayor calling for monuments to stand, and a writer highlighting African American protest against them takes thinking about “both sides” up a notch and is at the heart of an Illinois Civics lesson plan.

Note that an uninformed, knee-jerk “keep them” position is not reflected here, nor is this a Fox-versus-MSNBC-and-you-decide approach. Though some of the pieces offer compelling arguments of why they should stay, they are all nuanced in their reflection, deep in consideration of the issues involved in thoughtful consideration of the place of monuments in the United States, past and present.

In our classrooms, we are not just battling against fake news. We are fighting for nuance and careful attention to facts. I love the News Literacy Project’s bumper sticker: “Facts are democracy’s seat belt.” But it’s not just “facts” alone, it is nuanced consideration of issues in American life.
Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz taught high school in the St. Louis area prior to earning a PhD in history. She was a James Madison fellow, class of 1999, and graduated from Knox College with a BA in history and secondary education. She is the social science teaching coordinator and an associate professor of history at Eastern Illinois University, where she teaches social studies methods courses as well as the U.S. history survey, women’s history, research methods and writing, and courses in the online MA for teachers. She is the Civics Instructional Coach for Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Lawrence, Massac, Moultrie, Pope, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Wabash, Wayne & White Counties.

What to Look for in the Early Caucuses and Primaries

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The new year brings an opportunity to use the upcoming elections to engage students in the proven practices of civic education outlined in 6-12th grade civic course mandates. will provide a plethora of resources and lesson plans to support this important work.

Last week, Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, hosted our first #Election2020 after school webinar that examined the candidates, polling data, the mechanics of caucuses and primaries in delegate selection, and what to look for with your students in early 2020. If you missed the 45-minute webinar, you can access a recording.

Register today for our next after school webinar on Tuesday, February 18th from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. on Super Tuesday and the Illinois Primary. Those who register can join live or receive a link to view the recorded presentation and accompanying resources.

Each webinar concludes with classroom resources you can use with your students to engage them in current and societal issue discussions, simulations of democratic processes, and service learning during this election year. Here are some of the resources shared in the last webinar:
  • There are Iowa Caucus classroom simulations from the Iowa Secretary of State, one for Democrats and another for Republicans.
  • A brief video from Why Tuesday? illustrates how the Iowa Caucuses work.
  • PBS Learning Media has a lesson that explores the history of the Iowa Caucus and the benefits of being “first in the nation.”
  • PBS NewsHour Extra has a lesson called “What are Primaries and Caucuses?”
  • The Bill of Rights Institute has resources for “The Iowa Caucus and Beyond.”
  • iCivics has a curricular unit on Politics and Public Policy that includes a lesson on the election process.
  • Civics 101 has an episode devoted to explaining primaries and caucuses.
  • The Five Thirty-Eight podcast has launched a special series called The Primary Project. Its first episode features the 1968 Convention in Chicago and its impact on current events.
  • Stranglehold from New Hampshire Public Radio explores the history, personalities, and challenges of being the site of the first in the nation primary election.
  • Caucus Land from Iowa Public Radio explores, “Where the road to the White House begins!”
What resources are you using to engage your student in #Election2020? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Guest Blog: Needing New Lesson Plans for the New Year? Check out Street Law

by Jane Hicks, Edwardsville High School

On New Year’s Eve 2019, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a warning in his year-end statement when he observed, “We have come to take democracy for granted and civic education has fallen by the wayside.” Many civics teachers across the country heartily agree. Thankfully the State of Illinois now requires both middle school and high school civics education. More social studies departments across the state are re-examining the importance of teaching about government and seeking ideas to help their students. In addition to Illinois Civics, what is another great resource for political science teachers? Where can they find numerous lesson plans that help teach democratic simulations and controversial topics? Street Law.

While attending Street Law’s Supreme Court Summer Institute in 2019, I gained incredible insight on the workings of the Court, met teachers from across the U.S., and walked away with meaningful activities for my students. Street Law’s mission, since 1972, has been to provide teachers of the law and government free materials in order to help students with these difficult topics. Their materials are easily accessible to anyone on their website. Their shopping cart format might initially give the impression that you have to pay. But do not worry, most materials have a price of $0.00. The cart system helps keep track of the lesson plans that are of interest to educators.

Two activities that really stood out for me were the moot courts and deliberations. A moot court is a simulation of an appellate court. It is not a mock trial. Students act as attorneys making oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court for a real case. The classroom should be divided into three groups: the petitioners bringing the case, the respondents defending the previous ruling, and the justices asking questions of each. The Street Law website has numerous and step by step instructions. Full moot courts may take a few class periods, but their mini-moot courts might only take a day.

Street Law’s 2019 Summer Institute practicing a moot court in a Georgetown Law classroom.

Another Street Law activity that I brought into my civics class is a deliberation. A deliberation helps students to grapple with controversial topics by examining various points of view. The concluding piece is to come to a consensus. At the summer institute, we deliberated a federal ban on assault weapons. We were given readings to sift through and then applied quotes from the readings to both sides of the argument. My group had a very engaging conversation and we were provided time afterward for individual reflection. In the end, I was surprised to realize I had slightly altered my own long-held opinion on this topic.

As our society grows in complexity, so the job of the social studies teacher becomes increasingly more challenging. Thankfully there are many professional development resources like Street Law and Illinois Civics to help educators wrestle with the times and help students to do so also.