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Showing posts from 2020

Engaging Students on Election Night

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
With less than one week until the General Election, #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms across the Land of Lincoln are preparing students to consume and engage with the election results through candidate research projects, deliberations over the Illinois Graduated Income Tax Amendment, mock elections, and Electoral College simulations. While our Election 2020 Toolkit at IllinoisCivics.org has helped in each of these endeavors, our latest #Teach2020 webinar focused on how to engage students on election night.

There are many “known unknowns” as we creep towards November 3 including: Is it still all about Florida, Florida, Florida? What are the states to watch on election night?Will we have a presidential winner when we go to bed on November 3?Will Gen Z make a difference in the race to the White House?What impact will recent court rulings around mail-in ballots in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have on election returns?Who will wi…

Local Journalism and the Citizens’ Agenda

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
There are a plethora of resources for #CivicsInTheMIddle classrooms to teach about the upcoming presidential election. However, when it comes to local and state races, curating information for students to analyze can be more of a challenge. This is ironic because many of the issues young people and their communities at large care about are decided closer to home and not in the White House (see image below).

IllinoisCivics.org hosted reporters from WBEZ in Chicago to explore the role of local journalism in preparing voters for #Election2020. Political editor Alex Keefe, state politics reporter Dave McKinney, and investigative reporter Dan Mihalopoulos provided unique insights to educators on: What races and issues WBEZ is covering this election cycle, and why“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”WBEZ’s Citizens’ Agenda & audience engagement journalism If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording to view and …

Keeping Up with SCOTUS

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
With the pending confirmation vote in the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and emerging issues related to voting and elections working their way through the court system, keeping up with the courts while navigating a challenging school year can be difficult for #CivicsIntheMiddle educators.

To help teachers follow the evolving court docket, identify essential questions that reflect current and societal issues and topics for moot court simulations, The American Bar Association Division for Public Education is joining with UIC Professor of Law Steven D. Schwinn (@sschwinn) to provide accessible insight into the Supreme Court — from the impact of the election to the cases before the Justices and the drama at oral argument. Classrooms can join these conversations on the ABA Public Education's Twitter for streaming videos (@abapubliced) or visit the ABA Division for Public Edu…

The Electoral College: Is there a better way?

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The results of the 2016 presidential election put a new spotlight on the Electoral College in many civics and history classrooms. Five out of forty-five of our nation’s presidents lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College. As illustrated in these brief point/counterpoint videos from the Bill of Rights Institute, arguments for and against Electoral College reform are compelling.

In this week’s #Teach2020 webinar, Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, examined Electoral College history, functionality, and various proposals for reform. Dr. Healy also provided an overview of how various scenarios might play out in the 2020 election given the possible challenges of counting mail-in ballots in a timely fashion. If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording to view at your convenience and visit the Election 2020 Toolkit for resources to enhance your instruction on t…

Teachers Are Trusted Guardians of Our Democracy

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Civics teachers are guardians of our democracy, the most trusted source for information on civic education according to new survey data from Frank Luntz, notable Republican pollster. Moreover, Americans of all political stripes see civic education as the most positive and impactful lever to strengthen national identity. These findings contradict recent claims by President Trump on Constitution Day at the White House Conference on American History:

The left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long. Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts…that try to make students ashamed of their own history. The left has warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies.

Previous empirical research suggests that social studies teachers’ political affiliations and ideologies are reflective of the communities they ser…

SCOTUS Preview

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) began its 2020-21 term this past Monday with eight members due to the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Issues such as the Affordable Care Act, Freedom of Religion, and the Unitary Executive Theory are on the docket in a possibly precedent-setting year by SCOTUS. In the midst of this activity, there is an impending contentious confirmation battle over the selection of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant seat.

Dr. Steven D. Schwinn joined the IllinoisCivics.org team for a SCOTUS preview in which he outlined possible implications of a “Justice Barrett” as well as cases that can be used in #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms addressing the separation of powers, federalism, and limited government. Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia involves questions around religious liberty and gay rights.California v. Texas deals with the constitutionality of the 2010 Affordable Care Act followin…

Community Building in the Virtual Classroom

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by Sue Khalaieff, Illinois Democracy Schools Network Manager
Since spring—in sharing sessions, meetings and emails—we have heard from our Democracy Schools Network members that the most challenging aspect of remote learning was building and sustaining a sense of community in virtual classrooms. In response, this August we offered two opportunities for network members to explore this challenge further. The first was “Circle Up,” a restorative circle series presented by Sarah-Bess Dworin, for Democracy Schools Network team leaders. The second was, “Building Community in a Virtual Space,” presented by Alternatives, Inc. Attendees learned about, participated in, and discussed how to create an environment in a digital space that was safe, receptive and trusting.

In the Circle Up sessions, participants learned about Circles, an indigenous and contemporary Restorative Practice that can make online meetings and classes more relational, intentional, and meaningful. Through these sessions, p…

Navigating Polls, Political Advertising and the Press in the 2020 Elections

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Polls, Political Advertising and the Press, OH MY! If this week’s presidential debate is any indication, I do not think we are in Kansas anymore. A tornado of fact-checking, partisan punditry, and preliminary polling welcomed all of us as we awoke to post-debate analysis. This is why this week’s #Teach2020 webinar was well-timed with information and resources to help classrooms navigate this election season.

The webinar began with two of our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches sharing resources they recommend for classroom use to navigate the landscape of media this campaign season. Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz from Charleston shared: Polling Pitfalls, a lesson plan from PBS NewsHour Extra. “This lesson plan helps students understand polling practices and important aspects of valid polling”Polls: Can Polls Be Trusted? An inquiry from C3 Teachers. “This is a longer inquiry that teaches about types of polls, how polling is done (an…

Teaching Civics through History: The Great Debates

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Next week, the nation will have its first opportunity to see the major candidates for president debate one another and address some of the most essential questions facing our nation regarding COVID-19, protests, health care, and the vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States. How can we best prepare your youngest community members to wise consumers of this information?

The Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) created a series of cross-curricular modules that can be used by classrooms in remote learning, hybrid, and face to face environments. The museum’s Executive Director, Susy Schultz, and Carol Summerfield, MBC Board Member and Executive Director of the History Center, joined IllinoisCivics.org this week for a webinar modeling a sample lesson from the museum’s Great Debates resources. If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording to view at your convenience.

The Great Debates website provides an interactive …

Participate in the Kids Voting IL Statewide Mock Election

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The Illinois Civics course requirements at both middle and high school require the use of simulations of democratic processes in the classroom. This proven practice is an important component of civic preparation because:Games and other simulations contribute to civic learning by allowing young people to act in fictional environments in ways that would be impossible for them in the real world; for example, they can play the role of president of the United States or an ambassador to the United Nations. Games and simulations can be constructed so as to be highly engaging and motivating while also requiring advanced academic skills and constructive interaction with other students under challenging circumstances. Guardians of Democracy Report (2011), pg. 34
Simulations like mock elections can demystify democratic institutions that gird our republic by providing an opportunity for students to apply the knowledge, skills, and dispositions…

Access to the Ballot

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
In one week, early voting will start in many locations in the State of Illinois. Navigating the new systems concerning ballot access can be daunting in the face of a pandemic. This week, IllinoisCivics.org partnered with high school interns from the Citizen Advocacy Center to help #CivicsInTheMiddle educators unpack new election protocols, deadlines, and issues related to exercising suffrage rights in the 2020 elections.


Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, was joined by Katie Li, a senior from Naperville Central High School, and Shreya Joshi, a junior from Waubonsie Valley High School, an Illinois Democracy School. Dr. Healy engaged in a lively Q and A with our young guests to share research they conducted over the summer related to: Misinformation about votingNew voting procedures in response to COVID-19Concerns about Election DayWhat students can do to engage in civic advocac…

Current and Societal Issue Discussions for In-Person, Remote, and Hybrid Classrooms

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Current and societal issue discussions swirl all around us and affect our daily lives. Which presidential platforms BEST reflect the policy issues that are important to me?How should the federal government prioritize and distribute vaccines for COVID-19?To what extent should internet access be a public good?Should standardized tests be administered while schools adjust to teaching students remotely? Who benefits if Illinoians vote “yes” for the amendment to change Illinois’ personal and corporate income tax from flat to progressive? The middle and high school civics course requirements outline that students engage in these critical conversations in the classroom. Previous blog posts shared how teachers can engage students to reflect on their lived experiences to inform these important discussions and methods to establish classroom norms and a community to provide a safe environment for such conversations, whether in person or on…

Creating Classroom Norms and Community

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
One of the proven practices embedded in the Illinois civics course requirements for 6-8 and 9-12 grades is current and societal issue discussions. Facilitating student-to-student discussions in remote or hybrid learning environments takes a reimagination of traditional strategies used in the classroom. Two weeks ago, we shared tools to help students reflect on the past to inform the present in hopes that classrooms would use students’ lived experiences with remote learning in the spring to recalibrate practices for the fall. Today we will explore how to create norms and community in the classroom. These ideas are excerpts from our IllinoisCivics.org Remote Learning Toolkit which provides a wide range of supports for families, students, and educators.
Engage Students in Creating Norms One of the essential questions addressed in any classroom is "How Should We Live Together?" Students must feel safe and secure in the learn…

The State of the Race

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This past week, IllinoisCivics.org kicked off our fall programming with a post-convention webinar updating educators on the State of the Race. Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation compared and contrasted the conventions and their respective impacts on polling. Dr. Healy also provided an overview of how the pandemic and political polarization might shape how the electorate participates this fall and key races in the Land of Lincoln to watch, including the referendum on the Fair Tax Amendment.

This was the first in a series of webinars to support educators in using the 2020 elections as a teachable moment to meet the 6-8 and 9-12 civics requirements. A recent article by the School Library Journal titled, “Vote of Confidence: When it Comes to Teaching the 2020 Election, Educators Have a Plan,” author Kara Yorio states:
For educators who teach about elections, it is even more complica…

Reflect on the Past to Inform the Present

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Schools across the Land of Lincoln are starting to reopen for the 2020-21 school year. Whether you are meeting with students on an online platform or in a blended format, creating a safe civic space for online learning takes intentionality and reimagining of typical back to school routines.

This past spring, we had the advantage of already knowing our students when school buildings closed and classes shifted to distance learning. This semester, all stakeholders will have to create room to put “Maslow before Bloom” and build a foundation for relationships 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. While the following resources have explicit connections to the civic learning practices in both the middle and high school civics course requirements, they are also best …

Students’ Civic Development Dependent Upon Teachers as Civic Role Models and Cultivators of Family Engagement

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Last week, I documented 8th graders’ uneven and inequitable exposure to proven civic learning practices according to the disaggregated results of the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress in Civics. Further data analysis revealed the critical role that teacher experience and dispositions play in students’ civic development, including the extent to which educators engage families in the learning process.

Education Week noted that students served by teachers whose primary role is in social studies and specifically civics or government outperformed those for whom it’s a secondary responsibility by a statistically significant, six-point margin, 159 to 153 (on a 300-point scale). Student scores are reflective of their proficiency in civic knowledge and skills.

In the same vein, teaching experience factored into student performance, with veteran teachers (three or more years of experience) besting novice teachers (two years or …

2018 NAEP Civics Results Reveal Uneven and Inequitable Exposure to Proven Civic Learning Practices

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
In April, the National Center for Education Statistics released the results of the 2018 National Assessment in Civics, administered for a second straight time to only 8th graders. Past versions of NAEP Civics also included 4th and 12th grade, and this cutback itself is a sign of the extent to which civic learning has been deprioritized nationally. The 2018 8th grade results reiterate a tired narrative of static student performance with less than one-quarter (24%) of students demonstrating proficiency in civic knowledge and skills.

And underlying these lackluster results is a profound and persistent civic achievement “gap” along racial and ethnic lines. Previous analysis of NAEP results points to massive disparities in access to proven civic learning practices among students of color, those qualifying for free and reduced lunch, students with limited English language proficiency, and those whose mothers did not graduate high school o…