Sunday, July 2, 2017

Teaching Civics/Government Through Project-based Learning

For a long time, even in my own schooling, learning about how our government and the civic process works has been a process of memorization and not very engaging. I firmly believe that because of this, our society has become apathetic towards civic responsibility and civic engagement. I have seen firsthand people trying to get out of jury duty, people not voting, and in general not wanting to get involved for they do not understand / see the value in our civics processes. This is a problem. In order for our country to fully function we need our citizens to know and understand what is going on in their local, state, and national political arena. So how can we create an engaging way to learn about our government and how it works? Enter project-based learning and design thinking.

When this past school year began our U.S. iHistory class hit the ground running. I had the students participate in a government themed Breakout EDU event that I created as part of our project launch. Our first project, How It Works, was going to have our students learn about the branches of government by engaging them with the Constitution, having them write an explanatory essay, and then working together to create a game (board, video, or other kind) that will teach others about a governmental process. When the students figured out all of the clues and got into the Breakout box, they got a URL to our project sheet, and their very own pocket Constitution that I even covered in some faux leather to make it more appealing and lasting. These are middle schoolers, after all...

Using the DEEPdt process as my springboard I posted the following question on our whiteboard. 
"What do we need to know about _______ in order to create a _____game that teaches about ________?" 
This served as our guide throughout the project. By posing this question to the students, we were better able to focus our work and understand why we were working on certain content, criteria, and pieces during the project. When a student asked why do we need to know about the Electoral College? I pointed to the question. When they asked about Judicial Review, I pointed to the board. 

Now all of the content and concepts weren't integrated into every game, but they weren't intended to be that way either. What it did allow is for students who choose to have a game that talked about checks and balances to know how each branch of government worked with one another, and how they provide balance so that no one branch becomes too powerful. It allowed students to dive into the election process and create a portion of their game that dealt with the primaries as well as the national election. It allowed students to see how members of a jury (and local community) play a role in determining the outcome of a case that may have national implications.

I've been made into a game piece... life goal accomplished.

When it came time to design the games, we spent several days playing different board games, online games like iCivics, and card games. Now some may see this a waste of time, but in reality it was an integral part of our process. If we were to create a game of our own the students needed to understand different design element and how different parts of games did things well, or poorly for that matter. 

In the end, every team had a game that they showcased and presented to one 
another. We took turns playing them and had blast learning for them and giving feedback to the creators. I watched as the students learned from one another not only about governmental process, but also how to use the 3D printer, and laser engraver. A couple of the games will be tweaked and possibly turned into actual products that could be put up as kickstarters for other classrooms to use. 

Not only do the students have a deeper understanding of our Constitution, the branches of government, and civic/governmental processes, but they also engaged with their own learning, grew their communication skills, and had fun. 

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