Branch Battles

Mickey's 9th Commandment: For Every Ounce of Treatment, Add a Ton of Treat!

My 8th graders have been learning about the Constitution for just over a month. Anyone who has taught this unit before knows it can be a slog. While my kids this year have generally enjoyed the learning there's just so much of it that is extremely challenging. Yesterday, for example, I had them analyzing a case briefing from the Supreme Court. Just parsing a single sentence is hard. They stuck with it. They learned a ton. There is no denying though that even with the fun of mixing in iCivics, PearDeck drawings and my own constant attempts at humor, this unit is a heavy dose of treatment. (Of course, it is all the worse since we're doing distance learning and can't do any of my in class games or simulations.) So, as we did our last lesson today on Checks and Balances I knew they were due for some treat.

We started class with an extremely long and difficult webquest from iCivics about Checks and Balances. We went through it together as a class with my usual 4 kids responding. Off to a great start, right? We skipped most of it as many of the readings and questions just weren't necessary. They needed the background provided and I'm pleased that the lesson gave them enough for the main event to come. (This, by the way, is not a knock on iCivics at all. I love their stuff and I can't fathom a better way to teach the nitty gritty of checks and balances - which is why I assigned it!)

Let's rewind a bit. I had teased the Treat part of the lesson in the class intro. I wrote on the calendar "Write your dopest diss track as you challenge another up and coming rapper to a battle about a government branch." Then, right as the preshow music ended and class was about to start I played my own rap. I didn't see it up. I didn't give any warning. I just turned on a background drum beat and let it play. Chat filled with something close to:

Student: ....

Student 2: ....

Student 3: ...

Student 2: I'm literally dying lol

Student 4: ...

Now we're talking! They had a small taste of what was coming and they were excited. Okay, snap back to reality.

Speaking of snapping back to reality... I wish I had thought to play part of this video below before jumping into the rap battle part but I didn't. Oh well, next time!

After "completing" the iCivics lesson (we only actually did 3 of the 10 slides) I had the students fill out a graphic organizer about checks and balances. They were able to do it pretty easily showing that they'd learned what they needed to from the webquest. Rap battle time!

I explained the instructions. Choose a branch, write 2 lines outlining your powers then 2 more outlining the checks you have over the other branches - bonus points if you appropriate 18th century insults in your track.

Checks and Balances

After students wrote their raps I had them send them to me so I could play them for the class. Here's where the treat came in. Using Naturalreaders.com I simply pasted in the student response and played the audio through our class Meet. I also played the backing beat track from YouTube to add to the flavor (just search for Hip Hop drum beat.) The students LOVED it. They started bombarding me with "play mine next!" requests faster than I could queue them up. The robot speech to text voices just made the whole thing even more absurd and absolutely hilarious. (The mispronunciations turned out to be especially comical.) Kids dropping in the 18th century insults just made it even better.

While their raps were generally terrible and rarely rhymed, it didn't matter. They had so much fun sharing them and were quite supportive of one another's attempts. It also showed me that they actually got the material. Raps were filled with terms like veto and unconstitutional. I have no doubt that they will remember checks and balances far better than if we had taken a fully serious approach.

The best part was how many kids wanted their rap to be heard. We all have students who are reluctant to speak up in class. With distance learning it has become an ever larger issue. I have kids who have been in my class for 13 weeks that I've still never seen or heard. Today though, I did! Well, at least what they would sound like if they were a robot... Still, a step forward! In the physical classroom it is hard to get some students to share out their answers and opinions. I guarantee it would be easier if you offered to have the robot voice do it for them! I think this could be a great way to turn those reluctant speakers around. Once they hear "their" voice aloud in the classroom they will be more likely to speak up later. I'm excited to see where this tool may take me and my students.

Try to remember the importance of treat, especially when we're laying on the treatment!


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