Digital Constitutional Convention
Teaching the Constitution to 8th graders is hard.
Teaching anything via distance learning is hard.
Teaching the 8th graders the Constitution via distance learning... uh oh.
Against all my hopes and dreams it looks like I, and most of California at least, will be teaching our 8th grade Constitution unit virtually. This has worried me from the jump. I knew I could make the Revolution work. It has characters, drama and action to spare.
The Constitution has the word bicameral.
Uh oh indeed.
Let's rewind a bit, back to the Before Times. I have worked harder on my Constitution unit than any other in my career. I love the Constitution. I could debate Federalist Papers with people all day long and be in Heaven. Getting that joy through to my students has been very difficult. Over the last 10 year I've created a card game, a Breakout and a simulation that have all been incredibly well received by my students. They have brought life and interaction to a unit that previously had very little.
None of them will work virtually.
Sure, I could make adjustments and make them technically functional, but in each case it is the person to person interaction that makes those activities great. That is what is missing from most instruction on the Constitution. Kids read (alot) and complete various charts and graphic organizers, but we don't do much together.
So, what would we do digitally? iCivics offers some great options, especially for later parts of the unit like the powers of the branches. There's some great close reading activities from SHEG. None of these offered what I was looking for. So, to Google I go! After finding dozens more reading activities I finally found one that sparked my interest.
The basic idea is to use a school ASB as an analogy for the Constitutional government. Bingo! Great idea! Love it! Kids understand ASB. We just had ASB elections. Let's run with it.
I took the basic idea and created my own versions of the Virginia and New Jersey plans having them apply to potential new ASB representation rules. I wrote up the plans along with a short narrative around each one (Commandment 3: Organize your ideas with a story!) that explains silly reasons to call them the Virginia and New Jersey plans. I made pro and con slides for each that students will fill in using PearDeck.
Then my students will debate each plan (just like they did in the in the class ConCon sim but without the silly aristocratic greetings and name tags, RIP G-Dubbz, you'll be back someday!) and then we will vote to try to determine a new set up for ASB. Of course, since the vote must be unanimous, it will fail. That opens the door for us to then reading about Roger Sherman and the Great Compromise.
That's not a bad start to a lesson. It's relevant, understandable and should get kids going. However, it isn't enough. I want my hooks to be memorable and unique. So, I started thinking about the tools I have access to that I didn't have in face to face.
That's when it hit me. We don't have to read about Roger Sherman. Roger Sherman can come to class and offer his compromise directly to the students. How? Easily. I'll just log into Zoom on my second computer with the name Roger Sherman. When it comes times to offer a compromise "Roger" will type in chat. I will respond to him as if he were any other student.
Some students will quickly realize we don't have a Roger Sherman in class and that I happen to look down to type every time Roger says something but so what? I know that giant Mickey Mouse walking around is a dude in a suit, but who cares? We buy into the fantasy because it's fun and unique. I think my kids will play along with Roger just fine. Sure someone will say "I know that's you Mr. Roughton." I'll be ready. "First of all, I'm Mr. Washington today and secondly, how dare you besmirch the good name of a new student that way?!" They'll laugh and the fantasy will play on.
They will remember the different plans for ASB representation. They will long remember Roger Sherman invading our class meeting.
In just one day I went from dreading the upcoming unit to being more excited to teach a lesson than I have been yet this year. I think it is going to be an awesome start to our Constitution unit. I just hope I can somehow keep it up from there!
Here's a copy of the activity. It is designed for PearDeck. It uses only the free modules of PearDeck so anyone should be able to use it. It would also work just fine without PearDeck at all.
I also think this would make great 1 day lesson for the upcoming Constitution day on the 17th! Enjoy!