In Part I we had prompts on interest groups, term limits, gridlock, citizen participation and primaries and caucuses. In Part II it was executive orders, photo ids, social media and the electoral college.
Here we go with part III…
Was the Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu onto something? John Kennedy thought so.
A few weeks ago I shared a Three-Step routine used to design essential questions and create great conversations in class.
Here’s another example of how you might follow this process in a unit on the Cold War in US history.
Pick a theme, primary source and a philosopher quote aligned to the theme.
You’re teaching the Cold War and you think your students would be interested in the theme of fighting— when to do it and how to do it to make sure you achieve maximum benefit. Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech is your target primary source because it demonstrates the value of using words, not violence, to solve problems.
Ancient philosopher Sun Tzu has a provocative angle on this theme: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”
Now pick apart Sun Tzu’s quote. Find the claim being made and then articulate the counterclaims which assert competing perspectives.
Claim: The best way to deal with your enemies is by not fighting them.
Example Counterclaim: Attacking your enemy– trying to overwhelm him– is the best path towards victory.
Have a silent conversation with yourself over the different ways you and your students may view this quote…It might sound like this: It seems very counter-intuitive to claim that you can actually win over your enemies without fighting. Surely many students are under the impression that direct confrontation with others is the only way to win. Sun Tzu is offering a different perspective here, one that must somehow incorporate other means of getting your way.
After exploring the claims and counterclaims of the philosopher quote, slow down and think back to the primary source– Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech. Think of a Big Question that draws out the theme.
Here’s one: Is fighting the best way to get what you want?
Is it accessible? Can students understand the question easily? Does it make them want to share personal experiences? √
Is it provocative? Does the question force students to take a stand on something and provide evidence to support their position? √
Is it complex? Can the question be answered by multiple perspectives? √
Is it transferable? Can the question be re-purposed to apply to different contexts? √
This question pulls students into an interesting conversation about the value of fighting and violence as a solution to problems.
To implement this lesson, post the quote on the board and engage the students’ ideas on fighting. What you are doing is preparing the soil for the introduction of your primary source.
Now, introduce the Big Question as you share Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech. With the Big Question and Sun Tzu quote in hand, students have the tools to explore the historical importance of Kennedy’s decision and connect all of it to their own personal experiences.
Be on the lookout for an online course which teaches this Three-step process to design better questions and great classroom conversations. It will be called Teach Different with Essential Questions– offered through Adams State University. Coming in spring/summer 2019. In the course you will follow this process with your own curriculum.
Should judges serve life terms? This was a vexing question which consumed the Framers and survives today in the hearts and minds of people who follow the Supreme Court. I think the question lends itself very well to what we might see on the argument essay FRQ in AP government. Here is what this Prompt might look like.
And here are some others…
Presidency: Do executive orders give the president too much power? Prompt
Photo IDs and federalism: Do states have the authority to pass photo identification laws which restrict people’s ability to vote? Prompt
Social Media: Is social media a healthy way for citizens to participate in our political system? Prompt
Electoral College: Should the electoral college be abolished? Prompt
I have no clue at this point what might show up on this portion of the exam. At the very least, though, these can provide for good practice for students in making claims, defending them and responding to rebuttals.
Here are other sample prompts from a previous post I shared a few weeks back.
Food for thought…
I’m instructing an online course this spring/summer called Teach Different with Essential Questions. In the course teachers generate essential questions guided by themes in their curriculum. I will plan to post the course on this blog when ready. The course may be a good opportunity to develop some of these argument essay prompts aligned to important themes of government.
Good questions and conversations don’t just happen. They come from deep thinking and careful planning. The hardest part is establishing a routine to make them happen, and then sticking to it.
My brother Steve– also a high school social studies teacher with a background in philosophy– developed a routine to foster better classroom conversations. He’s had really good success in a very challenging urban teaching environment on the west side of Chicago.
Coming from a suburban environment, I thought it would be interesting to integrate my focus on essential questions into what he is doing.
Here’s the comprehensive process we’ve come up with so far, broken up into three specific phases: Select, Dissect and Connect
Below are 13 samples, each of which includes:
The bad news is we live in a time when everything in politics seems to be so emotionally charged and negative that it’s a struggle to talk to one another.
The good news is that carefully crafted questions can diminish this negativity and nurture better conversations. Continue reading
I may have stumbled into a way to
1. inspire students to ask more questions
2. encourage close reading of a primary source
3. save time
The idea here is very raw. Read this and reply with your ideas. And if you try this out, I’d love to know what happens.
Around 10 years ago I watched my student teacher try a strategy in US history which she learned about in her methods class. She played a short video showing a wild party at a speakeasy during the 1920s. At the party were scantily dressed men and women dancing around. After two minutes or so– during which students were noticeably confused– she stopped the video to show one of the women close up. She stood in front of the projector screen and gave a simple command:
“Hi! I’m a flapper. Interview me”.
Without delay the students started firing questions at her, ranging from “What is a flapper?”, “Why are you dressed like that?”, “How are you getting away with drinking alcohol?” to “Who was invited to the party?” I remember thinking to myself– ‘what an innovative way to get students to start asking questions‘.
Yet I never tried the strategy myself…until this week.
I was in a time crunch teaching the founding period in AP government–feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the primary sources required from the College Board. I’ve already had classroom discussions on Federalist 10, 51 and 70. Students are a little burned out. I needed a quick, imaginative idea for teaching Brutus 1— the seminal work which lays out the philosophy of the Anti-Federalists.
My mind raced back 10 years to that experience with my student teacher. What if I came up with a way to use the ‘Interview Me’ technique to inspire student questions on a primary source? Why not give it a shot? It’s not a Socratic seminar but who cares? As long as the students did a close reading of the document, and developed some cogent questions, my objectives would be met. And it might actually be fun.
So here’s what happened–
2. Before setting them off to read it, I said they would have a chance to interview Brutus I (played by me) with 15 minutes left in the period. He would clear up their misunderstandings.
3. With 15 minutes left I sat in front of the room and said
“Hi! I’m Brutus I. Interview me”
I fielded their questions and students took notes based on my responses. We went right to the bell. (I screwed up here. I should have allowed at least 30 minutes for the interview.)
I haven’t assessed them yet but in terms of student interest in the activity and the quality of their questions, I was pleasantly surprised. They were amused with my performance. I didn’t dress up at all. I just made sure that I assumed the character of somebody who was afraid of centralized political power, large republics and a national Congress which would abuse its authority through its power to tax. It actually wasn’t hard to pull off from my end. It ended up being like a bizarre 15 minute co-presentation with my students as assistants.
There was something about the interview format which motivated students to ask questions. It brought a different energy to the room. Because they were interviewing me, they didn’t seem embarrassed at all about their confusions. They went along with it.
I see some adaptations for next time:
1. Tell a student to study the primary source beforehand and run the interview for the class.
2. Find two primary sources; divide the class; give one source to each section; have each section stage an interview. Maybe they could plan out questions beforehand so the interviewee knew what was coming and they made sure to cover salient points. Sounds like a mini-class project waiting to happen.
Has anybody ever tried this technique before with primary sources? If so, what did you do and were you successful?
Any ideas for improving this? The input would be great! Thanks.