Big Questions and the AP Government Redesign: A Match Made in Heaven

Government

Last week I attended a fantastic AP government redesign workshop through Northwestern University led by Vanessa Lal ( @vlal ).  I was heartened to see that inquiry is a centerpiece of the new format.  In fact, the College Board has designed specific Big Questions to underpin each of the five broad content categories: Foundations, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, American Political Ideologies and Beliefs and Political Participation.

Here they are:

Category:  Foundations of American Democracy

How did the founders of the U.S. Constitution attempt to protect individual liberty, while also promoting public order and safety?

How have theory, debate, and compromise influenced the U.S. Constitutional system?

How does the development and interpretation of the Constitution influence policies that impact citizens and residents of the U.S.?

Category: Interaction Among Branches of Government

How do the branches of the national government compete and cooperate in order to govern?

To what extent have changes in the powers of each branch affected how responsive and accountable the national government is in the 21st century?

Category: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

To what extent do the U.S. Constitution and its amendments protect against undue government infringement on essential liberties and from invidious discrimination?

How have U.S. Supreme Court rulings defined civil liberties and civil rights?

Category:  American Political Ideologies and Beliefs

How are American political beliefs formed and how do they evolve over time?

How do political ideology and core values influence government policy making?

Category:  Political Participation

How have changes in technology influence political communication and behavior?

Why do levels of participation and influence in politics vary?

How effective are the various methods of political participation in sharing public policies?

These questions serve as anchors to bind students to the content in a meaningful way.  I love the changes.

So here’s what I plan to do…

Keeping with my strategy outlined in my previous post, I will switch out my old questions for the new ones rolled out by the College Board.

All of these questions meet the criteria very well and inspire students to apply and synthesize content, two skills with diminished importance in the old format.

I’m following the very same methodology I outlined before. Students track these questions habitually throughout the course on a Google doc. Then, working in groups of two or three, they will select one, design a thesis statement (another new skill emphasized in the redesign) and present answers based on what they learned.

I am inspired that this redesign will give students fresh confidence to build important skills without sacrificing content and, in the process, give them a deeper appreciation for the power of Big Questions.

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Author: Dan Fouts

Since 1993 I've taught AP government, philosophy and US history in the Chicagoland area. I have an undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy from Bradley University and a M.S. in education and social policy from Northwestern University. I served as a member of the committee on pre-collegiate instruction in philosophy through the American Philosophical Association from 2012-201. Additionally, I work with NCSS to create and instruct online courses designed to help middle/high school teachers integrate Big Questions into their classrooms.

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