Author Archives: Dan Fouts

About 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 also work for Teach Different, an educational company dedicated to helping teachers and parents have great conversations every day. 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.

Do we have to suffer to be successful?

Students might be asking themselves this very question as the pandemic has upended many of their life goals. Here’s a conversation that can give them an opportunity to express themselves.

“There is no success without hardship.” Sophocles

The Big Idea: Going through hard times is something most everybody has to do. Some people face hardship and turn away. They become discouraged and think that success is unattainable. Others see hardship as an opportunity for self-motivation, goal-setting and a fresh re-evaluation of values. Students must determine whether to see hardship as a barrier or an opportunity, and accept the consequences underlying the choices they make.

Claim: Here Greek playwright Sophocles is saying that a person must go through hard times to be successful. Success doesn’t come easy.

Counterclaim: But sometimes success comes easy. You don’t need to go through hardship. You just need to be at the right place at the right time.

Essential Question: Do we have to suffer to be successful?

COPY this assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

Integration Idea: I want to help the students find some sort of positive meaning from the Coronavirus crisis. The conversation with Sophocles on hardship would be a great tool to encourage self-reflection on the fact that sometimes a person has to go through difficult times to achieve success. I could use the essential question, “Do we have to suffer to be successful?”, as an exit slip after the conversation. We could refer back to their responses at different times to consider the role suffering plays in our quest for success.

This resource comes from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters like this.

Other posts you may like:

AP Government test prep in the Age of Coronavirus

“The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.” Sun Tzu

“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” Socrates

The Big Idea: All students have run across “know-it-alls”. They might be one themselves. They walk into a room and express supreme confidence with their knowledge. Being humble is seen as a sign of weakness. Then there are those timid students who wait patiently, ask questions and only speak when they are certain of something. Confidence and humility are noble traits. The life-long challenge is striking the right balance between the two.

Claim: According to famous Greek philosopher Socrates, you should question what you think you know. It’s important to be humble and admit that you don’t have the answers.

Counterclaim: You should have confidence in what you know. Certainty is important.

Essential Question: Should we question what we are sure of?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

Integration Idea: I see this essential question and conversation as a great way to begin or end a school year. At the beginning it would establish an importance to the value of being humble with what you know and being open to questioning. It would also give you a good insight into the types of students in your class who are more inquisitive versus the ones who demand certainty. At the end of the year, it would inspire the students to reflect upon the importance of questioning and what they learned. You could ask the students to write about examples in the curriculum where there were no clear answers and where it was important to keep questioning what was being learned.

These free resources are from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

Are you more like an alien or monster with your students?

Let’s imagine what a course organized by essential questions might look like.

“To do nothing is also a good remedy.” Hippocrates

The Big Idea: Children confront problems everyday. Some are small like how to study for an exam or get a ride to school, and some large like how to support their friends who are in unhealthy relationships. All of these problems involve the choice of whether to intervene or do nothing and let the situation play itself out. This choice is always hard because we never really know the future and must rely on our instincts in the moment.

Claim: According to famous Greek physician Hippocrates sometimes the best way to solve a problem is not to intervene. Let the problem resolve itself.

Counterclaim: But sometimes intervention is necessary to solve problems because people are unable or unwilling to do it themselves.

Essential Question: How do we know when we should intervene to solve problems?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

This resource is from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu

What is respect?

“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

The Big Idea: Students make moral decisions everyday. Usually these decisions revolve around specific actions they take like helping a friend, cheating on a test or obeying curfew. But students also make moral decisions by being silent after witnessing the immoral behavior of others. In these situations, the impulse for self-protection overrides moral obligations. Learning how to choose whether or not to be silent in the midst of injustice is an important part of moral development.

Claim: According to American writer and feminist Audre Lorde, if you don’t speak up, your voice will never be heard. If you don’t stand up for yourself, then you will get taken advantage of. If you don’t stand up against injustice, it will never go away and it will be knocking at your door soon.

Counterclaim: Sometimes being quiet is the right thing to do. You need to be silent to protect yourself or a friend. Minding your own business can offer protection as well.

Essential Question: How do we know when to be silent?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

These resources are from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

“The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.” Sun Tzu

Teaching the Articles of Confederation–with an assist from MLK.”

Essential questions and conversations at the ready– just in time for the fall


Next school year could be confusing for everyone.

One thing is clear:  there is a great need for short, portable assignments to give to students which are meaningful, inspire conversations and will work in any environment (face-to-face, blended or virtual).

In that spirit, here’s something you can send students to foster some great conversations and get them to grapple with essential questions, using the ideas of some of our great historical and literary thinkers as prompts.

Each assignment is an editable Google form which has…

  • a provocative quote and theme and picture of the author
  • a student primer video
  • text fields where students write out the claim and counterclaim the author is making
  • space to answer an essential question

Click on the resources below and click “Make a Copy

Abraham Lincoln- Leadership:  “Right makes Might”

Susan B. Anthony- Freedom: “Independence is happiness”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.- Conflict: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt- Fear: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Mahatma Gandhi- Sacrifice:  “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Winston Churchill- Perseverance: “Success is not final: failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

How do I use these?

  1. As a pre-writing activity before an essay.
  2. As a prep activity (entrance slip) before you have a conversation with the whole class
  3. As a follow-up reflective activity (exit slip) after the conversation
  4. As a stand-alone assignment if you don’t have time for a conversation at all!

They are ready for delivery.  Edit the forms as you wish and send them off to your students. Google automatically creates a spreadsheet with the responses!

These resources are courtesy of Teach Different, where you can sign up for conversation starters with a different quote every week.

AP Gov Test Prep in the Age of Coronavirus

CDC-coronavirus-image-23311-for-webAs this pandemic continues to unfold, I’m realizing that it just may serve as the best opportunity we will ever have to study of how government works (and doesn’t work).

To that end, I’m thinking ahead to the AP exam and thought of creating a simple, yet comprehensive, ongoing e-learning assignment which calls on students to connect all of the areas of government with the crisis.

I’ve used questions directly from the AP College Board as the prompts. Clearly, not all of the questions fit perfectly but enough do to make this a worthwhile activity.

Coronavirus- Making the Connection


  1. Students copy assignment onto their own Google doc
  2. After competing assignment, students submit the link to their Google doc to teacher
  3. Teacher checks for inaccuracies and provides feedback for revision
  4. Teacher compiles a class list of student Google doc links
  5. Students study class responses

If your students suffer from biased thinking, try this– for 10 minutes.

There’s nothing more gratifying than watching a student eagerly share a heartfelt political opinion in class…. and nothing more, well, disheartening. Sharing strong opinions creates great energy for discussion. It’s infectious. It sets the model that all students should care about learning.   But then there’s this discomforting feeling you get when you realize that the student has completely ignored any opposing views.  There’s no flexibility, no openness. There’s no critical thinking. The student is confirming an existing bias. It’s so important for students to have passionate opinions; but it’s also important for them to cultivate a sensitivity to people with whom they disagree, even if that sensitivity doesn’t lead to a changing of their minds. Continue reading