Category Archives: Big Question Lesson Artifacts

Teaching the Articles of Confederation– with an assist from MLK

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Last post we had Einstein assisting MLK to teach the  Letter From a Birmingham Jail.  For this post we’re using a MLK quote to teach the Articles of Confederation, another required document in the AP government and politics course.

 

Martin Luther King Jr I Have a Dream Speech 08-28-1963 Lincoln M

 

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Tell students to…

1. State the claim that MLK is making by putting it in their own words

2. Establish a counterclaim which goes against MLK’s thinking.

3. Share responses privately in groups of three

4. Share out with the entire class

MLK’s quote is clear enough: if you want freedom, you have to go out and get it, which is exactly what the colonists did when frustrations with England boiled over. To expect those in authority to give freedom is naive and the colonists knew it.

Now let’s connect this theme of freedom to the student:

Most students know all too well the futility of expecting authority figures– parents, coaches for example–to give them freedoms. A good part of growing up is spent demanding privileges while knowing that few may be granted and that the better thing to do is to obey the rules. Granted, sometimes demanding freedom yields success but other times the requests end up with a resounding ‘No’.  Encourage students to share their frustrations and successes in this opening conversation. We know they’ll have a wealth of experiences from which to draw.

For the third and last step, introduce a question which encapsulates the themes of freedom and oppression AND connects to the personal experiences of students which were unearthed in the opening conversation.  Here’s one that might get their attention: Can too much freedom be dangerous?

Now pivot to the Articles of Confederation…question-mark-2525248_960_720

This essential question gives you the ideal tool to open up student understanding of the Articles.  As the document makes clear, the states were obsessive about demanding their freedom and sovereignty, often at the expense of the federal government’s power.  As we know, that obsession with freedom will eventually lead to all kinds of governing problems later.

Give out excerpts of the Articles  along with the essential question and tell students to find examples in the text of the states trying to assert authority at the expense of the federal government, which essentially was relegated to the role of weak referee.  As a support for this text you may want to show a short video like this one from C-Span which provides some context. In the short discussion that follows you’ll definitely want to refer back to the personal experiences of the students to make extemporaneous connections.

These are great teaching moments waiting to happen because you are linking their lived experiences with otherwise lifeless curriculum.

This doesn’t have to be a long lesson at all and certainly– depending on the student ability level– we shouldn’t expect that students will pull out all of the necessary information from the document. But at the very least, this approach will generate some interest on the theme of freedom and its limits, something that you can come back to when studying how the Constitution fixed the problems.

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Below are some more examples of how to go through this 3-step process with other quotations. As you read these, think about the primary sources you teach and how you might make them more interesting using the quotations, claims, counterclaims and essential questions featured on the posts.

Aesop  Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.

Mahatma Gandhi   Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good

Margaret Mitchell  Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.

Leo Tolstoy  Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

Benjamin Franklin   Energy and persistence conquer all things. 

Asechylus   Wisdom comes alone through suffering.

Henry Ford    Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently

Ernest Hemingway  Courage is grace under pressure

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If you want to learn how to make and use essential questions, check out this cartoon and sign up to get Think Alouds showing you how to do it.

Cartoon

New teaching routines are hard— except this one.

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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 process broken up into three specific phases:  Quote, Counterclaim, Essential Question

Continue reading

Brutus No. 1 showed up in government class to answer some questions…

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Anti-Federalist Robert Yates

 

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.

Back story:

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:1024px-Violet_Romer_in_flapper_dress,_LC-DIG-ggbain-12393_crop

“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–Brutus-I-revised-font-300x300

1. Students read excerpts from Brutus No. 1 in groups of three (document courtesy of the Bill of Rights Institute).  I told them beforehand to formulate questions about the meaning of the reading

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.

Big Questions in Action

An AP government student asked a really Big Question and here’s what happened…

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Students come up with stunningly good questions.

Sometimes those questions take over the class.

I just experienced this first hand during a discussion on Plato’s Crito and Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail  (one of the required documents in the redesigned AP government course.) Continue reading

What is Respect? Ask the students first… THEN bring in the history.

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http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/typewriter/r/respect.html

Respect is something adolescents think a lot about.

After all, there are great rewards to being respected:  more friends, love from parents, favors from teachers and acceptance from society. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

American history is replete with leaders who also recognized the rewards of being respected and did everything possible to get it.  Nowhere is this pursuit better seen than in the years after the Civil War when African-Americans, freed from the bounds of slavery, had to pursue respect under the most difficult of conditions– Jim Crow. Continue reading

Big Questions Lesson Artifact Spotlight: Income Inequality

Income InequalityAs a student in an online course I teach, Melissa Fainman designed a lesson centered around an issue of growing importance in our divided country: income inequality.

The Big Question framing her lesson was:  How does the amount of money you make impact your life choices? Continue reading

Big Questions and the Power of Storytelling

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Two truths about teaching:

1. Questions don’t work too well unless students are in the mood for them.

2. Nothing sets a mood like a good story.

Two truths about stories: 

1. They captivate the imagination.

2. They create healthy soil on which to grow Big Questions. Continue reading