Category Archives: Big Questions In Action

Don’t do this when a student interrupts you with a great question…

brown wooden gavel close up photography

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I totally screwed up last week. We were studying the basic differences between judicial activism and judicial restraint.  We had just finished up making the point that a judicial restraint oriented court is typically more conservative in that it is less likely to overturn precedent and more likely to see the law as static. A student disrupts the chain of thinking with this question… Continue reading

“Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men’s desires, but by the removal of desire.” Epictetus

EpicSeems counter-intuitive to me.

But maybe I’m missing something.

Inspired by stoic philosopher Epictetus, I worked through the 3-Step process (introduced in a earlier post ) to create an essential question for a US history unit on imperialism.

 

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Sample prompts for Supreme Court comparison FRQ– and a Big Question

Roscoe Pound, former dean of Harvard Law School, famously said “The law must be stable but must not stand still.”  Designers of the Supreme Court comparison FRQ for the AP government exam must have been listening.

Consistent with the expectations for this response, I’ve created a few sample prompts, each of which includes one the of the 15 required cases along with a precedent-setting case related to it.

I will add to this list leading up to the exam. Here is a chart with all of the cases– facts, holdings, precedents and significance.

(I’ve also posted samples for the argument essay FRQ here )

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Part III–Sample Prompts for the Argument Essay FRQ- AP government

democracy

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…

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

462px-john_f._kennedy,_white_house_photo_portrait,_looking_up

 

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 memorable conversations in class.

Here’s another example of how you might follow this process in a unit on the Cold War in US history.

( The process is now being taught in an online course ).

Step One: Selectsuntzu

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”

Step Two:  Dissect

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.

Step Three: Connect

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?

  1. Is it accessible?  Can students understand the question easily?  Does it make them want to share personal experiences?  √

  2. Is it provocative?  Does the question force students to take a stand on something and provide evidence to support their position?  √

  3. Is it complex?  Can the question be answered by multiple perspectives?  √

  4. 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.


I’m excited to teach this 3-Step process in an online graduate course titled “Teach Different with Essential Questions.”  Teachers follow the process and make three original lessons aligned to what they already teach. It’s a great way to bring a little philosophy into your teaching life!

Part II: Sample Prompts for the Argument Essay FRQ- AP government

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

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?  Promptvoter_id

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.

 

Nervous about an impeachment discussion? Try this…

NotMyPresident

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