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
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 )
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: Select
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?
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.
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!
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:
- A sample essential question which introduces the argument essay prompt on some area of government. (There is an online course available which teaches the process of making these kinds of questions)
- A draft prompt including three founding documents that could help shape the students’ arguments.
I’ve posted some samples for the Supreme Court comparison FRQ here
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