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

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Was the Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu onto something?  John Kennedy thought so.

A few weeks ago I shared a Three-Step process 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.

Step One: Quotesuntzu

Pick a theme, primary source and a 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”

Now pick apart Sun Tzu’s quote. Find the claim being made. 

Claim:  The best way to deal with your enemies is by not fighting them.

Step Two:  Counterclaim

Now articulate the counterclaims which assert competing perspectives.

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: Essential Question

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.

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Here are some more examples of how to go through this 3-step process with other quotations. They come from another blog I’m managing for Teach Different, a professional development organization geared towards helping teachers with the essential-question creation process.

As you read these posts think about the primary sources you teach and how you might make them more interesting.

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

Asechylus Wisdom comes alone through suffering

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


Check out this Cartoon.  It outlines this 3-Step student engagement technique and gives you the opportunity to receive ThinkAlouds showing the process in action.

Cartoon

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.


 

 

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

Sample Prompts for the Argument Essay FRQ- AP government

US_Congress_02

Below are 14 samples, each of which includes:

  • A sample essential question which introduces the argument essay prompt on some area of government.
  • A draft prompt including three founding documents that could help shape the students’ arguments.

Are your students bored with the founding documents?

Check out this Cartoon.  It describes a 3-Step student engagement technique that you can use with the founding documents to make them more interesting

Cartoon

I used the technique with success with Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail and the Articles of Confederation.

AP Government Argument Essay Samples

Interest groups: Do interest groups hinder or promote democracy?  Prompt

Gridlock:  Is gridlock from divided government healthy or unhealthy for our system of government?  Prompt

Term limits:  Do congressional term limits violate or honor indexpopular sovereignty? Prompt

Citizen participation: Does citizen participation really matter?  Prompt

Primaries and caucuses: Is the presidential nominating process democratic? Prompt

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

Civil Rights:  Should the federal government have power over states in the shaping of civil rights policies?  Prompt

Representative versus direct democracy: Which is a better vehicle to serve citizen needs– a representative or direct democracy?  PromptThe_Kavanaugh_family_and_Donald_Trump

Independent judiciary:  Is an independent judiciary a threat to or a savior for democracy?  Prompt

Congressional oversight:  Is congressional oversight healthy or unhealthy for our system of government?  Prompt

NEW! Political Parties:  Do political parties hinder or promote democracy?  Prompt

Need help with Supreme Court comparison FRQ?    I’ve posted some samples here

Need help with the FRQ#1 Concept Application? Here is a sample on the electoral college    Here is a response from a student. Despite a few factual inaccuracies, my impression is that she got one point for part A, one point for part B but I couldn’t quite give part C to her because she didn’t clearly relate the amendment process to the concept of federalism. It had to be inferred.


 

 

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

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…

KING

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