By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sixth Grade Presidential Elections Unit Focuses on Critical Thinking, Cooperation, Creativity, and Civic Engagement

My colleagues and I have designed a timely and dynamic presidential elections unit that is firing up future voters in sixth grade.  First, teachers introduced students to the history of presidential campaigns in the United States, focusing on the role of political parties and the media in recent years.  Next, students interviewed three adult family members to elicit major issues of concern in the presidential election of 2012.  Analyzing our survey results to determine major issues for voters, students in each sixth grade history class worked in cooperative groups researching party positions on major issues such as the economy and jobs, taxes and government spending, health care and education, national security and foreign policy, immigration, the environment, and more.  They have watched and analyzed the televised debates as well as using party websites, library reference websites, and other media. The focus throughout has been on issues and party platforms rather than personalities and individual candidates.

New working groups have been formed in each class, as students move from being non-partisan researchers to campaign managers for one of four parties: Democrat, Republican, Green, and Libertarian.  Running a “political campaign,” students will work in cooperative groups to create a candidate stump speech, party platform brochure, visual campaign advertisement, and campaign video.  Each item will present a positive view of the group’s party platform and candidate for president, without denigrating other parties.  Setting up campaign tables in Middle School hallways, political party campaign groups will present their campaign media to Middle School “voters” as the Middle School holds a realistic mock election run by the entire Middle School history department on Election Day, November 6.  By focusing on issues, research, and identification of media’s role in the election process, teachers and students alike are becoming more active and informed citizens. 

Families have been involved since the beginning of this project, providing supplemental understandings and personal insights for their children.  In my book, Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future, I have described the elections issue research process in detail, and I emphasize that family involvement is key to the success of the project.  Students see their teachers, classmates, and adults at home engaged in the civic process. 

Throughout the process we have focused on the following essential questions:

1.      How can citizens become involved in the election process?

2.      What are the important issues of the election?

3.      What news and internet sources offer balanced information?  What is the role of campaign advertising in an election?

a.       Where do citizens become informed about an election?

b.      How do citizens determine if a source is unbiased?

c.       What is propaganda?

4.      What does civil discourse look like and sound like?  Why is it important in society?

Several resources have been helpful in the course of this project, including party platforms from party web pages.  Teachers have identified websites with content at readable grade levels to introduce the issues, but students are eagerly venturing out of their comfort zones to understand the complexities.  They bring articles and web links to the attention of their peers and teachers daily. 

As we made the transition from being nonpartisan researchers to role playing the campaign staffs of one of four political parties, we analyzed videos of historical campaigns as well as a set of campaign ad spoofs to discuss the power of graphics, jingles, slogans, and video-production techniques to change public opinion. 

In our classes, we have the opportunity to help students develop the ability to think critically and engage in respectful civil discourse about presidential election issues.  Rather than focusing on political personalities and partisanship, we can aim to stimulate intelligent and thoughtful participation in the political process.  In the short term, we can research party positions and the media’s role in electoral processes.  In the long term, we can pique students’ interest in becoming informed citizens who vote responsibly and participate in their communities.  Seize the time to engage your students in the political process, whether you have days or weeks to devote to this crucial process.

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