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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 Presidential Elections Unit Focuses on Critical Thinking, Cooperation, Creativity, and Civic Engagement

“Try to be informed—not just opinionated.”
Northern Sun bumper sticker

It’s that time again: a presidential election year.  As we did in 2008 and 2012, my colleagues and I will include a four-week presidential elections unit in our fall 2016 sixth grade history class curriculum.  I have updated my previous election-year blog to provide background and links to involve students in active learning about the 2016 election.

Sixth Grade Policy Wonks

This is a timely and dynamic presidential elections unit to fire up sixth grade future voters and is easily adaptable to various grades.  First, teachers introduce 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 interview three adult family members to elicit major issues of concern in the presidential election of 2016.  Analyzing our survey results to determine major issues for voters, students in each sixth grade history class work in four 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 will watch and analyze televised debates as well as research using party websites, library reference websites, and other media. The focus is on issues and platforms rather than personalities and individual candidates.

In 2016, this is a particularly interesting approach, as much of this election year media focus has called attention to the personalities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as much as—perhaps more than—their proposed policies.  Little attention at all is directed to the candidates or policies of the Libertarian and Green parties, also running presidential candidates.  Our presidential unit is meant to broaden the viewpoints of our students—and families, encouraging debate about issues rather than personalities.

Sixth Grade Campaign Managers
After the research phase, we form new working groups in each class, and 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 work in cooperative groups to create a candidate stump speech, party platform brochure, visual campaign advertisement, and campaign video.  Each item presents 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 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 in November.  By focusing on issues, research, and identification of media’s role in the election process, teachers and students alike become more active and informed citizens. 
Family Involvement is Key

Families are involved from 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 describe 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. 

Essential Questions:

Throughout the process we focus on the following essential questions:
1.    What does civil discourse look like and sound like?  How can we disagree respectfully?  Why are respect and civil discourse important in society?
2.    How can citizens become informed and involved in the election process?  Why should they?
3.    What are the important issues of this election?  How can we find out?
4.    What is the role of news and Internet sources?  What is the role of campaign advertising?
a.    Where do citizens become informed about an election?
b.    How do citizens determine the bias, or point of view, of a news/research source?
c.    What is propaganda?
d.    Does unbiased reporting exist?

Several resources are helpful in the course of this project, including party platforms from party web pages.  Teachers identify websites with content at readable grade levels to introduce the issues, but students also eagerly venture 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 make the transition from being nonpartisan researchers to role-playing the campaign staffs of one of four political parties, we analyze 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 influence 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 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.

-Susan Gelber Cannon, September 2016

RESOURCES Helpful links: 
·      Download Sue Cannon's student research packet: PART 1: Election Research Packet-4 party 
·      Download Sue Cannon's student group campaign directions: PART 2: Campaign Project Directions &Rubric  

Online Resources for researching the 2016 Presidential Elections, the issues, the media, and the candidates:

5.    CNN Elections Page  
9.    League of Women Voters: provides an informative guide to the elections process, including useful tips on analyzing media, watching debates, campaign finance, and more.  Downloadable PDFfile
11.SIRS  (library-linked subscription resources): Access Social Issues Resource Series (SIRS) via the EA Library REFERENCE page. Look for Elections 2016.
14.Candidate websites: Remind students NOT to give personal information to any of these websites.  They may search the sites without giving any of your information.  We use sites from Democrat, Republican, Green, and Libertarian parties.
15.Compare media content: Peruse headlines from a variety of news sources online such as those listed below.  Compare lead story selection, headline word choices, and story content.  How would the media in another country present this news? Compare Fox News with MSNBC for example, or Time for Kids with Indy Kids.  Ask yourself questions about each site’s objectivity and perspective. 

·      Al Jazeera  
·      BBC News  
·      CNN 
·      Democracy Now   
·      Fox News 
·      Indy Kids 
·      MSNBC 
·      National Public Radio 
·      New York Times 
·      Time for Kids 
·      Time Magazine 
·      ZNet

20.Play the Constitution Center’s Game: Seize the Vote!Answer questions about voting rights to gain voting rights for your players.  

21. Letters to the Next President: Issues from students across the country are posted and indexed by topic, including gender wage gap, police brutality, student debt, economy, and so much more.  Good format for studying issues and writing.

22. Join the moderated debate format that may be useful to classroom teachers.

23. Commission on Presidential Debates: debate format and schedules for 2016 presidential and vice presidential debates