Our unit on civics and government continues to progress, and we are now studying presidential elections. This week we learned who The Constitution states is qualified to run for president, and what unwritten qualities people look for in a president. Studying real campaign posters helped us determine that the people want a president who is trustworthy, energetic, focused, and kind. The students have also been reading a novel about a character who is campaigning for office (Bad Kitty for President, The Kid Who Ran for President, or NEATE to the Rescue).
We've also learned about the two main political parties and the basic beliefs of each. Democratic posters taught us the symbol of the donkey, the party color of blue, and the core beliefs of social responsibility, equality, and a powerful government. Republican posters taught us the symbol of the elephant, the party color red, and the core beliefs of personal responsibility, limited government, and lower taxes. With their new understanding of candidates, campaigns, and parties, the students created their own campaign posters for a real or fictional candidate.
All of this background knowledge was put to the test today during our mock election! The campaign posters were hung in 2 categories, Democrat and Republican. We held a primary election to choose our 2 presidential candidates.
After the 2 presidential candidates were chosen, it was time for the general election. Knowing that the first real presidential debate is tonight, the students wanted to give the candidates a chance to speak to the voters.
After hearing what each candidate had to say about what the country needs in a president, the voters were ready to make their decision. The students cast their vote, but before they submitted their ballots, I threw in a twist: the electoral college!
Each student was assigned a state to represent. This meant that their ballot would be worth the amount of electoral votes that their state gets. This added an element of suspense and surprise as I added up the totals.
As each ballot came in, I represented the votes in various ways, using tallies, tens and ones, or equations. The students were then tasked to find the total for each candidate.
In the end, candidate Harris won the most electoral college votes. However, the real winners in this scenario are the 3rd graders, who now have a much deeper understanding of our complicated election process.
You are probably well aware that the 3rd graders at HHAI are given lots of opportunities to make choices. Last week, we took the idea of choice to a whole new level, introducing what is called "academic choice." Academic choice is a teaching strategy that comes from Responsive Classroom. You can learn more about it here. Basically, the idea is that the teacher decides what she wants her students to learn, and the students get to decide how they learn it. When students get to direct their own learning, they intrinsically become more motivated learners. The learning becomes a part of their identity. They retain the information better and gain confidence in the process.
Inspired by this idea, I decided to infuse academic choice into our current unit about civics and government. Last year, the 3rd graders learned about two points in history where people fought for their rights: the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Suffrage Movement. This year, I decided I would let each child choose to either learn about one or the other. No matter which topic they chose, I knew they would come out with an understanding of what it means to fight for one's rights.
After they decided on their topic of study, the students were given a task sheet in the form of a tic-tac-toe board. Each square had a resource to read, watch, or look at along with a simple task such as a question to answer or a poster to make.
Once they were given this task sheet, the learning was put in their hands. Day after day, they decided what to work on and did so at their own individual pace. I circulated the room, offering support when needed. From the start, the positive effects of this type of learning were clear. The room was quiet, but alive with the buzz of learning.
The information they were learning felt like treasures they had discovered, and their excitement was evident in their eagerness to share what they'd learned with their peers and with me.
In the end, the students were given a final task. In order to show their expertise on their subject of choice, they each had to write a detailed paragraph about their topic. As they have been going through the writing process, many are finding that they have much more to say than one paragraph will allow. Their vivid descriptions and detailed writing show the emotional connections they have developed for these fraught times in history.
Little people, big minds.