September 17th was National Constitution Day, and with the elections fast approaching, it's a great time to start conversations with your students about civics. Several reports in the last few years have surfaced concerns that civics education is getting the short end of the stick in the American education system (read "Why Civic Education Needs a Boost" by Suzie Boss and "Let's Bring Civic Education to the Front Burner" by Anne O'Brien for more thoughts on this). And I probably don't need to convince anyone reading this about the value -- no, the absolute necessity -- of teaching young people to become engaged and active citizens.
The great news is that there are lots of tools to help shake off the stodgy reputation that civics has sometimes been saddled with. Forget those tedious textbook definitions -- with a bit of humor (the rabble-rouser's longtime partner!), a few hip videos, some game-based learning, and a couple hands-on projects, you can not only inform your students about civic issues, teach critical thinking, and squeeze in media literacy, you can get them excited about their own potential for making change in the world.
Video Playlist: Remixing Civic Education
Keep watching the player below to see the rest of the playlist, or view it on YouTube.
- Electing a US President in Plain English (03:43)
I'm a huge fan of Common Craft's "In Plain English" videos, which explain everything from project-based learning to zombie attacks. Husband-and-wife team Sachi and Lee LeFever take on complex issues, and with some artfully sketched-on cut-out paper, they make it all come clear.
- Disney The American Presidents: John Adams (03:17)
Engaging animations, quick cuts, and pithy commentary from experts bring each of the American presidents to life in this series from Disney Education. They offer four reasonably-priced DVDs to get the whole collection, or you can watch more than a dozen for free on their YouTube Channel.
- NTAC 2012 - Ignite Talks - Let's Talk Politics (05:07)
This is a compelling Ignite-style presentation from New Tech Network's annual conference. Indiana high school teacher Joe Urschel, a self-confessed "political nerd," explains why kids should learn to think critically about how the media they consume affects their political opinions.
- Election Day - Why Do We Vote on Tuesdays? ⎢Civics in a Minute (01:59)
I know, the social justice media organization Take Part isn't exactly objective, but they have done a great job on the peppy animated Civics in a Minute videos, with political commentator Jacob Soboroff explaining some of the ins and outs of our democracy. Co-created by Why Tuesday?, a nonpartisan group working to increase American voter participation.
- Branches of Power Game Trailer (01:36)
Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor founded this organization to create video games around civics topics. iCivics offers sixteen free games and supplementary civics teaching materials. Though this trailer is a little goofy, students could be captivated by the gameplay.
- How Do You Spot Deceptive Political Ads? (00:34)
FlackCheck is a website from Annenberg Public Policy Center that uses humor to deconstruct misleading political ads. Get media literacy resources from their Patterns of Deception page, which offers a comprehensive annotated list and video examples of methods used to deceive viewers.
- Schoolhouse Rock: I'm Just a Bill (03:21)
I have perhaps an undeserved love for Schoolhouse Rock left over from my childhood... but you have to admit this one is pretty great. Root for the somewhat lugubrious anthropomorphic bill as he tries to avoid death by committee and sings his way to the top. For an extra laugh, watch Take Part's parody of how bills become laws *these* days.
- We the People National Finals (04:43)
The venerable We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution program, started in 1987, engages upper elementary, middle, and high school students in simulations of congressional hearings -- with a chance to compete against other students in the national championship. Read our article "We the Youth: The Positive Side to Politics" for more information. The creator, Center for Civic Education, also publishes K-12 standards for civic education.
- Founding Fathers' Rap (01:45)
This may not be the best choice for delivery of content, but for an opening activity to make the students sit up and pay attention, this video is hilarious. It was made by JibJab, best known for their animated clip of John Kerry and George W. Bush singing a duet of "This Land is Your Land" from 2004.
- Voting and YOU! (02:47)
This pitch-perfect parody of a 1950's educational newsreel was produced by Declare Yourself, a former project of youth civic involvement org Our Time. I included this more for fun than for offering too much actual information -- but it could be a great kickstarter for a conversation about the meaning and purpose of propaganda!
- The Electoral College (03:46)
Need a quick video to explain the Electoral College? The Economist has you covered with this slick "videographic" -- think infographic in motion -- that covers it all in less than four minutes. If you like their style, here's a whole YouTube playlist of videographics from The Economist.
- TEDxYouth@SanDiego - Richard Dreyfuss (14:34)
Actor Richard Dreyfuss seems an unlikely champion for civic education, but as he demonstrates in this TEDx talk, he's passionate about making young people into active and informed citizens. He founded The Dreyfuss Initiative to produce curriculum and advocate for a facelift for civics education.
More Resources for Teaching Civics
Social media has made grassroots activism of all stripes more accessible to anyone with a connection and a cause, so there's never been a better time for kids to be passionate about taking action, speaking up, and standing by their beliefs. Want to build a lesson around the upcoming presidential debate on October 3rd? Hungry for more resources for civics education? Read these two recent Edutopia blogs -- "Use Game-Based Learning to Teach Civics" by Andrew Miller and "Engage Future Voters with Election Projects" by Suzie Boss -- and then check out the links below for more ideas and materials.
- Center for Civic Education
- Education Landing Page from the National Constitution Center
- The Dreyfuss Initiative
- First Amendment Schools Initiative, co-sponsored by ASCD and the First Amendment Center
- Annenberg Classroom: Resources for Excellent Civic Education
- Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues
- Civic Deliberation and Social Action from the National Writing Project's Digital Is website
- Election Resource Page from PBS Learning Media
- The Best Resources For Learning About The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election from edublogger and curator Larry Ferlazzo
- #civics and #civiced hashtags on Twitter