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Engage Future Voters with Election Projects

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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With the presidential election dominating the news between now and November, there's no shortage of timely material to bring into classroom discussions. If used as the starting point for project-based learning, the 2012 election can engage students in thinking critically about everything from media messages to voter rights to public opinion polls.

Here are resources to help you plan projects that go deeper than current-events-style conversations.

Projects to Amplify Youth Voice

Today's high school students will soon be old enough to vote. Will they take advantage of this civic responsibility? Projects that give youth a voice about civic issues are likely to be relevant and engaging for today's students, some of who will have their first chance to vote in November.

To see how an election project can be structured to address both current events and academic learning goals, take a look at the California Propositions project developed during a previous election cycle. Justin Wells, teacher of English and Government at Metropolitan Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco, CA, describes the deep thinking behind the project in this video:

Schools across the New Tech Network, a national network of more than 100 PBL schools, are teaming up this fall on what teacher Mike Kaechele (@mikekaechele on Twitter) describes as the "Epic Election Project." Students are forming their own political parties and broadcasting their own campaign messages in a project designed to inspire critical thinking and media literacy.

Meanwhile, teachers are collaborating to share useful resources and classroom strategies. Listen to teacher Joe Urschel from Eagle Tech School in Indiana make a case for why students need to take part in projects like this:

Watch the project unfold and stay up-to-date on new resources by following the Twitter hashtag #MyParty12. Kaechele will be blogging about the project on his Concrete Classroom blog.

The New York Times Learning Network suggests engaging students in election-year politics by asking them to respond to this question: What if the voting age were lowered to 13? Between now and Sept. 21, students can weigh in with their replies. Student posts judged to be the most "interesting, articulate and thoughtful" will be featured.

The New York Times Learning Network also offers in-depth unit plans relating to the election year. The 2012 Presidential Election Unit, for example, meets Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

Media Literacy Projects

Prompting students to think more critically about the messages they see and hear this election season is a goal of projects that emphasize media literacy.

When students become media literate, they learn to ask critical questions about how political advertisements were constructed, who paid for them to be produced and aired, and whether the information is credible or distorted. Often, such projects lead to students producing and publishing their own media messages.

Media literacy resources that can be incorporated into projects include:

Resources Galore

Many more resources can help you bring election season into your classroom. Here are just a few to keep in mind:

  • I Side With is an interactive tool that asks users to take a short quiz, then lets them know which presidential candidate's views most closely match their opinions. Students can expand the conversation by sharing their results via social media
  • Social Studies Chat, a weekly online discussion, is a good place to find like-minded social studies teachers for collaborative projects. Follow the Twitter hashtag #sschat
  • Larry Ferlazzo's "Best Resources for Learning about the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election" is a goldmine of resources

Are you planning an election-year project? How will you encourage your students to think critically about presidential politics? Please share your project ideas in the comments.

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Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Blake's picture

Students study institutional/persistent issues in elections like campaign finance, third parties, voting technology (should all states do the same thing?-federalism mandates), the process, etc. Each of these are mini-units that culminate with what we call the Commission on Election Reform. In groups, students design their own interest groups (name, slogan, propaganda) and develop a presentation on three changes they would make to the system.

Barbara Cervone's picture

These are great resources!. I thought I'd mention that What Kids Can Do (WKCD) has partnered with the Indianapolis-based youth-led Y-Press to create a series of stories, articles, profiles related to politically active youth in the 2012 campaign. We did the same thing in the 2008 election, with great results: young journalists interviewing and showcasing young voting activists and issues meaningful to youth voters. The series began in July and runs through November. We suspect that students like those whose teachers tune into this blog would find these profiles of politically active youth provocative.

Here's the link:

CriticalVoter's picture
Creator of the Critical Voter curriculum

I'm glad to see this idea starting to get so much play. I've actually created a curriculum for using the 2012 Presidential election to teach practical critical thinking skills, including bias (and how to overcome it), logic and persuasive langauge. The curriculum (along with an associated podcast, blog and other resources) can be found at, and everything on the site (including lessons plans) is free for use by educators.

Paul Solarz's picture

I'm having my 5th graders run for president as we learn about the main components of a presidential election: issues, parties, primaries, conventions, polls, advertisements, debates, the electoral college, and Inauguration Day.

- The lessons and objectives are here:
- Presidential Character Traits:
- Virtual Debate:
- Issue 1 - Education:
- Issue 2 - Health Care:
- Issue 3 - Social Security:
- Issue 4 - Immigration:

Come check out what we're doing in our 21st Century Classroom!!!

TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

"The state of Georgia law requires you to vote at the precinct where you are registered.
If you are unsure you are at the correct precinct, please see a poll official."

--Rules of the State Election Board

Today was election day and the school handed the gym over to a bunch of nice old ladies and some ballot booths.

From the walkway above the gym, I watched a whole lot of people come in and vote for Sunday liquor sales and other things, and my only patriotic thought was ... What if we unleashed the kids and let these nice old ladies and the people who take the time to vote their wishes mix it up with the kids and basketballs and the footballs and the Hula hoops and the elbows and knees and arms and legs. There would be the usual screaming and crying and bickering and meltdowns to go with all that, too. I wondered what these local citizens might think.

Of course I know what they'd think.

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