I'm a San Marino High School (CA) social studies teacher, who for the past several years has taught various 12th grade US Government courses.
To help my students better understand the content, I created Interest Group, a project in which students start off the year by forming an “interest group” of 3-5 members and spend the rest of the semester working to:
1. Propose some way to improve their community (aka school, district, city, county, state, and/or nation) by calling for either:
- The creation of new public policy
- The modification of existing public policy
- The elimination of existing public policy
- The enforcement of existing public policy
- The use of existing public policy to leverage change
2. Engage in as many "civic actions" as possible, with the goal of each civic action to get the students to take a step in the direction of the proposed improvement.
Interest Group is primarily designed for 12th grade students enrolled in a semester long US Government course and is modeled after the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Civic Action Project (CAP). One might even say that Interest Group is CAP, except for a rewording of the title and three significant “tweakings.”
CAP, according to the CRF website, “Is a project-based learning opportunity designed to provide students with a chance to apply what they have learned to the real world and impact an issue that matters to them.” Currently CAP is being implemented in over 700 high schools nationwide. I am a supporter of CRF's mission to encourage young people to become active participants in society and to instill a deeper understanding of the values expressed in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The objective for students working on Interest Group is to affect public policy, though in most cases the odds of this actually happening are slim.
Therefore, the more realistic objective for students working on Interest Group is to simply be engaged in the process and to experience the steps involved in implementing public policy. With this particular project, it is all about the journey, not the end result.
The timeline for this entire project can vary according to each individual teacher’s specific needs and desires. However, students typically begin working on Interest Group at the start of an 18-week semester and complete their work by the end of the semester.
Examples of Interest Group policy proposals brought forth by students in my US Government courses the past two years include:
Police Body Mounted Cameras
This interest group sought to encourage federal lawmakers to make a law requiring on-duty police officers to wear fully functioning body mounted cameras.
This interest group sought to encourage the San Marino City Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of hobby drones over the city of San Marino unless used for commercial filming purposes.
Age Restrictions on Assault Weapons
This interest group sought to encourage state lawmakers to make a law prohibiting the firing of a fully automatic assault weapons by anyone under the age of 18.
Texting and Driving
This interest group sought to encourage state lawmakers to make a law increasing the penalty for hitting a bicyclist due to texting while driving
City Center Parklet
This interest group sought to encourage the San Marino City Council to pass an ordinance allowing the creation a parklet (mini park), to be located in and around the city’s Centennial Clock Tower.
This interest group sought to encourage SMHS administrators to create a modified block scheduling system for San Marino High School
This interest group sought to encourage SMUSD Board Members to create a high school “coding” class (aka computer science class).
This interest group sought to encourage SMHS administrators to replace one or more of the “older and more non-descript” bike racks currently located on the San Marino High School campus with one or more bike racks that “better reflect the nature of the San Marino High School biking community.”
This interest group sought to encourage SMHS student body elected official (ASB) to establish a CARE Program at San Marino High School. A CARE Program, as defined by these students, seeks to offer a large variety of free services to San Marino residents’ age 65. Services would be provided by the students and would include, but not limited to, anything associated with the Christmas Holidays (wrapping gifts, decorating, baking cookies, shopping, etc.)
This interest group sought to encourage SMHS administrators to establish a homework policy stating that “the SMHS site administration strongly encourages all teachers to refrain from assigning any/all homework prior to a national holiday with a due date after the national holiday.”
This interest group sought to encourage the San Marino City Council to pass an ordinance calling for the immediate introduction of a whole new host of planters and plants for the area located between and among the trees newly planted at Del Mar and Kennelworth.
Race Based College Admissions
This interest group sought to encourage federal lawmakers to propose a constitutional amendment that bans the use of race as a factor for the purpose of undergraduate and graduate college admissions.
Armenian Genocide I
This interest group sought to encourage SMHS World History teachers to annually devote at least two full (50 minute) periods to the teaching of the Armenian Genocide
Armenian Genocide II
This interest group sought to encourage state lawmakers to pass a law (AB 1915) requiring California public high school World History teachers to teach the Armenian Genocide.
Armenian Genocide III
This interest group sought to encourage World History teachers nationwide to annually devote at least two full (50 minute) periods to the teaching of the Armenian Genocide.
Teachers wishing to provide their students with one eighteen-week semester to work on the project should begin the semester giving class time to conduct internet research to discover issues they care about.
Then, by the third or fourth week of school, the students should be called upon to form their Interest Groups and to select a specific real word problem to address.
Each group will then be required to submit their proposal in writing. The proposal will include a description of the real world problem to be solved, the reasons the group selected this problem and a description of the first three civic actions (steps) the group plans to take. Proposals are to be handed-in by the fifth or sixth week of school and are included in their overall grade.
Each group will then be given the rest of the quarter to complete at least five civic actions (steps taken to carry out the proposal.) Each civic action will be submitted in writing and will include a description of the steps taken as well as anticipated next steps. The write-up for each civic action is to be handed in and will also be graded. Throughout the second half of the course, groups are to be given ample time to complete additional civic actions. As with all other civic actions, those completed during the second quarter are to be handed in and graded.
At the end of the semester (the eighteenth week), the students are required to give an end-of-term presentation in front of a panel of adults (whether it be parents, other teachers, administrators, government officials, various community representatives) who may periodically ask clarification questions throughout the presentation.
For a description of how I get adults to serve as panelists for these end-of-term presentations, see http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/getting-adults-serve-panelists-students-end-term-presentations
End-of-term presentation must include a digitally produced slideshow divided into the following five sections:
- The Problem Addressed
- The Public Policy Proposal
- Civic Actions Taken to Date
- Civic Actions to be Taken Next
The group’s end-of-term presentation, both in terms of the oral and written component, will also be graded.
Last but not least, students are required to complete an end-of-term report requiring students to address each of the questions below:
- To what extent did each of enjoy working on this project (with a 10 being “I very much enjoyed working on this project” and a 1 being “I didn’t at all enjoy working on this project).
- What part of this project did you enjoy working on the most? The least?
- What recommendations would you make to the next person who chooses to work on this project?
- Describe anything special that happened to you while working on this project.
End-of-term reports are to be graded.
To learn more about the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Civic Action Project, see http://www.crfcap.org
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.