Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exam Day is Fast Approaching

The Last Minute Scramble...What Did I Forget???

Reference Lessons 7, 16, 23,28, 32, 35

Saturday morning I went for a long bike ride with an AP English teacher who teaches in another building in my district. He was relating to me that he had woke that morning and the first thing on his mind was what had he failed to stress enough during the year that he could scramble this week and review just before the AP test.

I had to laugh for I am in the same boat paddling (or in my case peddling) madly upstream. With only one week left before the test there is so much I would like to review with the kids, but so little time to do it. Where did this year go?

I did have a good review plan this year. We have been in a review mode for the last week or so and I feel like we have covered some solid ground. Since I teach the year long course I have to contend with the kids forgetting the stuff I taught last August! Those of you with semester courses don't have that problem, but of course you are still struggling to get the entire syllabus finished and Government and Politics being the first AP test in the queue isn't helping much.

This last week we will be doing three things in class. First class this week we will finish the scheduled review. In my case we will review about 40 important Supreme Court cases. It is an arduous task, but should be done.

Second class the kids will take the 2002 Released AP Government multiple choice test. They haven't seen it before now, so I will let them get in groups of two or three and work through the test. I like doing this as a mini-group project for a couple of reasons. First, it doesn't intimidate them as much when they see the test with a partner. No sense creating jitters the week before the test! Second, reading the questions together and debating the answers is a great review in itself. Finally, doing this with a partner can be a confidence builder and relieve any pre-test anxiety. Some of my AP kids really put the pressure on themselves, and I find that this is a means of releasing some of that pressure prior to THE Exam.

The last day I will give the kids five or six topics that I feel they need to review for the Free Response section of the test. No, I don't have any inside information....I am as totally clueless as the next fellow on what the questions will be. However, I have had a pretty good track record of guessing some topic areas for the kids to look at and then having those areas having a Free Response questions. Just for fun (again...I absolutely don't have any idea, just uneducated guesses) here are the areas I am suggesting this year:

1. Supreme Court nomination process including vetting by the White House and the confirmation process. Timely and we haven't had one for a couple of years on this topic. (See Lesson 28)
2. Federalism...we seem to have one every other year. In the last decade we have had five or six Free Response questions on some aspect of Federalism, so why not one more. Now Federalism is a big topic, so I am advising the kids to look at mandates and federal laws that are forcing neo-nullification issues. Things like No Child Left Behind, ADA, and drunk driving laws. HMMMM!? (See Lesson 7)
3. Apportionment...hey it is the Census time and this will be a huge topic in another year. How about a little Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v Sims. One man-one vote anyone??? (See Lesson 16)
4. Free might be a bit too soon for Bong Hits for Jesus (Morse v. Fredrick), but maybe not. We haven't seen a student's rights question in forever. (See Lesson 35)
5. Incorporation...does anyone still teach Barron v. Baltimore, the Slaughterhouse Case, and Gitlow v. New York? If not they maybe sorry! I have been waiting for a good incorporation (14th Amendment) question for a couple of years. This might be the year AP makes me look like I have some idea what I am talking about. (See Lesson 32)
6. The Budget. With the huge deficits and the astronomical national debt, maybe it is time for a good ole budget chart question. We had one of these almost a decade ago, but it is such a hot button question now that I can't help but think we might see it again. This could be a Policy type questions concerning Congress and the budget or a question about the creation of the budget (OMB and CBO type stuff). (See Lesson 23)

I will give my kids this list and challenge them to study these topics for a couple of extra minutes Sunday evening. If I am wrong, they will have looked at some pretty important national issues one more time. If I am right, well....Katy bar the door!

Have a great week finishing your curriculum and getting the kids ready for May 3rd. And of course as always, the best of luck to your students.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ripped From the Headlines: Party Dealignment in the Making

Dealignment Revisited: A Ross Perot Type Movement on Steriods???

Reference: CNN Editorial

Reference: Hippocampus Lesson 11

My last post featured the Tea Parties and Mid-term elections (Sunday March 10, 2010) and once again I want to focus on the Tea Party Movement as seen in the headlines. This time, however, I would like to take a different approach to the topic and view it from Hippocampus Lesson 11 which looks at the topics of "Realignment and Dealignment" of political parties (covered specifically in Topic Two). The editorial referenced above by Ed Rollins is an example of many that I have view recently on this topic. I liked Rollin's comments particular because he has made a comparison between the 1992 Perot "grassroots movement" and the Tea Party movement of 2009-2010. His inside information on the Perot movement gives Mr. Rollins particular credibility and his editorial a unique slant.

Here is a simple class activity that I will be using with this article. This is a short activity and would be appropriate at this time of year for a review of the basic concepts of party purity, alignment, dealignment and even critical elections and realignment. I will first make a paper copy of this CNN piece and have the students do a quick 5 minute read highlighting key points of the editorial.

Next, I will ask students to create a t-chart of similarities/differences between the Perot 1992 movement and the 2010 Tea Party movement. Similarities should include distrust of government, dislike of budget deficits, desire to see lower taxes, and discontent with political parties. Differences could include that the 1992 movement was personality based whereas the 2010 movement is issue based, the Tea Parties are more "spontaneous" and less created by a 3rd party, no true leadership is found in the 2010 movement, and any other difference the students can pull out.

Once the t-charts are done we will move to a class discussion. I will put the terms (party purity, realignment, dealignment, critical election) on the board and we will define these as a class, insuring we are all speaking the same language. I will then as several questions such as: How are the two movements alike? How are the two movements different? Did the 1992 movement cause permanent realignment or dealignment? Will the current movement cause permanent party alignment changes? How would these movements compare to major movements that resulted in critical elections and permanent party membership changes? Hopefully, we can have a fruitful discussion on these topics and we will initiate some higher level thinking by the students including synthesis, analysis, and comparing and contrasting.

Once the class discussion reaches a conclusion, I will ask the students to look at a past AP Government and Politics Free Response Questions (if you don't know where to find these click on this AP Central link) . In particular, we we look at 2003 Question 2 on Citizen Participation, 2004 Question 3 on 3rd parties and 2004 Question 4 on Trust in Government, and 2006 Question 1 on Interest Groups and Political Parties. Time permitting, I will put the students in groups and have them OUTLINE answers to each of these questions as a group, or we will divide the class into 4 parts and have groups work on one question and then present the question and their answer to the class shotgun style. I will then give the students handouts on the AP scoring guides (see link above) and allow them to self grade their efforts.

The Tea Party movement offers us a unique look at American democracy in action. If you agree with the politics of the Tea Parties or not, we should all agree that the brilliance of our form of government is that it allows free speech, free assembly, and the right to petition the government with our grievances. A closer examination of the Tea Parties can help our students perform better on the AP Exam, but more important, it can encourage them to become an active participant in our political system as they mature and discover their own place in our republic.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ripped From the Headlines--Mid-term Elections

Mid-term Elections...Changing the Face of Congress?
Reference CNN sites:

Reference Hippocampus: Lesson 14

The picture of Tea Party rallies around the nation has become all too common in our daily news. These Americans, tired of paying high taxes and feeling neglected by those inside the Washington beltway, have taken their protests to the streets, parks, and meeting halls calling for lower taxes, an end to health care bills, and for the major parties to listen to them. Sarah Palin has address them, Republicans have applauded their efforts, and Congress has listened. The question now is, will these dissatisfied citizens speak where it counts the the polls next November.

Right now is a great time to have a class discussion on the midterm elections. I have offered you two articles from CNN to help you with this. The first article is a good ice breaker for your class. Even though it came out before the passage of the health care bill, it brings out many of the points you will want to discuss with your class.

For example, the article points out that many American express concern about single party control of Congress. It also points out that Democrats feel that the health care bill will solidify its voters while the Republican feel like it will drive Independents to the GOP candidates.

What do we know about midterm elections? First, the party in power in the White House almost always loses some seats at the midterm. Wikipedia (Midterm elections) has a nice chart on this you might want to share with the students. Mr. Obama can almost count on losing some seats. The question will be if the health care bill and the Tea Party movement will compound this enough to change the balance of power in Congress.

This is where the second CNN site can be good. This site isn't an article, rather it is an interactive graphic showing how many Republicans and Democrats are leaving Congress thus creating open seats. Since we know that incumbents win in the House at almost a 90% clip and in the Senate at just slightly less of a rate, the open seats might be the deciding factors in the election.

As the time of the year approaches when many of us will begin reviewing students for the Exam, a lively discussion on midterm elections could be very beneficial. First, you can use it as an opportunity to check your student's understanding of Congressional elections and incumbency. Second, you can review elections and campaigning using current issues for examples. Third, you can encourage your students to get out and vote their convictions next year. While many of our students (if they are seniors) have turned eighteen by now, most will not have a real voting opportunity until the November midterm election. While achieving your teaching goals, you might just make this election a salient one for them and promote their responsibility as citizens by getting them out to vote next fall.

November is eight months away...will people still be discussing health reform? Will the Tea Parties die out or will they find new issues to rally around? Will Mr. Obama maintain his majorities in Congress? Will Americans get tired of Washington politics? Wow...a plethora of topics and all timely for AP review. Enjoy!!!! RV.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ripped from the Headlines--The Court and the Freedom of Speech

The Court and the Freedom of Speech
Reference Hippocampus: Lesson 35 and Lesson 34

Here is a case that is actually near and dear to my heart. In the 1970s I lived in Topeka, Kansas about two blocks from the home/compound of the Fred Phelps family. I had several neighborhood encounters with this now infamous family that were less than pleasant. I never dreamed back then that the Phelps family of lawyers/ministers would be the center of attention in a Free Speech case that gained national notoriety. So now, 35 years later, I am watching with interest while Topeka enters center stage in a national controversy.

The case of Snyder v. Phelps won't be heard until this fall by the Supreme Court, however, it can offer you an interesting teaching opportunity this spring. Here is what I am planning on doing with this case:

1st...I am having the students read several article on the case including the one from the NY Time noted above and also one from the Topeka Capital Journal in addition to any other articles they can find.

2nd...I am placing the students in small groups of two or three. Each group will be assigned as lawyers for the Snyder family or for the Phelps family or as an interested "outside" group that would present friend of the court briefs. The task is to create a legal argument (brief) supporting their family or interest group using past Court cases. Interest groups could include conservative church groups, gay rights coalitions, veteran groups, and city/state governments. In addition, one group (of three) will be Justices. The Justices will each be asked to research the case and write their opinions.

To help with this I am referring the students to a site that actually gives information on hate crimes and fighting language that will give the students case histories and access to Court opinions. In addition to the concept of Free Speech, I will encourage the kids to consider the Free Exercise Clause and subsequent cases given in Hippocampus.

3rd...The task for the students will be to write a brief arguing their point of view. We have discussed briefs in class and will look at templates for briefs that are on-line. I am asking the students to keep their brief simple and succinct. Once these are done, we will present the briefs orally to the Justices and the Justices will render a Court opinion on the case.

While the class won't know until next November or December the decision of the real Supreme Court, this exercise will allow them to review important cases from the 1st Amendment while gaining further understanding of how the Court arrives at decisions.

Depending on your time, you can make this as complicated or simple as needed. I am getting pretty stretched for time in my classes, so I will make this a simple and quick project. You can tailor it to fit your needs. Prepare yourself, however, for some pretty brisk class discussions. This case seems to bring out knee jerk reactions in all who discuss it. RV

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ripped From the Headlines--Guns and Incorporation

Guns and Incorporation....Continued

Dear Readers....

This is just a postscript to Sunday's blog (see below) on the McDonald v. City of Chicago hand gun case now before the Supreme Court. One of my favorite news broadcasters did this nice piece on the case after the Tuesday oral arguments were heard.

This is a nice 5 minute story including quotes from the Justices and lead attorneys during the Tuesday session of Court. If you are following this case with your class, this might be a nice addition to material you are presenting....RV