Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Reality Check Now and Then Never Hurts

Thank You for Keeping It Real

I have a pet peeve I need to share: experts who are so far from working in the real world that their advise to us is at best suspect. You know those folks? The "do-as-I-say-but-have-never-attempted-in-the-real-world-myself" experts! The field of education is full of them and we are bombarded by their theories, practices, and jargon constantly. I am just egotistical enough to believe that unless THEY are in the trenches with you and me working with real time students that most of their rhetoric is just that.

OK, I had a rude awakening this week...yes, I have met the enemy and it is ME! Ouch!!!! Mind you dear readers, I am in the trenches with you. I teach what I preach and all ideas that I share have been time tested with real AP students in a Midwest urban school with a economically disadvantaged student rate of over 40% and a racial diverse student body.

However, I have some huge advantages over many of you. I am my own department chair and have developed a nice vertical team approach to AP in my department starting with freshmen AP Euro, a two year AP US History program, and a year long AP Government and Politics course. I have been fortunate to have administrators that understand the value of an AP curriculum and who have allowed me to make AP a departmental priority. Our school became an AVID school this year which means that the AP programs should be growing and we are well positioned to help all students be successful.

Here is the rub...this week a second year AP Government teacher in my area emailed and asked if I could help her with some critical curriculum decisions. This colleague has a huge problem. She is only given second semester (on an A-B block) to prepare her students for the AP Exam, which this year is on the first day of testing, May 4th. Her problem: what to jettison and what to teach.

Very politely this teacher (who has been a reader of this blog) let me know that for those of us living in an ideal AP world, my ideas are great...for those trapped in a different reality however, I was full of...well..."theories, practices and jargon". Ouch again!!!

The two of us did sit down for several hours one afternoon this week and looking at Hippocampus, Lineberry, and the Woll reader and married her limited calendar to the vastness of the AP Government and Politics curriculum. We had to become minimalists to say the least, cutting and slashing the curriculum, lesson plans, and readings to what can only be called bare bones AP Government. Keeping in mind also that the new College Board audit system calls for maintaining a tight syllabus that is comprehensive we had quite a daunting task.

We have a little more work to do, but by the end of our initial meeting we felt very positive about the course she would be teaching and the expectations for success for her students. And of course for me this experience was a great reality check. When I renew this blog for second semester I pledge to "keep it real" for those of you that face time limits and other real world of public eduction issues.

Thank you for all the work you do to be the best teachers in the country. We hope this blog has been of some benefit to you this year. After New Year's and a full platter of bowl games I will continue where we left off with the Bureaucracy.

I hope you and your families have the most wonderful holiday season. Enjoy your well earned rest. Until then...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Budget

Try Not Scaring the Kids to Death

I always tell myself when I start the unit on the budget and the national debt not to scar the heck out of the kids. I traditionally begin this unit by first looking at the national debt clock. When the students see that they will be obligated to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $35,000 to just pay off the current debt, I sort of lose the "don't spread the fear" battle. This is some pretty scary stuff after all. Can you believe that the Times Square Debt Clock maxed out this October going over $10 TRILLION DOLLARS??? Wow....

By now, most of the students should be aware that President-elect Obama has his job cut out over the next four years trying to stimulate the economy out of the recession, while not increasing the national debt to a point that it is unmanageable for the foreseeable future. If they have been following the news, they should have some awareness of the immensity of the task. Here is an activity I have used to help the students further realize how difficult and how controversial this job has been in the past and will be in the future.

First, I use the Federal Spending Pie Graph provided in the Hippocampus unit. As a class, we will look at the chart and discuss the difference between mandatory and discretionary spending. We will then look at all eight of the categories this chart represents. When you point to each section of the pie graph, a brief description of that section pops up. We discuss each section, making sure the kids have a pretty good understanding of the sectors of the federal spending that are being represented on the graph. I try to answer any and all questions at that time to give them a basic understanding of the national expenditures.

I then divide the class into eight groups and assign each group to one of the sections. With this done I pose a problem for the class to solve. I tell them the national budget is $1 million dollars. However, this year we must slash $100,000 from the budget due to lost revenue. The class must then decide which of the sections must be sacrificed with an understanding that there must be a unanimous class vote on solution. The trick is that each group is also told that they will lose class points if it is their section that is cut. Let the debate begin.

As can be predicted, across the board cuts are suggested, but the mandatory groups point out that this is politically almost impossible. The military sector can't imagine losing funds during a time of war and the non-military discretionary is panicky thinking about cuts to education just as they are about to enter college (and seek federal aid!). Printing money is the first out-of-the-box solution (good time to discuss inflation) and borrowing is widely suggest (but one flash back to the debt clock is all that is needed). No group wants to bite the bullet, but I keep insisting that the cuts must be made!

I can't remember a year since the end of national surpluses that the classes were able to really solve this problem . Usually one group (non-military discretionary) gives in and allows cuts in their section on things like highways and transportation, mainly due to class pressure and with my guarantee that points will not be deducted from their grade. As an opening activity to the Budget Unit, I pretty much have the students hooked. What could potentially be boring becomes salient and relevant.

Many of you might have much better budget games, but this is a quick and easy way to demonstrate the dilemmas that Congress and the President face with a national budget and a recession. Give it a try as an opening activity and then get into the facts and details of the process and problems of budgetary politics. And remember, try not to scare them too badly! Until then...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More on the Presidency

Looking at the Presidential Approval Ratings

When I teach the unit on the Executive Branch I like to bring the unit to a conclusion with two points. First, I show (or have the students view on their own) the HBO video Truman which was based on the David McCullough book by the same title. (See previous blog on using this video in class and related sites on the internet.) My purpose here is twofold; I believe this movie more than any other shows the humanity of the men who serve. Truman was a flawed man with ambitions and conceits identical to you and I. Yet Truman put aside his own personal motivations in order to make the best possible decisions for the nation at a very critical time in history. This leads to wonderful discussions on the Man vs. The Job.

My second purpose is that at the very end of the video we see Truman leaving office and going to the D.C. train station where a crowd of admirers surround him in a farewell tribute. As the scene plays out, the actress playing Margaret Truman reads a voice-over saying that when Truman left office his approval ratings were very low. I use this as a jump off point to go into a discussion on approval ratings and the President.

On the topic of approval ratings, I would like to direct you to a couple of web sites and one article that can be used for teaching and discussing this topic. The first of these is Wikipedia...yes I used the "W" word again. If you can't beat them, join them! The Wikipedia site on Presidential Approval Ratings has all of the approval rating graphs from FDR through our current president. As a class, we look at each one of these graphs and discuss for each president why there are peaks and why there are ebbs in the graph based on historical events.

For example, with the current president we discuss relatively low rates at the onset of the first term (result of a very tight and strange 2000 election), the spike following 9-11, the spike after the apparent success of the Iraq engagement, and then the slow decline as the war dragged on and the economy tanked. The students really get into these discussions...they are excellent ways to bring in the recent history and the politics of public perceptions. I start with FDR and move on. The final question for the students is: "What will the new President's chart look like?" This question forces the students to look at the issues facing Mr. Obama and what will happen to his chart if policies fail or succeed.

The second option for you is the Roper Center for Public Opinion Archive. If you are squeamish about Wikipedia, this site has not only the graphs, but also the data points for FDR through GWB. You can do the above lesson with this site equally as well.

The last place I would like to direct you is an excellent article about the graphs and approval rating titled "Presidential Approval in Perspective". I don't have the students read this, but it is an essential reading for the teacher to have under the belt when doing the above activity. In short, the article discusses how the approval graphs can be misleading and what needs to be done to correct false impressions that presenting data graphically can lead to. I like to summarize the concepts of Dr. Franklin's article and then ask the students questions to see if they get his message of using caution in making comparisons of graphic representations of data.

OK...some pretty heady stuff here, but the students respond positively to it and it does fulfill the College Board's desire for us to teach more about data, charts and graphs, and using these tools. Keep in mind that in the past graphs have been the basis for Free Response Questions. Building graph reading into our lessons is critical. Don't always assume that the students have these skill...they don't!!!!!!!

Next week I will move on and discuss some things I like to look at with the Budget Unit. Until then...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rating a President

What will We be Looking for in Mr. Obama?

The transition leadership is taking shape as President-elect Obama is forming his economic and foreign policy teams this week. The pundits, both critics and apologists, are having a hay-day with speculations and predictions of the soon to be Cabinet and White House. On a daily basis the newspapers and online news sites are full of great teaching points. I hope you have been cluing your classes in on these marvelous opportunities.

This week, however, I want to take a different angle on the Presidency. In Lesson 19 in the Executive Branch unit of Hippocampus' AP Government it talks about the qualities of the men who are our presidents. Particularly, there is a discussion of the ideas of James McGregor Burns. Burns has written that as we judge the effectiveness of a President we need to keep in mind if he had clear focused goals going into office and if he was indeed able to achieve those goals. This, Burns would contend, defines presidential greatness.

I would like to call your attention to several fine articles that you will be able to locate on-line that may be a supplement to Lesson 19. You will find them in the PBS Frontline site under "the choice 2004: what makes a good president". The first of these articles is by Fred Greenstein entitled "The Qualities that Bear on Presidential Performance." Greenstein in this article identifies six important qualities that must exist for a President to reach Burns' idea of successful. These traits are: the ability to communicate effectively with the public, possessing organizational capabilities, understanding and using political skills, having a vision for the administration, maintaining a solid cognitive style, and possessing emotional intelligence.

A possible lesson plan for the above article would be to have your class read the article and then break up into small groups. Each group would be assigned one of the modern presidents. They would need to do research on the president and then rate him on the above criteria. Each group would then report out to the class on the man, the president, and his success/failure based on Dr. Greenstein's standards.

The second article is by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. entitled "Rating the Presidents: Washington to Clinton". This article was based on a 1996 ranking of presidents by leading historians and political scientists. The Presidents were rated in one of five categories: Great, Near Great, Average, Below Average, or Failure. If your class has done the above activity or if you have simply read the Greenstein article and discussed it in class, this article will make predictions of greatness by the class very relevant.

The site also has articles by several other authors (one is Karl Rove) that are interesting and can be used in an AP class studying the presidency. This year it would be fun to have a class discussion on the apparent strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Obama, and have the students make their own informed prediction on his White House success. You can have a "you are the pundit" time with the kids. If you do any Socratic seminars this would be a good topic.

Next week I will continue to look at other aspects of the presidency. Until then...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Moving to the Presidency

The Next Couple of Weeks...

The hottest ticket in Washington is the Presidential inauguration. The city will be packed for the event; pretty exciting stuff. The hottest ticket for AP Government teachers right now is getting into our units on the Presidency. This is my personal favorite area to teach. I really get into looking at the Executive Branch and all of the intricacies that go into the formation of the White House.

In the next couple of weeks I would like to turn our discussions to the White House, President Elect Obama, President Bush, and the myriad of details that surround the Executive Branch. A presidential election year is always special for a government or political science teacher. For one, the creation and formation of a new administration happens right before our eyes. This morning I watched the Sunday pundits agonize over the new cabinet picks and White House insiders. The process is fascinating. The Internet brings such transpency to the process. Those of you who taught AP Government during the transition period for Clinton and even for Bush (II) will remember how difficult it was to get reliable information quickly. We almost have too much information now.

In that vein, I would point you in the direction of the CCN Election Center for a site to send your students. Next week my students will be asked to give me biographical information on 3-4 of Mr. Obama's Cabinet selections. This will be a jumping off point for discussions on the politics of selecting a Cabinet that is acceptable to the Senate confirmation process and capable of handling the issues of the day for the President. We will do our own vetting of the candidates anticipating the final selections and confirmation.

I will also ask the students to read another CNN article hopefully to stimulate a conversation in class about the best type of that falls in line with the President and his philosophy ( for example, our current President) or one that has a Lincoln style of adversarial opinions. If you spend any time discussing the management style of the President (Hub and Spoke, Pyramid or Military, Ad Hoc) this article can lead to some great analysis and spectulation. Will Mr. Obama be more like a John Kennedy in his management style, an Eisenhower, or a George W. Bush? You will find this in Lesson 21 in Hippocampus' AP Government and Politics.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I have been very thankful for having the opportunity to share with you this fall in the Hippocampus Government Blog. Until next time...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Congressional Bibliography

Some Sources for the New (and Old) Teacher

From time to time younger teachers in my district and region have asked me for help with Advanced Placement Government and Politics. I have always been very happy to help with suggestions and resources. Teaching should be a collaborative effort. I was taught this by Dr. Will McLauchlan from the Purdue University. A number of years ago at a one day seminar, Dr. McLauchlan gave each participant a CD containing his entire lecture series for a 101 Poly Sci class. His generosity blew me away. For years I have based my entire AP Course on his gift.

This blog is an outgrowth of this willingness to cooperate and share lessons, thoughts, ideas, and curriculum. I know that for readers who are experienced AP instructors, some weeks my blog offers nothing new. But for a new teacher in this field and this curriculum area, I hope that each week I can give some insight into some aspect of teaching AP Government that will assist you in developing your lessons and your teaching philosophy.

This being said, this week I want to share a short "annotated" bibliography on books on Congress that every AP teacher should keep in his/her library. I have found these books excellent references and resources over the years. Many of these are time tested being in the double digit editions. If you have a limited library on the subject of Congress, these might be good suggestions for the Santa Claus in your life.

Congress and Its Members by Davidson and Oleszek: often used as a college text, this book is a wonderful source for detailed informations on how Congress really works. The chapters run 30 pages or so, and are a bit long for students to do as an assigned supplimental reading in high school, but I do use exerpts to help clarify concepts.

The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track by Mann and Ornstein: These two are leading authorities on Congress and this book has given me great ammunition to discuss Congress with classes. The material is pretty heavy reading for high school students, but it is indispensable for teachers. I highly recommend it as thought provoking reading.

Congress Reconsidered by Dodd and Oppenheimer: I'm not sure what addition this is now in, but you need to own one of these. The collection of essays will benefit you especially when students ask the hard questions. I have used excerpt of these readings with my students. They find the level of reading challenging but understandable.

Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the President by Louis Fisher: I use this in the early part of the semester in discussions on Constitutionalism and separation of powers. I have pulled excerpts for students to read and consider. It is another book that brings up issue for all of us to think about.

Unorthodox Law Making by Barbara Sinclair: I have a rather long lecture I call "Hi, my name is Bill" (yes, we watch the School House Rock version) that I could not give without this book. Sinclair really gives good insight into the process of legislating bills through the House and Senate.

I swear I am not on anyones payroll and no commissions will be forthcoming by these promotions. In a world of millions of books available on Congress, these stick out as some of the best. I would put them on an AP Government teachers book shelf. If you have other suggestions please comment back and let me know...I will post those comments. Until then...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Continuing Ed Opportunities

The Election First...
Every four years I get pretty emotional with my classes. I tell myself I won't do it this year, but... How can we not get emotional. One of the greatest political miracles happens right before our eyes. The most powerful man on earth voluntarily steps asides and hands his job to another who may or may not be a political rival. This miracle doesn't happen everywhere folks. It always happens here!

This year I sort of out did myself. I actually opened the windows of my room and asked the student, "What do you hear?" Beyond a bird or two and a couple of cars they responded "not much." "Precisely," I said. "No tanks, no marching troops, no gun shots or rocket explosions. The miracle of a free election with no threat of military coup, no violence, no blood shed. What a special nation this really is."

Of course the kids think I am an old man who has lost it, and maybe they are right. However I have now lived through this transition of power beginning with Harry Truman returning to Independence, to George W. handing the reigns of power to an African American. Truman desegregated the military and bureaucracy and now a Black man will occupy the White House. Regardless of who you supported this election, you must admit that America grew up just a little bit. 2008 wasn't an election about a Black man becoming President. It was an election about domestic, economic, and foreign policy that just happened to be between a White man and Black man. I am really proud of US (pun intended). I hope you too have passed that on to your students.

.....Then Some Opportunities You Might Want to Check Out

Here are a couple of continuing education opportunities I wanted to share with you. The first is the Bill of Rights Institute. This organization has been around since 1999 and works with a $4 million annual budget. Their mission statement is to education students on the Bill of Rights and the liberties of the American people. If you go to the site, click on Teachers and go to the list of seminars. The one day seminars are absolutely fantastic. Mr. Brett Helm taught a seminar I attended earlier this fall on Supreme Court cases that changed history concerning civil rights and affirmative action. Along with a law professor from the University of Kansas Law School the day was a learning opportunity that no AP teacher should miss. This year the Institute is hosting week long seminars at Mount Vernon in June and August. Several of my colleagues have attended the summer seminars and gained huge amounts of information. Check them out!

The other opportunity might actually fit better in the Hippo History Blog, but then where does history end and political science begin? (my apologies to Karen if I am stepping on her toes :))This is the Gilder-Lehrman Institute. While many AP History teachers are familiar with Gilder-Lehrman, I find that many AP Government teachers have never heard of the organization. G-L's mission is primarily in the history field, but I have applied for a gem of a summer institute this summer (see the list) on the role of the Court in US history. Several other topics offered around the country this summer are very much cross-over topics.

Both of the above mentioned continuing education opportunities will add to your arsenal of knowledge. I have experiences with both organizations and highly recommend them...satisfaction guaranteed.

With changes in Congress, the administration building, and an inauguration around the corner there are tons of great teaching opportunities available. Drop us a line and let us know what you are doing with your classes concerning the transition government. Until then...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Congress on the Net

Some Sites to Help You and Your Students

Just a couple of days until the historic election of 2008. Wow...I am pumped. I love election night. The excitement of an American Presidential election can not be beat. This the the World Series (how about those Phillies???), Super Bowl, and Stanley Cup all rolled into one. While we are all keeping a sharp eye on those early returns in the Presidential race, let's not lose focus on the critical Congressional races happening nationwide. This year's House and Senate races might just be more important than who ends up occupying that big house on Pennsylvania Avenue. Will America vote for a divided or unified government? Stay tuned :)

Last week, I shared one of my favorite multimedia lessons on Congress. Using the web, readings from the Woll Reader, and class discussions I let you in on my power ladder assignment. In that discussion, I shared several sites with you that are must visit sites. The first was which has tons of goodies to look at. In that blog, we focused on the power positions of House and Senate members. If you have time, take a peek at the entire site. It can be a very rich resource to develop lessons or find information.

I also sent you last week to and, the two official sites for these institutions. Last week we had the specific purpose of finding information and connecting to the individual members of Congress. These sites, however, are rich in many other ways. Try clicking on the Eductional Resources in the House site. I have found this useful as a bookmark to get easy access to documents I often use.

Another site that I find indespensible is Thomas ( This is the Library of Congress site. Again, as you browse you will find a vast number of invaluable resources and pages. If you click on For Teachers and then under Classroom activities you will see the "In Congress Assembled" lesson plans. I really like the concept of these activities which deal with Veteran affairs, the debt, and terrorism. You will find these in Lesson 3. is a site that you might want to remember to help you find stuff. I always tell my kids that if you need to access a particular part of the government but are having problems finding it, this is a great index. Another site that I look at from time to time is Their section on Congress has some pretty good ideas that I have borrowed when my own creative juices stop flowing. I am one who doesn't believe in reinventing the wheel everyday and as a teacher my motto has always been, "if it's a good lesson, steal it."

I am sure you are probably well aware of these sites and probably have more. For new teachers in government, these are the basics that you gotta know! Please drop me any comments and share some of your favorites. Until then...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Congressional Lesson Plan

Power Rankings in Congress

Are you getting close to being campaigned out? If you are like me, it is past time to be moving on in the curriculum, even as the 2008 election rages toward it's final moments. It is hard to pass up teaching points and newspaper articles that you want to share with the students...but the deadline to the AP Exam is calling. So much to teach and so little time to teach it in!! So lets look ahead to Congress for a bit.

This week I want to share what I call my "Power Ladder" assignment. If you have the (Peter) Woll Reader as part of your class it will make this assignment a bit easier; however, don't quit reading if you don't have this resource. The Internet will save you. If you don't use Woll, I highly recommend it for Advanced Placement students. The readings are challenging and you need to give guidance in using this book, but the opportunity for students to read the classic articles by top political scientists is priceless.

One of Woll's longtime readings is the classic Lawrence Dodds "Congress and the Quest for Power" (1977). I assign this for my classes to read. I tell them that while the article has several very important points, I especially want them to concentrate on the part of the article that Dodds calls the "power ladder". If you do not have the article available for the students or if you want to shorten this assignment, go to the hyperlinked Internet summary available for this article. Once the class has completed reading this, we have a discussion on the power ladder and Dodds' ideas to ensure that we are all on the same page.

Next, I ask my students to get in small groups and create for me an eleven by seventeen sized poster of a congressional power ladder that positions our state's Senators and Representatives on their respective rung. They are directed to and to locate information on committee assignments, important leadership roles, and other pertinent information on our state's delegation. Obviously, if you are in a large state you will want to select 3 or 4 of the Representative for them to research or allow the groups to make their own selections. Since our state has only four representatives, we do all of them giving us a total of six delegates to research.

This assignment does not take long if the groups divide their tasks and work as a team. I only give them two days to complete the job. Each group must then present their poster and justify why they placed the members of Congress on the power ladder as they did. We get great class discussion and it really brings the Dodds' article to life. In the mean time, the class becomes well acquainted with the state's Congressional members and their value to our state in Congress.

The last step to this assignment is what I call the reality check. I send the group to Congress. Org's power ranking page. Their job on this site is to see how the site defines power (and compare that to Dodds), look up the rankings of our delegation, and compare their evaluation and ranking to those on the site. The culmination to this project is an individual reflection paper on the assignment and what was learned.

I like the assignment for several reasons. First, it marries the printed page and the Internet. I believe this reinforces the idea that we want students to rely on multiple sources to find informtion. Second, it involves critical thinking and analysis. I find that too often in my AP class I expect students to absorb facts, but not really use them. I try to keep from falling into that trap. Finally, it is an opportunity for the students to work in a cooperative group and problem solve. Isn't that what government is supposed to be about?

Try the assignment and see if you like it. If you are teaching an on-line class this can become an individual assignment or it can be shortened and used on a "face" day. Let me know what you think. Until next time...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Polls and Polling In the 2008 Presidential Election

What Students Need to Know about the Bradley Effect, the Cell Phone Effect, and the Science of Polling

With two weeks before the 2008 election, it might be a good time to clue the students in on polling. Don't make the mistake of thinking that they understand the topic. As the major networks and most of the papers and weekly magazines concentrate on election outcome projections, it can become very confusing for the kids. Actually, at times, it becomes very confusing for most adults.

If you are using the Hippocampus curriculum, "Polls and Polling" is actually located in the Executive Branch Unit. This was originally done because in non-election years, the use of polls to gauge public opinion fits nicely with the policy development aspect of the White House. As a matter of fact, I have often used the PBS Frontline "The Clinton Years" video to develop the ideas of polling. (On this site is a transcript of the video in case you don't want to invest in the DVD.) The Chapter entitled "1995-1996 defeat/victory" sports a discussion with Dick Morris which is an excellent linkage tools for students to see how polls are used, or misused, by government. Morris, a Republican pollster and political analyst, joined Clinton's administration resulting in the condemning charge that President Clinton governed by poll.

Most of the college level textbooks also have adequate chapters or sections on the topic. The Edwards/Wattenberg/Lineberry Government in America, for example, has a solid discussion on polling in the chapter entitled "Public Opinion and Political Action". Go to the Hippocampus Advanced Placement Government site and click on Textbooks. You can find the page number for the topic in the NROC recommended books.

This being said, the question the students are throwing at me this year is, "What is the Bradley Effect?" They have heard the term in conjunction with news stories on the election polls, but don't understand the concept. In case you are fuzzy on this issue, the Bradley or Bradley-Wilder Effect is a reference to the 1982 California gubernatorial election. Tom Bradley, the black LA mayor had double digit leads in the polls which evaporated on election day. Bradley lost to George Duekmajian bringing about the idea that white voters will tell pollsters that they will vote for a black candidate, but will change their minds at the ballot box. Of course the application this election lies with Barack Obama's apparent lead with two weeks remaining. Does the Bradley Effect exist today? A good article to introduce the students to this concept is found on the NPR web site. You can either play the audio or print the transcript. I shared the audio with my students just the other day and it resulted in a very lively class discussion.

If the Bradley Effect still exists (and the above article argues it does not), it may be off-set by the Cell Phone Effect. This concept centers on the way polls are conducted; that is, through the use of land line phone numbers. The problem with this falls in the hundreds of thousands of young potential voters who are cell phone owners only. These voters being excluded from the polls could skew the reliability assuming of course that many of these youth are Obama supporters. A fairly new piece of research on this was done by the Pew Research Center. I copied part of this article and most of the graphics and had a lively discussion with this information also.

As if elections were not tricky enough to teach, technology is rearing its head and making the complicated much more complicated. At any rate, I strongly suggest taking a quick look at the polling process with the students and discussing these subjects. A polling question has not appeared on the Free Response section of the AP Government and Politics Exam for as long as I can remember. Who knows??? Until next time....

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Hot Ticket to Congressional Elections

Look out...I'm Using the "W" Word

I can't believe I am about to do this in public. I'm going to use the "W" word...not only use it, but recommend it. I am sending you to the Wikipedia page for Congressional Elections. I have always been suspicious of Wikipedia; or maybe I should say down right distrustful. But following a long, futile search to locate a site that pulled together all of this year's Congressional races, Wikipedia was the only one that did the job. Let me know if you can prove this wrong.

When you click on the above hyperlink and get to the Wikipedia site, drop down a few lines and you will see United States House Elections 2008 or United States Senate Elections 2008. Click on these and you will get a plethora of great stuff. First, go to the House Elections 2008. On the top of the article is a nice red/blue map of incumbents by Congressional districts. I found this very useful in class discussions. I asked the kids to compare the incumbents of our state to the way our state voted in the last four presidential elections (using the CNN election map discussed last week). This became a springboard for a class discussion on divided government, voting patterns of the electorate, and party loyalty or the lack thereof.

The next thing I did with this page was have the students look at the retiring incumbents. We already had a discussion on incumbent re-election efficiency and open election competition, so this information was combined for a good discussion speculating on the expected changes in the total House membership this year. That led to a discussion on how this could possibly help an Obama Presidency if he wins or hurt a McCain administration if he wins. I saw a lot of light bulbs turn on during this class discussion.

Next, a table is given with pundits rating selected House races. Following this is a brief look at each of these races. We looked at the pundit's predictions for our state. Again, it fostered a great discussion. We then looked at some of the key races in other states. I wrapped this up with a short writing exercise asking the students to make their own personal House predictions, justify these, and then discuss the ramifications of their predicted outcome. I did this with my classroom, but there is no reason that this could not become a bulletin board discussion with a subsequent writing assignment.

The Senate article is very similar. It has the red/blue map, a list of retiring Senators (all Republican), information on all of the Senate races, and predictions by the pundits. If your students are using the Sabato book, they will enjoy seeing their textbook author as one of the pundits. Since our state has a Senate race this year, we looked at it, the predictions, and compared this to the House races.

It is very easy in a Presidential Election year to overlook the Congressional races. In our state, we hardly see any information in the paper on this race and election television ads are just now starting to appear regularly. Our incumbent is fairly safe, but the class discussion on Senate versus House incumbent rate of re-election was interesting. I am using the video "The Candidate" right now, and so this site really helped to reinforce the teaching points we are focusing on (see my blog entry: AP Goes Hollywood, continued on 9-14-08) . The students are also marveling on how some things never change.

Enjoy the election season with the students. One more debate between the Presidential contenders is still coming up and the Congressional races are gaining full force. Its a fun time to be teaching government. Until next time...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Quick Hitter Election Lesson Plan

You Be the Campaign Manager

If you are working with the Hippocampus AP curriculum, you are probably finished with political parties and starting the election section. With the Presidential election winding down to the last thirty days, the excitement is building at the perfect time. Are we good or what?

Here is a suggestion for a real quick presidential election assignment that makes the kids go beyond the facts into analytical thinking. For this lesson, I am using the CNN Presidential Election Map. This map is a great tool. It shows the CNN poll predictions using dark blue for a solid Obama state, a light blue for a state leaning toward Obama, a light red for a state leaning toward McCain, and a dark red for a solid McCain state. Yellow is for the battle ground states. Click on each state and you get the prediction for the electoral votes. At the bottom of the pop up box, you can click on the history and see how the state has voted in the last four presidential elections.

Take a look at the assignment I give the students:
1. Pick a candidate and you become the Campaign Manager!
2. Assume you have $30 million dollars to spend in the last 30 days.
3. Decide (and list) the top 10 states your candidate will campaign in and explain why you selected those particular states (battle ground states "yellow", historically favors your candidate, demographics are fitting your candidates message, number of potential electoral votes, etc).
4. For each state you list, describe the demographic group you will "court" and the issue(s) you will focus on. (for example, in Florida, Obama might target the retired population with his Social Security/Medicare plan)
5. Decide how much you will allocate for your selected states, assuming you will spend all $30 million in just these 10 states.
6. Predict the outcome of the election in electoral votes assuming your strategy is successful in all cases.

It can be an individual assignment or a group project in a classroom. You could choose to make this a much more complex assignment. I keep it simple. Even so, it forces the students to incorporate previous knowledge from the political party unit as well as information in this unit on the elections. It combines current issues, demographics, polling, and the electoral college. If you have a classroom, this can become an interesting discussion with "campaigns" challenging each other on strategy and decision making. At any rate, it does bring the election alive in the classroom. After November 4th, the kids will love to compare the real world results with their work.

With two more presidential debates and plenty of issues to watch, it should be a very educational year in teaching parties and elections. Until next time...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Teaching the Free Response Question

Free Response Question Tips

Having graded the AP Government Exam for seven years, I have a handle on what it takes to score maximum points. As I said last week, after becoming a first year "reader," and realizing what it took to score high on the free response portion of the exam, my students' grades took a significant jump. I would like to pass on to you what I learned.

Here, however, is a caveat for this week's blog: I am only speaking for myself and not for College Board, Educational Testing Services, or even the hundreds of other AP Government readers. Yet I feel confident the following tips will help your students as much as they have helped mine. Here goes!

Tip 1: Look at each free response question very carefully. Each question begins with a factual root statement. Then several (usually three) sub-questions are posed. Starting with the first and working to the last, each question requires a higher level of response on Bloom's hierarchy, and in turn each will have a higher threshold for the grader to award the points. Thus, the first question may only need to identify (knowledge level), the second question may require application, and the third may request analysis.

Tip 2: Be sure to do what the questions ask. Questions typically ask to define, describe, or explain. If a question asks to select from a list, no points are awarded for that.
is asking the student to give a thorough explanation of the term, case, or item listed. Students should try to use the proper vocabulary in their explanations. Examples are helpful and can often help clarify poor writing. Define is usually worth one point.
Describe is connected to a particular activity (such as lobbying, or writing a friend of the court brief) and is asking for an in-depth discusion. Students should try to give examples and draw connections. Again, to describe is usually one point.
is asking for detailed analysis. Often the question will juxtapose two concepts, and ask for a comparison or Venn diagram type of a discussion. I tell my kids to take the time and make a t-chart or Venn diagram on the test booklet and answer the question from that source. Explain can be one or two points. Thus a typical free response question is worth 5 or 6 points.

Having the students underline or circle the action words in the question also helps ensure they do what the question ask of them. Nothing disappoints a reader more than to give an essay a low score because the student, who appears to understand the topic, does not follow the directions exactly!

Tip 3: Write a short introduction demonstrating you understand the subject . This introduction should not be long, but should demonstrate the student understands the purpose of the question. I also advise my students to write a summary conclusion. While a conclusion is technically not necessary, readers often "discover" points in the conclusion that were not in the essay. In an attempt to summarize and clarify, students can "back into a point" by giving additional necessary information in their summaries. The process of summarizing forces the writer to reflect on his/her attempt to answer the question and allows a few additional lines to "beef up" an answer.

Tip 4: It is OK to bullet the answer to match the sub-questions. As a matter of fact, as a reader on my 91st essay of the 5th day of reading, I loved bullet format answers. I did not have to hunt around for the answer in a long essay. Remember, these are free response questions and a free response answer if perfectly fine. I realize that AP hardly ever shows a bullet format answer in their samples online, but that does not mean they are not acceptable. In a day and age when young people are used to writing in short, clipped responses, the bullet format can meet the student's writing style and the reader's desire to minimize reading time per essay.

Tip 5: As an instructor, study the AP rubrics and start grading your kids in the fashion of the AP test NOW. We are all tempted to grade essays with a heavy dose of red ink. Save it! Grade on a rubric system (give old AP questions to your students and use the online rubric) and then give the rubrics to the kids and have them try to defend their answers. It will force the students to write in the style that will maximize points on the test in May.

Tip 6: The essay does not have to be long; the essay must be thorough! On a five or six point question, a one to two page essay is usually adequate. Succinct writing trumps long, flowery, wordy essays. There is no your way through an AP free response!

I was at a one day seminar in Kansas City a few years ago where a teacher was complaining that her students all wrote four to five page answers to each question and still received poor grades. Don't equate length with depth...they are often different beasts.

I hope this helps. If you have specific questions about how a free response question is rated, a comment about my tips, or just want to say hello, drop us a comment. We will love to hear from you. Until then...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Becoming an AP Grader = Becoming a More Effective Instructor

A Band of Brothers?

When I began teaching Advanced Placement Government and Politics I was totally overwhelmed by the task. The prior instructor had a phenomenal pass to failure ratio on the AP Exam, consistently producing "5" students. Upon taking the job, I knew I had to accomplish several goals. First, be as successful as my predecessor; second, create an interesting curriculum that would draw more students; and third, not just teach to a test, but teach practical government capable of helping students navigate the world of politics. My first several years were mildly successful. I did grow my program. I like to believe I gave the students a practical, in depth class. I was not, however, successful in maintaining a high passing ratio.

To be fair, it is hard to "grow" an AP program and maintain scores. If you are recruiting students from beyond the elite students in your school or district, test scores are most likely going to drop. But do they have to? Is there something we can do to be inclusive and successful?

In my quest to raise scores, I tried a wide variety of tactics including Summer AP Institutes, mini-AP seminars, meetings with other district AP teachers , and reading books and guides on improving AP scores. For a couple of years I watched scores slowly creep up. Then came the epiphany. At a one day AP seminar at the University of Kansas the presenter highly encouraged us to become AP graders. His argument was simple. It will help you become a better teacher and raise the test scores.

The grading gig sounded a bit tedious. For one week you sit and grade essays. OUCH!! I was desperate, however, and signed on and was selected by Educational Testing Services (ETS) to be a grader. My first year grading was at the University of Nebraska. The next year, my students scored much higher and I have never looked back.

Here is what you gain from the grading experience. First, you become totally immersed in the free response question aspect of the exam. Grading gives you new insight into the grading rubric, its application by the graders, and the writing methods that will give your students the best score on that portion of the test. I found that much of the advise found in self-help study guides was incorrect. Tips that I had been giving to my students that I had gleaned from those sources were not always beneficial and even harmful.

Second, the formal and informal professional sessions gave me huge insight into the workings of the exam and proven methods for teaching AP Government and Politics. During the grading week, Professional Nights are offered by College Board with selected topics to help instructors. These are always very helpful, but more helpful were the informal sessions that occurred in the evening when groups would gather and do what teachers love to do: talk about teaching. The mixing of college professors, community college teachers, high school teachers, online teachers, and others is the richest experience you will ever have. During my seven years I made close friends from Maine, Texas, Florida, Michigan, and many other states. We email constantly sharing lessons and ideas. I am never alone. I now have a band of brothers always there to assist.

I would highly encourage you to apply today as an AP Grader. ETS is constantly looking for new graders (there is a six year limit). The current grading is in Daytona Beach. Graders stay at the Hilton on the beach...not bad. The stipend is adequate, but more important, if you are looking for that edge to make you a better teacher, this is a sure fire way to acheive your personal instructional goals. Next week, winning tips on writing the free response questions. Until next time...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

AP Goes Hollywood...continued

Films We Can Use in AP Classes

A couple of summers ago at the Advanced Placement Government and Politics grading in Ft. Collins, Colorado, I sat with a group of college and high school instructors and chatted about video as an educational tool. The group collectively believed that video carefully used was an effective method of engaging some of the hard to reach students in either e-courses or in face-to-face classrooms. Here is a summary of that evening's discussion:

Hollywood loves the President, but often inaccurately. A couple of good flicks on the presidency are HBO's Truman (based on David McCullogh's book) and Oliver Stones's Nixon. With Truman, primary resources are found at the Truman Library site. Speeches, policy statements, and Presidential papers are easily accessed making unit building a snap.

Nixon is also brilliantly done, but always use caution with Oliver Stone's history. The Nixon Library online is a gold mine. On the topic of Nixon, All the President's Men is a classic. You can create a unit on the role of the press as "watchdog" as well as expand on Watergate. The Washington Post site is excellent to direct students or find teaching material. Interviews with Bob Woodward are also available on line.

If your clientale will tolerate R raged language Wag the Dog is a cynical look at Presidential misuse of office. It is not an acceptable film for high schoolers, but if you are teaching community college it seems to be a solid catalyst for discuss on government ethics (excuse the oxymoron). The president as crisis manager can be studied in the classic Missiles of October or you can opt for Kevin Costner's Thirteen Days. In either case, Robert Kennedy's book is good primary material.

If you have access to the West Wing on DVD, teaching moments are endless. On the lighter side of the topic, one could use Dave or the American President. The former really has limited teaching moments; the latter does get into the policy making cycle and the relationship between interest groups and policy.

Someone once said that there were two things you do not want to see made: sausage and laws. Hollywood picked up on that an has maded few films on Congress. I personally have used Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Filmed long before cloture rules, it is still not a bad look at Senate procedures. Born Yesterday (the remake) has some interesting moments concerning lobbying and ethics. I can't say it has much other value, but it does introduce students to DeTocqueville who is generously quoted throughout. Distinquished Gentleman is a fun flick, but very limited in educational value.

The Supreme Court lends itself to some good dramas. I mentioned Simple Justice last week. Several docudramas on the Brown case have been made, most are good. Gideon's Trumpet is a classic about the Gideon v. Wainwright case. Warren's decision, the peitition for writ of certiorari by Gideon, and Anthony Lewis' book (same title) are all excellent resources.

As far as trials and litigation, Run Away Jury (the bathroom scene with Hackman and Hoffman is worth the time) and A Civil Action are useable time permitting. These films highlight social/political/judicial issues of gun control and the environment. Twelve Angry Men is often mentioned in these discussions, but I do not feel it portrays juries accurately for the students.

Elections are of course popular Hollywood subjects. I have used The Candidate along with Joe McGinnis' book for years. Primary Colors is a thin guise of the '92 Clinton presidential primary, but again the language is highly inappropriate for a young audience. I wish there was a sanitized version of this film, but about the only way to do it is to hit MUTE.

Although this does not exhaust the discussion we had that summer evening, I will stop here. Feel free to chip in with your favorite films and their primary supporting materials. We would love to hear from you. In the mean time, I will be working on next week when I will be discussing the benefits of becoming an AP Reader. Until then...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

E-School Goes Hollywood

Using Video to Make Your Point

A couple of years ago I was invited to teach a class at a Gilder-Lehrman Saturday Academy in Wichita, Kansas. The purpose of the Academy was to promote the teaching of social studies using historical documents and introduce creative means of weaving primary resources into curriculum. Given few guidelines other than these, I created a course called "Government in Modern Motion Picture". My audience consisted of 9th through 12th graders from public high schools who were willing to sacrifice six Saturday mornings in the middle of the school year. The students received no credit, but there was no homework and free donuts. Pretty good deal!

Within this class, I married primary resources and Hollywood with thematic teaching of the institutions of government and modern policy concerns. For example, the students one week viewed the PBS American Experience film "Simple Justice" and then read Earl Warren's opinion in the Brown v. BOE case followed up by a short piece by Robert Carter (the other major attorney in the Brown case). On a Saturday morning, these kids probably learned more about the litigation aspect of the civil rights movement than many kids learn in a semester.

Let's face it...this generation of kids prefer to absorb information in an engaging manner. In the high tech, video rich world in which they live "edutainment" makes sense. Give them a compelling tale in an sensory rich environment and you can throw in the facts with few complaints. My attitude: if you can't beat them, join them.

To this end, I believe a list of highly recommended movies can be a healthy addition to any e-class, particularly in the field of social science. Of course, some caveats have to be given at the onset of releasing such a list to students. First, the students must realize that at best movies are an interpretation of life. Artistic license will always clash with actual events, so a young viewer can not rely on Hollywood to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help Cecil B. DeMille. After all, I have the sneaky suspicion that Moses did not actually speak English with a Chicago accent.

Second, having reviewed scores of government textbooks over the years, I have yet to read one that does not show some bias and/or a tendency toward a particular ideology. Edwards/Lineberry, Wilson, Sabato, and the rest of the best for AP Government all have their bones to pick and causes to champion. In the same way, movies ALWAYS posture and often in the most liberal of ways. While this posturing is seldom subtle to cynical APGOPO teachers, the bias of Hollywood can be totally lost on a naive seventeen year old. We must give them some fair warning and careful guidance through these intellectual mine fields.

Finally, at the very best, a movie is the Cliffs Notes version of a complex topic. Having the students read Carter, Marshall, and Warren is a bare minimum in any decent introduction of Brown v. BOE. It is the ultimate fantasy, by us ever hopeful Pollyanna types, that some day the student will be motivated to pick up Richard Kluger's definitive work and delve into the facts behind the flick. Then again, I made it through English Lit with the yellow and black booklets and a Blockbuster membership. We can only do what we can do!

Next week I will get into my video selection and some of the documents I use. Remember, in any e-class format we need to rely on Netflix as a helpmate and hope the students take the initiative to view our suggestions. This means using the films as supplemental resources or, if you have face time, using them during these times. The former can again be Pollyanna and the latter not necessarily the best use of precious face time.

You might be thinking about how to best utilize video with Hippocampus or any other e-school curriculum and give me the benefits of your ideas. Blog me back and pass on the benefit of your experience. If you are teaching in a regular class setting and reading this please share some of your experiences and ideas with political science related video in the classroom. Until then...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Teaching with and Around the Election

Election 2008

Last week was quite a week to be teaching government! The Democratic National Convention lived up to its pre-show hype, and then some. Hillary was gracious in defeat and defiant in her defense of the Party. Bill gave both silent and vocal approval to the proceedings. Joe showed his willingness to be the attack dog even though the victim of his attacks will be an old and close friend. And Barack...well, Barack had his defining moment.

This week the Republicans will light up the Twin Cities with John McCain and company playing the rebuttal role. As always, the Republicans will show a dignified and united front...but this year some cracks might appear and the behind the scenes compromises will need to be ironed out before the Grand Old Party lights up their own showcase. With a surprise VP pick in Governor Palin of Alaska and Hurricane Gustav knocking on New Orleans' door who knows what will play out in St. Paul?

In the coming weeks and months, it will be difficult not to keep some focus on "the race". The media will follow the horse race effect of the various polls as their reports recount every step and misstep of both of the candidates, their running mates, and even the spouses. At this writing, the polls are showing an even race with Obama enjoying some bounce from the DNC. But we know that with gaffs (I'm not sure how many houses I own), perceptions (he is too young to be the commander in chief), and the BIG MO (momentum) polls will shift and swing on a weekly basis.

While the rat race of Presidential election is going on, the teaching points for the 2008 election season will pile up. I thought I would touch on some topics that I have already pegged as topics of discussion and bulletin boards. Here is my list:
1) The selection process for VP...factors considered by the candidate for his # 2 position
2) Presidential election strategy...where to campaign, when to throw the dirt, how to spin the polls
3) Elections ads...looking at the past classics (Willie Horton and the Daisy Girl) and the present efforts
4) Election finance...PACs, 527s, and campaign finance reform
5) The Electoral it works and should we keep it
6) The Selling of the President...I still like to drag out the Joe McGinnis stuff and see how McGinnis flies with this generation.

In the mean time, we shouldn't forget the vital Congressional election. With a slim lead in the Senate and House, the Democrats need to build on their 2006 successes. It will be a great time to watch some pretty interesting Congressional contests around the nation. This summer I read that the GOP will be defending 25 open House seats (retirements and running for higher office) while the Democrats are looking at only seven. If those numbers have held, it will make for an interesting campaign season.

In the Senate, some GOP safe seats are being challenged by strong, well financed opposition. Again, teaching points pile up including incumbent re-election success rates, PACs and Congressional elections, Presidential election year races versus off-year elections, the role of the media and polling. I suggest having the kids watch the classic Robert Redford "The Candidate" and compare issues from the 1972 film with current topics. Environment, health care, and jobs top the 1972 list. HMMMMM!

Enjoy some great moments from this week's GOP convention and as always, if you have any questions or comments we encourage you to blog in.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Discussion Questions that Engage Students

Three Big Questions

& The Dilemma

Sometimes teaching an Advanced Placement curriculum such as Hippocampus AP Government and Politics can drive us nuts! We get so caught up in the minute details that seem so critical that we forget to look at the Big Picture. The result is we have unloaded tons of great facts on the kids, but we really haven’t connected dots. And if we haven’t connected dots, we can be darn sure the kids haven’t. It’s a tough act. We need to push the details (after all, the multiple choice section of THE TEST is pretty detailed), but what AP really demands is for the kids to understand the Big Picture. It all becomes a matter of focus.


So how do we focus? Is the balancing act of teaching details while keeping our eye on the entire scope of government possible? Over the years as I have led various in-services with new AP teachers their number one question is, “What are the main things I need to focus on?”

Let me throw out an idea to you. I like to initiate each new unit with a couple of Big Picture Questions. These questions need to meet the criteria of being a) real world, b) relevant, and c) somewhat controversial. Let’s face it, the opening curriculum for AP Government and Politics can be a bit dry (but totally necessary) stuff. Documents and Underpinnings make up about 15% of the AP Exam, so the kids better get it. On the other hand, some of the issues that underline this Unit are the issues that are dividing government and parties today. We all need to get it.

The Questions

Here are the three questions I am opening Unit One with this year. These questions will drive this unit and engage students as I attempt to tie all assignments, discussions, and essays to them.

  1. Do checks and balances and separation of power work as planned by our Founders, or has the current Executive Branch usurped too much power?
  2. Is our government today a government of the people, by the people, and for the people as Abraham Lincoln speculated, or is it a government controlled by special interests such as oil and big (Wall Street) money?
  3. Has federalism fulfilled the promises of the Founders, or has fiscal federalism perverted the balance of power leaving states impotent?

Perfect questions? Probably not (give me some feed back on these), however, these become my focus for the unit. Question #1 gets the kids thinking about who should run the nation in times of crisis and the time of peace. When does leadership cross the line and impose the policies of one person on the entire nation? These were subjects of concern addressed in 1973 in Arthur Schlesinger’s’ “Imperial Presidency” and are recycled today as hot issues! I have the kid’s watch a short segment from the film “V for Vendetta” and base a discussion from this.

Question #2 delves into the controversy of theories of democracy pitting traditional democracy against elitism (government by big business). A couple of quotes from Greg Palast’s “The Best Democracy Money can Buy” can get the kids fired up. No one likes to think of themselves as irrelevant in a democracy, especially kids getting ready to vote and join the political fray for the first time. I like to have the kids ponder whether hyper-pluralism opens the door for elitism.

Question #3 can drift into issues such as education, national energy policies, and even full faith and privileges. Federalism is a pretty dry issue, but I have found that current topics such as gay marriage and No Child Left Behind get the kids looking at state’s rights and the 10th Amendment in a new light. Mention a return to a national 55 mph speed limit based on federal highway funding and suddenly federalism can spawn fairly hot debates.

I post these questions at the beginning of the unit. They become points of bulletin board discussions and debates, and they eventually become essays to be answered. These questions drive the Unit and more importantly, keep our focus on the Big Picture while encouraging fact mastery. With a little prodding and playing the devil’s advocate, these can become questions that evoke a little passion in the discussions…yes, even documents and underpinnings can be fun.

What Do You Think?

What questions do you use to drive your instruction? How can we utilize these questions? Give us the benefit of your wisdom this week. As most of us are gearing up for the new 2008-2009 year it is a great time to start collaborating and sharing our wisdom. I can’t wait to hear from you. RV

Next Week: The Election…Rat Race or Horse Race?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Welcome to the Hippocampus Government and Politics Blog

“Obama Spells Out Energy Policy”. “McCain Seeks West Coast Votes”. “Candidates Attack Each Other on Race”.

Wow!! What a way to start a school year. The biggest election of our young century! The first African American presidential candidate for a major party and a feisty senior citizen squaring off during a period of economic downturns, the Middle East war, and skyrocketing fuel costs. If we can’t get kids interested in politics this year, when could we? But for all of you that are veterans of teaching U.S. Government and Politics, you know that the hoopla of elections may get students hooked on the election horse race, but translating that enthusiasm into learning the details of day to day government is a big jump.

This Blog is all about that jump. The Hippocampus Government and Politics Blog is about a dialogue between all of us…sharing the best practices in a learning community of dedicated educators who happen to be in love with U.S. Government and Politics. Like any good blog, the value is not in the originator or the facilitator. The true value lies in the contributions of you, the readers. New teachers with fresh ideas and insights, veteran educators with tried and true methods, and every one between can become part of this blog with one goal…seeking collaboration that points the way to better instruction and solid educational practices.

Next week I want to get the ball rolling by talking about the “three big questions” that I start my year with. These are the questions that drive my first quarter and are the method behind the madness. In the mean time, check out the right side column. We will include some sites and resources you might want to visit as you are preparing for the new school term with Government and Politics. We would love to have you respond by suggesting some of your favorite sites!

About the Blogger

My name is Ric Vix, and I am the social studies chair at Wichita Heights High School, an urban school with a diverse demographic of about 1600 students. I have been teaching for 23 years and have focused the last 10 or so years on Advanced Placement Government and Politics. For six years I was an AP Grader for the US Government and Politics Exam and have taught an AP Institute for Government and Politics through Wichita State University. My wife Sandi and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year with our two adult children. My passions outside of government are camping and fishing, reading, woodworking and building, and travel.