Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blog Number 1 for the New School Year

Welcome Back To the HippoCampus Blog

A hearty hello to all of the faithful readers from last year and any new members of the HippoCampus Teacher Blog. I am excited to be back in the saddle and shooting out ideas, lesson plans, and topics for you to consider and use in your classroom. As a veteran AP Government and Politics teacher, an experience AP Grader, and a life long learner, my intention again is to share ideas that you are welcome to adapt to your teaching situation. I also encourage you to utilize the comment section of this blog and add any ideas of your own to the discussion. I never pretend to have all the answers and I look forward to learning from your ideas over the course of the year as I share mine.

This year the blog is scheduled to be updated bi-weekly, but I may slip in some ideas and comments between the scheduled posting dates. So stay tuned!! I also encourage new readers to check out topics that are archived from last year's blog. While I may make some references to ideas given out last year, I am going to make every attempt not to simply repeat those past thoughts. The archive has some great ideas in it you may want to view and use.

That being said, I want to venture into this week's topic...reading the Constitution. As you follow the HippoCampus curriculum we start the year with a good discussion on the underpinnings of our government's traditions. This, I believe, is essential background information for the students to acquire so that once they begin examining the major documents of our government they can have a reasonable understanding (and hopefully discussion) on the original intent of the Framers and the ramifications of that intent today. Without some cursory knowledge of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Paine the students will simply not get the work of Jefferson, Madison, and the cast of characters present in the convention of 1787.

This said, I believe we can move through the Underpinnings fairly rapidly until we reach the Constitution, at which point we need to apply the brakes. A few years ago I read a survey by a major US newspaper (and I admit I don't have this with me right now so please trust my memory) but when asked how many people had actually read the Constitution the number was shockingly low. If memory serves, the percentage was quite a ways below twenty percent. When further questioned, most of those surveyed actually did not know the difference between the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.

With our AP students we can not let this happen. I strongly suggest that if you are not having the students do a thorough reading of the Constitution you amend your lesson plans (excuse the pun). I like to take an Article by Article look at the document by breaking the class into groups and using the Jigsaw method. The students are not only asked to report back what the document says, but what was their interpretation of the original intent of the individual clauses they read, keeping always in mind the historical content. Thus when the students are reporting their sections to the class, I attempt to draw out the intention and ramification of the sections.

For example, when in Article 1 the students tell me that the House members serve for a two year period and I will ask why two years? Depending on their response I will ask whom did the Framers assume would be the Representatives. In 1787 would it have been reasonable to assume a Representative would run more than once? Was it possible then for the House to see a 100% turnover in an election? Was that a good or bad thing? Is a two year term reasonable in the 21st century? What has changed?

I had some very stimulating, thought provoking conversations come from this type of in depth examination of the document. But here is the takes time and time is not always available. You need to pick and choice your topics to discuss very carefully and be sure to not squander too much time on interesting subjects that fall off of the AP radar. This is the tough part. I also want to add that I spend most of my time on Article 1 and Article 2 and then move much more quickly through the remainder of the Constitution. Section 8 and Section 9 get a great deal of attention during the time with Article 1.

The bottom line is simple...however you do it, make the kids read the Constitution with a careful eye to the details and intent. This will make the rest of your year so much smoother and so much easier when you are all speaking the same language in class and have a common starting point.

In two weeks I intend on discussing Federalism. This is a tough topic for the kids and is often a tripping point on the AP Exam. Until then, have a great start to the school year....RV

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