Sunday, January 31, 2010

Some Help Teaching the "Underpinnings"

We the People Competitions...Another Weapon in Our Arsenals

I find AP teachers to be an interesting group of people. I doubt there exists another set of educators who are so dedicated to finding new ways of presenting material, new ways of exciting students to their topics, and new ways of insuring that come May, their students will be totally prepared for the summative exams that face them. I think that most of use who teach AP classes take the whole thing very personally. When our students succeed, we feel we succeed. When the students fail...well...we tend to blame ourselves. Is this striking a cord with you?

In the quest to be a better APGOPO teacher, I always keep the radar working for new and interesting ways to get students involved. I have shared several of these with you and today I want to focus on another: The Center for Civic Education's We the People Competitions. For us "old timers" this is not a new resource. However, if you are new to teaching APGOPO, this can be a great find in your search for ways of involving students in the learning process.

The Center for Civic Educations stated goal is "... to promote civic competence and responsibility among the nation’s elementary and secondary students...". This is accomplished by providing an educational program with very good publications available and a culminating activity in which students participate in simulated Congressional hearings.

If you are not familiar with the We the People book for high schools you should be. This book is very helpful in teaching the concepts that APGOPO expects the students to understand as far as the Underpinnings of the United States Government are concerned. In my social studies department, we have used this text in our sophomore honors US History, our AP US History, and in our regular and AP Government classes. Classroom sets are available for affordable prices for most public and private schools. Since I have encouraged most of my teachers to attend trainings put on by the Center for Civic Education we have even received classroom sets at no cost!

This week (February 1st as a matter of fact) is the Kansas State Competition in Topeka. Our school will field a team this year under the leadership of my AP History teacher and myself. Winning your state level competition allows your team to advance to nationals in Washington, D.C. Several years ago our school won this honor and the students were of course elated.

Now, having said all of this, there are a couple of caveats that must be looked at. First, the curriculum of We the People: The Citizens and the Constitution covers primarily the Underpinnings of the United States and the Civil Liberties portions of the AP Curriculum (see the table of contents for this publication). These two sections of the AP curriculum make up at the most 30% of the APGOPO exam and at the least 10% (see the Curriculum Outline in the Acorn Book page 10-12).

If you are going to attempt to incorporate the We the People publication and curriculum in your syllabus, you are going to have to carefully watch your time. I have always been a strong advocate of spending the bulk of my teaching time on the Institutions of National Government and Public Policy which can make up as much as 60% of the exam! The We the People curriculum can be a real time consumer if you don't watch out. I would never advocate sacrificing any of our precious time needed for the most significant parts of the AP curriculum for "outside" activities.

If you are like me and have the luxury of a year long class, then We the People can be inserted into your syllabus comfortably. If you teach online or for a semester only, you really need to weight the cost of time versus percentage of curriculum being covered.

A second concern with We the People is cost....especially in these hard times for public education. Beyond the cost of the materials if you must purchase them, transportation and other travel concerns might be problematic for you. Our team (totaling 15 students and sponsors) will need to travel 160 miles for the state competition. If you win state, fund raising will be necessary for the national competition. Be sure if you start on this venture you have the support of your administration, parents, and students.

An alternative to competing in the state competition is that several states have district level competitions that your team could probably compete in with little or no cost other than time. At our school we have even done a school only competition which was unofficial, but cost nothing while allowing the students to present their papers and demonstrate their understanding of the Constitution to local judges. (see the rules of competition)

If you have questions contact your local state representative. It is probably too late this year to get on board with a team, but planning for next year should start soon!

Wish my team good luck. The kids have worked very hard and are very enthusiastic. I can only see this as a great help in the final goal...understanding our government and doing well on the AP Exam!

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