Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ripped from the Headlines--The State of the Union Address 2010

The State of the Union Address 2010

Hippocampus connections: Lesson 5, Lesson 20

This year's State of the Union address brought several raised eyebrows and a good deal of morning quarterbacks with varying opinions of the president's speech before Congress. Mr. Obama concentrated on the topics of the budget, the economy, education, energy, health care, "don't ask, don't tell", and national security.

There are many ways you could use the State of the Union Address in class. I would avoid showing the students the entire speech. Class time is far to precious for this, especially when the speech runs over an hour as it did this year. I do believe you can encourage students to watch it or listen to it (as extra credit or a class assignment is great), but I find using selected clips from YouTube a much better use of the class time.

I also love what CNN did the next day with a nice combination of summary, key themes, reactions, and poll results. I really think that a solid lesson plan could be devised using the CNN site (hyperlinked above). In addition, CNN added Highlights of past SOTU Addresses and a fun interactive on-line quiz on what we know about the history or SOTU Addresses.

I would break my class into small groups and assign each group to read one of the themes (the budget, education, energy and so on) and then come back to the class and not only report on what the speech said, but also have the group give their opinion on this topic and how it would effect the state in which they live and their lives. They could spend 20-30 minutes doing a quick Internet search on the topic and make 5-10 minute presentations/discussions. This would be a great higher level thinking activity (on Bloom's taxonomy it would rate as evaluation and/or synthesis) and very appropriate for AP level students.

For example, if President Obama said he would like to give families tax credits for college expenses as well as increasing Pell Grant funds how would this effect your students? If the students come from wealthy families, this may not be as salient of an issue as it would be for students coming from lower income areas. And how would this education money be financed? Increased taxes? More national debt? Would Republicans and Democrats support such measures? If not, why?

The State of Union Address can fit into the Hippocampus curriculum in several places. The two most natural would be at the beginning of the year during Lesson 5 on the Constitution if you wanted to discuss enumerated duties of the president at this time. Better yet, during Lesson 20 this would fit nicely in the discussion of the president as Chief Legislator (page 10 of the text section on Expressed Roles). CNN keeps these pages up for a long time, so you don't have to use the State of the Union Address the week it actually takes place. This page should be available to you next year if you teach a year long class or later this semester if you teach a semester class and are now just coming to the executive branch unit.

As always, we must balance the time we spend on any one individual topic. With the institutions of government being up to 60 percent of the AP Exam, time spent on the State of the Union Address is probably justifiable. In the process of creating good citizens, it is very important. I would recommend squeezing this into your curriculum and considering it time well spent.

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