What interesting times we are living in. Teaching and learning within a set of unprecedented challenges that includes:
- a pandemic that keeps students at home most, if not all, of the school day learning from online courses, Zoom meetings, and other distance learning;
- a contentious election fraught with concerns, issues, and some fears; and
- a series of protests and discord bringing home the reality of economic and systemic inequalities across the country.
Students of all ages are paying attention and how we help them understand the processes that are unfolding before us all is paramount to our teaching. We can help them understand how government works, and we can also encourage them to participate.
Constitution Day–September 17, also known as Citizenship Day–is one way to help ground some of our teaching about those very processes. As one piece of our Charters of Freedom documents, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (and all the other amendments since those times) lay the groundwork for the laws that govern our land.
Consider starting the first week of school by introducing the Constitution. You can use a variety of thinking routines to get started. Teach learners the government terms of art–that is, the words (bills, democracy, laws, veto, judicial) to create a common vocabulary that students can apply to their classwork all year whether in history, government, language arts, science, business, agriculture, econ, or any other class. The laws as set forth in our founding documents ground us in the business of our lives.
Once you’ve introduced students to these concepts, you can apply them throughout the year. Questions can be created within the scope of your subject area and in assignments. “What are the laws as they apply to starting your own business?” “Why can’t I add my favorite song to my YouTube video?” “What is the role of protest as outlined in the Constitution?” These kinds of questions can jump-start your teaching information literacy as well as social justice and other thematic topics.
October 2 – Constitution Day Poster Contest
The Constitution Day Poster Contest: Sponsored by the Government Information for Children (GIC) Committee of the ALA Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT), this contest allows K-12 students to design a poster that expresses their thoughts and ideas on how they benefit from the freedoms as embodied in the U.S. Constitution. There are prizes for each grade and each grade winner will receive a Constitution commemorative coin with the grand prize winner also receiving a $100 cash prize.
Participating in the contest is a great way to:
- Encourage students to learn about the rights we have as U.S. citizens.
- Teach students the vocabulary of the Constitution and other founding documents.
- Help students apply the principles of the Constitution to events today.
- Encourage students to participate in civic events.
- Give students a positive venue to think visually, and frame their thoughts about how much we rely on the Constitution to support equity, equality, and outline the freedoms that we value.
While the instruction for the poster contest needs to be accomplished early in the school year, it is an excellent way to get those valuable conversations going early on. We are all bringing forth courageous conversations about race, equity, protest, and rights. We can ground those discussions with evidence from the founding documents, and once we understand the basic concepts, we can debate, discuss, question, and explore the latest news and events, knowing we can always go back to the source and forge ahead with those concepts firmly in our back pocket.
To download the poster rules/deadlines go to: https://www.constitutionfacts.com/constitution-poster-design-contest/.
|Note: Entries can only be physical posters. One way to accomplish to incorporate this poster into distance learning is to assign the poster as you normally would, and then have students drop off their completed posters to a curbside drop-off point in whatever protocol your school/district recommends. Teachers can then assess them and mail them all together.
Teachers can offer an online meet-up for students to share their work with one another, if desired, before turning them in to the drop-off point. If your school offers hybrid or face-to-face instruction, students can bring them to your class to share with their classmates.
Start your search with the GIC website: https://godort.libguides.com/gicconstitutionday.
Curated by government documents librarians and other members of the Government Documents Roundtable, this guide will point you to state and federal government information that is of interest and use to K-12 teachers. It is in the process of being updated right now, so check frequently as links are checked, updated, and added.
iCIVICS.org offers a wide variety of learning venues from worksheets to games to document-based question lessons and more across a swath of civics learning. Excellent for at-home learning and then returning to online classes for further discussion. It also provides a link to the Constitution: https://www.icivics.org/curriculum/constitution.
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!