MARCH 04, 2015
How do you get students involved with civic topics and concepts in a deep and engaging way beyond classroom rhetoric? One method is mock congress and debate. Utilizing experiential learning tools such as mock congress and debate, allows students to learn how to execute strategy; how to express, argue and even appreciate opposing viewpoints; as well as execute critical thinking capacity, all while rigorously engaging in the topic.
February 17th, 2015 Close Up DC hosted one of their many high school debates held January through July. “As a civic education organization we think it is important for students to debate and discuss education issues”, said Rachel Talbert with Close Up DC. Programs like Close Up bring students to experiences beyond a classroom or textbook understanding of how we exercise our rights as citizens.
The students experienced collaborative hands on learning during the Close Up debate. “The Mock Congress, with hands on debate and all the Close Up students was the best,” explained one student, “discussions with other students helped me out”. The debate was around the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2013 as well as other crucial topics such as the relationship between eminent domain and the Keystone Pipeline. “My students’ favorite part of the program was learning the procedures of lawmaking during Mock Congress” one teacher explained.
According to Close Up, “Having students weigh in on education-something we don’t do enough- was impressive and students really took advantage of the opportunity to discuss an issue that impacts them and their peers”. Close Up DC however took this concept one step further by attempting to engage the broader digital audience through leveraging social media as an engagement opportunity around the debates. The “Tweet Up” (#SDOHR1802) brought through voices of teachers, community members and other nonprofit organizations such as iCivics and Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). “We have Mock Congress every Tuesday night from January to July with our High School students and wanted a chance for students to try digital democratic discussion on twitter since many of our students use twitter and engage with content on a variety of subjects in that way” said Talbert.
Utilizing social media as an effective learning tool is a challenge for many classrooms. Students naturally participate on social platforms on a large scale, but educators are still working to provide effective methods to take advantage of many of the tools. Although the students were too busy debating to tweet, this opportunity opens up possibilities for future inter-classroom exchanges as students across the country can weigh in on the events taking place in a room of 200 high school students somewhere near the nation’s capital.
Close Up might be on to something. Isn’t it democratic to provide opportunities for everyone to participate around topics the community cares about? What if municipalities provided opportunities for their citizens to participate in town halls or even express community concerns through digital means? How many more citizens could we engage?
So how do we make civic education impactful and accessible? Make it meaningful and make it accessible! In the words of a Close Up Washington state student, “Imagine if every student could experience the spirit of democracy, how would our nation be?”. With the creative integration of social platforms, civics can now be shared and experienced in ways never experienced before.
Amber Coleman-Mortley serves the iCivics community as the Digital Media Manager, where she supports users in all aspects of iCivics.org. Her favorite iCivics game is Activate. In her spare time she is a part-time superhero who blogs about parenting and discovering other nerdy life experiences. Most likely you’ll find her productively tweeting or answering questions while having a dance party at her desk.