Using technology to teach civics to young adults

The Problem

Civics – the study or science of the priveleges and obligations of citizens (Dictionary.com)

Civics used to be one of the cornerstones of the American curriculum. However, teaching of the subject has waned in recent decades due to emphasis on achievement in reading, math, and science, and it is now taught (if at all) along with history and government, or only emphasizes community service. This has led to the widespread disinterest and disenfranchisement of younger people, who generally do not vote or participate in government or the political process.

Civics proficiency – NEAP 2006 Civics Report Card

Fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government, a minimal requirement for understanding America’s constitutional system. in a test done by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

However, the 2008 election saw a significant change in participation by the 18-29 year old demographic.

Pew: Young Voters in the 2008 election

See also this dynamic chart of 2008 election results from the New York Times

What could cause this change?

I propose that it is because the candidates embraced the internet and mobile technologies to an extent previously unseen. This allowed young people to feel more connected and involved in the candidates and the campaign, and encouraged greater voter turnout than before.

Pew: Liberal Dems top conservative Reps in donations, activism

Therefore, it seems obvious that to involve young people in the political process, technology must be used to appeal to them. (Skip to 0.30 for the meat of the video)

What does this mean for the School Library Media Specialist?

Look for software, websites, or new technologies that allow voters, especially young people to feel more connected to politicians. Work with teachers to integrate them into their lesson plans. The earlier that students begin to feel that politics is relevant and interesting, the more likely they will be to vote later.

Possible Scenario

A high school social studies teacher is working on the Maryland State Voluntary Curriculum Government Political Systems Goal 1, and specifically wants help from the SLMS finding tools to promote voting and interest and involvement in the political process.

Solutions

First, introduce the topic by showing students this Facebook newsfeed parody of Obama’s first 100 days in office

Activity Technologies Multiple Intelligence(s) NETS-S
Students conduct a poll, either through Survey Monkey or on the ground data collecting. Then they will organize the results into a chart in Excel and give a short presentation to the class explaining their results.
  • Survey Monkey
  • Excel
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Logical-Mathematic
  • Visual
  • Interpersonal
1d, 2b, 3d, 4a, 4b, 5 and 6
Students follow a politician’s or government agency’s activities for a month using Twitter, Facebook, and websites.

Then analyze a speech or news release in Wordle or Inspiration, finding the main themes and political spin.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Wordle
  • Inspiration
  • Interpersonal
  • Linguistic
  • Visual
2a, 3b, 5b
Students have a choice of writing a paper or creating an xTimeline on the history of a political movement.
  • Word
  • xTimeline
  • Linguistic
  • Visual
  • Logical-Mathematical
2b, 3, 4, 6a, 6b
Students use the Gallup Poll website to study public opinion (Scheuerell, 2008).
  • Gallup Poll
  • Logical-Mathematic
  • Interpersonal
1d, 2c, 4c

Studies and Research

Teaching Tools and Technologies

Adapted from my final project for a school library media class at the University of Maryland, College Park, 2009.

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