Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day 50 - Teaching the Constitution: Superheroes and the Branches of Government - Michael Milton, BHS Social Studies Staff

This post originally appeared on Michael's Blog

As a new teacher to both the US History I curriculum and to teaching 9th graders, I was struggling teaching students about the difference in the branches of governments. I tried a variety of ways to do this: I gave an overview of each branch, students completed a graphic organizer for the branches, students sought answers to questions using the Constitution [ex. Can Mr Milton run for President? Why/Why not?*], and I created a board game to show the arduous quest for a bill to become a law. Still, I did not feel that it connected to my students. I felt like my job of bringing the Constitution to life was not yet finished.
During a free period, I popped into a colleague’s classroom to discuss the Constitution. It was here that she said one phrase that really sparked my brain into gear. Let me preface this by explaining I have recently been thinking quite a bit about superheroes and supervillains – particularly how they carry out mundane things like grocery shopping or online dating**. My colleague said, “…powers of the branches.” Obviously, my mind immediately jumped to “superpowers of the branches” and went into overdrive. I explained the concept to her and collaboratively we came up with the Super Branches of Government!
This student focuses solely on the Commander in Chief  role of the President.
From my colleague’s classroom. This student focuses solely on the Commander in Chief role of the President.
Super Branches of Government!
The Prompt: What if each branch of the US government was a superhero? What would it look like? What superpowers would it have? What weaknesses would it have?
Use the US Constitution to create the new American hero!
Part 1: The Creation of a Superhero
Brainstorm and create a superhero. What powers would it have? How would you represent the powers?
    • Students were put into small groups, given a large piece of paper, an assortment of markers and colored pencils, and given their branch!
    • I guided them slightly, mostly reminding them to use the tools we had developed [notes and graphic organizers] as well as the Constitution itself.
    • I attempted to help students focus on the powers of the branch and how to best represent them.
    • I did add to my initial instructions for students to make a key to explain what the elements represented.
Part II: The Switch
Switch with another group and examine the superhero they created. What powers are missing? Add them! What limitations does the hero have? Add them to the image.
    • At first, students were reluctant to add to another’s image. However, most groups seemed to embrace playing with a new superhero.
    • I may not do this step in the future. I am currently discussing this with colleagues who added the limitations to the first part of the project. For me, the purpose of this part was for students to interact with all of the branches of government but I am interested in finding an alternative.
Part III: Discussion 
Examine the superhero for the branch that you did not help create. Then, if you had created a superhero for the remaining branch, what would it look like? What powers would it have? How would you depict it? What would you include that was not included in the one you just examined? What limitations does it have? How would you depict it?
    • I am currently at this point in this project.
    • Students will use Canvas, a student management system, to write individual answers to this prompt in a discussion forum.
    • When completed, students will comment on two of their classmates posts.
Overall, I have been pleased with the discussions of the groups. My favorite impromptu discussion between students in rival groups discussing which superhero was stronger. I was beaming but remained silent during this exchange as it is something as a society we still wrestle with. I am really looking forward to the debrief discussion!
Alternative: Two of my colleagues are in the process of doing this activity and chose to have students solely responsible for one branch of government and for the students to present it to the class.
So that is one way that I am teaching the Constitution, how are you doing it?

* I cannot. Article II Section 1 states that you must be 35 years old. I can, however, run for US Senate.

**I imagine this exchange between a superhero and supervillain at the grocery, “So, I know we’re sworn enemies and all but my cart is pretty full…fight tomorrow? Oh, I have an extra coupon for those paper towels! Here you go!”

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