The United States Constitution can be a daunting and boring study for eighth graders, heck for anyone. Reading and plodding through the primary text will overwhelm the most attentive of students. We knew that in order for our students to acquire the essential understandings regarding the three branches of the US government other teaching techniques would need to be applied.
Applying visual techniques were the center piece of our lesson plan.
1. As a hook we started our unit with “Three Ring Circus” created by School House Rock. The perfect visual and fun story line to grab the interest of our eighth grade students:
This short video incorporates entertaining cartoon characters, catchy corny music, and a simplistic but effective metaphor with the US three branches of government. PERFECT, especially when you consider our final assessment project; a poster of a metaphor of the Three Branches of Government.
2. Next we presented the information in a 12 slide power point presentation:
To be honest this visual we created wasn’t perfect. While the text was limited to two to five bullets, and were in structured in phrases not sentences, there still were a lot of words. This broke some of the rules for an ideal digital story. But we wanted this PowerPoint to not just be a one time presentation, but to represent the foundation to our student notes. So there is a lot of text/information (words, words, etc.) on most of the slides. In order to counter this we highlighting the key three or so words on each slide. We also included precise images that would link the message to a visual. On slide four and ten we varied the slide form by presenting the notes in an Inspiration style web, which added variance and kept the students intrigued. Further this Inspirational web style will be used in the next exercise, so it also served to introduce the next step in the unit. After going through the 12 slide presentation we Dyknow-ed (sent) the presentation to each student’s dedicated student D:drive for notes and study.
3. PowerPoint notes aren’t enough, we wanted students to create their own notes and we wanted it to be visual. Inspiration Webs were the perfect solution:
We created a basic web as a starter for each student. This starter web was accompanied by a word bank. Students must use every word in the word bank and place them on their Constitution Web. Below the web we placed numerous links that would not only define, but also show examples of the words in the bank. Students could work in pairs and took a couple of days to complete their Constitutional webs. Now they have all the terms expected in this unit and in a visual style that they created!
4. Now it was time for them to practice and apply their understanding without high risk. The website, www.icivics.org/ provided an excellent forum for this play. And when I mean play, I mean play. The site includes various games that focus on all three branches of the US government: legislative, executive, and judicial. These games were educational and fun, many students played the games when on break and at home. These games were highly visual and interactive, all fantastic for learning.
5. Let’s see if students could now apply their learning to a task? Planet Drajplit (www.docstoc.com) is a new planet in need of a high functioning government, can students help this planet? In small groups students design their own government (modeled after the US constitution/three branches) and answer tough questions from the Drajplit citizens regarding governance. This exercise effectively put responsibility on the students to prove their understanding, plus it empowered them as experts.
6. At this point we had a week long break from excessive homework as our students were taking a standardized test (CTP4), so we lightened the study load. To re-engage the students after the standardized testing we had students independently watch BrainPops and take the corresponding BrainPop quizzes: “The US Constitution”, “The Bill of Rights”, and “The Three Branches of Government”.
These BrainPops are great digital stories with fun characters, accurate information, and presented In an age appropriate current style. Plus it pre-assesses the students and allows them to take the quizzes as many times as they like. These independent reviews perfectly brought the students back to the three branches of government unit.
7. Finally students were ready for their finally assessments, returning full circle to the initial School House Rock “Three Ring Circus” metaphor, students were instructed to create their own metaphor(simile) for the three branches of government. This project creatively titled “Three Branches of Government Metaphor Project” asks students to create their own visual metaphor poster, which they then present and display for the class.
Interpretive, creative, personal connections, and visual, this project has all the necessary educational techniques to enable authentic and powerful understandings in our students. Plus I can display them inside and outside the classroom so other students can benefit from the unique visual connections and further their understanding of the three branches of the US government.