Fourth and fifth graders at A2 Charter School experienced a major American Civics lesson this fall as they learned about the process America goes through every four years to elect a president.
The study began with the US Constitution where students discovered the basis for the procedure as it is outlined in that document. They learned the role of the Electoral College, explored the issues that concern many Americans, and observed the candidates running for office along with their plans to resolve those issues.
Next, the students surveyed family and friends to determine the top three concerns they had about America today. Their research revealed that the economy, education, and health care stood out as the issues most troubling to the people they canvassed. Then the nine and ten-year-olds learned about those topics in depth and how the candidates proposed to deal with them by watching the national debates and commercials, speaking to voters, and examining the candidates’ websites. Class discussions that focused on articulating all sides to the debate and the reasons behind the positions promoted an understanding of more than one viewpoint. They also helped develop students’ critical thinking skills to recognize propaganda techniques and the difference between fact and opinion. They also learned the importance of knowing who is responsible for providing the information being received. A weekly straw poll that was recorded in chart-making activities in math class demonstrated the change in student opinions as they learned more about the candidates and the process.
Finally, students formed campaign committees and created their own candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States. They gave their candidates names, backgrounds and a platform based on the three issues that were studied as a group. In addition, each committee needed to form a position on fourth issue of their choosing. The students addressed protecting the environment, lowering the National Debt, responsibly ending the war in the Mideast, and more. The groups wrote and performed speeches and commercials, and produced campaign slogans, flyers, buttons, and posters. The commercials and speeches incorporated both propaganda techniques and legitimate proposals for solving the challenges facing the country at this time. By creatively using a combination of classic crayon, marker, and poster board strategies, and cutting edge technology, students designed a culminating political convention that closely mirrored the adult versions that had taken place earlier. All twelve campaign committees introduced their candidates as they were portrayed by the students, gave speeches, and shared their commercials (some performed live while others chose to use movie making or other digital presentations). After the convention, in a primary election, students voted for the candidates they felt shared their views and presented them most clearly. The top two pairs of running mates were to go on to give one more round of speeches on election day, November 6, and students would vote one more time to elect the student-candidates as well as have a final mock election to determine the student’s choice in the national contest.
When asked to reflect on the experience, students reported being surprised by several aspects of the process. Samantha Braun said, “I did not know that is was the electoral votes that counted in an election.” Ryan Jacobs added, “Researching who the best candidate is really takes lots of work and time.” “And so does running a campaign,” commented Halle Boldt. Kongmeng Yang said, “It really is hard to get people to vote for you. If you say one wrong thing, they might not like it.” Kaytlyn Weidig stated, “It’s really amazing that people are willing to spend so much time and money and work so hard and they might not even get elected.”
A2, a charter school for accelerated independent fourth and fifth
graders, is in its sixth year of operation and is located at 2530 Weeden