Donald Trump has been speaking in my high school for the past two weeks…. because I invented a simulation activity for my 4 Civics classes and the 4 Civics classes of my mentee and colleague, Mr. Bobby Morrissey. We have 8 students running in a simulated Republican Presidential Primary, so besides Donald Trump, we also have walking through our hallways Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush.
These 8 candidates have put together daily speeches which get played before the beginning of our 8 classes in a television news style. Mr. Morrissey and I also placed all of our 260 students into one of the 50 states, Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C. These states set requirements for how the 8 candidates could get on their primary ballot, and they set the date on which their state would hold their primary. In the real world, there is no federal oversight of how the 50 states do these things. So if, for instance, Donald Trump wants to get his name on the ballot for the primary election in Washington state, he must “provide a list of 10 student signatures along with school ID numbers, he must provide six cookies–one for each representative from the state and at least one delegate must receive a high-five from the candidate OR a campaign member.” If Carly Fiorina wants to get her name on the ballot of the state of California, she will have to have “three teachers email three valid reasons for her to be President with explanation and details.” And so on… Every day various states have their Republican primary elections, and then the winning candidates get the number of delegates that state has. When Jeb Bush won New Jersey, he got 14 delegates.
Students who are not candidates choose to either work for the candidate, work for a media outlet, are a pollster, or work for the Election Commission (the two teachers). Those working for the candidate makes videos and posters, they write speeches, they reach out to other students, they work to get the candidate on the ballot of the various states, and so on. Those working for the media are free-lancers, or work for some of the student-created news outlets. There are writers, artists, and editors. The pollsters are constantly providing citizens of the simulation with data about who is voting for who, and what the pulse is in the various states. For social media we are using the hashtag #BHS2016sim and the Twittersphere is alive with photos, polls, stories and campaign ads. Check out that hashtag on Twitter and get a feel for the level of student engagement. You can also check out the links to the simulation on my class website.
Mr. Morrissey and I, the two Election Commissioners, have completely incompatible schedules during the day and have a very hard time ever meeting in person. But through email and texting we are running a simulation that is the most effective one I have ever been a part of, as a student or a teacher. A higher percentage of kids have engaged in this simulation than any I have ever seen before, and I have done six or seven different major simulations with my classes in previous years.
Mr. Morrissey and I came into school on a Saturday and cut out pictures of all our students and divided them equally among the states. This gave students a group they could initially work with. A key success of this simulation is two dedicated teachers who love their craft, and have a desire to get their students involved in real scenarios outside of the textbook, applying things learned from the textbook.
I was on the Governor’s Task Force for Civics Education in Illinois that recommended that a Civics course be required for graduation in Illinois. The General Assembly passed that bill into law, and included some things which must be in that Civics course including simulations and discussions of controversial issues. Our current Republican Presidential Primary simulation is firing on those cylinders.
Mr. Morrissey and I talked today about the sense of gratification we feel when we see students plugging into their work in the simulation, when they thank us for giving them something “fun” to do, when we hear other teachers telling us about the buzz that has been created by this class activity. And it was no small moment when a photographer and reporter from the largest newspaper in the world, the Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun), came into our classrooms, taking pictures and interviewing our students and us about the whole thing. (In Japan they are now debating whether to lower the current voting age, 20, to 18. They wanted to see how American kids are prepared for being responsible voters at age 18)
Every teacher knows that highs and lows are part of the territory in the craft of teaching. As hard as we work as teachers, there are many times when things don’t work out, lessons flop, students are apathetic. But right now, Mr. Morrissey and I are savoring the feeling of satisfaction that comes from seeing so many of our students learning, and enjoying their learning, partly because of the effort we have invested. This investment is paying rich dividends!