I am so happy to have been part of the effort to get Civics as a high school graduation requirement in Illinois, and Civics with a real cutting edge: the course MUST include simulations, discussion of current and controversial issues, and service learning. I am happy because as our current Presidential Election simulation draws to a close on election day I am seeing, reaping, and basking in the glow of the power of simulation. My 5th period Civics class has just come to an end, the bell has rung, but instead of all students booking immediately out the door, there was a big crowd around the electoral map on my smart TV., showing the results of our current Presidential election halfway through the day. The same thing happened at the end of 7th period. Jill Stein (our Cailee) took an early lead, winning the West (our 2nd period classes), but then Gary Johnson (our Matteo) moved ahead, winning the Midwestern states (our 3rd period students), only to fall slightly behind Hillary Clinton (our Elisabeth) who swept the South (our 5th period students), and these students were taking pictures of the current electoral map, showing all these results. You can see Hillary (Lis) happy with the results of her campaign giving her the midday lead.
My colleague and collaborator Mr Morrissey and I divided all our students (6 classes worth) into the 50 states at the beginning of the simulation, and they each had times to vote on election day, today, the last day of the simulation. Students had previously picked their roles for the simulation: either as a member of the media (pollster, writer, artist, editor, media manager, etc.), or as a worker on the campaign of one of our candidates, (Clinton, Trump, Stein, Johnson). These candidates had arisen through a primary process of sorts. Now students are hanging around a big screen US Electoral map in my classroom like they were pundits and politicians in the real world, planning their strategies for the rest of the day. How to reach those remaining 160 electoral votes?
Other teachers have remarked to us how engaged our students are in this simulation. Follow the Twitter (or Instagram) feed we are using for this simulation: #BHS2016Pres and you will find a profound diversity of polls, videos, stories, pictures, jokes, artwork, etc. The Z generation of which these seniors are a part is the first generation raised from birth in the virtual age. Technology really helps this simulation to go. Shared Google docs, the Internet, classroom computers and social media savvy helped with the overall sense of success that I am now feeling for this simulation. Kids plugged in their talents, each following their own calling, worked together to form newspapers, campaigns, media strategies, and worked alone to make posters, write stories and gather polling data.
My students are not honors students generally nor AP students, so as those of you who read this blog know, I am constantly wrestling with the best ways to motivate and engage them. (In that sentence you can tell I believe that you do not have to work as hard to engage honors and AP kids.. they are usually highly motivated at whatever you throw at them!) One thing we did was to offer a grade of A to winning campaigns. Since a simulation is graded differently than a multiple choice test, the grade here is based not on how many multiple choice questions you got correct, but instead on well you pulled off a strategy to win our Electoral College vote. But I said winning campaigns because besides offering the A to the campaign which won the Electoral vote, we also offered an A to the campaign that won the popular vote. The electoral vote was the 200 students in our 6 classes, but the popular vote involved the 2500 students in our entire school! We set it up so that students would have to vote by inputting their ID number and birthdate, so there could be no election fraud. Only one vote per registered ID number. And we also decided that we would tell no one about being able to vote on October 5, election day. No morning announcements, no posters, nothing. The only way that the 2500 students in our school would find out that they could vote for our four candidates would be if those four campaigns told them about it. They would have to do voter drives, education drives (the URL, how to login, etc.), and getting those freshmen and sophomores and others out to the polls on election day.
As Election Commissioners Mr. Morrissey and I made a voting booth that we put in the cafeteria during the 4 lunch periods that could be used for voting on election day. Our assistant election commissioners (student assistants who helped with the simulation) staffed the booth during the 4 lunch periods. They did this without any input, direction or scheduling from their teachers. This is impressive! And so the four election campaigns of Trump, Clinton, Johnson and Stein had to devise two separate election strategies for election day… how to win the popular vote, reaching out to the whole school, and the electoral vote, working wisely the 200 students divided into 50 separate states.
We have four virtual debates where each candidate made a two minute video about the topic of the debate, to be shown to each of the six different Civics classes. This way even though these candidates were all in different classes, all the classes could see/hear each candidate in the debates. It was like watching the actual Presidential debates on TV. The debate topics were Guns, Immigration, Syria-ISIS, and Candidate Choice. You can find links to those debates on our Election Central site. Students then voted each day on which candidate they thought did a better job. Pollsters then took this information and gave it to the various media outlets, and social media people tweeted it out, and…this place felt like it was the real deal, the real campaign.
So I’m glad for Civics, and the law in Illinois which requires it. I’m glad that simulations are a required part of the course. I am glad to be feeling the inward glow that this simulation went well, that students were legitimately engaged and that learning about our democratic system is taking place. So, in a sense, from a teacher’s point of view, this is no simulation… this is the real deal!!