Making School l Elections Meaningful: A Relevant Civics Lesson
by National Hall of Fame Educator Alan Haskvitz
http://articles.latimes.com/keyword/alan-haskvitz/featured/1

Almost every school has school or class elections with the idea of sharing the true nature of a democracy where everyone can vote. Usually those students who want to run create posters, give a speech, and come election day the results are tabulated and the winner announced. What I would suggest is to consider making it more representative teachable moment.

The Campaign

First, every one who wishes to run for office must meet certain requirements such as a 2.0 GPA. When the person signs-up to vote they are given an agreed upon number of poster paper and they are numbered and signed. They are accompanied by a list of where they can be placed and proper etiquette. In that way all the participants have an equal chance. There can also be interviews in the school newspaper, using the public address system for a fixed number of ads, and a speech that can video tapped to play on the school system, if it is enabled. The whole idea is to make the election fair and to promote creativity within set bounds.

Election Day

The next step takes place before the voting. Students line-up at registration tables where the school attendance folders are duplicated. Students sign by their name and are give a ballot. They have a day to consider the person they wish to vote for and the ballots are cast the following day. This means that some students who don’t care simply can’t vote because they didn’t take the time to register.

The Vote

After the election there is a registration process in which every student who wants to vote registers to vote and receives a ballot.

Integrating the Lesson

I also recommend having an art competition for the best campaign poster and one for the best slogan. The competition could even include the best campaign song. A panel could do the judging, teachers, or it could be on the ballot. In this way the election becomes more interesting to the students and gets them more involved. This site provides information on what is called the “youth vote.” It makes interesting reading, but it also provides more evidence to support educators who use voting as a teaching tool. Have students reach conclusions from this data:
http://collegestats.org/2012/09/25-facts-about-the-youth-vote-this-year/

Of course, integrating civics is a given. Here are some recommended websites that have good lessons to accomplish that goal:

National Student/Parent Mock Election
The best site to get involved.
http://www.nationalmockelection.org/

iCivics lessons
You can register, but it isn’t required. Some lessons are interactive.
https://www.icivics.org/teachers/lesson-plans/mock-election

Mock election link site
Pretty much everything is here, but it takes time to navigate.
http://www.ncwiseowl.org/ss/Citizenship/MockElections/Mock_Elections.htm

Scholastic
Lessons by grade level
http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/unit/elections-everything-you-need

For federal elections
http://www.educationworld.com/a_special/election.shtml

Types of propaganda
Print out
http://shepherdenglish.pbworks.com/f/AdvertisementAssignment.pdf

An exceptional source of Constitutional related materials
A great newsletter, lots of lessons, and a knowledgeable staff.
http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/

The Most Difficult Student to Teach
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz
http://www.findingdulcinea.com/features/profiles/h/alan-haskvitz.html

He was young, bright, and failing school.

A year after finishing the eighth grade he failed high school and was sent to a continuation school. There, I noticed his writing talent, gave him an old computer, and worked to get him into a small, high school program where he could get the attention he needed. I went to the principal of his school and told her of my plans. She was thrilled and brought him in to discuss the possibilities. The only thing he had to do was continue not be a discipline problem. The next day he got into a fight over a pencil. End of story.

He won. He liked his life. No expectations, no school related stress, and no fear of failure. This is the most difficult child to teach. The reasons are simple and complex. Unlike students who have been diagnosed with a learning concern, these students don’t have any measurable problems that can be ascertained by testing. They simply win by losing. They see a test not as a measurement of what they know, how to improve, and to guide future methods to help them, but as a waste of time that can only end badly if they try. They know they have the power to fail and it they do, it was of there own choosing. Some may call it passive aggressive, but it reality it all aggressive. They are in charge and let the devil take the hindmost. Within minutes they are done with the test and sit idly by trying not to draw attention. Bubble tests offer them the ability to make designs with the answer sheets. Essay tests enable them to write about issues that are not related to the subject, but make it look like they are working. Going to the bathroom requests are frequent and finding ways to hide and use cell phones provide the only challenge that a quiet room provides.

The results are no surprise to the parent, teacher, or student. Indeed, most schools advocate simplifying the requirements, giving the student extra help, and even after school detention. It is the latter that provides the most joy to the hardcore. For there they meet others who could care less. Not all the students, but he or she only needs one to rationalize their efforts and maximize the benefits of failing by providing socialization possibilities. By the end of high school, if they make it, the system has provided them with hundreds of hours of special help, thousands of dollars worth of remedial books and media, and has pushed them out into life. They have won even if they are not allowed to graduate because they have beaten the system. They remain in charge.

These students have made the legendary, “not working to potential” comment a staple on report cards and parent meetings. To the student this means they have ability and confirms what they have known all along. The amount of ability, the ability to show it, the ability to use it in a useful manner are all the teacher’s responsibility to measure and maximize.

This syndrome, if you will, is not just for low or average achievers, it is also for some of those labeled gifted. It is this latter group where this winning by losing is most evidence because some schools heap more work on those identified as high achievers. There is a dramatic difference between high achievers and those identified as gifted in some cases. The achiever loves the game and loves to win. The gifted student may just want to blend in or face the competition and simply does poorly. These students come in all shapes and flavors, but the one thing low achieving, highly gifted students have in common is the belief that in the end everything will be okay.

Many teachers have seen the same scenario, especially when students take tests. They know if they do well they are going to be challenged and, if the scores are high enough, even lose friends. Students know the game and play it well. I have seen them complete a two hour state test in 15 minutes with no regrets. When the results come in they shrug it off and return to the lifestyle they have learned to enjoy. No stress, no expectations, and best of all no need to change. Change is frightening and these students have found a way to avoid it and thus new challenges. They like their comfort and responsibilities aren’t a concern now that they have proven that they aren’t any good at meeting society’s expectations for them.

Smart? You better believer it. They have the system mastered. While other students are working away trying to prove they are the best, these students cliche together and enjoy themselves without the worries school usually provides. They have realized that if you do well you only court disappointment and they also fear losing control. Ironically, the only control they have over their future is to fail and using that method that don’t lose control. They can control their expectations and gain approval from their peers. Best of all they can shrug off that bright label and its expectations.

It is important to note that failure is not the student’s term, but one society places on them by grading them on things they don’t value. Not working to potential is an overworked term to imply that the individual in question has the same potential as others regardless of that individual’s self-imposed value.

Some students don’t fear success as much as they fear it’s ramifications. Doing well puts the onus on them to continue to do well, even improve. It also can cut into their social life and may even create a classic Catch 22. If I do well I shall have to do better and better. If I don’t do well I don’t have to stress.
High expectations aren’t for everyone. Some students just want to remain uncalled upon. “I don’t know” is their code word for don’t ask me anymore because I don’t want the attention good or bad. The goal is to hide among the masses.

The good news for students who fail to succeed is that they can capitalize on apathy and make it their stock and trade. When the test comes the student simply does not care. I am not good at math is an explanation they have learned works. Failing because one simply does not care is better then facing a challenge where the results of studying might be failure. It is better not to care and not be surprised. These students aren’t lazy, they work at not doing well. They have all the answers to avoiding it. “I forgot”, “I don’t understand”, and other rationalizations have worked for them. They simply do not have the courage to change. It isn’t self-esteem, it is a lack of understanding, foresight if you will, of the value of success to society. It has been said all students want to learn, but the reality is that they may not want to learn what you are offering. They want to count, but without a clear appreciation of what is at stake failure becomes acceptable. Let’s face it, a good grade means little these days. The difference between a B and a D isn’t worth staying up late and losing friends. To these students a D isn’t a disappointment, it is a victory. They didn’t fail and who really wants to be on the honor role anyway.

A common trait of these students is usually the fact that they are street smart, but have limited math and language art skills. As the school years went by they found themselves falling behind more and may have reached the conclusion that it really didn’t make any difference how well they did because they wouldn’t measure up. In many cases parents are also feed-up having tried several types of motivation without success. Parent-teacher conferences were tedious and repetitious with educators noting the lack of achievement and offering up a few suggestions all of which the parent had heard frequently.

Smart students don’t care if they pass or fail or fall somewhere in between. Threats of repeating the year hold little value to them. Worse, if they do fail next year’s teachers are probably going to have a student in their class who could be disruptive to the others and a behavior problem. Is the system going to fail them two years in a row? They know this won’t happen and so their goal just might be to get kicked out putting more pressure on the parent and a loss of income for the school.

Schools are caught in a quandary with these students. If they follow Piaget’s theory that they will learn when they are ready to learn and promote all students failure is not an option and threatening a student just makes them more hardened to such talk.

To overcome this consistent failure to buckle down to society’s standards requires a paradigm shift in education. Schools must learn to accept failure from some students and be willing to use it as a starting point. Failure is the leading cause of progress. To error is not failure, but a starting point. The only true failure in school is expecting that all students are the same. Hence standards based testing is essentially useless to these students. They don’t care. The problems that the system must solve are how to motivate them, how to measure this success, and how to justify this to the public.

To overcome the “I don’t give a damn” attitude requires some decisive action that may be out of the mainstream and thus expensive, time consuming, and frequently frustrating. If you follow the idea of multiple intelligences you cannot help but being struck by the fact that most people are better at some things. The problem is finding what they are better at and developing a plan to exploit this weakness in the bright child’s armor.
The student needs to be taught about themselves. Why? Because they may think that they are unique and their problems are different. The reality is that their problems might not be common place, but they are seldom unique. That does not mean they should be ignored, but they can benefit from learning about problems others have overcome. For example, Abraham Lincoln’s many failures. (http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/failures.htm)


Ways to Help Reach Them

I recommend that following plan when dealing with deliberate non-achievers. First, involve them in the decision making. Tomorrow we are going to read a story about people who burn books to keep others ignorant. Here is brief outline of Fahrenheit 451. Do you think the students would like to guess at what the title means before reading it or after? Engagement is crucial in motivation. Asking students to develop questions about the material and showing them how to create these questions is a plus. Giving the questions to other students to answer is also engaging.

Relate assignments to real life when possible. Books are being banned. Here is a list of them. How do you see the relationship between those who burn books and those who ban them? Is banning the book the same as having parental guidance on records? Write an essay on why such warnings are needed or not and when we are done we can write to a record industry official and see what they say.

This type of lesson can result in discussions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and helps feed the skeptical nature that some students have because they don’t feel empowered. Having lessons that can attempt to change society are very motivational to these students.

Learning from errors is what schools should be for. Remember, failure is the first step on the road to success. However, humor is also important. Bright non-achievers usually have an aversion to making errors and so they don’t try. Thus they feel they control the situation. It is the same tactic that students use when they reply that they don’t know to a question even if they do because they don’t want to get involved. This is why I recommend not using red markers and giving students a variety of ways to show they know the material. Some students might be motivated to improve by having their marks read out loud and some may be chagrined. The toughest students to teach don’t care and if they do well frequently say, “I didn’t even study” to assure their position at the bottom on the class.

These students have another universal code word and that is “boring.” Unfortunately, it is true. Most lessons taught are boring. There is very little that can be used to motivate a student outside of parent pressure, love of the subject matter, or desire to please someone, even the teacher. The latter is vital and the reason that good teachers are often subject to undue pressure brought about by students telling others whatever it takes to get them out of the class. Administrators essentially have a choice of believing the child and/or parent and the teacher. It is easier to move the student. The transfer seldom results in improved grades, but alleviates pressure and that is why the tough to teach student uses it. As for why a subject or lesson is boring is almost always because of two reasons. First, they see no need to know the material. Secondly, it requires too much effort. Students used to memorizing answers, asking friends what was on the test, and spending hours figuring out ways to cheat are seldom happy when confronted with something that is out of their control. Asking why that is the right answer or wrong answer is tough. Especially for those why rely on the “I don’t know” evasive reply.

In an attempt to avoid this the teacher might consider giving students a choice of lessons that teach the same subject matter. Sites such as Awesome Stories (https://www.awesomestories.com/) are prefect for this. The stories are high interest, plentiful, and provide a variety of ways to reach a goal. Proof of learning can also be expanded to include the traditional essay, writing online stories, Khan Academy website (https://www.khanacademy.org/) type tutorials where they teach others, songs, poetry, and more that transcend boring. Here are some examples based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (http://buhlercc.wikispaces.com/Bloom’s+Taxonomy) In my classroom I have students create museums, newspapers, miniature golf courses, tattooed arms, and musicals to allow students to show mastery of the subject.

Critical thinking is an interesting term in that the person has to have the knowledge to think critically before they can apply it. For example, a mechanic must find out why the engine does not work. Without a working knowledge of the engine their can be no critical thinking. That is why the hard to reach student must learn the value of being skeptical. When you add this to their usual positive response to the absurd you can develop students who start to look for the disconnects in lessons and society. I make fun of fairy tales, for example, and that usually gets them to start rethinking what has been accepted by them in the past. This contrarian point of view also works in math class as well. Giving students the answer a question and having them write the question results in their striving to apply their learning in ways that they have not experienced before.

Conclusion: I would suggest that winning by losing attitude is the prerogative of the student and to overcome this learned behavior requires changes in methodology and require a teacher to have patience and the ability to try different approaches. Time consuming, yes, but once mastered the lessons flow and the results are dramatic. Start slowly with these students by empowering them and inviting them to take part in the process. After that tilt the lesson so that it requires a fresh outlook with no wrong answers. The little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dike to save the community is a grand example of getting these students involved. http://www.dutchcoachapproach.com/The_Dutch_Coach_Approach/A_brave_Dutch_boy.html

After reading this to them ask them why this was a stupid thing to do? Ask them what they would have done instead? Next read them this
“True! Of course it is! […] I have given you the story just as Mother told it to me, years ago. Why, there is not a child in Holland who does not know it. And […] you may not think so, but that little boy represents the spirit of the whole country. Not a leak can show itself anywhere either in its politics, honor, or public safety, that a million fingers are not ready to stop it, at any cost. “

Now the teacher can relate this to a number of readings and even tie in math, geography, and political science. There is the potential to consider whether the quote was a primary source and why it wasn’t. The point is that the lesson isn’t boring and the learning potential is vast. The non-productive student can be called on to design a medal, create a poem or song, write an editorial, or even design an outfit the Dutch boy might have worn as well as writing an opinion of why it was good or bad.

Bottom line: Empower the students, keep the lessons unique, and be prepared to challenge yourself. Finally, share your outcomes with others to gain feedback and solicit changes. Remember that they may be the most difficult students to teach, but they can be the most rewarding.

Clever Boys Dumb Down
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/5071005/Clever-boys-dumb-down-to-avoid-being-bullied-study-claims.html

Virtual Electronic Field Trips
by National Hall of Fame teacher Alan Haskvitz
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Haskvitz

Thing back to your school days and the chances are that besides a lost love it was a field trip that you recall vividly. Whether that class visit was to a museum, park, or historical place the learning and enjoyment standout. Today, with modern electronics, budgeting concerns, lawsuit avoidance, curriculum standards, and high value testing results, field trips are a rarity, if not extinct.

Sad, yes, but what is even more disheartening is the fact that students won’t have the opportunity to go somewhere that they could later in life share with their family. Even when a grant has been secured to help pay for the transportation and entrance costs you need to impose on other teachers to have that student miss their class. A small favor to ask, but nonetheless a day of learning missed for that subject area.

There is also the time consuming of tasks of trolling for parents to supervise, arranging the time for buses to arrive, medications, making sure no child is without an emergency number, and that the students understand the time schedule. There may be need for substitute plans and it is recommended that you take a picture of the group on the day of the trip so that if one is missing he or she is easier to identify by officials. This is a lot to ask from a teacher and certainly not a requirement for their position.

But all the above are practical matters. What is missing is the spontaneous learning opportunity across curriculum areas and the diversity of learning opportunities. For example, before the students get on the bus they must calculate the mileage, make an estimate of the miles per hour, study a map to see what other significant places are along the road, and study a layout of the facility noting where they are to report, restrooms, and other places they need to know. The combines both geography and math and map reading. Add to that mix the directions the bus will travel and estimated time of arrival and you have a great learning experience before the trip begins. Having the students make their own note taking book using inexpensive note pads and self-made marbled paper using printers ink and library or book binding tape and you have an art lesson. Using technology, students can even use global positioning information to track the trip and note the various streets taken to make them more aware of the importance of knowing where they are when traveling.

There is always the value of debriefing once the trip is finished and having the students share a study guide for the trip about such items as types of occupations noted, most unusual fact, names of docents, and a list of items observed and the addresses of those who need thank you notes and, perhaps, art work.

The learning that can be linked to a field trip makes if memorable, but just as importantly, enables them to learn on their own, something that electronic field trips to do not currently offer. It is not that electronic field trips are bad, far from it, what better way to visit places far behind the immediate area. What they lack is the spirit of adventure, the learning with friends on their own, to learn from others and, above all, the excitement to actually tell their family about and share the learning and motivate a future excursion.

Fortunately, when I was attending school legal matters were not the main concern. Learning was. We stood in the back of a truck on the way to a historical park, walked miles across town to visit a museum, went to a zoo and were simply told to report back at a certain time, not to mention trips to airfields, ships, museums, and significant buildings. The fact that I can recall these and don’ t remember the teacher’s name is not an indictment of the school system, but a reflection that perhaps we need to rethink what I call “seated learning” as the only way to inculcate facts.

Due to legal and financial constraints perhaps it is time to take a longer look at electronic or Internet field trips.

First, to make this lesson as real life as possible it would be good to have a map of the location, and, if it is a building or park, a map of that as well. In this way the student has a sense of where the images are coming from. Furthermore, if it is a location, such as a museum, the students can be given math problems on time and distance to help them understand the expenses of such travel. This also ties in with Common Core questions as well.

Before the trip is taken the students should read about the place, be prepared to compare it to others, and be given time to write what they might learn or would like to learn. These can be used at the end of the lesson as the bases for a compare and contrast essay. Obviously, the lesson also ties in with technology and science lessons as well.

The students need to take notes on the field trip including the webpage and what was shown. I would recommend that the trip take place during class time to keep the group on task and eliminate students going off-topic.

The teacher needs to review the site first, make an agenda of what is going to be shown and in what order, and create a list of questions for the students to answer as the lesson progresses.

It should be remembered that field trips may not be the same as once thought. There are now field trips that show how to make bread, ride a horse, and more. So be selective and make sure they meet your objectives.

Virtual Field Trips
Ten of the Best Virtual Field Trips
http://www.eschoolnews.com/2013/04/07/ten-of-the-best-virtual-field-trips/

Huge List of Electronic Field Trips
http://www.bsu.edu/eft/home2/31digest.php

http://www.pitt.edu/~poole/VirtualFieldTrips.html

Apps for field trips from Edutopia
Rather limited, but varied.
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/ipad-apps-virtual-field-trips-monica-burns