Okay class, please open your civics book to learn about the United States and its government. Now turn the page and we’ll learn about state and local government. And turn the page to find out about elections, parties, vetoes—Hey! Wake up! This stuff is important.
How does one engage a class of 22 seventh-grade students in a discussion of civics?
For the past two years, Roosevelt Middle School in Palm Beach County (FL) has been involved in an arts integration pilot. Resource Depot, a cultural organization that collects reusable materials from local businesses and donates those items to educators, teamed up with teaching artist Jennifer O’Brien, and social studies teacher Cierra Kauffman to teach civics through the arts.
Challenged with making the House and Senate relevant to her students and still required to teach the vocabulary and concepts of government, Kauffman had to find a way to reach the kids and get them engaged.
O’Brien needed to find the art form that would work with the subject matter and the pace of the students.
Together, they focused on one aspect of government and decided to make a stop motion film on “How a Bill Becomes a Law.”
Each student created a flip book using sharpies and old paperback books to get the concept that they had to move frame…by…frame…by…frame to capture smooth motion.
Since there were steps in how a bill becomes a law, the class broke into groups that covered each step and determined visually how each step could be communicated without words or speaking. Using materials from Resource Depot, students and props illustrated vocabulary words such as House and Senate, Congress, filibuster, majority, and veto.
Students researched workforce definitions and created on-camera and behind-the-scene teams. They became script writers and editors, costume designers, set designers, prop masters, hair and make-up department, the director, actors, and the marketing team. Everyone needed to understand the script and truly understand the process of how a bill becomes a law in order to participate.
To better understand the professional and creative needs of film, the students toured the studio of a local television station. There, they met writers, producers, cameramen, and editors. They viewed the technology and discussed the steps needed to get into that line of work. The students had no boundaries when it came to asking about salaries!
To connect politics and real life, a councilman running for local office stopped by the classroom to meet the students, quizzed them about government, ran a mock election, and watched the debut of the film with them. Students were able to ask him, “Why did you want to become involved in government? What difference has your job made to your family and community?”
Munching on popcorn, the student body and teachers at Roosevelt Middle School watched the civics class’ film and shared in the experience.
Not content to share the video with just the immediate environment, the marketing team reached out to the city of West Palm Beach and secured the public premiere at the downtown waterfront during an outdoor festival. Parents, siblings, friends and neighbors joined passers-by as the students proudly watched their work on the big screen…
Now that’s civic engagement!