How One Teacher Uses Bill of Rights Institutes’ Teaching with Current Events

Valencia Abbott, a Social Studies teacher at Rockingham Early College High School in Wentworth, North Carolina, shared how she uses the Teaching with Current Events resource at BillofRightsInstitute.org.

Ms. Abbott believes that the study of current events is an invigorating way to encompass contemporary issues, conflicts and ideas in the classroom. Current events help raise students’ personal, national and global awareness.  In this time of Common Core assessments and a world where countries are more and dependent and interdependent, it is vital to know the barometer of current events. It is imperative that students learn to consume domestic news with a critical eye while seeking to attain affirmation of global cultures. Students should come to understand the world’s economic, political and social structures to help ensure they make the best decision for their lives.  A deep understanding and appreciation for current events and civic education is important to developing self-empowering and knowledgeable citizens.

Ms. Abbott uses this resource in her Honors Civics and Economics and Honors United States History courses. Abbott begins the school year by creating a discussion blog on her school’s Canvas site. She lists the current events assignment for each week in her syllabus.  By 8:00 a.m. each Monday morning, Abbott makes the current assignment topic available on the online discussion board for the week.  She posts a specific article link on the site and gives her students basic factual information so that she doesn’t sway their opinions.

Throughout the week Ms. Abbott shares information connecting the current event to the Bill of Rights or Constitution on the online discussion board.  Students then have until 11:59 p.m. the following Sunday to post a comment and respond to two other comments regarding the article.  On Wednesdays, she carves out 15-45 minutes of the class period to discuss the current event. She then shows different perspectives of the current event by sharing videos or articles, or by having class discussions or lectures.  Each week she uses a different strategy to showcase the current event.

Ms. Abbott has learned that some students choose to post during the week, but most wait until the weekend or right before the assignment is due.  If the students wait until Sunday to make their initial post, it prevents them from completing the assignment in a meaningful matter.  To remedy that situation, she makes additional posts during the week providing political cartoons, links, videos, and music to advance the online conversation.

In assigning grades for the assignment, Ms. Abbott uses a rubric.  Each week students are rated on a scale of 1-4 in several categories including information presented in the post, community building, use of facts or statistics, writing conventions, critical thinking, and timeliness.  View or download the rubric Ms. Abbott uses.

At the end of the semester, the last discussion blog requests students to respond to these questions:

  • Did you enjoy this activity as part of the course?  Why or Why not.
  • Do you feel that it added depth and understanding in the study of history?  Why or Why not. What was your favorite topic?
  • Did this activity help you make a greater connection to the curriculum in this class or any other class?  Give an example.

Here are some examples of what Ms. Abbott’s student say about the lesson:

“I did enjoy this activity as part of our course.  I enjoyed that it allowed us to debate with our classmates and learn more about them and their views.  Yes, I do feel that this added depth and understanding to our study of history and our constitution.  It helped me further understand how our history is still very present in today’s society.  It is hard for me to pick a favorite topic, because I enjoyed discussing most of the topics.  This activity did help me perform better in this class and my other classes as well.  With all of the writing we had to do, it helped me become a better writer, by letting me practice using more support and details.  I have improved greatly in my writing abilities and it has shown in the grades and comments on assignments that I have submitted to other classes.  Overall, I believe that this activity is very beneficial in both this class and others.”

“I didn’t necessarily hate the blog discussion but it wasn’t one of my favorite things. I did enjoy some topics but some I felt weren’t as interesting as the others. I think it kind of added depth and understanding to the amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It really helped me to remember the amendments and what they are because the topics we discussed each week had different amendments that were discussed. Remembering the discussion helped me to remember the amendments and what they meant. My favorite topic is the week when were discussing if employers should be allowed to fire employees for things that are posted on social media about the company. This activity did not help me make a greater connection to this class or any other class but to life. I never realized the many problems that this country is facing. Like when the young boy was stripped down and searched for a twenty dollar bill that he did not have. It makes me realize that the country is changing and that I need to be prepared. Life has reached its serious point for me, I am definitely not in Kindergarten anymore.”

Here are some examples of weekly topics Ms. Abbott uses:

  • Week 1: The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms 2nd Amendment
  • Week 2: Are They Watching You 4th Amendment?
  • Week 3: Citizen Juries- Constitution and 6th Amendment
  • Week 4: Criminal Procedure and Due Process- 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 14th Amendments
  • Week 5: Federalism The enumerated powers of Congress in Article I, Section 8; the powers denied to Congress in Article I, Section 9; the powers denied to states in Article I, Section 10; and the 10th Amendment
  • Week 6: Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Petition 1st and 14th Amendments
  • Week 7: Immigration Law Article I, Section 8, 4th and 14th Amendment
  • Week 8: Freedom of Speech 1st Amendment
  • Week 9: Banned Ethnic Studies- 1st and 14th Amendments
  • Week 10: Individual Liberty 1st, 3rd, 4th and 9th Amendments
  • Week 11: Affirmative Action Programs-14th Amendment, Separation of Powers, the Constitution defines the powers of the legislative (or lawmaking) branch in Article I, the executive branch in Article II, and the judicial branch in Article III.
  • Week 13: Ban on Violent Video Games for Children- 1st Amendment
  • Week 14: Amendment Freedom of Religion 1st and 14th Amendments
  • Week 15: The Defense of Marriage Act- Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution Article IV, Section I, the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution, 5th and 14th Amendments
  • Week 16: Separation of Powers, the Constitution defines the powers of the legislative (or lawmaking) branch in Article I, the executive branch in Article II, and the judicial branch in Article III.
  • Week 17: Property Rights- 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th Amendments
  • Week 18: The Healthcare Act, Federal Power, and the Commerce Clause 10th Amendment and the Common Clause

How do you use current events in your class?  How do you assess your students’ understanding when they are relating current events with history?

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