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The 2012 Election in Your Classroom


The election is coming! The election is coming! 2012 is ‘one of those years’ in the classroom and it is a great opportunity for History and Social Studies teachers to focus on the choices that Americans make to determine their next president. For us, as teachers, there are a lot of bases to cover as we hope to inform our students about the process by which a person becomes a candidate, the social issues that divide and unite the country, the nature of political parties and campaign financing, the current state of the economy amid high unemployment, and the war in Afghanistan and our foreign policy in very important regions of the world like China, the Middle East, Africa and more. It’s a big plate.

I’d like to offer some suggestions and resources that might help facilitate discussion, depth and debate before November 6th rolls around. Many of these suggestions come from the great work done by other educators and found on Twitter. We all stand on the backs of giants.

  • From the National Constitution Center, adomatic.us gives students the power to create their own candidacy for the presidency by creating their own campaign ad. It’s an easy step-by-step process. Thanks to the great post by Gillian Nyla.
  • Facilitate a discussion with your students on the nature of the political parties and the issues that divide them into ‘left and right’ positions using this infographic. Infographics allow students to visualize complex issues. You can even have students create their own using sites like visual.ly, easel.ly, and infogr.am. For a great resource on 2012 election infographics, check out this intense Pinterest board on the subject. Have students fact-check and analyze as propaganda.
  • Watch with students, ‘The Choice’ by PBS Frontline with your students. It will air on October 9th and will provide a documentary on the biographies of the two candidates as well as an in-depth look at the issues that divide them and their leadership styles and personalities. Also check out their documentaries on the 2008,2004 and 2000 elections.
  • Explore the complex issues of campaign financing with your students using the transparency of OpenSecrets.org. Following the 1996 elections, the Center for Responsive Politics created the website to ‘follow the money’ in national and local elections. Role play with students campaign fundraising activities, re-enact the Citizens United Supreme Court case, or run an in-class election as if it was a presidential one to see how the money influences (or not) the vote.
  • Any US History teacher knows how complicated it is to explain the dreaded Electoral College. This under 5 minute video helps explain it all, including all of the oddities and complexities of the process. It’s great. You could show this to your students all the way through and ask them “Who got this?”, then go back and pause it along the way for deeper explanation.  Open a discussion about why this process exists. If its around Constitution Day, even better! If students still have questions, send them to the US Government FAQ page for the process.
  • FIguring out where the candidates stand on the issues is sometimes a lot harder than it looks. Sometimes there are subtle policy differences and other times its really hard to determine where the candidates are just based on general statements made in speeches. ProCon.org has a great webpage that takes the issues and parses them by the candidates own statements, along with analysis, by topic. It’s a great place for students to go to find out sometimes how similar and different the choices between candidates is. Have students create their own stump speeches, role play and debate each other, have a newsmaker interview with campaign staff, etc. and watch the subtleties fly! This website is also a good place to learn and discuss foreign policy, which hasn’t really been a front-page issue in 2012.
  • Here’s some great resources for students to see and build their own electoral maps from the New York Times, PBS Newshour, CNN and FOX. Have your students figure out how polls determine these stats. Help them conduct their own school and town/city polls. Finally, here’s another good one that students can use to build a map to 270 electoral votes, called 270 to Win.
  • The New York Times also has some great infographics from the conventions. This one explains visually how many times certain words were used in the convention speeches. Students can look at these and begin a discussion on who the audience is for each speech and what the candidate’s intent is. You could also use the website Wordle to cut and paste famous speeches in history into a text box. What happens next is that you get a visual ‘word cloud’ on the most commonly used words in bigger and bolder print. Here’s a link to convention speeches I put into Wordle.
  • Campaign commercials also say a lot about a candidate and their campaign’s message. We all remember the little girl counting while picking a flower, and then getting blown up by a nuclear weapon. This site, the Living Room Candidate, has hundreds of campaign commercials going back to Eisenhower. They make for excellent primary source analysis as well as a focus on propaganda in election politics. Here’s also a great site which provides a sample of 200 years of election posters.
  • There are many surveys and questionnaires you can give your students to gauge their positions on different issues. Here’s a brief list: Campaign Match Up,
  • Finally, here’s a list of some great sites with other teaching lessons and ideas for Election 2012:

I hope these resources help. Please feel free to leave feedback, and have a great time exploring these issues with your students on the road to November!

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