Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Making Civics Real Workshop 1: Freedom of Religion  
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Workshop 1

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Lesson Plan: Teaching the Lesson: Overview, Goals, and Planning

This lesson demonstrates the constructivist methodologies of questioning strategies and their use in mock trials. It features ninth-grade civics students at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a simulation of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing concerning a First Amendment case. The case is about a Texas school district that appealed a lower court decision directing them to discontinue having a student deliver a prayer over the intercom before football games. The case was originally brought against the school district by a group of parents. The Southwest students--who do not know the actual outcome of the case at the start of the lesson--assume the roles of Supreme Court Justices and attorneys. Over a three-day period, students first work in groups to prepare for the hearing as their teacher, Kristen Borges, guides them with strategically asked questions, then participate in the hearing, and finally, debrief their experiences and write a short essay stating their position on the case, including the benefits and potential problems to society of their recommended decision.

The goals of this lesson are twofold:

  • to explore the structure and process used by the United States Supreme Court in interpreting and applying the Constitution, and
  • to apply those operational principles to a case previously decided by the Court.

Students have spent a significant amount of time looking at the documents that our government is based on. They have examined the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Early in the year, Kristen Borges concentrated on the vocabulary of the documents, specifically looking at the language that the founders used. More recently, she has had students interpret the documents in their own language. Students have been discussing the original intent of the founders and exploring how a document that was written more than 200 years ago can be applied to current issues in our society, particularly controversial ones.

The students have looked at how the federal judicial branch is structured and local lawyers have explained about different types of courts and how they argue cases. The class studied the structure of the Supreme Court and the process of appointing Supreme Court Justices, including the influence of politics in the appointment process. It has also considered how a Supreme Court hearing is organized and how the Justices deliberate and reach decisions.

Before this lesson begins, students will have learned and practiced the skills used by both the Justices and attorneys appearing before the Supreme Court and will have applied them to several cases, including Tinker v. Des Moines. They also will have selected the roles they want to assume in this project.

Overview, Goals, and Planning    |     Activity 1
Activity 2     |     Activity 3     |     Activity 4     |     Scheduling


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