Now that we are 17 years into the 21st century, it is interesting to note that thus far, our 21st century learning skills are still very relevant. When looking through the four elements of the Framework for 21st Century Learning, we see the skills listed that our students continue to need through the first two decades of our century.
Within the first element, civic literacy is an area that many schools continue to need resources for. From kindergarten to high school, it is critical for students to have exposure to the role we play as citizens in the various governmental structures. There are some resources listed on the framework page, but what could a school do to move toward real-world, application-level learning for civics and citizenship?
Teaching Students to Be Responsible Citizens
Here are some great programs and opportunities for students to learn about civics now and become better citizens in the future:
Boys and Girls State: Most states across the nation offer this opportunity, which is sponsored by the Lions Club and provides a real-life, real-time government simulation for high school students. If you have never been part of a Boys or Girls State, there is really nothing like it. If your school does not currently participate, it is definitely worth looking into. The concept is a great one and something that could be replicated in the school setting with a little bit of work.
Kids Voting/Mock Elections: This is a pretty simple idea, but one that really allows students to see the flow of the voting process. This doesn’t just have to take place during a general election as students hold a mock vote for president—it can be used within the school for any leadership groups or student councils as a way for students to participate in the democratic process.
National History Day: This is an opportunity for any middle school or high school student. It is a state and national competition about a historical person or event. This is a great “next level” project for students who have a passion for government and history.
iCivics: Social studies teachers of every grade level should check out this site. Not only are there lesson planning ideas and resources for teachers, there are also a few games and simulators that kids love. One of my teachers used the “Win the White House” game with his students during the election, and they still play the game because it is so fun and engaging. The site is well worth the time to look through.
Mikva Challenge: The motto of the Mikva Challenge is “Democracy is an action.” The platform of the challenge is for students to actively get involved with civics and action in their community. This is a perfect example of allowing students to get their feet wet with democracy and move to a higher level of thinking and understanding about influencing politics on any level.
Model UN: The Model UN group has been around for a number of years. It is as widespread as some of the other options listed, and their guide for getting started is very helpful for schools or teachers who want to move forward with the process. It can be a very rewarding and engaging experience for students.
Touchstone Discussion Project: This is more of a conceptual way of learning compared to a program or opportunity for students, but it does fit into the vein of civics teaching and exposure. Through the collaborative discussion process, students can become better learners and better citizens.
USCIS Naturalization Test: This may be a different way of looking at teaching civics, but what does someone new to our country have to know to become a naturalized citizen? This test is one that all citizens should be able to pass—both immigrants to our land and high school students graduating into the workforce. By using the actual study materials for the test, teachers can expect a level of learning in line with what new citizens need to know.
Project Citizen: This is another state-based program that exists in all fifty states. The concepts are similar to the Mikva Challenge mentioned above, but the outcomes are a little different. This program can be used for students from grades five to twelve and encompasses a wide variety of civic engagement tools.
Obviously, there is no lack of real-world opportunities for our students to engage in civics in the classroom. Students can learn the basics from their teacher, but to actually be involved in government and the community—either through a simulation or through authentic experiences—students need an opportunity for an application-level experience. Hopefully, this list can help give the teacher some ideas for those opportunities.