"Politics" at Cardington— It's a Technological Thing!
We are very lucky at Cardington High School to have a great deal of technology available
for student use. We have several digital video cameras that students can use for
filming, as well as several classroom-sized computer labs (both designated rooms
and mobile labs that can be moved from one location to another). In addition, our
school district receives a great deal of support, including an in-district expert— Bob
Howard*— one day a week, from TRECA.
One of the most popular activities I use with my Junior Honors American Government
class is the mock election. The students, most of whom have been technologically
savvy since— as the students will say— "well, forever!" are eager to use the technology,
and so incorporating technology in class seems natural.
In the mock election, students form their own political parties, for which they
must create a name, motto, symbol, and platform outlining their stand on several
issues of domestic and international interest. I choose about half the platform
topics, while the party chooses the rest. They use various Internet resources to
research these topics. The students nominate a presidential and vice presidential
candidate and spend several weeks campaigning to the electorate— the teachers and
staff at Cardington-Lincoln High School and all of the government classes.
How does technology come in? In this day and age, advertising is an essential part
of real-world political campaigns. While political parties create flyers and posters
to garner support for their candidate, the bulk of their time and money is spent
on television ads. So it is with the parties at Cardington. The TV ads the students
create are a result of their study, research, writing, and technology expertise.
Interestingly, because teenagers today are so familiar and comfortable with electronic
media and view them as tools of leisure rather than work, the students seem to view
the campaign commercial as less work than the creation of print media such as posters
Each political party must create a two-to-four-minute campaign commercial starring
their two candidates, and in that commercial they must address at least two of the
issues from their platform, outlining their party's position on those topics. In
the past few years, education, the war in Iraq, school safety, and jobs have been
popular issues for inclusion in the commercial. In addition, the students must use
at least two forms of propaganda in the ad. When my government classes discuss interest
groups, we go over some of the most commonly used methods of propaganda, and the
parties may choose from this list, providing a link to information we learned earlier
in the semester. As a result, many groups choose to get a testimonial from local
"celebrities." Some use a "bandwagon approach" and get groups of students or staff
members to pledge their support. "Glittering generalities," where the candidates
make broad, sweeping promises devoid of specific ideas, are also quite popular.
Before they can begin filming the commercial, they must submit an outline, including
which two issues they will address and which forms of propaganda they will use.
Some groups go so far as to create a storyboard outlining scenes, stage directions,
and the basic script, but I have not required such detail in the outline.
The students primarily use GarageBand, a software program available for Macs that
allows users to add music, sound effects, and voice tracks to video and iMovie to
create their commercials. Most of the parties choose to add graphics and music to
their commercials to enhance their appeal to their audience.
I give my students two rubrics at the start of the project, each correlated to one
of the two grades they receive once the commercials are finished. The commercial
itself is graded for content, creativity, and fulfillment of the project requirements,
and all students in the group receive that grade. In addition, students receive
individual grades for their contribution to the group effort, which I arrive at
through observations as the groups work on their projects. The commercials are then
aired on PNN— Pirate News Network, Cardington High School's weekly broadcast news
program that reaches the entire school.
My students enjoy this project very much, consistently citing it as one of their
favorite activities of the course. In my experience, given the choice, students
will almost always choose to do a technology-related project rather than "write
a paper," even when equal amounts of writing are involved. In an age when teenagers
seem to spend most of their time engaged with electronic media, they actually get
very involved in creating the outline for their commercial. Groups go into quite
a bit of detail about what they want their commercial to look like and how they
want to reach and impact their constituents. In addition, the attention the commercials
get, and by extension, the election gets, from the whole school gives the kids a
great sense of pride in their accomplishment.
Engaged and Engaging
By using technology and the media to complete assignments that used to be done in
a more traditional manner, not only do my students become engaged in what they are
doing, but they are also able to practice skills they will need later both in their
educational career and in the workplace. Even for those students who don't plan
to go to into politics or a technology-related field, this project provides a way
of linking in-school literacy with out-of-school literacy in a fun and engaging
*To learn more about Bob Howard and TRECA, see "An
Interview with Bob Howard on Technology and the Classroom."
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