U.S. Government

Susan Dreyer

Satellite offers several courses that help students to fulfill the requirements for the People and Our Institutions Portfolio section on U.S. government. Each of these courses has a slightly different orientation (eg., Youth and Law, Civil Rights, Community Action, etc.), but all incorporate the goals and work needed for successful completion of the Portfolio. This class, because it is only 1 cycle long, has been designed specifically to focus on helping students learn the basics principles of U.S. government and some issues surrounding the structure and function the government within our society.

I. Unit One--Organization, Roles and Responsibilities of the government.

A. Activity--Group projects on structure of government.

The purpose of the first unit is for students to learn the roles and responsibilities of the difference branches and levels of our government. The class is divided into groups and each group takes responsibility for researching one aspect of the government. How the work is divided depends on the number of students in the class, a likely division of work would be to have one group cover each of the following areas: The Constitution, The Presidency, The Executive Office, The U.S. Congress, The Federal Court System, and the Organization of State Governments. Each group spends several days reading a variety of textbooks and handouts in order to prepare a presentation about their topic.

B. Assessments

After the work has been completed students prepared informational posters and present their work to the class. The class takes notes on the presentation and asks questions of the presenters and teacher in order to clarify the information being presented. While the group is working on presentations in class, homework readings help students explore issues surrounding the roles of different government officials. Typically these readings are more narrative coming from magazines like Time, Newsweek, Scholastic Update, etc., An effort is made to find current articles for these assignments. At the end of all the presentations, students use their notes to prepare for a test and essay assignment about the organization, roles, and responsibilities of the government.

Unit Two--The Constitution

A. Activities

In this unit students will explore the structure and purpose of the U.S. Constitution and some of the issues and debates that surround it. The main reading for this segments is the Constitution itself, with a specific focus on the Bill of Rights. Since many of the organizational features of the constitution are explored in the above section, this unit focuses more the use of the Constitution and interpretations of the Bill of Rights. Readings include Thurgood Marshall's reflections on the 200th anniversary of the Constitution, accounts of major supreme court cases, and current newspaper or magazine articles about constitutional issues in the news at the time. Typical classroom act ivies include discussion of readings, debates on constitutional issues and small group work on exploring different aspects of the Bill of Rights.

B. Assessments In addition to being responsible for readings in this unit, students will be assigned a final essay related to one of the aspects of the Constitution discussed during the unit.

III. Unit Three--The Structure of Local Government

A. Activities--Exploring local government and educating the school community about the November Mayoral election.

1. This unit focuses on the structure of government within the city of New York. Since this is an election year, special attention will be given to the role of the Mayor in shaping politics in the city. Students examine the City Charter and prepare group presentations on each of the branches of the city government. Group topics include, the office of the Mayor, the City Council, City departments and agencies and the municipal court system.

2. Students will also use newspaper articles campaign literature to explore issues related to this year's election.

B. Assessments

The final project for this unit will be the preparation of an informational pamphlet on this year's election for the whole school community and the conducting of a mock election within the School.

IV. Unit Four--Role play on how a bill becomes law.

A. Activity--film: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

1. The next unit of this class will be a role play on the process by which laws are passed. Students begin by viewing the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The film serves as a way for students to envision how Congress looks and the kinds power (both public and private) that falls into the hands of our elected officials.

2. Assessments During the film, students will be required to take notes and use them to write a final essay analysis/review of what they have seen.

B. Activity--role play

1. After viewing the film, we will review the process by which a Bill becomes law, then the students will be divided into a mock Senate. Each student is placed on a committee and charged with authoring a piece of legislation (committees have included education, drug enforcement, welfare, health care, and so forth). During the first part of the role play, their job is to convince their committee to pass their bill. Bills that pass out of committee continue until the second phase of the role play, full Senate debate and voting on proposed legislation. Throughout the unit, the teacher acts out a variety of roles (lobbyist, president, etc., to put pressure on the Senators to support certain legislation).

2. Assessments

During the week long role play, each student is responsible for keeping a journal. For each day, the journal has two entries, the first is written in character and is a report of the days events from the perspective of their Senator/Character. The second entry is a reflection on the process of the class in conducting the role play and on what the student feels he/she is learning through this process. Students will use their journals to make daily reports on the progress of their committees and the full Senate. At the end of the unit, students will use their journal entries to write an essay about their opinions on the integrity of the legislative process and the struggles facing today's legislators.

V. Unit Five--Final Assessment

A. Activity--Assembly of information for Portfolio

As a culminating activity for the class, students will review all of the work they have completing during the cycle and identify which pieces may be used to fulfill specific sections of their portfolios. Students will summarize their learning by writing a cover letter for work explaining what they have learned and how this learning can be of value to them.

B. Assessment

This work will be evaluated and revised during the class, but will also be assessed again by the Portfolio committee at the time the student´┐Żs portfolio is submitted for review prior to graduation.