Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mock Congress

Let me start off by saying that this is a non-technology related post. This past week our government classes were starting their unit on the Legislative Branch. In years past I focused on comparing the two Houses and doing flow charts for How a Bill Becomes a Law. This year with the help of my fellow government teacher our freshman classes conducted a Mock Congress or a simulation of How a Bill Becomes a Law. I wanted to take a moment to share the experience with any fellow social studies teachers out there.

The first step for us was to have students create a bill that they think should become a law. Students came up with some really good laws and controversial ones as well. We had Bills related to immigration, abortion, same sex marriage, driving laws, education, etc. It was great seeing the students take something they had an opinion about and run with it.

The process for the simulation was to first split students up into political party's based on a political spectrum assignment that we did earlier. This allowed students to elect a Speaker of the House, Party Leaders, and Party Whips. We then had the Party Leaders assign students to 6 designated committees based on the Bills that the students wrote. While this was going on, the Speaker of the House looked at the Bills and decided which ones to pass on to committees and which ones to ignore.

In committees, Chairpersons were appointed by the Speaker of the House and then looked through the Bills. They had three options. Pigeonhole it which means not discuss it, send it back to Bill sponsor for changes, or discuss and decide whether to pass it on to the floor for a vote, or defeat it.

Once the Bills left the committee, the Speaker of the House will put them in the order that they will be discussed on the floor. As Bills were discussed on the floor and debated, the Speaker of the House would call on people in the order they see fit. For voting purposes, they could have a vocal vote, a standing vote, and roll call. We made sure to use all the different kinds. If Bills passed, they were sent to the President (myself and the other teacher). We would either sign off on the Bill or veto it. In every class we vetoed a Bill to allow students the opportunity to see that process and see if they could still pass the bill with a 2/3 vote. Every veto was never overturned.

After the experience was over students were still talking about it. We concluded the simulation by having students complete an On-Demand Writing assignment where they picked a Bill that passed or didn't pass and write a Senator or Representative from our state describing why they should consider the Bill or not consider one that did not pass. I also included the process for How a Bill Becomes a Law as an essay on the summative assessment.

Want to know more? Just comment and get in touch with me on Twitter. I plan on uploading all the documents we used to my school website in the future and linking the story from our district website when it is published. I also will get a picture from our local newspaper who I contacted about doing a story on the project.

It was a very rigorous and relevant assignment for our students and something we will do in the future.

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