Our most recent project is coming to end at just the right time to start a project on the upcoming presidential election. We had been exploring various ideas. Below are some of the notes we made.
- Get involved in campaign
- Take surveys–of peers, used to predict youth vote
- analysis of youth vote over the last several elections to understand and predict outcomes
- How is public opinion influenced? What factors sway public opinion?
- should the US maintain the electoral college and two party system?
- how big a role does money make? role of non-elected groups
- rational argument and evidence rather than emotion or faith: script for civil ad
- youth issues?
- presentation to parents or other voter: consider an environmental issues (energy, natural resources, diet and health concerns, agricultural) Living planet–take any recommendations or concerns and creating a survey around that an issue of choice
As we spoke of these, we thought any of them could be interesting, but nothing really sang to us. It could have been the quality of the ideas, but I think it had more to do with the fact that we had, as an ideal, the notion that we would get student input for the design of the project. We had yet to coordinate our schedules with students’ to allow for that sort of collaboration, and in the interim, we had tried to work it out anyway. See how well it worked?
This last Thursday, we finally coordinated with some of the students to talk about the project. It was great and fascinating to hear them talk about what interested them about the election, and we quickly started going down the rabbit hole of the Citizens United ruling, and the role of super PACs in the election.
One of the most noteworthy features of the conversation came from the fact that they are now in their third year of doing PBL, and they knew the questions to ask. “How are you going to incorporate the Environmental Science? What are we going to read? How do they all tie together?”
And then came this comment from a student: “We need to make sure that we start with the standards. We don’t want a theme-based project where you then later jam in standards, trying to make it fit, and the teaching doesn’t really help us complete the project.”
Are you kidding me? This is the refrain I used over and over with teachers who I coached, and now I am hearing from students? Brilliant. Awesome. Fantastic. It reinforced for me that getting the students to the table for project-design is the way to go.
We ended up thinking a lot about the upcoming debates, and the ads that are assailing Americans. With an overriding value of wanting the efforts of the students to be real, in a way that could affect the election, we came up with an idea of, “When a candidate says ____________, it means _________” The idea here is to borrow a statement from the debates or an ad, about some issue. Then create some sort of electronic visual (a video? An infographic?) that connect the statement to:
- Who the candidate is likely targeting with the statement
- Who has funded that candidate, and is likely to have influenced that statement
- The Party Platform
- Recent Events
- Longer-term history
- Objectively-verifiable facts
- Possible effects on Electoral College outcome (which goes to that first item of targeted audience)