Teachers use election to spark student debate In this photo provided by Kate Baker, taken Oct. 19, 2016, fourth grade teacher Halie Miller and students at Glacier Ridge Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio are using the election as a teaching tool for her students in social studies and math. From left are, Halie Miller, Calvin McCormick, Sriram Katta, Audrey DiCesare and Mia Dahi. (Kate Baker via AP/David Goldman/AP)
Teachers use election to spark student debate
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From mock elections to writing projects and Electoral College math, teachers are embracing the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. They see it as a real-world teaching tool.
 
Muslims. Taxes. The wall. Emails. The negative exchanges. They're all up for discussion in Halie Miller's fourth-grade class at Glacier Ridge Elementary. It is in Dublin, Ohio. When the students hold their own debates, they're polite and respectful.
 
"We kind of have debates and never yell at each other," says 9-year-old Mia Dahi. "We give our opinions and what we think about it, but we don't really fight about it."
 
The election provides material for other subjects beyond social studies. In math, Miller's students have learned about the magic of the number 270. They use addition and subtraction to come up with different combinations to get to 270 electoral votes to claim victory.
 
"Educating students about their role in a democracy was one of the original goals of public education in this country. And it should remain so today, as our nation becomes more and more diverse," Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in recent remarks at the National Press Club.
 
This election no doubt has presented challenges for educators, with difficult topics and the general bitterness and angry rhetoric.
 
"Teachers all over the country are having some very hard conversations with their students in a nonpartisan way," says National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garc°a.
 
It's also opened the door, though, to some good debates.
 
"They're having discussions about race. They're having discussions about religious freedom," she said. "They're having discussions about should girls aspire to be president as likely as a boy would aspire to be president."
 
Alice Reilly is president of the National Social Studies Supervisors Association. She says teachers can't ignore the election.
 
"It's part of social studies. It's part of civics. It's part of government," she said.
 
Teachers Sara Winter and Patricia Carlson at Williamsburg Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, turned the election into a five-week THINK-TAC-TOE project for their sixth graders. They are required to complete three of nine activity squares on their worksheets.
 
Among them:
 
Analyze a newspaper article on the election and write two to three paragraphs about it.
 
Take a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood, tally Clinton and Trump yard signs and write two to three paragraphs about why the student thinks people in the community might support one candidate over the other.
 
Interview five people about who they are voting for and write about why they support a particular candidate.
 
In Denver, social studies teacher Aaron Stites says the tone of the campaign can at times be discouraging.
 
"You can get bogged down by the negativity. But to see kids excited about the election and kids feeling they have a voice, it gives me a boost," Stites said. "Any time kids in your classroom are engaged and don't want to leave class, that's a good feeling."
 
Stites is a teacher at the Bryant-Webster Dual Language School. He says immigration is the issue his seventh- and eighth-grade students have the most questions about. The school has a diverse population. Some kids, he says, have asked him, "Mr. Stites, if Trump is elected, what does that mean for us? And, how much power does a president really have?"
 
There are questions about Clinton, too. Stites says his students have discussed her emails and whether they think she's good at securing classified information.
 
"They want to read and find out more about the candidates," says Stites.
 
Back in Miller's class outside Columbus, students read about the campaign in Scholastic News.
 
Miller says one student asked what a Muslim was, and why Trump wanted a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. So, Miller turned to the children's book "Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors," to discuss Muslim culture with her class. Another child said the Islamic State group and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had something to do with the ban, and the students then discussed whether they thought that was fair.
 
"They hear things at home or on the news and they just need someone to help connect the dots," Miller said. "I'm trying to focus more on the positives."
 
The fourth grade at Miller's school also is participating in a mock election. Sriram Katta says he still doesn't know how he'll vote.
 
"I want to hear about who's going to do something about health care and who's going to do something about taxes," said Katta.
 
Audrey Di Cesare also doesn't have a favorite.
 
"I really don't have somebody to vote for because I don't want Hillary to raise taxes and I don't want Trump to build a wall or ban Muslims and immigrants because it's America and we should unite."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How do mock elections boost engagement?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (23)
  • dannyp-mac
    11/02/2016 - 09:56 a.m.

    None this candidates should be president, none of these presidents are talking about a topic that really matter.

  • smatthew-dav
    11/02/2016 - 06:08 p.m.

    In response to this article, I agree that getting students engaged in politics is a good idea. One reason I agree is that this could make students have more fun in class. Another reason is that they could learn more about politics and elections. A third reason is that they will enjoy class more.

  • jadem-sto
    11/03/2016 - 11:21 a.m.

    Mock elections boost engagement by getting students to talk about their opinions more.

  • zachs-sto
    11/03/2016 - 11:29 a.m.

    it makes people think about the election

  • zakkb-sto
    11/03/2016 - 11:31 a.m.

    Neither of them are talking or thinking about helping us. There so fixed on what should be done outside you'd think they forgot the people exist.

  • kanthony-dav
    11/03/2016 - 01:09 p.m.

    In response to "_Teachers use election to spark student debate ," I agree that _teachers should not ignore the presidential election_. One reason I agree is that _learning this early will help kids make their decisions later in future elections___________. Another reason is that _the election brings out good debate_. It says in the article __"Educating students about their role in a democracy was one of the original goals of public education in this country." A third reason ______is it teaches kids about the real world, and not fiction story. I think that Mrs. Miller is smart for bringing this knowledge to fourth graders.

  • jcharles-dav
    11/03/2016 - 04:21 p.m.

    In response to Teachers use election to spark student debate I think it's a good idea to do this in classrooms. In the future when they can vote they would be more informed. Not only that as you saw in this short essay they talked about how this could help in classes. So whilst you're talking about the candidates you can be doing math or you can be learning about the candidates groups political ideologies. So all in all I think this is a good idea to do and I think that more people should recreate this in their classrooms.

  • gmandy-dav
    11/03/2016 - 04:45 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers use election to spark student debate," I agree that teacher Miller from Ohio asks a student what a Muslim is. One reason I agree is that That student got to learn alot about how Donald Trump wanted to ban them from entering this country. Another reason is that maybe the student would disagree and wouldn't want Donald Trump for president. It says in the article"I really don't have somebody to vote for because I don't want Hillary to raise taxes and I don't want Trump to build a wall or ban Muslims and immigrants because it's America and we should unite." A Even though at this point I can't really decide who I want for president, I think some details in here would help me figure it out.

  • fpresley-dav
    11/03/2016 - 04:53 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers use election to spark student debate," I disagree that teacher should use the election to spark students debate. One reason I disagree is that children don't always watch the debates so they usually go by what their parents say. Another reason is that the kids will not always understand what the people wanted to run for president want. It says,"Miller says one student asked what a Muslim was, and why Trump wanted a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country." A third reason is that debate things can be personal. You are not really suppose to tell people who you are voting for at school. Even though it could make kids debate skills better, I think they should not involve the election to school.

  • wlauren-dav
    11/03/2016 - 06:18 p.m.

    this was a very interesting article because it gets kids interested in politics and talking about the race between Donald trump and Hillary Clinton.

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