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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COMMENTS (23)
  • 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.

  • madilyn-dav
    11/03/2016 - 06:38 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers Use Election to Spark Student Debate," I agree that teachers should use the election to teach kids about our country today. One reason I agree is that the election is a very good topic to get kids talking since the candidates are so familiar to people. Chances are, kids have heard their parents talking about the election from time to time, so they already know what it is. Another reason is that the kids need to learn about how an election works, and what better time to teach them than right now? It says in the article that "'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.'"A third reason is that by teaching kids about the election, the kids are getting the privilege to learn about worldly issues and have a say in what they really think about them. The article says that '"They're having discussions about race. They're having discussions about religious freedom. They're having discussions about should girls aspire to be president as likely as a boy would aspire to be president.'" Even though both presidential candidates have many flaws, I think that it's good for kids to learn about the election and see what it really is all about.

  • hlindsay-dav
    11/03/2016 - 06:56 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers use election to spark student debate," I agree that schools are allowing students to have a say in politics. One reason I agree is that everyone including kids should have a say in politics. Another reason is that it is important that everyone knows about who can become president. It says in the article "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." A third reason is that it is not just important to know who can become president, but why. Even though kids don't know all of the details, I think kids should still understand what is taking place in the U.S.A.

  • jlilly-dav
    11/03/2016 - 07:24 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers use Election to Spark Student Debate," I agree that its a good idea have student share their opinion on who they would vote for. One reason I agree is that having kids vote and share there ideas on who would be a president is a good idea . Another reason is that kids cant actually vote buy if don't as a school you can see who your school would think would win. It says in the article "It's part of social studies. It's part of civics.It's part of government," she said which means it teaches you to get ready for the real world. Even though kids might argue or disagree, I think
    it teaches kids a good life lesson.

  • cbrooke-dav
    11/03/2016 - 08:10 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers use Election to spark student debate," I agree that schools should be engaging the presidential election more. One reason I agree is that I think that we should be learning more about our government and how it works. Another reason is that I think that it would be really cool to compare past presidential elections to the one happening right now. It says in the article that "It's also opened the door, though, to some good debates." A third reason is because "It's part of social studies. It's part of civics. It's part of government," she said. Even though the debate can be harsh at sometime, I think that it is always good to learn about.

  • dmatthew-dav
    11/03/2016 - 08:43 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers use election to spark student debate," I think this is inportent because in the futre we can make better desions . One reason I think that it is importent is we can make a better deceions on our futre presidents when we vote. Another reason is that it lets the parents know what their kids want so the kid might presway the adult for votting for trump or clinton. It says in the article that the children of america have a voice in this world as well because it will be the new genarations president. A third reason is that if we choose the wrong president things will go bad and America will not like this so when students vote the people can see that.Even though this might not count at all, I still think that this is a good idea for us and the teachers.

  • zlily-dav
    11/03/2016 - 10:13 p.m.

    In response to "Teachers use election to spark student debate," I agree that bringing the upcoming election into the classroom is a good idea because teachers can reinforce concepts they are already teaching their students, it gives students the chance to learn about different viewpoints, and it helps students get answers to questions they have about the election. One reason I agree is that the election gives teachers more ways to teach math, social studies and language arts. For example, the article says, “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.” Another reason I think that teachers should use the election in their classrooms is it exposes kids to new views and opinions. In the article, it says, “one student asked what a Muslim was, and why Trump wanted a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country,” which gave the teacher a chance to discuss the Muslim culture in her classroom. Finally, I think this is a good idea because kids need answers to questions they have about the election. The article states that, “They hear things at home or on the news and they just need someone to help connect the dots.” Even though some people might think this election is too controversial to talk about in school, I think that there are more advantages than disadvantages.

  • jacquelyn-war
    11/08/2016 - 12:29 p.m.

    Mock elections boost engagement because they let kids talk about their opinion and get an idea for what the real election is actually like. It lets the students take part in something interactive and get a little bit better understanding of politics.

  • andrew17-war
    11/08/2016 - 12:30 p.m.

    I think the mock election is a good idea to teach kids about voting because they will be voting in the future. Also it is good to see the students learning about the candidates.

  • jacob13-war
    11/08/2016 - 12:32 p.m.

    Mock elections may boost engagement because getting involved and knowing your vote does count could change how people think about the real election. Voting for your candidate gives your full support for them and increases their odds for winning.

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