Thursday, 16 October 2014

Challenging Civics Students through Authentic Learning

If it were up to students in Grade 10 Civics at Greenwood College School, Toronto residents would face harsher fines for neglecting to pick up after their dogs; all new building projects in the city would have a green roof feature; it would be mandatory to offer your seat on the TTC to the elderly and pregnant; and wearing a  bike helmet would no longer be optional for people over the age of 18.

These and other new by-laws were enacted in class during a mock city council debate, where students proposed and voted on a series of new regulations that they considered to be in the best interest of their constituents. The heated debates that occurred leading up to the votes could be heard ringing in the Greenwood hallways and are testament to the potential for enthusiasm and passion from a generation that is too often labelled as apathetic and disengaged.

The process was part of a larger project we have been working on in the Civics classroom for the past month and will continue to work on until the municipal election on October 27. Students have been learning about democracy as a system of governance and the functions of the municipal government. Given recent happenings in our city and the upcoming election, it has been an exciting time to explore the many facets of local government and how this impacts our lives. The Civics teachers have worked to offer a variety of challenging learning opportunities and projects that suit individual interests as a way to prepare for our school's participation in Student Vote, a province-wide initiative run by CIVIX that allows high school students to vote on who they think should be mayor of their town or city.

By personalizing learning through choice, our students have been working on one of four different roles related to the election:
  • Journalists have been covering the lead-up to the event from a number of angles and are finding ways to use social media to encourage a high voter turnout.
  • Politicians have been spending time critically comparing the platforms of the front-running candidates and are preparing to campaign on their behalves on the day of the vote.
  • Elections officers have been investigating issues related to voting such as citizenship requirements and electronic voting and will be running the election itself on October 23.
  • Social justice activists are coming to a more in-depth understanding of some of the major issues facing the city of Toronto and will be on hand on Election Day to provide information for their fellow students and perhaps offer suggestions as to which candidate would be most likely to advance their causes.
All four options not only require students to engage in the research process, using tools such as the recently released Toronto Vital Signs report, but also have the added challenge of engaging with the entire student body, lending a degree of authenticity to the task.

To supplement the students' choices, visits from two recent guest speakers have been a real highlight of the unit. Journalist Desmond Cole, who writes for Torontoist and Now Magazine spoke to students about his passion for local government and his role as project manager for the City Vote campaign, which is aiming to give permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections. And Luke Larocque, Ward 2 candidate, spoke with students about the campaigning process and the issues with our current voting system. Both speakers were quite engaging and have given students valuable insight into the political process.

The Civics class's collective goal is to encourage a high voter turnout on Student Vote day by sending the message of the importance of voting and engaging in local politics. We will look forward to receiving our school's election results from CIVIX and comparing them with the rest of the city's schools. Often, by factoring in the Student Vote tallies, the results of the official election would be very different. In that case, I would not be at all surprised to see a new by-law related to voting age proposed during the next council meeting in the Greenwood Civics class.

Michelle Johnson,
Teacher, Civics, Humanities and English

No comments:

Post a Comment