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Subject: MarcoGram: American Politics: Then and Now

The MarcoGram: For teachers, principals and teacher-trainers.

American Politics: Then and Now
Ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, the democratic process has been an integral part in the development and growth of the American political system. From George Washington, who was unanimously elected in 1789 as the nation's first president, to George W. Bush, who became the 43rd president in 2000 after much debate, American politics has seen its share of ups and downs. This month, MarcoPolo is celebrating President's Day with lessons and resources about the people and ideas that shaped America's political history, from colonial times to today. Use the warm-up activities below to introduce your students to American politics, then scroll down for links to more lessons and resources.

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Warm-up Activities

Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-5315].
1. Political cartoons provide visual commentary on current events, mostly on the subject of government mishaps, and often reflect the cartoonist's bias or prejudice about the event. Benjamin Franklin's "Join or Die" illustration, widely accepted as America's first political cartoon, depicts a snake whose severed parts represent the colonies. Franklin drew the cartoon to support his argument at the Albany Congress of 1754 for the colonies to join together to deal with the problematic relationship with the Iroquois. Although the cartoon was widely published, the movement later failed.

Why did Franklin use a snake in his cartoon? (It alludes to the Native American belief that a severed snake would be resurrected if the pieces were placed next to each other.) What other animals often appear in political cartoons?(elephants, donkeys)

Ask students to select a current news event and illustrate a political cartoon depicting their feelings about the event. Students with limited drawing ability can create a collage from magazine or newspaper clippings. Share the cartoons with the entire class, asking students to analyze the images and determine the point of view of each illustrator. 

Students examine political satire in:

"Drawing Political Cartoons" (Grades 10-12) from ARTSEDGE, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

© Microsoft Design Gallery Live
2. Public figures use careful language to gain the support of their audience during speeches, debates and critical meetings. Speech writers must not only maintain up-to-the-second knowledge of current events, but also employ persuasive writing techniques to create a positive reaction from their audience. 

Can you identify some memorable or persuasive phrases from well-known speeches? What was the underlying theme of the speech? How was the speech received by the public? Do you agree or disagree with the speaker's idea? Why?

Select an article from the editorial section of the local newspaper or an Internet-based publication. What does the writer want the audience to think, feel or do? Ask students to point out important keywords or phrases that communicate the writer's feelings on the subject. Suggest a school-related issue important to the class (such as a change in cafeteria food or longer recess time), and ask students to write a letter to the principal or school board asking them to consider a change.

Students use persuasive writing and debate techniques in:

"Battling for Liberty: Tecumseh's and Patrick Henry's Language of Resistance" (Grades 6-8) from ReadWriteThink, International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English
  "Can You Convince Me?: Developing Persuasive Writing" (Grades 3-5) from ReadWriteThink, International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English
  "Endangered Species 2: Working to Save Endangered Species" (Grades 6-8) from Science NetLinks, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  "Making Good Decisions" (Grades K-2) from Science NetLinks, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  "The Great Energy Debate" (Grades 9-12) from Xpeditions, National Geographic Society

Image of pine tree threepence courtesy of University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections.
3. As the early-American colonists adapted to life in a new land and began to form laws and government policies, they had to pay attention to their financial status as well. Although they bartered goods with Native Americans and received financial backing from England, they needed to develop their own currency and rates of exchange in order to secure their independence.

What are some items the colonists used in place of money to purchase goods from Native Americans? (Wampum, tobacco, food and furs.) Why were these items considered valuable in colonial America? When did the colonies begin creating their own form of currency?

Assign each student one coin that was available in colonial times, such as the shilling, threepence or sixpence. Ask students to use library or Internet resources to research what the coin could purchase during colonial times. Students should complete a one-page report, accompanied by a drawing of their assigned coin.

Students discover trade and early American currency in:

"Economic Spotter: Trade in Colonial History" (Grades 3-5) from EconEdLink, National Council on Economic Education

4. In 1789, as the framework for the new government was still being developed, General George Washington was unanimously appointed by the electoral college as the first president of the United States. It may surprise you to discover that he received this honor without campaigning, debating or receiving a single public vote. In this, the first presidential election, the electoral college used the plurality method of voting, in which each member was allowed one vote, and the candidate who received the most votes won. 

What if voters were allowed to cast their ballot using the strategic method, in which they cast votes for their first, second and third choices? How would the results be tallied? Would there be a clear winner?

Ask students to explore alternate methods of voting, including variations of the plurality method such as runoff elections, the electoral college and two-thirds majority. Which method is currently used for our presidential elections? Given the issues in the 2000 presidential election, make recommendations for ensuring a more definitive process for the next presidential election.

Students explore different election processes in:

"Will the Best Candidate Win?" (Grades 9-12) from Illuminations, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

5. The United States of America was founded on the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, it took many debates and heated discussions to develop an appropriate government that would fulfill this idea for its citizens. 

Why was it necessary to hold a Constitutional Convention? Who attended? What solutions or plans, were presented? (The Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, Hamilton's Plan and the Connecticut Plan.) What were the pros and cons of each plan? What parts of the different plans were used to create the Constitution?

Separate the class into four groups and assign one plan to each group. Create a chart for each plan, on which the students should note the plan's issues and which founding fathers supported or opposed the plan. Which plan do the students think was most fair? 

Students learn about the development of the United States Constitution in: 

"The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met" (Grades 6-8) from EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities

Featured Lessons
Use these standards-based Partner lessons in your K-12 classroom.

"Balancing Three Branches at Once: Our System of Checks and Balances" (Grades 3-5)
EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities
Students learn about the branches of government and how they check one another.

"Battling for Liberty: Tecumseh's and Patrick Henry's Language of Resistance" (Grades 6-8)
ReadWriteThink, International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English
Students study two historical speeches to develop an awareness of both Native and non-Native movements to resist oppression and domination in Colonial America. 

"Can You Convince Me?: Developing Persuasive Writing" (Grades 3-5)
ReadWriteThink, International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English
Students become aware of the techniques used in persuasive oral arguments and apply them to independent persuasive writing activities.

"Drawing Political Cartoons" (Grades 10-12)
ARTSEDGE, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Students analyze visual and language clues to determine the meaning of contemporary and historical political cartoons.

"Economic Spotter: Trade in Colonial History" (Grades 3-5)
EconEdLink, National Council on Economic Education
Students use an interactive time machine to visit 1680s Boston Harbor to look for economic trade.

"Endangered Species 2: Working to Save Endangered Species" (Grades 6-8)
Science NetLinks, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Students explore issues and problems faced by endangered species, including the government's role in preserving natural resources.

"Making Good Decisions" (Grades K-2)
Science NetLinks, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Students act as councilmembers and debate the destruction of a parcel of land.

"Newspaper of the Colonial Era" (Grade 4)
ARTSEDGE, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Students work in groups to create articles and artwork that depict colonial life for publication as a class newspaper.

"The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met" (Grades 6-8)
EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities
Students research some not-so-famous men and their ideas that shaped the U.S. Constitution. 

"The Devil and Daniel Webster" (Grades 9-12)
Illuminations, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Students examine the use of a recursive sequence in a game between the devil and Daniel Webster.

"The Economics of Voting" (Grades 9-12)
EconEdLink, National Council on Economic Education
Students explore the causes and possible cures of low voter turnout on election day.

"The Great Energy Debate" (Grades 9-12)
Xpeditions, National Geographic Society
Students assume the roles of pivotal stakeholders and testify to a mock congressional committee responsible for making decisions about public lands and energy resources.

"The President's Roles and Responsibilities: Understanding the President's Job" (Grades K-2)
EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities
Students learn about the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. president, and their own roles as citizens of a democracy.

"Where Were the U.S. Presidents Born?" (Grades 3-5)
Xpeditions, National Geographic Society
Students identify the states that have presidential birth sites, giving them the opportunity to recognize all 50 of the United States on a map.

"Will the Best Candidate Win?" (Grades 9-12)
Illuminations, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Students learn about various voting methods, ways in which these methods can be manipulated to achieve certain outcomes, and the impossibility of fair elections when more than two alternatives are available.

Partner-Reviewed Web Sites
Use these Partner-reviewed and approved resources to increase comprehension about this month's topic.

Reviewed by EDSITEment

Graphing Calculator 
Reviewed by Illuminations

Herblock's History: Political Cartoons 
Reviewed by ARTSEDGE

Reviewed by EconEdLink

Little Planet Times 
Reviewed by Science NetLinks

Maryland History Page 
Reviewed by ARTSEDGE

National Geographic: Inside the White House 
Reviewed by Xpeditions

Web English Teacher: Argument and Persuasive Writing 
Reviewed by ReadWriteThink
Search for more lessons and resources

MarcoPolo Resources
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The MarcoPolo Education Foundation has updated both the elementary and secondary editions of its popular Teacher's Guides. The updated guides contain a detailed look at the lessons, links and other materials offered by each of the seven Partner sites, as well as tips for using ReadWriteThink and updated screenshots. Register online to download the new Teacher's Guides; the information you provide will help us learn more about our audience and will help us continue to improve our Web site and resources.
"MarcoPolo: Internet Content for the Classroom:
A Teacher's Guide to Finding and Using the Best of the Net"

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January 2003: Understanding Patterns 
December 2002: Reading: It Takes You Places 
November 2002: Double Take: There Are (At Least) Two Sides to Every Story 
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