Winter 2011 Newsletter

New Approach to AP Government

The Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at UCF is excited and proud to debut The Civics Connection, a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive learning resource for Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics students and teachers. The project, a partnership between the LFI and the United States Association of Former Members of Congress, has been developed under the auspices of the College Board, the umbrella organization under which the Advanced Placement program functions. It strategically combines experiential learning with virtual learning so that students can make the highest use of the environment they know best- the Internet.

An Insider's View

It is one thing to memorize the substance of a piece of legislation, and quite another to understand how the ideas within the policy are interpreted by different members of Congress and Presidents. That insider's perspective is exactly what The Civics Connection provides to students. UCF Political Science Professor Dr. Terri Susan Fine sits down with former members of Congress in a series of highly produced, engaging interviews that explore 16 topics specifically required by the AP curriculum. How is the War Powers Act understood by Republican and Democratic members of Congress? How do members running for re-election handle their campaign advertising? Are earmarks a bad thing? With tenures ranging from two to 30 years, former members of Congress lend their perspectives on the issues, giving students a much deeper understanding of the inner workings of American government.

A Unique Resource

Of the 16 interviews, 15 are conducted with pairs of former members of Congress -one Democrat and one Republican. Each interviewee was selected because of their experience dealing with the interview subject. For example, the Impeaching the President video includes one Republican and one Democrat, both of whom voted on whether to impeach President Clinton in 1998. There is a one-on-one video featuring D Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) who served as a U.S. Representative-at-Large from 1981-1992, and as a Senator from 1992-2011.

The videos are unique and provide rich content geared toward Congress as an institution, relations between Congress and the executive branch, and how the public, such as interest groups, constituents and voters, interact with Congress. But The Civics Connection also includes substantial materials and resources to further enhance and support the insights offered by the former members of Congress. It is hoped The Civics Connection will prove an unparalleled asset for AP teachers as there has never before been this kind of onestop shopping environment available for the AP U.S. Government curriculum. Students should find The Civics Connection critical to their learning since the videos and resource materials will concisely direct them toward the curriculum requirements. Accompanying resources include which components of the AP curriculum outline are addressed by each video, vocabulary lists, viewing guides, essential questions, formative assessments, contemporary news analyses and primary sources, to name just a few. Additionally, the resource materials are annotated, putting all additional references and notes within easy reach.

The Civics Connection is a massive undertaking, but one that the Lou Frey Institute views as critical to its mission of fostering and enhancing civic education and a deep understanding of American government. In keeping with its mission, The Civics Connection is being offered as a free resource through the Lou Frey Institute website at www.loufreyinstitute.org

The Next Step in Civics

Leon County Students Learn That Citizenship Is Not A Spectator Sport

Kids see it as a chance to step out of the classroom and become a prosecutor, a community activist or a poll worker. Teachers see it as a way to help their students learn more effectively by doing. The Leon County Schools Applied Civics Initiative uses a combination of field trips, projects and student reflections as part of a new approach to teaching civics.

In 2008, Superintendent Jackie Pons made a major commitment to bringing civics and citizenship education back to the forefront of the district's education goals. The centerpiece of the Leon County Schools Applied Civics Initiative was a year-long course in civics, required of all 7th graders, which emphasized "experiential education." Funding support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has been a critical component, helping to spur permanent changes in the civic mission of Leon County Schools.

The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship partnered with Leon County Schools in this effort. Along with teacher training and support, the Joint Center helped with developing and implementing curriculums and analyzing student assessments. It also helped with developing the community partnerships that are an essential part of experience-based civic education. The Florida Law Related Education Association and Florida Learn and Serve also provided important support for the pilot program.

The district's planning for the Initiative was shaped by the 2002 report on The Civic Mission of Schools which identified the most promising approaches for teaching civics. Today, active learning strategies that give students a chance to engage in real life scenarios, such as mock trials and mock elections, are a routine part of teaching civics in the district. Civics students also learn to deal with controversial issues through reasoned discussion and debate and they work on projects that help them develop the skills that they need to get involved their communities. Participating in these experiences raises the excitement level in the classroom and that excitement level translates into deeper student interest and involvement in learning.

The timing of Leon County Schools decision to launch a district-wide emphasis on civics could not have been better, and it has put the district in a civic education leadership role. The Applied Civics Initiative was begun two years before the Legislature adopted the 2010 Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act. That legislation is changing civic education throughout the state. It requires all of Florida's school districts, by 2012 – 2013, to do what Leon County Schools has already done; build a new emphasis on civic education. By the time the first statewide test is given to their 7th graders, Leon County Schools teachers will have had a full five years of teaching and training under their belts. In addition, the district and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship have worked together to develop integrated reading and civics lessons for all elementary grades. Those lessons are now being adopted across the state to help meet the O'Connor Act's requirements.

The real excitement lies in what students are taking away from the new course – new knowledge, new skills, and a deeper understanding of the civic world around them. "It is really neat for me as a teacher," says Leon County Civics Coordinator and Deerlake Middle School teacher Cathy Schroepfer, "to know that I, hopefully, am instilling in them something that will encourage them to be active citizens and participants in their community."

Civics Mentor-Teacher Program

Volusia County's Kevin Copes and Orange County's Mike Koller lead a discussion on the U.S. Constitution vs. the Florida Constitution. Both are FJCC Teaching Associates.

The seeds of good citizenship are sown in pre-school. It's where we learn that everyone has to follow the same rules, that we should be good neighbors and that we should all do our part when it's time to put toys away. In 2010, the Florida legislature passed the Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act, a bill ensuring that the classroom does more than sow the initial seeds of citizenship. Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, students entering the middle school will be required to complete at least a one-semester civics course and pass an end-of course civics assessment in order to be promoted to high school. The state's investment in civic education will see civics requirements ramping up each year for the next 3 years. The changes mean new curriculum standards and expectations for students and teachers.

To help with this effort, the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government applied for and received a Teacher Quality Grant from the Florida Department of Education. The Helios Education Foundation provided additional support. This allowed the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, a partnership between the Bob Graham Center and the Lou Frey Institute, to develop the Civics-Mentor Teacher program, otherwise known as the CMT.

Fitzgerald Middle teacher Doug Krieg, who is teaching civics for the first time this fall, traveled from Pinellas county to participate. "There are a ton of resources presented here," he says, "it's wonderful because the biggest thing is finding resources, and the depth of knowledge is wonderful." The depth of knowledge comes from a variety of speakers and educators, including Charles Flanagan from the National Archives, FJCC Senior Fellows Dr. Robert Watson of Lynn University, Dr. Elizabeth Washington of UF, Dr. Michael Berson of USF and Lou Frey Institute Associate Director Dr. Terri Fine from UCF. The four day workshop covered topics ranging from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's gaming inspired website icivics.org to the 7th grade end of civics course assessment test.

Hillsborough County's Leslie Davis, an 8th grade teacher at Randall Middle School, is preparing her district to start teaching civics in 2012-2013. She praised her CMT experience. "It's very good, very informative, speakers are very high quality, and the structure of the institute provides the foundations for implementing this program," she says.

Those teachers that completed the advanced CMT are now FJCC Teaching Associates and are helping to train others in their districts. 2011, CMT's third year, brought in 36 new FJCC Teaching Associates, no doubt a welcome addition as the state moves forward with its newly strengthened focus on civics education. Hopefully those early seeds of civic mindedness will find themselves well rooted when our current middle schoolers emerge into the world as young adults.

Civic Leaders in Training

The Civics Leadership Academy is new and improved and running a Volusia County pilot program for the 2011-2012 and the 2012-2013 school years. Now known as the FCLA, the new co-curricular program will allow for statewide expansion. That ultimately means more students will have a chance to participate.

Hands-on learning is the FCLA's key feature, with the community at large serving as a living civics laboratory. Working under the guidance of an FCLA teaching associate, students will volunteer in community organizations, work together to find solutions to problems they see in their schools and neighborhoods, and intern with a local advocacy group. During the two-year program, each student will complete 150 hours of experiential learning and will also complete a college level online class on Florida State & Local Government (POS 2112). Students who successfully complete all portions of the FCLA will receive dual enrollment credit. But the rewards will go beyond individual academic accomplishments. The FCLA program will also create stronger ties between the classroom and the community as civic leaders work with teachers to help build pathways to meaningful student participation outside of classroom walls.

Symposium: Fall 2011

While it is always hoped Symposium will have a lasting effect on attending students, this fall's Symposium- Campaign 2012: New Rules of the Road is likely to stay on students' minds as they begin to address the upcoming Presidential election. Young voters rely heavily on the Internet for their information, so the Fall Symposium included speakers from Google, eVoter, and The Political Insider to discuss campaign issues. Over 600 high school students from 11 Central Florida school districts attended. Student comments received by LFI include- "I loved the presentation," "Ann B. Helmuth was the best, she talked about things I knew about," and "I paid a lot of attention to Elliot (Ackerman) because he engaged with the audience."

Looking Ahead

Feedback from students and teachers is great help as the Institute works on plans for Spring Symposium 2012. Attending students have asked for more interaction, more Q&A and even more speakers, which clearly says student interest in Symposium continues to be high.

An LFI Tradition

The Lou Frey Institute Symposia began in 2003, with one hosted each spring and each fall. An important element in promoting civic engagement, each Symposium provides a chance for high school and college students to interact directly with local, state and national leaders. It is supported by a number of partnerships and community sponsors and addresses a wide range of topics. To access symposia video archives, visit loufreyinstitute.org

Other News

Online Engagement

Dr. Jonathan Knuckey, the Institute's Director of Research and his colleague, Tyler Branz at Valencia College, have just completed a new study exploring The Internet and Civic Engagement Among Younger Americans. They examined the effects of frequently connecting with friends and family online and found that while the overall level of civic engagement among the young remains low, frequent Internet users were more likely to be civically engaged in a variety of ways, even after controlling for other confounding variables. The findings suggest that even non-political on-line activity may have an effect on civic engagement and that such on-line activity may serve to generate a virtual form of social capital, particularly among younger Americans.

Speaking of the Internet

The Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government has revamped its website to provide easier access and better navigation to all of the LFI projects. By visiting loufreyinstitute.org, you can access not only the LFI webpage, but web pages for the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, Civics Resources for Teachers, and Teaching Middle School Civics. We are continually adding new content, so visit often.