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, many teachers are embracing the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. They see it as a teaching tool.
 
Muslims. Taxes. The wall. Emails. The negative exchanges. They're all up for discussion in Halie Miller's fourth-grade class. It is at Glacier Ridge Elementary. The school 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. That is the number it takes for a candidate to claim victory.
 
This election no doubt has presented challenges for educators. The campaign includes difficult topics. And it has a lot of 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 has created 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. They teach sixth graders. The students are required to complete three of nine activity squares on their worksheets.
 
Among them:
 
Analyze a newspaper article on the election. Write two to three paragraphs about it.
 
Take a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood. Count the Clinton and Trump yard signs. 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. Write about why they support a particular candidate.
 

In Denver, social studies teacher Aaron Stites says the tone of the campaign can 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, "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. They discuss 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. 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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How do mock elections boost engagement?
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COMMENTS (29)
  • logan2-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:02 a.m.

    By creating mock elections it allows the student to feel engaged in the election and allow them to express opinions that in other classes they usually wouldn't be able or allowed to. it also gives students an environment that they feel comfortable enough to express opinions and ask questions. student cant be in the dark about the election, it will effect them in the years to come and they need to be educated.

  • summer2-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:05 a.m.

    Mock elections in schools boost engagement of young students by making citizens whom are not old enough to vote actually feel involved in their government. It allows adults to hear the voice of the younger generation and allow them to begin forming their own opinions as the future of America. Whether adults like and accept it or not, the kids who cannot vote are our country's future, and they will be voting in elections to come. Instead of shutting down the opinions of future generations and not allowing them to participate in political conversation, we should be supporting and guiding the young to be able to think and function in a way that will allow them to survive in the future when they are the ones running our world and we pass it on to them.

  • gabby-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:06 a.m.

    Mock elections like these boost the engagement of students and community members in the presidential election this year. The mock elections encourage the students to think about what they believe is best for our country and to make their own beliefs and opinions stand out. Everyone deserves to have their own opinions and this school is a perfect example of how important it is for everyone to have a voice in the 2016 election.

  • stanley-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:06 a.m.

    its a good thing for children involved with politics. because most people t o brush it off like it doesn't matter so when young people get involved it is a great thing

  • brennan-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:24 a.m.

    I believe this presidential debate has gone to far and it needs to end at some point

  • sam-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:25 a.m.

    this article really showed that not only adults are being affected by the presidential election. young teens will get older and have to deal with what happens to the country based on what person becomes the boss of our country

  • anthony3-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:26 a.m.

    I think it is good that these kids are learning about politics. Its a shame that kids these days don't learn about the politicians.

  • brian-war
    11/08/2016 - 10:30 a.m.

    I believe its good to teach the kids about the election. it goes well with social studies. so its a good idea and it should be taught

  • joey2-war
    11/08/2016 - 12:25 p.m.

    Mock elections boost engagement for those who cannot vote. it allows people to be engaged in politics and allows them to explore more real life problems. It also allows them to learn more about future things in life and encourages them to get more involved.

  • shaylonna-war
    11/08/2016 - 12:25 p.m.

    I think this is a good way to help kids understand what the election is, what its about and also helps them understand about presidents.

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