Student-led Civics Case: Online Civic Action


The goal of this culminating project was not only to evaluate history’s impact on our everyday lives, but to learn how to navigate a digital setting through methods that allow us to engage civically.  Throughout the course, students examined if and how each generation has lived up to its founding ideals: equality, human rights, liberty, opportunity, and democracy. Working with a partner, students examined to what extent the United States has embodied one of these ideals through the creation of a persuasive essay based on thorough and accurate research. Moreover, through utilizing Harvard Democratic Knowledge Project’s “Ten Questions for Change Makers,” students created and launched their own hashtag campaigns to explore the possibilities and limitations of digital advocacy.

Context: 10th Grade US History class at a rural, regional public high school.

Project Timeline: 3-4 weeks

 Students explored ways of using social media tools as part of voice projects and as part of influence projects. Students chose projects of both kinds. Some groups had the goal of spreading awareness, and their hashtag campaign was curated towards establishing voice and support for a particular action. The students who chose influence projects used their social media posts to ask power holders to support particular legislation for change.

Stage 1: Examining Self and Civic Identity

Question 1: Why does it matter to me? 

The class used pre-existing U.S. history content as a launch pad for helping students to ignite their own narratives about what mattered to them and why. Students considered their ongoing evaluation of founding ideals and considered which ideal most affected their everyday lives. Through this reflection, students consider the personal and historical impacts of a founding ideal as well as why it should be further advanced in today’s society. 

Stage 2: Identifying an Issue

Question 1: Why does it matter to me?

Students had a chance to learn about each other’s thoughts about their topics through a rapid exchange process (process for a project partner and research). After they have reviewed everyone’s topics and their analysis of the connections to the U.S.’s founding ideals, the teacher formed the partnership groups to connect students whose topics aligned well. 

Stage 3: Research and Investigation

Question 3: How do I make it about more than myself?

Question 4: Where do we start?

The teacher took students to the school’s library media center to begin researching evidence/ examples to support their thesis statements early on in the research process. Students discussed Hashtag Campaigns and explored how the 10 Questions Framework aligned with hashtag campaigns. Next, using the 10 Questions graphic organizer, students researched some popular hashtag campaigns such as #IceBucketChallenge and Origin of the #IceBucketChallenge, #LikeAGirl, #MeToo, Founder of #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, Origin of #BlackLivesMatter, #TrashTag, and #NeverAgain and Origin of #NeverAgain. Students thought questions like: “What is the purpose?”; “Why did it start?”; “What were the results?”; “How was it received?” and “ Was it effective?”

Students learned new skills on how to conduct effective surveys, polls, and interviews. They discussed Question 6. “How do we get wisdom from crowds?” and Question 7. “How do we handle the downside of crowds?” Then students polled their community to understand diverse perspectives on possible solutions for their chosen issue. In addition, they developed questions for interviews with their peers and community members. After conducting the surveys and interviews, students reflected on the data and contemplated how the data might inform their hashtag campaigns. 

Stage 4: Developing an Action Plan

Question 3: How do I make it about more than myself?

Question 4: Where do we start?

Question 5: How do we make it easy and engaging for others to join in?

Question 8: Are we pursuing voice or influence or both?

The teacher helped students convert their broad area of interest and passion into a specific issue to pursue. Students also thought about how to make sure they connected their own areas of interest to broader community issues. Once their topics were refined, students discussed activism vs. slacktivism and then researched the power holders relevant to their project - both who they are and how to get in contact with them. Next, students complete the theory of change graphic organizer to plan out their process, actions, and measurable results for the civic action project. 

Stage 5: Taking Action  

Question 2: How much should I share?

Question 8: Are we pursuing voice or influence or both?

Question 10: How can we find allies?

Students drafted at least three different hashtag campaigns. This work stressed that students should consider how they were pursuing voice, how they were pursuing influence, and how the campaign could find allies (engage with power holders). Students also drafted an initial social media post to launch the hashtag campaign. Utilizing their knowledge of digital footprints and privacy, students evaluated whether to remain anonymous while formatting their tab on the class website. Students pause and review their campaigns, critiquing each others’ work and offering support and feedback. Thereafter, the teacher launched the class website with the hashtag campaigns. Students evaluated their campaigns’ impact with a social media tracking tool, Social Searcher.

Stage 6: Reflecting and Showcasing

Question 5: How can we make it easy and engaging for others to join in?

Question 6: How do we get wisdom from crowds?

Question 7: How do we handle the downside of crowds?

Question 9: How do we get from voice to change?

Students reviewed the final data from Social Searcher, thinking about “What were the successes and challenges of the campaigns?” or “Why were some campaigns more successful than others? What were the significant variables?” Students also wrote individual reflections in response to the questions, “What were some of the success stories of your process?” and “What do you think was necessary to create and implement a successful hashtag campaign?” The teacher assessed the assignment with both an argumentative essay rubric and a rubric that assessed students’ engagement in the overall process. At the end, some of the students reached out to local legislators to ask for their support on upcoming bills and the legislators responded.


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