At the end of a yearlong civics curriculum, this 8th grade teacher facilitated the students through a civic action project. To prepare, the teacher informed the students’ families about the upcoming project, coordinated with administration and librarians, and communicated with local officials to prepare them for the student requests and questions that might come their way.
Context: 8th grade social studies class at an urban upper middle school serving grades 6-8, located outside of Boston. The teacher taught 4 sections of 8th grade social studies.
Project Timeline: 6 weeks, at the end of a yearlong civics course.
Stage 1: Examining Self and Civic Identity
Question 1: Why does it matter to me?
Students selected topics based on their exploration of their own passions, hobbies, and interests, and of various issues. The entirety of the project was built on Question 1, an important foundation for building students’ civic agency. The teacher collected information about students’ topic preferences and began to form project groups, also taking into consideration interpersonal dynamics.
Question 2: How much should I share?
Students discussed the dangers of using online tools and had to receive teacher approval for their online posts. Some groups created new email accounts to use just for their project. In this way, the students were guided through making careful decisions about how much of their work and lives to share as part of the project.
Stage 2: Identifying an Issue
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?
Students explored current examples of youth community, political, and activist work to inspire them. They later decided what issue was most important to them for their own projects. In doing that work, they connected multiple times to Question 1.
Stage 3: Research and Investigation
Question 6: How can we get wisdome from crowds?
Question 7: How can we handle the downside of crowds?
The project groups were annouced. Teachers encouraged independent projects, too, according to students' preferences. Once students had identified their group’s topic, they did in-depth research to connect their interests to the needs of the broader community. The teacher used the Issues and Controversies Database to help students learn about different points of view regarding their topic. Students also needed this deeper research investigation to prepare for their strategic planning around their action project. Their research covered not only their subject area of interest but also tools and strategies they might use for achieving impact in relation to their issue. For instance, students identified target audiences that they wanted to reach out to and explored the pros and cons of using online tools (see potential risks involved in their participation online).
Stage 4: Developing an Action Plan
Question 8: Are we pursuing voice or influence or both?
Question 9: How do we get from voice to change?
After completing in-depth research, students were guided in deciding whether their project would be a voice project, an influence project, or a combination of both. To help the students make this choice, they completed a Q-Sort activity (Instructions) to help students preview the difference between voice and influence in civic action. The activity also required students to think through and document their theory of change. A great moment of success for the classes during this unit were the conversations students had after the Q-Sort activity. There was real discussion about whether they thought changing public opinion or changing laws was more important, about why they did or did not think that art could play a role in social change, and about why some felt that they could add more value via a voice project while others thought they could add more value via an influence project. The voice and influence aspect of the Civic Action Unit was able to ground students in making deep connections between their issue, theory of change, and proposed action(s).
Stage 5: Taking Action
Question 6: How do we get wisdom from crowds?
Question 7: How do we handle the downside of crowds?
Students spent two weeks executing their plans, problem-solving throughout, and frequently conferencing with the teacher. They reached out to many community leaders, including the mayor’s office and the school administration. Students also managed the difficulties of using online platforms, when they chose to do so, to spread their work.
Stage 6: Reflecting and Showcasing
Question 10: How can we find allies?
Students compiled a portfolio with the documentation of their project, and wrote a final reflection essay assignment in which they referred back to their theory of change and discussed successes and challenges they had encountered. In their reflections, students reconnected to their own identities and why their issue was important to their own lives.
* This case is included to Civics Project Guidebook (DESE, 2019, pp. 28-9). We reintroduce it on this site by courtesy of the DESE.