As a new teacher to both the US History I curriculum and to teaching 9th graders, I was struggling teaching students about the difference in the branches of governments. I tried a variety of ways to do this: I gave an overview of each branch, students completed a graphic organizer for the branches, students sought answers to questions using the Constitution [ex. Can Mr Milton run for President? Why/Why not?*], and I created a board game to show the arduous quest for a bill to become a law. Still, I did not feel that it connected to my students. I felt like my job of bringing the Constitution to life was not yet finished.
During a free period, I popped into a colleague’s classroom to discuss the Constitution. It was here that she said one phrase that really sparked my brain into gear. Let me preface this by explaining I have recently been thinking quite a bit about superheroes and supervillains – particularly how they carry out mundane things like grocery shopping or online dating**. My colleague said, “…powers of the branches.” Obviously, my mind immediately jumped to “superpowers of the branches” and went into overdrive. I explained the concept to her and collaboratively we came up with the Super Branches of Government!
Super Branches of Government!
The Prompt: What if each branch of the US government was a superhero? What would it look like? What superpowers would it have? What weaknesses would it have?
Use the US Constitution to create the new American hero!
As abstract ideas can sometimes be overwhelming, I’m starting off with the personal. “What do you excel at? What is an ability that you have?” I then shared with them that students have said my hearing is amazing. We discussed how I could find a symbol for excellent hearing and we decided that a huge ear would be appropriate! Luckily, I had just the thing on the next slide, an image of me with a giant ear. Students then drew and shared themselves with something to symbolize what they are great at.
Students then prepare by looking more closely at their assigned branch of government prior to meeting with their group. This is the form that my students used.
Part 1: The Creation of a Superhero
Brainstorm and create a superhero. What powers would it have? How would you represent the powers?
- Students were put into small groups, given a large piece of paper, an assortment of markers and colored pencils, and given their branch!
- I guided them slightly, mostly reminding them to use the tools we had developed [notes and graphic organizers] as well as the Constitution itself.
- I attempted to help students focus on the powers of the branch and how to best represent them.
- I did add to my initial instructions for students to make a key to explain what the elements represented.
Part II: The Switch
Switch with another group and examine the superhero they created. What powers are missing? What limitations does the hero have? Write a list for the group to help them. Add some symbols they could possibly use.
- Students looked at the superheroes created by the other groups. This is done not only to generate ideas, but to also look at the different government branches.
- When they get their superhero back, the group can add to it based upon the suggestions from the other groups.
Part III: Discussion
Examine the superhero for the branch that you did not help look at yet. If you were to design one for it, what might it look like? What powers would it have? How would you depict it? What would you include that was not included in the one you just examined? What limitations does it have? How would you depict it?
- I am currently at this point in this project.
- Students will use Canvas, a student management system, to write individual answers to this prompt in a discussion forum.
- When completed, students will comment on two of their classmates posts.
Overall, I have been pleased with the discussions of the groups. My favorite impromptu discussion between students in rival groups discussing which superhero was stronger. I was beaming but remained silent during this exchange as it is something as a society we still wrestle with. I am really looking forward to the debrief discussion!
So that is one way that I am teaching the Constitution, how are you doing it?
Next Week: Teaching the Bill of Rights using improv!