Friday, December 13, 2013

How I Used To Teach The Most Boring Subject In The Curriculum

...the real Supremes, the big diva is the 2nd from the left in the front row...
In my last post I talked a little about being a maths teacher. When I used to teach mathematics I always tried to incorporate some context into the subject, explaining what the stuff we were learning could actually be used for, where it came from and what problems it solved in the society where it was invented. (I stole this idea from Carl Sagan's Cosmos where in one memorable episode he talked about Newton's invention of the calculus.)
I had a very unusual teaching career during the 7 years I worked as a high school and middle teacher in Colorado. I was trying to get my writing career off the ground, so I substitute taught for a while, I taught maths, I taught English, I taught drama, I was a soccer coach and as someone reminded me yesterday on twitter I also taught civics. 

  1. ....also, I remember your Civics class in high school well!
  2. I loved teaching that class. Didnt we pretend that we were the Supreme Court or something?
  3. I remember having to argue in favor of Miranda Rights against a Swiss girl I had a huge crush on, & I did much too well :o)

Now civics has a reputation for being the most boring subject in the school curriculum. Kids hate it and teachers hate to teach it but its a requirement in many if not most states in US. So I decided that I was going to teach it in an unusual way to make it fun and hopefully memorable. Every week I had 2 students prepare and argue a famous Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education, Miranda v Arizona etc. and the rest of the class sat as the Supreme Court and judged the case based on the two "lawyers" arguments. Sometimes we agreed with the actual SC decision sometimes we didnt. The point wasn't to hammer facts and dates into the students heads but to get them thinking about legal and philosophical issues and get them (gasp!) excited about civics. 
I ran that class for 2 or 3 years (in one year we managed to get black Supreme Court robes to wear) and I always thought that it went down pretty well, so it was nice to get that bit of feedback yesterday on twitter (above) confirming that my memories weren't just nostalgia.