Teacher’s Center

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January, 2013 - Active Learning on Current Events

It’s now January, and teachers are looking toward the second half of the school year. The election is over, the president has been reelected, and Congress hasn’t changed much in political composition, partisanship, or in the opinion of the American public.


On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama will be sworn in as president for a second term and will deliver his second inaugural address. In it, he will set a course for the next four years that he hopes will guide the nation for decades to come. Then, in less than a month, he will deliver his State of the Union address that will further articulate his plans.


A multitude of important issues are on the table for Social Studies teachers to explore with their students. 


Hot Button Issues:

  • gun control
  • another fiscal cliff
  • immigration
  • cabinet appointments


The Economy

  • unemployment/economic recovery
  • tax and spending
  • the deficit
  • infrastructure development
  • business and environmental regulation


Foreign Policy

  • winding down the war in Afghanistan
  • Syrian crisis
  • national security and terrorism
  • arms control
  • North Korea


Social Studies teachers have a unique opportunity to provide their students a solid foundation on the fundamentals of these issues and practical experience critical thinking and problem solving to address them. Incorporating active learning strategies into discussions, activities, assignments, and projects can not only give students the basic knowledge to understand these complex issues, but also the practical experience in analyzing their complexity, synthesizing new ideas and concepts, and making sound judgments through critical thinking.


In December’s blog, I wrote an article that explored how active learning strategies can engage students and provided tips on implementing them into your class. In that article, I also included a link to an annotated list of active learning strategies posted by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning.


Let’s look at how select active learning strategies could be incorporated into discussions, activities, assignments, and projects you conduct in your classroom on many of the important issues facing the nation during President Obama’s second term.


Gun Control: With the tragic shootings the past year in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Connecticut, the issue of controlling guns or controlling those who use them has brought the Second Amendment into the public consciousness. Just about everyone agrees the incidents were tragic and that something should be done. But agreement stops there as the highly politically charged topic falls to partisan posturing.


Suggested active learning activities:


Taxing and Spending: Probably two of the most contentious issues before Congress and the American public. Should taxes be raised to pay for past spending and the services Americans want or cut to stimulate the economy and ease the burden on middle-class families? Should spending be cut to reduce the deficit? If so, where do you cut? Whose “ox gets gored?” And what about tax reform? Can the president and Congress maneuver past the gauntlet of lobbyists who want to protect their clients’ interests?


Suggested active learning activities:

  • Conduct think/pair/share sessions to ensure students understand the fundamentals of taxing and spending.
  • Use a two-column method to have students explore the costs and benefits of tax policy and spending reform.
  • Have students engage in a shared brainstorming activity to examine recommendations on whether to adjust taxing or spending.


National Security and Terrorism: Though Osama bin Laden has been killed, his legacy of terrorism lives on in several countries around the world, most recently in regions of Africa. American policy makers employ a wide range of counter-terrorism measures including everything from drone air strikes to improved security measures at airports and public events.


Suggested active learning activities:

  • Use student summaries or one-minute papers to help students understand the basic facts surrounding national security such as the responsibilities of agencies, past acts of terrorism, or potential violations of free expression or privacy in maintaining national security.
  • Students can engage in a corners activity to explore probing questions about national security and the nature of terrorism.
  • Create scenarios and problem-based learning activities to have students explore legal and ethical dilemmas when establishing policies to fight terrorism.


There are also many INTERACT units that cover the issues listed at the top of the article and contain many of the active learning activities discussed here. Among them are


We look forward to hearing from you Social Studies teachers on what Active Learning strategies you’re incorporating in your classrooms on current issues or issues that take a historical perspective. Let us know how things are going, successes you’ve had with these or your own strategies and any comments or questions on any INTERACT units you’ve incorporated into your lessons.

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