Simulations of Democratic Processes: Do This, Not That!

The fourth session of the Civics Across the Curriculum (CAC) webinar series was held on Thursday, February 4, 2021. This year’s theme builds on the theme from the originally scheduled Democracy Schools Network Spring 2020 convening, “Every Teacher is a Civics Teacher: Best Practices for Civic Learning and Organizational Supports.” If you missed the session, view a recording.

The program featured Candace Fikis, Social Studies Teacher at West Chicago Community High School and Logan Ridenour, CTE and Social Studies Teacher at Dupo Jr./Sr. High School. It was facilitated by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist for the Illinois Civics Hub. The presenters provided an examination of the various factors that contribute to the success of classroom simulations. The first of these factors is the creation of a safe and respectful space for this kind of activity. As students are often venturing a bit out of their comfort zone with simulations, having this kind of environment in place is critical. Suggestions for doing this are referenced in this simulations toolkit which explores building a safe and reflective classroom, demonstrated in this webinar on engaging student voice while teaching remotely, and discussed in this blog from a previous CAC webinar on moving from reflection to action by Choosing to Participate.

Both presenters emphasized that there are a wide variety of simulations that can meet a wide variety of needs: developing a certain skill set, introducing a new topic, serving as a capstone activity for a unit, engaging a particular kind of learner, encouraging collaboration with students, or becoming fluent in a new technology. Logan outlined a simulation that he uses with his students, where they write bills to change a school rule. With this simulation that only lasts a few days, students learn about many aspects of legislative action, including Parliamentary procedure, the committee system, floor action, persuasive speaking and listening to other viewpoints. Candi discussed her school’s semester-long legislative simulation, which includes these skills and—because of the length of the simulation, and its natural evolution over the years—many other opportunities for students to take a deeper dive into our country’s democratic machinery. Now, this entire simulation has now even been adapted to a virtual platform.

The final piece of a simulation is reflection, where students think about what they have learned and how they connect it to their own experience. Find additional reflection tools here.

The presenters also offered these suggestions:

  • The key to successful simulations seems to be “start small,” and then determine if there is a need or desire to extend it further.
  • Seek out community partners to work with your simulations. Organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the Chamber of Commerce, local Health Department, etc. are typically eager to work with schools to expand students’ reach.
  • Think creatively about how technology might be able to support your plan (and there are lots of very good examples of this), but the technology should not drive the simulation.
  • Simulations are a great learning tool in all disciplines. Examples can include: a meeting of a World Health Organization Expert Advisory Panel in a Health class, a mock trial for Puerto Rico statehood in a Spanish class, an analysis of a real-world environmental case of building a road through the Amazon rain forest, or, in a PE class, a convening of the International Olympic Committee to approve a new sport for the games.

Several participants shared favorite resources, strategies and programs that have helped them in creating meaningful simulations for their students including:

We look forward to our continuing series on the first and third Thursday of the month from 4-5 pm on Zoom. Hope to see you at future webinars in this series that supports all teachers to be civics teachers!