Lessons learned in the Constitution

Susan Hoffman already has history lesson plans ready for her students when they go back to school at Jacks Valley Elementary School on Aug. 10.

Hoffman, who teaches a fifth-grade/sixth-grade loop - that is, fifth grade students one year and the same students their sixth-grade year - spent June 20-28 in Harrisonburg, Va., at the "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" institute.

A requirement for attending the free institute is that Hoffman must teach her students a segment of the program in the upcoming school year. This year she teaches the sixth-grade portion of the loop, which studies ancient civilizations.

It is fifth-graders who study the Constitution.

So her plan is to start off the new year with the "We the People" curriculum, then blend that into the study of early Roman and Greek life.

"The common strand that we will talk about as we study these ancient civilizations is their form of government," she said. "After all, it is these early governments that led to the thinking of our framers."

Her experience at James Madison included morning lectures by professors and a former Oregon Supreme Court justice among others. After lunch, the 30 participants met in small groups to discuss the morning lectures.

"It was fabulous professional development," Hoffman said. "It was the best I've had in my career."

"We the People" breaks down into five segments, all of which Hoffman studied. They are: 1) What basic ideas about government did the founders have? 2) How did the framers (different from the founders) write the Constitution? 3) How does the Constitution organize our government? 4) How does the Constitution protect our basic rights? and 5) What are the responsibilities of citizens?

Come fall, Hoffman's students will study each section as a whole and then break down into five groups to tackle one topic in further detail.

Sometime in late September, Hoffman will have her students give group presentations to several community members, acting as judges. Each group will talk about their question for six minutes and then respond to follow-up questions for four minutes.

It's called a Congressional hearing, and Hoffman went through it herself for three of the five questions when she visited James Madison.

"The name of our group was 'Team Jefferson,'" she said. "Many nights we stayed up working until 10 p.m."

While the institute she attended was geared to elementary education, other "We the People" summer institutes are for middle school and high school education. Participants attend James Madison's Montpelier home in Virginia as part of the institute.

Hoffman has taught at Jacks Valley for six years and in the Douglas County School District for 20 years. Because the learning at the institute was invaluable, she said, she wants to share the information about the program with others.

"I want to try and spread the word about this, because like I said, it is the best professional development I have taken in 20 years as a teacher."

n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.


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