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Democracy in Action Review by Melissa ThebergeCatherine Tamblyn
3001 Cindel Drive
Delran, NJ 08075
Interactive and small group learning seem like an appropriate way to teach about our own interactive American democracy. This ninety-six page soft-cover book is packed with materials needed to create eight learning centers designed to teach the democratic process. Clearly, a large classroom dynamic is the intended use, but the materials are flexible enough to be conducive to a homeschool setting, with the intended age group being third through fifth grade.
Every colorful page is perforated for easy removal, copying, optional laminating, and setting up of eight learning components. After a brief two pages of overall instruction for assembly and use, the main eight sections of the book are color-coded for easy identification, and include:
• The Constitution and Bill of Rights
• The Executive Branch
• The Legislative Branch
• The Judicial Branch
• State and Local Government
• Electoral College
• Road to the White House
• Classroom Election Center
Instructions for the teacher are straightforward, and each of the eight topics has similar elements that are repeated. Pocket file folders are recommended to organize the materials for each topic. First, there is a colorful title page for each of the eight topics listed above. On the back of this page are specific student instructions for the learning center. Next, there are pages of informative text written to the student that teach about the topic. These pages are organized in a variety of ways, including paragraphs, bulleted lists, information webs, and text boxes. These informational pages are used in different ways throughout the program. The Judicial Branch topic, for example, has text on one side and a full-page photo of the Supreme Court building on the reverse. Puzzle cutting lines are printed on this page so it can be cut and assembled as a puzzle activity.
Each topical section of the book also has a reproducible worksheet that relates directly to the teaching content, with special attention give to the challenging vocabulary involved in our democratic government. Written response opportunities include a fill-in-the-blank activity, various word puzzles, and short answers to questions. A simple lift-the-flap answer key is provided for each of the eight topics and is intended for students' self-correcting.
In addition to the information pages and the reproducible worksheets, each learning center includes an activity such as a matching game, a puzzle, a board game about the campaign trail, and an opportunity to write your own law. One of the more unique activities is an electoral college game that invites students to experiment with different election outcomes and learn how the electoral college functions.
The final activity is the mock election. The reproducible pages in this section include various campaign button designs to be decorated, two pages that could me made into a large flyer, ballots, as well as reproducible cut-outs that could be used to decorate a ballot box made from a tissue box.
Each of the eight learning centers could be used individually or simultaneously as a unit study, and the activities would be ideal for a co-op or small group of students. However, all activities could be adapted for use with even one student including the mock election since its focus is on the campaign rather than on collecting votes from peers. While this program would be ideal for use during an election season, it would also be applicable to any general study of government and democracy.
My one concern with this program is that a few of the activities seem a bit contrived, probably because the desire was to offer a "hands-on" activity for every topic, but not all topics are conducive to this, especially within the confines of a single handbook. Because of this, a few of the activities involve just a four to six piece puzzle, which my own fifth grader found simplistic and unnecessary. Even so, there is a lot of important content in this book and for the most part, the variety in this book will make it a unique and profitable learning experience.
Democracy in Action is a pleasantly adaptable classroom program that our small family can use and benefit from, and perhaps even implement with other families during the next election season. While I would not have sought it out on my own due to its classroom-based design, I am glad to recommend it as a pre-packaged learning opportunity in democracy.