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Civic Mission


Civics In The Middle

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A monthly newsletter for Illinois civics teachers to support the implementation of the state’s middle and high school civics course requirements and K-12 social science standards.

Introduction: ISBE Publishes Middle School Civics Guidance Document

Last month, the Illinois State Board of Education published a guidance document to support the implementation of the new middle school civics mandate. The document reiterates the specifics of Public Act 101-0254 which requires one semester of instruction devoted to civics starting in the 2020-21 school year that:

The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition is committed to providing resources for educators to enhance their current practice to meet the civics mandate. We have partnered with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University to query educators and administrators throughout the state of Illinois as to their needs for implementation. If you have not done so yet, take this survey so that we can tailor professional development and on-line resources to meet your regional needs.

Our website is expanding to provide lesson plans and resources aligned to both the civic content standards and proven practices of civic education delineated in the law. We have also created new professional development workshops to address both curriculum design and the development of performance assessments that more accurately reflect the pedagogy of civic engagement. We will announce new resources via this newsletter, so stay tuned.

Earn Your Civic Microcredentials:  Become a Guardian of Democracy Educator has partnered with the DuPage Regional Office of Education and the University of St. Francis to provide ALL Illinois educators the opportunity to earn their micro-credentials in the proven practice of current and controversial issue discussions in the classroom.

Participants will create a Portfolio of Practice throughout the course exploring:

  • The benefits of student to student discussion
  • Various discussion strategies with demonstration videos and classroom-ready guides
  • How to navigate common obstacles and concerns from parents and administrators
  • Tools for online learning to incorporate in classrooms

Participants in the fall pilot of the course ranged from pre-service professors, first-year teachers, instructional coaches, administrators, and seasoned civic educators. Here are some of their reflections.

When I think about engaging students in current and controversial issue discussions in the classroom, I used to think it scared me and made me nervous, but now I think I am prepared and confident. 

6-12 grade department chairperson from a suburban school district

When I think about engaging students in current and controversial issue discussions in the classroom, I used to think that there were a plethora of landmines to be concerned about, but now I think that with the right combination of establishing a classroom environment and well-thought-out, specific strategies, landmines can be avoided and phenomenal discourse is bound to happen. 

6-8 grade AVID teacher from an urban district

When I think about engaging students in current and controversial issue discussions in the classroom, I used to think I’m never going to be able to do it properly and cause a huge chaotic controversy in my small rural school, but now I think it’s doable and no matter where I’m teaching I’ll be able to handle the conversation using strategies from Guardians of Democracy: Current and Controversial Issues Discussions. 

1st-year teacher from rural high school

The Winter cohort will begin on January 18th, 2020. Interested Illinois educators may register through the DuPage Regional Office of Education. Out-of-state educators can find out more information at the Guardians of Democracy homepage. Those who successfully complete the 5-week online course earn 15 PD hours and a Bronze Certified Guardian of Democracy Educator badge via Credle and the University of Central Florida Center for Distributive Learning. Graduate credit is available through the University of St. Francis for an additional fee. Additional courses on Simulations of Democratic Processes and Taking Informed Action Through Service Learning are coming later in 2020.

Professional Development Opportunities

Listed below are some upcoming workshops and conference presentations that address the proven and practices of civic education and Illinois social science standards.  Regularly visit our Professional Development Calendar for new opportunities to enhance your classroom practice.

12/11 - inquirED - Using Inquiry in Social Studies (Online)

1/13 - DuPage Regional Office of Education - Current and Controversial Issue Discussions in the Classroom - The Guardians of Democracy Bronze Certified Educator Badge (Online)
1/23 - DuPage Regional Office of Education - Administrator Academy:  Exploring the New Illinois Social Studies and Civic Requirements K-12 (Wheaton, IL)
1/24 - Professional Development Alliance - Civics in the Middle: The Illinois Social Science Standards & Civics Requirement 6-8 (Joliet, IL)
1/28 - Lake County ROE 34 - Putting Civics in the Middle: The Illinois Social Science Standards and Civics Requirement 6-8 (Grayslake, IL)

2/27 - Rock Island County ROE - Putting Civics in the Middle: The Illinois Social Science Standards and Civics Requirement 6-8 (Moline, IL)


12/9 - Raising Student Achievement Conference - Hands-On Civics: Practical Approaches to Teaching and Learning (Schaumburg, IL)
12/10 - Raising Student Achievement Conference - #CivicsInTheMiddle: The 6-8 Civics Mandate (Schaumburg, IL)


2/7 - ROE 17 McClean County - Hindsight is 2020: Middle and High School Teacher Symposium - History/Social Sciences (Normal, IL)

It is never too early to plan for summer professional development. Our friends at the Council for Social Studies State Supervisors have created this spreadsheet of summer 2020 social studies professional development opportunities for your consideration.  Be sure to share it with a friend!

#CivicsInTheMiddle Featured Resource:  #Census2020 Toolkit

The stakes could not be higher for Illinois in the upcoming census, as Dr. Shawn Healy, Director fo the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Democracy Program, shared in a blog post almost a year ago, “According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, $800 billion of federal funding supporting 300 programs is appropriated annually to states based on census counts. Due to Illinois’ undercount in 2010, the state lost $952 per person of federal funding. In 2015 alone, Illinois lost $122 million for every 1% of the population we failed to count.”

You can play a critical role in helping all stakeholders in your community to understand the importance of an accurate count and how to navigate difficult questions students, staff and parents may have concerning participation.  We created an inquiry-based lesson plan around the essential question, “How does your community count on YOU?” The lesson plan is designed to equip your students to take informed action to support an accurate count in your region. The inquiry addresses the following supporting questions using a variety of interactive strategies that reflect all of the proven practices of civic education embedded in the 6-12 civics mandate.

  • What is the purpose of the census and how does it “count” or impact my community?
  • How do numbers + lines = power for my community?
  • What are the challenges to an accurate count in my community?
  • What actions can I take to make sure my community "counts”?

Here are a few more resources you might consider adding to your toolbox to help students understand the importance of #Census2020.

#CivicsInTheMiddle Resources:  HELP!  Where should I start?  

This month, we have asked our Civics Instructional Coaches to share their “Civics 101” resources with teachers who will be teaching middle school civics for the first time this fall to meet the requirements of the mandate.  

Jason Artman- Bureau, Henry, LaSalle, Marshall, Mason, Peoria, Putnam, Stark, Tazewell & Woodford counties:  I turn to the Student Government Affairs Program for free access to current and societal issues. Each monthly newsletter features two issues written in a non-partisan way and includes statements from government officials on either side of the issue. I use them as an opposing view assignment for my students to choose a side and describe how the issue could impact them or the people around them. The December newsletter features debates over cryptocurrency and whether disabled people should receive a sub-minimum wage.

Alia Bluemlein- North Cook,  Lake,  McHenry,  Winnebago & Boone counties: Incorporating civics into middle school classrooms may sound daunting, but there are so many resources to choose from and adapt into specific classrooms and curriculums, that it becomes more of a search for the best. One of the best resources that I have used and adapted in middle school is the Bill of Rights Institute. I love the section entitled “Teaching with Current Events.”

Candace Fikis-West Cook,  DeKalb, Kane, & DuPage counties: I began teaching Government for the first time a few years ago after over a decade break from it and, while I still remembered some of the content, I needed a good refresher. One of the resources I turned to was the Crash Course video series. It has 50 different government and political topics that helped me brush up on my content knowledge.  They can also be a good source to supplement resources in your classroom.  The videos go pretty fast, so when I use it with my students, it is more for review after we have studied the content.

Tracy Freeman- Champaign, DeWitt, Ford, Livingston, Logan, Macon, McLean, Piatt & Vermillion counties: One of the first steps to teaching civics in middle school is to jump in and do it! Find lessons that blend with your teaching style and classroom atmosphere. All of the resources listed above are amazing and I would add the iCivics website. A lot of interactive things for students to do as well as short condensed readings for both teachers and students. Reach out to others teaching well-defined ideas, and use what mixes in your classroom.

Chris Johnson- Adams, Brown, Cass, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler, Scott & Warren counties: A great way to get a discussion started is to talk about laws and how they impact student rights at school. My go-to resource for anything law related is Street Law and their Landmark Supreme Court Cases page. Each case has reading and teaching resources available that range from middle school to high school. These cases are a great opportunity to start a conversation and a discussion about rights and how they apply to our students today. 

Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz- Wayne, Edwards, Wabash, White, Hamilton, Saline, Gallatin, Hardin, and Pope, Franklin, Williamson, Johnson, Massac, Shelby, Moultrie, Douglas, Coles, Cumberland, Clark, Edgar,  Jasper, Crawford, Clay, Richland & Lawrence counties: One of the challenges that civics teachers face is teaching controversial and current events, and many teachers find this a bit scary, especially as new courses and curriculum are introduced! My go-to for preparing myself and my students for this comes from Facing History and Ourselves, which has excellent go-to lesson plans as well as ideas and support for creating a classroom climate in which difficult and controversial topics can be discussed in meaningful and rigorous ways. The whole site is rich with resources, and I’d particularly recommend their Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in a Digital Age curriculum as an example of how to structure and teach controversial issues. (It is also rich in news literacy lesson plans.) 

Patty West- Bond, Calhoun, Christian, Effingham, Fayette, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Menard, Montgomery & Sangamon counties: Incorporating civics into an existing curriculum can seem like an overwhelming task. This article addresses the concerns of middle school teachers and provides a step-by-step approach for reviewing the curriculum and creating connections to current world events. I found this article from Social Education to be very helpful as I begin to make connections to my World History class and the civics standards I am responsible for addressing. 
Get Connected to Our New Civics Instructional Coaches

In order to facilitate the implementation of legislation concerning a new middle school civics course requirement and sustain the support of the high school civics requirement, the McCormick Foundation has employed Civics Instructional Coaches to represent ten designated areas throughout Illinois.

Civics Instructional Coaches will facilitate professional development for middle and high school civics/social studies teachers in their respective regions. Civics Coaches will also be responsible for ongoing engagement with Regional Offices of Education, teachers, schools, districts, and pre-service programs in their area via newsletters, social media engagement, workshops, and conference presentations throughout the school year.

If you would like to receive a free, monthly newsletter designed specifically for your region of Illinois, please complete this form. Your regional civic instructional coach will reach out to you to support your classroom in this important work.

At, we endeavor to link educators with resources that address essential questions with proven strategies and tools to prepare students for college, career, and civic life. This monthly newsletter provides civic educators with timely professional development opportunities, classroom resources, and inspiration with #CivicsIsBack success stories. For weekly updates on emerging research on civics, “teachable moments” and related materials, follow our blog.

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