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Civic Mission


Civics In The Middle

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A special edition 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 in a remote learning environment.

Be Present, Listen and Refuse to be Silent

The events of this month surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the public outcry that followed has many of us grappling with what we can do to be part of the solution and be an upstander for justice, equity, anti-racism, and progress. This is a lot for students to process, especially in isolation during a pandemic fraught with its uncertainty and fears. Students may reach out to you with questions, concerns, anger, frustration, and grief.

As educators, we have a responsibility to prioritize our students' lived experiences in informing the essential questions we address in our curriculum. The proven practices mandated in the middle and high school civics requirement as well as the new Illinois social studies standards support such endeavors. We do not have all of the answers, but we can be present for our students, listen to their concerns, and refuse to be silent. And in these exchanges, we can model for our students that it is okay to be upset and scared while discussing what we can do in our communities to take informed action for systemic change.

Educators do not need to tread these waters alone. Many civic learning partners have created supports for these turbulent times.

Civics In The Middle Online Summer PD Series
It is not too late to register for the second half of the summer PD series to support the 6-12 civics mandates. Join the McCormick Foundation and the Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches for a series of webinars designed to enhance teacher practice with the content knowledge and proven practices of civic education.

Each session takes place on Wednesday morning from 9:30–10:30 a.m. and includes a content expert presentation on a select topic and a question and answer session with Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches. Educators can join live to interact with hosts and ask questions or watch a recording of each session.  

Each webinar is free, and participants may elect to earn two PD credits per webinar for completing a post-webinar application activity.

If you missed our June webinars on the Understanding the Illinois Civics Mandates, Current and Controversial Issue Discussions, Simulations of Democratic Processes, or Service Learning through Informed Action, visit our Curriculum Design Toolkit for a webinar recording and resources around each topic.

A description for upcoming webinars and information to register for the free professional development credits through the DuPage Regional Office of Education is available through the registration links below.

Civics in the Middle Online PD Schedule

This PD opportunity is made possible by the generous support of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Democracy Program.

New Resource:  New Resource:  Illinois Civics Curriculum Design Toolkit

Are you looking for new resources to enhance your civics classroom? Do you need materials to meet the new middle school civics mandate? Our new Curriculum Design Toolkit is a great place to start. We collected resources for civic learning partners from across the nation to connect you with the best content and pedagogy.

The Curriculum Design Toolkit is organized, for ease of use, into the following sections:

  • Review the Requirements of the Civics Mandate
  • Conduct a Civic Audit of Your Curriculum
  • Create a Climate for Civic Learning
  • Current and Controversial Issue Discussions
  • Simulations of Democratic Processes
  • Service Learning through Informed Action
  • Direct Instruction of Democratic Institutions

Check back often as resources are added weekly.

Free PD Opportunities from the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is joining to provide two online professional development opportunities in July to meet the middle school civics and LGBTQ+ history mandates. Each opening is free.  Explicit connections will be made to the Illinois Social Science Standards, and the Illinois Civics mandates Social Emotional Learning Competencies and the Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching. Participants may earn three professional development credits for completing a post-webinar application activity. One credit hour will be given to participants who do not complete the supplemental activity. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020, 9:30–11:00 a.m., Grades 6-12

The Illinois Civics Mandate, newly expanded to include grades 6-8, provides ample opportunities to draw from the lessons of history to teach students how to be informed, engaged citizens. In this workshop, participants will explore the systematic efforts undertaken in Nazi Germany to strip Jewish citizens of their civil, economic, and political rights. Participants will examine this methodical dehumanization, which exploited and deepened divisions in German society in the years before World War II. Educators will consider what actions ordinary people took to resist—and what factors led others to remain bystanders. We will explore how to bring the lessons of the past into the present.  Where do we see opportunities today to get involved to protect rights that are being threatened, and what positive actions can students take to address the essential question, "What role do individuals and institutions play in confronting injustice?" 


Tuesday, July 21, 2020, 9:30–11:00 a.m., Grades 6-12

Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, the state of Illinois will require public schools to teach the role and contributions of LGBTQ+ people in Illinois and US history.  As educators, this presents an opportunity to incorporate new narratives and resources into our efforts to give the past meaning for our students. In this workshop, participants will explore oral histories as essential tools in teaching the LGBTQ+ experience and develop strategies to help students develop both a historical and a human understanding of this complex history. Experience free resources and lesson plans that have students explore the essential question, "How should we live together?"  

Join our #CivicsInTheMiddle Book Club

Last month, our Civics Instructional Coaches shared their picks for civics and non-civics summer reading. This month, we would like to invite you to read a book with us.  Our pick is Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson.

Good Reads describes the book as:

Many of the political issues we struggle with today have their roots in the US Constitution.  Husband-and-wife team Cynthia and Sanford Levinson take readers back to the creation of this historic document and discuss how contemporary problems were first introduced--then they offer possible solutions. Think Electoral College, gerrymandering, even the Senate. Many of us take these features in our system for granted. But they came about through haggling in an overheated room in 1787, and we're still experiencing the ramifications.

Each chapter in this timely and thoughtful exploration of the Constitution's creation begins with a story--all but one of them true--that connects directly back to a section of the document that forms the basis of our society and government. From the award-winning team, Cynthia Levinson, children's book author, and Sanford Levinson, constitutional law scholar, Fault Lines in the Constitution, will encourage exploration and discussion from young and old readers alike.

The Instructional Coaching Team picked Fault Lines because its contents align with all four of the proven practices of civic education mandated in both the middle and high school civics mandates. In addition, this is a book written for classroom use. We believe the discussion around the content of the book will help all of us better prepare students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of civic engagement.

Our inaugural book club chat will take place on Friday, July 31, from 10:00- 11:00 a.m. via Zoom. Participants can elect to earn five PD hours from the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition for completing a pre and post book club chat activity. Participants must provide their own book. Register today!

New Lesson Plans on Judicial Review and Federalism

Recently, ten Illinois educators earned their Gold Guardians of Democracy Micro-Credential Badge in the Proven Practice of Current and Controversial Issue Discussions. This badge recognizes the successful completion of advanced extension work, demonstrating competency in using deliberations in the classroom and certifies that theses recipients can successfully create, edit, and implement a lesson plan and student reflection.

Over the next months, we will share the lesson plans created and tested by our "golden" educators. July features lessons by Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, an Illinois Civics Instructional Coach and the social science teaching coordinator and an associate professor of history at Eastern Illinois University and Clara Mattheessen, a high school social studies teacher at A-C Central CUSD#262.

Dr. Laughlin-Schultz lesson tackles the recent United States Supreme Court case Flowers v. Mississippi that focused on racial discrimination in jury selection. The lesson is differentiated for middle and high school classrooms around the essential question, "Is Justice Blind?" Ms. Mattheessen's lesson plan is differentiated for use in the classroom or online as students explore current events to discuss Federal Responsibility in Times of Crisis.

For more lesson plans aligned to the Illinois Civics mandates and the Illinois Social Science standards, visit our website. Visit the Guardians of Democracy website for more information about earning you micro-credentials in the proven practices in civic education.

Ideas for Engaging and Motivating Students Next School Year

Details are yet to fully emerge for the 2020-21 school year. While recent news from the Illinois State Board of Education points to a desire to return to the classroom with safety protocols in place, many educators are facing the possibility of revisiting remote learning in some form during the school year.

We asked our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches to reflect on their experiences this past spring to share a success in some arena of their professional practice in relation to engaging and motivating students in a virtual learning environment. Here are some of their responses.

Alia Bluemlein: In the three courses I teach, something that I implemented this spring during distance learning was Feel Good Fridays. Outside of the curriculum, outside of discussing COVID-19, I felt like my students needed some social-emotional lessons and time and space to reflect. Each Friday, the "lesson" looked a little different- some were more in-depth and required more time, some merely a reflective component. These activities garnered more engagement and feedback through conversations than any other activities I did. Students who had not completed any content-related work were often the first to participate. Region: Boone, Northern Cook, Lake, McHenry,  and Winnebago Counties

Candace Fikis- For those using Chromebooks and Google Classroom, Google Meets worked better than Zoom in many cases for online discussions because of compatibility and connected directly through Google Classroom.  Students appreciated "seeing" each other.  I am hoping more features (like Zoom has) get developed this summer. Using the discussion boards on Google Classroom kept students engaged with their peers.  Also using Loom to create videos so students could "see" me and I used it for the students to create videos. Region: Southern Cook, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee, Kendall & Will Counties 

Tracy Freeman: I had students utilize choice in analyzing a "movement".  This started as part of a "taking informed action" project. Students examined the hashtag movement (using materials from the Anti-Defamation League). The kids took off looking at different movements and whether or not # movements work. Students had to define "success" in bringing about social change and then apply their definition to their movement. This was so successful as students engaged each other in probing "what is a success" and then critiques of their application. The student to student dialogue was some of the best this class had the entire first 9 weeks together.  Gave me hope for civil discourse in the future!!
Region: Champaign, DeWitt, Ford, Livingston, Logan, Macon, McLean, Piatt & Vermillion Counties

Chris Johnson: I've used a mix of Zoom and Google Meets with my students during our remote learning. One successful activity with my AP Gov class was "Java with Johnson" where we would meet on Zoom/Hangouts for half an hour and talk about a predetermined topic. As we got into May, this focused more and more on test-prep but sometimes we would discuss an article, current events, or I would just let the students talk about what was going on in their lives. Meetings were short (30 min or so), students were very engaged, and numbers varied from 3-9 students (I had 11 active students in the class). I would like to continue this with my other classes and use it as a low-stress way to talk about current events. One thing I would like to add going forward is a reflective portion. 

For those holding meetings with larger numbers of students, Google Classroom has a Classroom Student Selector which will select a student from your roster. It is a nice tool as it will make sure each student is selected but do so in a more random manner. It runs using your Android/iOS device, instructions are attached. This is a nice way to engage students in larger settings during video calls in a fair manner. Region: Adams, Brown, Cass, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler, Scott & Warren Counties

Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz:  I was out of the classroom and on leave this spring, but something I am eager to try in the online courses I will be teaching in fall is using FlipGrid both for student introductions and for quick presentations and responses. I used it in two learning settings this spring and found it full of potential. My son used it for his own remote learning work - to make a brief presentation and to watch and engage with others - and in a fourth-grade curriculum, I am now observing, students are using it to engage with each other and to ask questions of a guest speaker who then answers. About ? of my students engage with online learning solely with their phones, and the nice thing Flipgrid is that it works perfectly well with only a phone as a device. I imagine using it for brief presentations and summaries from students who have done breakout discussions as well as for introductions - I think the video aspect will help with rapport building in a class that does not begin face-to-face in particular. If this works, it will be unlike other successes/experiences in that I am accustomed to being able to build classroom community and rapport face to face before we move into a discussion of current, controversial, and hard historical events - that is the issue I am most concerned about for fall online learning, how to build rapport with students I have never met in real life. Region: Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Lawrence, Massac, Moultrie, Pope, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Wabash, Wayne & White Counties

Matt Wood: The Gather App offers conversation starters that "help explore identity, celebrate diversity, embrace empathy, and be an ally for yourself and others. These can be used to kick off Zoom/Google classrooms."

I found Flipgrid and Kialo were good for building discussion skills. I also found my old friend, EDpuzzle was still an effective tool, at least in giving kids something familiar during these strange times. My successes were unconventional ones, but they should be beneficial to my future approaches. Region: Central Cook, DeKalb, DuPage & Kane Counties 

Become an Illinois Democracy School

Illinois Democracy Schools make a schoolwide commitment to strengthening civic learning practices across disciplines as well as the organizational culture to sustain those practices. The McCormick Foundation is in the process of recruiting new high schools for the fall that are interested in pursuing recognition. For more information, please contact Sonia Mathew.


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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