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Civic Mission


Civics In The Middle

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A 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.

What Comes Next? Minding the Gap Until Inauguration Day

After an unprecedented election season, #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms are still grappling with questions over what comes next between now and inauguration day. curated Post Election Resources from civic learning partners like Street Law (see right) to help answer these questions, including:

  • What happens before, during, and after votes are cast to ensure free and fair elections?
  • What strategies can I use to discuss the results with my students?
  • Did the youth vote make a difference?
  • How can I address allegations of voter fraud and suppression?
  • What role might courts play in settling the election results?
  • What is a concession speech?
  • How can I provide my students with a deeper understanding of the Electoral College?
  • What is a "faithless elector?"
  • How is the peaceful transfer of power designed to work?
  • What does it mean to be a “lame duck”?
  • How do presidential pardons work?
  • How does the Presidential Cabinet function?
The Post Election Resources page is updated often, so check back as current events pose new questions.

Earn Your Civic Microcredentials:  Become a Guardian of Democracy Educator partnered with the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida to provide educators the opportunity to earn 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.

Reflections from past participants include:

"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

"I used to think that there were many 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

"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 a rural high school
The winter cohort will begin on January 5th. Educators can express their interest at the Guardians of Democracy homepage. Those who complete the 5-week online course will earn a Bronze Certified Guardian of Democracy Educator badge via Badgr and the University of Central Florida Center for Distributive Learning. Participants are also eligible for 15 PD hours through the Illinois Civic Mission coalition for FREE. Graduate credit is available through the University of St. Francis for completing a three-course series.

Additional courses on Simulations of Democratic Processes and Taking Informed Action Through Service Learning will be offered later in the year. Register through the Guardians of Democracy homepage.

Every Teacher is a Civics Teacher- Civics Across the Curriculum Series

The Democracy Schools Network is hosting a webinar series centered on the various elements of Democracy Schools. This series's theme is “Every Teacher is a Civics Teacher: Best Practices for Civic Learning and Organizational Supports.” There is a kick-off discussion on Thursday, December 3rd, and subsequent sessions will occur from 4-5 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of the month from January until April 2021.
A panel discussion will kick off the series that explores the intersections of civic learning, vision and leadership, and school climate. Panelists include:
  • Nicole Beechum, Senior Research Analyst, University of Chicago Consortium on School Research 
  • Alejandra Frausto, Project-Based Learning Manager, Chicago Public Schools Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement
  • Eileen McMahon, Principal, Maine West High School
Educators, administrators, and students are welcome to attend.  Registration information is available on the Professional Development calendar.

Teach2020 Webinar: Is it time to revisit our system of checks and balances?

Is it time to reset our system of checks and balances? Join and Dr. Steven D. Schwinn on Wednesday, December 9, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. CT to explore this essential question. Participants will be connected to free resources to enhance their classroom practice aligned with the Illinois Social Science standards and civics course requirements and earn 2 PDH for participating in the webinar and completing a reflection activity. Educators can register for the event on the Professional Development Calendar. Those who cannot attend in person will be sent a recording.

Steven D. Schwinn is a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School, where he teaches constitutional law, comparative constitutional law, and human rights. In addition to teaching, Steve edits the American Constitution Society Annual Supreme Court Review and co-edits the Constitutional Law Professor Blog. Steve’s writings have appeared in various law journals and popular media, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Progressive, and SCOTUSblog. He regularly writes for the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases. He frequently comments in the media and regularly participates in a variety of civics education programs.

Civics Unplugged Student Fellowship

Civics Unplugged launched the application for the Civics Unplugged Fellowship 2021—a 6-month civic leadership program that empowers high school students representing every region of the U.S. with the tools, training, and community to reform and rebuild American democracy. The program is entirely free, virtual and runs from January to July 2021. Click here to apply or here to nominate a young civic superhero. Applications are due December 15th, but CU prioritizes applicants who apply early since Fellowship slots are limited! If you have questions, please contact CU's Chief Program Officer, Nick Delis, at

Nominate a Student for the 2021 ABA Virtual National Civics & Law Academy

Do you know a high school student with...
  • An interest in law or government 
  • Potential for leadership
  • A commitment to social causes 
  • But without a way to channel those energies?
If so, the American Bar Association's National Civics and Law Academy (NCLA) may be the perfect opportunity to inspire them and learn about the legal profession!

The ABA NCLA provides a special educational opportunity for a select group of high school students to visit the nation’s capital to learn about the law, government, and the justice system in the United States. Students examine public policy issues from diverse perspectives, develop citizenship and leadership skills, and meet peers from across the nation. Teachers play an essential role in identifying and nominating promising students who will benefit from this program and become the next generation of leaders and lawyers. For 2021, the NCLA will use a virtual format to give high school students a unique opportunity to interact closely with leaders in law and government through a series of engaging online conversations with and lawyers and leaders in government from across the country. The 2021 NCLA will run from late February through early April. 

How do I nominate a student?
First, talk with the student(s) you want to nominate to ensure their interest and availability. Complete this brief online form with the student’s relevant information. We will follow up with you to let you know if your student was selected and the next steps. Student nominations should be completed by December 15th, 2020.
Help Wanted:  Join the iCivics Educator Network

iCivics is looking for educators to join their Educator Network.  Amber Coleman Mortley explains,  “At iCivics, we put in countless hours of care to center the needs of our educators and their students. The iCivics Educator Network sits at the center of this effort. As iCivics’ Director of Social Engagement, my goal is to support Educator Network members in their professional growth, connecting them, and facilitating space for members to provide invaluable feedback to our staff.”

Several of the Instructional Coaches are part of the iCivics network. There are many perks to joining, including:
  • Beta testing new games and resources, providing valuable direct feedback
  • Deeper professional development on existing iCivics resources
  • Opportunities to co-present at conferences with iCivics staff
  • iCivics swag
If you would like to join the iCivics Educator Network, complete this application on or before December 7th, 2020.

Help Wanted:  Pilot Teachers for Legal Life Skills Lessons

Street Law is seeking to pilot an exciting new program, "Legal Life Skills for the Classroom." The pilot will run January through June 2021, and participants will receive a stipend and free 20-lesson set of Legal Life Skills lessons. Project lessons may include:
  • Traffic Stops: Your Rights and Responsibilities
  • Rights and Responsibilities in a Workplace
  • Avoiding and Resolving Credit Problems
  • What does a good citizen know, believe, and do?
This project is open to high school teachers who believe that they can incorporate four Legal Life Skills lessons into instruction between February – June 2021. This may include teachers who teach civics, government, and law, but it may also include those who teach college and career readiness classes, health classes, “life skills” classes, financial literacy classes, and more. 

Street Law encourages teachers to apply whose classes serve high need students, including students who: need post-graduation transition support, are multilingual learners, are from low-income households, are experiencing homelessness, and/or are recent immigrants.

For more information, visit

Videos to Improve Judgement Online

Want to help students become better consumers of online information?  Civic Online Reasoning (COR) from the Stanford History Education Group produced a series of videos that teachers can use to build this critical skill in students.  Topics include:
  • How to use Wikipedia Wisely
  • Sort Fact from Fiction Online with Lateral Reading
  • How to Find Better Information Online:  Click Restraint
Visit the COR website for a complete catalog of videos.

Civic Action Project Online

Are you looking for resources to engage students in meaningful service-learning aligned to the 6-8 and 9-12 civics course requirements?  Whether you are teaching in a traditional, remote, or hybrid classroom, The Constitutional Rights Foundation’s  CAP Online provides students with youth-led webinars featuring special guest speakers and assignments to address an issue that matters to them.

Online sessions include:
  • Why Do I Have to Learn Civics and Government?
  • Standing Up: Strategies of the Civil Rights Movement and Lessons for Today
  • Getting Started on Your Civic Action Project
  • Communicating Your Message for Civic Action
To access CAP Online, log into the CAP website and from your dashboard with the access key "online." If you don't have a free CAP account, you can register now. Questions? Contact or

Updated Landmark Cases by Street Law

In partnership with the Supreme Court Historical Society, was completely overhauled with new cases, updated content, and an improved site structure. now includes:
  • Three brand-new cases: Schenck v. United States (1919), Engel v. Vitale (1962), and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)
  • Brand-new Street Law case study methods and activities
  • Middle and high school level case summaries
  • An improved, student-friendly layout
Be sure to check out the updates as you plan for 2021.

Ordinary Kids Change the World Challenge

The Ordinary Kids Change the World Challenge is inspired by the New York Times bestselling picture book biography series Ordinary People Change the World, by author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos. Do you know a child or classroom, ages 5-8, with the idea that would change the world? Submit their idea to the Ordinary Kids Change the World Challenge before Dec. 31, 2020, for a chance to win the grand prize. One individual winner and one classroom will be chosen to receive $2,500 (and other prizes) to help make their idea a reality.


Our Civic Learning Partners at the News Literacy Project (NLP) are hosting a free virtual NewsLit Camp on December 10th, 2020.  NewsLitCamp is a unique opportunity for middle and high school educators and librarians to connect with journalists in their local newsroom and hone their ability to teach students how to sort fact from fiction. You can listen to educators and journalists who have participated in NewsLitCamp in this brief video.

So, how does NewsLitCamp stand out?
  • NLP asks for your input to make sure they address the most relevant (register now to put in your two cents!).
  • NLP focuses on news literacy education and offers sessions led by reporters and editors, including examining how journalism works, discussing news media bias, and even learning digital forensics.
  • NLP provides participants with a unique opportunity to connect directly with journalists at The Texas Tribune and learn more about helping students navigate our increasingly complex information landscape.
Keep your school year exciting. Register now!

Service Learning Opportunity: KQED Youth Media Challenge

Looking for an audio project that empowers students to share their stories? KQED has two to choose from! The Perspectives and Podcasting challenges allow students to connect with an authentic audience through audio storytelling. Perspectives focus on narrative writing standards that encourage students to develop their own authorial voice. Podcasting gives students the option to go deeper with audio production, layering in interviews, and ambient sound. Learn more about the full slate of new Youth Media Challenges here.

The Let’s Talk About Election 2020 Youth Media Challenge is open through the inauguration, giving students ample opportunity to share their take on political issues that matter to them. The prompt is, “What do your students have to say to the president-elect?” 

You can check out curated student content in the KQED blog series or browse the showcase to explore over 1,000 powerful student commentaries from across the nation.

Resources for Teaching Hard History from Teaching Tolerance
Teaching Tolerance has developed Teaching Hard History, a comprehensive guide for teaching and learning at all grade levels about the role slavery played in developing the United States and how its legacies still influence us today. 

To provide students with a truthful, age-appropriate account of America’s past, Teaching Tolerance’s resources for elementary educators include a first-of-its-kind framework for K–5, along with student texts and teaching tools, and professional development for anyone committed to teaching this hard history with young students. Resources for middle school and high school educators include a 6–12 framework and student-facing videos and primary source texts. High school educators will also find teaching tools and professional development resources.

Strategies for Authentic Assessment of the U.S. Constitution

As the fall semester comes to a close, many educators are re-thinking how to best assess student learning in unprecedented times,  including the traditional U.S. Constitution Test.  Many of us have been thinking about how to more authentically assess student mastery of Constitutional knowledge in light of the instructional shifts of the 6-8 and 9-12 civics course requirements and social studies standards.

The Illinois State Board of Education states:
American patriotism and the principles of representative government, as enunciated in the American Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and the proper use and display of the American flag, shall be taught in all public schools and other educational institutions supported or maintained in whole or in part by public funds. No student shall receive a certificate of graduation without passing a satisfactory examination upon such subjects. 105 ILCS 5/27 3 (from Ch. 122, par. 27 3)

This provision requires that students receive instruction and examination on the U.S. and Illinois State Constitutions - but does NOT mandate a 100-200 question multiple-choice examination of disparate facts. The choice of how to measure student growth is left to local control.

One of the key questions when designing instruction and examination based on the standards and the civics course requirements is, “how will we know students have learned it?” A select-item multiple-choice exercise could be a starting point to measure aspects of knowledge, but what about the skills and dispositions associated with civic engagement? We asked some of our Instructional Coaches ideas they have to “go beyond the bubble” and more authentically assess student learning.  Here are some of their ideas.

Alia Bluemlein:  Instead of a multiple-choice, memorization-based traditional exam, having students focus and practice on specific historical thinking skills (like sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading- see SHEG) and apply them to foundational documents. Teachers could eschew the traditional “pen and paper” exam altogether and focus on some culminating assessment like a portfolio. This could be having students take informed action after learning about local, state, and federal government/federalism through a Constitution Unit. There are many ways to assess students’ knowledge without asking them to regurgitate the 27 amendments or 45 presidents. Region: Boone, Northern Cook, Lake, McHenry,  & Winnebago Counties  

Chris Johnson:  Something I am working on for this winter is to replace traditional tests on amendments with a series of short legal situations based on the tested amendments. Based on their knowledge of the amendments, teams of students hand out court-style rulings on the cases and include majority and dissenting opinion pieces based on the rulings. Situations could be based on key and landmark cases and adapted by grade as needed. Region: Adams, Brown, Cass, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler, Scott & Warren Counties

Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz:  I can imagine creating an assignment where students were asked to annotate the front page (or selected articles/pages) from a recent newspaper, explaining the links to the Constitution. I might use The Washington Post (news) because they have such good coverage of the Supreme Court as well as other branches of government. Is this enough to be a summative assessment? I think if the right articles (and enough of them were chosen), it could be. Sometimes I have students do this kind of thing in history class, explaining the backdrop/historical context for a newspaper with materials learned in class. Region: Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Lawrence, Massac, Moultrie, Pope, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Wabash, Wayne & White Counties

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 #CivicsInTheMiddle success stories. For weekly updates on emerging research on civics, "teachable moments," and related materials, follow our blog.

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