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Civic Mission


Civics In The Middle- Remote Learning Edition

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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.

Putting First Thing First:  Maslow Before Bloom

COVID-19 has upended many of the routines and traditions that undergird our lives. Teachers have been called upon to create meaningful learning experiences to further develop student knowledge and skills in a homebound environment. We must take care, however, to prioritize and model civic dispositions in our interactions with students. Dispositions like empathy, commitment to the common good, community involvement, and personal responsibility are crucial during this pandemic.   

As a pre-service teacher, we were required to take Educational Psychology 101 where we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. You might remember that there is a hierarchy to this pyramid of needs in that one cannot self actualize, let’s say master content and skills unless they have a firm foundation of having their basic and psychological needs met. There are students who are scared of the unknown right now. Others may be upset because they may miss important milestones like graduation and prom. Some students might know someone who has symptoms of this disease and are living in uncertainty because of the current scarcity of testing.  

COVID-19 is not our fault, but its repercussions in our students’ lives ARE our problem. Those repercussions extend far beyond the traditional content but reverberate in the very core of the pyramid of their needs. To ignore these realities in our students’ lives is to ignore the foundation that must be present for learning to take place.

Here are a few ideas and resources to support you in creating that safe civic space for your students in these troubling times.

  • Put on your own oxygen mask first. This is trite, but a true metaphor for today. Review these blogs from We Are Teachers and iCivics for the support you need to meet the needs of your students.
  • Put Maslow before Bloom. Start your interactions with students with simple questions or bell ringers like, how are you doing? What are some challenges you are facing right now?  How can I help you? You teach human beings, not human doings.  Be there.  Be present.  
  • Your students might reach out to you with questions about COVID-19. The News Literacy Project created a web page to address misinformation about the virus that can be a valuable resource for you.
  • SEL offers a powerful means to explore and express our emotions, build relationships, and support each other – children and adults alike – during this challenging time. CASEL has curated resources designed to support educators, parents, and anyone who works with children. The page will be updated regularly in response to changing conditions.

Remote Learning that Works for You and Your Students

Educators across the state are transitioning their face-to-face instruction to a remote learning protocol. This change is difficult at best and is fraught with issues related to equity, differentiation, and accessibility. It is not ideal. It is important to let go of your normal classroom routines and create a new normal for you and your students at this particular time.

Remote learning can take many forms, it is not one size fits all. Here are some ideas to consider and iterate for your particular situation.

  • Choice Boards: This tool allows students to self-differentiate and choose from a menu of activities to meet learning objectives. The setup of a choice board usually includes nine activities that can be done by students. Each activity is assigned a point value based on the level of difficulty or work required to complete it. Students must acquire a certain number of points by doing activities of their choice.
  • Week at a Glance Calendar: A Week-at-a-Glance document houses all of the assignments for the week. It provides a “big picture” of the week that allows students and parents to design their day and week with this anchor document. Where applicable, you can embed links to videos, assignments, and other documents. 
  • Collaborating with Colleagues: One of our Regional Civics Instructional Coaches, Chris Johnson, collaborated with a colleague who teaches Language Arts to engage their students in a lesson on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The co-created lesson meets both ELA and Civics learning standards and provides a deeper learning opportunity.
  • Judiciously Use Virtual Meetings: I fully subscribe to the adage to never have a meeting for items that can be expressed in an email. Use virtual apps like Google Hangout and Zoom with the intention to connect with students, answer questions, and engage in dialogue. Students should NOT be spending 5-plus hours a day in front of a computer screen in any circumstance.
  • Packets: Some of us have no other recourse than to send work or “packets” home to students for remote learning. Here is a blog from Cult of Pedagogy called “Frikin’ Packets” that explores how to go beyond “busy work” and mindfully think about how to use this protocol.
Virtual Learning Tools 

Many schools will be engaging in e-learning over the next few weeks.  Some districts are leading this charge, having used one to one devices for the past several years in an ISBE pilot program to deliver instruction during emergency closures.
This is NOT the time to try out all of the new tech tools you have been curious about.  This will only add extra stress on you AND your students as you try to navigate the nuances and glitches of new technologies. Start with what you and your students know.  

If you decide to try something new, try one thing at a time and look for supplemental tutorials and resources that can support both you and your students. Here are some to start with: 
  • New EdTech Classroom has several YouTube videos to help you navigate. You might want to start with How to Teach Remotely Using a Google Slides HyperDoc or How to Teach Remotely Using Flipgrid.
  • There are several Chrome extensions to support struggling learners and special needs.
  • Grackle Docs is free for education through June 30th. This tool makes documents from Google Suite accessible to meet legal requirements for Sections 504 & 508, ADA, and Title II compliance.
  • Screencastify and Loom can be used to create a slide deck or a document to teach a lesson. You can record yourself narrating the slides or documents and share the video with students.
  • Edpuzzle allows you to insert questions or audio notes in a video recording. As students watch the video, the questions or notes appear and either play your message or ask them to answer a question. On the dashboard, you can check students’ responses if you have embedded a question. 
  • Talking Points is a free application that allows educators to reach out to students’ families in their native language.
Virtual PD: Election 2020 End Game

The new year brings an opportunity to use the upcoming elections to engage students in the proven practices of civic education outlined in 6-12th grade civic course mandates. will provide a plethora of resources and lesson plans to support this important work. Join us on April 21st from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. for an afterschool webinar that delves into the End Game with Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Healy will examine the results of the primaries and caucuses, the remaining candidates, polling data, Illinois-specific dynamics, and other developments to discuss with your students. The webinar will conclude with classroom resources you can use with your students to engage them in current and societal issue discussions, simulations of democratic processes, and service-learning during this election year.

Register today for this third in a series of webinars to support #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms in this election year. Those who register can join live, or receive a link to view the recorded presentation and accompanying resources.  

Engaging Student Voice in Times of Crisis: Journaling for Informed Action

You and your students are living through history right now. Consider having them keep a journal of their observations, questions, experiences, and challenges. Students can express their lived experiences in words, images, or another medium. They are writing the history others will learn from. In the short run, this can be an important formative assessment tool for you to use to calibrate your teaching. In the long run, these lived experiences can help your students take informed action to inform civil society and policymakers in adjusting protocols and support for future events.

These journals can take many forms and you can give students options of how to best express themselves.  Here are some ideas you can share.

  • Daily Bell Ringers/Exit Slips: Our Regional Civics Instructional Coach, Candace Fikis explains, “I am using Google Classroom to post a question as an assignment to facilitate discussions about what is occurring.  Finding a current topic, for example, ‘Should private businesses like restaurants be forced to close for the common good?’”
  • Sketch Notes: Also known as visual notes, sketch notetaking is a creative and graphic process through which a student can record their thoughts with the use of illustrations, symbols, structures, and texts.
  • Photo Journal: Students can collect images that represent their experience and share via slideshows.
  • Blogs: Blogs are a published daily diary in which authors express their thoughts, observations, and ideas with an authentic audience. Student blogs can be securely published for peer to peer feedback.
  • Vlogs: Vlogs are very similar to blogs, but the medium of expression is a video instead of text. It enables students to share thoughts, feelings, and information visually.
  • Podcasts: Students can create an audio journal or conduct interviews with others to express their experiences with tools as simple as a smartphone.
  • Record interviews and conversations for StoryCorps. StoryCorps gives students  the opportunity to record meaningful conversations and archives the recordings at the Library of Congress
Classroom Resources to Support Remote Learning 

We asked our Illinois Civics Instruction Coaches to share tools they are using to support remote learning. Here are some of their ideas.

Jason Artman - The News Literacy Project opened its Checkology subscription-based service to teachers and parents for the remainder of the school year. The package is twelve interactive lessons building on news literacy skills. Region: Bureau, Henry, LaSalle, Marshall, Mason, Peoria, Putnam, Stark, Tazewell, and Woodford CountiesRegion: Bureau, Henry, LaSalle, Marshall, Mason, Peoria, Putnam, Stark, Tazewell & Woodford Counties

Alia Bluemlein - I have enjoyed using NewsELA for the primary source documents they have available at easy to read Lexile levels, and the awesome formative checks they have linked as “quizzes.” These are easily adapted into a Google Form for a quick-check post read, or to practice reading like historians/deepen content-area literacy.  Region: Boone, Northern Cook, Lake, McHenry,  & Winnebago Counties

Candace Fikis - iCivics has so many resources for so many topics and for so many age groups. I think it is one of the best to use during this e-learning time. I love their interactive games, which get students learning at home and a break from the reading and worksheets. They are more likely to do it. Region: Southern Cook, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee, Kendall & Will Counties 

Chris Johnson
:  Teachers can now access Quizlet Teacher for free through the end of June. Post vocabulary, key terms or influential people and track class progress as they learn. Works easily with your learning management systems. Region: Adams, Brown, Cass, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler, Scott, and Warren Counties

Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz-  Infodemic is a self-paced quick news literacy exercise that students can use linked to misinformation about the COVID-19 virus. It assists students in applying the SIFT method that the News LIteracy Project also employs. Region: Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Lawrence, Massac, Moultrie, Pope, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Wabash, Wayne & White Counties

Patty West
- Mr. Nussbaum Learning + Fun has articles and activities about the branches of government. It also has resources for many history and geography topics. Region: Bond, Calhoun, Christian, Effingham, Fayette, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Menard, Montgomery, and Sangamon Counties

Matt Wood-
Flipgrid is a great tool for eLearning classes. If you want to keep up the climate of open academic discussions this tool can help facilitate that continued growth. Use any of the above articles to get the conversation started or use the tool to keep in touch with the kids. Region: Central Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, and Kane Counties 

Our colleagues in other states have been generous in sharing curated lists of resources and here are a few of our favorites:

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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