Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Turning Students into Senators: Using Special Tablets in a Simulated Senate Chamber Built in Boston, Classes Can Learn Not Just the Facts of Government, but How It Feels to Negotiate and Make Big Decisions

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Turning Students into Senators: Using Special Tablets in a Simulated Senate Chamber Built in Boston, Classes Can Learn Not Just the Facts of Government, but How It Feels to Negotiate and Make Big Decisions

Article excerpt

Michael K. Milton teaches freshman and junior social studies at Burlington High School (MA). He also serves as a member of the Teacher Advisory Board of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, which has combined tablets with a simulated Senate chamber to create Senate Immersion Modules (SIMs) designed to teach students how the legislature works. In this Q&A, he shares what students can learn from getting out of the classroom and into the Senate.

THE Journal: What was your pedagogical goal in using the modules?

Michael K. Milton: There are some great lessons on the content of the SIMs that teachers can adapt and use prior to and after attending, but the purpose for the simulation is not to necessarily learn content, but rather to interpret, evaluate, argue and make decisions. For instance, while one of the SIMs is about the Compromise of 1850 and you do learn the major causes of it, in your Senate role you are presented with information and have to decide what values are most important to you and what are you willing to negotiate. That is the crux of the simulation.

THE Journal: How does the process work?

Milton: First, students enter a replica of the U.S. Senate. It is gorgeous. Photos do not do it justice. Then students take a seat in the chamber, where there is a tablet. Depending on the module (historic versus modern) on their tablets participants are either given a historical senator or take a "Senate Selfie." (The "Senate Selfies" are quite fun to take.)

From there, the president pro tempore (our main guide) swears in the new senators and sets the stage of the debate. That is my favorite part. Students actually take the oath of office. After some framing of the topic at hand, the new senators are whisked away to different committees. Some committees build the bill while others decide whether (or not) to appoint various nominees for office. This demonstrates the varied work of the Senate. After some horse-trading on amendments to the bill, the Senate gathers again to listen to students debate particular parts of the bill. …

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