Academic journal article Social Education

Learning to Legislate in an E-Congress

Academic journal article Social Education

Learning to Legislate in an E-Congress

Article excerpt

AS CLASS OPENS on day one of e-Congress, the teacher moves around the jellied iMac computer lab, giving students an introduction to the new unit. "We've studied the executive branch, and now we are going to move on to the legislative branch," she says. There are no cheers. No one scoots his or her chair in a little closer to the computer in anticipation of what he or she is about to learn. Student response is flat. Are students bored with the topic of Congress? Do they know how this information affects their lives? Are they apathetic about everything related to government? These questions rippled through our minds as the Youth Leadership Initiative premiered e-Congress 2002 during the spring semester.

The Youth Leadership Initiative, a signature component of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, created e-Congress as an innovative resource for social studies teachers. The program introduces technology into civics and government courses through an interactive computer simulation that helps students understand the complexities of the legislative process. As with other model congress experiences, students play the roles of U.S. Congresspersons in the House of Representatives. Their job is to pass legislation. To be successful, they must research contemporary issues, draft original legislation, debate its merits during committee sessions, and work to move their bill to the House floor. In contrast to traditional mock congresses, students use innovative technology throughout the simulation, and they are exposed to new perspectives as they connect with peers from diverse geographic regions.

During this initial year, in which about three thousand students participated, student representatives from sixty-one schools around the country submitted more than eight hundred bills. After a rigorous review by committee members and careful evaluation on the House floor, eleven of those bills survived the final House vote. Topics for successful legislation included H.R. 1326 (Stopping Telemarketers Cold), H.R. 943 (Ocean Disposal Cutdown), and H.R. 1439 (The Prevention of Hate Crimes in America Act). At the conclusion of the session, students could explain the legislative process, but they learned other valuable lessons as well. Sylvia, a high school senior from Virginia, read the legislation passed by her peers and asked with sincerity, "Will these bills really help people?" Sylvia moved beyond the mechanics of passing a bill to the heart of the simulation. Government is real, and being involved in it can make a difference in our lives.

How did she get there?

Participation

Participation in the YLI e-Congress is open and free to middle and high school civics teachers around the country. Teachers simply log on to the Youth Leadership Initiative website at www.youthleadership.net and register their classes.

Given the diversity of school schedules and student needs, the program maximizes flexibility and support for teachers. The simulation requires nine blocked class periods that may be distributed throughout an eight-week session. A pacing guide helps teachers to integrate e-Congress into their curriculum.

Teachers may organize students into small groups to write legislation, or students can work independently depending on their needs and skill levels. It is valuable to give students the maximum time possible to complete the research and writing stages of the process, as time spent in these areas leads to legislation that is more complex and successful. When selecting topics for bills, teachers may direct the choices or students can self-select based on their interest and background knowledge. There is also a variety of supplemental resources provided on-line for teachers to review and use as needed to assist students with their legislative responsibilities. After these instructional decisions are made, teachers are prepared to launch e-Congress. …

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