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The City Journals

Fifth-grade online students learn civics lesson—in time for elections

Nov 17, 2020 12:31PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

While many Americans will be voting for a new president, some Canyons School District fifth-graders will be following along, understanding the process a little bit better, thanks to their online teacher Kathy Smith.

Smith introduced topics surrounding the election while teaching 47 students from three different elementary schools—Altara and Sandy elementaries in Sandy, and Bella Vista Elementary in Cottonwood Heights.

“The students are turning 11 this year, so that means they will have one more presidential election cycle after this year until they’ll be voting,” she said. “It’s important that we start the conversation of what it looks like.”

Smith set the ground rules early. The first discussion was about the process of electing the president, not this election nor its candidates.  

This also follows with Canyons’ policy committee that sent out a memo on Sept. 15 which said, “Multiple policies in Canyons School District reflect the importance of political neutrality in the public school classroom and maintaining an environment free from private interests or political agendas.”

As part of her morning meeting, Smith posed the discussion question.

“I started with ‘how do we elect a president,’ and there were some great answers,” she said.

The replies ranged from “I think the candidate who wants to be elected president wants to tell people the direction to take the country,” to “I think the candidate wants to make the world a better place.”

“It was good to hear them think about the person being able to direct policy and moving the country in positive ways to almost a service-component. We also talked about how the most votes don’t necessarily mean that person becomes president since we have the electoral college,” Smith said.

The electoral college, the nomination process, the history of the different political parties, the history of voting, how to vote, and other topics Smith planned to cover during five or six basic lessons before the election. The lessons tie into the fifth-grade history core curriculum that surveys early explorers to the Thirteen Colonies to the early 1900s.

“We talk about concepts during those early years of our country and the fundamental understanding how our country works,” she said.

While this isn’t the first time Smith has talked about these topics to her fifth-graders, it is the first time she has taught them online.

“It’s a little tricky,” she said. “When you’re in-person, we can have a discussion with everyone there. When we meet online, they electronically raise their hand or respond in a chat to each other. It’s just a little harder, but it’s fun to see their abilities develop to mute and unmute and to respect each other when while speaking. It’s been good to introduce student to these concepts; it’s been an active discussion.”

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