As part of our preparation for the Australian Curriculum, we have spent a few weeks focusing on one of the general capabilities or other learning across the curriculum areas. I have been focusing on Civics and Citizenship, one of the other learning across the curriculum areas the Board of Studies added.
What is Civics and Citizenship? When ever I hear it, I think of politics and all things adult related. Something too hard for children to understand.
Well it isn’t. It is much more than that. We live in a democratic country and with that comes rights and responsibilities for all, not just adults.
The Australian Government’s website http://www.civicsandcitizenship.edu.au explores Civics and Citizenship Education as a crucial part of every child’s education. It is about “equipping them with the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions of active and informed citizenship”. Something we value and identify, as being a big part of being Australian. It continues to talk about shared values and attitudes, an area we work really hard to educate our students on and enforce daily in our classrooms. We are lucky to come from a country where these values and attitudes are such a strong part of our culture. As teachers, we want to create citizens that are informed and have the ability to critically reflect on the world around them. We want them to be ACTIVE participants in our democratic country and what better time to start this education but NOW?
I have been working alongside a Year 5 teacher this term to change the way we teach State and Federal Government. It has been a challenge as it is a very big unit to engage students in at the beginning of Year 5. We decided to make it more relevant for the students, we would examine their role as active citizens and what it means to Live in a democratic society.
At the beginning of the unit we invited students to vote on an area they would like to campaign for. They ranged from a large swimming pool for the school to a games day in the classroom. At this point it became very clear what my Action Research would focus on.
How can I help to develop active, informed and empathetic citizens through learning about government?
The classroom teacher and I devised a project where students would campaign about a current issue and decide which of the 3 A’s they were going to focus on: Creating Awareness, Being an Advocate or Taking Action. Suzie Boss talks about the 3A’s here. When video conferencing with her at Project Learning Swap Meet, it struck me how important these areas are for creating active citizens through service learning projects.
After some research on current issues, the students decided Natural Disasters were effecting many Australian’s at this time and this would be an area they would like to focus on. The students voted to help Dunalley Primary School in Tasmania as it was completely demolished in recent bush fires and they students related to their situation.
They set to tasks in groups and together devised a persuasive campaign pitched at the Principal on why they should help Dunalley Primary School. Each group is taking a completely different approach from fundraising money to making a blog with jokes and videos to make them laugh, to creating picture books to help fill their library. The determination and engagement from these students is amazing me. The students can see a real purpose for what they are doing. Their learning about democracy and the role of the government is put into perspective, because of a real life case study to focus on, they are able to make connections. We are half way through the project and I can’t wait to see their finished products.
This is what teaching and learning should be about, all the time. If students ask ‘Why are we learning this? or Why are we doing this?’ and you don’t have answer, rethink what you are doing. I have taught this unit before, but only this time have I felt like it is being taught with justice. Students are making connections and seeing relevance. They are becoming active, informed and empathetic citizens. They are making a difference in other people’s lives, not just their own.
There is no bigger lesson they could get from this project than that!