Checks and Balances

As some of you may remember, I’m teaching a critical thinking government class focusing primarily on the US Constitution. I’m getting the bulk of my activity ideas and lesson plans from a terrific site online called EDSITEment! (<— exclamation point not mine. See logo below. I mean, I like the site and all but I’m not exclamation point excited about it).

Click to go to the website

This site has a lot of lesson plans designed for the classroom. My classroom of, um, 6 students isn’t always the right size for some of the larger activities. However, after teaching checks and balances, I was able to use an idea from the site and even expand it a bit to give them a hands on chance to see how it works.

The set up is this: Your class has $10 to spend on a snack. They have to use the methods of government to decide what snack but without a direct vote. It has to go through the channels of government. The key to this is that you have to follow through with what they decide at the end. I didn’t think that part out well enough to consider the creativity of teenagers.

First (this is an expansion from the original idea), create an abbreviated “class constitution” and article 1 of that constitution is “snacks.” Have the kids discuss, debate, and agree on the rules.

Next, divide the students into the 3 branches of government. With 6 kids, I ended up with 2 legislative, 2 executive, and 2 judicial.

The legislative branch must draft and pass a bill about what snack we should get. No one except the legislators get to discuss it. Even if the legislative branch proposes something that goes against your class constitution, let it go. If anyone else pipes in, remind them that they will get a turn with it. When one member of your judicial branch says, “I can’t wait until the bill gets to us so we can strike it down!” before the bill is even written, remind him that #1 Supreme Court decisions are based in law and not based on the fact that the snack idea was his little sister’s idea and #2. the Supreme Court does not see the bill unless the 4th (and often unmentioned) group in the checks and balances set up — the people — bring it to them through a court case.

After they agree and pass the bill, the executive branch can either pass the law or veto it. After a lengthy list of bills, they FINALLY passed it that the snack will be Starbusts, Skittles, and bacon.

Every teenager’s dream. GAG.

After it gets passed by the Executive branch, you — the teacher — must challenge it so that it goes to the court. Either choose something that makes it against the class constitution or just make something up. Frivolous lawsuits aren’t likely to make it to the Supreme Court but we can push a little on this much simplified exercise.

I challenged the snack based on, you guessed it, the lack of nutritional value. I do not think our class should support unhealthy eating habits so I filed suit to require the snack include one healthy item.

In our case, we had a lot of discussion on bias (Dennis doesn’t like Starbursts so he was willing to agree with me in part though not for the right reasons), setting case precedent, and the limits of the court. In the end, they decided that the snack did not violate the class constitution in part or in whole.

And then I was trapped bringing them Skittles, Starburst, and bacon to the next class.

Yeah. It happened.

Gag is right, but this lesson was absolutely brilliant. Just one more reason I’m glad to have great friends to homeschool with!

Haha! And EW! This is so cool, though! It’s like the trail mix project they do in 4-H to teach kids about parliamentary procedure. I love that bacon was the healthy item.


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