8th Grade Constitutional Debates in Camas

As we wrap up the school year, I find much to celebrate. Last week, I spent two days at Skyridge Middle School in Camas. Their story is one worth telling: Jeanette Manwell, Tom Brossia, and Keri Tomasetti all were Constitutional Connections participants in the first year of the grant teaching at Skyridge. Using their “Screaming Eagles” History Professional Learning Team and the Constitutional Academies and Institutes for support, they decided to take the ambitious step that first year to run “Constitutional Debates” instead of alternative energy debates – a longstanding Camas School District 8th grade exit project. That year, they were the few going against the tide. The following year, Tom and Keri moved over to Liberty Middle School, Lin Detmers joined the team at Skyridge, and all teachers at both schools ran Constitutional Debates. Last week marked the second year of Camas’ constitutional debates – and what I saw was a tremendous leap forward. Over those years, I’ve had the great pleasure to watch a sophisticated change take place: a change in content, in assessment, and in student achievement. Students demonstrated a remarkable depth of understanding and a commitment to rigorous learning. Wow! Lin, Keri, Tom, and Jeanette – and all the other Camas middle school social studies teachers – deserve a ton of praise for their courageous, conscientious efforts.

Student reflections on the project are insightful. A few excerpts:

  • The most important thing I learned from debate was that something as solid as the Constitution can be seen from many different angles. This is important because if the basis of our country can be interpreted so many different (ways), anything can.
  • From debates I learned how to research properly. I learned that it is important to cite your sources and to check who the author/editor of your source is because you need reliable information.
  • From debates I learned a lot more information on this topic from both sides (pro & con.) The info I learned didn’t change my mind, but id did broaden my knowledge on this topic and got me more interested. It was cool to see the way different people think.
  • I learned to believe in both sides (pro and con). It is a good skill because you have to see both sides the way you see the side you believe. That’s how the world works.
  • I never liked the idea of uniforms in school. Looking like everyone else for 180 days a year, boring! However, after this debate, my opinions changed to controversial! The facts about the improvement they make are just too outstanding to let pass by.
  • I learned that the Constitution and the amendments are backing up everything. I used to not think much about it… It never crossed my mind until I started researching.
  • Both sides have really good reasons for why they’re right.
  • All people need to do is research one thing and you would be surprised how many opinions would change.
  • Girls study in groups and have each other’s support, while guys have to fend for themselves and can find themselves lost.

How has Constitutional Connections influenced change in your educational communities – your classrooms, schools, or districts? Let me know!

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