Younger students don’t spend much time thinking about laws, or how they are created. They understand laws as “rules” that are meant be followed, and that the appearance of police officers and general unpleasantness may occur if the rules (laws) aren’t obeyed. It’s not until upper elementary and middle school that students really start to grasp the notion that laws don’t just arbitrarily happen, but are in fact the result of a lengthy process that often takes unexpected twists and turns.
In many American public schools, students begin learning about the branches of government and the legislative process in 8th grade. There are, however, many good lessons, activities, and online sites that present information on the workings of government and how bills become laws for younger students. If you’re of a certain age, your introduction to the legislative process was likely the Schoolhouse Rock video I’m Just a Bill, which is still as good as you remember and widely available on YouTube, SchoolTube, and similar sites. A basic understanding of how bills become laws is critical for civic literacy, and students of all ages should be exposed to age-appropriate resources that explain the journey that bills take on their way to becoming laws. At younger ages, students can learn how bills are proposed and sponsored, while older students’ lessons can incorporate how bills are debated, tweaked, negotiated, and voted upon, as well as how lobbyists can affect the legislative process.
The vast majority of bills never become laws. Many fizzle somewhere along the route for a lack of Congressional support, or are perhaps ultimately vetoed by the President. Learning the legislative process not only exposes students to the workings of Congress and how laws are created, but also allows them to more fully understand how laws help to regulate our society and improve the way we live.
This week’s Joann’s Picks column on the Gateway will focus on the journey that bills must take in order to become U.S. laws. Peggy’s Corner discusses useful Web 2.0 tools for memorizing things such as how a bill becomes a law. In addition, we will be also be featuring many different types of resources and materials for all ages on the legislative process on the Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook so you don’t miss anything.
Discussions will continue on last week’s theme of Sun Safety on both pages. All of the weekly Gateway columns and resource selections are archived on the following blog site: http://thegatewayto21stcenturyskills.blogspot.com/.
Resources covered in this week’s columns include:
From a Bill to a Law
Subjects: Civics, U.S. government
This activity is designed to familiarize students with the legislative process and increase student awareness of their district Representative and the responsibilities of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. This resource was produced by the U.S. House of Representatives, which offers a variety of lesson plans and resources for teachers and students.
How a Bill Becomes a Law: Charting the Path
In this lesson, students learn the steps of a bill becoming a law and use this information to write a story about "the life of a bill." Students then evaluate the effectiveness of our system of creating laws. This lesson was produced by The Dirksen Congressional Center, a non-partisan organization that seeks to promote a better understanding of Congress and its leaders through educational programs and research.
Congressional Committees and the Legislative Process
Subjects: Civics. U.S. Government
This lesson plan introduces students to the pivotal role that Congressional committees play in the legislative process, focusing on how their own Congressional representatives influence legislation through their committee appointments. Students begin by reviewing the stages of the legislative process, then learn how committees and subcommittees help determine the outcome of this process by deciding which bills the full Congress will consider and by shaping the legislation upon which votes are finally cast. With this background, students research the committee and subcommittee assignments of their Congressional representatives, then divide into small groups to prepare class reports on the jurisdictions of these different committees and their representatives' special responsibilities on each one. Finally, students consider why representation on these specific committees might be important to the people of their state or community, and examine how the committee system reflects some of the basic principles of American federalism. This lesson is a product of EDSITEment, an educational outreach program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. EDSITEment offers lesson plans and activities for social studies, literature and language arts, foreign languages, art, culture, and history classrooms.
About The Gateway to 21st Century Skills
The Gateway has been serving teachers continuously since 1996. It is the oldest publicly accessible U.S. repository of educational resources on the Web and the oldest continuously operating service of its kind in the world. The Gateway is sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA) and supported by over 700 quality contributors. The Gateway to 21st Century Skills is the cornerstone of the Global Learning Resource Connection (GLRC) which is a JES & Co. program.
About Joann Wasik- Author of Joann’s Picks
Joann is the Metadata Cataloger for The Gateway for 21st Century Skills. Her primary responsibilities for The Gateway include locating and cataloging standards-based K-12 lessons and activities for The Gateway, as well as writing the “Joann’s Picks” weekly column. Before joining The Gateway in 2006, Joann had been involved with numerous projects at the Information Institute of Syracuse at Syracuse University, including virtual reference with the Virtual Reference Desk (VRD) project; virtual reference competencies and education with the Digital Reference Education Initiative (DREI) project; and metadata cataloging with the Gateway for Educational Materials (GEM). Her previous experience also includes technology training and positions in academic libraries. She also conducts freelance research for business and educational clients. Joann holds B.A. and M.A.T. degrees in English from Boston College, and an M.L.S. degree from Syracuse University.
About Peggy James- Author of Peggy’s Corner
Peggy received her B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from The University of Arizona, and continued on to earn her M.Ed. from the U of A as well. She has taught Physical Science and Chemistry at the high school level. She is working toward her endorsement in Gifted Education, and has been actively involved in coaching and volunteering in Odyssey of the Mind and Academic Decathlon. She has a passion for teaching critical thinking and creativity in the classroom. She has done work evaluating and aligning lesson plans to standards as a curriculum consultant with the National Education Association Health Information Network. She is very excited to help create a collaborative environment for educators to discover new resources that will enhance their teaching!
About the GLRC
About JES & Co.
JES & Co., a publicly funded 501(c) (3) education research organization, is a leader in research and deployment of education programs based on open standards. With 20 years of experience in interoperability and portability of educational resources, organizations around the world come to JES & Co. for leadership and guidance on education programs and initiatives. Since its establishment in the early 1990s, JES & Co. has led and managed The Achievement Standards Network (ASN), The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, The Gateway to 21st Century Skills (formerly known as GEM), the Dell Academy, the Intel Student Certification Program, and Microsoft’s Partners in Learning. For more information about JES & Co. or the Global Learning Resource Connection, visit www.JESandCo.org.