I had the opportunity recently to watch some of my students learn all about government and the passage of laws. They were involved in a program through the YMCA called Youth in Government. As delegates to a mock legislature, they were able to submit bills, debate other delegates’ bills and vote on potential laws.
It was truly fascinating. There were over 700 middle school students involved – a two night stay in a hotel, sessions held at the state capitol and general assemblies. As I watched the committees and full legislatures debate the pros and cons of bills that were opened, I was amazed. The students worked through this process for 2 hours at a time and rarely got off task. They all had their bill book open to the correct page and waited patiently for the committee chair to call on them.
Watching this process, I realized how important hands-on learning is. My students came home from this program with a clear understanding of the lawmaking process. They also had much more self confidence and were determined to try for a leadership position next year. These are students who are often quiet in class. As a teacher, I might have thought them shy. This program demonstrated that they are anything but shy. They simply hadn’t had a reason to speak up before.
I’m excited to get back to school next week and look for ways to make my teaching more hands-on. Engaging my students throughout class will help them learn more. Recognizing students’ ideas is one way to engage them. In the future, when a student has a particularly good comment (which happens pretty often!) they will be asked to write their comment on the board. My hope is that not only will the student who made the comment feel good, but other students will try harder to make a comment that is worthy of writing on the board, as well.
Knowing how engaged the middle school students were during the Youth in Government session, I am reminded, once again, how important student engagement is.