Civic Engagement & Historical Argumentation


This week’s author is Adam Topliff: I teach 8th Grade Social Studies & Civics at Wamego Middle School in Wamego, KS.  I love all things Hamilton!


The Kansas Standards for History, Government, and Social Studies prepare students to be informed, thoughtful, engaged citizens as they enrich their communities, state, nation, world, and themselves.

The mission statement for our HGSS standards in Kansas has pushed educators across disciplines to consider how we are working to get our kids engaged.  This push is part of the greater initiative to deliver the best education in the nation and to produce true 21st Century citizens. One of the main focuses at KSDE is the idea of creating civic engagement for our students. This can be demonstrated through any number of opportunities in which our students engage in community service, leadership initiatives, or simply study how our government works. However, we must consider how to encourage civic engagement as we study history.

One of the staples of the mission statement is “engaging to provide the enrichment to a student’s communities, state, nation, world and THEMSELVES.” To produce deep levels of civic engagement, we need to ask our students to engage in historical conversations based on questions that will also enrich them and challenge them to look at today’s civic, political, and social issues. To simply study the past will not develop these opportunities.  

This fall, as part of my attempt to develop better connections between the study of history and civic engagement, my students completed a long term project that asked them to evaluate the presidential job performance of the “Founding Presidents.”  One of the main curriculum units we study is the Constitution Period but  I relabeled it “Building A Nation” and used that theme to develop the presidential evaluation project.  

We began by looking at what we thought were great qualities to have in a president. This was an initial pre-project brainstorming activity.  This allowed for both small group and whole class discussion of what we believe are the necessary characteristics a person needs to be a great president. This lead the students to look at what our nation seemed to believe were essential qualities a president should possess. We brainstormed some big ideas that could be used to develop an evaluation tool in assessing the job performance of president.  This was a key part of the civic engagement piece. The students engaged in critical thinking as they determined the qualities a president should possess during the first few years of the republic.

With that in mind, we identified the key roles of a president. This allowed for us to utilize resource like iCivics to better define the jobs/roles that a president must deal with on a daily basis.  This also lead to the conversation of how the events of the time impact the viewpoint we have of presidents and their job performance.  This created another great civic engagement lesson about the importance of evaluating current events/situations when considering how we look at a president and their performance.

Upon the completion of this portion of the project, students began looking at and evaluating these “Founding Presidents.”  I utilized Google Classroom as the vehicle to provide resources for students to engage and assist in developing the evaluation of each president.


Each president was evaluated individually by the students and their presidency was broken into separate individual investigations – foreign & domestic policy, dealing with events of the time, etc. This took some time to provide the materials, however I felt it was important to give them a broad enough body of resources without overwhelming them.  As they explored the resources, they filled in a provided graphic organizer that was created based on the criteria we established at the beginning. The students were hooked as they got to really apply their ideas in this historical context.  

At the end of the investigations, students completed a Google Doc Presidential Evaluation based on the criteria established, as well as some overall big idea questions that I asked them to respond to. Below is a portion one of the evaluations used:


The final assessment piece was for students to construct a comparison of one of the “Founding Presidents” to our current president, again using the same criteria that we established at the beginning of the project.  They were asked to construct a RACE based writing response to complete this comparison.  This required to students look at President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies actions and what was going on at the time of his presidency.

In developing this project, I hoped to expose my students to the idea that if name recognition alone does not define presidential greatness, what does?  They got the chance to determine that “what” and apply it in a real scenario, while learning about the challenges that our early American Republic faced in building the nation.  A student that is offered the opportunities to think civically, apply historical thinking, and engage in argumentation will truly enrich themselves and the community beyond the classroom.


About Kori Green

I teach 8th grade social studies at El Dorado Middle School in El Dorado, KS. I enjoy U.S. history, dabble in British history, and love incorporating technology in the classroom.

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