Archive for Thursday, September 21, 2006

8th-graders mark Constitution Week with ‘Freedomland’

September 21, 2006

What would you call a country where everything's free, school's never in session and spelling doesn't matter?

For a group of eighth-graders in Jofee Tremain's Kansas History course at Lansing Middle School, that place is Freedomland - a country created by teens' imaginations.

"If you live in Freedomland, you do not have any rules," Tremain told the class. "You get to write down everything that you would like to be able to do - as long as it's school appropriate."

Tremain used the activity Monday to kick off Constitution Week activities in her classroom.

The events coincide with Constitution Day, which was observed Monday and marked the 219th anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

For the second consecutive year, the activities will play a key role in teaching Tremain's students the historical document's significance.

"From the time you're born, that document belongs to each and every one of you," she told her class.

Using small-group and class-wide activities, Tremain encourages students to explore the freedoms, rights and privileges they enjoy, thanks to historical documents created more than two centuries ago.

Tremain said the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence demonstrated the unity that tied all U.S. citizens together.

"It may not make a lot of sense to them now, but it is relevant to understand that this is how we're supposed to run our country. Whether you're a Democrat, Republican or independent, we're all Americans," she said.

The event is also timely, Tremain said, because of the war in Iraq.

That conflict demonstrates the real-world difficulties of creating a government and the importance of rules within society, she said.

Tremain also has enlisted Hollywood to help students get excited about Constitution Week.

Using the 2004 movie "National Treasure," starring Nicolas Cage, Tremain hopes students will become inspired by the character's search for artifacts from the Revolutionary War.

"If you can take something that's really popular and mix it with something educational, you have a better chance of getting the kids interested," she said.

It's not all fun though. Homework and a movie study guide help reinforce the message.

And challenging in-class activities also remind students of the struggles the Founding Fathers faced in uniting the colonies.

To help illustrate those struggles on Monday, small groups were instructed to create a game and all of its rules within six minutes - without any talking.

Using paper and pen - and a wealth of hand gestures and facial expressions - the students went to work.

Eighth-grader Matthias Miller said the exercise made him realize the importance of having a voice.

"It was challenging to make up a game without talking," he said. "We need to listen to people's views and points and give people a chance to speak.

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