Celebrating and Debating Founding Father’s Day!

Did you know that Ben Franklin’s currency printing firm thwarted counterfeiters by spelling “Pennsylvania” incorrectly and on purpose?

How about that the famous signatures at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence were actually kept secret for many months after the public reveal for fear of the signers’ safety?

Or that many of the Founders did not want Ben Franklin to write the Declaration for fear he would insert too many jokes!

If these facts were a surprise to you (as they were to me), then this could be a great activator for introducing your next lesson. On this Father’s Day, we’re going to explore how united our Founding Fathers really were by having your students engage in some document-based analyses and end with a full-on debate as a formative assessment.

One of my favorite aspects of Social Studies Techbook is how it clearly delineates ways in which you can convey content (in this case, a document-based investigation) and evaluate portions of each lesson (in this case, a debate). Within this post, you will find recommendations for how to orchestrate the document-based analyses along with how to structure your debate in a way that is respectful of others’ views and allows for an accurate assessment of what students know and are able to do because of the document investigation.

After you begin your activator, explain the “big picture” frame of what students will be learning:

“To what extent were the Founding Fathers and colonists united in calling for independence from Great Britain?”

Another great feature of Techbook is the way it helps set the stage for debatable topics with historical context. In this example, here is how to set it up:

INDIVIDUAL WORK TIME

First, students should work through their document-based investigation individually or in partners and then use all the information they have learned to engage in a debate.

  1. For the documents used in Techbook, here is the direct link to resources. Begin by providing students a brief amount of time to record what they already know about the topic using a simple T-chart.
  2. After students are provided time to think through the T-chart individually, partner students to allow them to share their preconceptions.
  3. Next, introduce the Document-Based Investigation Resource Sheet (explained below). The teacher should model how to use this capture sheet by analyzing one document together (or a portion of one) while students take notes and follow along.

After they have analyzed their evidence, it’s time for debate preparations!

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

Prior to beginning debates in my classroom, I make sure to set clear expectations for how a debate works, how it is different than an argument or a discussion, and how I expect students to conduct themselves during the debate. If it is important to you as the instructor, and you want students to rise to your expectations, then you should teach it to them explicitly. Here is a link to a document that I have reviewed with my students prior to engaging in class debates.

DEEPENING UNDERSTANDING OF DEBATE RESEARCH

After reviewing expectations, provide time for students to prepare their information and use extra resources to be informed. Then, explain the capture sheet they will use to gather their information (and provide them individual time to gather their own ideas before forming partnerships).

For the capture sheet, teachers should provide a structure that allows students to write down their first impressions, along with areas for students to record their first, second and third areas of supporting evidence. Within each section, provide guiding questions like “why is this example or piece of evidence important? Identify the sources that demonstrate this point.” In addition, I recommend also having an area on the capture sheet were students can record the other side of the argument (i.e., counter arguments: what do other sources say about this point?).

Instruct students to write down their first impressions (based on the document-based investigations). Then, model how you would like students to record their information. For example, for the first point of supporting evidence, consider the “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death” speech by Patrick Henry (Source #5). In this speech, Henry notes that the colonists were not treated as equal British citizens, but as mere subjects who were actively taken advantage of by Great Britain.  In his speech, he spoke against the attempts for a peaceful solution and advocated for all to fight Great Britain for independence:

Why is this point important? Because by March 1775, Virginia was hesitating to send its militia north to support the war for independence until Great Britain had the chance to respond to the Continental Congress’s most recent redress of grievances (even though King George had rejected it by that time).

Which sources demonstrate this point? Source #5. The other sources do not directly relate to taking an offensive position against the Crown.

DEBATE PREPARATIONS

After modeling how to record information in the debate capture sheet, direct students into groups for the preparation portion—provide students with a specific amount of time to prepare their points, choose a spokesperson, and determine their course of action. In groups, students should create counterpoints to their arguments.

CHALLENGE! One way to challenge your classes is to present the debate lesson in a way that forces them to know all sides of an argument.

In this case, there are four main arguments that students should continue researching:

DEBATE TOPICS

  1. Mend ties with Great Britain. How can we fix our relationship with Britain and avoid going to war with our homeland?
  2. Vie for greater representation. The colonists have legitimate reasons to break ties and the Crown to mercilessly quash the rebellion. Can a compromise be reached between the aggrieved without bloodshed?
  3. We are Englishmen and should be treated as such! We deserve representation in Parliament, but desire to remain as part of the British Empire.
  4. Cut all ties and fight for independence! The time for compromise has long passed—Britain cannot be trusted to continue being our “caretaker” and we must set out on our own as a new country.

Once students have been provided ample time to gather enough research, inform them that their “side” will not be chosen by groups, but rather, randomly assigned. This ensures that groups are “on their toes” for the debate time period:

  1. Introduce the topic again, along with the aforementioned “big picture” question.
  2. Randomly assign each group to a debate topic.
  3. Provide each group with five more minutes to finalize their research and determine their initial approach.

After providing time for all groups to debate, provide an anonymous, student-voting session prior to the exit quiz, to determine which debate was the most effective.

CLOSURE

Exit Quiz: Explain to students the criteria for success (listed below). For this exit quiz, I would expect students to provide at least one sentence per criterion:

Based on your research and the debate, to what extent were the Founding Fathers united in their desire for independence from Great Britain?

Criteria for Success:

  • I can write a claim that explains the extent to which two or more Founding Fathers were or were NOT united for independence.
  • I can provide examples from my research that supports my claim.
  • I can provide at least one example from the debate that does NOT support my claim.
  • CHALLENGE/EXTRA: I can provide two sentences that analyze my evidence, and the counterpoint evidence.

Addendum: Prior to debating, I HIGHLY recommend diving a little deeper into who the Framers actually were. Everyone seems to know people like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. However, there are a number of other important figures that could help inform student debates such as the one described in this post. This Techbook resource is an outstanding place to start – within this section, you will find resources by which students can research a specific Framer that relate to the Core Interactive Texts within the DE resource website.

With four separate Framer topics, each with substantive information upon which to debate, there are innumerable ways in which one can orchestrate this lesson. Either way, remember: Students can always do more! Don’t be afraid to try new things, and push your students further in their thinking and doing!


About the Author: Casey Siddons is a Consulting Teacher with Montgomery County Public Schools, and a blogger for Discovery Education. Casey has worked for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland since 2008 where he taught 6th grade world studies for eight years; five years as a department chair, and joined the Consulting Teacher team in MCPS in 2016. Casey’s current role as Consulting Teacher is to help build the capacity of new and experienced educators. Casey earned a B.S. in Citizenship Education with a concentration in Secondary Education from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and is currently earning his M.S. in Educational Leadership from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland.

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