Liberty Swift and Sally Whipple
The Connecticut Democracy Center at Connecticut’s Old State House
In their study of the American Revolution, adolescents easily relate to the colonists’ desire to be independent from King George. However, the alternative form of government established by the U.S. Constitution is not simple, and young people have little life experience to help them understand the many layers of our Constitutional democracy or the debates that surrounded the founding documents.
Hosting a symposium gives young people a glimpse into the ways that government touches their lives. In the familiar context of their own experiences, they can recognize services that might be better provided by the government (e.g. street signs) and others that are better done by private businesses (e.g. store signs). They can use the modern context to recognize that some decisions should be made locally (e.g. summer camp), while other decisions might be made for the whole state or country (e.g. election day). Real-life, contemporary context enriches students’ study of history, while understanding history enriches their understanding of the world around them today. A symposium like the one described here provides an understanding of government and the roles it plays in their lives, as well as how students can interact with officials, agencies, and institutions.
D1: Potential Compelling Question
D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
- What services does my state government provide?
- Who carries out the decisions of the state government?
- How do the levels of government work together?
D2: TOOL KIT
The following resources are for the teacher/symposium organizer.
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY
Planning and attending a state government symposium will help students answer this activity’s compelling question by enabling them meet and talk with people who work in state government and to learn, firsthand, about the services they provide and how they go about providing them. Most students are familiar with elected officials and their work. While you may have officials on your panel, this symposium focuses on people who carry out the work of state government, often behind the scenes. Many are in jobs that students may not realize are part of the government.
The information presented in the symposium will vary but will often be detailed and heartfelt. Even people who are not accustomed to public speaking can easily talk about their day at work and why their work is important.
The conversations and discussions before, during, and after the symposium will give students real-life insights about government. Hearing about state government directly from those who do it will help students understand that “government is people” and help them see that government workers, services—and careers—are accessible to them. All parties feel valued by one another, and the personal connections bring the lessons of government structure and service to life, which is particularly important as students approach voting age.
1. Use the Symposium Planning Checklist, Sample Speaker Invitation, and Sample Schedule provided in the Toolkit above to plan your Symposium with student input.
2. Students will explore the Connecticut State Agencies website and use the WebQuest worksheet (DOC or PDF) to research five topics, discover services the state provides, and reflect on whether and why the state should provide these services. Secondary students should focus on state government roles that include professional knowledge such as nursing, teaching, law, public safety, or science.
3. Students will review the compelling and supporting questions and brainstorm: What can I ask the speakers that will help me answer the compelling and supporting questions? Role-play being a presenter, so students can practice polite habits, note taking, and asking questions.
4. During the symposium, students will take notes about the information shared by each speaker. They can use the sample note-taking page (DOC or PDF). You can also have students take notes in a Google Doc in Google Classroom or compile shared notes and additional information in a class Padlet (click HERE for a screenshot of a sample Padlet).
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
- Students with a personal connection to a symposium speaker or students who really enjoyed hearing from a particular speaker can write a letter to the speaker after the event. They can use the “Speaker Thank You Worksheet” provided in the Toolkit above.
- Return to the compelling question of “What Does the Government Do?” Students will choose one agency or department of state government, describe its goal, services it provides, whom it benefits, and how it coordinates with other agencies or levels of government using the “Government Symposium Assignment and Rubric Worksheet” provided in the Toolkit above.
- Students can write a comparative essay on the different roles of local, state, and federal government (using evidence from symposium) using the “Government Symposium Response Worksheet” provided in the Toolkit above.
Place to GO
Connecticut’s Old State House, Hartford: Located in the heart of Hartford, Connecticut’s Old State House served as a home to all three branches of Connecticut state government from 1796 to 1878. Some of our state’s most important stories of freedom, democracy, and civic action—from the Amistad and Prudence Crandall trials to the Constitutional Convention of 1818—took place at this National Historic Landmark. Students can visit with their families for a public tour, or classes can participate in virtual or in-person school programs.
Connecticut State Capitol Tours, Hartford: The current State Capitol has been in use since 1878. The building and adjoining Legislative Office Building boast the chambers where our elected officials meet and conduct the business of the state. The League of Women Voters provides guided tours for the public and school groups. The public can also visit for self-guided tours.
Things To DO
Read Local Government in Connecticut, Third Edition by Frank B. Connolly. Wesleyan University Press, 2013.
Play a game from iCivics: State and Local Governments
Websites to VISIT
NOTE: Some of these sites are designated for “kids” but have valuable, easily-absorbed lessons for older students (and even adults).
Connecticut’s Kid Governor®. Download the free Toolkits for lessons and activities about the three branches of state government and how they work, voting, leadership, identifying important community issues, and taking civic action. The resources are geared towards fifth graders but can be modified for younger students.
Kid Governor®: Student Action Resource Center. Tools and resources that guide kids from identifying community issues to taking informed civic action.
ConneCT Kids. Kid-friendly information about Connecticut history, government, and more.
Connecticut General Assembly’s Bill Information Search. Search for current and past proposed state legislation. Navigating this tool will require teacher assistance!
Kids in the House: Young Learners. Information, lessons, and activities about the role, history, and Members of the U.S. House of Representatives.