There are loads of lessons and projects on elections out there – but how do you run a week-long unit on this presidential election? How do you prevent your classroom from devolving into the chaos that this election warrants? That was the question we spent hours trying to answer – how do you strip away the virulent attitudes and meaningless conversations and instead impart some true academic value? The answer proved surprisingly simple – ignore the politics. Don’t mention the candidates. Abstract away what makes the 2016 Presidential Election the 2016 Presidential Election; instead, tackle topics that go beyond the battles playing out on television every night.
For our Election Week, students across all grades looked at two aspects of elections: campaign ads and voter disenfranchisement. On Monday and Tuesday, we built upon an excellent lesson from the Museum of the Moving Image around historic campaign ads. After a warmup in which students brainstormed a commercial for a new flavor of Cheetos, students were introduced to a rubric with which to evaluate campaign ads. They learned how to decompose ads into their emotion, their persuasiveness and their cinematic style. Their favorite was a 2004 ad featuring Secretary of State Kerry on a surfboard: