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Pros: The videos are solid and are extended with multiple materials connecting the Constitution to current events.
Cons: There's no built-in differentiation, and while the lessons have a variety of videos, illustrations, and photos, the website itself is lacking.
Bottom Line: Go for the videos, stay for the lessons: Annenberg Classroom saves teachers' prep time when teaching the Constitution, current events, or other civics lessons.
Social studies teachers will delight in Annenberg Classroom's high-quality lesson plans and associated resources (e.g., handouts, videos, and games). The site's focus is the Constitution, but with so many significant issues stemming from this living document, any class studying legalities, rights, history, or current events will find a meaningful connection to their content. The site basically chunks the Constitution and related topics into manageable units that include videos, timelines, ready-to-go lessons, handouts, games, and even book excerpts. Teachers can pick and choose from these resources, or follow the lesson plans. Lesson plan designs and styles vary, but all are standards-based and thorough, with details such as essential questions and openers to exit tickets and extension activities. There are also related materials included in each PDF or embedded as links within the lesson, so teachers don't have to search for puzzle pieces. To get started, teachers might check out some of the key sections and see how they organize resources. Highlights include the Constitution Guide and Supreme Court Cases sections. Teachers might also explore the Browse by Topic or Browse by Media sections to get a complete handle on the topics and types of media the site covers.
While much of the site is designed for teachers to build lessons, there are some student-facing resources. The Games page could serve as an enrichment website for students who are ready to move on before the rest of the class. The Interactive Timelines page -- while not that stimulating -- does a good job of organizing info according to constitutional crises and issues such as war powers, impeachment, and freedom of the press. Teachers could have students select a timeline topic of interest and then have them fill in visuals or details, using the timeline events as a springboard for further research and discussion or presentation.
Annenberg Classroom is an educational website featuring high-quality, well-vetted, and well-organized teaching materials for the Constitution and related topics. Beyond meticulously thorough civics lessons and links, teachers will delight in the extra perks Annenberg Classroom offers, from free and fully downloadable books to links to sister sites to captions for videos (in up to 13 languages) to multiple timelines to games and more. The clean and colorful layout is inviting; however, skimming through the different tabs is a bit bland and could be redesigned to give teachers a better sense of content.
That said, the Explore tab helps make a potentially overwhelming set of resources manageable. Teachers can explore resources organized in a few different ways: The Constitution Guide breaks down the different articles, Browse by Topic and Browse by Media serve up resources according to their subject (e.g., free speech or citizenship) or media type (e.g., books or games), and Supreme Court Cases breaks down key cases and decisions. Every now and then a link might be dead, but there are so many other resources and options provided, teachers are sure to find a resource to fill a gap. Under the Educate section, a recommendations tab has one of the most comprehensive lists of civics websites for educators. This list goes beyond an endless scroll of hyperlinks and offers a summary and appropriate grade levels. For sites that might have some bias, Annenberg Classroom impressively notes "political leanings," such as conservative, liberal, or libertarian, or pro-gun control, pro-business, etc.
Annenberg Classroom's thought-provoking lessons and materials engage students' historical reasoning skills, such as evaluating change and continuity over time, causation, and comparison. There's a diverse spectrum of materials teachers can adapt and use, from a stand-alone handout or video clip to a gallery of vetted websites for students to research. For example, in Key Constitutional Concepts: Creating a Constitution, there's a downloadable 60-minute video divided into three 20-minute chunks paired with multiple lesson plans. Each lesson includes printable handouts or links to resources. Throughout, there's a focus on multimodal learning that gets students writing, reading, talking, and thinking critically. While differentiation is not directly built into each lesson, the options and additional resources provide more than enough support for teachers wishing to modify the level of the lesson.
The videos are particularly noteworthy, combining commentary from experts with maps, historical clips, primary sources, illustrations, and academic text. Well-paced narration ties it all together. There are subtitles in English, and many videos offer a variety of languages (some even as high as 13 languages!).The glossary of terms is another nice perk, since they go beyond basic terms, and instead offer explanations -- sometimes paragraphs long -- on concepts from accountability and acid rain to zeitgeist and zoning. Photos or illustrations would help students visualize some of the more abstract concepts, however.