Engaging Congress is a limited experience, but if used in conjunction with other activities, it could kick off deeper exploration of primary sources in history, government, or social studies classrooms. Teachers could have students do some free, individual exploration when finished with other work. Or, teachers could set up a more structured experience, where students complete a targeted Engaging Congress "Story" that matches with other work students have been doing. After students work through Engaging Congress, teachers can use more of the primary source documents and Library of Congress analysis tools linked to from the website (see the Teacher Toolbox) to get students digging deeper into the topics and documents. In-class discussions will help all students understand how to approach primary sources, and teachers can assign homework and projects to students using the Library of Congress analysis tools to analyze new primary sources, perhaps even ones they choose themselves. Additionally, the Teacher Toolbox includes quiz question suggestions and compelling questions, both great for inspiring in-class discussions, quizzes, and tests.Continue reading Show less
Engaging Congress is an interactive government and history experience that gets students analyzing primary source documents. It's available on the web (using WebGL) as well as on iOS and Android. To play, students select one of five historical topic explorations -- called Stories -- to work on. These topics include influencing the political process, separation of powers, voting rights, the federal budget, and Federalism and states' rights. Next, students watch an introductory video with some background info and modern context. Then they select from among the six primary sources to analyze for that topic. In those analyses, students match a thumbnail image with a location on a larger image of a primary source and answer some relevant questions. Students get stars for correct answers, and can try again if they get something wrong. The story concludes with some extra relevant contextualization.
After students work through all of the primary sources for a story, they do a Knowledge Check -- three multiple-choice questions -- and then play a relevant mini-game. The mini-games vary in quality and usefulness, but some provide an opportunity for students to apply what they've learned. For example, they can try their hand at redistricting an area to influence election outcomes, or estimate how the 2015 federal budget was allocated. After each story's mini-game, students can revisit the mini-game or intro video, or select another story and begin the process again.
Engaging Congress also includes a Primary Source Gallery where students can browse a collection of primary source documents, photos, and maps, or play timed or untimed trivia games. The help screen includes a direct link to the glossary for students to brush up on their governmental and historical vocabulary. The website design does feel a bit dated and would be improved by allowing students to zoom in on the primary sources, but at least the content is relatively current.
Engaging Congress connects analysis of primary sources to current events, offering students a window into important historical events. That said, most of the analysis here is done through multiple-choice questions, which doesn't allow for much depth. (The trivia games also rely on multiple-choice questions, although they make a bit more sense in that context.) Some of the questions ask things that aren't covered in the primary sources or the intro video, so students may need to make their best guess. When relevant vocabulary does come up, there's a direct link to the glossary entry, which is handy. The mini-games are more hands-on than the rest of the site, although they're still not that inventive or challenging. They will, however, give students practice putting events in chronological order, piecing together parts of the U.S. Constitution, estimating the 2015 federal budget, and redistricting an area to influence election outcomes. Ultimately, while the site doesn't have a lot of depth, it's an easy introduction to primary source document analysis. Students would get the most out of it if teachers carried these primary source lessons into the classroom and expanded upon them.
Key Standards Supported
Reading History/Social Studies
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Reading Informational Text
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.
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