”The national school system is based on democratic foundations.”
This is the first sentence in the Swedish curriculum for the compulsory school, preschool class and the recreation centre. The first chapter is called ”Fundemental values” and schools must adhere to the things stipulated here.
As a civics teacher Democracy is probably more important for me than other teachers. After all, it’s part of the specific curriculum that I have to adhere to. The students need to learn about the fundamentals of Democracy, Democratic processes and how they themselves can be a part of those.
With this said, there are some aspects of Democracy that is, how shall I put it..? More boring than others. I’m talking especially about how municipalities are governed.
Ten years ago I faced the challenge of teaching 15 year olds in Sweden about Swedish municipalities.
I always try to base my way of teaching on things that are important to students. If you’re talking about Ancient Rome, then frame in a way that give the students a connection to it in their real life. So how do you to this when it comes to municipalities?
Well, the short answer is; role playing.
Creating the basic framework
During the years I’ve use a fair amount of role playing with my students. And then years ago, I created a new one called ”A municipality in Sweden”.
I wanted to create a game that had both clear boundaries but still had plenty of room for the students to improvise and ”play” within those boundaries. To sell the concept to them I needed to place them in an environment that made them care about the task.
To do this I made up a new municipality called Ungköping which roughly translates into Youth Town. I alos placed it a couple of years into the future (2020).
I also wanted the students to be creative not just in terms of discussions. Some students excel when it comes to argumentation, some excel when it comes to numbers. And there are some students whose creativity when it comes to art would make da Vinci jealous. So how do you create something that would benefit all of these students?
After dividing the students into groups of five my solution was to give them different tasks to complete in their municipality. I wrote a backstory which described a failing municipality. There’s quite a lot of un-employment and people have for a couple of years move from the municipality to neighbouring ones.
Their first task was therefor to revamp Ungköping. They had to come up with a slogan in order to sell the municipality. Another way to do this was to change the statue situated in the town square from the old 18th century king nobody longer recognize to a more modern person. The municipality also needed a coat or arms which the students had to design.
But the main thing for them do decide upon was the budget for the municipality. They needed to distribute money to eight different posts. Just to give them some pointers I had written down the percentage that a standard municipality in Sweden gives to each post.
I gave the students 1-2 lessons to complete all this and then, the third lesson, it was game on.
When I first created the exercise I had three different dilemmas that the students had to solve. I gave each group the first dilemma on a pice of paper and gave them 15 minutes to solve it.
But when I started working at Mörbyskolan in Danderyd every student had a computer. This meant that I could use the power of digital learning. Now a days every student at my school has an iPad so this is what we use. It has also given me the opportunity to refine the game even more. So here is how it works…
I’ve created four television news clip using a software called Reallusion Crazytalk. I recorded some audio of me reading a news story. The audio was then automatically animated onto a digital character which had a green screen added in the program.
I then imported that clip into iMovie (or Final Cut can’t remember) and made a news cast with some added creative commons photos and clips I found online.
All of the finished news clips was then uploaded to Youtube.
Letting my students play the game
Since we use Showbie I created an assignment and added a link to the first clip. One of the students in each group was designated as a council leader and one as a secretary. The secretary opened up Showbie and clicked on the link for the first news story.
The story told was that a school had been accidentally burned down to the ground. Now the municipality needed to build a new one. So the first thing the group had to do was to find the money needed for the rebuild.
So far every thing was relatively straight forward for the students. That is, until the next news clip…
The brief explanation of the clip is that a large company is thinking about building a new factory and store in Youth Town. But they need some help from the municipalities. New roads has to be built and the area where the factory/store will be built needs to be fixed in different ways.
The students now has the option to agree to the terms that the company has and if so, find the money needed in their budget. They can also turn down the offer. Either way they need to explain their way of thinking and their decision to the public.
In previous years the students have done so in writing. But this year we used an new app, Clips. With Clips the students could in a very easy manner make their on press conferences which they then uploaded to me in Showbie.
But some of you might have noticed that I wrote that I had three dilemmas but how does this add up with there being four news clips?
Well, this is where you might raise your hand and say that my game is rigged.
You see, which news clip you got was entirely based upon which decision you made about the factory/shop. If you agreed to welcome the factory/shop you got a clip describing the heavy hit this gave the economy. The students also had to describe how they would cut funding in the municipality in order to pay for the unexpected problems that now faced.
If they had turned the offer the next next news story then told them about the problems that followed in the wake of their decision. They also had to cut funding and save money in different ways.
So yes, the game is rigged but I actually have a point with this premise. By creating a situation in which their isn’t a “correct” answer I’m able to show the students how difficult it is to make democratic decisions that makes everyone happy and content. It also shows them how complicated the democratic process is. And if it is this difficult in a municipality then try to scale it up to a country, or the European Union for instance.
So what started ten years ago with paper has now evolved into to something both digital and analog at the same time. By using technology and apps I’ve found that the students are more free to discuss and create. This in turn give them more knowledge and also give them an longer lasting knowledge. They haven’t just read about it, they’ve lived it.
You can find all the material here (in Swedish though):