Thursday, December 16, 2010

Law & Order

One day last year, my middle schooler came home in a huff, incensed that his English class would be conducting a mock trial for characters from Lord of the Flies. He wasn’t exactly sure just what a mock trial was, mind you, but he was sure that it didn’t sound like fun, and he didn’t want to be a lawyer someday anyway. So what was the point? Despite his initial misgivings, the mock trial was a big hit with the students, and it turned out to be one of my son’s favorite activities from his English class that year. It was the first year that the teacher had tried a mock trial activity, and it was so successful that she’s decided to use it again this year.

Mock trials are simulated trials that allow students to learn about trial rules and the judicial process. The point of such an exercise in the classroom is not to “win” the case being presented, but to give students some insight into how trials work. Mock trials can be highly effective learning tools for helping students to develop their critical thinking, reasoning, and oral presentation skills. Students must examine the issues at hand from multiple perspectives in order to build their arguments – not only to defend their positions, but also to anticipate their opponents’ strategy in presenting their side of the case. The use of mock trials, with their emphasis on clear, focused oral delivery, can also be a highly effective method to use with students who are not native English speakers.

The beauty of mock trials at the K-12 level is that they can be used in virtually any subject area. Historical and literary figures are obvious choices for any mock trial, but the possibilities are endless. Think outside the box and be creative. Studying diseases in science? Put a disease on trial! Is Facebook a benefit or a hindrance to students? Conduct a trial and see what happens. We all know that art is subjective, but what about art for public spaces that potentially divides a community? Hold a mock trial to decide the fate of the artwork in question, and explore what the definition of “art” is in the process. Mock trials can also be used to help define classroom or school-wide issues, as well as to further explore current topics, such as the BP oil spill, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the escalating tension between North and South Korea. For younger students, characters from fairy tales, popular books, and historical figures offer a wealth of choices for a mock trial activity.

This week, I’ve selected two mock trial resources for middle school and above that focus on historical events. For younger students, I’ve selected a teacher’s guide that is a comprehensive plan for incorporating mock trials into your curriculum. Throughout the week, I’ll be featuring numerous mock trial activities and resources for all ages on our Facebook and Twitter pages, including one similar to the Lord of the Flies activity mentioned at the beginning of my column. The use of mock trials in the classroom can be a creative way to pack a lot of content into an activity that’s both fun and effective for students and teacher alike. Enjoy!

Mini-Court – Mock Trial Activities for Grades K-2: Teacher’s Guide
Subject: Civics
Grade: K-2
This free booklet features one five-day lesson plan for grades K-1 and another for grade 2. The purpose is to help teach young children about the legal system. Mock trial activities are included. This guide was produced by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, which provides training and education materials to help teach the public about the law.

A Question of Justice: The Boston Massacre
Subjects: US History, Civics
Grade: 6-8
In this lesson, students will learn about the Boston Massacre and its subsequent trial, consider the positive and negative arguments from both sides, and produce a simulation of the trial. This simulation can take the form of a play, mock trial, debate, a series of newspaper accounts, or even a recreation of the actual event. In producing the simulation, students will critically study and analyze primary source documents and pictures, as well as organize and synthesize second-hand accounts and commentary about the Massacre and the trial. This resource is a product of the National First Ladies Library, a national archive that educates the world about the American First Ladies and other notable women in history.

Judgement on Nuremberg: A Student Mock Trial of Julius Streicher
Subjects: Civics; World History
Grade: 7-12
The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and its precedent-setting role in extending the reach of international law. This lesson provides opportunities for students to learn and apply some of the legal principles of Nuremberg: to understand the role of hate propaganda in inciting groups to action both during the Holocaust and today; and to understand and discuss the legal and political impact of Nuremberg today, including the investigation and trial of suspected Bosnian war criminals at the International Tribunal at The Hague, and the prosecution of suspected Nazi war criminals. This lesson was produced by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a teaching museum and a leader in Holocaust education in British Columbia, Canada.

~Joann's Picks - 12/9/2010~

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