During the first semester, I had my AP government students complete a project in which they created their own political parties. They were sorted intro groups by their responses to a political orientation survey (using a Nolan chart so it was a little more fine-grained than the spectrum). They were responsible for creating everything about the party, from a name & logo to a platform, and then they campaigned for President. We did not get to have our debates due to school missed from Hurricane Sandy, but we did get to view their campaign ads before voting. I included a survey with the voting to get a little feedback about the project.

The first survey question was “What was the best part about the project?” The themes that I saw in students responses included working in a group, being creative, creating new ideas on politics, and learning through experience. Some particularly interesting student responses to the question were:

  • “Giving students a voice to their beliefs, which are usually written off as naive or subject to change and allowing other students to rally behind what they in turn believe.”
  • “Realizing that there really is no easy way to please everybody, and that the government does the best that it can…most of the time”
  • “The experience of being able to see how parties must come together with differing beliefs to make a compromise
  • “The best part of this project was how we got to learn about political campaigns by doing a campaign of our own.” 
  • “It was something a little bit different then I have ever done before and made class interesting.”
  • “It was fun working with people that I usually don’t talk to and finding out we have some of the same beliefs.”

I then asked them “What was the worst part about the project?” There were 6 students who said nothing was! Always nice to hear. Others talked about how hard the platform was to make, unclear directions, issues with their group, and not having time for the debate due to the storm. Some also did not like making the ad as they weren’t as comfortable making videos. Some quotes:

  • “The actual serious work we had to do, but in reality I loved this project because the work was even manageable.”
  • “I can’t think of anything bad about this project. It was interesting and fun.” 
  • “It was hard to communicate with my group about the subject and get all of the things done together because it required everybody’s opinion all of the time when we could not be together all of the time.” 
  • “The worst part was agreeing on issues…we all had the same basic idea about our ideal government but butted heads on certain issues.”
  • “The worst part of this project was that we didn’t get to do the debate. I was really looking forward to seeing how it all went with everyone’s different points of views.”

The last question I asked was how well their party worked together. The answers are a lot harder to code as they gave me specific assessments for their group. There were some issues with communication, some students who were absent for a lot of work days, and one group that had a major personality conflict. I still struggle with the answer to how do you deal with the students who just want to work on their own no matter what, and also cooperative work when you have students with real disabilities related to social skills.

Overall, it seemed that they found the project valuable and fun. I have some ideas for next year on how to make the directions clearer and make it run a little smoother. The biggest thing I am still thinking about is how to help students improve at cooperative work. I may be incorporating it into my skills rubrics for my sort-of SBAR I plan to try with AP next year so I need ideas on how to actually teach and reinforce those skills.