The Top Ten Ways I Structure my AP Government Course

I recently had someone ask me how I setup my AP Government classroom. I figured I would write a post about it since it was just easier to explain. This is going to be my 7th year of teaching (wow how fast time flies) and my 5th year teaching AP Government and Politics. I finally feel comfortable with the content and preparation after my 4th year.


Warning: I make money off of this idea. 


The Top Ten Ways I Structure my AP Government and Politics Course

1. AP Government 1 Page Chapter Summaries: Last year I gave each chapter review page during the structure AP Government review time. This year I am giving these chapter summaries before every test and collecting them and placing them into a student file folder. At the end of April I will be giving the folders back to my students and they will already have the review sheets completed. The 11 chapter summaries are one page handouts that are very simple and graphically appealing, which include the most essencial information in EVERY chapter in AP Government. This would be a great supplement to do for AP review or to include as you learn each unit to make a study guide for the AP exam in May.


2. Free Response Essay Packet:  This is a 12 page document of all the AP Government and Politics Free Response Questions (FRQ’s) from the past 14 years. The document contains all FRQ’s from 1999-2013. FRQ’s are subdivided in unit and historical order. This is a VERY useful tool to have for an AP Government student. I plan on reviewing previous FRQ’s with my students before each unit test and during the structured AP review time.


3. How to Write a Free Response Essay Handout:  This is a handout on how to write a Free Response Essay on the AP Government exam. It has helpful tips and suggestions to write the essay.


4. AP Government Vocabulary List: This is a list of over 300 vocabulary words that are essential when learning AP Government and Politics. The vocabulary words are organized by unit (9 units total). The vocabulary words and definition are organized in alphabetical order. I give this packet out at the beginning of the year to help my students study and learn the material. We also play bingo before every unit test. My students fill in the words for the chapter to the blank bingo card and I read the definitions from the vocabulary list.


5. Socratic Seminar Handout: This is a handout to encourage students to have rules and expectations with socratic seminars. This handout is very useful when introducing the socratic seminar as a form of discussion in any class. I usually assign a controversial article related to AP Government and students must generate three socratic style questions for homework. My students then come to class ready to discuss the article through the socratic method.


6. Government Chapter Reading Questions: This is a list of 3-5 essential critical reading questions for each unit of government. This handout can be modified for any book or government course since the content is the same. I usually give this handout out at the beginning of the year and have my students read the chapter and respond to the questions in an extended response format.


7. Student Self-Evaluation for Classroom Participation: This is a student self-evaluation on their own level of classroom participation. I joke with my student’s that I have the final VETO say in their grade for participate but I do let them self-reflect and evaluate their own behavior.


8. Debate Assignment:  This is a debate assignment for six separate government debates. The debate structure, rubric, audience rubric, audience evaluation guide, and guidelines are included. My class does these debates in two teams of two for each topic. The rest of the class is the audience. These debates were specifically planned for one debate for each unit.

Debate topics:

1. Voting should be compulsory in our democracy
2. The American two-party system is so strong that voting for third party candidates cannot effectively influence public policy.
3. There should be term limits for members of Congress.
4. Direct popular vote should replace the Electoral College.
5. Americans would be safer without a constitutional right to carry a weapon.
6. Affirmative action programs are necessary to safeguard the opportunities of underrepresented minorities.


9. Participation in Government: Ever wish your students were more involved in politics in the community. This assignment requires them to attend one political event out of a list of events in the community. They also need to write a paper response with a series of question prompts. There is a grading rubric provided as well as sample community event options to participate with.


10. Current Event Blog Post:  This is the detailed assignment, rubric, and schedule for the current event blog post assignment. Students are assigned one week each marking period to write one current event blog post and give an in class presentation. Students must include a summary, analysis, visual, and MLA citation, and connection to the course.


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Student’s Guide to Technology in My Classroom

These are tools I have my students download to make their academic life easier.  I thought I would pass them along to my readers.

  1. My Big Campus- Online learning environment where teachers can initiate class discussions and set up online learning activities for students. It is a secure social network designed specifically for educational purposes. All activity is carefully monitored at all times. Everything that is posted/created/uploaded is recorded and can be seen and printed at any time by system administrators and teachers. I make a point of going over the reports several times a week. Download the App and bookmark the website:
  1. Socrative Student– Socrative is a smart student response system (like clickers) that makes class more engaging and interactive bookmark or install the “student app” via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Download the App:  Room #: 5638
  2. Evernote– is an easy-to-use, free application or website that helps you remember everything across all of the devices you use. Evernote lets you take notes, capture photos, create to-do lists, record voice reminders. Download the App and bookmark the website:
  3. QR Code or Bar Code Reader– Many devices already have this, but please make sure you have it on any mobile device that has a webcam: that includes tablets or mobile devices. Download the App: Go into the itunes store or google play and search “qr code reader”.
  4. EasyBib– It is a literacy platform that provides citation, note taking, and research tools. Download App and bookmark website:
  1. A Gmail email account – it would be a good idea to create an email account, if you don’t have one already. I recommend Google, simply for the use of other applications, like GoogleDocs, Google Sites, Google Drive, etc.  IMPORTANT:  you will want to create a professional email address, so that it can be listed on job and/or college applications.  Here are some tips:


  1. My Homework-Application or Website where you can manage everything about their school life. From classes and homework to before and after school activities, and so much more. Think of it as a planner on your phone. Download the App and bookmark the website: 
  2. SoundGecko– Takes an Internet website and makes it a PDF. You can listen to anything on the web while you go to the gym, travel to an away game, and so much more. Imagine “reading” an article for class through your headphones. Bookmark the website:
  3. Quizlet- It is a free website providing learning tools for students, including flashcards, study and game modules. Bookmark the Website:
  4. Dropbox: Is a free service that lets you bring your photos, document, and videos anywhere and share them easily. Free File Storage on the “cloud.” Never email yourself a file or lose a flash drive again! Website:
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5 Ways for Teachers to Make Learning More Interactive

One of the biggest challenges that many teachers face is trying to get students to participate, and it’s a problem that seems to grow as students get older and become more concerned about the judgment of their peers. Of course, there will always be a select few students that raise their hands for every question and delight in answering correctly. But the goal within any classroom setting is to ensure that all of the kids are engaged and that each one is receiving a solid Attentive-Classeducation. This is no easy feat these days, especially with limited resources and growing class sizes. But when teachers can find ways to make lessons interactive, then students have no choice but to play their role, enhancing the educational experience not only for themselves, but for the entire class. So here are just a few ideas that should help to get every student involved in the learning process.

  1. Cut back on lectures. Whenever you lecture a class full of students and allow them to sit by passively, taking notes, you are doing them a disservice. Although there are certainly occasions where you have to deliver a passel of data, consider how much of what you’re telling them may be garnered from reading or online research that you could give as homework. This should help you to temper your rote data dumps in the classroom setting and instead focus on interactive lessons designed to see if the kids are actually doing their reading assignments. Only by talking with them, instead of at them, can you figure out what they’re actually taking in.
  2. Test understanding rather than memorization. Nearly every child can memorize and regurgitate facts on command. This is the basic tenet of standardized testing. But as an involved educator you want to make sure that the kids in your classroom are learning not only how to absorb information, but how to put it to good use. In other words, you’re training them to think for themselves. So when you quiz your students in class, try to come up with questions that force them to think about what they have learned, approach it from different angles, and come up with a unique response. The brain is a muscle and we have to use it in order to make it strong.
  3. Put students in groups. If you question students one at a time you’re forcing the rest of the class to remain idle in the meantime. By creating small groups you can pose questions or problems for the entire class and allow the groups to discuss and answer them as a unit. This not only allows each student to interact with every question, but it also lets the students learn from and teach each other, potentially helping to solidify their own understanding of the materials covered.
  4. Electronic response system. Technology has allowed for a slew of new ways to make the classroom interactive, and one method that many teachers favor is the electronic response system. It’s a quick way to take a “vote” from the class and see how students are stacking up. For example, you can ask a question, offer three possible responses, and immediately see the percentage of students who got it right, helping you to determine where you should focus your teaching efforts. You might also use this gadget as a way to engineer lively debates on topics covered in class by taking polls of student opinions on a subject.
  5. Unorthodox seating. The way a classroom is laid out can definitely have an impact on the level of interactivity. For example, in a class that requires a lot of discussion, you might consider forming the desks into a large circle so that all of the students can see whoever is speaking. This face-to-face configuration encourages interaction and turns a discussion between teacher and students into an interactive experience that includes the entire class. Of course, there are certain settings where this strategy won’t work, like in a lecture hall with immovable seating or a program for a master of science in accounting online. But the creative teacher can find ways to make any setting more interactive.


Guest Post: Leon Harris is a freelance writer and editor based in sunny Southern California. In his spare time, Harris enjoys living a healthy lifestyle and exercising with his two Golden Retrievers. 


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Top Tips for Tech Security in the Classroom

Running a classroom full of computers that are constantly getting used and misused by dozens of potentially very clever students can be a disaster waiting to happen.

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Aside from all the potential accidental physical or software related harm that your young users can cause thanks to their own carelessness, there’s also the possibility of deliberate hack attempts by especially tech savvy students who just want to screw things up and hack away at their school’s property.

To protect against either as well as you possibly can, just follow the following easy to implement tips.


1. Install Security Software

Your first, most basic step as a classroom computer administrator is to install security software on every machine. For one thing, all of your computers should as a group be protected by an external, network-wide (router attached) firewall whenever possible, but if not, then at least install this protection on each individual machine.

Additionally, put in place a suite of high quality security software that protects your entire network. If you want to keep things simple (but more expensive) you can install a single anti-virus suite across all the machines in your network and protect them collectively through a single administrator account; or, you can take the budget route and set up free (but very effective9 programs like the AVG Free Edition on each individual machine. A good idea would also be the installation of specialized anti-malware and spyware tools that not all anti-virus programs cover fully.


2. Keeping Every Machine’s Software Updated

One of the most basic security steps you can take to protect your classroom machines is making sure that all of their security and other software applications are kept consistently up to date. Thus, if each of your computers is running an internet connection (as they surely are) then make sure that their browsers, software plugins like Flash,  Adobe and any other applications that your students use are updated at least once a month.

Also, more importantly than anything, make sure that each machine’s security software is fully updated on a regular basis and fully functional. You can do all of this easily and efficiently by simply setting all of your computers’ software applications to update automatically whenever new versions become available.


3. Set up Limited Access User Accounts

As the administrator of all the machines in your classroom settings, you’re obviously going to grant yourself Administrative access to each of them, giving you the power to install and uninstall programs however you want or need to. However, what you don’t want to do is let your other users, especially student users, have access to the same privileges. Instead, set the admin accounts on each machine so that they aren’t easy to hack into (no using obvious passwords that a clever student can easily guess) and set up separate, limited, user accounts for your students to work from.

Set these accounts so that no downloading or installation of software can happen without administrator permission; this will prevent your students or any unauthorized users from accidentally or purposely adding applications that they’re not supposed to have on the machine they use. Additionally, you might also wish to set up a tracking system on your machine network, so that every person who uses any of the computers needs to identify themselves first and can have their activity tracked remotely; this will add an extra layer of use limitation on top of limited access accounts.


4. Use Resetting Software

Resetting software such as Deep Freeze by Faronics or other, similar software packages are an extremely useful additional measure that you can set up across you entire classroom network.

In essence, what these systems do is maintain all computers in a certain, constant fixed state by automatically restoring them to certain predetermined settings as soon as your machines are shut off each day. Thus, all new software that’s installed and all new files or changes that are created are automatically erased and rendered unrecoverable unless you as the administrator make an exception for them individually. Your students will be able to save outstanding work on external media or save it to certain preselected folders inside the class computers for later use, but they won’t be able to modify or damage the machines in any other way.

With resetting software, any harmful changes that do manage to happen on a machine will be gone as soon as it’s restarted and automatically reset to its fixed safe state.


5. Don’t Forget About Digital Forensics

If you’re running a large network of machines that get used a lot by different people in your school, then you are pretty much guaranteed to eventually suffer a critical hard disk failure of some kind or another. This eventually happens even on well cared for private devices, so its likelihood is much, much larger in any multiple device setting.

In order to cope with this possibility and its potential consequences, you need to have your digital forensics protocols in place and ready for a worst case scenario right from square one.

For one thing, you should probably have a suite of forensic recovery software such as GetDataBack ready and waiting on one or two different machines, and an accompanying external hard drive case stored away somewhere as well. With these two on hand, you can quickly remove a damaged hard disk, insert it to your external case and connect it to a computer with the digital forensic recovery software inside it, allowing you to quickly save seemingly “lost” hard drive files.

In worst case scenarios where much more severe physical damage has been done to your computer hard drives through an accident or deliberate harm, you might want to consider hiring a data recovery firm like LWG Consulting to do their own forensic extraction of any data you find especially valuable.


About the author: Stephan Jukic is a freelance writer who generally covers a variety of subjects relating to the latest changes in white hat SEO, education technology, marketing tech and digital security. He also loves to read and write about location-free business, portable business management and finance. When not busy writing or consulting on technology and digital security, he spends his days enjoying life’s adventures either in Canada or Mexico, where he spends part of the year. Connect with Stephan on LinkedIn.




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Earn Extra $ with Teachers Pay Teachers

Warning: I personally make extra money off this idea.

You won’t get rich as a teacher, right? Think again, there are a small number of teacher’s who are making millions of dollars selling their lesson plans online on a website called TeachersPayTeachers (TPT). Teachers Pay Teachers is the first open marketplace where teacher’s can buy and sell original teaching lesson materials. I have uploaded several of my lessons to the website. Check my profile on Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education -


One Georgia kindergarten teacher Deanna Jump has earned more than $1 million selling lesson plans. The website was created om 2006 and since then more than 26 teacher’s have made more than a $100,000 on TPT. Please note the website takes 15% commission on most sales.


It is a website created with a mission to bring teachers together who create curriculum that strives to create new and fresh approaches to the classroom.  Teachers Pay Teachers is designed to reward teachers who work hard and deserve extra compensation for all those long hours lesson planning.


Ultimately teacher’s pay teacher’s creates a place where teacher’s can share their best practices and everyone benefits, especially students. If interested, Join Teachers Pay Teachers as a buyer or seller or both to make your teaching career even more rewarding.


View my profile of lessons on Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education -

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5 free mobile apps to capture student work written by Justin Stallings

Mobile technology has provided new opportunities for students and teachers to both capture and organize data.  With the advent of mobile technology in the classroom, students can do a number of things like capture notes from their spirals or the whiteboard to capturing pictures/video of a project they’ve been doing in class.        This allows students to both share and reflect upon their learning.
Here are 5 mobile apps to capture student work:
1.  Evernote (IOS, Android, Blackberry)
Evernote is a mobile app that is cross-platform friendly–so regardless if your students prefer the Iphone, Android, or Blackberry they will be able to install the app and use it.  With the Evernote app, students can take picutres of classroom activities (not to mention activities assigned outside of class) or they can take audio notes as well.  So if you have your students taking notes in a spiral or journal, they can make them into digital notes with the Evernote app and have access to them 24/7.  More importantly, once they’ve created the new note from the app, they will have it access to it on any other device which they have downloaded Evernote or they can simply access it from the main website
2.  JotNot (IOS)
Jotnot is a very impressive mobile app which makes pictures or “scans” very crisp and clear.  Depending on how new your mobile device is (which I still have the Iphone 3GS so the camera on it is not as good as some of the new models) taking pictures may not exactly be as clear as you want–especially when reading text.  With JotNot, you can take a picture and change the settings on it to make it clearer to read.
The only downside to the free version of JotNot is that can’t share via Evernote or Dropbox–that is only with the paid version ($1.99).  With the free version, you can still save the image to your phone’s photo library and upload it into Evernote or Dropbox app from there.
3.  Whiteboard Share (IOS)
Whiteboard Share is a app that I just recently started experimenting with.  Essentially, with Whiteboard Share you can take a photo and share via Evernote or email.  The main benefit of this app is that it when the image is uploaded into Evernote, it makes the text more readable (
The other benefit to using Whiteboard Share is that it gives you a “zoom” feature on the camera, which the standard camera on the Iphone (3GS model at least) doesn’t allow for that.
4.  Pinterest (IOS)
Pinterest is quickly becoming a fun and easy way to both capture and share photos.  With the Iphone app you have access to your previous “pins” and can take photos directly from the app and assign them to a “pin board” for easy organization.  The pin boards can be a easy way for students to organize photos into different categories (i.e. Group projects) and be able to reflect on what they did later on.
5.  Voicethread (IOS)
Voicethread is a very engaging tool that students can utilize in the classroom.  With the Voicethread Iphone app, you can take a series of pictures and categorize them into different “threads” and make them into a type of “slideshow” presentation.
What sets this apart from the other apps is that once you take the photo, Voicethread allows you to make comments on it either by voice, text, or video.  So instead of students just making a caption description of the photo, they can also take audio notes or even actually video of them describing what is going on in the picture.
Honorable Mention:
CamScanner (IOS, Android)
CamScanner is also another excellent app that students can use to capture there work.  With Camscanner, you can take a snap shot from your Iphone or Android device and save it as a PDF or upload directly into your Evernote account.
Thanks to Melissa Seideman (@mseideman) for suggesting the app!
If you are looking for a cross-platform app, Evernote is the way to go.  Of course, if students have the Iphone or even a Ipod Touch they have a few more options to choose from (for now at least). I’m sure that there are a few that I may have overlooked, which ones would you recommend?
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Use Smartseat to enhance your classroom

I have been using the app Smart Seat  for almost a year now. It is one of the best applications to keep track of student attendance, randomly choose students, and change assigned seating. Smart Seat is an app that provides teachers with so many features such as: changing the classroom layout, taking attendance, choosing student’s for class participation, making notes about students, and learning students names. As a teacher you can move students randomly or you can place students in particular seats. You can also generate a print-out seating chart with photos for your substitute. You can take attendance with the tap of a button using the absent, tardy, or excused feature. Classroom management and organization will never be the same with this app!

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Use Pinterest to Spice up your Teaching

Hello blogosphere!  My friend Melissa invited me to compose a few guest posts on her blog, and I am delighted to share a few thoughts with you!

You may recall from earlier posts that Twitter is a wonderful tool for teachers to connect with and share ideas and experiences with each other.  From reading feeds such as #sschat, teachers can share strategies and tips to improve their abilities in the classroom.  Gone are the days of staring at your plan book, searching for ideas on general search engines, and struggling to come up with a way to make the content engaging.  Now, help is just a few keystrokes away.  Let me share with you another great resource that I promise you will be fun, and more than a little addicting.


You may have heard of it.  If you have not used it and are not familiar with it, Pinterest is like a giant bulletin board.  Basically, when you log into the main page, you will see pictures (called “pins”) that other people have posted to their own boards (organized by theme or topic).  What people do is when they are browsing websites, if they see a picture of something that they really like, they click on the button to “pin” it, and then are redirected to Pinterest, where they pin the picture to the board of their choice.  Then, when they visit their pinboards later, and click on the “pinned” picture, they are redirected to the site where the picture originated.  I have pinned pictures of scarfs from knitting websites for future reference, then, months later, gone back and clicked on the pin to go to the website to get the pattern.  It’s like bookmarking pages using pictures.

Let’s just say that when I discovered that there were educational themed pin boards out there that I went a little crazy.  Over the course of a few days, I pinned over 75 different educational ideas to my “school ideas” board.  I got these pins both from educational blogs that I visited, websites, and of course, other peoples boards.  I learned several interesting things from Pinterest that I hope to use in my future classroom.


Interesting Ideas to Apply to Your Classroom

1.  Did you know that plastic plates (the throw-away kind) can double as little dry erase boards?  Glue one to a big popsicle stick and you have an instant response paddle.  (not a people paddle…make sure you set guidelines with your class for proper use, especially if you teach the lower grades 🙂 )   

2.  Home Depot sells dry erase paint.  And chalkboard paint.  You can now paint any surface and create chalk/dry erase boards.

3.  Using salt-dough clay and a little paint,  you can have students study geography by creating a land mass with various landforms.  Make a connection with world history by having students design the ideal land area to sustain a civilization.  What do people need to survive?  How do civilizations grow and prosper?  What area would be best suited to help people thrive?


4.  Remember playing “Guess Who” as a kid?  Well, if you can find one of the old game boards (and if you have the time and patience) you can cut out and glue pictures of historical people onto the flip cards, and you have a fun and interactive review game!

All told, I have over 100 pins on my “school ideas” board, and the 4 above ideas don’t even scratch the surface of the wonderful sources that I have found.  From classroom management strategies, to hands-on learning, to links for teaching to the Common Core, to classroom organization, to writing prompts and technology, the ideas (and pins!) are endless.  Simply browse pins in the Education category and be prepared to spend at least an hour glued to your computer, reading up on a ton of wonderful resources.

Finally, one last pin for the road.  I found a pin that links up to a blog, that lists over 200 pinboards full of education ideas.  If those pinboards are anything like mine, and have about 100 pins on them each, then you are looking at potentially 20,000 different educational pins to browse and repin to your own board for you to reference later.

Enjoy and happy pinning!


This post was written by Guest Blogger- Mandi Morningstar. You can follow Mandi @Mandiamstar Mandi is a New York State certified 7-12 social studies teacher.  She worked for 4 years teaching 9th and 10th grade Global History and Geography before being laid off.  Mandi is currently looking for a classroom to call her own, and working as a substitute teacher in the meantime.  She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Ithaca College in 2007 with her BA in Social Studies Education, and from SUNY New Paltz in 2011 with her MS in Adolescent Education with a history concentration.  Mandi and her fiance live in Beacon, NY with their cat, Yao-Man.

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