In teaching 10th graders about the law, Katrina Traylor Rice starts with the basics: How do we know what’s right and what’s wrong?
In her Introduction to the Law and Speech Communication class, she posits that judges and lawyers must have a well-developed sense of ethics and integrity in order for the justice system to operate fairly.
Rice guides her students as they peel back the layers on right and wrong. One of the first questions: What is morality?
“Of course, the quick answer is that it’s doing the right thing,” she says. “Well, how do you know that what you’re doing is the right thing? And what about in those situations where there might be two right things to do, or where there’s two wrong things to do?”
The students also see how historical figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks defied society’s rules in the name of justice.
“They do understand that this is what we want in our society, not just people who follow the rules or follow along, but that if there are unjust things happening, we need people to try to actively change those things if we want to move society forward,” she says.
Students learn to break down problems by using computational thinking
Rice’s students might be learning about the law but they’re also practicing computational thinking, which requires breaking down a problem into its component parts. In doing so, they’re addressing the ISTE Standard for Students, Computational Thinker 5c: Students break problems into component parts, extract key information and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
“The goal is that the students are able to extract the key ideas of the topic of moral reasoning,” she says. “That’s going to look different for every project, which is fine, particularly since we get to watch all the projects and see all the different ways the students were able to extract information and then share it back with us.”
The second part of Rice’s morality unit calls on students to tap their creative powers.
Students come up with a morality tale that they bring to life through an artistic endeavor, such as a video, comic strip, dramatic monologue, puppet show, rap song or a children’s story. Rice offered students 20 creative options, but they could also choose something else.
Although not all projects have a tech component, technology opens up the possibilities for what they can create, she said.
“By giving them the option of creating a social media page, they were able to engage with platforms that are familiar and comfortable for them. They effectively became ‘social media influencers’ that advocated for morality as opposed to selling products. Some students used the iPad to create documents like pamphlets or brochures that they could easily share with students.”
The projects often involve issues students face in their lives, such as standing up to bullies or peer pressure to not be a snitch or feeling like an outcast for taking an unpopular stand.“It shows me how they’re applying and extracting the ideas of moral reasoning and development and applying it to the experiences they currently have,” she says.
Why it works
It forces students to think deeply. Part of the project requires students to consider where their sense of morality comes from. Their parents? Their peers? A fear of punishment? And that requires them to come to conclusions that apply only to them.
They also see that being on the wrong side the law can be the right side. They see how historical figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks defied society’s rules in the name of justice.
The concepts apply to their own lives. The projects often involve issues students face in their lives, such as bullying or taking an unpopular stand.
“They’re taking what they are learning and thinking about how it impacts their daily lives and how they’re making decisions.”
It offers a chance to exercise creativity.
Projects have included videos in which classmates play the roles, a recitation of a series of poems, a Monopoly-like game with squares that pose moral questions and social media pages in which social media influencers promote high moral reasoning instead of consumer products.
“One thing that’s really great is that when it’s time to watch presentations, you’re watching so many different presentations,” she says. “It’s not just PowerPoint after PowerPoint after PowerPoint.”
Jerry Fingal is a freelance writer and editor specializing in education, business and finance.