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The Caucus Curriculum

Posted: November 13, 2015 | By: Ellen Bruegger Tagged: From the Campaign Trail

logoWhen you hear the term Caucus 101 you probably think of an introductory college course on American government; but in fact what I’m talking about is a new high-school curriculum that Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate released in October.

Three Des Moines area teachers wrote the Caucus 101 curriculum, Adam Arthur of Abraham Lincoln High School, Canada Snyder of Central Academy and Joseph Nydle of Hoover High School. In an email correspondence with Nydle, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about the curriculum’s development process. Nydle, who was approached by Pate’s office about developing the Caucus 101 curriculum, said he was motivated to help because of how outdated the previous curriculum was and for the extra practice planning. Nydle said the team of three teachers originally met and developed an outline for the series, taking into consideration time limitations, curriculum, Iowa core standards, materials and political neutrality. They met twice a week from late May to mid-July, sharing what they had developed, giving ideas feedback and reviewing material resources. Even though the curriculum was developed for the classroom, Nydle hopes it is used outside the classroom and even thinks it would be used more easily outside the classroom.

The curriculum has seven parts that can be taught in 30-, 60- or 90- minute periods. This flexibility allows teachers to choose the option that works best for their classroom. A teacher could decide to dedicate seven full class periods to the curriculum or use it alongside another unit. This is one of the educational series best qualities; teachers rarely have seven extra days at any point in the school year to add an additional unit.

Day 1: History and Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation Status

Day 2: Political Parties

Day 3: The Media

Day 4: Interest Groups

Day 5: Democrat & Republican/Caucus vs. Primary

Day 6: Mock Caucus Simulation

Day 7: Effect of Caucuses

Each day of the series is a different topic all relating to the caucuses, history, processes and influential factors. In addition to modifying the time spent on each lesson, teachers can also skip or combine entire lessons based on students capabilities and the goals of the unit. As a future teacher, there are definitely some changes I would make personally to the lessons. I think spending an entire day on the differences between Democrat and Republican caucus processes is necessary.

The primary reason I would spend so much time on the party caucus is because my students are future voters and teaching them about the democratic process will help engage them later in their lives when they are eligible to vote.

All the materials necessary for teaching this curriculum are available on its website. This includes PowerPoints, worksheets, supplemental readings, detailed lesson plans and even background information for teachers. Another outstanding aspect of this curriculum is that the lesson plans are aligned with Iowa core standards; these standards were adopted to set clear expectations of what students grades K-12 should be able to do and know. As Iowa core standards become more fully integrated into classrooms, teachers now much align all unit and lesson plans with them. These lessons have already been aligned with Iowa core standards by respected teachers, which will make it easier to teachers to integrate into their classrooms and increase the legitimacy of the series.

In addition to the curriculum, Caucus 101 is hosting the First Annual Iowa Youth Caucus next week on Nov. 19 at Hoover High School in Des Moines. This event is open to all Iowa high school students, parents and teachers. Both Republican and Democrat caucuses will be simulated. Local elected officials and campaign and party staff will be present to help students find out how to get involved. The event is expected to run from 4:30-8:30 p.m. and hopes to engage a new generation of voters to help maintain Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.

IMG_1211Bruegger is a graduate student in the School of Education pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Studies Education. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Iowa and talks to her two cats way too much. Follow her on Twitter.