Exploring the Constitution’s Six Big Ideas in the Classroom

Constitution pic

Image: archives.gov

Koch Asset Management president Donald L. Koch possesses over four decades of experience in the financial sector. He has written extensively on topics including business economics and monetary policy and has taught courses in economics and banking at institutions including Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and the Georgia Institute of Technology. In addition, Donald L. Koch is the founder of the Koch Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating Americans on the nation’s founding documents.

While inspiring high school and junior high students to engage meaningfully with these topics may seem a lofty task, the US National Archives and Records Administration’s Center for Legislative Archives has developed an extensive lesson plan for grades eight through 12, focusing on the key principles of the Constitution. By breaking the Constitution down into the “Six Big Ideas” of limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, and popular sovereignty, educators can more clearly demonstrate how the document shaped the structure and function of the federal government.

Before the lesson, students should have an understanding of concepts such as ratification, republic, and sovereignty, as well as the Articles of Confederation and the Three-Fifths Compromise. Their first foray into constitutional studies should consist of mapping the text of the document, which will shed light on its most heavily emphasized topics. Students should also investigate how the backgrounds and political relationships of the country’s founders impacted the Constitutional Convention.

After thoroughly discussing the “Big Ideas” as demonstrated in the Constitution, educators can guide students in analyzing various archived documents exemplifying the government’s constitutional powers throughout history. The National Archives’ lesson plan concludes with a classroom activity that demonstrates how the Constitution continues to inspire widespread debate. Students work together in two groups to develop arguments related to the Constitution’s Big Ideas, answering such thought-provoking questions as “What should be the role of citizens in public policy development?” in a structured classroom debate.