That's News to Me

Subjects: Civics, Social Studies
Grade Level: 9-12
Source: Cable in the Classroom

The lack of sufficient information on candidates running for local political offices spurred John Hanson to create The Coffee Break Debates. Hosted by the Waseca High school senior American government classes, and webcast and aired on cable television through mediacom, the debates give the community a chance to hear directly from candidates for offices like state representative, sheriff, school board and city council. The debates also offer important learning opportunities for Hanson's students.

Students take the initiative by sending out invitations to candidates running for local and statewide offices to participate in the debates. To prepare, they spend time researching the issues candidates are facing during the election. They then produce a live debate program, including a summary of what they have learned. The recorded debate programs are then delivered to the cable company and aired multiple times, as well as made available in streaming format on the high school website. Through their involvement, students learn from local and state officials about the issues and the electoral process. In terms of television production skills, students also learn about staging, lighting and camera operations. The insight, knowledge and experiences shared by Hanson's students in their summary sessions demonstrate how much they have learned about the issues and candidate qualifications, and more broadly, how they can become informed, educated voters in the future. not only did the students and the community watch the debates, but the local newspaper used the content of the debates in their campaign coverage. The results are impressive: all of Hanson's students who were eligible to vote did so in the last election, as did 75 percent of the Waseca community.

"This project provides an invaluable hands-on learning experience for students who are first-time or future voters. A number of current and former students have shared with me that they have a better understanding of the democratic process and of the importance of becoming an informed voter as a result of their participation in the Coffee break debates." John Hanson

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