Structured Academic Controversy Lesson Plan

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Structured Academic Controversy Lesson Plan
Context: This lesson plan is designed for an AP US Government class for a 90 minute block. The students will be given a controversial issue in this case the legalization of marijuana. The students will be provided with background information a couple of articles to back up their assigned point of view. The idea of this lesson plan is to help them synthesize information into an argument, even if it’s one that they don’t personally agree with. This also gives students an opportunity to practice and engage in civil discourse. The issue of legalization of marijuana has become a hot topic in American Politics and one that gives the students an opportunity to discuss an issue that will affect them in their lifetime. In the 2012 two states passed legislation that legalized the use of recreational marijuana. This issue will only begin to be pushed further into the fore-front of American Politics until it is completely dealt with.

Instructional Model: The instructor will provide some research on both sides of the topic and organize

the class into pairs. The instructor will then assign a side of the issue to each group and pair each pair of

students with another pair who they will be arguing against. The pairs will first have to learn their position

by reviewing the research the instructor has provided them. They will then present their side of the issue

to their opposing pair and then the opposing pair with present their findings. Following, both pairs will

have to restate the counter argument to their point of view, using the notes that they have taken while the

other pair presented. The students will then be free to separate themselves from their assigned

point of view and will have to work with another pair to come to a consensus on a position that is

supported by the facts. This is a great model to use because it requires that students to synthesize the

information that they gather from their research and present it in a logical way. It requires the students to

have an argument that is civilly conducted where both parties are still respected. It pushes the students to

engage in higher level thinking by fully enveloping themselves in the issue, understanding every nuance.

The legalization of marijuana is a good topic for the SAC model because it a current issue in America. It

is also an issue that they can formulate an opinion quickly and might already come in with background

Objectives: VA GOVT.1g - select and defend positions in writing, discussion, and debate
Students will be able to synthesize information given to them and present it in an argument

Students will be able to identify key arguments in each side of the controversial issue

Students will be able to critique their opponent’s position on a controversial issue

Students will be able to restate their opponent’s position

Students will be able to devise a compromise between the sides using facts to support their decision.

Assessment: If run correctly using the SAC model the learning should take care of itself. It will be obvious whether or not students are really getting it or really trying to get it. If the students take notes and plan out their presentations and then take notes on their opponent’s opposition when they reverse positions it will be obvious whether or not they were paying attention and whether or not they “got it.” Simple informal assessments can be made in class about how well they present the material or how they represent the other side’s argument. In a lesson like this formalized assessments take away from the message of the lesson which is just to learn and become informed about a controversial issue and practice civil discourse. The one assessment that will be collected will happen right before the debrief portion of the lesson plan.. Students will hand in slip of paper that has their group’s final position on the issue with the facts supporting it.
Content and Instructional Strategies:

(Pairs will be formed with the students sitting next to each other. If there are problems with this the instructor can assign the class into pairs.)

Hook (10 minutes): The hook will be the YouTube clip below. It is a clip with two former police officers debating about the legalization of marijuana. This is a great hook because it gets the students immediately engaged in the issue and they get a little background information in the process.
Model of SAC (5 minutes) - The instructor will model and explain how SAC is conducted. He/She will introduce the topic and outline how to go about present their ideas to the class in a civil way. The instructor will warn against any type of arguments other than that pertaining to the material. He/She will present one side of the argument and then demonstrate how to properly take notes when the opposite pair is speaking and how to restate their argument.
Structured Academic Controversy (75 minutes)-
Conducting the Controversy (15 minutes) - Students will assigned into pairs at this point and either be given the handout for or against the legalization of marijuana. They will read the handouts then work together to craft a position on the issue using the handout that they are given. They will then come up with an effective way to present their side of the issue to the opposing pair.
Presenting Position (15 minutes) - Now, each pair will present their position with as much persuasion as possible. Each pair will listen to the other group as they present taking notes so that they can ask clarifying questions at the end of their presentation, looking for holes in their position. Each group will have 5 minutes to present
Discussing the Issue (10 minutes) - After both sides have effectively presented their side, students should be asking questions about the facts that support their view point. They should try to understand the other side of the argument as much as possible, the more detail and facts the better. Each pair will then present counter arguments.

Reversing Perspectives (10 minutes) - Now, each pair will switch roles, taking the opposing view to the originally assigned one. Students must make a sincere and thoughtful effort to defend this position as well. The students will elaborate on this position if they can by adding other outside knowledge.

Reaching a Decision (15 minutes) - Students should now feel no allegiance to either side of the issue and both pairs should work together to create the best argument for both sides of the controversy. They will then attempt to come to a compromise on the issue that is supported by the facts and handouts they had been given. They will present their findings to the class. They write what their compromise was down on paper and turn it in at the end of class. If the class is running short on time just have the students write down their final position and the facts supporting it, and don’t worry about them presenting their positions to the class.
Debrief (10 minutes) - The instructor will ask the class about how everything went, the process, and the role of the instructor in the SAC. Ask questions as to ensure that they understood the point of the exercise and that they understand strengths and weaknesses of each argument. This should be a class-wide discussion where all questions are answered.

Resources: The resources necessary for this lesson are the handouts that follow this lesson plan and a class full of students ready to learn. For the hook it will be necessary to have internet access with a laptop and projector to play the video on. Everything else is student driven activity with the assistance of the handouts.

Differentiation: The framework of this specific lesson makes it difficult to accommodate the multiple types of learners that are in the classroom because it is structured in a way that is very specific without much wiggle room. However, the hook should entice and engage their interest and get them focused in on the topic. As always, the students should be in pairs that will work well together, not socially, but academically. If someone has a low reading level I would pair them with someone who might be at a higher reading level so they can help each other. The more quiet students would need to be in a pair with a more extroverted partner as well so that they balance each other out well. Having two extroverts in a group has the potential to be a distraction from the task at hand.

Adaptations: Students with IEPs and 504 plans should not have any problems with this type of lesson. They should be able to still interact with their classmates in a positive way without getting in the way of their learning. As stated above, if IEPs or 504 plans show that they might need extra help in reading comprehension they will be paired with someone who can help them so they can participate fully.

Reflection: It is very important that the instructor be aware of what’s going on in the classroom while the students are working in pairs and groups. There is always potential for arguments and fights when dealing with adolescents, but especially when they are dealing with controversial issues. It is imperative that the instructor understand what’s going on and use their presence effectively. Classroom management will be crucial during this lesson plan because when students work with their peers without much instructor guidance things can get out of hand quickly. It will be important that the students stay on task for the entire block because SAC takes a long time to complete. Technology shouldn’t be a huge issue in this lesson plan because it’s only used for the hook. If technology is not working that day it would be perfectly acceptable to introduce the topic and just dive right into the SAC. Background knowledge should not influence this activity because students are given a handout that they will use to get the key points of the arguments. Background knowledge may benefit some students, but not to the point where it would make or break their arguments. The SAC model is great for a social studies classroom and for teaching controversial issues to students while still practicing civil discourse.

Name: _______________

Date: _______________
Structured Academic Controversy: Legalization of Marijuana
Overview of the Issue: The issue of the legalization of marijuana is slowly coming to the forefront of society. In the past month two states have passed bills allowing for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana. Some believe this is a great way to reduce crime and generate tax revenue for the government if it is properly regulated. However, some believe that marijuana is a gateway drug and users will find their way to harder, more dangerous drugs. In this handout, you will review the main arguments of the legalization of marijuana and shortly present these views to another pair.
Arguments for the legalization of Marijuana:

  1. Limiting the use of drugs intrudes on personal freedom – If a substance is shown to be harmful, why not let the individual decide what is “harmful” to them? Marijuana is thought of as a victimless crime where the only one being harmed is the user.

  2. Medical benefits- Many studies have been conducted proving the medical benefits of the use of marijuana. Many cancer patients are prescribed medical marijuana because it helps them during their chemotherapy. It has also been used to treat depression.

  3. FDA would ensure its safety and provide a new source of taxation- If marijuana was brought into the legitimate business world the FDA could regulate the quality and safety of the drug. Many drug users die every year because of unsafe drugs. If the FDA were to regulate marijuana this would not happen. The government puts enormous taxes on other harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana should be treated in the same way. This would create another stream of tax revenue and potentially a huge source of income for the government

  4. Crime would significantly drop- If marijuana became a legitimate product then drug dealers are likely to go completely out of business. Drug Dealers are huge opponents to the legalization of marijuana because they currently hold a monopoly in an unregulated market. If marijuana was legalized they would no longer be a factor. Crime would also drop because in the world of illegal drugs there are no police if you have a problem. Individuals have to deal with these issues themselves which usually just leads to retaliatory violence. Drug cartels would subside and crime rates would drop.

  5. Police and court resource would be freed up to work on more serious crimes. – Many consider the war on drugs to be an expensive failure. If marijuana was legalized then police officer and court officials would be spending their time on harder crimes like, rape, murder, terrorism, and harder drugs.

Name: _______________

Date: _______________
Structured Academic Controversy: Legalization of Marijuana
Overview of the Issue: The issue of the legalization of marijuana is slowly coming to the forefront of society. In the past month two states have passed bills allowing for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana. Some believe this is a great way to reduce crime and generate tax revenue for the government if it is properly regulated. However, some believe that marijuana is a gateway drug and users will find their way to harder, more dangerous drugs. In this handout, you will review the main arguments of the legalization of marijuana and shortly present these views to another pair.
Arguments against the legalization of Marijuana:

  1. Using Drugs are morally wrong- Many religions and personal philosophies believe the use of any intoxicating substance is immoral and wrong.

  2. Driving risks and other dangers would be increased- Marijuana is often referred to as a “victimless crime” because it only affects the user. However, if marijuana was legalized then instances of high driving would increase. This causes a huge problem for law enforcement because high driving is much harder to detect than drunk driving because high driving usually lacks the pungent odor that alcohol has. With drug use there is always the chance that a lapse in judgment can occur leading the user to commit more serious crimes than if he wasn’t high on drugs.

  3. Higher Chance of Marijuana falling into the hands of children- Research supports the claim that children are not fully developed until they are 21 years of age. Marijuana use could potentially deal severe damage to a developing brain or body. Children get their hands on alcohol and cigarettes already. Do we really need to add marijuana to that list?

  4. Physical Damage that would result from drug abuse- Although there are conflicting reports the use of marijuana has been linked to brain damage, cancer, lung damage, depression, amotivational syndrome, and even death. Brain damage affects memory loss and problem solving abilities.

  5. Legalization of marijuana could lead to the legalization of all drugs altogether- With the legalization of marijuana society takes a step in a “anything goes” type of world. Society would not legalize all drugs overnight however, slowly but surely other drugs will be brought up for legalization, eventually leading to the legalization of all drugs. This reason sees the legalization of marijuana as a stepping stone to a much darker future where all drugs are legalized.

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