The Constitution as a Machine Poster Lesson

I’m a fan of the Bill of Rights Institute. One of the many reasons is that a few of my old professors from the University of Dallas will pop in from time to time to talk about the U.S. Constitution.

A few years ago Dr. Dougherty , one of the nicest geniuses you will EVER meet, happened to be a featured speaker at a B.O.R.I. event. I had taken two or three classes with him at U.D. and knew him to be funny, challenging, and enlightening…something I’ve tried to reproduce in my own teachings at the high school and college level for nearly a decade now.

While he was talking about the proper functioning of our Constitution he mentioned how checks and balances were like the teeth of gears that over lapped to allow for the work of government to occur. Yes, there is friction and seizing of movement between the branches, but the overlapping of power was necessary to get one branch to move in a certain direction. As a matter of fact, if one branch disagreed with one or more of the others, then it could stop the government from acting too quickly. Since quick action tends to happen during highly emotional times, these checks and balances would keep the government from becoming too effective in taking short-sighted emotional action that tends to produce horrible injustices or piles of dead bodies.

Immediately I was inspired to put together a lesson where Articles I-III were in fact gears in a great machine. Below you’ll find the lesson and some images of student work from years past. Current student work will be displayed late tomorrow.

Gathering Data: Students first swim their way through the various chapters that cover checks and balances, legislative, executive, and judicial powers. They then organize that data into a T-chart to separate powers vs. checks. Finally, they label related checks similarly. So all war related powers and checks are all blue, for example, or all labelled #1. This way, when I’m grading them at home, I know that THEY know which checks and powers are related.

gathering data

gathering data 2

Final Product: I don’t teach art class, but I do appreciate the extra effort students put into their work when they are engaged. The rubric only assigns 15 or so points to aesthetics. However, when students are engaged and see the purpose of an assignment they tend to pour their heart into it. At the end of the day, though, I tell my students (esp. those who aren’t so artistically inclined) that I teach for content, content, content.

photo (3)


photo (2)

Here is the lesson. Please advise if you find anything wrong or can improve on this… I’m a big fan of open source stuff 🙂

About Thrasymachus

2013 Northwest ISD teacher of the year, Humanities Texas 2012 Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and 2011 Outstanding Educator of North Texas Award (North Central Texas College). I'm currently a Regional Digital Learning Consultant with the Education Service Center Region 11 in Ft. Worth, Texas and a college government educator who incorporates philosophy, technology & humor. A student through and through, I walk with my students in their learning. Most importantly, I'm blessed with the 3 most perfect kids eva! I love on them ery day!!!
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