Delone Catholic High School in Adams County embraced Draw the Lines PA last semester as much as any school in Pennsylvania. Leading the way was Julia Fuhrman, an 18-year veteran social studies teacher. Teacher John Fournie also took part in the effort. Thanks to their efforts, Delone has won a DTL award for extraordinary student engagement. Here Fuhrman talks about why and how she led her students through the DTL mapping challenge.
What do you love best about teaching social studies to young people?
I love teaching students to be problem-solvers. I try to encourage students to be a part of the decision-making that effects their lives, rather than sitting back and letting someone else make decisions for them. Most students have no trouble recognizing the problems that exist around them. I try to teach them processes and skills for working together to solve those problems. Because if we aren’t working to solve problem, we are contributing to their existence.
Have you tried to teach redistricting/gerrymandering before? How did you teach it and how did it go?
Previously, I did not take much time to teach gerrymandering, because truthfully, I did not realize how contrary it is to the fundamental characteristics of democracy. Now that I am more aware of how problematic it is, I am encouraged to have the resources available through Draw the Lines PA, so that my students and I can be part of the solution.
How’d you hear about Draw the Lines PA and what made you want to introduce it to your students?
I learned About Draw the Lines PA at the Pennsylvania Council for Social Studies Conference in October. I was excited because it fits right into my philosophy of American Government as communal problem solving.
Did you use DTL and the DistrictBuilder tool as part of the regular curriculum, as extra credit or as an outside activity for some students?
I used DTL and the DistrictBuilder tool as part of the regular curriculum. Students worked in teams to build their maps and to write their personal statements.
Were you confident or concerned about your students’ ability to grasp DistrictBuilder and do a map?
I was confident that my students could do this successfully because the User Guide and Video were so thorough.
How did you prepare them for the challenge?
We discussed what gerrymandering is and watched the Amanda Holt video. We discussed the results of the recent election and how they were more reflective in line with the results of statewide elections than with the map the court threw out. We used the Flashes of Insights cards to decide what factors would matter most when the students drew their own maps and then watched the video tutorial about DistrictBuilder.
How did the mapping go?
I gave the students some time to work together in class and then they finished the maps for homework over a couple of weeks. There was some natural frustration here and there with trying to achieve the goals.
What do you feel your students learned from trying to finish a map on DistrictBuilder, or from the other Draw the Lines materials you used?
The lessons regarding gerrymandering seems obvious, but I believe using these tools also helped students to learn about the geography and demographics of Pennsylvania.
What are the benefits you hope your students take away from the experience?
I hope my student remember that democracy is a Do-It-Yourself enterprise. We can all be a part of the decisions that affect our lives, if only we choose to take the opportunities we have to be a part of the decision-making process.
Are you interested in having lawmakers visit the class to see your students’ maps?
Logistically, this would be difficult for us, but I will encourage my students to contact their lawmakers to share their maps and their personal statements.
What suggestions do you have for making the Draw the Lines program more useful to teachers and students?
It would be great if there was an easy way to link student accounts to teacher accounts so that we could follow the students’ progress.