Driving Question

How are elections run?
To what extent do elections represent the will of the people?

Represented in this room today are the key players in Presidential politics: candidates, political parties, the media and interest groups.  Together we will move through a primary election and a general election, along the way you will be asked to give speeches, debate each other on the issues, create news stories, create campaign events, and create media all designed to convince voters that your candidate is the best for the job.  Good luck, the future of the nation depends on you.

Unit Title:

Election 2012

For Students:

12th grade


6 weeks


AP US Government

Unit Launch

Attached please find the overviews for each group in the simulation. This document gives each group the critical information they need to serve as the starting point in their campaign including a brief bio of each candidate, an overview of the key issues, a description of the media outlets and interest groups as well as information on each party generally.  The packet also contains a summary of what they’ll be doing for each task.

Election 2012 Packet – Candidates Overview

Election 2012 Packet – Interest Groups

Election 2012 Packet – Media Overview

Election 2012 Packet – Political Parties Overview

Midpoint Check

Midway through this unit we have the primary election where one candidate on each side is selected to advance to the general election.  After the primary, the losing candidates become “swing states” and they will decide the final outcome of the race.  The actual midpoint check for understanding is participation in a debate.  The candidates debate within their own parties. The parties and interest groups host the debate and write the questions as well as help with candidate prep.  The journalists write a story covering the debate.  The class votes on the candidates that advance to the general election.

Election 2012 – Election Primary Outline

Culminating Experience

If you can get a local candidate or party leader to be involved in this unit, it is a great benefit but isn’t necessary.  The final event is closing argument speech where the candidates attempt to convince the swing states to vote for them.  Following that, the campaign managers, leaders of the parties and interest groups participate in a “Sunday Morning Spin” discussion facilitated by a member of the media.  At the end of that, the swing states announce their decision and their rationale for that decision.

Differentiation (e.g. Special Education, English Language Learners)

These are two examples of rubrics, we are moving to one holistic rubric that can be used for each piece to facilitate smoother grading.

Election 2012 – Rubric 1

Election 2012 – Rubric 2

Examples of Final Products:

Campaign Ad:

In addition to being assessed on the various tasks they are asked to complete, students also take an AP style multiple choice exam and complete free response questions.

Teacher Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit:

The election unit is hot, students are highly engaged and it can almost become all consuming.  I think that what gets them is that they are able to make it happen in class, they aren’t just observers.  I think the other piece about this unit that I like is that there are winners and losers but that there are also always ways to come back and that’s a nice piece that keeps kids in there.

Here’s what I’m still working on making better about this unit:

Depending on the make-up of your class, this unit can become one where the kids who already have good relationships with each other and can engage in productive, creative work can really go far leaving behind the kids who don’t fit into their social group.  The division of party, candidate, media and interest group can also be challenging to pull together and make matter for each other.  Each year I try to think about ways to make them more dependent on each other so that they can all be equally engaged.

Student Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit:

It’s fun.  We got a chance to be really creative and we also learned a lot about the system so it was cool to see those things come together.  I don’t know if I would ever run for office, but I think I have a better understanding of what it would take to make that decision.

Here’s how this unit could help me learn more effectively:

This unit happens so fast!  If you miss one thing, it’s really easy to fall behind and then it can be hard to catch back up.  There’s no time for breathing.

Outside Expert Reflection

Here’s how this unit connects really well to my work:


Here’s where I think there are opportunities for growth:

Authentic Problem

Engaging in our system of campaigns and elections and understanding how each of the players can impact and change a race is an important thing that students understand.  As the challenge unfolds the spirit of competition starts to play an important role as students start to produce pieces of increasing quality and complexity in order to win the election.

What level on the continuum do you think you hit?  What might be one way to move towards more student initiation and ownership?

I think this unit lives in transformation and for some students it can certainly hit empowerment by the end.  Because there are so many different roles to play and there is no right answer to the questions, students have a lot of room to initiate their own learning.  This could move more squarely into empowerment by finding a way to engage all students faster.

Authentic Assessment

In the end you win or your lose, the assessment is very binary for candidates.  For other roles, the assessment is grounded in authentic problems but the authenticity of their assessment can be limited, especially if the students are behind on their tasks and so out of the flow of the unit.

What level on the continuum do you think you hit?  What might be one way to move towards more student initiation and ownership?

With unlimited time or an online solution, it would be really excellent to have ways for students to directly contribute to the race through funding or some other mechanism.  It might also be worthwhile to have students run their campaign in a different class period (if that would be possible) to give them more voters to convince.  By expanding that pool it would increase the authenticity and also give better ways for the outside groups to engage.

Student Voice

Students begin this unit with a big choice about the role that they wish to play in the election.


For this project we ask students to become expert consumers of political media so that they can mimic it for their own campaigns.  We don’t currently work with any other specific expert but each year we entertain the idea of trying to work with our local parties or media as advisors, the problem is timing and time.  In order to capture the energy of a campaign, this project typically happens in October and early November, just when parties and candidates are very difficult to schedule because of the real world.

Culturally Responsive Instruction

Politics lives in generalities and stereotypes.  The AP test lives in the status quo and textbook view of how elections happen.  This makes the cultural relevance of the project limited because there isn’t room for third parties to have a voice and while we try to show the range of the major parties through the primary process, not all students will connect to those narratives.  This would be a huge area of growth for the project, it has escaped us thus far.


Students are collaborating on a lot of different levels, both within their team to produce a specific product together and among teams to coordinate for various tasks.  The interdependence of the challenge makes it such that all students need to be performing or it can develop a fatal flaw quickly.  Generally students put this pressure on each other once they get going.

Academic Discourse

As students get more and more involved in the challenge, they are using the terms of the election because they are living in the interactions.

AP US Government and Politics Course Description

gov standards

Partnership for 21st Century Learning:

Work Creatively with Others

  • Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work
  • Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2e Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).

About the Authors

Adrienne Curtis Dickinson, Katie Piper, and Amber Graeber

In addition to being amazing educators, we are all National Board Certified and have 5 children between us and have managed to achieve some pretty awesome stuff in our young careers.  Oh and we met George Lucas.  We didn’t ask him about Jar Jar Binks.



The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.