About the Institute
May 15, 2023
Learning by Legislating: Kennedy Institute relaunches Senate Immersion Module civic education programming for fall semester
Award-winning instruction fuses technology with role-playing to simulate governmental process of passing meaningful legislation
May 16, 2023 – The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate announced today the relaunch of its award-winning civic learning programming, the Senate Immersion Module (SIM) for the Fall 2023 semester. Designed to immerse students in the functions of the United States Senate through cutting-edge technology and hands-on, role-playing exercises, and the Kennedy Institute’s one-of-a-kind, full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber; the SIM serves to educate on the functions of democracy and the importance of the U.S. Senate by transforming students into “Senators for a Day” to introduce, debate, and vote on critical legislative topics.
The relaunch of the program comes as the Kennedy Institute opens bookings for all of their in-person and online programs, intended for K-12 teachers across the country to engage students on the functions of government. Interested educators can currently book a lesson for their class by visiting emkinstitute.org/education.
The goal of the Senate Immersion Module is to engage students in a simulation of the legislative process. The 2.5-hour role-playing simulation assigns students Senate profiles, party interests, and the priorities of the state they are representing. Using top-of-the-line touch tablets and interactive screens throughout the Kennedy Institute’s building and replica Senate Chamber, students are guided through the process of understanding, debating, and voting to produce a piece of legislation that aligns with their profiles and party interests. As they move through sub-committee and committee hearings, across-the-aisle debates, and the final vote in the Senate Chamber; students engage with interactive screens to make decisions around the provisions and amendments that will make up a final bill. Throughout, the SIM experience relies on the Senate process, Senate rules of decorum, and facilitation to provide space for structured, considered dialogue. Students “learn by legislating,” about important – and often controversial – issues, while having the support to discuss and examine multiple perspectives through the roles they are playing.
Program bookings for the Kennedy Institute’s SIM program and other educational offerings come at a time of national political division and as national social studies test scores have seen a decline. This month, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released data identifying a sharp drop in students’ knowledge of U.S. history and civics, with 31% of eighth-grade students performing below average standards, compared to 24% in 2018.
“It is clear there is a dire need for stronger civic education resources throughout the United States. Our new and improved SIM program creates savvy consumers of representative democracy by teaching the next generation how it works, what it requires, and the effort and compromise it takes to pass meaningful legislation in the United States,” said Adam Hinds, CEO of the Kennedy Institute. “By learning the process and practicing it themselves, they are able to understand the nuances of working through differing political interests in the search for common ground. Once they have that knowledge, they will develop a better expectation of their elected officials to reach political agreements that move our democracy forward.”
The relaunched Senate Immersion Module builds on the foundation of the Kennedy Institute’s original, award-winning SIM program, which over the span of five years reached up to 10,000 students a year before being paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The revised, updated program incorporates input from the Kennedy Institute’s Youth Civic Education Fellows and Teacher Advisory Board, DEI specialists, technologists, policy experts, and hundreds of students and teachers across the region and country to better meet the needs of educators, address difficult topics in today’s political climate, and align with national standards of civic education. Current topics include climate and energy policy, and election reform, with plans to add new topics in the future. Topics are intended to be issues that have not found easy resolution in America’s national politics.
The SIM will be available onsite in the Kennedy Institute’s full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber. It joins the Kennedy Institute’s array of K-12 facilitated civic education programs offering students an opportunity to engage with important policy issues both in-person and virtually. There are plans for the expansion of the SIM to be facilitated online so that students across the country can debate meaningful legislation – such as a 9th grade class in Kentucky debating a 9th grade class in California on the pressing national issues of the day.
“We want teachers and students to have information and tools to support the facilitation of difficult conversations in which disagreements may arise, and to be able to establish an environment that feels safe and respectful in which to explore these complex topics,” said Sarah Yezzi, Director of Education at the Kennedy Institute. “The SIM allows students to experience what the legislative process looks like from the inside. How it works, and how legislation is shaped. They will learn to look for mutual interests and for solutions that take into account multiple perspectives.”
The way civic education is taught has proven to have an impact on student performance and retention. Students who participate in several simulations per school year, such as role-playing and mock trials, can see on average a 12-point boost in test scores, according to the NAEP report. Additionally, immersive civic learning programs like the SIM are proven to help students build life-long competencies in acquiring knowledge on new civic issues, form a considered perspective on the varied impacts of legislative choices, and acquire the skills to engage in productive dialogue with people representing a diverse spectrum of viewpoints. The delivery of the in-person SIM program in the Kennedy Institute’s full-scale replica Senate Chamber makes students decision-makers in the legislative process, and offers structured discussion of current events and potentially controversial issues. Free classroom resources help students and teachers, prepare, reflect, and engage.
According to the landmark 2011 Guardians of Democracy report, investing in civic learning strengthens American democracy. Research makes clear that students who received high-quality civic learning are more likely to understand public issues, view political engagement as a means of addressing communal challenges, and participate in civic activities.
About the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United State Senate The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate actively inspires all Americans to keep our democracy and civic life vibrant, educate the public about the unique role of the Senate in our government, and promote civil discourse to drive bipartisan solutions for our nation’s challenges. Through educational programs, public forums, and digital exhibits, the Kennedy Institute welcomes individuals of all ages to debate the issues of the day, learn from each other, and leave empowered to make their own contributions to improving their communities. Learn more at www.emkinstitute.org.
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