OGDEN -- Ogden High School senior Josh Shackleford has a whole new respect for elected officials. He and his fellow classmates have spent the last three weeks researching, writing, presenting and debating bills in Jaci Durtschi's U.S. government and civics class.
The students have been working with the district's teacher librarians on the project, and have learned how to use Google apps, a new research tool the district provides to all students. With the tool, students can work simultaneously on projects in groups on separate computers but in the same document.
Durtschi can also be involved from her own desk. She can type in feedback to the students as they do the work. Durtschi said the computer-aided research training has been invaluable.
She has always had students write and debate bills for this particular class, but never on such a thorough level. She has seen her students thrive with the new technology and look at things in a deeper, more critical way.
Student Desiree Chugg said using the research tools helped her dig deeply into her bill.
Shackleford agreed. "This is going to help me out so much when I have to do any kind research paper," Shackleford said of the app.
Students worked in groups of four to research and write their bills. They selected topics that interested them, and Durtschi grouped the students by their interests. The students said they liked having common ground to start with, even though their opinions on the subjects were sometimes different.
Shackleford's group presented a bill about creating a "fat tax." As the group presented it, students (or senators, as Durtschi referred to them) started expressing opinions about the idea. "You're not understanding what we are trying to say," Shackleford explained to the class. After class, Shackleford and student Mysti Bowden said they now understand how important it is to research bills and understand what goes into them.
"I didn't realize how much thought went into it," Bowden said. "I thought it was just someone who had an opinion about something."
Many of the students said their favorite part of the process was debating the issues. "They like that because they often feel their opinions don't matter and their voices aren't heard," Durtschi said.
The students and Durtschi agreed that having the teacher librarians on hand made a huge impact. While Durtschi helped with the education of how to write bills, the teacher librarians were giving help on the research tools and opening the students' eyes on how to find valid information on the Internet.
Chugg also plans to use what she has learned when she gets to vote for the first time next week. "This has helped me to be more educated and now I know how to research what they have done behind closed doors," she said of candidates.
Teacher librarian Daniel Mauchley said he hopes to be back next semester to train Durtschi's next set of classes. Right now, students at Ben Lomond High School are using the app with their math classes, he said.