Questions About the 10 Step Project Citizen Process

1. Introducing Project Citizen

Q: What are the main goals of the Project Citizen program?

A: The Project Citizen program aims to equip students with

  • an understanding of systems of government.
  • the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors necessary for lifelong engagement with democratic processes and their communities.
  • an enlightened, reasoned commitment to the fundamental values and principles of American democracy.

Q: What are the tasks of the Project Citizen program?

A: During the Project Citizen program, students will work collaboratively to research and create a solution-oriented policy for a community issue. Students will begin by first identifying a community issue and conducting background research on the issue. They will then identify potential solutions to the issue and weigh each solution’s advantages and disadvantages. Next, students will propose a policy solution action plan for the appropriate governmental agency to address the community issue. For the final task of the Project Citizen program, students reflect on their learned knowledge and skills, as well as their experiences working together to solve a community issue.

2. Learning About Public Policy

Q: What do students need to know about public policy for the Project Citizen program?

A: Because the Project Citizen program is focused on creating a policy solution to a community issue, it is important students become familiar with different facets of the public policy landscape and process. For one, students need to know what is public policy and what is not public policy. This can be done by identifying examples and non-examples of public policy related to their school, town or city, and state. Two, students will also need to understand the structures of government and the complex roles different governmental entities play. Students may come to understand the levels, branches, and roles of government by exploring these within their own community-level, state-level, and national-level governments. Check out this Public Policy module for general information on public policy.

3. Identifying Public Policy Problems in Your Community

Q: How do students identify public policy problems within their community?

A: Many communities may share some of the more common public policy problems, such as affordable childcare, sustainability, safe and equitable schools, and accessible healthcare, among others. Having students begin by discussing their own lived experiences of public policy problems may prompt other students to reflect and share similar experiences. Students may also talk with community members like their parents, neighbors, and family friends to gather more information on experiences to begin creating a common storyline. Be sure to provide time for students to share their experiences and storyline findings with the rest of the class and begin collecting and displaying potential public policy problems somewhere for the class to monitor.

Q: What should be the scope of the public policy problem?

A: While students may want to solve lofty public policy goals, like eradicating world hunger, it is important to consider the timeline, outreach, and feasibility of the public policy problem. Will the students be able to thoroughly research the problem and alternative solutions during the time allotted for the Project Citizen program? Will students be able to reach out and connect with the appropriate government officials and agencies to explore the public policy problem and garner feedback on the proposed policy solution? Is the policy solution feasible to adopt or enact by the appropriate government office or agency? In essence, the more local the public policy problem and solution, the more successful students will be in their participation in the Project Citizen program. The Identifying the Problem module will be helpful in making these decisions.

4. Selecting A Problem for Your Class to Study

Q: How many problems should the class work on at one time?

A: We strongly recommend that your class choose one problem only. If you allow the class of students to undertake more than one problem, it becomes very difficult for you the teacher to manage all the different public policy groups and for students to get the attention and guidance they need.

Q: How should the class decide on the problem to study?

A: Some teachers have their students vote on the problem. Some try to reach consensus. There are advantages to both. If students vote, the problem is decided on more quickly, but you may not have complete buy-in of every student. If you decide by consensus, you will have complete buy-in of your students but it will probably take longer to decide on the topic.

Q: Should the teacher ever choose the problem the class will study?

A: No. The students will spend a great deal of time and effort on their project. If the students don't feel a sense of ownership over their project idea, they will lose interest and either quit or do a poor job.

Q: How long does it take to choose a problem?

A: It usually takes 2-3 weeks to narrow all of the student's ideas down to one problem that the entire class can buy-in to.

5. Gathering Information on the Problem Your Class Will Study

Q: How long does this part of the Project Citizen program take?

A: Doing the research takes the greatest amount of time (4-8 weeks) so it should be started as soon as possible -especially if students are requesting and gathering information from different sources.

Q: How do I support students in conducting interviews?

A: Students may conduct interviews with key community stakeholders by phone, telemeeting, email, or in-person. If conducting an in-person interview, this is where supportive parents come in handy. They can take their child to the interview or even assist their child with phone interviews. You can also have students conduct phone and telemeeting interviews during class, with a partner or small group listening in and taking notes. For email interviews, you can help draft an email message, and either have the student send the message from their school-provided email or have you can send it.

Q: I don't have a phone in my room. How do I have my students make and receive phone calls?

A: If you don't have a phone in your classroom, perhaps arrangements can be made to allow the students to use a centrally located phone on campus. Also, this may be an opportunity for students to conduct the interview through a telemeeting platform.

Q: Do we have to have resources from every resource category listed in the book?

A: While students may conduct a majority of their research on public policy problems online, care should be taken to include research from as many different sources as possible. Encourage students to visit the library, watch videos, and read newspapers to research the public policy problem of their interest. Using different sources and modalities will improve their research skills.

6. Preparing to Develop a Portfolio to Present Your Research

Q: It says in the book to divide the class up in to four groups at the beginning of this step. How will the groups work in tandem if the students assigned to portfolio groups three and four need to wait for portfolio groups one and two to solidify the community issue and potential public policy alternatives?

A: All students will assist with the research on the community issue and explore potential policy alternatives (see Steps 4 and 5). Once students have compiled and organized research findings on the community issue and current and alternative public policies, you can split them into the four portfolio groups to begin working on their respective sections. Be sure to have students utilize the worksheets on pages 30-35 in the Project Citizen level 1 student textbook to assist with preparing the research for the portfolio.

7. Developing a Portfolio to Present Your Research

Q: What will students need to create a portfolio to present their research?

A: For the portfolio development, students will need to be divided into their four groups: Explaining the Problem, Examining Alternative Policies, Proposing a Public Policy, and Developing an Action Plan (refer to the Student Grouping module for further details). Have students review their tasks for their specific portfolio section. Students may use the information gathered by the entire class to assist with filling out their section of the portfolio. It would be helpful to align the students’ research with the Project Citizen Portfolio Criteria Checklist on page 51 of the level 1 student workbook.

Q: Can I organize a school competition?

A: Yes, we encourage you to do so. The winner of the school competition can then participate in the regional competition.

8. Presenting Your Portfolio

Q: Can my students use PowerPoint or a slide deck presentation for their portfolio presentation?

A: No, only materials included in the documentation binder or online portfolio can be used during the oral presentation. Do not include video tapes with the portfolios. They will not be seen by community members during the hearing.

Q: How do I prepare students to present their Project Citizen portfolio?

A: First have students familiarize themselves with the format and timing of the portfolio presentation (check out the Portfolio/Simulated Hearing module). Next have students prepare and practice their oral presentations. Ensure the presentations for each portfolio section run no longer than four minutes. For the oral presentations part of the hearing, students may use notes to assist with their speaking, but the notes must be put aside during the six minutes of discussion. It may also be helpful to review the Project Citizen Simulated Public Hearing Rating Form on page 49 of the level 1 teacher’s guide.

9. Reflecting on Your Learning Experience

Q: Should every student do this step or should it be a class activity?

A: The student reflections can be done in several ways. Most teachers have each student do an individual reflection, either written or recorded. Other teachers conduct a whole class discussion as a reflective debrief. Teachers have also utilized surveys, focus groups with each portfolio group, and arts-based reflective methods.

10. Participating in Your Government

Q: After having students fill out the What Do You Think? form as a pre and posttest of their Project Citizen experience, what other assessment activities can students complete? 

A: It may be helpful for students to share their knowledge gains and shifts from the pre and post taking of the What Do You Think? form. This can be done in a whole group discussion or even in a letter written to a local community member or government official. Students may also want to reach out to other students in the school who did not participate in the Project Citizen program and inform and encourage active engagement within the school and community. In high schools, this may be in the form of a voter registration drive. In primary schools, this may be an information campaign on the community issue and proposed public policy.