Courts in the Classroom

From Judicial Branch of California and Constitutional Rights Foundation. 

This web page hosts three series of videos relating to the Judiciary: a series on The Big Ideas, with videos on Privacy, Free Expression, Symbolic Speech, Censorship, Courts, Due Process, Laws, Checks and Balances; a series on The Third Branch, with two videos titled  About Judges and About Courts; and a series on Landmark Cases, with videos on the First, Fourth, Fourteenth Amendments and Checks and Balances.   

The web page also links to online quizzes to be taken by students after they have watched the previous presentations, and includes a Teacher Resource Guide — a printable guide for teachers that provides navigation tips and summaries of the various web site sections — and a number of Lesson Plans on the Constitution

Each of those lessons provides an outline for teaching the material, a presentation utilizing the web page content, questions for guided discussion, supplementary readings and/or worksheets, an activity and suggestions for evaluation.

The breadth and depth of this site is outstanding, but what makes this site so unusual is the visual way in which the information is communicated — in essence the videos are online comic strips.  With Lady Justice as a superhero-type figure who illuminates points of law, the principles of the Constitution are made clear.  A glossary of clickable terms runs under the bottom of the videos and there are interactive questions within the videos which help encourage students to think critically about the issues being discussed.  Quizzes on the site also help students see how much they absorbed after going through the comics.  Having open-ended questions instead of multiple choice questions allows students to think critically through their answers. The glossary of terms is also helpful and the toolbar at the top of the page makes the website easy to navigate.

The animated videos do not have sound.  They also are set up so viewers cannot skip ahead, making it difficult, for example, for a teacher to jump around to teach several specific points from the video.

It is also a little annoying that one has to keep pressing “next” to see the next scene, but that cue may be a good way to keep student viewers engaged because they continually have to be paying attention for the video to continue. 

This is a good resource for a younger audience.  Although the animation in the videos is very basic, the scenarios are informative, and because of the eye-catching drawings, the videos are more accessible to an older primary and middle school audience than the same material would be if written in a textbook format.

The characters do a good job of asking the figure of Justice all the questions a "normal" student would ask. Even if the questions seem a bit repetitive at times, they expand on the information so the audience can fully understand the points being made.

What other resources will complement this?

From the U.S. Constitution section:
  1. Amazing Amendments  Document from (P, M) 
  2. Argument Wars  Game from iCivics (H)
  3. Constitution Day Rap  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P) 
  4. Matching Game with the Constitution  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P)
  5. The Constitution: The Country's Rules  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P)
  6. U.S. Constitution Fact Sheet  Document from (M)  
  7. What Basic Ideas Are In the Preamble to the Constitution?  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P)
From the Bill of Rights section:
  1. 9/11 and the Constitution  Lesson plans from the Center for Civic Education (M, H)  
  2. A Day in the Life  Interactive "game" from (M, H)
  3. Balancing Free Speech and Fair Trial   Lesson Plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H)
  4. Courts in the Classroom  Videos from the Judicial Council of California and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (P, M H)
  5. Interpreting the Constitution: What Does That Mean?  Lesson Plan from iCivics (H)
  6. Korematsu and Civil Liberties  Video from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (H, A)
  7. One Person, One Vote  Video and lesson plan from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (H, A)
  8. Perseverance and the Bill of Rights  Lesson plan from the Bill of Rights Institute, via the National Constitution Center (M, H)  
  9. Respecting Freedom of Speech  Lesson Plan from the Bill of Rights Institute, via the National Constitution Center (M, H)  
  10. Supreme Decision  Game from iCivics (M, H) 
  11. The First and Fourteenth Amendments  Lesson Plan from Channel One (M, H)  
  12. The Story of the Bill of Rights  Videos and game from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (M, H)
  13. Yick Wo and the Equal Protection Clause  Video from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (H, A)
From the Structure of the Federal Courts section:

  1. Appellate Courts: Let's Take It Up  Lesson Plan from iCivics (P, M, H) 
  2. Court Quest  Game from Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics and iCivics (M, H, A)
  3. Federal Courts & What They Do  Document from the Federal Judicial Center (H, A)
  4. Interactive Diagram of the Federal Court System — Interactive document from Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (M, H, A)
  5. Oyez Baseball  Game from Justia and the Oyez Project (M, H, A)
  6. Supreme Decision  Game from iCivics (M, H) 
  7. What the Federal Courts Do  Website/slideshow from the Federal Judicial Center (M, H, A)
From the section

  1. An Act of Courage: The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks  Lesson Plan from the National Archives (M, H)
  2. Balancing Free Speech and Fair Trial  Lesson Plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H)
  3. Dialogue on Youth and Justice  Lesson Plan from the American Bar Association (H, A)  
  4. Interactive Guide to the Sixth Amendment  Interactive document from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (M, H)
  5. Teen House Party Search  Lesson Plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H, A)

Additional Recommended Resources Off-Site Links
  1. A Constitutional Timeline
    • Multi-aged audience timeline that highlights key dates in history of Constitution, with links to text, audio and video clips. From National Constitution Center's Constitution Day site. 
  2. Interactive Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that enables users to search Constitution by keyword or topic, with access to explanatory materials throughout. From National Constitution Center.   
  3. The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that lists the text of each section of every article in the Constitution, and provides explanation of what the text means in plain language.  From the Leonore Annenberg Institute of Civics. 
  4. Understanding the Federal Courts
    • Multi-aged online textbook-type document that includes sections on Article III, the Federal Court system and the geographical boundaries of the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts, the code of conduct for judges, juror qualifications, exemptions and terms of service, as well as categories of bankruptcy cases.  From the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.