It is not often that elementary classrooms are considered hot spots for justice education. Justice education is typically believed to be a topic reserved for older students, who are at least high school aged. At the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), we have made a concerted effort to change this ideology, by targeting elementary students with our elementary justice education programming and resources. Here is a brief look into methods that we have found useful and should help you bring justice education to your own elementary classroom.
At OJEN, an integral focus of our approach to elementary programming and resources, has been to create a fun justice education experience. Let’s face it, the law can at times be a very boring topic. If lawyers and judges can attest to this (and they have!) it is probably a good idea to make sure you have engaging activities included in an elementary justice education program.
Before you can get into activities, ensure that the information you are planning on sharing is accessible. Dump the legal jargon, all of it. The program should only include the most basic legal concepts, and they should be explained using plain language. Try going through the program with somebody who does not know the topic you will be covering. You probably will not be able to catch everything until you are facilitating the program but that’s okay. In preparation for this, consider creating a class list for new terms. Make a note of any changes needed for the next lesson.
The success of OJEN’s Elementary Civil Mock Trial (ECMT) is largely derived from the interactive activities that students participate in as they prepare for the mock trial. In the ECMT scenario, Wendy Witch has sued both Hansel and Gretel for defamation because of a blog post they have written about her. In it, they’ve claimed that Wendy imprisoned them in her house and tried to eat them.
Although students will be most excited to participate in the culminating mock trial, the program is full of lessons that package advanced legal concepts such as defamation and civil law, into fun engaging activities such as a newspaper hunt and lawyer and client mock interviews.
Additionally, through activities such as Build a Courtroom, where students build a courtroom in their classroom, the program gives students the opportunity to work in pairs or in small groups. This helps to maintain a fun and engaging experience where group learning is encouraged. Each activity is intentional in meeting the programs objectives of developing advocacy and critical thinking skills.
Generally speaking, the younger the students the more useful having another adult in the classroom is. While obviously helping with classroom management, additional help goes a long way when considering the individual help that students may need during activities. Think of students who require accommodations. Although a teacher would love to clarify concepts or instructions to each student, this is not always possible. An added adult could help bridge this gap, helping students remain engaged throughout the program.
Despite what many people think, elementary students as young as ten years old know quite a bit about the law. The information they have is almost entirely based on law as it is discussed in the media. In the Canadian context, this means that students will have a basic understanding of American law. What does this mean in the classroom? Expect to clarify key differences between Canadian and American law.
Remember to have fun. The delivery of justice education must have the right amount of enthusiasm if elementary students are going to soak it up, so make sure you are ready to have fun when you start this lesson. Justice education is meant to teach and inspire youth audiences and OJEN prides itself in being able to do this as captured by one TDSB student, “This was an awesome program, and I had so much fun being the court clerk, can you come back next year!?”
by Martin Ejidra