Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Weakest Link

In discussing the forming of this new nation, the United States, I wanted students to understand why the Articles of Confederation failed, but also why the features that made it weak were built in. I wanted them to see the fears of the Framers about their experiences with British government replaced with new laws, limitations and procedures in the Articles. Finally, I wanted them to analyze what they felt was the weakest part of the plan, or the weakest link.

In order to accomplish the bold, challenging concept, we created a chain of weaknesses in the Articles that led to everything from excessively high state taxes to massive inflation. Chains are easy to create both by hand and on the computer. I wrote about using chains to demonstrate metaphors in a novel here.

In Microsoft Word, you can simply insert a one-column table with as many rows as links. By choosing a larger font or inserting spaces, the rows can be larger and allow for typing or handwriting. These rows can later be cut into strips, then curled and taped into the chains. My students used a template like the one below then typed in the weaknesses.

Students were required to choose five weaknesses based on our in-class discussion. Once the template was complete, we printed them and created chains. Students then had to choose one of the weaknesses that they felt was the most damaging or was the greatest influence on the eventual demise of the Articles. They wrote paragraphs about the so-called "weakest link."

One student had the idea of posting the paragraphs onto images of locks. One of our sources described how some of the features of the Articles "gridlocked" the government, rendering it powerless to levy taxes, regulate trade, or create a standard currency. Using the lock template, we attached the cut-out lock image to the link representing the student's selected "weakest link."

Understanding why an entire system of government failed can be daunting, but I found that this helped to break down the Articles into manageable chunks, then allowed students to analyze those weaknesses.


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