Federalism In A Week?

At my APSI this year, we talked about the importance of federalism. Even though I only have a semester, I wanted to make sure that my students had a hold on it.

This was my week.

Day One:

{after we reviewed Brutus II and Federalist 51}

We started off with the Crash Course on Federalism. Students were visibly upset that it wasn’t John Green, but quickly got over it. I like to use this video to introduce the topic because it gives them a frame of reference. Then, I set the goal.

Our goal this week: knowing and understanding the issues that divided the Federalist and Anti-Federalists, understand how the relationship and powers between the state and federal government has developed. 

We had some housekeeping stuff to do, so afterwards I assigned a reading on Federalism for them to peruse and take notes. {We still don’t have our textbooks in…} The nice thing about federalism is that I can continually touch on it throughout the course as it relates to Interactions Among Branches.

Day Two: Notes

I belong to a Facebook Group for AP Government Teachers and I love that I can grab ideas from other teachers. I found notes that worked well for me and lectured. The notes I used are NOT of my own creation, so I won’t post them. I lectured quite effectively today {thanks to a generous dose of caffeine). I expect students to already have the notes written since they are available online because the best use of our time is not waiting for students to write every.single.word down. If they do not have their notes done? It becomes evident on their assessments. I pay special attention to McCulloch v. Maryland because it’s a required case and because it’s instrumental in understanding implied powers, and the supremacy clause.

Day Three/Four (Block Day) 

We finished up notes (had a few slides left)

Then, we dug into how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause.

I like this reading because it hit the following cases/laws in just a few pages:

  • Gibbons v. Ogden
  • Hammer v. Dagenhart
  • The New Deal
  • US v. Lopez (required Supreme Court Case)
  • US v. Morrison
  • Gonzales v. Raich
  • NFIB v Sebelius

Now, you may be looking at these and wondering what some of them are. I am here to tell you, IT’s ok! I had to look up some information. It’s part of teaching… learning! This is a quick read and discussion.

I did a quick check for understanding. I had students stand up if the case expanded federal power and squat (or sit if you have room) if it rejected the expansion. Mostly, I just needed them to get up a move. Block days can be long!


Once we finished, we had time to view   Constitution USA- Episode 1 (I paid for it on YouTube) I skip to 4:30 for the sake of time. You can always forgo this, but I think it wraps federalism up nicely! There is a guide available on the website, but I like to allow my students to watch while making connections to their notes.

Day Five Writing prompt:

(A) Explain how federalism reflects the dynamic distribution of power between the national and state governments.

(B) Contrast the evolution and devolution of federalism as defined by the Supreme Court in the following cases:

  • Gibbons v. Ogden
  • Hammer v. Dagenhart


  • US v. Lopez
  • Gonzales v. Raich

NOW… I’m not actually going to have them write this. They are going to make a rubric for it in groups. In doing this, I hit two skills. One, the ability to read the question and know what it’s asking and two, to know what SHOULD be written about. I want them to get into this mind frame. I want them to see the value of being able to “see” the rubric before they write.

The reason for this is I participated in the AP Read this past year. I wrote myself notes to remember, and the one that stuck out was to have the students create rubrics based off the questions. My students need to REALLY understand WHAT they are being asked to do. I noticed a trend of students during the read who answered what they thought the questions was, and didn’t get points because they didn’t answer the question. Their answers were not wrong, they just didn’t answer the question asked.

Notes from the AP Read

In reflecting on this week, I really like how everything went. I feel like I really tied in Unit One (I spent 3 weeks on it). There were a few things I didn’t touch on, but I will tied them into Unit 2, which for me will be Interactions Among Branches. So, I will spend time on Federalism in Action (1.9) as I go through the branches as well as 1.6 Principles of American Government. I also need to cut myself a break and stop trying to be a perfectionist. One can wish…

I also think that I will do more practice on Albert.io for Unit One. We spent so much time reading documents (which I have no regrets) and I needed to do more practice on content.

What is your favorite federalism lesson?

Further Resources:

Constitution Center Blog list on Supremacy Clause

Constitution Center, Interactive Constitution

Civics 101- Federalism

Learning to Love the F Word

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