Preparing Tomorrow’s Voters, Today

December 14, 2022

C&S Fellows from the HistoryQuest program test out a history game with students at the Lawrenceville School.

National and local elections present an opportunity for expanded learning for classroom teachers. For some of the K–12 teachers in the Citizens & Scholars network, the midterm elections were a chance to present new ways for students to engage with subject matter material.  

C&S Fellows have been tapping elections and other current events for teaching moments for years now. C&S Fellow Molly McCullough, a recipient of a 2016 HistoryQuest Fellowship, used the game-based learning strategies she built as a Fellow when developing classroom activities around elections. Ms. McCullough worked this year with other U.S. history teachers in her school to set up an election simulation, including a mock debate, discussion of major issues, and polling booth.  

“Students are really enjoying the game and game-like learning,” says Ms. McCullough. “They are more engaged, more energized—and able to understand the information just as well, if not better, than when using only text-based activities.” 

A major challenge for Ms. McCullough was incorporating this year’s election into the required curriculum. She set aside time one to two times a week for a discussion of a debate clip or an article.  

“I try to maintain neutrality by not so much discussing the candidates as I discuss the main issues while presenting both sides of the argument,” says Ms. McCullough. “I am sure to bring in all perspectives rather than just mine.” 

Related: Young Voters Showed Up—Now Comes the Hard Part


By holding classroom discussions around multiple perspectives, Ms. McCullough is helping students build essential skills—discourse, critical thinking, media literacy—for developing into engaged citizens and, one day, casting their own ballots. These skills coupled with strong historical knowledge are the building blocks of well-informed, productively engaged, and hopeful citizenry.

C&S Fellow Scott Kallens, a high school history teacher in Hillsborough, New Jersey, and a recipient of a 2015 HistoryQuest Fellowship, looks for opportunities like elections, games, and other community-based projects to connect the historical lessons to today’s students. 

“If we can place lessons in context and connect on an emotional level with the kinds of things that those people were dealing with at the time, my students are going to come out of that having a better understanding,” says Mr. Kallens. “They get a better appreciation for the history that they’re studying and then, hopefully, from there begin to think more critically about the world that they live in.” 

Giving students this ability to look at the world around them through an informed lens feels like an increasingly pressing responsibility to C&S Fellow Kelly Kallens, a recipient of a  2015 HistoryQuest Fellowship and 7th- and 8th-grade social studies teacher at Montgomery Upper Middle School in New Jersey. 

“It’s important for students to start to say, ‘You know, maybe what I’m hearing isn’t the whole story.’” She hopes her students will ask questions, especially during election seasons: “‘Maybe I need to go a little bit further and educate myself more. Maybe there’s more I can do. Or maybe this is an opportunity to step up and to make change.’” 

Whether they’re voting or volunteering in the community, Mr. Kallens hopes students in his class will come away with more than just a history education: “My goal is for them to be able to be active citizens and participatory members of society and to make thoughtful conscientious well-rounded decisions as citizens.” 

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