Why We Need to Teach Australian Elections - and Resources to Help You

With all the noise around politicians, elections, campaigns and promises, it can be tempting to tune it all out. However, in the classroom it is our job to teach about elections to ensure we have informed voters in the future.

 
Why We Need to Teach Australian Elections - and a Wide Range of Resources to Help You. This Blog post looks at why to teach Australian elections and offers a range of blog posts, websites and resources you can use to teach them effectively. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Voting is Part of the Curriculum

The Civics and Citizenship strand of HASS in the Australian Curriculum includes a number of outcomes connected to elections and voting. From learning about the role of voting in a democracy to learning how voting works in Australia, students are expected to gain a wide understanding of voting and elections through their lessons in the classroom.

It Helps to Prepare Informed Citizens

Australia has compulsory voting which means most of your students will be required to vote one day. As well as understanding the way campaigning works and the responsibilities of voters and elected officials, students need to understand the mechanics of how voting works and how votes are counted. The more informed students are about voting, the more likely they are to be informed voters as adults.

 
Why We Need to Teach Australian Elections - and a Wide Range of Resources to Help You. This Blog post looks at why to teach Australian elections and offers a range of blog posts, websites and resources you can use to teach them effectively. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Blog Posts, Websites and Resources to Help You Teach Elections

Blog Posts

Elections in the Classroom - 7 Tips for Real Learning with Minimum Controversy
Teachers should always take care to teach government and elections without bias, but this is particularly important around election time - the last thing you want is to appear on the front page of a newspaper because a student or parent took objection to your views. This blog post offers a range of ways you can teach elections in an interesting and factual manner without inviting controversy

7 Things You May Not Know About Government in Australia
This post is a collection of facts about government in Australia and is a great starting point for students exploring Australian government and Australian elections.

Australian Election Myths (And Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding of Elections)
Unfortunately there is a growing collection of myths about voting in Australia - it’s so bad that the Australian Electoral Commission is having to run advertising to warn people about misinformation. This post explores a number of commonly held myths and provides teaching ideas and further links for teachers and students to explore.

Why We Should Explore Compulsory Voting in Our Classrooms
Many people know that we have compulsory voting in Australia, but do they know about the history of compulsory voting and the senator who introduced it? This post contains some of that history as well as other teaching ideas to explore in the classroom. This is perfect for students exploring the features of Australian democracy.

What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them?
When we look at election campaigns, we are usually dealing with political parties. This post offers information about political parties and how you can teach more about them in the classroom.

What are Election Policies? (And how can we teach students about them?)
As well as political parties, many students will come across election policies and campaign promises from candidates. This blog post takes a closer look at policies and how we can better understand them.

Websites

Resources

The Elections in Australia resources are the most comprehensive look at Australian elections. These resources include a mini unit which looks at different elements of voting and elections in Australia, posters, word wall cards and research tasks.

You can also use the Run Your Own Preferential Election resources to get a better understanding of preferential voting in Australia and how preferential votes are counted. Word Wall cards are also available for this topic.

There is a duo of resources for Year 6 students looking at the responsibilities of voters and the responsibilities of elected representatives. This is an excellent way to look at what is expected of voters and the people we elect to lead us.

Australian Electoral Process and Running an Australian Election takes Year 5 students through the elements of Australian elections including secret ballot and compulsory voting.

If I Was Prime Minister is a fabulous book by Beck and Robin Feiner. There are two available book studies for this book: one for Year 2, 3 and 4 students and another for Year 5 and 6 students.

Finally, students can explore their own feelings about compulsory voting with a persuasive writing task asking students to take a position for or against it.

What are Election Policies? (And how can we teach students about them?)

In the first part of this blog post, I explored what political parties are, why they are important and how we can explore the differences between different parties and their values.

In this post I’m going to take a closer look at election policies - or what different political parties are promising - as well as some ideas for exploring election policies in the classroom.

 
What are election policies? (and how can we teach students about them?) A government and civics themed blog post exploring election policies, how they're made and how we can read them. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

What are Party Policies?

Every political party creates a set of policies - goals for different areas of government which are shaped by the values of the party. These policies might be very general - we are aiming to promote penguins - or very specific - we are aiming to use government money to build statues of penguins around Australia.The parties who have a better chance of winning seats in an election are more likely to have specific policies - because the voters will expect them to turn the policies into laws if they win the election.

During an election campaign, political parties may release, discuss and promote these policies. They might talk about how these policies are different from the other parties, talk about how they are going to pay for these policies or talk about how these policies will create a better country or state.

The party policies combine to make the party platform - the goals the political party will aim to achieve if they win government.

Lesson idea: Students can brainstorm some general policies for their school and then see if they can make them more specific. So ‘air-conditioning the classrooms’ may become ‘work with the P and C to come up with fundraising ideas so we can air-condition at least three of the classrooms next year’. Students can then discuss whether general or specific policies are more helpful for voters.

How are Party Policies Made?

There are a number of ways policies are made. Sometimes party leaders might make up policies as they go. More commonly, though, policies involve political parties identifying issues which people care about or problems which need to be solved, then working through a process to develop a policy which would solve the problem or address the issue.

The process often asks political parties to think about any potential issues which would come up if the policy was turned into laws. For example, a policy to promote penguins might sound great in theory, but additional tourists travelling to visit penguins might put penguin habitats in danger and it would definitely mean more traffic on the roads. Political parties have to work through all these potential problems in their policies to create the best policy possible.

Lesson idea: Provide students with a list of possible school policies and ask them to consider the implications of these policies. They might like to create PMI charts or other ways of exploring the policies.

 
What are election policies? (and how can we teach students about them?) A government and civics themed blog post exploring election policies, how they're made and how we can read them. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

How Can Regular Citizens Understand Election Policies?

This is possibly the hardest part! Political parties often release a lot of policies before elections. They want to use these to convince voters to vote for them. So many times they are written in a way which is very persuasive and this can sometimes be a bit confusing.

Some political parties might use their policies to be negative about other parties. Other political parties might use their policies to show that they are very serious - which means they include so much detail it can be hard to understand what the policies are. And some policies are just down-right confusing if you don’t understand complex tax systems!

There are a few ways we can get through to the nitty-gritty of policies though:

1. Try to rewrite them in your own words.

Your own words will include less of the persuasive language used before elections. By writing out some of the policies from different parties in your own words you can get a better idea of what those policies are and how they compare with other policies.

Students can easily explore this in the classroom. By rewriting the policies and removing persuasive language, they can explore how persuasive language is used in election campaigns. They can use this knowledge to create their own persuasive statements.

2. Compare policies with the values of the political party

The political party will have a set of values which they follow. Usually policies are created in alignment with the values of the political party. If they don’t seem to align, it’s worth exploring why that is the case. It’s possible that the policy is more complex than it first seems!

Students can work on these comparisons in groups. They can also try to match policies to different political parties, or create their own political parties with different values and decide what kind of policies would suit each set of values.

3. Compare policies with speeches

It’s always good to explore primary source material. In many cases politicians give speeches which look at what they believe and why they believe it’s important. They might also give speeches which give more information about different policies - these are a good way to take a closer look at policies and how they align with what the politicians are saying.

Then how do I work out who has the BEST policies?

Honestly, that really depends on what you think is most important. The best way is to spend a little time reflecting on what is most important to you - jobs, education, penguins?

When you have determined what is most important to you, you should look for whichever political party has policies which best match with what you believe. It’s unlikely that you’ll get an exact match, so you might need to determine which is the closest on the most important and be more flexible with less important beliefs.

Lesson Idea - Students can be provided with different aspects of school life and school decision making (like types of lessons taught, school events, uniform decisions, food in the tuckshop) and determine which one is most important to them. Students can use this information to write the kind of policies they’d like to see at school.

Read Part One of this post - exploring political parties - here

What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them?

A few weeks ago when I crowdsourced some election myths for this post, I was asked an interesting question by a Year 5 student: How do you know the difference between different political parties and what they are promising?

It turned out to be such a good question that I’m going to devote two blog posts to it! Today, I’ll be exploring political parties themselves.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

What are political parties?

Political parties are groups of people who believe in a set of values and ideals. They group together with the aim of winning elected positions at federal, state or local elections.

Members of political parties help to shape policies, vote to choose candidates for elections, help campaign for their political party and celebrate (or commiserate) after elections. Many Australians don’t belong to political parties, but might generally support one or another of them.

While the people in political parties share similar values, they don’t all agree all of the time. Party members, including MPs and Senators, might have strong disagreements about different party policies or ideas. However, these disagreements are usually worked out in party meetings and often aren’t argued in public. Australian political parties are known for having this ‘tight discipline’ which means that MPs and Senators from a certain party usually vote for that party in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Sometimes political parties with some similar values work together in a Coalition. Meanwhile, MPs or Senators who don’t belong to a political party are called independents.

Lesson idea: Students can develop their own political party. They should think about what kind of values are important to them, then create an advertisement convincing people to join their party.

Why are political parties important?

Political parties are important because they help groups of people work together to get people elected and to create laws and policy which promote their values. But there are other reasons why political parties are important.

In Australian federal politics, the political party (or coalition) which has the most elected MPs becomes the Government. This means they can choose ministers, develop policies, implement laws and run government departments. They also choose the Prime Minister.

Because the political party chooses the Prime Minister (and not the people of Australia), the ruling political party can change the Prime Minister anytime they want to (as we have seen a lot in recent years). This means any elected member of the ruling political party might become Prime Minister . . . This might be another reason for voters to choose a particular political party.

Lesson idea: Students explore how Prime Ministers are chosen - and discuss what qualities a good Prime Minister should have. Students can turn this discussion into a ‘job application’ to find an excellent Prime Minister.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

A Quick History of Australia’s Political Parties

In the early 1900s, Australia had three main political parties. The Protectionist Party wanted tariffs and taxes on imports into Australia to protect Australian products and jobs. The Free Trade Party wanted to get rid of taxes and tariffs to allow everyone to share in the wealth of the country. And the Australian Labor Party represented workers groups (or unions) to make sure that workers had fair pay and safe working conditions.

Over time, many political parties have come and gone in Australia. Some of them held positions of power in the Australian parliament, while others may have had a few elected members (or none) before dissolving. The Australian Labor Party is the only surviving party from the original big three.

Lesson idea: Students explore which Prime Ministers represented which party in the early 1900s. They can look a little closer at what policies they promoted and what kinds of laws were put in place.

Today’s Political Parties

Today there are still three main political parties who form government - but they’re a little different from the 1900s.

The Australian Labor Party still aims to represent workers and unions. They also describe themselves as a social-democratic party, which means they think the government should step in to promote social justice through social or economic means.

The Nationals Party is the second oldest party in Australia, founded in 1920. It aims to represent farmers, as well as people who live outside the big cities in Australia. The Nationals often work to make sure that people outside the cities have the same access to services as the people in the cities. They work in a coalition with the Liberal Party of Australia and share some - though not all - of the same values.

The Liberal Party of Australia was formed in 1944 after a meeting of organisations which opposed the Australian Labor Party. Their goal was to form a party based on individual freedom and personal choice. As part of this, they supported (and continue to support) free business - believing that business is the best way to create national and individual growth and wealth. They work in coalition with the National Party.

There are also a number of minor parties (or smaller parties) in Australia. At the moment, the biggest of those is the Australian Greens, a party which grew out of the environmental movement, but now works to develop policies around the environment and integrity, fairness and decency.

There are a number of other smaller parties who run in elections and have one or two elected members. These often change as their popularity grows or falls.

You can get a better understanding of different parties by exploring their values - what ideas they think are most important.

Lesson: Students can create a diagram showing the different political parties in Australia. They might like to research to discover what the core values of the parties are and if they’ve changed since the parties were first formed. Students can use these diagrams to highlight the differences between different parties.

In part 2, I’m going to take a little look at what political policies are, how to examine them, and how to tell the difference between them. Click here to read more now.

Want to read more? Try . . .

5 Things You Need to Teach Year 4 Civics and Citizenship

The Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship curriculum introduces students to some really important concepts - helping them understand the influence of government, laws and the communities they belong to on their everyday life. But what do teachers need to know to make these lessons more effective?

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. What is Government?

Year 4 students are asked to explore local government and the services of local government. But before students can effectively tackle this subject, they should have some understanding of what government is.

This may seem like a fairly simple concept, but like many simple concepts it can be hard to define clearly for our students.

You may like to start by gauging student understanding. Ask students to write or draw what they think government is or to engage in a think-pair-share while defining government. Students can work collaboratively to create a collage showing what government is or can interview each other about what they think government involves.

Students may also like to add to their understanding of government as they spend more time learning about local government.

2. What does your Local Government Involve?

The local government outcome is a great way for students to take an introductory look at elections and at how government plays a role in everyday life. But there’s a number of things which you can do to make this more successful.

It’s possible that you live in a different local council area to your students or that your students live across two different council areas. This means you may need to do a little research on a different council area and some of the services which the local council offers.

It’s worthwhile getting in contact with your local council as you are planning your lessons. They might have educational materials which you can use in your classroom or they might be able to suggest excursion opportunities or aspects of the council which you may not have thought of. You might also be able to get a guest speaker from the local council - many local councillors engage in school visits and might be happy to speak with your students about the services offered by local government.

Another area of your local government to explore is the local libraries. You may be able to take students there as an excursion, and librarians are often available to show students the many services available through the libraries and through library websites - all services offered by local governments. (They might even have teaching materials available!)

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

3. The Difference Between Rules and Laws

Another Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship outcome asks students to explore the place of laws in their life and how laws differ from rules.

As you approach these lessons, you might like to collect examples of rules which students might encounter. From school rules, to classroom rules, to household rules to shopping centre or play centre rules - although students see these daily, they may not have really examined them.

As they examine them, they can start to understand how rules differ from laws. The difference between rules and laws is another concept which can be simple, but can be complicated. It’s worthwhile spending a little time to write down your ideas on the concept to get them firmly worked out as you plan lessons and learning experiences for your students.

Students can also build a ‘growing’ definition of rules and laws - adding to or refining their understanding as they work through lessons on the topic.

4. Identity - and how it is shaped by different things

The Civics and Citizenship curriculum asks students to explore how their identity is shaped by the groups they are part of. This is a rather complex topic - what is meant by groups? What is meant by identity?

One way you can prepare to teach this topic is to take a moment to reflect on your own identity and how that has been shaped by groups. Some of the groups you belong to may not have much of an influence on your identity - my family background is Scottish, but other than an interest in visiting Scotland one day, it doesn’t have a massive influence on my day to day life. Other groups you belong to might make a daily impact on your life - my immediate family group prioritises dinner time, so we cook dinner and eat together almost every night - this is a group which has a big impact on what I do every day.

Reflecting on your own identity can help you plan a way for your students to explore the groups they belong to and how those shape their own identities. Students may be surprised to discover how many groups they belong to - from groups connected with their heritage, groups connected to their religion, groups connected to their family, friendship groups, school groups and activity groups. You can also explore other groups in your community - especially cultural, religious and activity groups.

5. Symbols and Traditions

As well as exploring groups in the community, Year 4 students are asked to reflect on the symbols and traditions of these groups. This might include ceremonies, activities, anthems, poems, school songs, colours or logos.

You might like to spend some time collecting examples of symbols and traditions before students start exploring these topics. This might include the logos, colours and uniforms of local sports teams; uniforms, mottos and school songs from local schools; traditions of local religious denominations or traditions of military or returned service people groups.

You can present these symbols and traditions to your students, asking them to reflect on why they might be important, why they may have developed, what they say about the groups and how they influence identity.

Looking for comprehensive Year 4 Civics and Citizenship resources? Explore the Year 4 Civics and Citizenship Complete Bundle and the Mini Units, Assessment Tasks and Word Wall and Poster resources which make up the Bundle.