When crafting the Constitution, one of the central concerns of the Founding generation was how best to control government power. With the new Constitution, the Framers looked to strike an important balance—creating a new national government that was more powerful than the one that came before it while still protecting the American people’s most cherished liberties. They settled on a national government with defined but limited powers. Instead of placing authority in the hands of a single person (like a king), a small group of people (like an aristocracy), or even the whole people (like a direct democracy), the Framers divided power in two ways. At the national level, the Framers divided power between the three branches of government—the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. This process of dividing power between different branches of government is called the separation of powers. From there, the Framers further divided power between the national government and the states under a system known as federalism. In this module, students will explore the key functions of the different parts of government and the role that the Constitution plays in controlling government power.
Women and the U.S. Supreme Court
This lesson plan opens with reflective questions that ask students to consider their prior knowledge of Supreme Court justices and how many have been women. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to an introductory video that details the impetus for law professor Renee Knake Jefferson’s co-authoring of “Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court.” Next, students explore two clips that include President Richard Nixon’s shortlisting of two women for the Supreme Court and how gender diversity on the U.S. Supreme and state courts compare to courts in other democracies. Students then engage in a choice board exploration activity, where they choose to study four of nine different topics. The lesson concludes with a reflective prompt and offers an optional extension activity.
The Constitution EXPLAINED
This comprehensive, short-form video series explains the text, history, and relevance of the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and additional amendments. The videos are assignable and end with call-to-action questions, prompting learners to further explore the topics covered in the video through a modern lens. Click on each category to see its related videos, and click on the video thumbnail to watch the full clip. You can also autoplay each category’s videos using YouTube playlists. The series was developed in partnership with the Center for Civic Education, and with the contributions of constitutional scholar Linda R. Monk, JD.
Constitution 101 Course
Constitution 101 is a 15-unit asynchronous, semester-long curriculum that provides students with a basic understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, structure, and caselaw. Drawing on primary source documents from our new, curated online Founders’ Library—containing over 170 historical texts and over 70 landmark Supreme Court cases selected by leading experts of different perspectives—students will study the historical and philosophical foundations of America’s founding principles from a range of diverse voices The curriculum guides students to think like constitutional lawyers—cultivating the skills necessary to analyze all sides of constitutional questions. Each module includes detailed materials for classroom educators, as well as opportunities for guided discovery and practice and tools to check for understanding.
Judges on Judging Podcast
This six-part podcast series, hosted by The Honorable Marjorie O. Rendell, a federal judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, explores the role of judges and courts in our democracy, as well as the importance of a Fair and Impartial Judiciary. The podcasts, which include discussions among jurists regarding current cases and legal issues, are made possible through a partnership between the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement.
Grab the Gavel Podcast
This podcast, hosted by The Honorable Zia Faruqui, Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, aims to show the human side of judges – their backgrounds, diversity, and common struggles. Brought to you by The Rendell Center, each episode features an engaging personal conversation between Judge Faruqui and a federal, state, or local judge that provides invaluable civics insights and helps students and educators to gain a better understanding of who they are and how they arrive at decisions.
Judges on Judging Podcast
This six-part podcast, hosted by The Honorable Marjorie O. Rendell, a federal judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, explores the role of judges and courts in our democracy, as well as the importance of a Fair and Impartial Judiciary. The podcasts include discussions among jurists regarding current cases and legal issues.
Supreme Court Lessons
These interactive lessons for high school students lead them through a simulation of an actual Supreme Court case and help them to break down complex constitutional issues. Each lesson begins with an overview of the facts of the case, followed by a brief discussion of the Supreme Court decision. Then, students are asked to take a stand “for” or “against” the majority decision. The cases that the Rendell Center has selected involve student-specific issues and/or those issues shown to be important to youth through their social media posts or active engagement.
Literature-Based Mock Trial Lessons
This literature based mock trial format provides a dynamic interactive opportunity for K-8 students to develop higher-level thinking skills, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the U.S. judicial system and constitutional principles. The Rendell Center’s Mock Trial framework is easy to follow, and its lesson plans – based on classic or classroom pieces of literature – provide teachers with the tools and guidance needed to help their class write and argue a mock trial, and actively take on the roles of defendant, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, and court officials.
Congress and the Constitution
Use this information graphic to easily understand the House of Representatives and Senate and the articles and amendments in the Constitution.