A Noble Experiment: The History and Nature of the American Government is a one-semester course in Government for high school students. Written and presented by Tim Spickler, the course comes from a Christian worldview and reflects a conservative belief in limited government. While the course was written so that it can be used for independent study, students would benefit even more from discussion and interaction through a co-op or group class that meets once a week.
The course consists of five DVDs with video lessons, a Teacher Resource CD-ROM, and a Student Activity Book. While there are 24 video segments that vary in length from about 6 to 32 minutes each, these are viewed in only half the lessons. Video segments are primarily lecture. (Note: Videos were reshot and released in April 2011. New versions are much more professional than the first versions.)
The Student Activity Book includes a syllabus with detailed instructions for lessons for three days per week for a total of 48 lessons. In addition to watching the videos and taking notes while they watch, students have reading assignments of primary source material (e.g., The Constitution, The Articles of Confederation, excerpts from the Federalist Papers) which is included in the Student Activity Book as well as pages of questions to answer for each lesson. Six lessons are set aside for a portfolio project on state and local government. This project requires research either online or at the library, plus a field trip to a government office. Charts and forms are provided for most of these student assignments. In addition, there are quizzes, tests, and a final exam. A culminating unit centers around the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Follow-up activities from the movie include written questions, discussion questions, a crossword puzzle, art assignment, and creative writing assignments.
As you can tell, this course is more interesting than your typical textbook course. You could skip the “Mr. Smith” movie and related activities, but these are likely to be very enjoyable for students and parents. There are a few optional assignments that should be used for students who need the additional challenge.
In contrast to most government courses written for public schools, A Noble Experiment spends a great deal of time on the philosophy and history that shaped our government. Students should come away from the course with an understanding of why the constitution was written as it was, including why the constitution was written to constrain the federal government.
Lessons are laid out very clearly so that students can figure out exactly what to do each day. The course requires less reading than some other courses, but it is likely to be more challenging since most sources are legal documents written quite some time ago. Lesson questions require brief, objective answers for the most part. Tests and one of the optional assignments require essays, and the local and state government project concludes with a 3-5 page paper. A “globalization” assignment requires research and some writing. All-in-all it seems like the course has enough “predictable” work to allow students to complete most lessons on their own. But it also has thought-provoking content, some research and writing, some discussion, and even some creative activities to make it more interesting. The latter are what would make a weekly co-op or group session particularly beneficial.
The Teacher Resource CD includes the course outline and syllabus identical to those in the Student Activity Book. All student work sheets, tests, and quizzes are included, but they are overprinted with the answers. Two pages present a “grade book” with lesson headings preprinted; this should make it easier to record grades. Of especial value to parents whose students will be working independently are the complete transcripts of the video lessons. Parents can look up what was presented in a lesson if need be.
A Noble Experiment clearly has a viewpoint, but use of primary source documents allows students to work with source material themselves to form more accurate and well-informed opinions of their own. Even with its unusual and creative content, this course covers the national standards required for a government course for high school level.