Sunshine Week 2016 Lesson Plans, Activities and Resources
Sunshine Week is a national event that celebrates open government and encourages the public to know what the government is doing and why it is doing it. Sunshine Week empowers citizens to involve themselves in government and to seek out information. Below are some lesson plans and resources to help you bring Sunshine Week 2015 into your journalism classroom.
Become part of this national movement by signing your school up to participate in Sunshine Week 2016. You can email your school’s Sunshine Week 2016 activities to [email protected] to have them shared on SchoolJournalism.org’s Facebook page! For a full list of who’s participating this year, click here.
Started by the American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week began in 2005, three years after the Florida Society of News Editors launched Sunshine Sunday, which prevented state legislators’ attempts to create exemptions to open government and public records laws, also known as Sunshine Laws.
Sunshine Laws operate at the state level and guarantee the public access to view state government’s official actions, including but not limited to meetings, records, votes and deliberations. Each state has its own Sunshine Laws, so be sure to check out your state’s laws before making a request. The federal government also has its own Sunshine Law called the Freedom of Information Act. It allows the public to make a request to see any record of any federal government agency unless the information falls into an exempt category.
In 2016, Sunshine Week is a collaboration between ASNE and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It involves news media organizations, schools, universities, libraries, nonprofits and other civic associations, individuals and government officials from all across the country. Sunshine Week 2016 was made possible by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and donations from Bloomberg and the Gridiron Club and Foundation.
Below are several lesson plans with content relating to the goals of Sunshine Week. Some discuss Sunshine Week and some discuss freedom of the press, but all of them touch on the importance of open government and civic engagement. For more lesson plans on similar topics, check out SchoolJournalism.org’s Civic Engagement and Action lesson plans or Law and First Amendment lesson plans.
- Celebrating Sunshine Week
This project helps students participate with the professional press in Sunshine Week activities. Starting on March 15, 2015, many U.S. media institutions will emphasize freedom of information (FOI) in order to educate Americans about their FOI rights and express concern about how democracy is affected when these rights erode.
- Exploring the First Amendment
This lesson and activities will provide students with an introductory study of the fundamental right of freedom of expression as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
- Exploring the First Amendment as it has been Applied to Teens and Teen Journalists
This lesson will give journalism students the opportunity to learn more about the rights and responsibilities provided by the First Amendment through exploring how teens have successfully and unsuccessfully used it to defend their actions.
Below are some links that can help you understand Sunshine Week-related concepts, such as the Freedom of Information Act and open government.
- Bill of Rights Institute
The Bill of Rights Institute is a not-for-profit charity focused on providing educational resources on America’s founding documents and principles for teachers and students of American history and civics. The institute provides lesson plans and resources for teachers and games and activities for students.
- Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools
The campaign provides resources to make the case to legislators and policymakers about the importance of teaching civics in schools.
- Freedom in America: An Electronic Field Trip
Ball State University’s interactive broadcast features conversations with experts, as well as online and in-class activities. There are individual portals for teachers and students. To access the site, enter the user name “liberty” and the password “bell.”
iCivics is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reinvigorating civic learning through interactive and engaging learning resources. Founded and led by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics provides teaching resources, including print-and-go lesson plans, games and digital interactives.
- North Carolina Civics Education Consortium
This website offers resources to help students become enthusiastic, involved citizens with the knowledge, skills and confidence to participate in democratic life.
- Open Government Guide from RCFP
The Open Government Guide is a complete collection of information on every state’s open records and open meetings laws.
- What is FOIA?
Learn about the Freedom of Information Act from the US government. Be sure to watch the video.
Activities and other resources
Below are some Sunshine Week activities for students that will familiarize them with making FOIA and Sunshine requests and what it means to have an open government. Some of the activities are from Sunshine Week 2013 and 2014, but they can be easily adapted for this year’s celebration. Be sure to check SunshineWeek.org regularly for updated events and activities for Sunshine Week 2015.
- The Idea Bank from SunshineWeek.org
Some ideas for activities from previous years that can easily be repeated for Sunshine Week 2015. The site’s Bright Ideas section includes downloadable PDFs of notable efforts by participant organizations to raise awareness about open government.
- Toolkit from SunshineWeek.org
Every year, Sunshine Week participants generate original content about the importance of open government, including opinion pieces and state-specific resources. Due to copyright law, previous years’ Sunshine Week resources are no longer available, but keep checking SunshineWeek.org for this year’s activities and resources.
- How to make a FOIA request
Try making a FOIA request or auditing your local government to see how transparent it is in honor of Sunshine Week.
- New York News Publishers Association’s 2014 Sunshine Week activities
NYNPA’s five-part feature takes on topics, including e-government and vehicle, food and school safety. The activities are also available to download as a PDF.
- Quotable Freedom of Information experts
Sunshine Week isn’t just for journalists! Make your community aware of Sunshine Week and Sunshine Laws by writing a story. Contact these people for more info and quotes for the story. Here are some helpful tips.
- SPJ’s suggested classroom activities
These activities were originally compiled for Sunshine Week 2013, but they are still relevant and are a good starting point for other classroom activities. Check SPJ’s Sunshine Week site for an updated list of events and activities.
- SPJ’s The Black Hole Award
Try to think up another example of someone withholding information, or come up with a story yourself. What did the public official do and how did the journalist prevent it from happening again?
- SPJ’s Campus FOI resources
Some of these resources are for college students, but they can be helpful for students in secondary school, as well.
- SPLC Media Advisers forum
Resources for student publication advisers, covering topics, such as media law and censorship.