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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.

Lesson plans
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.

From SchoolJournalism.org:

  • 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.

Background information
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
    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.

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