Put your HASS lesson on the spin cycle to engage them with Australia’s Washminster system.
Washminster! It’s such a silly word that will make teaching and learning about Australia’s system of government fun and memorable. The Year 6 HASS curriculum can be a little dry but there are ways to make it interesting. Exploring the inspiration and origins of Australia’s Constitution and system of government is an important topic. By understanding how our political system is designed students are in a better position to understand our democratic values and practices, the value of our Constitution and the relationship between Federal, State and Local governments. It also lays a foundation for the Civics and Citizenship strand of the Australian curriculum.
What does the Curriculum say?
The Australian Curriculum requires that Year 6 students learn about Australia’s political history and the key figures, events and ideas that led to Australia’s Federation and Constitution. (ACHASSK134) The elaborations list ‘key elements of Australia’s law making and government systems that students should be able to identify and explain their origins. These elements include the separation of powers, houses of parliament, the law making process and the Westminster system. It used to include the US (or Washington) system and its influence on the development of Federation. I’m not sure why it’s been omitted but believe it’s still important as there are definite elements of Australia’s political structure that were influenced by the US system, for example the function of the Senate to provide representation for all states within a Federal system.
Do I really need to teach my students about the Washminster system?
Plato, although rather blunt, is right. I firmly believe that if people are going to make judgements and statements about politicians, parties, voting or any aspect of Australia’s political system they should have a basic understanding of how our system operates and why it operates that way. A lot of the information students and adults receive about politics is from the media and there is always an element of bias or sensationalism that requires a discerning eye and ear. By teaching students the fundamentals of Australia’s system of Government they’ll be better equipped to make their own informed decisions when they become adults and can vote, they’ll be able to think critically and be discerning when it comes to the vast amounts of information they’ll be faced with every day. Teaching your students about the Washminster system is just one way you can build this deeper understanding.
But how on earth do I teach it?
- Trying to explain our blended system of government can be difficult so we’ve put together 5 helpful ideas to help you get started.
1. Make it Simple
Remember your Grade 6 HASS students don’t need a university level understanding of our system of Government. Stick to the curriculum and its elaborations. There’s no need for students to have an understanding of the US Bill of Rights or the inner workings the British parliament. Stick to the basics – The key Elements taken from each system and the reasons for their selection.
2. Make it Short
There’s no need to spend huge amounts of time on this concept. One, maybe two, lessons will do. Yes, it’s a very very important concept but there’s no need to overdo it.
3. Make it Relatable
This is so important! For your students to truly grasp the concept of the Washminster system they need to understand how it relates to real life. Discussion and What If questions are a great way to do this. Ask the students:
Why didn’t the colonies want to create a system of government exactly like the British system they already knew?
What might life be like if the States didn’t have equal representation in the government?
What could happen if one State had more say than the others?
Do you think it’s necessary for 2 houses of parliament to approve a Bill before it becomes law? Explain your answer
If you need more ideas for discussion prompts we’ve got a huge collection in our VIT Free Resource Library covering each of the HASS topics for Grades 5 and 6.
4. Make it Measurable
Make sure you check for understanding at the end of your lesson (or lessons) on the Washminster system. This doesn’t have to be formal but you should check in with each student and ask them to explain their understanding of our system of government, the elements taken from the US and English systems and the reasons for their inclusion. If there are any areas you think need clarification or revisiting do it now, either as a whole group or individually.
5. Make it Engaging
This one can be hard, especially if you’re pressed for time. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
- Divide your classroom into ‘states’ and draft and debate a new bill in the Student Senate that will affect all students. Try it without each state having equal representation and see what happens. Then try it with each state having equal votes and discuss how it was different.
- Ask your students to create a mini news segment on Australia’s Washminster System of government. OR ask them to create informative advertisements to teach other people about how Australia’s system of government is structured and why.
You don’t have to spend a huge amount of time on the Washminster system. We’ve created a resource that will help you cover this essential topic in 1 or 2 lessons. Our Washminster FlipBook will help your students understand how elements of the UK and US systems were blended together to create a system that suited Australia. It will also help them understand how this blend supports our democratic rights and how the Constitution protects them. It’s a quirky approach to a serious and potentially dull topic but we’re sure your class will love it and they’ll remember the resource with the people trapped in the washing machine.
As we mentioned above our FREE Australian Government What if Cards are a great way to start discussions, check understanding and hook students into a new topic. Best of all they’re FREE for our email subscribers. Sign up below if you’d like access to our FREE Resource Library.
Have you tried our Washminster System flipbook or another great teaching strategy for this topic? We’d love to know! Feel free to leave a comment below or tag us in your social media.
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