If you’re a West Wing fan – and I know you are – Big Block of Cheese Day is something you’re already familiar with. If for some reason Big Block of Cheese Day doesn’t ring a bell, head over here for a quick West Wing refresher.
The West Wing version of Big Block of Cheese Day was inspired by an open house hosted by President Jackson in 1837, for the public to mingle with cabinet members and White House staffers, where guests were served slices from a 1,400-pound block of cheese.
And tomorrow, for the second year in a row, the current White House is offering up an actual version of Big Block of Cheese Day. It’s all part of the State of the Union goings-on and for me, it’s like Christmas in January.
The difference is that the 2015 big block of cheese is virtual: Americans are invited to interact with White House staffers and directors on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, where they can get answers to their questions in real time. These sessions are designed to coincide with President Obama’s State of the Union address.
So if you’re a government teacher, a civics teacher, a current events teacher . . . well, basically if you’re a social studies teacher, Big Block of Cheese Day seems like a perfect time to get your kids directly involved in talking with the government. I think this sort of interaction is important – mostly because it gives kids a chance to see that the government is actual people, working to serve citizens and taxpayers. It’s not just some faceless system.
And that’s a message our students don’t hear enough.
The president’s tech team has been hard at work on a revamped State of the Union page on the White House website. As in previous years, it will offer a livestream of the speech and display supporting information. But this year, the information will be more personalized and interactive.
If you visit the White House’s State of the Union page tomorrow evening, you’ll see a live, streaming video of the president’s speech at the top. Below that will be a grid of shareable boxes that display information about the speech. Right now, those boxes look like this:
Vox says that this grid won’t be static.
As the president talks, the White House will post new boxes explaining and supporting the president’s proposals. They’ll pop up automatically in the upper-left of the grid, with older boxes sliding down to make room — an approach the White House calls a river. The White House expects to present more than 100 boxes during Tuesday’s speech.
Some of the boxes will also be interactive.
“You’ll be able to see state-by-state or demographic data points in real-time,” Nathaniel Lubin, acting director of the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, wrote by email. “You’ll be able to answer questions and respond to prompts, share feedback, discover related material, and see and share social media content.”
For example, when the president discusses his proposal for mandatory paid sick leave, there could be a box where a site visitor can choose his or her own state to see how many people in that state are lacking coverage. There are a ton of things you can do with the #SOTU and #BBOCD:
1. Use the official White House site for video clips, official transcripts, behind the scenes, and other goodies. It’s great for finding ways that you and your kids can use social media to participate in the on-going conversation. This includes the White House Twitter and Facebook feeds. But have your kids do their own research using the Twitter search feature. Use hashtags like #sotu and #stateoftheunion. Have students compare the different responses and think about reasons why there are differences.
2. Have kids fact check both the SOTU and the different Republican responses. Discuss sources for this information – where can we find the facts? Are there citations available from the White House and the Republican party? FactCheck and PolitiFact are also good for that sort of thing. Have them compare two different news sites to see how the fact checking might be different – CNN and Fox News, for instance.
4. Use Wordle.net to help kids visualize themes in both the SOTU and the various Republican responses. Official. Tea Party. Tea Party / Libertarian / Running for President. How are they different? The same? Why are they different? Why the same?
5. And of course, Larry Ferlazzo, master of lists, has an excellent #SOTU page full of goodies.
So watch the #SOTU. Use the social medias and YouTubes and interwebs. And eat some cheese.