Russia’s Transformation: Challenges for U.S. Policy helps students consider the U.S. relationship with Russia and its neighbors. Students survey the economic issues and political developments that have shaped the outlook of policymakers in the Kremlin and Washington.
- Work cooperatively to synthesize information from news sources
- Analyze the issues and controversies surrounding Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election
- Consider how a foreign government can influence a country’s elections
“How have U.S.-Russia relations evolved since the end of the Cold War?” (Robert Legvold)
“What are some major sources of tension between Russia and the United States?” (Robert Legvold)
Note to Teachers
Teachers will need to be able to project video in their classrooms. Alternatively, students will need access to the internet to watch videos online.
This lesson involves an adapted version of an ancient Egyptian board game called Senet. Students will complete the game with a partner. Each pair of students should have their own “station.” (For example, a class of twenty students will need ten stations.) Alternatively, some students can play in groups of three. Set up the following materials at each station:
- One Senet game board.
- One set of “Election Interference Cards,” with the Social Media Cards on one color paper, U.S. Elections Cards on another color, and International Events Cards on a third color. Cards should be sorted by color and put in numerical order with the Card 1 of each stack at the top of the stack.
- Game markers (four per player, in a different color for each player) placed on the top row of the Senet game board. (These could be checkers, game pieces from a different board game, pennies and nickels, etc.)
- One dice.
In the Classroom
1. Activate Prior Knowledge—Ask students what they have heard or read about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Encourage them to share with a classmate and then with the class.
2. Understand the History of U.S.-Russia Relations—Explain to students that in order to better understand the current allegations of Russian interference in U.S. elections, it is helpful to learn about the history of U.S.-Russia relations. Show the following Choices videos with Professor Robert Legvold: “How have U.S.-Russia relations evolved since the end of the Cold War?” and “What are some major sources of tension between Russia and the United States?” After viewing the videos, pose the following questions for discussion:
- How have U.S.-Russia relations evolved since the end of the Cold War? What are some of the reasons for closer and/or more distant relations with Russia over time?
- What tensions exist currently between Russia and the United States?
- In what ways does the Russian government claim that the United States has sought to isolate Russia?
- Prior to the 2016 elections, why was it so difficult for the United States to achieve cooperation with the Russian government?
3. Prepare for the Game—Tell students that in this lesson they will learn about claims made by security experts and politicians relating to ways the Russian government and organizations tied to the Kremlin have sought to influence democracy in the United States and in European countries. They will play a game in which they examine information from news sources reporting on these claims.
Distribute “Note Sheet” and direct students to the prompt at the top of the Social Media column on the handout. Tell students that they will be watching two short videos that explain how “bots” and ads can influence social media users. Students should take brief notes on key ideas from the videos. Play the MSNBC video, “Explore how ‘bots’ easily disseminate fake news” (from 0:18 to 2:30), followed by the Bloomberg video, “How Russia Meddling Became Social Media’s Problem: QuickTake Q&A.” Discuss student responses.
4. Explore Alleged Election Interference—Refer students to the materials at their stations. Explain the rules for Senet (located on the game board). Explain that the “Election Interference Cards” contain information that was published in various news sources within the United States between 2016 and 2018. Have students follow the instructions to play the game. As students play, they should work collaboratively to complete the rest of the note sheet. The game will likely take students 30-40 minutes to play.
5. Concluding Discussion—Reconvene the class and ask students to reflect on what they learned through the game. What have different security experts claimed about Russian interference in U.S. and European elections? Did students find the evidence of Russian interference in elections compelling? Why or why not? Invite students to engage in discussion around the following questions:
- How confident are you that the 2018 midterm elections will be free from Russian interference? Explain.
- Is trust between the United States and Russia possible in the current context? How might trust between the two countries be strengthened?
- Why might there be tensions between state governments and the federal government in the United States over how elections are conducted?
- Should Congress establish minimum standards for election security, such as voting equipment with a paper record for recounts and/or random audits of ballots?
- How important are free and fair elections in a democracy?
- Invite someone from your local or state board of elections to visit your classroom. Ask this visitor to share information related to election procedures, tabulation of election results, and election security. Have students reflect, in writing or through discussion, on their opinions about these processes and the extent to which they ensure secure elections. Either before or after this visit, students could examine this resource from the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides an overview of the key role states play in election security.
- Have students explore this Pew Research Center resource, which includes a map showing the variety of voting systems in U.S. states and outlines changes in voting systems since 1980.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence (declassified): Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections
The Council on Foreign Relations: Russia, Trump, and the 2016 U.S. Election
National Public Radio (NPR): Learning 2016’s Lessons, Virginia Prepares Election Cyberdefenses
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) lesson plan: Bot or not? How fake social media accounts could influence voting
This Teaching with the News lesson was written by Amy Sanders, Choices Teaching Fellow and teacher at Yarmouth High School in Yarmouth, Maine.