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On November 1, 2018

Lesson Plan: Project-Based Learning: Founders' Intent

David Rubenstein on the 1787 Constitutional Convention

Philanthropist David Rubenstein talked about what he thinks Americans should know about the 1787 Constitutional Convention. He was joined Jeffrey Rosen.


This project promotes student inquiry through simulation and role-playing activities that introduce the system of limited government and divided powers established in the Constitution. You may introduce this project prior to teaching the Foundations of American Democracy unit. Each step is enhanced with C-SPAN videos to introduce a concept and enhance understanding of a topic. In this simulation students become delegates to the Constitutional Convention. In these roles, students engage in three deliberations on controversial constitutional issues which involve the ratification of the Constitution, the controversies over federalism and contemporary issues.


  • Introduction

    To introduce the project, have students view the following video clip and engage in a class discussion to help students understand the purpose of the Constitutional Convention:

    Video Clip 1: Constitutional Convention (7:40)


    1. Why did the colonists believe a constitution was needed?

    2. At the time of the American Revolution which countries had a constitution?

    3. How were the colonies governed as a collective whole prior to the Constitution? Was it effective? Why?

    4. Why was George Washington conflicted about attending the Constitutional Convention?

    5. Describe the delegates. Did they reflect the population? How do you think the composition of the delegates might be different today?

    6. Once the convention started, several rules were agreed upon. What were they and why were they necessary?
  • Task 1

    Throughout this simulation, each student will be required to act as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. This task and the associated resources will help students learn more about the background of these delegates as they decide who to choose for their simulation.

    Video Clip 2: Constitution Signers (26:34)

    Guiding Questions

    1. How many people signed the Constitution?

    2. Who was the last person to sign the Constitution? Which state did he represent?

    3. Describe Madison's ideas and explain what shaped them.

    4. Compare the New York Plan and the New Jersey Plan.

    5. Explain the importance of maintaining secrecy at the convention. How did it impact the Constitutional Convention?

    6. Explain the significance of the statement, "We the People." Describe the perspective of James Wilson.

    7. Describe Benjamin Franklin's understanding of the symbolism of the sun on George Washington's chair.

    8. Explain the three-fifths clause.

    9. Who were the dissenters and what were the reasons they refused to sign the Constitution?

    Based off of the previous videos and the following website, students should choose one of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention.

    Delegates to the Constitutional Convention (Website)

  • Task 2

    Each student should review the biography of their delegate and research that person to use that information in the simulation.

    Students should use the note-taking chart below to guide their research on the following topics:

    Constitutional Convention Delegate: Note-Taking Guide

    1. Background of their delegate

    2. State that they represent

    3. Contributions to the Constitutional Convention

    4. Perspectives on state v. national power

    Individual Biographies of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention (Website)

  • Task 3

    To introduce the concept of federalism, view the video below to show students Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh explaining Federalism. Have them answer the accompanying questions.

    Video Clip 3: Federalism (2:19)

    1. How can federalism further protect individual liberty?

    2. What is meant by states being a "laboratory of democracy?"

    3. What levels of government do citizens interact with the most on a daily basis? How is this an example of federalism?

    4. Why does federalism matter?

    5. How does 10th Amendment protect federalism?

    After viewing the federalism clip and researching their delegate for their simulation, each student will examine one of the federalism controversies from 1789 to 1865 listed below. In a written response, students will summarize the issue and explain how their delegate would react to the issue included in the video clip.

    Students should cover one of the following issues:

    1. The Concept of Dual Federalism (2:00)

    2. The Doctrine of Nullification (1:54)

    3. Internal Improvement and Infrastructure Debate (3:20)

    4. States Rights Doctrine (4:56)

    5. Implied Powers or Necessary and Proper Clause (2:00)

    6. The Supremacy Clause (1:20)

    7. Federal Regulation of Interstate Commerce (1:10)
  • Task 4

    The students will investigate a contemporary federalism issue and speculate on the perspective their delegate would have held.

    Students should select one of the following issues:

    1. School Choice (7:30)

    2. Universal Health Care (3:27)

    3. Transportation Infrastructure (8:00)

    4. Immigration Policy and Sanctuary Cities (3:30)

    5. Marijuana (4:25)

    6. Opioids (3:17)

    7. Clean Energy (2:49)
  • Task 5

    Students will demonstrate their understanding of the Founders and federalism through a whole class structured discussion. Each student will participate with the objective of sharing their understanding of the role of their delegate at the Constitutional Convention and the position of their delegate on a modern issue.

    1. The teacher serves as a moderator as each delegate expresses their views. This may require multiple class periods.

    2. Each student should speculate on their delegate's position on a historic issue and a modern day federalism issue and provide a rationale for their thought process. The conversation between the Founders should be well informed. Encourage multiple viewpoints to be shared and supported with factual information.

    3. Each student should write a one-page description of how the perspective of their delegate aligns or differs from their beliefs on contemporary federalism issues.


Additional Resources


  • Articles Of Confederation
  • Clean Energy
  • Constitution
  • Constitutional Convention
  • Federalism
  • George Washington
  • Gun Control
  • Health Care
  • Immigration Policy
  • James Wilson
  • Marijuana
  • New Jersey Plan
  • New York Plan
  • Opioids
  • School Choice
  • Separation Of Powers
  • Three-fifths Compromise
  • Transportation Infrastructure


AP U.S. Government Key TermsConstitutional FoundationFederalism and State IssuesState HistoryU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh School