Ackerman Center: serving Indiana’s teachers, students with civics resources

A resource center housed in the Purdue University College of Education is impacting the university and the state of Indiana by providing needed civics education resources for Indiana school districts.

Middle school students present their project, "Reducing Food Waste at School", to judges and parents.
Intermediate school students present their project, “Reducing Food Waste at School”, to judges and parents. (Photo/D. Starr)

The James F. Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship developed and is offering 6th Grade Civics Course Design and Resources to teachers to meet the state’s required civics standards for middle school mandated by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) in 2022. The new civics standards were required in Indiana schools at the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

“Indiana’s civics standards will support a new civics class that students will take during the second semester of sixth grade, building upon citizenship standards in earlier grades,” states the IDOE website. “The new standards focus on instructing students on the foundations of government, functions of government and the role of citizens.”

Phillip J. VanFossen
Phillip J. VanFossen

“We piloted this curriculum and approach with Sunnyside Intermediate School in Lafayette last year,” said Phillip J. VanFossen, interim dean of the College and director of the Ackerman Center. “We’re helping school districts and teachers meet those standards. We’re serving the state.”

Center staff created and offer these resources via the Purdue College of Education Professional Development Portal. It’s available with no fee for the 2023-24 school year. The course provides step-by-step guides to using We the People and Project Citizen materials to meet the new Indiana standard.

Anne Murphy-Kline
Anne Murphy-Kline

“What we’re offering is designed intentionally to be accessible from anywhere in the state with no fee – it’s available to anyone on our professional development website,” said Anne Murphy-Kline, assistant director of the Center.

The Ackerman Center 6th Grade Civics Course includes video training for using the civics course. When teachers complete the training, they receive three IDOE Professional Growth Points (PGPs).

For years the Ackerman Center offered support for the Project Citizen program at the high school level. With the advent of Indiana’s 6th grade civics education mandate, the Center staff realized they could develop something that would help teachers meet the new standards.

“We saw a statewide need and knew we could adapt our high school civics outreach efforts to meet the civics standards for 6th grade,” Murphy-Kline said. “The purpose of Project Citizen is to help students see that things they’re dealing with in everyday life are part of what the government does, and that they can be part of the policy-making process.”

Sunnyside’s assistant principal, Lindsey Martin, contacted Murphy-Kline and requested help in meeting the new 6th grade standards. Murphy-Kline recommended they use We the People as a content resource to complement Project Citizen’s project-based learning. Sunnyside purchased the books and the Center then collaborated with Sunnyside educators on a pilot program in the Spring of 2023, developing and testing these resources that are now available to teachers across the state.

Indiana teachers and administrators appreciate the new resources.

Project Citizen participants discuss their "Lowering the Working Age to 13" project with judges, including Phillip J. VanFossen, interim dean of the College of Education and director of the Ackerman Center.
Project Citizen participants discuss their “Lowering the Working Age to 13” project with judges, including Phillip J. VanFossen, interim dean of the College of Education and director of the Ackerman Center. (Photo/D. Starr)

“While teaching We The People and working through Project Citizen presentations, my students were able to learn and understand how the government works and how it was started,” said Jessica Downs, Sunnyside Intermediate 6th Grade Science/Social Studies Teacher. “My students discovered that they can bring about change with their voices by voting as well as advocating for change in areas they are passionate about.”

“The We the People curriculum and Project Citizen presentations provided our students with a problem-based learning opportunity,” said Lindsey Martin, assistant principal, Sunnyside Intermediate School. “Engaging with the legislative process and foundations of government through this hands-on authentic approach offered them an invaluable learning experience.”

“Teachers should sign up now to explore the options and have what they need at their fingertips for teaching the new civics course this spring,” said Murphy-Kline. “Pilot teachers say this is the most comprehensive support they’ve seen for planning their semester.”

“Public schools were founded in our country to prepare the next generation of citizens in our Constitutional republic,” VanFossen said. “Any time we can increase the focus on that mission, it’s a good day for public schools.”

Register for the Ackerman Center 6th Grade Civics Course – it’s free for the 2023-2024 school year. Questions: Anne Murphy-Kline,

Source: Anne Murphy-Kline,

Upcoming events:

Dec. 11 – Project Citizen Showcase with Attica High School, Benton Central High School, and Lafayette Jefferson High School student presentations at the Wilmeth Active Learning Center (WALC) at Purdue University, 340 Centennial Mall Dr, West Lafayette, IN; time TBD

About the James F. Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship

In 1994, Indianapolis businessman and philanthropist James F. Ackerman gave a generous gift to the then-School of Education at Purdue University to endow the James F. Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship. Ackerman was committed to improving participation in our democratic society and wanted to fund a Center that would promote civics, economics, and ethics.