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December 14, 2009

Crazy for Politics

BALTIMORE - Do you find news and current events dull, boring and confusing?

Too many young people answer yes to that question, says political cartoonist Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher, who has launched a new political news blog aimed at getting high school students to tune-in to current events by using the humor and spirit of political cartooning.

The Web site, www.USDemocrazy.com, is a daily news roundup edited by Kallaugher and staffed by a team of student bloggers at UMBC. Kallaugher, an award-winning, internationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for publications such as The Baltimore Sun and The Economist, conceived the site as an artist-in-residence at UMBC’s Imaging Research Center.

Using editorial cartoons, digital animation, videos and humorous blog posts about the daily news, USDemocrazy is designed to engage high schoolers in current events, Kallaugher said. Many posts are interactive and allow comments and the blog’s text is optimized so students can easily read it when projected on a large screen.

“We want to create a daily package where teachers can flip on our Web site for just a couple minutes each day and find engaging, unpredictable, accessible and fun material that can help make subjects like social studies more entertaining,” Kallaugher said.

The site launched publicly in October with a visit by Kallaugher to Wheaton High School in Montgomery County, Md., where social studies students have been the first in the nation to test USDemocrazy in the classroom.

Wheaton’s Social Studies Head David Shaffner said the multimedia Web site comes at a perfect time for social studies teachers. Schools across the country are struggling to make social studies relevant in an age of high stakes testing in reading and math and increasing emphasis on science and technology, he said.

“Students today are plugged-in to a more visual, media-rich environment,” Shaffner said. “We need new tools to help us un-lock those brainwaves.”

Kallaugher presented USDemocrazy as the feature speaker at the 2009 National High School Journalism Convention in Washington, D.C. this November. He plans to make presentations to the National High School Model United Nations and the National Council for the Social Studies annual meetings in 2010 to reach more teachers and students. USDemocrazy will also be introduce into the classroom this spring at Kallaugher’s alma mater, Fairfield Prep in Fairfield, Conn.

Kallaugher said the blog’s also a rich education tool for college students.

His team of student writers – which he calls his “vagabonding bloggoteers” – are tasked with populating the blog with daily posts and weekly features.

“I never used to think about getting information from blogs and used to scoff at Twitter,” said UMBC junior Marc Zerfas, a financial economics and statistics major. “Now we pride ourselves as being a sort of gateway drug to current events for people who would never read the news normally.”

Features include a daily cartoon, “What’z Up Today” news roundup and feature story; a weekly “Film Festival” roundup of videos; a weekly humorous photo “Caption Contest”; and a new feature called “Three-and-a-half Questions” highlighting the expertise of people “who are smarter than us,” Kallaugher said.

“We ask a current events expert three questions in their field of interest, plus one extra credit question in an unrelated area,” Kal said.

UMBC political science professor Tom Schaller was the latest expert to answer three-and-a-half questions, featured in an audio slide show:

Interviewed recently in UMBC Magazine, Schaller said that USDemocrazy “is classic Kal: very cheeky, very fun, very visual, and very colorful. Anyone who’s been around Kal for five minutes knows he’s all those things.”

Posted by kavan at December 14, 2009 2:45 PM