From parchment to iPad: U.S. Constitution digitized

The National Constitution Center awarded $175

The National Constitution Center awarded $175

The U.S. Constitution turns 229 years old on Saturday. Originally written on parchment, the venerable document has now received a 21st-century face-lift, courtesy of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

On Friday, the center’s CEO, Jeffrey Rosen, unveiled the interactive Constitution app, available for iOS and Android.

The app is  both a digitized version of the nation’s founding document as well as a guide into the world of constitutional interpretation. Each clause and amendment comes with a description co-written by a liberal and conservative scholar. The scholars also submit separate essays on some disputes arising from the clause or amendment in question.

Around this time last year, the National Constitution Center launched a web version of the same product that has so far generated 6 million unique page views, according to the center. The hope is to broaden that products reach by making it more mobile friendly.

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“This is going to transform constitutional education in America, and we hope it will also transform constitutional dialogue in America,” said Rosen.

To help market the new app, the National Constitution Center has partnered with the College Board, which plans to integrate the Interactive Constitution into its advanced placement courses on U.S. history and government.

Also on Friday, the National Constitution Center awarded three Philadelphia schools a combined $175,000 as part of the inaugural civic literacy contest. To win the award, the schools had to craft lesson plans designed to spice up teaching of the U.S. Constitution and boost “constitutional literacy.”

The grand prize of $100,000 went to First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School in Frankford. Teacher Liza Meiris submitted the winning bid, which she said focused on integrating constitutional teachings with the arts. School officials hope to stage a play about the drafting of the constitution and have purchased software that will be used, at least in part, to help students craft political cartoons.

Meiris, an American history teacher, said she likes to focus students on a single sentence or passage when she teaches the Constitution. The goal is to have them think deeply about the meaning of the material and how it translates to today’s world.

“They get very engaged when they see that this old, very boring text is actually very relevant to what we’re talking about today,” said Meiris.

Third prize — and the $25,000 that came with it — went to Friends Select, a private Quaker school in Center City.

Fittingly, Constitution High School, which sits a couple blocks west of Independence Hall, took second prize and won $50,000.

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