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iCivics - US Government Games & Lessons

iCivics - US Government Games & Lessons
This week, a new Congress begins session by reading the US Constitution aloud in the House of Representatives.  It seems the ideal time to spread the word about iCivics, a website full of eye-catching games designed to immerse middle and high school students in citizenship and our government.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor conceived the idea for this website (which started as another website, OurCourts).  Her vision is to improve middle school students' understanding of our political system and their role in the process.

So iCivics is all about games that teach.  As of this writing, there are 14 games dealing with citizenship, the Constitution, separation of powers, and executive, legislative and judicial branches.   Corresponding curriculum units for each of these topics include lesson plans and webquests.

Some of the games are designed to be played as a group.  Others are designed to be played individually.  There are even helpful guides for approximately how long it takes to play each game, varying from 15 minutes to more than 30 minutes.  Each lesson with its accompanying game is designed to be completed within a classroom period.

The games focus on policies, legislation and Supreme Court decisions that are relevant to students, such as searches of personal property in school, funding for schools, student safety, and grading.  The realistic complexity of the issues makes the games much more interesting than how-a-bill-becomes-a-law rote Q&A games.

For instance, in the Branches of Power game,  students learn more of what it really takes to enact laws. Students pick their priorities and values.  Then they navigate press conferences, town hall meetings, and conflicting values among supporters and opponents.  They even defend  against legal challenges to legislation they support.  All are played out here as essential parts of the process.  And as in real life, with next election just around the corner, there is a limited amount of time to complete all of the steps to enact legislation.

iCivics has been widely praised by  teachers and students across the country. The games have been played more than a million times in just over a year.  At that rate, Justise O'Connor's vision is well on its way to realization.

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