iCivics is a web-based resource aimed at providing insights and interactive experiences to students and teachers concerning civic discourse.
The website was founded by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States. Here, she discusses the foundation of the website, and its goals of supporting educators with informing, teaching, challenging and inspiring students of civics.
One part of the website is dedicated to interactive games for students to play, that teach everything from the Bill of Rights, to Immigration laws, to how to run for President of the United States. Students can play the games, which can take anywhere between 5 and 35 minutes to complete, and earn badges and “impact points” that place players on website leaderboards. Not only can students engage in meaningful learning, but they can get into the competitive spirit as well!
The other attractive part of the iCivics website for teachers is the free available teaching resources. There are curriculum units, lesson plans, essay drafting boards, and pre-made DBQ and web-quests. Also, when teachers and students link accounts, teachers can track student progress and take advantage of iCivics’s reporting tools.
Above, various teachers and students review the iCivics games, and Sandra Day O'Connor provides the theory and rationale behind the iCivics interactive media platform. She relates that students should learn about government structure, learn about various world issues and learn to problem-solve independently. iCivics currently reaches 5 million students per year, and that number is only increasing. Perhaps, the reason for this popularity and continued growth of student interest in history and current events is because of the gamification of the learning. Educational theory about gasification will be explained in more detail in the next few slides.
“CommonSense.Org” Teacher Reviews
Above, a nonprofit member named Patricia Kevlar reviewed the iCivics platform. She found that some of the games were more engaging than others, but all of the games she encountered fostered critical thinking and discussion about civic engagement. She made the clear distinction between games that are non-educative and silly, and the games presented by iCivics that fostered deeper thinking and use colorful, exciting scenes to engage the learner. Similar to other online social studies platforms, the games and interactive media provide clarification on concepts that students often misunderstand in the regular classroom setting. Finally, she related that there are quite a bit of resources for teachers, but a downside of the program, which is a lack of translated material for non-English speakers.
Another “Commonsense.org” user reviewed the iCivics website, and also included various uses for the online platform. Her review is extremely positive, citing that her students liked the games, learned from them, and that the lessons can be student-centered. As for the myriad of uses of iCivics, Robin U. suggested various games to help students understand world conflicts, economic crises and human rights issues. She also mentioned that she had yet to use the DBQuests, which combine primary and secondary sources and invite students to analyze documents prior to assessing their validity and making decisions. A detailed explanation of the DBQuests and their possibilities in the classroom will be explained in the next few pages.
iCivics makes learning come alive with their meaningful simulation and interactive role-play games. Students are able to take on the roles of change-makers in politics and society, and make real-world decisions in a safe online environment. Not only are they learning to be responsible citizens, but they are also having fun. The issues addressed by the dozens of games are real-world and current issues that affect the population globally and at home in the United States. While the students are racking up points, and competing against their classmates, they are also gaining insights into how to act as a productive, respectful and meaningful member of our democratic society.
(iCivics, Meaningful Play, 2017)
One example of a popular game on the iCivics website is “Crisis of Nations.” In this role-playing simulation game, students must take the position of leader of their country and work with fellow world leaders to solve international problems.They can use their prior knowledge while also making critical decisions based on scenarios portrayed in the game to solve economic, military and even global peace-keeping problems. Students can play individually, or the teacher can set up a class-wide game, where the students play against each other.
In the slideshow above that depicts one round from the interactive game, “Crisis of Nations,” students are able to diplomatically deal with issues between three other nations, and try to stop disasters from occurring. In one such example, a Cyber Attack was launched upon the fictional “Jambaland” by a neighboring global power called “Rundia.” Hackers from foreign lands crippled the country’s internet service which caused irreparable harm to the economy, and the governments of both countries were on the brink of a major international incident. The four countries, or student players, must diplomatically try to solve the crises by applying money, new policies, military aid or spy tactics to the situation, in hopes that one of these, or the correct combination, will be the key to peace and international repair. Not only is this game fun and exciting for students, but it causes them to think critically about their actions, and how they affect themselves and other people!
Attached above is a PDF file from the iCivics team that illustrates the rules and game-play directions for “Crisis of Nations.”
Civil Rights Curriculum Unit
First, the curriculum guide provides an overview of the unit, so the teacher knows exactly what the unit will cover, and can easily manipulate the lesson materials to fit their existing curriculum or standards-based content and skills instruction. (Curriculum Units, 2017)
Next, the curriculum guide outlines expected learning objects for students, just as most lesson plan formats do. In this particular unit, “Civilc Rights,” one of the lesson plans focuses mainly on the Civil War and Reconstruction. Some of the learning objectives are for students to be able to identify differing perspective on slavery at the time, as well as the different types of executive and legislative plans for post-war reconstruction of the South. (Civil War & Reconstruction, iCivics, 2017)
(Civil War & Reconstruction, iCivics, 2017)
Common Core Aligned Lessons
1B: Students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.
1D: Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
2B: Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices.
2C: Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
5C: Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
5D: Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.
7B: Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.
7D: Students explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions.
(ISTE Standards Students, 2007)
KEY STANDARDS SUPPORTED:
READING HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES
RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
RH.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Key Ideas and Details
RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Through iCivic’s DBQuests, students are prompted to engage with documents, analyze their sources, identify bias, conceptualize broader historical themes and integrate their knowledge in order to think, read and write to prove their understanding of the concepts.
A popular notion about technology integration in today’s classrooms is that it does not allow for critical thinking development and students barely scratch the surface with content knowledge. However, with iCivics DBQuests make students go deeper!
Problem-based learning, or more frequently called inquiry-based learning, is gaining ground in the field of education, as the newest, more innovative form of teaching and learning. With iCivics, students are able to have fun, and think critically at the same time!
(DBQuest FAQ, 2017)
iCivics promotes Gamification and Simulation
Gamification is the “application of game elements to non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior”(EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2011b cited in Maloy, 2017, 171).
The use of games in schools and in the home are increasing steadily as research shows a correlation between student engagement and gamification (Maloy, 2017, 171).
Members of online gaming communities often have increased social success as well (Maloy, 2017, 172).
According to a study cited by Moyer, three out of four teachers already use technology in the classroom, and gaming technology is just the next frontier of individualized engaging classroom learning (Takeuchi & Vaala, 2014 cited in Maloy, 2017, 172).
While some education reformers criticize providing external gratification to students, such as the medals, points and virtual awards that iCivics offers users, there is growing support in the field for gamification of content and skill instruction in the classroom ( Maloy, 2017, 173).
Simulation games are categorized as computer-generated representations of real-world situations and settings where students are tasked with making decisions and choices that have meaningful consequences within the game (Maloy, 2017, 173). iCivics seems to have cornered the market standards-based decision-making simulation games, such as “Win the Whitehouse,” “Executive Command,” and “Crisis of Nations.” Not only do these games engage students, but they also encourage civic-mindedness, digital citizenship, and high levels of decision-making.
Teacher Accounts and Creating an Online Class
iCivics Tutorial on Creating "Assignments"
All users of iCivics must create an email-based account to play games, access the web-quests and obtain the media the website offers, but teachers can set up their own classes and invite their students to join.
Once the teacher sets up a class, the students can play games, win points, and send all of their results back to the teacher account, where an internal algorithm calculates class averages and other useful compiled information.
iCivics is active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, among other social media platforms! You can follow, friend, like or post and they are very interactive with their fanbase! Members and non-members send them questions, which they often answer publicly to help others who have not voiced their issues! They truly use social media as a platform not only to promote their product, but to help educate users properly and effectively integrate iCivics into their teaching.
Alternatives to iCivics
possible alternative technologies
“Time for Learning:Social Studies Curriculum”
This website is a for-purchase (between $20-$30 per month subscription) online interactive media platform that provides a similar curriculum overview and lesson plan format, but the games are catered to various age groups.
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction secretariat established an online gaming platform in 2007, aimed at teaching children how to build safer villages and cities against disasters. The initiative to provide the online simulation game accompanied the 2006-2007 UN World Disaster Reduction Campaign called “Disaster Risk Reduction Begins at School.” This game is very similar to that of the iCivics game called “Crisis of Nations.” However, the UN gaming platform only offers one single game with a very narrow focus. This gasified lesson also neglects many academic skills other than decision-making, which iCivics touches upon in various ways. Also, the UNISDR game has not officially been updated since 2007.
References (according to the APA Citation Handbook)
Common Sense Media, Inc. (2017) Common Sense Review: iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/website/icivics.
Crisis of Nations. (2017). iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/games/crisis-nations.
Curriculum Unit: Civil Rights: Civil War & Reconstruction. (2017). iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/teachers/lesson-plans/civil-war-reconstruction.
Curriculum Units. (2017). iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/products/curriculum-units.
DBQuests. (2017). iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/products/dbquest.
DBQuest Frequently Asked Questions. (2017). iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/sites/default/files/DBQuest%20FAQ.pdf.
Elliott, J. (2016, Feb. 1). Using Research as a Learning Process. Retrieved from http://www.techinpedagogy.com/archives/1149.
[iCivics]. (2013, May 21). Justice O’Connor Teacher Response. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAB-fHhKhGQ.
[iCivics]. (2014, August 11). iCivics Virtual Classroom Walk Through (Tutorial). [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5CuFMYg19o.
[iCivics]. (2014, September 8). iCivics: Create An Assignment Tutorial. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvZcZYbeRlg.
iCivics. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/?_ga=2.236566087.755428687.1498263560-199608616.1485117018.
[iCivics]. (2017, April 17). Sandra Day O’Connor iCivics Tribute Video (updated). [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwXvcOOPb9A.
ISTE Standards Students. (2007). International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/docs/pdfs/20-14_ISTE_Standards-S_PDF.pdf.
Maloy, R. W., Verock-O’Loughlin, R., Edwards, S. A., & Woolf, B. P. (2017). Transforming Learning with New Technologies. Boston: Pearson.
Meaningful Play. (2017). iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/games.
Our Story. (2017) iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/our-story.
Teacher Review for iCivics. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/website/icivics-teacher-review/4097676.
Teachers. (2017). iCivics. Retrieved from https://www.icivics.org/teachers.