3 Outstanding Resources for Meaningful Civics Lessons

November 03, 2014
Leah Kurtz
Technology Training/Integration Specialist
Cobb County School District
Marietta, GA
CATEGORIES In the Classroom

Civics is one of the most practical and relevant courses students can take in high school. Seniors, in particular, who are moving into the voting population, should leave a high school civics course with a deeper understanding of how their country functions, how laws are made, and what they can and should do to become actively engaged in those processes. These are a few excellent online civics resources I've used with my students.

iCivics is an organization founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to promote civic engagement and excitement for the civic process in our nation's classrooms. I talk about this site so often, co-workers accuse me of secretly working for them! iCivics offers a variety of games students can play in the classroom. Topics include the Supreme Court, understanding rights guaranteed by the Constitutional Amendments, and how counties work. I've used these games individually, with small groups, and for whole-class instruction. The animations are engaging, and students love to play the games. iCivics also provides a teacher resource center where teachers can access curriculum units that include learning objectives as well as detailed step-by-step lessons. These can be invaluable resources for newer teachers or for those who simply want to update their go-to civics units.

EverFi: Commons
EverFi is an organization founded in 2008 primarily to provide free financial-literacy resources to schools. During the past two years, EverFi has branched out to include other courses, including Commons (civics), 306 (African-American history), and Ignition (digital citizenship). EverFi’s Commons course includes games from iCivics as well as a variety of modules in which students learn citizenship concepts, participate in simulations, and take quizzes. Students work at their own pace and may repeat modules. Teachers can monitor student progress through the teacher dashboard, reset passwords, override grades, and download spreadsheets of all module grades to Excel. I’ve utilized several EverFi programs and consistently hear from students that they love the simulations and feel as though they’re really learning in-depth content.
This free, interactive, Web-based game with a variety of levels helps students understand the concepts of redistricting, equal representation, and gerrymandering. Students access several fictional states with names like Jefferson and Adams, and complete such tasks as redistricting by population or redistricting by partisan gerrymandering. Redistricting is a topic I’ve always struggled to make relevant and/or interesting to students. The Redistricting Game allows students to actively participate in this process and to work on keeping various party members, state legislatures, governors, and the courts happy with their redistricting plans. Student engagement is high with this game!

With today’s digital natives, simulations and interactive games seem to work best for keeping students engaged and excited about what they’re learning. I’ve tried to highlight here the resources my students and I are consistently excited about using. I warn you, however, that these games can be highly addictive -- even for teachers!

Photo: "Supreme Court" by Mark Fischer. Used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.