When I was studying for my teaching credential, a professor asked us to define the purpose of education. After working in small groups, we presented our ideas to the entire class, and found that we all had very similar thoughts, including the notion that education should prepare students to be engaged members of society.
Community service is a traditional tenet of U.S. education, but it often gets short shrift in actual classrooms. Although our social studies curriculum includes civic engagement, research shows that community engagement among young people has not improved in decades. We need to find innovative ways to teach civics that will resonate more deeply with students and carry on with them into adulthood.
Technology provides us with some effective tools to reinterpret the social studies curriculum and help students understand the complexities of civics in a more comprehensive and compelling way.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has founded iCivics, a nonprofit organization with the mission of improving civics education. The website currently has 19 game-based models to help students understand the U.S. government. Games are designed to teach how the three branches of government govern the country, the Bill of Rights, presidential campaigns, navigating the judicial system, voting, juries, and how to effect change in the community. Additional sections involve how to write a persuasive essay and how to argue a point. While these skills may be taught in other classes, they may not have been framed in a way that focuses on political or civic engagement. Teachers can register for free and gain access to lesson plans, support materials, and a tracker that allows them to monitor student learning. There's even a standards alignment tool so teachers can see what state standards are being addressed. iCivics could be used for students in grades 6-12.
For deeper engagement in understanding communities, check out Community PlanIt. In this game environment, different initiatives crowdsource ideas and input from the community. What will Cape Cod look like in 30 years? How important to you is locally grown food? How do you see South Central Los Angeles evolving? Students play the game to earn coins for a current cause. The top three causes receive donations toward making their ideas a reality. Community PlanIt helps students understand the priorities and needs of localities around the world, which, in turn, provides better insight into their own communities. Working with local leaders, students can also create a new cause to help solve problems or steer policy-making closer to home. Whether they participate as game creators or players, students can see how decisions made today will have an impact on lives in the future. This would best be used in a high school or college class.
Civics Education Collection
Enriching our civics curriculum with more dynamic content may make students better informed and more involved in the future. Using new tech tools, we can create citizens who truly understand and value the rights and responsibilities of living in a democracy. To view more tech tools, check out my civics education Collection.