Common Sense Review
Updated March 2013

Branches of Power

Power and control levers become clear through lawmaking
Common Sense Rating 3
  • A “landscape of issues” in Branches of Power
  • Holding a press conference in Branches of Power
  • Addressing a town hall meeting on Branches of Power
  • Making a law in Branches of Power
  • Beginning judicial review in Branches of Power
Pros
Critical-thinking skills about process and cooperation help kids think like politicians, and they can visualize and sequence each part of the federal government.
Cons
Engagement with the executive and judicial branches is shallow compared to the legislative.
Bottom Line
Branches of Power shows how checks and balances work, although kids may learn the most about the legislative branch.
Chad Sansing
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

The intuitive point-and-click interface makes it easy for students to interact with the game map. First-time players will struggle with the half-hour time limit.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

A clever map and different characters illuminate the key parts of the legislative process. The legislative branch is the clear star here; the other branches don't seem as substantial.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

A ton of in-game help, including instructions for every portion of play, assists students when they get stuck. Moreover, players get constant visual and textual feedback as they score points and grow their towers. 

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Use the game to add interactivity to a unit on government, showing (in an ideal world) how the three main branches work together. Students who struggle with reading large amounts of text will benefit from playing with others even though it's meant for single players. Otherwise, the social aspects of the game are reserved for kids with iCivics accounts who can save their games, avatar accessories, and Impact points, which they can use to vote for civic participation projects pursuing iCivics grants.

New players might find it difficult to between avatars or decide what to do first, but with the in-game help and some coaching, they should figure out they can win the game if they develop each issue in turn as their executive and legislative avatars.

 

 

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What's It Like?

Branches of Power, a free online game at iCivics or Filament Games, teaches kids about government as students shepherd issues through the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Kids select avatars to represent leaders in each branch. These avatars travel a metaphorical political landscape as they try to develop issues from empty lots into golden towers that represent popular and constitutional laws.

Kids score points for successfully passing, signing, and reviewing laws. They win by developing each issue from an empty lot into a viable tower/law. The executive avatar can enter the tower to sign or veto the bill, and the judicial avatar can take a passed law from the tower to the Supreme Court for judicial review.

 

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Is It Good For Learning?

While exaggerated, the game shows how different actions can positively or negatively impact whether laws are passed. For instance, whether kids agree directly impacts the amount and type of support their issues receive. In the lawmaking "deliberation" portion, the provisions kids include in each law determine whether it will pass.

The legislative portions of the game work best. In town hall meetings, kids can actively agree or disagree with audience members' positions. By comparison, the executive and judicial portions of the game feel weak. In press conferences, the president answers Yes or No questions such as, "Does college usually only last one year?" Judicial review consists of picking the right or wrong reason to uphold or strike down a law. At the end of the game, kids can print score sheets showing their performance, as well as copies of the bills they passed.

 

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See how teachers are using Branches of Power

Lesson Plans