Website review by Common Sense Editor, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2022

iCivics

Well-designed games, lessons can spice up your civics curriculum

Learning rating
Community rating
Based on 44 reviews
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Grades
6–12
Subjects & Skills
Social Studies, Creativity, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Thoughtful, interesting game-based learning vs. gamification.

Cons: All games are single player. An interactive scope and sequence browse would be useful.

Bottom Line: This game-based curriculum would be an excellent addition to any secondary social studies.

iCivics is a fantastic way to integrate game-based learning into middle and high school social studies and government curricula. A useful dashboard lets teachers create classes and assign games and content. There's also built-in assessments to track learning. Teachers should also review the Extension Packs provided for each game. These offer prep, starter activities, and follow-up activities. Games aren't designed to be multiplayer, but you could use a projector to make games or the Webquests or DBquests a whole-class activity. After you've finished a game, explore the scope and sequence to move on to other games that expand upon the foundation you've set up. For those using Google Classroom, make sure to check out the Game Odyssey experience under the Play tab. Here you'll find Google Slides-based quests that can be used to facilitate a journey through the iCivics content. 

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Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor founded iCivics to reverse a decline in civic knowledge and help students better understand and respect the U.S. government. Over a dozen games cover core topics like citizenship, rights, the court system, governance, freedom of speech, and constitutional law. In addition to the games, there are close to 300 supporting teaching and learning materials, ranging from lesson plans to videos to document-based analysis activities. Materials are arranged in curricular units. Everything can be browsed and sorted by unit, scope and sequence, or standard (including Common Core and state standards). Teachers can also sort materials by resource type, time, grade level, and technology requirements. There's also a Game Odyssey experience, housed in Google Slides, that structures iCivics games and activities for independent learning and Google Classroom. iCivics has also partnered with Kami to make it easy for students to complete and turn in their assignments via the web browser.

Students can play games with or without a login, but to track progress and receive assignments, they'll need an account. There's Google or Clever single sign-on as well as account creation via an email or by using a class code that allows users to bypass the email requirement. Each account has a custom avatar and username, and the account page tracks activity. If students join the site, they can save their game progress, unlock special features, and compete with other members. Also, when logged in, they can compete in leaderboards and earn and donate Impact Points to participating nonprofit organizations.

While all of the games can be played directly on the site, many are available separately for iOS and Android devices. 

Standout Games:
Argument Wars: Enact famous Supreme Court cases like Brown vs. Board of Education and learn to build strong legal arguments.
Race to Ratify: Take on the role of a pamphleteer during the ratification of the Constitution to learn the Federalist and Anti-Federalist positions.
Win the White House: As a presidential candidate, select key issues, argue in a debate and in personal appearances, raise funds, and follow the polls.

Full Disclosure: iCivics and Common Sense Education share a funder; however, that relationship does not impact Common Sense Education's editorial independence and this learning rating.

iCivics has been around since 2009, and its well-developed games and thoughtfully designed classroom connections have made it a resource that withstands the test of time. The games vary in depth, but they all offer students inventive ways into core concepts and historical events relevant to U.S. history, government, civil rights, and the legal system. Everything is woven together with a robust scope and sequence and extensive supporting materials. This package makes iCivics exceptionally easy to integrate into any social studies curriculum. It also means there's flexibility: Teachers can implement one game or a series and make use of the support materials as needed.

In terms of growth, iCivics is working on getting Spanish language support in all games. It'd be nice to see this completed and then other languages, or translation support, added. The scope and sequence is also just a PDF currently, but an interactive version of this that curates resources would be useful. There's also room to grow in the games themselves. More of a focus on lesser-told history or civil struggle could take the curriculum to the next level.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Games vary in their appeal, but most are amusing, absorbing opportunities to think deeply about civic engagement.

Pedagogy

Each game offers a unique spin on content. Some, like Race to Ratify, mix facts and concepts in fascinating ways. Lessons help make learning stick and offer useful extensions.

Support

Each game has a detailed tutorial, and help screens in each support struggling players. There's a lot of reading, so it's handy that some games have a Spanish mode.


Common Sense reviewer

Community Rating

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Featured review by
Sandy W. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Catalyst Charter Middle School
Ripon, United States
Worked great as a game-based unit!
Wonderful! I have promoted this package to teachers that want to start in a game-based approach. The material is sound and teachers have data on each of their students learning. The website is complete with lessons and suggestions to using the games. If you are interested in engaging your students in civics...this is a must use approach.
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