Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2017

iCivics

Exceptionally well-designed games, lesson plans demystify government

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Teachers say (42 Reviews)
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Grades
6-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Cute games enhance the educational content.

Cons: You might want to play each game first, given a wide variety in depth.

Bottom Line: This excellent addition to a civics classroom simplifies complex topics.

iCivics is a fantastic way to integrate game-based learning into middle and high school social studies curricula. An extensive dashboard lets teachers create classes and assign games by state and Common Core standards and by grade.

When you create a new class, you receive a unique code to distribute to students. Each class has Assignments, Announcements, and Discussions areas, and you can easily add new content or create polls. You can print out a detailed report of how students are doing on games. You also can access prepared material from the iCivics curriculum, including lesson plans (replete with step-by-step teaching instructions and handouts), correlating games, and longer Web quests to connect lessons to Web content. Games aren't designed to be multiplayer, but you could use a projector to make games or Web quests a whole-class activity.

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Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor founded iCivics to reverse a decline in civic knowledge and help kids better understand and respect the U.S. government. Sixteen games cover core topics like citizenship, rights, the court system, governance, freedom of speech, and constitutional law. You can sort by topic or time needed for gameplay. Each game provides a walkthrough tutorial that's easy to understand but does require some reading.

Kids can play games with or without a login. Each account has a custom avatar and username, and the account page tracks kids' activity. If they 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 leader boards and earn and donate Impact Points, which can total $1,000 every three months, to various causes like Lenses Without Limits, which provides low-income youth access to photography lessons and equipment.

While many games can be played directly on the site (and have been updated from their earlier versions), seven of the built-in games are available separately for download for iOS and Android devices. In addition to these games, the site also features an essay-writing tool called Drafting Board, which walks students through the steps of constructing an argumentative essay, including understanding an issue in depth and constructing an argument based on evidence. It's part document-based question, part debate-team prep. Other especially well-done games include Do I Have A Right?, Represent Me!, and We The Jury

Standout Games:
Argument Wars -- Enact famous Supreme Court cases like Brown vs. Board of Education and learn to build strong legal arguments.
People's Pie -- Balance a federal budget by weighing priorities and choosing which programs to fund or cut.
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.

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iCivics has been around since 2009, and its well-developed games and thoughtfully designed classroom connections have made it an edtech resource that withstands the test of time. The games vary in depth, but they all offer kids a range of fun ways to learn about the U.S. government and legal system and they consistently offer relevant connections to classroom material. 

Kids can select a subject and game and get right into the action playing games that are both educational and entertaining. With each click, they make decisions based on civics concepts and advance in the games as they use and improve on what they know. Kids can add to their civics adventure by creating a free account, saving their game scores, and competing with friends. They also can see real-world impact by applying the points they earn to an actual community service project. Overall, the iCivics website is a great resources on its own for students and teachers alike, and it's a great jumping-off point to the standalone iCivics games.

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Overall Rating
5

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

Some games are more fun than others, but most are amusing, absorbing opportunities to think deeply about civic engagement.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
5

Games don't dumb down learning even though they're cute for middle and high schoolers. In fact, they clarify complex concepts.

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

Each game has a detailed tutorial, and help screens in each support struggling players. Some games require a lot of reading, with no language translation available. Teacher materials connect the experience offline.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

5
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Featured review by
Ericka P. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Oxon Hill High School
Oxon Hill, MD
5
Government? Fun, Fantastic, Real-World experience. Check out iCivics

Overall I like using iCivics with my classes regardless with they are special needs, ELL, or general education classes. I truly enjoyed the different projects presented for the educator to use, the easy platform in which the website was designed, and ease of use of the lessons with on the computer platform or a printed version. Another plus is the lesson plans follow the Maryland State Curriculum quite a bit making it easy to incorporate into the classroom. The students can use these lessons as pre-assessment lessons, introductory lessons, and reinforcement lesson for in class or as homework.
Although iCivics can be a very productive tool for educators and students alike there are some drawbacks that can be corrected. The students can find the answers to the activities online if they are tech savvy enough. Also the curriculum learning standards for Government are out of date for my state. They may be out of date but the are still relevant. The only difference is my state has restructured the curriculum which makes the order of the state curriculum a little off on iCivics.

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