With Games, History and Civics Come AliveSusan Wetenkamp-Brandt, Educational Technology Manager
Think History and Government are boring? Not when you learn them through games!
Computer games are an effective medium for delivering powerful learning about social studies topics. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself! Here are two websites with free, powerful learning games that immerse players in ideas in ways no textbook can.
Mission US: An Interactive Way to Learn History
From the website: “Developed for use in middle and high school classrooms, Mission US engages students in the study of transformational moments in American history. Each mission consists of an interactive game and a set of curriculum materials that are aligned to National Standards and feature document-based activities. The game immerses players in rich, historical settings and then empowers them to make choices that illuminate how ordinary people experienced the past.”
The four missions are Four Crown or Colony? set during the opening days of the American Revolution; Flight to Freedom, in which you guide a 14-year old slave to freedom; A Cheyenne Odyssey, in which you help a Native American youth survive on the plains of the American west; and City of Immigrants, in which you start a new life in America as a Jewish immigrant girl.
In exploring the site, I played City of Immigrants, and was immediately enthralled by the story of Lena Brodsky. Who is she? Bold and forthright, or shy and uncertain? Should she work overtime for pay, or do more at home to help her sister-in-law? I see through her eyes, navigate the world in her shoes. Her story isn’t just hers – it’s mine. This is the power of role-playing games. Although I have studied this period in history before, it felt fresh and engaging, and I didn’t want to stop playing.
While all the stories center on youth, you don’t need to be a teenager to connect to these young men and women. Players must register for a free account to play the missions.
From the website: “iCivics is a non-profit organization dedicated to reinvigorating civic learning through interactive and engaging learning resources. Our educational resources empower teachers and prepare the next generation of students to become knowledgeable and engaged citizens. Founded and led by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics provides students with the tools they need for active participation and democratic action, and teachers with the materials and support to achieve this. Our free resources include print-and-go lesson plans, award-winning games, and digital interactives. The iCivics games place students in different civic roles and give them agency to address real-world problems and issues. They are rooted in clear learning objectives and integrated with lesson plans and support materials.”
While reviewing the site, I played two games: Do I Have a Right – Bill of Rights Edition, and Crisis of Nations. The first is an exploration of the rights we have as citizens under the Bill of Rights. You play as a lawyer, who is interviewing potential clients. Each client states a problem they have, and asks “Do I have a right?” You decide if there is a potential violation of their rights, and if so, which of the Amendments of the Bill of Rights has been violated. If you decide correctly, your law firm’s prestige grows. The game was funny – and fun – but definitely also reinforced my knowledge of the Bill of Rights.
Crisis of Nations is an international governance game in which players utilize military, diplomatic, and economic power to resolve international conflicts – or fail to do so. Players may play together in multi-player matches or play alone against the computer. This game was hard! And I wanted to keep playing to see if I could get better at it. It could be a great discussion starter about the hard choices that political leaders face in the international arena.
These two games are just a taste of what iCivics has to offer! Registration is optional and the site is free.
I hope you’ll give these games a chance! We’ve come a long way from the days of The Oregon Trail.
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