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Supreme Court Justice Designs Video Game About Civics


Screenshot from iCivics.org website for online gaming to teach civics.

Screenshot from iCivics.org website for online gaming to teach civics.


The race to win the White House is not just taking place on the political stage, but also in schools across the country.

Like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, students are competing to become president. But their efforts are playing out in a video game called “Win the White House.”

The game is part of a website-based project called iCivics. Civics is the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. This project is designed to increase civics teaching in U.S. schools.

Teaching civics through video games was the idea of Sandra Day O’Connor, a former member of the U.S. Supreme Court. She launched the iCivics project in 2010.

“iCivics has been an effective way to reach young people and to give them an enhanced capacity to have critical thinking of their own.”

In the game “Win the White House,” students act like presidential candidates. They learn how to compete civilly on many difficult issues, including gun control and immigration.

iCivics has online educational games, teaching materials and products.

The games deal with the U.S. Constitution and all three branches of government: the Judicial, Legislative and Executive. The website also provides digital tools and lesson plans for teachers and students across the U.S.

Sixth-grader Jaylah Williams likes the games.

“It teaches students how to prepare for the real world and how to prepare, such as if they want to run for president or any debates in school.”

Ariel Bosworth teaches social studies at Future Leaders Institute Charter School in New York City. He also likes the program.

“I really have the opportunity to show them how their voice matters and why it matters. And, I think this, not only the game, but the program, the lessons that go along with it, really do a great job in providing supplementary material for showing them why their voice is important, and why they need to take an active part in civic engagement.”

As students play each game, they learn about different parts of government and politics.They also learn about economics at the national, state and local level.

But when it comes to video games in the classroom, it is the teacher who makes the difference.

That is what Dani McPartlin says. She heads the Future Leaders Institute Charter School. She says that putting a student on a computer alone in front of a program might not have the desired effect.

“An online software program is only as good as the teacher teaches into it and is able to make that connection with the students. And when it’s guided by the teacher, they’re more engaged, and they question.”

The iCivics project says middle-school social studies teachers and high-school government and history teachers use its software program. It says the program helps students improve their writing ability and knowledge of civics.

The organization says the games provide equal benefits for students across gender and race, no matter whether they are rich or poor. That, says Justice O’Connor, is her most important legacy.

I’m Anne Ball.

Bernard Shusman wrote this story for VOA News. Anne Ball wrote it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

civil – adj. to act with respect for others

supplementary – adj. completing or enhancing something

engagement – n. the act of being involved in something

gender – n. the state of being male or female

legacy – n. something that comes from someone in the past

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