How to get those civics scores up? Video games!

Executive Command

So the release of the 2010 NAEP scores on civics shows there’s lots of room for improvement. But how to get better?

An outfit called iCivics — the brainchild of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — uses video games to teach students about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

iCivics has more than a dozen different games on civics that (fairly subtly) teach kids about everything from volunteering to being the president to earning citizenship. The games are all browser-based and available free online.

Here are a few examples:

  • Executive Command is all about being the president. Players do everything from sign bills, speak to Congress and manage wars. While there is blatant civics teaching going on at times, the core lessons are actually grounded in the gameplay. You learn that the president is very busy (you rarely have time to pause for a few seconds) and has lots of different jobs (managing the military, signing bills, getting bills enacted, international diplomacy). Even if players skim over the more obvious teaching moments, they cannot avoid learning these core lessons because they’re built around the gameplay.
  • Immigration Nation teaches kids about the various ways people can get into the U.S. by having them direct different boats to different docks. The game is simple, surprisingly fun and quick to learn. Like most good games, it lets players jump right in with little explanation and slowly adds more complexity a bit at a time. By the end of the game, you’ve got full mastery without ever feeling like there was a “teaching” moment.
  • Supreme Decision is a bit more complex and a lot less interactive. Players have to listen to various arguments about a U.S. Supreme Court case and then answer several questions. This game presents the greatest opportunity for boredom, as there isn’t much gameplay involved. But the core case is focused on a topic that might interest kids — whether wearing a band T-shirt is protected speech under the First Amendment. Plus, players eventually get to decide the outcome of the case, which can’t hurt.