Parenting: iCivics

David Murphy reports: Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's new mission is teaching kids about government.
November 19, 2012

Here's the link:

About 55,000 classrooms nationwide are using the site to teach kids about government, including Andrew Jackson Elementary School in South Philadelphia, where O'Connor actually paid a visit last year and helped swear-in the student government. At Andrew Jackson, civics teacher Marc Levinson uses the program on a smart board to engage his 6th, 7th and 8th grade students on everything from Supreme Court cases to various laws and even the federal budget. Levinson says games included in the program really get the kids involved, especially when the debate is over a law or an argument being made in front of a judge. "There are winners and losers," Levinson told Action News. "They understand that there's a goal (when working through the website's games). They interact well with it. They like the games. It really just pulls them in and brings social studies to life."

And that's exactly what Justice O'Connor had in mind when she came up with the idea for iCivics. O'Connor recently gave an interview to David Gergen for Parade Magazine in which she talked about the website that uses games and exercises to learn how government works. Polls have shown that more Americans can name the 3 Stooges than the three branches of government. O'Connor says that lack of knowledge equates with citizens having a lesser awareness of government and a smaller voice.

"I think it's the most important thing I've done," O'Conner told Gergen. "We have a complex system of government. We want young people to continue to be a part of it. We need 'em more than ever." iCivics is aimed at middle school students because, as O'Conner, puts it, "they enjoy learning at that age." The website uses game-playing and interactive programs to teach everything from what government does to how it works.

In "Argument Wars", for example, various cases are argued before the Supreme Court, with students deciding which way the lawyers make their case and how the court reacts. Along the way, kids (and parents) get an idea of the complexity of a legal argument and how careful one has to be to make an argument stick.

Other sections of the site focus on Constitutional Amendments, the President, Congress, and even the economy. My favorite game allows a player to construct a federal budget. The challenge is to do it without losing public support or running out of cash. It's a big job!

The best thing about the iCivics website is that you don't have to be a student in a user school to have access. It's free to anyone online at any computer. This means parents and kids can buzz around the site at home, learning a bit more about government together and enhancing whatever is being taught in school.

Meanwhile, I'm going to pass along this Parade Magazine Quiz link to a neat litle test that will warm you to the subject. In order to become a U.S. citizen, candidates are quizzed on U.S. history and government organization. They must get 6 of 10 questions right and the questions are drawn at random from a list of 100. The link below lets you test your knowledge by allowing you to answer all 100, 25 at a time. Your score is calculated automatically at the end of each section.

21 or better per section (total score) is considered excellent and suggests a healthy grasp of civics. Being a former general assignment news reporter who covered trials and politics helped me on this (I also read presidential biographies for fun!). Take the quiz and see if you can beat my "93"!

---David Murphy

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