Times have changed. Students no longer rush home to play ball or ride their bikes with their friends. Okay, maybe a few do, but the majority of our students spend their afternoons and weekends glued to a screen. Whether it’s wrong or right, T.V. or tablet, it’s our students’ world and we are just living in it. So, what is a teacher to do? I definitely don’t have “the answer” but I have an idea. 

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Screens are more interesting than you.

A few years ago, I decided that enough was enough. I wiped off the ancient Social Studies textbooks I found collecting dust in the janitors closet and introduced them to my students. Their puzzled faces affirmed what I already knew: textbooks are becoming a thing of the past. Still, my mind was set on mission “textbook” and we pressed on, using them in several lessons just as my Social Studies teachers had done. It was good enough for me, right? Then one day, it happened, a student fell asleep. Sure, it happens to the best of us, but knowing that didn’t help my pride. 

I went home that afternoon feeling defeated. Barely through the door, my own kids (14 and 8), rushed to their rooms. They grabbed their controllers and keyboards, ignoring my shouting about homework and chores. Suddenly it clicked, I was going against the grain. We are living in the technological age and technology is the main ingredient. As educators we have to use this to our advantage, not our detriment. That night I started a search of the best gaming sites with a Social Studies focus. I came across several and begrudgingly vowed to try them out. Whenever I had time, of course.

I got my chance a few days later when rain stopped us from going outdoors during recess. Instead of playing board games like we usually would have, I set-up a free  iCivics account and logged in. My students and I spent the next hour combing through the site together, looking at the different games and deciding which ones related to the topics we were learning currently or learned about in the past. 

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ICivics is an amazing free e-teaching tool.

Our recent discussion of The Bill of Rights brought us to a particular game: Do I have a right? In this game, students run their own law firm that specializes in constitutional law. Characters (clients) walk in and give a brief overview of their case and the student gets to decide if the client does have a case based on the liberties afforded in the U.S. Constitution. As an interesting twist, if the student takes the case, they have to decide which attorney (based on the individual bills) will handle the client. I displayed my screen on the smartboard and we ran our firm together, learning about the 2nd amendment as well as the 13th. No one was sleeping that day. 

From that day on, we tried a new game out at least once a week. One day we were a presidential candidate trying to get the most Electoral College votes. The next, we were immigration staff deciding if people migrating to the U.S. had a path to citizenship. 

 The fun was endless. So was the learning. I’m not ashamed to say that I learned a lot from iCivics, Mission-US, and the other sites we used to “play”. In fact, I can’t wait to use them this school year. I’ve already decided to try out Mission-US’s interactive game: For Crown or Colony while teaching about the American Revolution in November. Or maybe I’ll play it now..