Resources: Connecting American Government and Technology

In this post, I provide various resources to help American Government teachers engage their students. Building on my previous Government posting, Minecraft, iCivics, and Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools are technological resources that help educators meet Government standards and engage students in civic responsibility and activism. These resources not only teach students about the various functions of the federal government, but also encourage them to become involved civic issues within their local communities and on a national scale. As always, if you have any comments or suggestions in regards to resources for teaching American Government, please feel free to comment or tweet me at @ToriMcDonough22 or @SocialStudiesatCSU.

Minecraft

As I shared in a previous feature, Minecraft is an online server in which users can create their own worlds through single-player use or collaboration. Created in 2009 by Markus Persson, Minecraft has become an international sensation, being played by over 16 million people worldwide. As users further develop their own online spaces, they interact with other users to either combine ideas to form even bigger worlds, or against one another to mimic real life conflict countries experience on a daily basis. Users can also employ their technical expertise to create replicas of historical or famous landmarks, including the Taj Mahal and the Roman Colosseum.

Minecraft can be used in a variety of ways in Humanities classrooms (click here for a unit on using Minecraft to teach World Religion). More specifically, the game can be used within Government classrooms to teach students about the cause-and-effect relationships of international government interactions. In an elaborate role-playing activity, students would be assigned a real-life country that they not only have to physically represent in Minecraft, but also have to mimic in regards to that country’s governmental system and interactions with its own citizens and other countries around the world. As the students further interact with one another in the server, they learn about activism and civic responsibility within their own system of government that they are representing, in addition to global participation with other students and the entities they represent. To further teach cooperation within this team-building exercise, students could also work in teams to represent a country, each student having been delegated a specific task to help run their country (Alex Knapp of Forbes Magazine Online provides further ideas for a similar exercise with Minecraft).

Use of Minecraft in a Government classroom can develop student historical thinking skills in analyzing multiple accounts and perspectives and in contextualization. As students begin to “act” as a country or group of people that is different from their typical standards of behavior, they learn to identify with the world around them, understanding that the earth is not comprised of individuals who all think and act in the same manner. Furthermore, through this activity, students can practically see how other government systems are enacted around the globe and how those various forms of government affect not only that country’s citizens, but the citizens of the world as a whole. Within that ability to identify with different government, students also then learn to contextualize that society’s behavior within that country’s unique history and culture. Students become more globally-conscious individuals as they learn to think from various perspectives and viewpoints and gauge their own behavior and reactions in relation the norms and attitudes of individuals around them, locally and globally.

In order to implement the Minecraft technology in a Government classroom, a teacher would need the proper amount of computers or laptops for each student or group of students to participate in the activity. There would also need to be a form of written guidelines in which the expectations for student behavior within the server are established (i.e., “no cyber-bullying or harassment of any kind”, rules in regard to time allotments, and guidelines in regards to inappropriate or explicit content). However, as much as any teacher can try to maintain control over lesson activities that use Minecraft, educators must be aware that because the game is at the mercy of the user’s imagination, outcomes may not always occur as planned.

iCivics

Developed by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics is an website devoted to helping educators teach their students about the various roles of the three branches of government, in addition to the functions of other government entities. Through interactive games and lesson plans, iCivics also teaches students how to become engaged in their local and federal governments to help enact change and educate others about pertinent government-related issues. Within the site, teachers can also set up classroom pages where their students can interact with one another through discussion boards and teachers can track their student’s progress in regards to the assignments provided by iCivics.

Within the website, one particular lesson plan is highlighted for high school students in which they learn about special interest groups (“So You Think You Can Argue” Lesson, “The Public Sphere Lesson”, and “Drawing Board” Lesson Activity). Students first learn to understand interest groups as a culmination of relationships between public opinion, public agenda, public policy and the public sphere. They learn how voting and the media can affect the decisions of policy makers and thrust certain issues into the debate spotlight, while others are simply forgotten. After students have grasped the concepts of the lesson material, they are then educated about the various types of arguments and how to construct them. This information allows the students to engage in the lesson activity as they use the “Drafting Board” online tool to create an essay in which they either support special interest groups as informing the public about important issues, or oppose them as agents of misinformation, leading the public astray. This lesson information and activity allows students to learn about a governmental entity some adults may not fully understand and also gives them an opportunity use their knowledge and critical thinking skills to craft a logical argument supporting their unique position on an issue.

Campaign for Civic Mission of Schools

The Campaign for Civic Mission of Schools was founded in 2004 to help promote research supporting the teaching of Civics and government activism in K-12 schools. This organization works with policy makers on local and national levels to produce legislation that promotes civic learning in schools all across the nation. “The Campaign has produced a number of reports and studies that show how effective civic learning can be provided in any school and that provide evidence that civic learning helps students develop the skills needed to be successful in other subjects and in the 21st Century workplace.” (http://www.civicmissionofschools.org/the-campaign/educating-for-democracy)

The Campaign for Civic Mission of Schools website provides educators with a vast array of resources for Government classrooms, including lesson plans and plans for professional development. However, even more innovative are the Mission’s outlines of model schools and districts, in which administrators and teachers are highlighted for their work in promoting Civics and activism in their schools. Each outline provides practical and proven methods for helping students to become involved in Civic responsibilities, and also details contact information for the particular administrator or teacher, so that interested parties can collaborate and learn from these individuals (Tisha Edwards of Baltimore Freedom Academy in Maryland is just one example of the many educators and administrators featured).

Check out these other resources for Government classrooms and check back next week for our final installment in the American Government series featuring model Civic schools!

  • Bill of Rights Institute (a non-profit institution developed in 1999; latest copyright is 2010) –http://billofrightsinstitute.org/
    • SMART technology and templates
  • Civil Action Project (developed by the Constitutional Rights Foundation; latest copyright is 2014)  –http://www.crfcap.org/mod/resource/view.php?id=3
    • Helps teachers and students work together to find solutions to issues within communities/allows students to educate one another about government and ways to become a more informed and active citizen
  • EDSITEment (developed by National Endowment for the Humanities; no copyright, but blog and article information posted regularly) –http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plans
    • Lessons plans for educators that mainly focus on the role of the early American Government in shaping the nation
    • Interactive and media-based student resources emphasizing the importance of history
  • Newseum Institute (developed by the Newseum Institute; latest copyright is 2014) –http://www.newseum.org/institute/
    • “The Newseum Institute provides a forum for educational programs and thought-leadership initiatives, as well as educational materials addressing the five freedoms of the First Amendment: speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition.”
    • Forums and resources that help educators and students work together to encourage civic activism and understanding of American rights

Works Cited:

Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. http://www.civicmissionofschools.org/the-campaign/educating-for-democracy.

Martin, Daisy. “What is Historical Thinking?” Teachinghistory.org (January 10, 2011). http://teachinghistory.org/nhec-blog/24434.

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