Today I’m excited to be sharing one of my FAVORITE online resources that I used both as a middle school history teacher and in the Education room with my tweens and teens at the Club- iCivics. Since there is a ton of media coverage right now on civic engagement with the election right around the corner, plus Media Literacy Week November 5-9, it is the perfect time to bring this topic through the Blue doors to our youth.
iCivics was founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (the very first female Supreme Court Justice!) in 2009 as a way to reimagine civic education. Civics is the study of the rights and duties of citizenship, and unfortunately many schools spend little to no time on introducing it to students. Boys & Girls Clubs help fill this gap through our Character and Leadership programs, through which we help youth become responsible, caring citizens. But as far as the actual mechanics of how civil life works? iCivics is a great tool.
iCivics decided to teach civics through games. The games bring abstract concepts to life, giving young people a chance to learn how government works by experiencing it in a non-partisan way. They take on the role of judge, community activist, jury, even President to complete tasks. When I started using the site, one of the only games they had was “Do I Have a Right?” in which you run a law firm and decide whether clients have a constitutional law case. Now I know that sounds boring, but every group of youth I’ve ever had play it LOVED it. At the Club, when I would only have a handful of my tweens, we would throw it up on the projector and all play together. That allowed me to help members think through their decisions and explain some of the harder concepts. During structured computer free time (where they could choose between a handful of sites), many opted to play on their own. Now the site has expanded to a ton of different topics!
Full disclosure: I’ve spent most of the morning playing the new games lol. Here are some highlights (with many more on the site!):
- In Newsfeed Defenders, players learn how to learn if articles posted online are trustworthy or not. You check the facts, learn about the sources, and decide whether or not to allow them to remain posted.
- In Win the White House, players actually run as a candidate, choosing their party, issues, and where they campaign and fundraise.
- In Activate, players choose an issue they care about, and then work their way through different levels to make a difference. I tried out the animal rights track, and learned about volunteering, holding fundraisers, and lobbying local officials.
- In Argument Wars, players are lawyers arguing real cases before the Supreme Court. They build their arguments, trying to score more points than opposing counsel. We know tweens LOVE TO ARGUE.
- In Immigration Nation, players decide through what paths applicants enter the United States. Definitely play in puzzle mode!
All of the games are completely free to play. Users can create logins to save their progress, but don’t have to. The site also provides lesson plans that are free, but to access those you would make an account. If you do set up a staff account, you can create a class that would allow your members to log in without using their own emails. Follow your organization’s guidance to decide if you use this option or not.
The best news of all is that iCivics has two units developed just for Boys & Girls Clubs of America! One is for middle school and the other is for high school, and both have nine lessons that accompany specific games. Each lesson would make for a complete program session, as they include opening activities and discussion questions that get youth thinking critically before they begin the game. Another great unit for Media Literacy Week is the News Literacy Unit for teens, which includes lessons on advertising, satire, bias, and algorithms. You can access those units FOR FREE! at iCivics.org/bgca.
One note: I’ve had some people express shock when I talk about some of the activities I did at my Club. “My kids would never do that!” Honestly, the best advice I can give for programming with tweens and teens is two-fold:
- Find out the types of activities they like to do generally, and then find ways to integrate learning. My youth loved to be on the computers. So I found sites they where could either play games or do academic enrichment while they were doing it. So sites like iCivics, or telling short stories through making comic strips online. Another example is that they also enjoyed acting, so we did reader’s theater activities of historical events! As long as I was authentically doing what I could to incorporate their input, it wasn’t usually hard to get them on board.
- Show enthusiasm yourself. I am so pumped about civics education, and I brought that enthusiasm into these activities. I was right in there with them helping them to problem-solve. When we did activities that I didn’t know as much about (or frankly enjoy as much), I still mustered all of my authentic (key word here- older youth will see through your fakeness so fast) excitement that THEY would be enjoying the activity. If you act bored or like you don’t care, they won’t either.
What are your favorite ways to incorporate fun and learning? What activities have been successful with your teens and tweens? Contact me to share your best ideas with the Movement. Comment below, message me on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook, or email me at ClubXBlog@bgca.org.