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Our Courts: Learning Civics Through Gameplay

Our Courts: Learning Civics Through Gameplay

Written by Henry Cohn-Geltner
May 20, 2010

Our Courts is an engaging, experiential website where users can play interactive games, positioning themselves to make critical decisions about topics related to government, law, and social issues, that will impact the outcome of the game. The games attempt to mirror real life scenarios and allow users to make informed choices by giving background information about the topics, packaged and presented by characters within the game. Through the role-playing games, Our Courts promotes new knowledge acquisition around the area of 21st-century civic participation in democracy.

The Our Courts website has three games called, “Do I Have a Right?”, “Argument Wars”, and “Supreme Decision”, in which the player can be a lawyer, judge, or lawmaker.  Each game takes the player through many levels, which present new information embedded within the game-play.  The games are supported by lesson plans, activity guides for teachers, and Powerpoint presentations to help teachers highlight and discuss the important themes in the games with students.

If you dig deep into the website, past the games, there is a wealth of videos, graphics, lesson plans and activities, and downloadable resources, that go in-depth to civic information.  Since former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been instrumental in the creation of the site, she has been open to receiving and answering correspondence with players of the games, about currently relevant topics.  

If you and your class are working on a 21st-century civics project, there is a section where you can read about and view work that other students have completed, as well as submit your own work to complement the archive of material being collected.

When clicking on the icon for a state in the interactive map in the State Resources section, you can find more information about the three branches of government and the judicial selection process.

There is also a large section devoted to the governments employed by American Indian Tribes, describing their history and present day activities.

The games are meant to progress only when the student playing has been stopped and asked to make choices after being given information important to understand 21st-century civics.  In this way, students must first build new knowledge that will support their critical choices and affect outcomes in the game, resulting in immediately seeing the consequences of the actions they take.  Stopping the game at crucial points also allows for a moment to interject by the teachers, in order to support the new knowledge with their own information and lessons.

The games are web-based and can be played anywhere, but will be best supported when played in groups, with other students, and with a parent or teacher, who can create a forum for the students to discuss the information they are acquiring.

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