Video Games That Bring Civics Class to Life


This post originally appeared on MindShift a site dedicated to replacing familiar classroom tools and changing the way we learn. MindShift explores the future of learning in all its dimensions – covering cultural and technology trends, groundbreaking research, education policy and more. View Original >


The online educational video game site iCivics, created in 2009 by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that features civics curriculum, has partnered with EverFi, an ed-tech company focused on K-12 and higher ed. And through the partnership comes a new initiative Commons – Digital Town Square, offered free to all K-12 schools.

The focus of Commons – Digital Town Square is to provide schools with standards-based educational gaming, aligned to the Common Core, with social components. Students who play iCivics games will be able to move along at their own pace, according to Kara Hedges-Sasse, Executive Vice President of Product Development at EverFi. “We intend to utilize adaptive-pathing techniques as well as evidence-based practices to help guide each student differently as they learn and ultimately change behaviors,” she said.

So how is Commons – Digital Town Square different from iCivics? In addition to having the adaptive feature, it will have a variety of media including simulations and animations as well as pre- and post-assessments and behavioral surveys that “measure changes in students’ attitudes and behaviors regarding a variety of civic matters.”

Of course, an implicit requirement of using this game is student access to computers. Students and teachers who have access to computers in school will be able to play the games, take assessments, and collaborate with other students virtually. Here’s how it works.

Social Components. One of the most interesting features of Commons – Digital Town Square is its social features. Students will be able to interact not only with each in their virtual classroom, but also with other classrooms across the country. Students will be able to create social circles where students can cluster themselves in areas of engagement. Students might work together on projects on the local level or even at the national level.

Badges and Avatars. Public badges will be displayed along with each student’s avatar. These badges will not only connect to achievements within the platform, such as passing an assessment, but will also be connected to “civic rewards and even mentorships from national and local civic heroes,” according to Hedges-Sasse. Here the social components try foster knowledge of civics, but more importantly civic engagement itself.

Emerging Standards. Commons – Digital Town Square will be leveraging many standards in its design of instruction and assessment, from existing state standards to Common Core. EverFi already maps their existing work to ELA Common Core standards and they plan to “proactively pursue meeting applicable English Language Arts standards.” In addition, many states are already requiring Civics education as part of the social studies curriculum, whether integrated in a general social studies course, or as a stand alone. Currently, 29 states require high school students to take a course in government or civics.

Blended Learning: Strategies for Engagement


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


There are methods and models for implementing blended learning — from the flipped classroom, to the flex model. All of them are on the continuum of just how much time is spent online and in the online classroom. Blended Learning can provide a unique way of not only engaging students in collaborative work and projects, but also personalizing and individualizing instruction for students.

However, there is still one piece that is missing from a great blended learning environment: engagement! As an experienced online teacher of both K-12 and higher education students, I am familiar with the challenges of engaging students in virtual work. Luckily, the blended learning model still demands some in-person, brick-and-mortar learning, so there is a unique opportunity to use this structure to engage students.

#1 Leverage Virtual Class Meetings with Collaborative Work
One of the most prominent features of blended learning is the virtual meeting or synchronous class meeting. Sometimes teachers spend the entire class meeting in a virtual meeting room lecturing and presenting content. The irony is that this meeting is often recorded, and available for students to watch later (so students can watch the meeting on their own time). Instead, use the time that you have with the entire class to problem solve together, collaborate on projects, and use virtual break-out rooms for guided practice. If you want students to be engaged in the class meetings, it must be meaningful. Collaborative work can be meaningful when students problem-solve together, plan, and apply their learning in new contexts.

#2 Create the Need to Know
The key here is an engaging model of learning. Teachers can use project learning to create authentic projects where students see the relevance and need to do the work — whether that work is online in the physical classroom. The same is true for game-based learning. If students are engaged playing a serious game about viruses and bacteria, then teachers can use the game as a hook to learn content online or offline. Through metacognition, and the “need to know” activity, students “buy-in” to the learning — no matter when and where that learning occurs.

#3 Reflect and Set Goals
Related to the comment on metacognition above, students need to be aware of what they are learning as well as their progress towards meeting standards. Teachers need to build in frequent moments, both as a class and individual, to reflect on the learning, and set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Through these measurable and student-centered goals, students can become agents of learning, rather than passive recipients. Use reflecting and goal-setting both online and offline to create personal connection to the learning and personalized goals.

#4 Differentiate Instruction Through Online Work
In a blended learning classroom, there is often online work that needs to occur. This might be a module on specific content, formative assessments, and the like. However, students may or may not need to do all the work that is in a specific module. In an effort to individualize instruction, use the online work to meet individual students needs. Whether an extension of learning, or work to clarify a misconception, the work that occurs online can be more valuable to students when it is targeted. Students are no longer engaged in uninteresting busy work, but focused, individualized learning.

#5 Use Tools for Mobile Learning
Edutopia recently published the guide, Mobile Devices for Learning. The guide provides a variety of apps and tips, proposing teachers use mobile learning as part of the learning environment. The great thing is that blended learning can partner well with many strategies and apps. If you use the flipped classroom model, for example, apps like the Khan Academy, BrainPop, and YouTube are incredibly useful. Leverage the flexibility of where students can learn, having them learn outside the four classroom walls. Use scavenger hunts, Twitter, and back-channel chats to engage students in a variety of mobile-learning activities to support your blended-learning model.

Successful blended learning educators and schools are focusing on engagement as they work towards student achievement. We have the unique opportunity to not replicate a system that has not served all students. Instead, we need to look at flexible time and place to innovate through blended learning.

Project Based Learning and the Common Core


WA ASCD This article originally appeared in Washington State’s ASCD journal, “Curriculum in Context.” Washington State ASCD in as an affiliate unit of ASCD, and has a membership comprised of over 2,000 educators in diverse positions throughout the state. View Original >


In Washington State, and in many states across the nation, the implementation of the Common Core is finally coming to fruition. Districts and Schools have invested in training their teachers to align curriculum and instruction to these Common Core standards. This has been a major challenge for some, while not as much for others. Washington has been working with standards based instruction for some time, and teachers are familiar with targeting standards. The transition to the common core is a transition to new standards, not necessarily the process of standards-based instruction. Where, then, do we need to focus our efforts to ensure that students are meeting these standards? What is the next step in professional development for teachers? What does the Common Core not address in terms of reform? One answer to this question is engagement. To truly ensure that students are meeting standards, we need to focus on creating engaging learning environments where the Common Core Standards are taught and assessed.

Continue reading the article on Page 18 of the Fall 2012 edition of “Curriculum In Context” by clicking here.