Research has shown that engagement with civics has benefits for individuals and communities as a whole. Yet countless column inches have been used to decry the current state of civics education. Concurrently, high school students across the country are asking “Why should I care?”
Teachers know that the secret sauce in any great civics course is to create the conditions to help young people answer for themselves the question of why they should care and provide them with the tools to effectively and constructively engage.
But how do we inspire teens to engage? What would that look like? Do we have a practice ground? And even when students have information available to them, what tools have we given them to discern whether that information is fact or fake news?
iThrive Games Foundation and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum have partnered to create iThrive Sim: Constitutional Crisis, a live-action role-playing game that can be used in place of traditional civics teaching methods. The game, which is based on the Situation Room Experience, allows participants to play unique roles, which creates an experience of immersion in the scenario from a specific perspective. As players move through the scenario, they draw on social and emotional skills while they make decisions, demonstrate critical thinking, absorb information, navigate complex ethical landscapes, and communicate with peers.
This mixture of gameplay, civics, and social and emotional learning is highly engaging to students. Here’s how:
- Gameplay: A critical component of iThrive Sim: Constitutional Crisis is embodied, experiential learning. By engaging in a simulation, teens don’t just imagine or talk about making decisions under pressure, they experience it. Look at the face of any teen playing an intense video game: the tension is real, even though the stakes are fictional. In iThrive Sim: Constitutional Crisis, teachers see their students practice regulating their emotions, collaborating with others, exercising curiosity, and weighing competing priorities as they make difficult decisions. Students put into practice the social and emotional skills essential for civic engagement: self-awareness, empathy, collaboration, curiosity, and courage.
- Civics: Through iThrive Sim: Constitutional Crisis, students begin to perceive themselves as decision-makers here and now, with the power to impact those around them. They don’t have to wait to “be a decision-maker;” they already are. Their actions and decisions, even before they can vote, help to create the communities of which we’re all a part. NOT acting is still taking action. What’s more, iThrive Sim: Constitutional Crisis provides a memorable shared experience for students to revisit as a frame of reference to scaffold future knowledge.
- Social and emotional learning: At its heart, democracy is about decision-making. The role of a member of the public in our democracy requires choosing to combat bias to build empathy for the experience of fellow human beings, building self-efficacy to combat apathy, and daring to make complex decisions with consequences for individual liberty and the larger social good. By acknowledging and highlighting the social and emotional skills inherent to responsible citizenship, we seek to engage students not just by supporting their understanding of the mechanics of government, but of themselves, their identities, values, and communities. We seek to provide students tools to engage with constructive decision-making techniques and to reflect deeply on how their decision-making affects others. Rather than telling them what is important to them, we engage students in considering these questions for themselves so that they are capable of translating their values into action.
At the heart of this unit is the acknowledgment that the decisions we make as individuals have ripple effects in our families, our communities, our democracy. Students who engage in iThrive Sim: Constitutional Crisis see the impact of those decisions and have the opportunity to learn from them as they consider how to fully engage as young citizens in a democracy they are shaping and will continue to reshape throughout their lives as decision-makers.