Civically Supreme: Deciding to Delve into the Simulation Scene

February 09, 2024

One hundred percent.

One hundred percent of my students responded that the new iCivics’ Supreme Decision simulation strengthened their understanding of how the U.S. Supreme Court works. In full transparency, there were thirty students who responded to the survey. (At the time of this writing, five students did not respond due to absence at the time the survey was given.) And, if I’m being honest, it’s challenging to have one hundred percent of my Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics (AP GOV) students agree on anything. They often mirror the American electorate—divided on a variety of issues. But not on this. Not today.

iCivics rolled out Supreme Decision in early January. When I saw their promotion of the simulation on social media sites, I decided to dig in a little to see what value add this might bring to my current curriculum. I watched the seven-minute preview video and decided that I wanted to lean in further.

Admittedly, I am a self-labeled Supreme Court nerd. I follow scholars and experts on social media, wake up early in June on opinion days, and have had the good fortune of being in the Court a few times. I have been incorporating moot courts and a March Madness-style case showdown into my AP Gov course for many years. Students have offered feedback that some of these activities created core memories as they’ve reflected on their high school experience. It was only natural that I would want to look into this simulation to see whether I could implement it into my current practice.

I should also share: sometimes I get nervous trying new things. It’s not that I won’t try new strategies, materials, activities, games, etc… but I’m a bit of a type A control freak, and I like to feel like I have some sense of management over what’s happening in my classroom. As an educator, I can’t control much, so I try to grasp on to what I can. So hear me when I say, if this is you, this simulation works well. As the teacher, you control the advancement of the slides on the student screens, the videos (and if you want to replay them), and the addition of enrichment/ supplemental activities.

iCivics is known for its professional development around resources, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that they offered a webinar on how to use the simulation. And talk about timing. I was able to attend the training the day before I launched the simulation. The team from iCivics walked attendees through the simulation experience, offering suggestions, support, and reflective prompts so we could think through the application in our settings. I printed out the simulation directives and took some additional notes so I would be ready for the next day.

And then I launched it.

Supreme Decision is a purely digital simulation. The teacher sets it up and creates a classroom. The simulation kicks back a login PIN, very similar to some of the quiz-like gaming sites that many classroom teachers use. When students log in, they create a username (good news: if it’s inappropriate, a teacher can boot the student until an appropriate name change occurs) and are assigned a profile: respondent, petitioner, or justice. Students are given the background of a fictional case, inspired by an actual Supreme Court case. Students also learn what their roles are, and justices are given one of three lenses: “looking back,” “looking closely,” or “looking ahead.” Once students read through their role and better understand the case, they work through the background of the case (how the case arrived at the court) and the facts of the case. Students work in role-alike teams to examine precedent and constitutional application. Students are also given time and a digital resource to take notes on their screens. Justices are given space on their screens to write questions. The simulation allows for the students representing the petitioners to only see the notes of the petitioner. The same applies to the respondents and the justices. After note-taking and discussion, students craft and present oral arguments. Justices ask questions of the petitioner and respondent and then deliberate. Finally, justices cast a vote to determine which argument they see as having more merit. As justices rule, students can see the voting process. Teachers can freeze screens if they don’t want students to see live voting.

After our justices ruled, the students engaged in a content-rich discussion around the topic and it became clear to me that my students truly understood not only the process but the content application, as well. One student shared, “I enjoyed actually feeling like I was taking part in a Supreme Court decision. For me, learning has to be done firsthand, and with this simulation, I really got a grasp and got my needed firsthand experience to fully understand how the court works.” Another shared, “I learned how the Supreme Court works through a case, how petitioners and respondents present their arguments, and how the judges work through the arguments and ask questions to make their decision.” One student expressed how this gave them a better sense of what the Court looks like. “It is more of a conversation than anything. You are just talking to each other trying to understand every side.” Another student shared that they always thought that the Supreme Court Justices debated one another. They did not realize that this was a discussion.

Overall, our class invested a total of two class periods (about 80 minutes) working through the simulation. The timing worked well, and I am glad I decided to launch this new learning experience. In our post-case survey, I asked my students how many of them liked learning from simulations. A resounding 96% of students expressed that they either favored this approach or considered it on par with traditional delivery methods, like reading or lecture. My initial apprehensions about introducing something new were met with enthusiastic engagement and high levels of student satisfaction. I am now confident incorporating more iCivics simulations given the evident enjoyment and educational value my students gain from these experiences.

Written by Shari Conditt

Shari Conditt is in her 24th year of teaching secondary social studies. She currently teaches AP US History, AP American Government and Politics, and serves as the building instructional coach at Woodland High School in Woodland, Washington. Shari is also an adjunct professor at two local colleges- teaching survey level social studies courses and Methods for Teaching Social Studies. Shari is passionate about student leadership and serves as the school’s ASB Director where she actively supports student voice in school policy decision making. In 2015, Shari was selected as a finalist for State Teacher of the Year and in 2016 she was selected as Washington’s Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year.

Through the iCivics Educator Network, the perspectives of teachers across the country contribute to the public conversation about civic education in the United States. Each contributor represents their own opinion. We welcome this diversity of perspectives.