#ShelterInPlay: Teaching in a Crisis with iCivics

April 24, 2020

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a challenge adapting to distance learning. I feel that I’m working harder than I did when I taught face-to-face. I’m worrying about my own wife and young daughters, helping coach other teachers and administrators  with technology, and teaching my own students. I feel that I’ve made so many mistakes along the way but learned so much as a result. I want to share with you some lessons I’ve learned from four weeks of distance learning. 

First, some background about me: I teach American Government and Economics to seniors in an ethnically diverse Northern California high school. I think most of us teachers can’t comprehend what it must be like for our 17 and 18 year old students right now. These are some of the things they’ve told me: They have to go to school while watching a baby and two young cousins; they have to work full time to support their family because their parent lost a job; their family members are essential frontline workers and they worry about them getting sick and dying from coronavirus; they are feeling depressed because they won’t get to see their friends again, go to prom, go on the senior trip, or even graduate. Yesterday, a senior attended my Zoom class while holding a baby in one arm!

Is it any wonder we can’t get all of our students to attend our Zoom/Google Meet classes or turn in all their work on time?    

What we’re all doing now is teaching in a crisis. As a social studies teacher, I see parallels with WWII, the Great Depression, and the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. None of us teaching today have experienced anything like this. We just can’t expect the same quantity and rigor of work that we would expect face-to-face and under “normal” circumstances.  Therefore, we need to make our assignments as simple, clear, and — yes — fun, as we can to help our students and our parents navigate through this pandemic. This is why iCivics’ #ShelterInPlay approach is so helpful.  

iCivics allows your students to learn while playing games, and at their own pace. They’re actually playing a game and having fun, and they don’t even realize how much they’ve learned! In response to distance learning, iCivics has leveled up the game playing on their site by introducing The Game Odyssey — an epic journey through nine of iCivics’ most popular games that leverages student motivation to inspire self-guided learning.

The Game Odyssey is a sequence of games strung together based on a common theme, like “Protecting Your Rights.” By playing the games, students are embarking on an odyssey, completing quests, leveling up, and earning points and badges. And the best part is — they’re learning too!

For those of you that have never used iCivics before, consider having your students complete their Game Odyssey as an introduction to Government or a review of concepts you’ve taught.  

For iCivics veterans, consider assigning the Game Odyssey as your students’ final, or as a review for a final exam or AP test.

We know we can’t teach the same as we did face-to-face.  We know our current situation is not even normal distance learning like we might have experienced in college. So what should we do? iCivics Games, paired with other ed tech tools, has allowed me to reinvent how I teach Government. First, we need to teach as asynchronously as possible. We should ideally assign our work (I use Google Classroom) on Sunday or Monday and have it all due on Friday. The face-to-face meetings via videoconferencing can be for check-ins, Social Emotional Learning (SEL), class discussions, deeper learning, and presentations. Students should be able to complete most of our content on their schedule, at their own time

This respects our students and the challenges that they face at home. It was hard for me to understand this, at first, because I so want to see their faces, hear their voices, and have them interact with me and each other. But that was making it about me, and it’s more important to prioritize their needs over my preferences.

So here is a weekly lesson framework I’ve been developing using iCivics. It was inspired somewhat by Jon Corippo and Marlena Hebern’s Edu Protocols approach:  

  1. iCivics game + reflection: introduces the topic in a fun way. Screenshot their certificate and turn it in to Google Classroom. Also do a short reflection about what you learned  in the Private Comment for the assignment in Google Classroom. 
  2. Pear Deck Slide Show: Reinforce/add to the essential content of iCivics game. Use an existing slide show or make one using iCivics resources like infographics and worksheets. Make it interactive with the Pear Deck Add-On for Google Slides (also works for Ppt). 
  3. Quizizz - Assessment: Make a self-grading Quizizz based on the information from iCivics and Pear Deck. Assign it on Monday; tell the students to complete it by Friday with 100% correct. Screenshot score and turn it in in Google Classroom. Optional: Also play it live in your Zoom or Google Meet video conference. 
  4. Enrichment: Guest speakers, National Constitution Center webinars, Ken Burns PBS documentary. I am finding local elected officials to come to my Zoom classes to talk about government.

Click here for a lesson module on the structure and function of the US and California court systems. 

I think by creating a consistent template it will be less confusing for me and my students as we go through distance learning. The important thing is to make your lessons asynchronous, interactive, and fun! This is a new approach for me, and I’m sure I’ll make mistakes along the way, but my students have told me they like the simplicity and clarity of it. And they let me know they want to keep playing iCivics games! 

Written By Scott Marsden
Scott is an American Government, Economics and Robotics teacher in Northern California. He is passionate about taking education outside the four walls of the classroom to find those real-world connections for students. He is also a member of the iCivics Educator Network. Follow him at @MrScottMarsden on Twitter.

Need more? iCivics has compiled enrichment activities, our most popular and timely games, and lessons into a Remote Learning Toolkit so you can easily find resources to support remote learning and share them with students and their families.