AUGUST 28, 2014
There is a phenomenon with my afternoon classes. Although class demographics are the same as in the morning, high school seniors who take Government in the afternoon tend to be less motivated, have lower grades, and don’t learn the material as well. In addition to normal classroom challenges, we also fight food comas, exhaustion, and the ever-present and always fun "Senioritis". Maybe not completely their fault, but these students seem a bit disinterested in learning. I have tried many different teaching strategies to foster some interest in the material and in learning in general, but I’m often met with the typical groaning, complaining, and forced submission that many teachers in my similar position face. Students don’t want to take notes, but they don’t want to read the textbook. They don’t want to work individually, but group projects turn into a fiasco of copying. They don’t want to do worksheets, but they complain when they are given a hands-on activity. They even complain about MOVIES! Every day the question is asked, “Can we just have a free day?” A free day?!? NO! There are no free days in a semester course that is required for graduation. We’re cramming Civil Rights and Civil Liberties down their throats the last week before final exams as it is.
Then I discovered iCivics. I have FINALLY found something they LIKE and ASK TO DO! They love going to the computer lab to play the games. So much so that it has actually replaced the “free day” request about half of the time. They talk to each other about how they are doing, and brag when they get to a new level or unlock certain abilities. All students seem to understand the goal of the gamesand are able to play and achieve success, especially students – I have found – who struggle in traditional classroom environments. They finally get it and they are so happy when, for once, they don’t feel lost.
I've started to adapt some of the iCivics lesson plans to accommodate the 12th grade level and our particular state standards. This year, I will be taking my students to the computer lab the first week of each semester to complete the Drafting Board tool. My hope is to incorporate essays as major grades at the end of each unit as another form of assessment to help the students who struggle with traditional tests. I am also working to create a course that uses only iCivics lesson plans and games for my afternoon Government classes. I anticipate a vast improvement in student engagement, learning, and therefore, in their overall performance and a rise in the self-esteem and feeling of accomplishment of the students in my class.
Kimberly Craig currently teaches 12th grade U.S. Government and Economics at Plano East Senior High School in Plano, Texas. She is a member of the district curriculum writing teams for Government and Economics. She co-wrote a new project-based learning Economics course for the district’s online education tool for both Government and Economics students.