SEPTEMBER 30, 2014
As a member of the iCivics pilot program for teachers in Indianapolis, I was honored to be asked to share not only my experience as an attendee of the institute, but also how my attendance affected how I taught civics the next few months. This article provides some insight on my experience.
First, a bit about me. I'm a 5th grade teacher of 17 years. I have had a love of history and government since Mr. Goodwin, my 5th grade teacher, showed me what it looked like to be passionate for social studies. I was fortunate enough several years ago to become involved with the We the People (WTP) program. My eyes were opened to what real civics teaching looked like and how solid teaching civics could push students to higher levels of thinking. I was soon after asked to join the WTP network as a mentor for other teachers. Because of my experience with WTP, my expectations of any civics education programs for teachers were set very high. My experience at iCivics did not disappoint!
Our trainers for the institute were Annette Boyd-Pitts, iCivics’ Florida State Coordinator, and Erin Braun from the iCivics team. As iCivics Outreach Director, part of her hard work is advocating for civic teachers. During our two-day experience, we were exposed to the majority of what iCivics has to offer. And it changed me as a teacher of civics. Erin and Annette expertly walked us through, first, WHY iCivics was created. After sharing Justice O'Connor's vision, they did a masterful job by fulfilling three objectives:
- Showing us the website and its features.
- Allowing us to experience the website as students and letting us play the games!
- Helping us understand how to navigate and use the lesson plans for teachers written by the master teachers that write iCivics content.
The first objective was easy. Walking teachers through the navigation of the website is no big deal as the site is intuitive. However, it's parts two and three that make iCivics (and this training) truly stand out! We were introduced to several iCivics games and given the pedagogy behind each game. And then… we were turned loose to play! Not only are the games brilliantly interwoven with civics content, most of them have a “scoring system” of some kind. Guess what we teachers did? We played once; looked at our neighbor’s computer; saw she did better. Then we played again to beat our neighbor!
After “recess” was over, we were introduced to what is truly the hidden heart of iCivics – the lesson plans. The games are for the students. But the lesson plans are an amazing treasure trove for teachers! These lesson plans are written at what I, as a 5th grade teacher, would consider an upper middle school to lower high school level. The beauty of this? They are all easily modifiable down to my 5th graders or upwards for high school students.
Because of one iCivics lesson, my 5th graders were debating who would like the Declaration of Independence more: Locke or Hobbes, and why. I can't heap enough love upon the iCivics lesson plan section for its vast assortment of lessons: political theory, revolutionary history, Constitution, Bill of Rights, local government, public service, and more. When my students were later grilled by a panel of judges on their knowledge of civics they rocked! I attribute a good part of that to both the iCivics games and lessons.
Erin laid out a challenge during our institute, the football/track coach in me doubled-down on how involved I was! She challenged each of us to be the class(es)/schools to have the most iCivics minutes of games played by students. (Now, if you've been teaching as long as I have, your immediate thought is: how can I track that?! No worries! Their website does it for you!) Because my students loved the games (and certain bribes that may or may not have been made), my kids ROCKED the “Minutes Challenge”! When I saw the numbers other teachers were reporting, I thought, “I've got this!!”
And then the most serendipitous thing happened. I (okay, “we”) didn't win. During our institute, there were 2-3 gentlemen representing local youth organizations. They wanted to use iCivics in after school programs or Boys and Girls Clubs. They brilliantly spread iCivics to the Boy Scouts of America. I (we) got beat by the Boy Scouts! (And not just beat, WHIPPED! Soundly!)
As coaches are prone to do, I sulked for a bit. Then, I remembered why I was a Boy Scout myself so many years ago: to be a part of something bigger than myself and serve others. Well, that's exactly what the iCivics Joyce Pilot just taught the next generation to do: be good citizens; be involved. Oh, and be civics geeks like us! Kudos to the Joyce Foundation for making it possible.
(@mrdanmyers) A life-long resident of Indianapolis, Dan is a graduate of IUPUI with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and has been teaching since 1997. In addition to being passionate about civic education, Dan loves teaching writing and coaching middle school sports.