May 25, 2010
By Jessica Pritchard
Today’s digital world allows younger generations to engage and interact with history like never before, such as through virtual games. In response to the concern “that students are not getting the information and tools they need for civic participation,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor created the Our Courts web site to encourage middle school students to explore 21st century civics through the site’s interactive resources. In return, these resources teach students how to actively participate in a democracy by mimicking civic activities through virtual games. They can even post questions and comments for Justice O’Connor on the site’s message board.
The games available on Our Courts are designed to fit a single class period and don’t require students to have prior knowledge to play. The site features the following three games, each complete with a complementary teacher’s guide:
Do I Have a Right?
Students become partners in their own law firm, defending citizens’ rights and learning the U.S. amendments along the way. The game’s citizens walk into the student’s law office voicing a complaint. The student then decides if the complaint is legally legitimate; if so, they can then introduce the citizen to a lawyer in the firm with expertise in the correct amendment. Each time the student’s law firm wins a case, they earn prestige points, which then allow them to add another lawyer with expertise in other amendments to their firm.
Students can choose to debate one of five historic Supreme Court cases: New Jersey v. TLO, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Texas v. Johnson, and Gideon v. Wainwright, the latter of which serves as one of the more difficult cases because it requires students to look at two different arguments. This game takes place in a courtroom, where students serve as lawyers defending these historic clients and trying to persuade the judge using U.S. amendments to formulate their argument.
In this game, students take on the role of a clerk to a Supreme Court justice and consider a student’s right to wear a controversial t-shirt. Students listen to four sets of justices argue each side of the case using the first amendment as a focal point. After listening to each set, the student must decide which justice supports which side of the case, as well as take a brief quiz ensuring that they fully understand the arguments.
In addition to the games, the site offers lesson plans centering on the Constitution, courts, and branches of government, as well as persuasive writing activities. Finally, teachers can search for lesson plans and learn more about how to teach specific concepts in civics.
You may also be interested in reading the recent Perspectives on History article, “Taking the Court into the Classroom,” which mentions the OurCourts.org site.