Game On, Social Studies Teachers! Game On.

We’ve all heard the civic horror stories. Kids who can’t name their elected officials, either in the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House. Adults who can’t identify a single member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Man-on-the-street interviews who are unable to list the three branches of government. And forget asking folks if they can name a majority of U.S. presidents.

When Eduflack was a kid, we could rely on Schoolhouse Rock to help us with the finer points of U.S. history or civics. (Yes, I get I’m dating myself, but I actually own the Schoolhouse Rock soundtrack on CD and sing along when I get Conjunction Junction while on hold with someone from the U.S. Department of Education.) But today’s students are far more sophisticated and far too technologically advanced to have a singing scroll teach them about the legislative process.

So how do we teach the finer (and even broader) points of U.S. history and civics in an era when kids want to be playing Minecraft or engaging in social media? How do we apply the technological advances finding their way into our classrooms to teach the foundations and roots of our civic society?

Last fall, Eduflack wrote about how the Ted Kennedy Institute in Boston would be using simulations to teach today’s students the finer points of the legislative process. Brilliant, I said at the time. Just what we need to better engage today’s students through a medium that they better appreciate.

Not to be outdone by Ted Kennedy, today the Woodrow Wilson Foundation (those who know their civics realize a president can often trump a senator, even a legendary senator like Teddy Kennedy) announced its HistoryQuest Fellowship. In partnership with the Institute for Play, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has created a new program for classroom educators to help them learn and use gaming to teach social studies and civics in their classrooms. The full announcement can be found here.

In launching this new effort, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation is clearly stating that effective instruction can be adapted to meet the needs and interests of the children in the classroom. Recent survey data has shown that 78 percent of teachers who use games have seen an increase in student mastery of curricular content and skills. So how better to take advantage of technological advances and student interests than incorporating games into teachers’ lessons and equip educators to create their own game-based learning experiences for kids.

Woodrow Wilson is currently soliciting nominations for the inaugural class of HistoryQuest Fellows, focusing on secondary school educators in New Jersey. This first cohort will begin its work this summer, with hopes that the lessons learned from HistoryQuest can be applied to improve WW’s work in teacher and education leader preparation across the nation.

Imagine playing a 21st century version of Axis and Allies to better understand World War I. Imagine learning about the western expansion through a Minecraft-like platform. Imagine learning about the American Revolution by not only dressing the part, but actually role-playing loyalist versus revolutionary. Imagine what can be imagined by the many excellent teachers who can learn from organizations like Institute for Play and Woodrow Wilson Foundation on how to make powerful lesson plans even more effective through gaming-based approaches.


(Full disclosure, Eduflack works with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.)

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