More U.S. teenagers can name the judges on the hit TV show American Idol than can name the chief justice of the United States, according to a recent poll. This information doesn’t sit well with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has mobilized a group of education, law, and technology specialists to revitalize civics education for the digital generation.
“We are failing to teach today’s students some of the information and skills they need to be responsible citizens,” O’Connor remarked recently.
O’Connor is spearheading the development of Our Courts, a free interactive Web-based program designed to engage middle school students in civics education. EDC is contributing instructional design expertise to this ambitious project. Other partners include Georgetown University Law Center; The College of Teacher Education and Leadership and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, both at Arizona State University; and Cabengo, the design company creating the Web site.
Our Courts aims to prepare young people for a lifetime of civic participation. It will include a complete curriculum that exceeds many states’ standards and can be used independently or as a supplement to other civics programs. Complementing the classroom materials is an immersive game environment designed for use in after-school settings or at home. “The program will be interactive, media rich, and visually exciting,” says Shelley Pasnik, director of EDC’s Center for Children and Technology.
As the instructional design consultant for the Web site’s educational games, EDC’s Cornelia Brunner is building legal ways of thinking into the gaming materials. “The instructional design consultant figures out how to bring some legal thinking into the mix,” she explains. “How do we get kids to understand what it means to think like a lawyer or a judge?”
Providing compelling content is one answer, along with designing problem-based learning strategies and case studies that speak to teen concerns. For instance, players may be confronted with a fictional First Amendment case about dress code restrictions at school. Some students would assume the role of a legal team making the case to a judge, developing and reasoning through arguments. Other players might review the case from the perspective of an opposing attorney, a jury member, or a judge. Additional activities will explore broad legal questions such as what constitutes a case and how to develop a strong, persuasive argument.
Originally published on April 17, 2009