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JSADIHAR15 Recap: Gaming, Competing, Learning

The Junior State of America (JSA), iCivics, the education nonprofit founded by Sandra Day O’Connor to create engaging video games and digital curricula to teach kids civics, and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation hosted first-of-its-kind, civic education video game contest on July 13, 2015 at Georgetown University.

The contest placed over 160 high-achieving high school students participating in the JSA program from across the country in head-to-head matchups playing iCivics’ popular game “Do I Have a Right?,” which challenges students to run their own firms of lawyers who specialize in constitutional law.  

iCivics Teacher Council member Donna Phillips facilitated the video game contest and piloted a similar content in her high school last fall. “From the beginning, the game drew the JSA students in. Even in the introduction they were excited and engaged, said Phillips.” “By the afternoon they were not only becoming experts on the bill of rights, but also getting to know one another and finding common ground. iCivics has that magical combination of content, skills, and processes that pushes students to be wholly involved in their learning.”

A Capitol Hill reception celebrating the students and announcing the contest winners was held on July 14. This reception featured Greg Toppo, USA Today’s National Education Correspondent and the author of “The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter” and iCivics’ Executive Director Louise Dube.

“Video games have tremendous potential to serve as learning tools, and our panelists offered valuable insights and ideas for leveraging digital technologies in the classroom,” said Jennifer Hale, grants administrator for the ESA Foundation. “At ESA Foundation, we are committed to advancing the use of video games to bolster educational outcomes. iCivics is an innovator in this space, and we were proud to partner with them and JSA on this outstanding event aimed at teaching and inspiring our future leaders.”

This event comes at an integral time for civics education as the recently released Nation’s Report Card indicated that only 18% of 8th-graders are proficient in history, less than a quarter are proficient in civics, and fewer than one-third of students tested knew that “the government of the United States should be a democracy” is a political belief shared by most people in this country. The event successfully showcased creative alternatives for engaging young people in civic education.

“For too long, we have neglected to adequately prepare young people to be informed and engaged participants in our democratic society; today's youth are not only looking for a greater understanding of these issues, but also seeking to learn how to make positive change,” said Jeff Harris, Executive Director for JSA. The JSA students gravitated to the iCivics game naturally and enthusiastically as a fun, yet challenging way to learn about their rights, responsibilities and our system of government."