“The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens."
-- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
There is an important link between civic knowledge and civic engagement. Our system thrives if Americans understand how our government and its branches work. In fact, our public schools were founded to teach young people to understand these structures, and to cultivate informed citizens. Yet students are growing up in an uncivic-minded era. Civic education has nearly disappeared from the school curriculum. More than ever, youth are not voting and are becoming disillusioned with the political process. This is why, after serving 25 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics in 2009: to restore civic education in our nation’s schools.
The success of any democratic system depends on the active participation of its citizens. iCivics gives students the necessary tools to learn about and participate in civic life, and teachers the materials and support to achieve this goal. Our free resources include print-and-go lesson plans, interactive digital tools, and award-winning games.
iCivics teaches students how government works by having them experience it directly. Through our games, the player steps into any role – a judge, a member of Congress, a community activist fighting for local change, even the President of the United States – and does the job they do. Educational video games allow for concepts to happen to us. They convey information while teaching skills for effective civic engagement.
Importantly, these games are rooted in clear learning objectives and integrated with lesson plans and support materials. Teachers use iCivics in many classroom settings. Their students become more knowledgeable – and capable – for civic discourse.
Our resources are developed by an experienced and driven team of former educators, and vetted by our teacher volunteer circle – the Educator Network. We also partner with education game developers, technology companies, and civic organizations to deliver our impactful and high-quality products.
iCivics exists to engage students in meaningful civic learning. We provide civics teachers well-written, inventive, and free resources that enhance their practice and inspire their classrooms. Our mission is to ensure every student receives a high-quality civic education, and becomes engaged in – and beyond – the classroom.
iCivics works because we make the subject come alive. Students have fun playing our games: they get to experience many civic roles, and are given the agency to address real-world issues. Teachers are fast adopting iCivics into their practice – and they tell us why. Our resources are reliable, and add value to their teaching.
Today, iCivics is a large and enthusiastic community of educators, spanning 50 states. We are used by over 150,000 teacher-users. Over 5 million students benefit from our resources each year. And our games have been played 45 million times to date. iCivics is now the largest provider of civics curriculum in the nation.
Most importantly, our resources are completely free. We want all students to receive good civic education, regardless of geography or income. We believe free and high-quality digital resources help equalize the educational playing field.
We are consistently supported by good evidence. Independent research confirms our resources produce clear and tangible benefits to students – even after controlling for gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. Even more promising: over half the students that play our games in school, when assigned as homework, play them again at home – and this, unprompted. Our materials improve students’ civic knowledge, civic attitudes, and core literacy skills. Students are challenged to learn and engage with the material, and have fun in the process. New evidence is pointing to the power matching iCivics games with authentic action civics experiences. We encourage you to read our evidence and methodology below:
Baylor University Study (2016)
Overview: During the summer of 2013 and 2014, researchers at Baylor University planned and hosted a free summer civics institute, iEngage, for students entering fifth through ninth grades. The students played a number of iCivics games and engaged in a variety of authentic civic experiences, including meeting local civic leaders, participating in a mock trial with local judges, and visiting the University law school. The study sought to uncover how students’ civic knowledge, attitudes, and dispositions changed as a result of participating in a summer civics institute.
Method: In 2013, iEngage was 3 days and had 55 attendees. In 2014, the camp expanded to 5 days with 94 campers in attendance. The curriculum, while focusing on the notion of youth civic agency, sought to structure the exploration of issues around the powers and processes of the three branches of local government. Campers played digital games on iCivics.org, engaged in hands-on activities, and participated in research and group discussion. The researchers utilized a mixed-methods approach. Qualitative data included student reflections, group discussions, semi-structured interviews, and student artifacts. Quantitative data included pre- and post-institute surveys, which were designed to assess students’ commitment to civic participation and competence for civic action. To code and analyze their qualitative data, the researchers utilized Gingold’s (2013) Building an Evidence-Based Practice of Action Civics Framework. Two levels of quantitative analysis were used on the survey data: percentage difference calculations to see changes in student responses and dependent samples t-test to see changes within survey items that attended to various citizenship attitudes and dispositions.
Results: The study found evidence that the iEngage Summer Civics Institute fostered four outcomes from Gingold’s action civics framework: producing 21st-century positive youth leaders, producing active and informed citizens, increasing youth civic participation, and encouraging youth civic creation. Notably, the combination of playing iCivics games and engaging in meaningful civic-related activities promoted students as active and informed citizens possessing increased knowledge of civics; commitment to electoral, community, and civic engagement; increased ability to enact change alone or with others; and a developed civic identity. Students were given the opportunity to apply the content knowledge they gained from playing iCivics games, which promoted increased understanding of civics content knowledge, statistically significant gains regarding participants’ attitudes about civic engagement, and increased sense of efficacy in their ability to make a difference in their community.
SRI International: Next Generation Learning Challenge Wave II (Drafting Board) Grantee Evaluation (2013)
Overview: The Next Generation Learning Challenges ( NGLC) initiative, provided grants to 19 organizations for implementing proven and emerging technology-enabled instructional and assessment materials to improve students’ mastery of Common Core-aligned content for grades 7 through 9. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contracted with the nonprofit research institute SRI International for an independent evaluation of the NGLC Wave II grants.
Method:The evaluation was designed to address three general areas: impact on students’ mastery of grade 7-9 content aligned with Common Core standards as measured by a variety of assessments; if student outcomes vary significantly for different kinds of innovations, schools, students, or treatment doses; and the implementation of each innovation by the grantees. SRI’s evaluation was based on site visits, interviews, usage and implementation data from iCivics, online participating teacher survey data, student achievement data, and project final reports.
Results:The SRI summary reflects the results collected by the researchers at CIRCLEin the spring of 2012. Drafting Board students showed statistically significantly better performance on their essays compared to the control students, even after controlling for demographic information. Students who felt highly engaged with Drafting Boardwere much more likely to write “excellent” essays (i.e., scoring four out of four) than who felt less engaged. One participating teacher stated in an interview that the tool helped “the students see the need for examples and evidence to support an argument or position on a topic.”
Tufts University: Study of Drafting Board (2012)
Overview:In spring 2012, the Center for Information and Research on Learning and Civic Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University conducted the pilot study of the effectiveness of iCivics’ new “Drafting Board” module, a computer-based module that assists students in constructing argumentative essays.
Method:CIRCLE conducted a randomized controlled experiment to evaluate the impact of the Drafting Board module on students’ literacy and knowledge of civics. The study involved 42 teachers and 3,740 8th grade students in Florida public schools from three counties. Teachers in the experimental group implemented the Drafting Board module in the spring semester during normal social studies class periods. Students in the experimental group used Drafting Board in only 2-3 class periods. At the end of the semester, students in both the control and experimental groups were given an essay exam, which were blindly graded by Tufts University research assistants using the California Writing Standards Test rubric.
Results:CIRCLE researchers found that students in the experimental group performed better on the essay exam assignment than students in the control group. The mean essay exam score of the experimental group was 7.48% higher than the mean score of students in the control group—a statistically significant difference. Additionally, students in the experimental section were 38% more likely to write “excellent” essays than students in the control group.
Baylor University Study (2011)
Overview: In autumn 2011, Baylor University conducted preliminary research in Waco, Texas to evaluate iCivics’ popularity with students and efficacy with respect to improving civic knowledge. The initial study by Baylor University included fourth through twelfth graders playing iCivics games for at least one hour per week for six weeks, with a pretest and posttest.
Method:Students in the Baylor study were free to play any of the sixteen iCivics games at the time of the study (limited only by their teachers’ instructions), and for all but twelfth grade, iCivics games were the only formal civics curriculum students received during the study. The population studied included 46% economically disadvantaged, 6% special education, and 8% limited English proficiency students. In addition to the pretest and posttest, students used journals to chronicle their experiences, which were collected to provide qualitative data. Qualitative and quantitative data from the Baylor study reinforce findings from previous studies of iCivics, highlighting iCivics as an enjoyable and effective tool for increasing civic knowledge.
Result:The Baylor University study indicates a statistically significant 19% mean increase in test scores from pretest to posttest scores across students in grades 4-11. Like the Persephone Group study, the Baylor study found that the youngest participants in the study—in this case, fourth grade students—had the largest increase in knowledge from pretest to posttest, nearly doubling their scores. Additionally, the Baylor study indicates that iCivics functions as a “great equalizer,” facilitating educational achievement in all populations of students; there were no significant differences in test scores from pretest to posttest in regards to gender and ethnicity.
Qualitatively, students reported “loving” iCivics’ games, and teachers commented that there were no classroom management problems while students played the games because they were so engaged. Consistent with this, Waco ISD Superintendent Bonnie Cain noted that students “were actually looking forward to their civics classes and their social studies classes.”
Additional Information: Baylor University is processing data from an additional study conducted in spring 2012 and plans to conduct further longitudinal research to study the role of teachers in implementation of iCivics and the impact of iCivics in other educational contexts, such as special education classrooms and alternative schools.
Arizona State University (2010)
Overview and Method:In 2010, Arizona State University conducted a similar study of middle school and high school students who played iCivics’ Branches of Power game and received instruction on the corresponding lesson plans. Researchers administered a pretest and posttest for all students, and collected qualitative data through surveys.
Results:The Arizona State study showed a 20% improvement in student knowledge between pretest and posttest results. Further, 78% of all students, and 85% of middle school students, felt they had a better understanding of how the government worked after playing the game, and 86% reported enjoying playing the game. Teacher comments also revealed an appreciation for the game, with one middle school teacher noting: “[A]ll students were engaged in learning about how government works.”
Persephone Group (2009)
Overview:In October 2009, the Persephone Group, an educational evaluation service, conducted an independent assessment of iCivics’ effectiveness and popularity. The results of this study indicate that iCivics is a fun and effective instructional tool popular with both students and teachers.
Method:Persephone Group studied students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade in 22 classrooms across thirteen states. Of the participating schools, seven were urban, nine were suburban, five were rural, and half of the participating educators taught at Title I schools. Students were given a pretest before and a posttest after playing two of iCivics’ earliest games, Do I Have A Right? and Supreme Decision. The study included observation of students receiving iCivics lesson plans, playing iCivics games, and a collection of surveys and teacher feedback.
Results:Persephone Group study results show student posttest scores improved 13.7% after playing Do I Have A Right? only once; those who played at least twice improved by 18.3%. The study found the greatest increase between pretest and posttest scores among sixth grade students, the youngest of the test population. After playing the game in class, researchers found that 57% of students played Do I Have A Right? in their free time at home, unprompted. Student posttest scores improved 14.4% after playing Supreme Decision in class, and 78% of said they would like to play the game again. 100% of participating teachers said they would use iCivics again and would recommend it to a colleague.