Sunday, December 21, 2008

Video Games for Citizenship Education in a Digital Era

A growing number of today’s students are turning towards digital media to participate socially, economically and politically. W. Lance Bennett, in a study commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation on digital media and learning, entitled Changing Citizenship in the Digital Age (2008), describes how digital natives are using new technologies to impact their world. Using the Internet to access information, communicate, and organize, today’s youth have demonstrated the power of electronic technologies in making a difference. As evident in the 1999 protest of the WTO in Seattle, young activists are seizing these lines of communicate to arouse bottom-up civic participation. Bennett (2008) describes how many students disengage in traditional top-down politics. Moreover, these same students often find bottom-up politics more relevant and authentic (As evident in increased levels of student participation in volunteering, study abroad and community commitments). Favoring loose networks of community action, these students frequently turn towards electronic technologies like social networking sites to access and discuss economic, social and political issues.

Today’s digital natives are frequently turning towards electronic communications to learn about and discuss important issues. However, the infusion of these technologies inside the classroom has been lackluster at best. Particular, the area predicated on fostering strong and active democratic citizens, the social studies, has failed to make effective use of electronic technologies (Diem, 2004; Berson, 2005; VanFossen, 2008). There seems to be a mounting divide in the realities of how digital natives are using technology for informed and active democratic citizenship inside versus outside of the social studies classroom (See Maguth, 2008). Thus, the use of outdated mediums for civic education in the social studies results in young people finding them irrelevant and unauthentic. This reinforces a greater divide in teaching and learning. My dissertation research begins to examine this issue more in-depth.

With over 90% of students in a recent survey indicating they frequently play video games (Friedman, 2008), advocacy groups have been moving fast to construct video games for educative purposes. This has led to the creation of ‘serious games’. Serious games aim to teach students by realistically simulating some aspect of a given situation. Some examples include: business training games, flight or driving simulators, games that help patients understand how their bodies work, and games the allow players to navigate through and make decisions on a contemporary global issue. Serious games hold great promise in education because they allow users to test and experiment with systems, and develop a better understanding on relationships embedded in the system (See )

Examples of Serious Games:
1. Stop Disasters Game

-(Middle to High School) This is a free online single player game developed by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Students navigate around a Sim like environment to make important decisions that involve saving lives and reducing the impacts of hazards resulting from natural disasters. Students are given a set amount of time (usually 10-15 minutes) to ready their city to confront five possible scenarios (Tsunami, Earthquake, Wildfire, Hurricane, and Flood). When students are done preparing their city, a news report breaks describing the aftermath.

2. Darfur is Dying
-Developed through a partnership with Reebok Human Rights Foundation and the International Crisis Group, mtvU sponsored an unprecedented competition bringing together student technology and activism to stop the genocide in Darfur. The winning design produced Darfur is Dying. The game is a narrative-based simulation where the user, from the perspective of a displaced Darfurian, negotiates forces that threaten the survival of his or her refugee camp. It offers a glimpse into the horrors faced by more than 2.5 million internally displaced people by the crisis in Sudan.

4. Play Against All Odds
-Developed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, players take on the role of a citizen that is detained and forced to flee a repressive country. Set up in different acts, students must work to escape the country, try to establish refugee status in a host country, and strive to adjust to life in a new country. More of a documentary with interactive elements then a full blow interactive game, the game still provides wonderful visuals and context for the experiences of many displaced refugees.

5. The Arcade Wire: Airport Security

- The first in a series of newsgames called The Arcade Wire, Airport Security offers a satirical critique of airport security practices circa early fall 2006, when security agencies in the US and abroad changed their policies to prohibit common items like toothpaste and hair gel. Getting the user to think through such questions as do knee-jerk reactions that limit our freedom of expression and travel make us safer? In The Arcade Wire: Airport Security you inspect each passenger and his luggage and remove the forbidden items before allowing the passenger to go through -- but the list of forbidden items changes on a moment-to-moment basis. Prohibited items may include pants, mouthwash, and hummus.


11. September 11th: Newsgaming
-More controversial due to its having users fire at possible terrorist targets, the simulation can be used to prompt a broad discussion on terrorism post 9/11. As students fire at potential terrorist threats, they’ll notice that the number of terrorists increase. This could prompt a further discussion into how violence perpetuates more violence, and the best means to win a war on terror.




Monday, November 17, 2008

Active Learning: Using Simulations to Stimulate the Social Studies

For those of you that either missed our presentation at the 2008 NCSS Annual Conference in Houston, Texas or could not squeeze into the jam packed room (over 75 audience members), I have posted our PowerPoint presentation and any distributed resources to my blog. In an age where teachers are searching for ways to authentically engage students, many of us can attest to the power of a good simulation. Feel free to access the resources, and make constructive comments. For those of you that plan on using the distributed “Daily Show” lesson plan, be looking for the soon to be posted video on that shows my social studies methods students and I journeying through its use. I’ll be sure to link to it when it’s edited and uploaded.

1. Active Learning: Infusing Simulations to Stimulate the Social Studies

2. Use of Child Soldiers in Uganda Simulation

3. Election of 1800 Simulation (Can use with other important elections)

4. A Nation of Immigrants Simulation

5. Daily Show Lesson Plan

6. United Nations Simulation

7. Iraq Debate Format

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Election 2008 & PBS

PBS has been at the forefront of election and campaign coverage striving to provide ‘unfiltered access’ to both the workings of government and its representatives. In an age where partisan politics and analysis have infiltrated television, which tends to pass itself off as ‘the truth’, having a station dedicated to providing a balanced perspective is important. This PBS webpage provides teachers with lesson plans on elections, the political process, and voting (all of which are important topics to be covered in the Social Studies as the election approaches). Streaming video, images, historical documents are just some of the artifacts students examine when using these PBS lessons.

My favorite lessons include:

1. How does the economy effect the election
-With the crisis on Wall Street impacting Main Street this lesson takes a historical look of the relationship between economics and voting. In fact, many new commentators and politicians have called the economy “Issue Number 1” in this year’s election (Over such issues as health care, armed conflicts abroad, and social conservative issues). Do voters have more in common than the media portrays?

2. The 2008 Election: Technology and the Internet

-Yes, it’s true, both Barrack Obama and John McCain our seizing the potential of social network sites such as Myspace and Youtube. Both of the candidates are using technology (the internet) to get their messages across to voters. This website asks how does the use of these technologies both hinder and help the election process. For those of you that know Neil Postman (See his work Technopoloy), his view of technology promoting information glut, spectatorship, and appeasing corporate agendas would be a great point of reference.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Democracy and Citizenship

Having just returned from my studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I must say that I have developed a new outlook on both democracy and citizenship. Benjamin Barber, in Strong Democracy (1984), describes the challenges of forging a participatory politics in a consumer driven and technological sophisticated new age. With over one-third of internet traffic driven by access to inappropriate sexual content, Barber outlines a position that technology is driven by capitalistic impulses and runs quite contrary to a democratic mission. Seeing the internet as another potent technology to get people to consume, the author's words encourages one to re-examine the possibilities of using new technologies for democratic discourse.

When people access the internet do they do so to expand their political and cultural horizons or to narrow them? For instance, do citizens only turn to one conservative blogg or news source (much like my grandfather that loves to watch TV but never strays from the History Channel and Fox News). Even though these technologies hold the potential to expand minds and promote a new form of participatory politic, are they transformative? Postman and Barber both would urge us to look at the agendas and interests affixed to new technologies before we advocate their uncritical usage to students.

One final story from my summer in London. Having had the opportunity to interact with an MP at a local cafe in London, I was drawn to the difference in constituent accountability between the states and the UK. Everyday to and from work, MP's (Members of Parliament) ride bikes, walk, and take the Underground (subway) to and from Westminster. This means that everyday these government officials must interact with and listen to the views of the people. This MP was quick to describe an interaction with a grieving mother that had lost a son in the UK assisted war in Iraq. After listing to this MP’s story, I was a bit disillusioned at the fact that most U.S. Congressional members fail to have this 'in-your face' type of public interaction.

With chauffeurs, interns that field e-mails and phone calls, suburban houses, and security that limit the degree of public interaction, maybe this is a problem in getting Congress to open their eyes and ears to the American people. In fact, it seems like the only time one gets to interact with their elected officials on a face-face level is around election time. Just a point to consider: Should we begin to mandate Congressional members walk, ride their bike, or take public transportation to work? If this argument doesn't suffice, just think how great it would look as part of an eco-friendly campaign platform!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Citizenship Education and Websites

Knowing that new technologies can often mediate, and yes, even complicate, teachers' efforts of helping their students become more informed and active, I wish to include a few helpful websites that could be of great use in the civic mission of the social studies. Knowing that the social studies can play such an important part in getting students involved in bettering their communities and world, hopefully, teachers seize the educative tools around them to develop future citizens capable and willing to address current and future challenges. Please, feel free to share other websites and resources with social studies educators by replying to this tread.

1. Soldiers Angles & Grace is Gone (for a review)

-After viewing the movie Grace is Gone, PG (2007), which describes the hardships of a father in telling his two little girls that their mother, a soldier serving in Iraq, has passed away in battle, my students were overcome with emotion in trying to help those families affected by the horror of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While is true that the movie tugs at one's emotions (thus recommended for emotionally ready high school audiences), it does a great job in articulating the hardships families encounter when a member is sent overseas. As a result of the movies' ability to serve as a discussion piece, students sought a way to make a difference in the lives of soldiers and their families.

This strong desire to make a difference led my students to the Soldiers Angeles website (see above). This website allows students and citizens the opportunity to adopt soldiers, send care packages, letters, blankets, make donations, and even phone cards to displaced U.S. soldiers. Providing both financial and emotional support to U.S. soldiers and their families, students really seized the educative potential of this website in becoming active and caring in their community.

2. Free Rice
-This website is a wonderful way to both build students' vocabulary and allow them the opportunity to make a difference. When students visit the site the first thing they see is a word with four possible definitions. If students chose the correct definition from the possible choices, the foundation donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. While many students are frustrated because they lack the financial resources to make a difference, this website goes a long way in suggesting just one of many other ways students can help those in need. With over 36 billion grains donated as of June, 2008, the funds come from advertisers whose names are listed on the bottom of the screen. As students answer words correctly, the words will get progressively hardly. When students answer incorrectly, the difficulty resets itself. I am a frequent visitor to this website and I can only hope that both my vocabulary and civic spirits have grown as a result!

3. World News
-Advocating the need for teachers to infuse a global perspective in their teaching, I have found the website World News helpful. With articles and headlines from newspapers from around the world, including such news organizations as BBC, CNN, Reuters, Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, The Times of India, The Independent, The Peoples Daily, The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, New Zealand Herald, Khaleej Times, and The Guardian. The website does a good job of offering regional and global, political, economic, entertainment, scientific, and business news. It MUST be said that in no mean is this website a substitute for reading the country of interests' local newspaper. However, it does a good job of compiling a diverse array of news from around the world utilizing global sources (even though, as expected, there's a detected Western bias is the sites' presentation). The pictures from around the world section could be a useful educative tool in debunking and clarifying stereotypes. Also, the site provides the opportunity for students to utilize their foreign language skills in news from around the world. There is also a section where students can locate headlines and news from major international cities.

4. One Campaign
- A foundation that has set out to 'make global poverty history'. Besides raising awareness and contributions to help accomplish this mission, the website does a wonderful job of describing the many ways students can get involved (see )

5. Bullying and Lawrence King

- After coming across an article on the brutal and senseless death of a 15 year transgender student, I found myself looking for sources to talk to students about bullying and difference. While gay rights (i.e. marriage and civil unions) are often controversial topics in the curriculum, no one can dismiss the topic of defending and protecting human rights. Shouldn't the social studies have an obligation to encourage critical discourse? After having students read an article on the tragic killing of Lawrence King by a classmate, students began to make larger connections to issues of bullying and discrimination. In fact, many students advocated a desire to speak out against and halt bullying in all its many forms. To get more ideas in developing an awareness campaign to speak out against bullying, students turned to the website Stop Bullying Now: Information, Prevention Tip, and Games. This website is a product of the U.S. Health and Human Services: Health Resources and Services Administration, and is geared for a variety of grade levels. With advice for those being bullies, bullies, and those that witness bullying, the website serves as an effective information and discussion tool. If you would like to review more websites on bullying, feel free to review teaching tolerance

6. Play the News Game

-Ever wish you could make current events more interactive and engaging. Impact Games may be able to assist in this quest. As report after report critisize the degree of U.S. citizens' knowledge about the rest of the world (i.e. as in 1 in 7 U.S. citizens being able to identify Iraq on a map), the social studies must take bold measures to teach students about our planet and diffent global perspectives. One way of doing that is through the use of current events. This website allows students the opportunity to learn about important events from newsheadlines from around the world. After chosing what story most interests them, students are then able to play an interactive game based on the features of their chosen story. In June, the games included Oil Prices Soar (where students could learn about, forecast and even side with different parties involved in higher engergy costs), No Confidence in Lee (which took students inside of the Korean Beef Protests), and The Olympics as a Global Stage (depicts the contraversy of the 2008 Beijing Olympics). The strategy of the game is to educate students on the situation, and then, to get students to chose a role, take action, and predict the future. Another great feature of the website is the discussioin threads for each current event. Students can post their views and even respond to the views of others that have played the game. One of my favorite discussion was on Iran Security Talks. However, teachers should also be aware that funding and support comes from advertisers.

7. Zinned Project-For those of you familiar with Howard Zinn's important work A People's History of the United States, Bill Bigelow from Rethinking Schools alongside Zinn have developed a teacher's guide for the text. I am a BIG fan of many of the activities/lessons included in this free download. Ranging from stealing a student's purse to prompt a discussion on Columbus' 'discovery of America' to a U.S. Mexico War Tea Party, this resource provides numerous role plays and questions that encourage students to rethink who writes history and why.

While the teaching packet includes the lesson plans and activities, you will probably want to purchase/borrow a copy of his People's History text and a copy of his documentary Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train Click Here for a preview.

To download the free lesson plans and activities click here

For those of you attending the 2008 Annual Conference of NCSS in Houston, they will be distributing the complete teaching packet (including DVD and text)to some participants.

8. iCue-Ever wish you could use news videos to supplement a current events or social studies lesson? Providing current and historic footage on important economic, political and social conditions, this website does a great job of organizing mined NBC news reports and mini-documentaries.

Federalism, merchantilism, and even a video file on the use of 2008 presidential political campaign commercials placed in video games to reach young voters (YES! It's true), this website correlates to many topics in the social studies. Furthermore, the websites states that all footage and documents have been 'vetted by seasoned teachers'. Besides providing both primary and secondary sources, the website encourages students to participating in monitored forums, special activities and featured learning games. Best of all, there is NO advertising placements.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Citizenship in a Global Age

What skills, attitudes and understandings do students need to function as citizens in a global and multicultural age?

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.