GovBytes: Students Learn Civics from an Online Game

I remember learning two things from video games in the classroom: how to sell lemonade and make it through the Oregon Trail. Today, students are learning about civics with a new game called Counties Work, designed to increase knowledge of county government.

In the game, players act as an elected county decision maker, choosing how to best manage their county. Issues come up such as whether a new sports arena should be built and whether or not to host programs that benefit the elderly. Players must weigh the potential benefits of these programs and investments against their costs in order to be successful.

Retired Justices Online Game Teaches Civics

Already, more than 100,000 students have played the game in the classroom. The game is completely free and development was led by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, working with iCivics and the National Association of Counties. Supporting materials are also available to help students learn from the game.

A players performance is ultimately judged during elections, where they can be booted if they are doing a poor job managing their county.

Do you think games like Counties Work are beneficial in the classroom?

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William Lim

If the success of SimCity and its related games is any indication, I think the iCivics games can be very effective as teaching tools.

Corey McCarren

I’ve never seen SimCity actually used in the classroom or anything. Have you had that experience? This game does seem extraordinarily similar to SimCity.

William Lim

I don’t know if anyone’s used SimCity in the classroom, but the Sim franchise has enjoyed commercial and critical success for over 20 years, so they must be doing something right. From what I’ve read about SimCity, its source code was released as open source in 2008 and I wonder if iCivics used any of it when they started in 2010.

Chris Cairns

Man, I always got dysentery on the Oregon Trail. I really like the idea of using games for learning and training purposes. Good post.

Corey McCarren

Thanks, Chris, and sorry to hear about the dysentery. I agree with you, games can definitely be useful for learning in the classroom as long as there’s some moderation there both in helping students understand concepts and not replacing human interaction.