Reaching Students In A New Way: Sandra Day O'Connor Talks Our Courts GameS

Alarmingly, American teenagers are far more educated about entertainment media and pop culture than they are about their own government. For example, 59 percent of teens can name the Three Stooges, but only 41 percent can name the three branches of the U.S. government. 94 percent of teens know that Will Smith is the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - but only 2.2 percent can name the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

At the closing keynote yesterday for the Games For Change event in New York, Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, along with interactive media scholar Dr. James Paul Gee, announced a promising new initiative - if teens are motivated to learn about media, then why not reach them through a computer game?

The project, called Our Courts, will be a game designed to teach civics and encourage teens to become involved in the democratic process. It's being developed with input from teachers and curriculum specialists, and will be designed primarily for classroom use. Initially, the project will emphasize the court system, but will later expand to other areas of government.

"What we hope to do is pioneer a new teaching method designed to respond to the learning styles of this digital generation," said Justice O'Connor in an address on the Our Courts website. "Students today seem to thrive on 3-dimensional, discovery-based learning. They're much less wedded to linear presentations of information, and they prefer to explore around an issue. They seem to learn best by becoming fully engaged in an interesting issue, and they do particularly well when learning in a case study environment."

"Digital students crave a media feedback, and they want convenience. Now, we hope to respond to each of these needs in the Our Courts online environment."

Hit the jump for full details from Our Courts' mission statement:

Our Courts Mission

Introduction

The evidence is clear-and should be profoundly disturbing: we are failing to impart to today's students the information and skills they need to be responsible citizens. A recent national survey conducted by the National Constitution Center (NCC), for example, demonstrated that more American teenagers

1. could name three of the Three Stooges than can name the three branches of government (59% to 41%);

2. know the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air than know the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (94.7% to 2.2%);

3. know which city has the zip code "90210" than the city in which the U.S. Constitution was written (75% to 25%);

4. know the star of the motion picture "Titanic" than know the Vice President of the United States (90% to 74%).

As Philadelphia Mayor and NCC Chair Edward G. Rendell noted, "[t]hese results are alarming for everyone who cares about the future of our democracy. The Constitution doesn't work by itself. It depends on active, informed citizens. And that's who these kids are: our future citizens."

The "Our Courts" Project was created to help those seeking to address the evident crisis in civics education. In doing so, we hope to pioneer a new pedagogic approach designed to respond to the particular learning styles of the "digital" generation. Accordingly, over the next 24 months, we will create an online, interactive, and problem-based civics learning environment, entitled "Our Courts," www.ourcourts.org. This web-based environment will be available, free of charge, to students and teachers nationwide for use in classes, enrichment programs, or extracurricular activities. The environment will be content-driven, but will also be media-rich, visually exciting, and highly interactive. It will be designed to captivate and engage students, while empowering and supporting their teachers. Our target audience, at least as an initial matter, includes students in the seventh through ninth grades, and the technology, visuals, and media used will be appropriate to that age group.

By "civics," we mean that discipline which provides students with the information and skills necessary to promote their effective participation in a representative democracy. We anticipate that our learning environment will 1introduce students to the three branches of the federal government and to the Constitution's distribution of power between the national and state governments (federalism) and among the branches of the national government (separation of powers). Beyond these foundational subjects, we will concentrate primarily, at least as an initial matter, on the judicial branch of the state and federal governments.

In undertaking this project, we have adopted as our own the goals of civic education outlined by a study issued by the Carnegie Corporation and the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement ("CIRCLE"), entitled The Civic Missions of Schools:

Civic education should help young people acquire and learn to use the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives. Competent and responsible citizens:

1. are informed and thoughtful; have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy; have an understanding and awareness of public and community issues; and have the ability to obtain information, think critically, and enter into dialogue among others with different perspectives.

2. participate in their communities through membership in or contributions to organizations working to address an array of cultural, social, political, and religious interests and beliefs.

3. act politically by having the skills, knowledge, and commitment needed to accomplish public purposes, such as group problem solving, public speaking, petitioning and protesting, and voting.

4. have moral and civic virtues such as concern for the rights and welfare of others, social responsibility, tolerance and respect, and belief in the capacity to make a difference.

Our aim is to develop a civics education program that achieves these goals by providing content which is not only informative, but also relevant, thought-provoking, and engaging. We will create problems that will challenge students to think critically, and debate rationally and respectfully, about important issues of the day in light of the lessons of history. We plan to embed our problems in a web-based learning environment that will respond to the unique learning styles of the digital generation and that will demand that they interact-in both the physical and the digital worlds-with the materials. Our ultimate aim is to inform and to inspire students to be active and intelligent participants in our constitutional democracy.

The Our Courts Learning Platform

Develop-Create-Provide a pathway for understanding the role and importance of the Judicial Branch of our Democracy

Philosophy of Design

Our Courts promotes the importance of the Judiciary for today's students by utilizing the technologies they are already used to and excited about. Ultimately the instructional modules will be portable to a variety of distribution approaches—a teacher may present videos on his classroom projector or plug her computer in to a TV monitor for group viewing and discussion. Students may download material to their portable game device, or may listen to audio or view video on a laptop computer or iPod. In this way the Our Courts learning environment brings relevance, accuracy and organization while intentionally breaking the mold of traditional 'on-line instruction'. The development teams enjoy the ability to design with this objective in mind—rather than fitting their 'materials' into a lock-step format, educators are afforded the advantage of truly guiding the design and delivery process. This by no means implies a free-form, discovery-learning experience—to the contrary, the Our Courts environment represents a rigorous and credible academic resource...keyed to state and national standards, designed by the nations foremost experts in the Judiciary and in K12 education, working in partnership with leaders in media and technical design. Our Courts reflects the next generation of instructional delivery—today.

Development

June 2007, expert teachers will gather in Tempe, Arizona on the Arizona State University Campus and again in August, in Washington, D.C. to engage in planning, visioning, and development of resources and storyboards utilizing a collaborative Course Development Team (CDT) model. Five development teams comprised of Expert Teachers, Content Area Experts (state representatives from Department of Education), Instructional Designers will work hand-in-hand with media specialists to guide the construction and refinement of engaging and effective materials. A framework for gathering materials, writing curriculum, and associating instructional objectives with educational experiences will be provided via a web-based course design environment. This environment, built upon an existing SAKAI platform, will enable teachers to collaborate and to write and construct instructional materials, building a database of learning objects which will include: Text, Video, Flash Animation, and Audio assets.

This learning engine will automatically link each module to state and national standards as well as embedded assessment tools to measure student outcomes. This online CDT environment will enable a smooth transition of materials in-development to the live, Our Courts learning platform.

Teams will be assembled as determined appropriate by the Expert Teacher / CDT specifications. ASU technical staff will be leveraged to enable rapid response to production needs. This approach will ensure that project resources are maximized, eliminating developer/expert 'down-time'. By drawing from an existing core staff, the Project is able to best utilize funding—in essence drawing from a pool of resources 'as needed'.

Content Creation

Our Courts provides a student and teacher experience that is content rich and interest engaging. Teachers will commission the creation of material and resources—driving the design process in ways rarely available to an individual teacher. Through the CDT model, Expert Teachers and content experts drive the ongoing creation and refinement of learning objects—customizing both the materials, such as videos, animations, discussions, and games—influencing and personalizing the navigation pathways of the student experience.

Delivery

As essential as the development and content creation, the Delivery phase of the Project ensures a dynamic, vibrant, and effective experience for teachers and students. Our Courts provides educators with a set of resources at-their-fingertips (enabling them to assemble an engaging experience for their students) a set of tools to help teachers and students integrate new resources into their classroom experience as well as access online from school, home, or the community. For educators who chose to deliver instruction directly from the environment, a curriculum scope and sequence tailored for a two week instructional delivery timeframe is provided. The delivery environment facilitates and encourages community and collaboration among educators. Recognizing teaching as a relatively isolated profession—with time constraints of lesson planning, professional development, and instructional delivery itself, Our Courts serves as an online community through which educators share resources and approaches and guide the ongoing development of materials and resources. In this way, Our Courts is a constantly evolving resource, guided by the expertise of the board of directors and ensuring quality, accuracy, and alignment with state and national standards, the Our Courts environment enables the participation of educators and students in a way rarely experienced in the academic community.