A Cowgirl, US Supreme Court Justice, and Online Civics Education Pioneer

August 1st, 2012

Category: News

Last month, I met a self-proclaimed “old cowgirl from Arizona” at the Education Commission of the States National Forum on Education Policy in Atlanta, GA.  With a beaming smile, she spoke about an upbringing on the Lazy-B Ranch, her experience as pioneering woman in law school, and the difficulties she had with finding work as a female lawyer in the 1950s.  I was awestruck with how I was in the same room with this “cowgirl,” arguably one of the most powerful women in the world.  Her face was one of great familiarity from my childhood; it was prominently placed on the cover of the blue-bound 1989 Encyclopedia Golden Book.  She’s now in her 80’s, a time when most people talk about retirement.  But she spoke of Facebook, social media, and web-based learning with greater ease than most people who are half of her age.  Who is she?  Retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Justice O’Connor discussed computer-based learning because in her retirement from the Supreme Court she founded iCivics, a non-profit that is revolutionizing how students learn about America’s democracy.  iCivics.com currently serves as a place where students of all ages can engage in computer games such as Win the White House, Do I have a Right?, Branches of Power, and Cast Your Vote. iCivics was created after Justice O’Connor made it her mission in life to reverse Americans’ declining civic knowledge and participation, particularly among schoolchildren.

In total, there are 16 computer games on the iCivics website.  Each of the games was created by Justice O’Connor, other prominent justices, legal scholars, and attorneys, and the games have supplementary materials for teachers.  Although the primary audience for iCivics is students in middle school, I played four of them on the airplane ride back to Delaware.  And I must say the games are extraordinarily engaging.  They were thoughtfully created, with content so rich, relevant to students, and timely to issues that are currently in the news.

Quite simply, Justice O’Connor has found a way to harness next generation learning and teach civics in a way that promotes reading, oral comprehension, and logical thinking.  It is an excellent tool that, used in tandem with excellent classroom instruction, may pique students’ interest in a subject that is often considered “boring.”  And, best of all, her iCivics games and supplementary materials are entirely free!  I highly recommend visiting iCivics.com and recommending it to all Delawareans–children, parents, and teachers alike.

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Matthew Korobkin




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