In today’s divisive political landscape, it is more important than ever to teach kids how to discuss politics in a socially responsible way.
To help students discover and explain their own political perspectives using edtech in the classroom, we’re sharing a few online resources from the article, “How Teachers Are Using Online Games and Other Tech Tools to Bridge the Partisan Divide.”
“Most K-12 students can’t vote, but talking politics in class is more than academic.”
To “restore civic education in our nation’s schools,” former United States Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded the iCivics website in 2009. The homepage gives users the option to play, work, or teach along a politically themed timeline. Naturally, I opted to play.
There are a few different games available, but I wanted to “Win the White House” on my Atlas 12, so after a couple of clicks—no registration, no downloads necessary—I was paired with my very own campaign manager and ready to run for president. Playing at the high school level (though my political “savvy” might be better suited to the middle school or elementary school grade levels offered) I was able to do a LOT along the virtual campaign trail:
Choose from more than a dozen diverse presidential avatars
Select a political party (Democratic or Republican)
Analyze different issues associated with each political party
Identify arguments that best support the issues
Evaluate campaign slogans
Personalize (and print) a campaign kit
Collect key polling data from primary states
Arrange fundraisers and schedule appearances in key states
Deliver “speeches” and run media campaigns that support your policies
Endorse television ads against competitors
Justify a running mate (I chose “Kevin Lee,” the former teacher from Colorado who’s strong on education policy)
Explore the country to campaign against the opposing party nominee
There’s so much more to play that I couldn’t even finish, so if you want to throw any of your own victory parties in the classroom, you’ll have to give your students the chance to play—and learn—at iCivics. And that’s the best part: This online game gives kids authentic opportunities to form their own opinions, identify the issues that matter most to them, and see the world through their own political lens.
So if you’ve got a set of classroom computers, you’re all set! And if not, well, we know this place that’ll totally sell you some.
“The games were like a safe harbor, where students could learn about the process without being bombarded by partisan rhetoric.”
While this website is not quite as interactive as iCivics, it scores extra points for acknowledging more than just two political parties. Here, students can take an online quiz that qualifies their stances on political issues such as education, science, healthcare, and the environment.
The best part of the quiz is that it gives kids a chance to come up with a wide variety of responses, such as:
“Yes, but only if…” followed by several specific scenarios
“No, but only if…” followed by several specific scenarios
“Add your own stance” (a write-in option—so awesome)
“How important is this to you?” (a scale from “least” to “most”)
After more than 30 of these policy-related questions, students get a chance to weigh in on a trending issue, which as of this writing is “Who is your favorite candidate for the 2020 Presidential election?”
Once the quiz is complete, students are shown a political leader that best matches their responses/political perspectives—with the added opportunity to agree or disagree with the outcome. Not only that, but kids’ll even get personalized charts and graphics that illustrate their commitment to issues, pinpoint their political ideologies (Left Wing, Libertarian, Right Wing, etc.), and score their “ratings” on various political themes.
Instead of blindly choosing a candidate first and trying to explain why later, students are empowered to enter their own political opinions first, see which party their perspectives most closely represent, and then discuss the results from there. Once they’re matched with a presidential candidate, let the debate begin!
BONUS: Students can also share their results via social media and email, making it super easy for educators to collect and assess student work.
“Students are fascinated by the fact that their peers have different opinions. It opens them up to the idea that the world is complex, that people don’t all think like me, and I still like these people.”
In what can be a rather contentious political environment, it is important to teach children and young adults how to deal with opposing perspectives in a safe and healthy way. At One and All (launched by faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education), teachers and parents can find “strategies to protect students, reject bullying, and build communities where everyone thrives.” The website almost reads like a newsletter for well-meaning, rational human beings. This is good. We like this.
At One and All, school leaders, teachers, and parents can harness the power of social media, video, podcasts, and more. The resources—which are provided by scholars and classroom teachers—share strategies for fostering student empathy, discussing controversial issues in class, and participating in similar conversations online. Here are five good examples:
Podcast: “Teaching in Complex Times”
Article: “How Bullying Looks to Teens”
Article: “Optimism Stronger than Fear”
Teaching our kids how to acknowledge, respect, and appreciate the differences in today’s world will prepare them to reasonably engage differences in tomorrow’s. With these and many other edtech resources available, we can seize the opportunity to invigorate lifelong lessons for our students, our families, and ourselves.
“We need more school-based political discussions in a time of national divisiveness, not fewer.”
Finding the right edtech tools to teach with can be tough, right? If you’re an educator or parent looking to make a difference with technology, we’re with you. What do you hope to achieve with your kids? What would you like to learn more about? Let us know and we’ll help you out.
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James A. Colombo III