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The Third Branch

Wisconsin teacher tabbed for national iCivics teacher council

By Joe Schmidt, Peshtigo High School Teacher

Editors Note: The following article was written by Peshtigo High School social studies teacher Joe Schmidt, who was selected as one of 23 teachers from across the country to participate in the National Teacher's Council for iCivics. The group  will convene in Washington, D.C. July 14-17 to work with Justice O'Connor and the iCivics leadership board to develop new goals and reach out to educators. In addition to being a social studies teacher, Schmidt is head football coach and a member of the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies.

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt

On July 21, 2011, I spent the day at the State Bar of Wisconsin as part of their "Symposium on Public Understanding of the Courts." This event brought together teachers, lawyers, judges and many other people who are connected to the legal system in Wisconsin. Keynote speakers included Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who presented on their involvement with the new iCivics organization. iCivics is a non-profit organization dedicated to reinvigorating civic learning through interactive and engaging learning resources. Founded and led by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, iCivics provides students with the tools they need for active participation and democratic action, and teachers with the materials to support them.

Since the fall of 2011, I have used iCivics as a way to supplement some of the lessons in my Civics & Government class at Peshtigo High School. Through the use of game based learning, students immediately fell in love with the iCivics activities and asked for additional time using the website. For the first couple of years, this was difficult as my classes had to find available time in our computer lab to use iCivics. This changed last year when I was able to pilot 1:1 Chromebook technology with the Junior class at Peshtigo High School. This allowed iCivics to be an even bigger part of my curriculum.

Some examples of iCivics curriculum integration: having students play Win the White House after an introduction on how the Electoral College works; having students play Argument Wars as an introduction to some important Supreme Court Cases; and having students play We The Jury before they have to serve as lawyers, witnesses and the jury in our classroom mock trial. During this past year, we even incorporated a classroom leader board with prizes for high scores. The combination of the gaming aspect of iCivics and the competition aspect of trying to achieve the high score has definitely increased student participation in the discussions that revolve around the iCivics activities.

This led to another opportunity: During the fall of 2013, iCivics notified its users that it was looking for applications for teachers interested in helping to form a National Teacher's Council for iCivics. Late last year, I was notified that I was one of 23 teachers selected from around the country, and the only one from Wisconsin, to help iCivics develop new goals. The original intent of iCivics was to develop civics curriculum that would be engaging to students. Now that iCivics feels that goal has been met, it is looking for ways to reach out to educators. The council will convene in Washington, D.C. for a week this summer to work with O'Connor and the iCivics leadership board to develop these goals. I am honored to have been selected to represent Wisconsin and teachers from around the country as iCivics moves forward with the next stages of planning and design.

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