Justice O’Connor developed the Our Courts project in partnership with Georgetown University Law School and Arizona State University. In March 2009, Justice O'Connor went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote Our Courts and civics education. Our Courts added Supreme Decision and Do I Have A Right? to the website in August 2009. It was incorporated as iCivics, inc. in May 2010 as the variety of content and users began to expand more rapidly. A more comprehensive website was launched, supplementing the gaming modules with classroom lessons on the branches of government. Above The Law sponsored a Do I Have A Right? challenge in 2010. Justice O'Connor was the keynote speaker at Games for Change in 2010, and iCivics was featured at the Games for Change conference in New York in 2011. The Washington Post Editorial Board highlighted the shortcomings of traditional civics education, and the efforts of iCivics. In 2011 the website added seven games and 16 lesson plans, and had over 700,000 unique visitors. By 2013 it was the most widely adopted civics curriculum in America. Currently, the governing board of iCivics includes O’Connor as well as current Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the Honorable Robert Henry, president of Oklahoma City University. The executive director of iCivics is Louise Dubé, previously Managing Director of Digital Learning at WGBH.
Justice O’Connor initially envisioned Our Courts as a response to a perceived misunderstanding of the justice system in America. As keynote speaker at the NCSS annual conference in 2007, she noted “that while two-thirds of Americans know at least two judges on FOX Television’s ‘American Idol’ reality program, less than one in 10 can name the Chief Justice of the United States.” At present, ourcourts.org maintains this mission, but iCivics has a broader mission incorporating education on the legislative and executive branches of government as well as civics at a local level. The organization focuses on broadly improving civics education but also on closing the civics education gap. O'Connor saw the state of civics education as a result of the failure of traditional education methods, as well as funding cuts and lower graduation requirements imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act. Our Courts collaborator James Gee, a professor of literacy at Arizona State University, convinced her that educational games were the key to civics education, due to their capacity to teach problem solving. iCivics games have been evaluated for their educational effectiveness in a handful of research studies. Branches of Power was shown to be both engaging and educational for a majority of students in a test group. A significant number of students also play the games again at home, greatly increasing absorption of concepts and improving test scores. The general iCivics curriculum has been shown to be an effective mechanism for education on civics topics as measured by scores on the US citizenship test. It was particularly effective among younger students in grades 4-6 and less effective among high school seniors. The interactive writing exercise Drafting Board also improved persuasive writing skills among 8th graders. The organization is currently working on extending its curriculum to high school and reaching more high school educators. It currently serves one in four high school government and history teachers.
iCivics hosts lesson plans, games, online workshops and other materials for teachers and students of American civics. All online materials are free to registered users.
iCivics currently hosts twenty different educational games, developed in partnership with Filament Games. Curriculum and design of each game is provided by employees of iCivics, and dart, programming, and sound design is provided by Filament.
Activate - Build an advocacy campaign from the local to the national level.
Executive Command - As President of the United States, take responsibility for giving the State of the Union speech, signing legislation, running the departments of the executive branch, negotiating with other branches of government and other nations, and deciding on military aid, war and diplomacy efforts.
Immigration Nation - decide who is allowed to immigrate to the US by determining their citizenship, work visa or refugee status.
Lawcraft - Bring a bill through Congress, compromising with other legislators and adding amendments until it passes and becomes law.
News Feed Defenders - Moderate your own news aggregation site to determine fact from viral deception, hidden ads, and bad posts.
People's Pie - Control the budget for the federal government by selecting tax revenue, borrowing level, and spending programs which the public will approve.
Power Play - Argue the respective advantages of state power and federal power.
Race to Ratify - Play as a Pamphleteer in 1787 attempting to sway public opinion either for or against the ratification of the new Constitution.
Represent Me! - As a legislator, strategically support bills which will help your constituents most.
Responsibility Launcher - remind people of their civic duties and privileges as citizens of the United States.
Sortify: U.S. Citizenship - Test your knowledge of U.S. citizenship without getting out of sorts!
Supreme Decision - help decide a court case on student dress policy, similar to Tinker v. Des Moines.
We The Jury - as a jurist, hear a case, weigh the arguments and evidence, and persuade fellow jurists to come to a specific conclusion on the case.
Win the White House - manage a presidential campaign by strategically raising funds, polling voters, launching media campaigns, and making personal appearances. Attempt to win the majority of electoral votes.
Lesson plans on iCivics are also provided for free, with content and curriculum guidance provided by iCivics staff. These plans emphasize student engagement by including activities such as crosswords and short quizzes as well as reference to their online games. Units of study include the history and development of the Constitution, the branches and levels of government, the rights and duties of citizens, politics and policy, and international affairs. Beyond education on government, there is also a unit on persuasive writing. A set of lessons developed with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America was designed to be used during their meetings instead of a traditional school period.