O’Connor touts civics lessons via online games

A free computer game for teenagers created with the help of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has made its online debut.

"Supreme Decision," the first of several planned web-based games, went online earlier this month as part of a project called Our Courts. In it, students can play a U.S. Supreme Court clerk helping a justice with a tie-breaking vote over a First Amendment case.

Backed by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and Georgetown University, the Our Courts project is designed to teach middle school students about the Constitution and the courts.

O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, has said more people can name an "American Idol" judge than the three branches of government.

Though she didn’t get a computer until she was in her 40s, and she doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, O’Connor believes using technology is the way to teach students about the Constitution and inspire a renewed commitment to civics education in U.S. schools.

Since retiring from the Supreme Court three years ago, the 79-year-old justice has helped develop free web-based games to teach civics. Yet she admits her grandchildren are much more tech-savvy than she is.

"I don’t even do much text messaging," O’Connor told the Associated Press in an interview last spring.

Besides teaching about civics, she hopes the Our Courts project will help students learn how to analyze problems and develop arguments.

"You’re going to have greater success if you teach it in ways that [students] like to use," O’Connor said. "They spend 40 hours a week, on average, in front of some type of screen."

In "Supreme Decision," students play a Supreme Court law clerk. They have to help Justice Irene Waters write the majority opinion on whether a school can ban students from wearing music band T-shirts.

Another game, called "Do I Have a Right," will be released soon. In that game, students play the director of a constitutional law firm who must decide which amendment resolves a problem posed by a client.


Our Courts

See also:

"Former High Court justice: Teach civics" (eSN Online, March 2007)