How do you get middle school students interested in civic education?
The primary objective of Our Courts was to help middle school students become more informed about civics in general, and the judiciary in particular, as preparation for active and informed citizenship. The assumption was that schools were not adequately preparing students to become competent and responsible citizens. The mission of Our Courts was to help students explore judicial decision-making as it relates to upholding the rule of law and inspire students to develop a real and enduring stake in civic participation.
I worked with another designer at Cabengo to create a logo that embeds the core concepts of civics and technology into a distinctive word mark that incorporates a play button and a star. We also created a fun look and feel for the website that features portraits of kids throughout the site. I wanted to create a visually engaging design that would appeal to kids and feel relevant to their lives, but the real challenge was designing a website that had equal appeal to our two, very different core audiences: middle school students and teachers. We invited real students to participate in a 2 day photo shoot so we could get to know the core age group audience. Our goal was to capture their youthful energy and translate it into a visual strategy for the project.
Learning through games
Our team brainstormed with the client to explore different game ideas using charts to map out basic game mechanics and detailed wireframes to storyboard the game.
"Supreme Decision" was an animated game that we designed and developed for OurCourts (now iCivics). In order to make the game more engaging, we started with an issue of genuine interest and relevance to students: a fictional First Amendment case in which a student has been disciplined for wearing a t-shirt to school depicting a musical group in violation of school policy. A player is a clerk to a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and must help decide the verdict on this fictional First Amendment case.
In order to illustrate the game, we travelled to Washington to visit the Supreme Court while it was in session and was given a private tour where we were able to peek into the offices of the judges. The final game included recorded audio clips of dialogue between justices.
In an independent assessment conducted of the game by The Persephone Group in 2009, 78% of students stated that they would play Supreme Decision again, and 100% of teachers said they would use iCivics in their classrooms again.