Do I Have a Right?
Supreme Court Justice O'Connor conceived of the iCivics digital initiative to provide higher quality materials for civics education. The core of iCivics is a set of free-to-play web-based games. One of these, Do I Have a Right?, according to the designers, "teaches kids the constitutional amendments." Dissecting this a bit, the game essentially has three learning goals:
Students will be able to:
- Identify and summarize 12 of the amendments of the U.S. Constitution (1-6, 8, 13-15, 19, and 26).
- Judge whether a variety of individuals in hypothetical situations have had their constitutional rights violated.
- Apply the relevant amendments to cases where people's rights have been violated.
The game is aimed at a middle school audience but may be useful anywhere from 5th grade to high school, depending on the goals of the teacher and the role envisioned for the game in the unit (more on this later).
In DIHR? the player manages a legal firm specializing in constitutional law. The player first selects a character to represent himself of herself. He or she then chooses one of two lawyers as a starting partner for the firm: Sally Fourth or Chuck Freepress—the designers have exercised their right to pun heavily in this game, but this is in keeping with the lighthearted tone. Sally specializes in the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment; Chuck, in the freedom of expression preserved by the First. The game takes place over seven rounds, each representing a day. In each round the player tries to earn as many prestige points as possible for the firm by taking on clients and winning their cases. This involves a three-step cycle. First the player greets a new client. The client then presents their story, and the player must determine whether the client's constitutional rights have been violated. Clients whose rights have not been violated must be told so and sent away. Clients whose rights have been violated, on the other hand, must be introduced to a lawyer specializing in the relevant amendment that protects those rights. As the player successfully completes rounds, each lawyer in the firm has the chance to level up. Doing so unlocks a specialization in one new right protected by a constitutional amendment. Each lawyer can learn three additional areas of expertise.
Chuck Freepress, for example, begins with freedom of expression. The player can, through successful gameplay, unlock Chuck’s ability to plead cases on the freedom of religion, right to vote regardless of race, and, finally, right to vote regardless of gender. The player can ultimately hire six lawyers, each of whom can have four areas of expertise. As a result increasing numbers of different constitutional scenarios can be brought up in each successive round of gameplay.
Appropriately for a game promoting learning, the player needs more than luck to succeed. Failure to send away clients with illegitimate complaints and failure to match legitimate clients with the right lawyers will subtract from the player's prestige score; success adds to the score. The stories of clients whose rights have not been violated tend more to the absurd. Some such as "Do I have a right not to learn to read and write?," however, may challenge schoolyard folk wisdom. The legitimate claims are often straightforward, though posed in a variety of ways. A player who is shaky on the exact rights guaranteed by the constitution, however, will need to think about each client's story carefully. Further, even those with a stronger recollection of the amendments can be misled by some claims if inattentive. A good example: "I want to be on a jury. Yesterday, my state governor announced that Asians can no longer serve on a jury. I am a U.S. citizen and I am 18 years old. Do I have a right to be on a jury?" References to age and ethnicity could trigger a player's associations with the incorrect amendments. Even if the client has a legitimate claim, matching his case to the wrong amendment will deduct from the player's prestige
At the end of each round, the player gets a summary of his or her performance. This takes the form of a newspaper that includes descriptions of the cases and relevant constitutional issues from the round. After the summary, the player can spend any earned prestige points to improve the firm—an important motivator since success at matching clients and lawyers leads to tangible gameplay bonuses. New lawyers can be hired, allowing the player to handle a greater variety of cases and win more prestige. In addition, each lawyer's desk can be enhanced with bonus items. These increase that lawyer's speed in handling cases, likelihood of learning a new area of constitutional law, or the prestige gained for a successful case. Finally, improvements can be made to the waiting area to increase the number of clients it can hold and the amount of time they will wait before storming off in rage—a feature that becomes especially important in later rounds as the number of clients increases. At the end of the game the player is given a score report with a breakdown of play. This will help teachers identify areas of the amendments that the player needs to review more.
The ease of the control system and the core gameplay are important features of the game, adding to its suitability as a classroom tool. At the start of the game, onscreen hints helpfully label important areas of the firm and the screen—these hints can be left on or turned off at the player's discretion. All decisions are made through clicking on the relevant button or area in the game with the mouse. For those who still would like more guidance, there is even a teacher's guide that provides a detailed description of the game written for those less familiar with game motifs.
At its heart, DIHR? is a drill game. Unlike many other drill games, however, the focus on application as well as identification promotes a higher level of learning than many of its peers. Ultimately, DIHR? is well designed to achieve the goals of its designers. The playful and attractive graphics, core gameplay, and upbeat soundtrack make the game inherently engaging. The end-of-round system for leveling up lawyers and buying improvements will motivate players to continue playing, trying to improve their scores. Since maximizing one's score is best achieved by knowing the amendments well, DIHR provides an engaging and effective tool to learn basic constitutional rights.
Most teachers, of course, will want to go beyond the basic identification and application of constitutional rights. Happily, iCivics has provided some outstanding materials to help teachers foster students' analytical skills concerning constitutional rights. The site has an excellent pre-game lesson plan titled "Bill of Rights: You Mean I’ve Got Rights?" complete with flashcards, worksheets, and instructions for crafting a "Pamphlet of Protections." A post-game PowerPoint provides structure and questions for a debriefing discussion based on the many stories from the game. The PowerPoint can effectively spark conversation about the more complex issues involving free expression, unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, etc. These lessons, like the game itself, are targeted at a middle school audience. The game, however, can be effectively assigned as a lighthearted but worthwhile classroom warm up for high school students—after all, it can only help for students to be motivated to remember and apply the amendments. Teachers of high school civics can effectively use this game as a supplement to a more advanced discussion of constitutional rights crafted by the teacher—it all depends on the comfort the teacher and students have with the playful art, tone, and music of the game.
Upbeat and engaging, with core gameplay that encourages learning these 12 amendments well, Do I Have a Right? is well worth considering by any teacher interested in finding more engaging methods for learning constitutional amendments.
Do you use iPads in class? iCivics also offers Do I Have a Right? as a free app, Pocket Law Firm.