Opinions Expressed are those of the Author
Guest Post By: Gerald G. Huesken Jr, Social Studies Teacher – Elizabethtown Area High School, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania
As someone who has been teaching high school social studies, particularly government and economics, for the better part of the last decade, a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania was quick to catch my eye. In this study, researchers found that American’s basic civic knowledge, as well as their basic understanding of current events around the world was startlingly lacking – only 26% of respondents could name all three branches of government compared to 37% of respondents naming a freedom protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, researchers found that with this lacking basis of knowledge, respondents were even less likely to look at, consume, or engage in discussions about national or world events or understand their key significance. Quite shocking, to say the least.
While some of my colleagues would be quick to point out fundamental flaws in how we as teachers engage our students in basic civic education, we as educators do an equally flawed job of encouraging our students to read about and discuss current events and relate it to the broader issues of the day. Long seen as a “filler” in social studies classes, current events, in my opinion, serve a valuable purpose in relating course content to the real world for our students. Finding engaging and unique ways to get students making such connections and engaging with news media of all kinds is the real challenge. That is why I have become a believer in FANSchool.org.
Popularly referred to as “fantasy football for social studies and literacy standards,” FANSchool.org is an easy-to-use new learning site that attempts to “game-ify” current events consumption for students. Developed by Minnesota-based social studies teacher and FANSchool.org co-founder Eric Nelson, who was looking for a new way to engage his students in current events and the study of cultures around the globe.FANSchool.org (and its flagship games of Fantasy Politics & Fantasy Geopolitics) engages students in the study of current events in a new and different way, by turning it into a fantasy football-style experience. Students draft teams of countries or US states, follow those countries or states in the news, and get points for every time their countries or states are mentioned in assigned media outlines like The New York Times. The points are then tableted and posted on the FANSchool.org site. Using this game friendly system, teachers then have the flexibility (along with the network support of other educators using the FANSchool.org platform) to develop engaging activities, challenges, awards, and programs to engage their students more fully in the current events experience. The site also runs “March Madness-style” competitions for Presidential elections and the Olympic Games, pitting students from across the nation and the world in a knock-down current affairs slugfest for bragging rights and prizes.
In my classroom, I have used the Fantasy Geopolitics game as a way to further engage my Honors and on-level students in engaging with world events and international media, while promoting friendly academic competition. This November, FANSchool.org will roll out a new feature of their Fantasy Geopolitics game that includes the “drafting” of members of Congress along with US states, providing a new dimension of engagement for my Honors and on-level Government and Economics classes. Their Election Challenge game (provided every four years with the coming of a new Presidential election) also creates discussions of how the Electoral College will unfold and how Americans will vote for their next President, stimulating questions, discussion, and discovery of America’s political system. FANSchool.org’s devoted network of “Teacher-Commissioners” also provides a great opportunity for networking as well as a shared repository of activities, classroom ideas, and engaging projects. Have students write “Presidential briefs” of hot-current event topics to engage in civic or international action, or have them develop a podcast that discusses how the events of their game relates to the real world (like my students did with the Fantasy Geopolitics Podcast…)
With competition comes the quest for knowledge, and with knowledge comes true competency. That is the goal of FANSchool.org and this is why I would highly recommend fellow social studies educators check out this engaging and fun-filled current events tool for their social studies classroom.
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