Court justice supports educational games

Victoria Pagan

Gamers can count former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as one of their own after she spoke at a conference Tuesday on behalf of a new interactive video game that teaches young students and even adults about the government.

The 2nd annual Game On! Texas, held at the AMD Lone Star campus, brought together leaders in education and the community to discuss ways of improving education through implementing game development and digital media into the classroom. The conference included two panels and breakout sessions to talk about and design games for lesson plans.

Linda Smarzik, a 2010 Game On! panelist, said the event is unique because it pulls together points of view from all sectors of the community to increase pools of information.

“I like the cross of industry, education and policy,” said Smarzik, dean of computer studies and advanced technology at Austin Community College. “We learn from each other. I’m here to meet people and to listen to what they have to say.”

O’Connor, who retired from the bench in 2005, spent the bulk of her speech at Game On! promoting iCivics, a website she helped produce that uses video games to teach young students about law, rights and other areas of government and aims to increase civic participation.

“It seems to me that everything we have put in this is teaching kids to be participants, not bystanders, in roles in government,” O’Connor said. “After using iCivics, they really understand the constitution and what it does for their rights.”

O’Connor said educators need to embrace different technologies because students already have a natural knack for using them.

“Statistics show that young people on average spend 40 hours a week in front of a screen,” O’Connors said. “We’ve got an audience, and we’ve got a target. They need to get on there and see what we put on.”

O’Connor said she hopes her speech will help Texans move quickly into adapting iCivics into curricula because of the significance of the state’s role in the public education system.

“Do you know how important Texas is in our nation’s school system?” O’Connor asked. “Somehow, Texas became an early leader in being discriminating in their choice of textbooks. Textbook producers depend
on Texas.”

Austin resident Ansley Carruth said she has not looked at the iCivics software but will explore it because she does not think O’Connor would promote a bad program, she said.

“We came to this conference just to see Justice O’Connor,” Carruth said. “How many times in my life will [I have] a chance to see her speak in person?”