Our Courts was the former name of the iCivics project.
The game is now called Branches of Power instead of Balance of PowerThe Balance of Power game is among the stable of games being offered by iCivics and it is designed to help students understand the process the three branches of government go through in order to make a law. Additionally, students learn how each branch is necessary to balance each other.Students can choose from multiple social issues and walk the issue through a town hall, a press conference, a congressional meeting and a presidential approval depending upon the branch of government they are exploring. The game emphasizes the need to balance the three branches and receive approval from all three before a bill can become a law. The pre-game lesson plan walks the students through creating a mock bill and the post-lesson plan reinforces the role that citizens play in the process of sponsoring a bill. The combined pre-game lesson, game play, and post-game lesson are planned to take four class days. The instructional unit includes handouts, overheads, a PowerPoint, and answer keys in addition to the lesson plan.
A mixed-method evaluation approach was used in the evaluation of the Balance of Power instructional unit: data was collected from these sources in the form of attitudinal surveys, pretest and posttest, Interview and observation checklists.
The pretest and posttest results consists of 20 students, as eight of the students did not complete all three tests. The pretest was issued prior to day one, before the implementation of the “What’s for Lunch?” pre- game lesson plan that accompanies the Balance of Power instructional package.
The results for the pre-test are shown in Table 2. The mean percentage for the entire pre-test was 43%. Additionally, the questions were broken down into the four topic categories as illustrated in Table 2. The first posttest was issued after game play on day three of the instructional module. The results of this test show a slight improvement over the pre-test, a mean score increase of 1.8 points. In this first post-test we can see a marked improvement in performance in both the Category 2 (+ 23%) and Category 4 (+18%) questions.The second post-test was issued after completion of the follow-on lesson plan and review on day four of the instructional module. The results of this test show a mean score percentage of 63%. This second post-test shows improvement in the overall scores, and specifically in the Category 2 (+10%) and 3 (+9%) questions. An increase of 1% is seen in the Category 1 questions and no change was evident for the Category 4 questions. Additionally, there was a 0.6 point increase from posttest 1 to posttest 2 indicating a slight improvement in scores overall. This result should be looked at with caution as seven student scores (35%, n = 20) decreased from posttest 1 to posttest 2. Although a determination of the cause for a high number of decreased scores cannot be ascertained, it should be considered, as evidenced by the survey and observation data, that some students may have become confused with the extraneous information presented in the follow-up lesson plan.
The student surveys also indicated that the students felt that they learned new information regarding how the three branches of government worked and the role citizen’s play in government processes. The attitudinal surveys of both the teacher and the students indicated that the Balance of Power game engaged the students and increased their interest in the subject matter, particularly in reference to the issues of kids’ rights. The observations of the evaluators also support these assertions.
This indicated that the teacher’s perceived value of the Balance of Power game itself and educational games as a whole was very high. The teacher made several suggestions regarding the improvement of the game and lesson plans, with the focus of mainly on the accompanying lesson plans. The suggestions specific to the game focused on both the technical issues that the students experienced (i.e. the freezing screens) and restricting the freedom of movement of the avatars.
The attitudinal surveys of both the teacher and the students indicated that the Balance of Power game engaged the students and increased their interest in the subject matter, particularly in reference to the issues of kids’ rights. The observations of the evaluators also support these assertions. However, both sets of surveys also indicate that the level of engagement was much lower during both the pre- and post- game lesson plans. Whether this was due to the shorter class periods or the material is difficult to determine. The evaluators also noticed that the student engagement during the “What’s for Lunch?” lesson plan was very low, stemming from apparent confusion about the procedure as well as the perceived disconnect between the lesson plan material and the topic of the Three Branches of Government.
The attitudinal surveys of both the teacher and the students indicated that the Balance of Power game engaged the students and increased their interest in the subject matter, particularly in reference to the issues of kids’ rights. The observations of the evaluators also support these assertions. However, both sets of surveys also indicate that the level of engagement was much lower during both the pre- and post- game lesson plans.
Our courts presentation
An online education project
designed to engage
students in learning civics
It is a legacy project of
Justice Sandra Day
lesson plans and materials
that are designed to excite
and educate students about
participating in their own
A formative evaluation of the Balance of
Power game and Curriculum was
conducted to determine:
The extent to which the instructional unit
as a whole meets its instructional goals;
The extent to which the instructional unit
engages the students and increases their
interest in the subject matter;
The extent to which the instructional
program meets the needs of the users;
The extent to which the instructional
program is usable and marketable to
schools and school districts.
Students will learn the primary functions of
each branch of the federal government
Students will learn how well the branches
interact with each other
Students will learn how citizens can
influence the government
The data sources for the Balance of Power
Program participants (students);
Expert judgment of the evaluator.
There were approximately 28 student
participants: 16 males and 12 females, ranging
from 12-15 years old, in an 8th grade social
studies course. Participants were already
students in the classes in which the teacher
agreed to participate in the study.
The lesson plan instruction took place in a
regular classroom, while the game play
took place in a school computer lab where
students accessed the Balance of Power
game through the Our Courts website:
Prior to day one of the field-test, a 12-item
pretest consisting of questions about the
Executive, Judicial, and Legislative
branches of the government was
administered to students.
An initial lesson plan was taught on day
Day two of the field test consisted of
students playing the Balance of Power
game in the school’s computer lab.
Day three started with further game play
and then a 12-item posttest was
administered to students.
The follow-up lesson plan was taught on
day four and then a second 12-item posttest
was administered to students.
Interviews were also conducted on day 4.
Observations were conducted on all four
rather learn through
games and they felt
they had a better
understanding of the
content after playing
The teacher either agreed or strongly agreed
to all of the survey questions.
The teacher indicated that she felt the
students were very engaged, both in the
game play and in the idea of playing an
The teacher made specific suggestions
regarding the improvement of the What’s for
Lunch? pre-game lesson plan
The students interviewed indicated that
they liked the Balance of Power game and
lessons very well.
Limited time prevented extensive
interviews with students and the interview
with the teacher.
The Balance of Power game engaged the
students and increased their interest in the
subject matter, particularly in reference to
the issues of kids’ rights.
The student engagement during the
“What’s for Lunch?” lesson plan was very
The results indicate that the instructional
unit as a whole is meeting its stated
An increase in test means was evident
between the pre-test and the second post-
The student surveys also indicated that the
students felt that they learned new
information regarding how the three branches
of government worked and the role citizen’s
play in government processes.
This instructional program as a whole meets
the needs of the users and could be
marketable to schools and school districts,
given that school or districts’ ability to meet
the technological requirements of game play.
Areas of perceived improvement for the
The improvement of technological
problems, which may have resulted from
the computers and not the game
A revision of the “What’s for Lunch?”
lesson plan to include a specific timeline
and to scaffold more into the game play
Minor revisions to the game itself including
a larger character selection and removal of
town hall questions that students perceive
to be easy or silly.
Game revisions may be necessary to
retain student engagement, particularly as
students who regularly play games are
accustomed to choosing their avatar and
personalizing their environment.
Determining methods of engaging more of
the female students who indicate that they
do not regularly play video games.
Determining the effects of possible
modifications on the “What’s for Lunch?”
lesson plan that give the students more
structure and connection to the topic of the
three branches of government.
This instructional plan could also be tested
with a different middle school class with a
traditional 55 minute class period to see if
the lesson plans and game play results are
significantly different than those presented
This study could also be conducted with a
different grade level, to determine if this
unit is appropriate for high school students.
Improvements to this current study include
conducting a higher number of student
interviews as well as the teacher
interviews and the inclusion of observation
Using a control group to determine content
A special thank you to Nikki Gusz and
Abby Taylor for their help and guidance
during this study.
Thank you to Justice Sandra Day
O’Connor for being the driving force
behind this project and of course for the
honor of meeting her at the conclusion of