Using Game Play to Engage Students in the Election Process
BrainPOP and iCivics make a powerful duo! First build background knowledge about the path to the White House by exploring BrainPOP’s Election Resources, most notably the Presidential Election topic. Then apply that knowledge to hit the campaign trail running and play Win the White House.
The author, Emma Humphries, is the Chief Education Officer at iCivics. There, she serves as the organization’s pedagogical expert, leads its product development strategy, and ensures its resources continue to grow and evolve to a place of greater equity and deeper learning for all students.
My earliest political memory is of Tuesday, November 3, 1992. It was the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, in a year divisible by four—in other words, Election Night in the United States—and I was watching the returns in the living room of my childhood home. I’m sure I must have been rooting for Bill Clinton since my parents had both voted for him.
But that’s not what I remember most of that evening. What sticks out in my memory was not understanding why the really rich guy from Texas was winning many votes, yet had no electoral ones. To give you an idea, when all was said and done, over 8 million people had voted for Ross Perot (the rich Texan, that is), but he did not earn a single electoral vote.
I didn’t understand. Dad sure tried his best to explain.
Fast forward 16 years, and I’m a high school government teacher. Now it’s my turn to try to explain the Electoral College. Although my students were 17 years old, not curious elementary school kids, my task was still a challenging one. Explaining how electoral votes work involved a C-SPAN Electoral Map, a whiteboard, a VHS recording from a previous Election Night, and a whole lot of coffee. I felt fairly confident that most of my students left my classroom understanding the bizarre way in which we elect the President of the United States. But it was a real slog to walk them through the process.
Fast forward yet another 16 years to today. I am now the Chief Education Officer for iCivics. Founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the mission of this educational nonprofit organization is to reimagine civic learning for all students in the United States.
All these years later, I’m still consumed with the Electoral College and how to make understanding the election process accessible and relevant to young people. iCivics’ solution—and really the best tool for teaching this complicated topic—is our popular game, Win the White House, which is also hosted on BrainPOP.
Win the White House tasks students with taking on the role of a candidate vying for our nation’s highest elected office: the presidency! While building arguments to support timely issues relevant to their party, players strategically raise funds to support their campaign, maintain campaign momentum through targeted media campaigns and personal appearances, and poll local voters to see what issues resonate.
It is through game play, and not lecture-style explanation, that students gain a meaningful understanding of the Electoral College. In fact, the main game board is the electoral map. While the game’s poll results, media appearances, and fundraising numbers are entirely fictional, the electoral votes for each state is 100% accurate—at least until we complete the 2020 Census!
By the end of the game—whether or not they win the White House—students will undoubtedly have gained an understanding of the elusive Electoral College. Sure, parents and teachers can achieve this same goal with a C-SPAN Electoral Map (I love these maps, by the way!), a whiteboard, a VHS recording from a previous Election Night, and a whole lot of coffee. But why would you when you can play Win the White House?
As Election Day draws near, I encourage you to watch the returns with your kiddos, and be ready for those questions that are sure to come. Maybe play a round or two of Win the White House at home in preparation. The Win the White House Family Guide provides quick, non-partisan activities for families to learn and play together. A Spanish-language option is also included.