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A teacher is standing at the front of a classroom, using hand gestures while giving a lesson. The room is filled with students who are seated at desks, some working on laptops. A large screen behind the teacher displays the word "PETITIONERS" with instructions. The classroom walls are decorated with colorful educational materials and posters.

A teacher using iCivics' Supreme Decision simulation in class.

Delving into the Supreme Court Simulations with Students

June 24, 2024

Delving into the Supreme Court Simulations with Students

100 percent of my students responded that the new iCivics’ Supreme Decision simulation strengthened their understanding of how the U.S. Supreme Court works.

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100 percent. All of my students responded that the new iCivics’ Supreme Decision simulation strengthened their understanding of how the U.S. Supreme Court works. 

If I’m being honest, it’s challenging to have 100 percent of my Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics (AP Gov) students agree on anything. They often mirror the American electorate—divided on a variety of issues. But not on this. Not today.

Admittedly, I am a self-labeled Supreme Court nerd. I follow scholars and experts on social media, wake up early in June on opinion days, and have had the good fortune of being in the court a few times. I have been incorporating moot courts and a March Madness-style case showdown into my AP Gov course for many years. Students have offered feedback that some of these activities created core memories as they reflected on their high school experience. It was only natural that I would want to look into this simulation to see whether I could implement it into my current practice.

I should also share that sometimes I get nervous trying new things. 

It’s not that I won’t try new strategies, materials, activities, games, etc., but I’m a bit of a type A control freak, and I want to feel like I have some sense of management over what’s happening in my classroom. As an educator, I can’t control much, so I try to grasp what I can. Hear me when I say, if this is you, this simulation works well. As the teacher, you control the advancement of the slides on the student screens, the videos (and if you want to replay them), and the addition of enrichment and supplemental activities.

Supreme Decision simulation is a purely digital simulation. The teacher sets it up and creates a classroom. The simulation kicks back a login PIN, very similar to some of the quiz-like gaming sites that many classroom teachers use. When students log in, they create a username (good news: If it’s inappropriate, a teacher can boot the student until an appropriate name change occurs) and are assigned a profile—respondent, petitioner, or justice. 

Students are given the background of a fictional case inspired by an actual Supreme Court case and learn about their roles. Those assigned as justices are given one of three lenses: “looking back,” “looking closely,” or “looking ahead.” 

Once students read through their role and better understand the case, they work through how the case arrived at the court and the facts of the case. They will work in role-alike teams to examine precedent and constitutional application. They are given time and a digital resource to take notes on their screens. The simulation allows for the students representing the petitioners to only see the notes of the petitioner. The same applies to the respondents and the justices. After note-taking and discussion, students craft and present oral arguments. 

Supreme Decision being displayed on a classroom screen.

Justices ask questions of the petitioner and respondent and then deliberate. Finally, justices cast a vote to determine which argument they see as having more merit. As justices rule, students can see the voting process. Teachers can freeze screens if they don’t want students to see live voting.

After our justices ruled, my students engaged in a content-rich discussion about the topic. It became clear to me that they truly understood not only the process but also the content application. 

One student shared, “I enjoyed actually feeling like I was taking part in a Supreme Court decision. For me, learning has to be done firsthand, and with this simulation, I really grasped and got the needed firsthand experience to fully understand how the court works.” 

Another shared, “I learned how the Supreme Court works through a case, how petitioners and respondents present their arguments, and how the judges work through the arguments and ask questions to make their decision.” 

One student expressed how this gave them a better sense of what the court looks like. “It is more of a conversation than anything. You are just talking to each other trying to understand every side.” 

Another student shared that they always thought the Supreme Court justices debated one another. They did not realize that this was a discussion.

Overall, our class invested a total of two class periods, about 80 minutes, working through the simulation. The timing worked well, and I am glad I decided to launch this new learning experience. 

In our post-case survey, I asked my students how many of them liked learning from simulations. A resounding 96 percent said they either favored this approach or considered it on par with traditional delivery methods, like reading or lecturing. My initial apprehensions about introducing something new were met with enthusiastic engagement and high levels of student satisfaction. Given the evident enjoyment and educational value my students gain from these experiences, I am now confident in incorporating more iCivics simulations.

A photograph of the author, Shari Conditt

Shari Conditt

Shari Conditt is in her 24th year of teaching secondary social studies. She currently teaches AP U.S. History and AP American Government and Politics, is a member of the iCivics Educator Network and serves as the building instructional coach at Woodland High School in Woodland, Wash. 

Register for iCivics' Webinar: Court Is in Session: A Tool for Supreme Court Simulations

Turn your classroom into the Supreme Court with Supreme Decision, the newest product type from iCivics, that allows you to bring civics to life through in-person, media-rich, collaborative experiences. Join us for an in-depth look at how you can engage your students in a dynamic experience where they take on the role of a Petitioner, Respondent, or Supreme Court Justice to decide fictional cases.

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