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5 Excellent Educational Games for Teaching U.S. History

Filament Games | Educational Game Developer

Calling all U.S. history teachers! Ready to add some life to your lessons with game-based learning? 

(Image credit: Giphy)

Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the well that is high-quality U.S. history learning games. Surprisingly, there aren’t many – at least that we could find! Did we miss one of your favorites that you believe is worth a spot in our roundup? Or perhaps you’ve been using one of the below resources for years and would like to double down on our recommendation? No matter what you’re thinking, we want to hear from you – be sure to reach out on our Facebook or Twitter! 

Race to Ratify (iCivics)

Platform(s): Web browser, iPad, Android tablets

When it comes to game-based civics education, iCivics is king. But did you know that the nation’s largest civics education platform also launched their first-ever U.S. history game last year? That’s right – Race to Ratify is here, and it drops players smack dab in the middle of 1787 America at the height of the ratification debate. Playing the role of a pamphleteer, players align themselves with the Federalists or Anti-Federalists as they travel across 13 states and hear from opinionated characters, each with strong arguments for or against ratification. Get a behind-the-screens look at the making of Race to Ratify in our interview with iCivics’ Director of Digital Learning Carrie Ray-Hill, then try the game yourself on icivics.org! 

Mission US (THIRTEEN – New York Public Media)

Platform(s): Web browser, Windows, Mac, iPad

A few moments ago, we declared iCivics as the premier platform for game-based civics education – but when it comes to teaching U.S. history, Mission US takes the cake. Created by THIRTEEN, New York City’s flagship public television station, Mission US offers a suite of five interactive “missions,” each focused on a transformational moment in American history. Winner of Most Significant Impact at the 2014 Games for Change Awards, Mission US is a research-backed resource that (like iCivics) offers accompanying educator materials for each mission designed to help teachers incorporate the games into their lessons. 

Minecraft: Education Edition (Microsoft)

Platform(s): Windows, Mac, iPad

In the world of game-based learning, Minecraft: Education Edition needs no introduction – and we’re pleased to report that there are no shortage of history and culture lessons and resources available for U.S. history classrooms. Whether you’re working alongside your students to build the Jamestown Colony, or exploring how Native Americans in each region harnessed their unique environments to obtain food, clothing, and shelter, MinecraftEDU can serve as an extremely versatile tool for a variety of U.S. history lessons – just be sure that your class has the hardware to support the game, as MinecraftEDU is currently not available for Chromebooks.

Sortify (BrainPop)

Platform(s): Web browser

BrainPop’s Sortify is a clever spin on matching games of old – a playful assessment tool that tasks players with categorizing topic-specific vocabulary tiles into self-selected buckets, testing their knowledge of the relationships between and within each category. And while the game supports a wide assortment of topics ranging from parts of speech to dinosaurs, world-changing women and elements of the periodic table, U.S. history educators will likely find the American Revolution and American Indian History versions to be most relevant to their classes. Sortify is simple, yet effective – and you can try it for yourself on BrainPop’s website! 

When Rivers Were Trails (Indian Land Tenure Foundation)

Platform(s): Windows, Mac

Where The Oregon Trail highlights the stories of settlers traveling from Missouri to Oregon, it neglects to tell the tales of the Native Americans who lived on those lands – which inspired the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Michigan State University’s Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab, and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to team up and create an educational game of their own: When Rivers Were Trails. A 2D adventure told from the perspective of a displaced Anishinaabeg as they journey from Minnesota to California, the game immerses players in indigenous storytelling and culture as they face gritty truths involving personal family relations, tribal stories, and the darker side of history. Learn more about the game in this interview with game creator Elizabeth LaPensée Ph.D., Anishinaabe from Baawaating with relations at Bay Mills Indian Community, then experience it yourself at itch.io!


More game-based learning resources from your friends at Filament:

How to Teach with Games eBook
How Game-Based Learning Engages Struggling Students
How Game-Based Learning Develops 21st Century Skills

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