Civilization IV in 7th Grade Social Studies: Motivating and Enriching Student Learning with Constructivism, Content standards, and 21st Century Skills

Civilization IV in 7th Grade Social Studies: Motivating and Enriching Student Learning with Constructivism, Content standards, and 21st Century Skills

Solomon Senrick (American School of Bombay, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2848-9.ch005


Civilization IV allows a player to experience the development and management of complex components of an empire, like technology acquisition, trade, and diplomacy. It includes a thorough encyclopedia-like reference tool, Civilopedia, which a player can use to inform one’s decision making. When the game is broken down into parts and approached with thoughtful, creative pedagogy, students are motivated to learn historical concepts, systems thinking, and skills like information fluency and creativity at their own pace.
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Overall Description

The purpose of this case was to explore how using the digital game Civilization IV could encourage constructivist learning, target social studies content standards, cultivate 21st century skills, and increase student engagement. In Civilization IV, a player assumes the leadership of a civilization and develops cities and infrastructure, trade and economic policy, government, technology and various other elements. In this case, students played the game in pairs.

This case study was of a 7th grade social studies class. There are two enduring understandings of the Beliefs and History unit in which the game was played. The first is that events in history have shaped, and been shaped by beliefs and cultures. The second is that historians use specific tools and thought processes to make sense of the past. To support these enduring understandings, instruction was focused on the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standards primarily on historical knowledge, skills and concepts, and also other strands. (See Table 1 in Appendix A) The case also targeted 21st century skills, as defined by the American School of Bombay, including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, information fluency, and managing complexity. The game was played in classes over approximately 20 days. The 80 minute block class structure was divided into segments with approximately half the time dedicated to game play, and the rest to learning specific historical topics in other traditional ways, including readings, research, and discussions.

Table 1.
AERO Standards and Mini-Lessons
AERO StandardGame Mini-Lesson
Use key concepts such as chronology, causality, and conflict to identify patterns of historical changeLearning objective: Describe how interactions between cultures/civilizations lead to historical change.
(1) Prior to game play, students have learned about the diffusion of Buddhism in Asia through political and economic conditions.
(2) Teacher poses questions “How are interactions with other cultures impacting your Civilization?”
(3) In game play, students focus on how conflict, trade, and interactions with other civilization’s leaders impacts their civilization
(4) Class discussion after game play focuses on posed question.
Formative Assessment—Students write reflection posts on the class Ning, describing how interactions lead to changes in Civilizations.
Summative Assessment—In Civilopedia project, students must demonstrate evidence of the learning objective.
Describe the process whereby adoption of scientific knowledge and use of technologies influence cultures, the environment, economies, and balance of power.Learning objective: Describe how adopting technology in Civilization impacts culture, environment, economy, etc.
(1) Brief discussion on how technology impacts cultures
(2) Students read through game technologies, and view the technology flow chart of the game to identify a technology to focus on
(3) Using the technology’s Civilopedia page, students identify how the selected technology will impact their Civilization’s economy, culture, society, foreign affairs, etc.
(4) Students play their game and see how the technology impacts their play
(5) Class discussion connects readings on historical technology adoption, like science and math in the Islamic empire, to game experiences
Summative assessment—Students write reflection paragraph addressing the learning objective.
Identify and use primary and secondary sources in historical research.Learning objective: Explain how primary and secondary sources can be used purposefully.
(1) Brief discussion—What are primary and secondary sources and why are they important in history?
(2) Modeling—Teacher shows how and why Civilization game includes primary sources, in forms of quotations. Teacher explains how the game has used secondary sources, by writing historical narratives for the different game elements.
(3) Students are directed in game play to identify primary sources and secondary sources in their play that day
Formative assessment: Students write reflection on game play that identifies and describes the use of primary and secondary sources in the game.
Summative assessment: In Civilopedia project, students must include primary sources and compose a historical narrative for their researched topic.

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