Mission US: City of Immigrants

G4C 2016 awards finalist: Thirteen/WNET

Thirteen/WNET is the creator of Mission US: “City of Immigrants,” a Games for Change 2016 awards finalist for Best Learning Game.

Company name: Thirteen/WNET

Website: thirteen.org, mission-us.org

Twitter: @Mission_US, @ASHP_HERB

Short bio: As New York’s flagship public media provider and the parent company of Thirteen and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education, and public affairs programming to millions of viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose, and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online.

Thirteen’s Children’s and Educational Media Department produces a wide range of multiplatform projects for children and life-long learners. The Emmy-award winning PBS Kids series Cyberchase uses humor, action, and mystery to show kids that math is everywhere and everyone can be good at it. “Oh Noah!,” a web series on pbskids.org, helps youngsters learn Spanish through wacky animated videos and games. Mission US, aimed at tweens, features interactive adventure games that put players in the center of key events in U.S. history. “Get the Math” used reality-style video and interactives to helps teens understand how fashion, video games, and other teen-friendly fields connect to algebra. Thirteen also presents the long-running preschool series Barney, Bob the Builder, and Thomas & Friends on PBS Kids.

Games at the festival: Mission US: “City of Immigrants” is nominated for Best Learning Game at G4C this year. “City of Immigrants” is the fourth in the acclaimed Mission US series of free, digital role-playing games created to engage middle and high school students in the exploration and understanding of U.S. history. Players take on the role of Lena Brodsky, a Russian Jewish teen who immigrates to New York City in 1907 and, as she struggles to support her family, finds herself in the middle of the growing labor movement. Players gain important insights into the struggle for safe working conditions, fair wages, and the right to bargain collectively while experiencing the challenges of cultural differences, assimilation, and prejudice.

The content for “City of Immigrants” was developed by a team of historians and educators at the American Social History Project (ASHP)/Center for Media & Learning, a research center at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, in partnership with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which consulted on historical content for the game and development of educators materials. The Museum building and its artifacts also served as models for design of the game’s locations, costumes, and props. Formative research was conducted by Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology.

The game is available free online. Click “Register” on the top right to create a free user account. Related educator materials are available in the “Educators” section on the website.

Platforms: Web

Grades: Middle and high school students in grades 5-9

Education value: Mission US addresses the pressing need to engage middle school students in social studies and American history in more effective ways. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only 17 percent of eighth graders perform at or above the proficient level in American history. The story for underserved students is even worse. Mission US adapts the most popular emerging technology in young people’s lives—gaming—to immerse them in the drama of our nation’s past. The overall goals of Mission US are to help players:

  • Learn the story of America and the ways Americans struggled to realize the ideals of liberty and equality.
  • Understand the role of ordinary men and women, including young people, in history.
  • Develop thinking skills that increase historical understanding and critical thinking.

Each mission is designed for flexibility and ease of use in classroom settings, deeply rooted in historical scholarship, tied to national learning standards, and accompanied by a collection of educator-developed resources, including document-based questions, primary sources (including maps, personal narratives, cultural artifacts and more), class activities, vocabulary builders, standards alignments, writing prompts and visual aids. Professional development videos help teachers integrate the games into the curriculum successfully.

As students play Mission US, they build and strengthen critical thinking and problem solving skills such as effective reasoning, systematic thinking, decision making and effective communication. The games also support students’ knowledge and 21st-century skills in applying technology effectively.

In 2011, Education Development Center completed a major research study examining the use of Mission US by 1,118 seventh and eighth grade students in 50 schools across the United States. In the study, students demonstrated measurable gains in historical knowledge and skills. Research has also found that Mission US promotes deeper levels of engagement in class discussions and activities, and enables student at different levels—including struggling readers—to succeed.

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