Mission US: "Revolutionary" Web Initiative Takes Young Learners on a Virtual Adventure into American History

September 17, 2010

Teens and tweens across the country can now experience American history as never before. Mission US features a series of free online games that will “revolutionize” the way social studies learning takes place in classrooms and homes throughout the United States. On September 21, THIRTEEN launched the first game mission, “For Crown or Colony?,” which focuses on events leading up to the American Revolution. The game, together with a rich variety of supplemental resources for students and teachers, is available for streaming and download at www.mission-us.org. This groundbreaking initiative is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Preview Mission US here:

Statistics from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress show that only 17% of eighth graders perform at or above the proficient level in American history. The situation is even worse for underserved students. Mission US aims to stem the tide by reaching today’s tech-savvy kids where they live, online, inviting them to be “players” during pivotal eras in the country’s past. The content helps students understand and appreciate multiple perspectives and gain a more nuanced view of history. “For Crown or Colony?” provides kids with insight into the mindsets of both Patriots and Loyalists.

“This innovative offering – available free online – is designed to serve a teen and tween audience that grew up watching outstanding kids’ programs on PBS.” said Neal Shapiro, WNET.ORG president and CEO. “Mission US builds on THIRTEEN’s pioneering work in harnessing the power of new digital media for education.” “Using the most popular medium in kids’ lives today, Mission US gets students interested in learning about history by allowing them to experience dramatic historical events as if they were there,” said Patricia de Stacy Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Mission US uses the conventions and design style of commercial games popular with middle school students. The project website offers fun mini-games and the opportunity to submit user-generated videos.

Mission 1: “For Crown or Colony?” helps players understand the social, political, and economic conflicts that led to the American Revolution. Players take on the role of Nathaniel Wheeler, a young printer’s apprentice, who must carry out tasks for his master while confronting Bostonians’ clashing views on British authority and colonial protest. In five episodes of game play, students choose a path that culminates in the Boston Massacre. In its aftermath, the player determines Nat’s fate by taking a stand – supporting the Patriot cause or remaining loyal to the Crown.

Teachers who participated in classroom tests of “For Crown or Colony?” reported that students were more intellectually and emotionally engaged during the Mission US unit than in the typical unit they teach. It helped their students see the events leading to the American Revolution in more human terms that they could understand.

Game content is informed by the latest scholarship. The development team includes historians from the American Social History Project (ASHP) at CUNY, researchers from Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology (CCT), and game developers from Electric Funstuff.

Each of the dynamic games in THIRTEEN’s Mission US series challenges players to take on the role of a young character living through a significant time in American history. Mission 2, “Flight to Freedom” (working title), which focuses on resistance to slavery, will launch in spring of 2011. Other missions, as well as a broadcast special, are planned for release in 2012.

Mission US is produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. Sandra Sheppard, THIRTEEN’s director of Children’s and Educational Programming, is the executive-in-charge. Jill Peters is the executive producer. Michelle Chen is the coordinating producer.

Mission US in the classroom: