Want to be a hero?

American Public Media, the group running many of the our public radio programs, has just created a very cool budget simulation that lets you solve America’s financial difficulties.

Budget Hero is an engaging and journalistically sound game that encourages players to think through the complexities and challenges of the federal budget and the major policy issues of the 2008 election. It frames the policy debate as a set of federal budget choices determining how money will be raised and spent. Budget Hero forces players make tradeoffs and confront compromises inherent in balancing a budget. Can they be Budget Heroes by staying true to their values while creating a sustainable government?

The sim is based on budget models and projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “Long Term Fiscal Outlook. Players select up to three issues from a list of eight that they will focus their budgets around. These could include National Security, Energy Independence, Economic Stimulus or Efficient Government.

And while the sim encourages players to focus on their specific agenda, they must balance their goals with the needs of others. I can see some interesting and spirited discussions talking place as the game is being played. Teachers could group kids and force them to focus on specific issues, play the game as a whole class with discussion before each decision or letting kids play solo. Some pretty neat options available for econ, history and government teachers! You even have the option of embedding the widget into your own web site which would allow you to create specific lessons and activties tied back to the sim.

Players can compare their scores with others, print out their results and, if they choose, even join an online Budget Hero forum that acts a lot like a social network. I see the discussion after the simulation to be a powerful piece, especially if kids could talk about their results and decisions with players from around the country.

I’d be curious to hear from others. How would you use Budget Hero?