It’s 2054. As leader of a new civilization on Mars, you have to explore your new planet and help build a city, making decisions with the help of robots.
This is the task put to players of a new game designed by GlassLab, a nonprofit educational game design initiative. And though it’s a partnership with NASA, the game called Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy isn’t designed primarily to teach science and mathematics.
Instead, it’s designed to teach kids how to make logical arguments, something they’ll need to be good writers and communicators in future STEM careers. Announced at the Games for Change Festival last month, Mars Generation One teaches players to make well-supported arguments based on “substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence”—a big element of the English Language Arts Common Core standards that educators are adapting in schools around the country. The National Writing Project is also a partner on the project.
Players in Argubot Academy (designed for grades 6-8) must make different types of arguments and learn to make decisions as a group. The catch is, in this city on Mars, people work out their differences through robotic battles of the wits. So whomever’s robot has the smartest argument with the best evidence wins.
“Our story emphasis will be on problem-solving and social decision making in a small community,” GlassLab General Manager Jessica Lindl said in a blog post. “We hope to inspire the astronauts of the future by showing that skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving are going to be the 21st century skills at work in space as well as on Earth.”
What’s unique about GlassLab’s games—we wrote about their work on SimCityEdu last year— is that they are data-rich and are designed to provide teachers with real-time feedback about how much their students are learning.
Educational researchers say tests of the future might look more like these robotics games.
“Games are interesting assessment environments because they’re like little petri dishes,” Constance Steinkuehler, an associate professor of education and the co-director of the Games+Learning+Society center in Madison told EdWeek last year. “You can put people into games and actually watch what they do and get the ‘data exhaust’ of their choices, what they repeat, what they struggle on, and where they spend the time. And you can use that [data] to draw inferences about how they’re learning.”
If you’re interested in bringing these kinds of learning experiences into your classroom, you can learn more about Mars Generation One here. And GlassLab’s parent company, Institute of Play, offers lots of ongoing support for teachers, including videos, design packs, and game design challenges.
Pittsburgh teachers will be working closely with Institute of Play this summer on TeacherQuest, a new professional development program for area educators interested in integrating games and game-like learning into their classrooms. A professional development program based on curricula designed at the Quest Schools in New York City and Chicago, teachers will build their own game integration toolkit. They’ll come away with a set of analog games of their own design—ready to use in classrooms in the fall. They’ll also connect to an online community of educators interested in games based learning.