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GlassLab develops game that teaches kids reasoned thinking

GlassLab Games, the studio behind SimCityEDU, launched Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy today, a game that teaches students argumentation and reasoned thinking. The studio also announced that it will make GlassLab services — a slate of analytics tools — available to developers who want to leverage the infrastructure the studio has built.

Presenting at the Games for Change Festival in New York, developers from GlassLab detailed the work and reasoning that went into Argubot Academy, a game targeted at middle school students. Collaborating with NASA and the National Writing Project, the development team sought to create a game that keeps students engaged, while also addressing Common Core standards in argumentation and reasoning, critical thinking skills and encouraging classroom discussions. According to GlassLab's Jessica Lindl, education has not changed over the past 100 years despite the rest of the world changing, so the studio saw an opportunity to come up with a new way of learning.

Looking to games like SimCity, which are engaging because they make kids feel empowered, but are also educational because they present players with complex problems that need solutions, developer Erin Hoffman said the development team decided to tap into the desire to feel empowered.

"We realized we had to connect with our own middle school selves," Hoffman said. "When you think of what it's like to be 12-years old ... the world is exciting but overwhelming. Kids want to feel relevant. They like things that make them feel more empowered in real life."

Which is why GlassLab chose Mars as a setting for the game, because "it's real, but it's fantastic," Hoffman said. "We wanted to give the players the feeling their future is different from ours."

In the futuristic adventure game, players are part of the first human city on Mars, and the citizens have to resolve their differences and make important decisions by sending robot assistants into battles of wits. Players equip their robots with strong, valid arguments about the future of life on Mars, and the strength of their arguments will determine the success of their colony. The game is available for iOS devices now.

According to Hoffman, the game has been successful during play-tests in getting students to make decisions based on reasoned arguments. The hope is that students will understand the reasoning and critical thinking processes that are used in the game, and apply those skills to other areas of life.

"These kids are talking about evidence," Hoffman said, referring to how players engaged with the game. "If we can get a kid to change their position on something based on evidence, then that's going to be a marker for us ... it's about decision-making. We're trying to build a tool that creates conversations."

GlassLabs also announced today that it is making its learning infrastructure tools available to other game developers via its beta program. Those who are interested in being part of GlassLabs beta can sign up with the studio and get access to infrastructure like licensing systems, authentication, profile management, and learning analytics engineering like data stores.