Spreading the Word about Argubot Academy


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Written by Matthew Farber

In October 2014 I led a workshop at the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies (NJCSS) pertaining to game-based argumentation. Surprisingly, most were open to bringing games into the classroom. The room was packed with educators who were interested in engaging their students with games. It is a testament to developers like Filament Games (Do I Have a Right?, Argument Wars) and, of course, GlassLab, that has helped lower barriers to widespread adoption.

My presentation was broken into different parts. First I defined what games actually are. There are several definitions out there; however, Jane McGonigal’s fit best with the crowd. McGonigal defines games as systems with “a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.” Changes to the interlocking structure of a game—like modifying rules or adding players—affects its system. Try adding a third player to Rock-Paper-Scissors!

The lens of interconnected systems places its use in perfect educational context—especially for social studies. In my middle school social studies class, I began the year by showing a BrainPOP video on game theory, in which Tim and the beeping robot Moby explain how games model real world actions. This led to a discussion on the “prisoner’s dilemma,” in which police interrogate suspects in separate rooms. Each has incentives to confess or to say nothing at all—hence the game. Games are, in fact, conflicts played out between rational players.

The first part of my NJCSS workshop involved Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy. I demoed the app for the crowd. I also played the video clip about how it teaches claims-based argumentation. Next, I discussed how to play Pokémon, the trading card game with a similar dueling mechanic (mechanics are what one does in a game, like trading, voting, or guessing). After fielding participant questions, I showed off the Playfully teacher dashboard. In my classroom, I use each achievement—Bot Champion, Evidence Cadet, and Bot Defender—as a non-graded formative assessment on what students understand. Like an exit ticket, I do not grade student ability to play. Instead, I personalize my instruction to meet the needs of students who need more help with certain competencies.

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The final piece of how I teach argumentation with Argubot Academy comes together when my class plays Socratic Smackdown, the print-and-play argumentation game developed by the Institute of Play and Quest to Learn. In it, skills mastered in Argubot Academy, are put into practice. Because argumentative thinking is often social, it is helpful—and fun—to debate topics in person. For face-to-face argumentation, I use current events or interest-powered content, like junk food in schools. To model the transfer of learned skills from the iPad game to the Socratic debate, I asked workshop attendees to argue and judge one another.

GlassLab’s Argubot Academy gave my students the tools to use in Socratic-style debates, as well as Common Core-assessed writing. Matching claims to evidence became second nature. A thorough presentation on how games can be an authentic, situated tool helped contextualize how effective they can be!

Editor’s Note: Matthew Farber teaches social studies at Valleyview Middle School, in Denville, New Jersey. He is also an adjunct instructor for the New Jersey City University (NJCU) Educational Technology Department. Mr. Farber holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from NJCU, where he is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Technology Leadership. He is also on the board of directors for the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies (NJCSS). Look for his book, “Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning,” coming this fall from Peter Lang Publishing!


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