Argubot Academy: Using Games to Understand Argument

At the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in November (this post has been in my draft box for a bit of time), I attended a session by a representative of GlassLab Games, which has been working in a partnership with NWP folks to develop a video game app designed to teach elements of argument to middle school students.

The game is called Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy, and it is a free app from the Apple Store. Mat Frenz, of GlassLabs, was very knowledgeabout about game mechanics, and of why games are a natural way to pique the curiosity of students. He notes that good games can be an “engagement bridge” for students to learn difficult material, and the hope for Argubot Academy is that players “will master the mechanics of argument with the same passion as mastering the mechanics of Pokemon.” The game developers build some of the mechanics and look/feel/design of the game with echoes from the Pokemon universe.

Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy has a narrative of science, as the player is on a discovery mission and is forced to create “argubots” that are powered by the strands of strong argument claims and evidence. The player asks questions, explores the spaceship and then goes into “battle” against others with their argubots, seeing if their claims and evidence is strong enough to hold up to scrutiny. A teacher account allows you to track progress of students, and it charts out where strengths and weaknesses of the individual player/students are. That is all handy information.

I played the game a bit over the summer, when it was first released and promoted via NWP and Educator Innovator, and then again during the session, as Mat gave us an overview and tour of the game itself. I know a lot of teachers in the room were excited about. I have my slight reservations. First of all, my classroom does not have iPads, so for all practical purposes, the game is not in our future. I also found the game a bit too wordy, knowing my students as I do, although when I mentioned this is conversation with other teachers in the session, they disagreed with me. So, maybe it is my own perception. I am also not sure it would engage my students over multiple sessions, although Mat shared testimonials from teachers using the app, praising it as tool for engagement.

But, don’t listen to me. Give the app a try. It’s free, and a lot of thought has gone into the development. It might just work for you, particularly as we shift into higher gear away from persuasion and deep into argument. The game might be just the hook for your students.

Argubot Academy Overview from GlassLab on Vimeo.

Peace (in the app),



Book Review: Comic Squad

I’m always a sucker for graphic story/comic collections. One of my touchstone collections is the Flight series of graphic stories that just blow me away every time I crack the cover, and I love it when my students stumble upon the Flight books in my classroom. There’s that “what’s this?” moment that many have, and then they are lugging the book from class to class, coming in the next morning with the question, “Got any more of these?”

We bought Comic Squad: Recess for my son because he is a huge Lunch Lady fan, and of author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, who is one of the co-editors and contributors to the collection of comic shorts here. My son read the collection in about, oh, ten minutes, and then I had a look. The mood and ambience in the collection is light and funny, with jokes planted on the pages between stories and a positive vibe all the way through. Love the remix/mashup page!

I liked the stories well enough, although I think they lacked real narrative depth that I like to see in this kind of book. Comics can and should push the envelope, even for young readers. It’s a wonderfully creative genre that has so many possibilities. I felt as if the stories here didn’t quite reach for the stars, and am hopeful the next collection (promised on the last page) takes a step forward. But that’s also me, being a bit too critical, perhaps. I understand this book is designed for younger readers (prob even younger than my son) and it will certainly get kids reading and maybe looking for further reading, which is part of the point of a collection like this (from a teacher’s standpoint).

And the hat nod to Nerdy Book Club in the opening dedication page? Nicely done.

Peace (in the comic),


My One Little Word for 2015: Pause

It it just me, or is the world cruising by? Last year, my One Little Word was “make” and I did make a lot of stuff over the months of 2014. This year, for 2015, I have decided to “pause” and reflect a bit more. I am one of those “dive in and let’s see” kind of people, and sometimes, I feel as if it is too much. I am giving myself this word to give myself permission to pull back.

I made this animated text over at this site, which is rather nifty.

Peace (in the word),


What I Read in 2014

I use Goodreads all the time to keep tabs on my reading habits, and I participate in the annual self-directed Reading Challenge. I like that it allows me to have a record of my reading (although, oddly enough, I just finished a book last week that I later realized I had already read two years ago … thought some of it sounded familiar).

Goodreads will give you some basic stats, like the star rating system you used, and number of overall pages read, etc.

Here are my books from 2014:

goodread books 2014

Peace (on the shelf),


Put the Message of 2014 in a Box

Message in the box

I was inspired by my friend, Terry, to create a podcast as we ring out 2014. He talks in a post of his the other day about the power of podcasting, and the improvements podcasting needs to stay pertinent in the blogging world, and then pledges to do more podcasting himself. He and I, and others, have talked about the power of voice, and how podcasting brings voice to the front and center, and yet, how many of us don’t do it.

So, here is a podcast to ring out 2014.


Let me say for the record: This podcast is a second, edited attempt at this podcast. I actually had one all planned out, all recorded and even ready to be shared. I had layered my message perfectly on top of a song by World Party, my words sifting in and out of the song. I spent quite a bit of time on the recording, and I thought it worked nicely.

But then … the internal copyright infringement police walked into my brain and asked: Can you do that? Can you use someone else’s full song for your podcast that you want to publish to the world? I asked for advice on Twitter, did some research and realized … I could not do that, not without permission from the Record Company and/or the band, World Party.

Dang it. Foiled by the law … again. And it was back to the mixing board (eh, app) and the result is a much lesser version of the original. But it’s what I have and the message is still there.

But, hey, here is the song on YouTube:

So long, 2014. Hello, 2015.

Peace (in the share),


Slice of Life: Boy Artist, at work

(This is part of Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers in which which bloggers write about the small moments. Come join us! Write your slice!)


The boy, maybe more than 8 years old, sat with his back to all of us. On the floor, near his knee, the tin of colored pencils sat open. On the chair, situated like a table, a small notebook was open and propped up against the back of the chair, a handheld Nintendo DS was open to a game screen. His fingers held the colored pencil, and he examined closely the screen, and then he began to once again color.

He was oblivious to the rest of us in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office, where I was sitting with my son, waiting for our turn to get called to the exam room. The only sound other than the chattering of the office staff was the gurgling of the fish tank. All of us were watching the back of this artist, mostly absentmindedly. Just something to stare at during the waiting.

I watched him, too, though I suspect I was more interested than others, for whatever reason. As I had walked past the boy artist, I had noticed the game on his DS open and his illustration underway was stunningly beautiful, a painstakingly detailed imitation of the screen. I was intrigued. I watched as he slowly, carefully, methodically put away one colored pencil and then carefully, slowly, methodically chose the next color. There was nothing random to what he was doing. It was all very deliberate.

Then, a bit of panic. His fingers searched for a color. Moving pencils back into place. Fingers. Fingers. He glanced around, and I could see something in his eyes. He quickly looked at the ground. He looked on a nearby bench. He put all the pencils away and stood up. He checked himself, hands on pants and in pockets. Glanced around again, for the first time seeming to acknowledge other people in the room, if only to silently accuse us of theft of a pencil. I almost wanted to say, I didn’t take it! I didn’t steal any of your pencils! Do you want me to help you look?

But his mother and older brother came out of the examination room, and he quickly packed up his art gear, gave one last look around, slammed shut his DS, and in seconds, he and his family were gone. Me? I kept looking around for that boy’s lost pencil, for what if that were the exact color he needed to finish his drawing and it was nowhere to be found?

What then? And I could not help wondering later, what color?

Peace (in the artist),

A Look Inside Student Science-based Video Games

Here is a screenshot/video capture look at some of the science-based video games my students are creating, along the science-based theme of cells. You can see a bit about how they are using text and story to frame their game within a science and narrative context. The project weaves game design, science and narrative story together, and many students are now either done or finishing up.

Peace (in the cell),