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GM Genius: Teaching High School Students via Fantasy Football & Scholarships

RotoWire is proud to partner with non-profit How I Decide'sGM Geniusa program that teaches useful life lessons to high school students, in exchange for the chance to win college scholarships via fantasy football.  Yes, it's true, fantasy football is helping educate kids.  The non-profit's real goal is to train teenagers how to make better life decisions.  And they've decided that fantasy football, is the perfect vehicle for helping kids learn.  We at RotoWire, of course, love this idea, which is a major reason for why we are supplying our content for their GM Genius game. Read below to learn how your favorite high schooler can have a shot at a scholarship by playing fantasy football.

Ramin Mohajer is the Director of Operations for How I Decide.  He recently spoke with us to better illuminate how fantasy football is helping kids.

RotoWire:  Ramin, congrats on the initial success of GM Genius!  We loved the ESPN story.  Why do you think the game is receiving such a warm welcome?

Ramin Mohajer:  Thanks, Ken. We have been really excited about the tremendous interest from students, educators, the fantasy community, and the media. In addition to the ESPN piece, it has been featured on a few blogs, and we have a couple radio appearances planned this week.

I think GM Genius appeals to each of these groups for slightly different reasons, although all are centered on the idea of teaching kids in a fun and unique way. For students, GM Genius varies greatly from other scholarship competitions; while most scholarships are based on essays and/or strict academic requirements, this taps into a genuine interest for many teens. Similarly, educators are always looking for ways to use something kids love to teach them important material. I think that it appeals to the fantasy community because it's a new take on fantasy sports that shows the breadth of the industry and how fantasy sports can have a social and educational value. Finally, in terms of the media and the general public, almost everyone has at least heard about fantasy football, but using it for educational purposes (especially to teach critical thinking and decision-making in the context of a scholarship competition) is innovative and exciting.

[caption id="attachment_22634" align="alignnone" width="700"] Ramin Mohajer speaking at the 2017 Summer FSTA meeting in New York.[/caption]

RW: Ramin, how does the game help high schoolers become better decision makers?

Ramin: Using animated videos, it introduces them to important concepts related to processing information and making decisions and then illustrates how they play out in fantasy football and in their own lives. Students will also have the chance to think through and apply these concepts with every lineup decision they make in our game and their personal fantasy leagues.

For example, students might learn about a "cognitive bias" (or a common error that people make when they make decisions) and how to overcome it when setting their lineups, as well as making decisions in other areas of their lives.

RW: Are you really giving away scholarships?  How big are these prizes?

Ramin:  We absolutely are! The grand prize is a $5,000 college scholarship (which comes with the opportunity for a matching grant of $5,000 for the winner's school), and there are also $2,500 and $1,250 prizes for second and third place in the national competition. In addition, thanks to our growing list of sponsors, we have a $2,500 scholarship for the top-finishing student in Dallas and ten $500 to $1,000 scholarships for the top-finishing students in certain high schools nationwide.  There are also hundreds of weekly prizes in the form of gift cards and some "surprise" prizes throughout the season.

RW: What do you mean by "critical thinking skills"?  Can you provide an example and how GM Genius helps?

Ramin: For us, critical thinking skills are concepts and strategies to help students actively and thoughtfully filter, analyze, and test information so that they can make better decisions. There is a big movement in education now to emphasize critical thinking, and it's a major emphasis of the Common Core. In this day and age, where information is all around us and accessible at our fingertips, we think it's vital to focus on how to think critically about it.

For example, knowing how to critically analyze news articles is key; we teach kids about the types of questions they should be asking themselves every time they read something to judge its relevance and reliability.

[caption id="attachment_22632" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Ramin and his daughter, Eva.[/caption]

RW:  What was your Board members' initial response when you said "I want to use fantasy football to help kids?"

Ramin:  There was interest from the very beginning in at least exploring this path because we thought it had great potential to connect with teens. We were discussing ways to work directly with students and knew that it had to be something that truly interested a large number of students. Decision-making is all around us and can be illustrated in virtually all domains, so we try to have an open-mind on various approaches and program types. As we dug deeper, we realized that fantasy football really is a great fit in terms of illustrating what we wanted to convey and that it could bring a level of engagement that is hard to attain with traditional academic programs.

RW:  I have two kids in high school.  How do I sign them up for GM Genius?

Ramin: It's quick and easy! They can go to to register and join or create a league.

RW: I hear the educational topics change each week.  What are some of the topics you have planned for this season?

Ramin:  Yes, each week before they can set their lineups, students will watch a brief video focused on a different lesson and answer a few related multiple choice questions. The lessons focus on probabilistic thinking, evaluating information, and resisting cognitive biases. Some topics include deciphering skill and luck, using expected value to make better predictions/forecasts, testing news media to assess how information should change decisions, and understanding cognitive biases such as the availability and confirmation bias and how they apply in fantasy football and real life.

RW: Do my kids need to be fantasy football experts to do well on GM Genius?

Ramin: Absolutely not. In fact, we have specifically designed the competition to meaningfully level the playing field with respect to existing fantasy football knowledge and to highlight decision-making and thinking skill over fantasy skill. For example, the game focuses only on the top fantasy players at the core positions so you don't need to be familiar with kickers, second string running backs, and so on. Furthermore, we provide all users with the same set of stats and news/injury updates about each player so they're generally up to speed without having to do side research.

A hearty THANK YOU from RotoWire to Ramin and How I Decide for the good work they are doing to advance the education of American high school students.  Please encourage your high schoolers to sign up and play!