Happy New Year!


What has NGPM been up to during the last few months of 2013?

After shipping out all of the iPads for the field study, work on NGPM hasn’t stopped. The team has been demoing the apps, traditional classroom activities, and Teacher’s Guide around the country — and the world! But to us, demoing is more about learning from others — the team continues to speak with and learn from brilliant and passionate people, making NGPM a continually evolving project.

Here’s where we’ve been in the last few months:

On October 15th, our Executive Producer Christine Zanchi was part of the NAF Research Roundtable on Digital Media and Early Learning panel on content, where she shared her insights on Design Based Research. Wondering what that is? Design based research brings research and practice together in an iterative process where researchers and practitioners collaborate in real world settings to design products which are contextually relevant. The other participants on the panel were: Deborah Linebarger from the University of Iowa, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek from Temple University, Sandra Calvert from Georgetown University and Jennifer Kotler Clarke from Sesame Workshop.

On October 23, our Producer Jillian Orr lead a workshop titled, “Developing games for developing minds: What research and public media are doing to set the standard” at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank for the Race to the Top Leadership Summit. She spoke about NGPM’s integrated approach that seeks to promote joint media engagement, math talk and collaboration through digital play.

November 13th was an eventful day for NGPM’s Jillian Orr and Ayelet Ronen. They attended the MA STEM Summit, an annual event that brings together leaders and practitioners from Massachusetts’ government, business and education sectors.

December 11th NGPM and RTT took Jillian Orr and Sonja Latimore to San Antonio, TX for workshops at NTI’s Zero to Three Pre-conference, hosted by AVANCE.

It’s been an exciting 2013! We love NGPM and are excited to share what 2014 brings!

Project leaders weigh in

As long as we keep children at the heart of this and learning at the center, and we continue to evolve our practices in collaboration with partners – preschool partners, research partners – I think we can have confidence that we will build out a new age for public media, for learning with technology.”

Summer is winding down, but our team is still going full-force getting our apps and activities classroom-ready. We took a moment to sit down with executive producer Christine Zanchi and one of our research leads, Phil Vahey, to get their thoughts on how NGPM is contributing to the field of technology and early learning. Take a look!

What is Next Gen Math?

In the midst of all the passionate discussions about technology in the classroom, this video reminds us of what’s at the core of what we are doing.

And for those of you new to us:

NGPM is an NSF-funded learning design research project that expands over the period of four years.  Our team is focusing on determining the best approach to integrating technology — in our case, tablet games —  into the preschool classroom to teach math. We’re providing multiple opportunities for learning, from tablet apps to non-digital games and hands-on activities, to real world applications of the learning in preschoolers’ every day lives.

Our development team is working hand-in-hand with learning scientists, preschool teachers, and children to create the materials that comprise the Next Generation Preschool Math project.


Meet the Wonderers!

We’ve got a brand new cast of characters! Meet Teenie and Felix, two energetic and inquisitive twins, and their fun and adventurous friends. Oh, and did we mention that they have an adorable talking robot named Tulip?

Felix, Teenie, Tulip, and all of their friends will be making their way into the NGPM apps and non-digital materials as we continue production through the summer. We’re so excited!

The Wonderers

Field Observation Moments

Last week, we headed back into the preschools — this time focusing on social play and how our apps could encourage children to collaborate and interact. The most memorable moments of the day showed us our work is paying off.

Moment #1: BFBFFs (Bubble Fun Best Friends Forever)
We designed Bubble Fun as a two-player game to help children learn to subitize.   During the pilot study, two little boys were playing Bubble Fun as if they were champion tennis players. Their secret sauce?  Friendship.  They had been best friends all year, virtually inseparable, and that’s what helped them learn from each other while playing Bubble Fun.

Moment #2: The Wave
During free time, the preschoolers were allowed to choose which NGPM games they wanted to play.  We noticed the games travel in waves.  One child would open Sara Skates, and the child next to her would notice and do the same.  Pretty soon all of the children at the table were playing the same game (until, of course, someone decided to switch games and the whole thing started over again).

Moment #3: Like a Boss
We’ve seen that preschoolers mimic each other and follow each other’s lead, and so we feel confident about bringing in game mechanics that are pretty new to preschoolers — like shaking the iPad. Shaking the iPad? Yep. Strange to a preschooler at first, but we’ve seen that children show each other how to play. By using different mechanics, the games allow children to be more social, to help each other, and to play with and learn from each other until they own the game play and the learning goals.

Different Game Modes for Different Learning

As we delve further into this project, we’re finding out that there’s no one-size-fits-all game or type of game that can meet all the needs of preschoolers as they’re learning math. This video provides a peek at the various learning experiences we’re designing through our different types of games:

Several of our games are self-leveling, which means that they respond to a player’s performance, increasing in difficulty when the player is succeeding, or adding more scaffolding and support when the player is struggling. These games are particularly useful for teachers to see how well a preschooler knows the material, so we’re also working on providing a way for teachers to track their students’ progress.

Some of our games are collaborative, which means that they can be played by more than one person. While this type of game isn’t optimal for tracking how a particular student is doing, it’s great for learning from one another and developing the skills needed to work together and share. Our prototype testing at our preschool partner sites has allowed us to observe all kinds of collaborative play happening, and we’re very excited by what we’ve seen.

(Based on what we’ve seen, we think collaborative learning games will be the centerpiece of any impactful technology supplement in the classroom. While there aren’t a lot of examples out there today, we’re keeping an eye out. Check out this Tigerface Games app and let us know what you think!)

Our last set of games are sandbox activities. Like a real sandbox, which has no single purpose or goal, our sandbox games are designed for free play and exploration. We’re still exploring how to best use this type of game for math learning, but we know that the freedom to wonder and discover is crucial for math learning, and a free-play environment can foster that in the classroom. (Check out this video to learn more about a sandbox prototype we’ve been working on.)

Curriculum focus: Subitizing and Equipartition- ing

 We are focusing on two curriculum areas ripe for development at the preschool level: subitizing and equipartitioning. We are advised by some of the top thinkers in early childhood math learning, and have used Doug Clements and Julie Sarama’s learning trajectories to guide us, in addition to the fantastic ongoing research of Jere Confrey (in equipartitioning), Art Baroody and Herbert Ginsburg.

It has been incredibly fun – and challenging – exploring different ways to tackle these two curriculum areas using a blended approach of digital and non-digital materials.

Welcome to Next Gen Math

We are a team of interactive media producers and educational researchers on a mission to create and evaluate new ways of learning and teaching using mobile technology – tablets, specifically – in preschool. Join us as we share our journey through this blog and wrestle with these critical questions:

  • How can a media-rich curriculum supplement support math learning in preschool?
  • How can we take best advantage of all that tablet technology offers learning in the preschool learning environment, where learning is social and often teacher-mediated?
  • How might the technology begin to shift pedagogical practices?
  • What kind of collaboration is developmentally appropriate for four year-olds?

The Next Generation Preschool Math is a 4-year, $3.5m research project that seeks to answer these questions and pose new ones. In partnership with research scientists from the Center on Children and Technology at EDC and SRI International, WGBH will be designing a blended learning suite of 8 tablet apps. The apps will be complemented by non-digital materials designed to integrate with the rhythms and spaces that make a preschool classroom tick – learning centers, snack time, recess and story time.


Thanks to the NGPM team for including my classroom in your project. The children, who otherwise might not have access to this technology and quality content, are always so happy to play with you and your cool tools!

Denise Nelson