It has helped me become a better teacher.

Melisa Perez is an incredible teacher. From her, we’ve learned so much. She and her classroom children (along with 52 other teachers and over 300 additional children) worked with us to create the Early Math with Gracie & Friends apps and curriculum.

In our work with teachers like Melisa, we ask them to stretch beyond what they typically teach, and we support teachers by providing rich professional development and resources like our Teacher’s Guide. We also listen closely to teachers like Melisa so we can design our materials (including our apps and teacher support materials) in a way that real teachers find useful in real classrooms.

Many of the teaching strategies and words that Melisa used in her classroom are now part of the delicate scaffolding and audio feedback in the Early Math with Gracie & Friends apps. Many of her approaches with our hands-on activities helped shape the curriculum. We have been blessed to have her as part of the team!

To our delight, Melisa shared with us a little insight into how the Gracie & Friends apps and curriculum have also helped her.

That’s true partnership. That’s public media at its heart. That’s what makes First 8 Studios at WGBH.

A True Birthday Celebration for Gracie & Friends!

After four years of National Science Foundation-funded research and development, our team launched the first of the eight game apps last week! Our iPad app Gracie & Friends Birthday Café is now available in the Apple App Store!

The app is part of Early Math with Gracie & Friends™— our new, mobile app series and math curriculum supplement developed by the First 8 Studios at WGBH team under the Next Generation Preschool Math project. A randomized control trial demonstrated significant learning gains among the children who used the apps.

The hands-on activities are currently available at the First 8 Studios at WGBH Web site! The remaining apps will be released in the Apple App Store over the upcoming months, and the digital Teacher’s Guide will be released in early 2015.

Our own Christine Zanchi, Executive Producer, says, “The Gracie & Friends apps are laying the research foundation for how to use technology with young children. Our research and preschool partners, the teachers and children, are integral to this process. As this and other projects demonstrate, public media has an incredible role to play in setting the bar for mobile learning.”

We’re so excited to share our work with the world!

Video Notes from the Field: Innovative Game Mechanics

This child is playing our Lemonade Stand game for the first time. This was a HIGHLY debated game mechanic – using the accelerometer – kids lifting and shaking the tablet not only caused concern about damage but also that the mental energy consumed by learning the game mechanics would displace mathematical thinking. The “cognitive load” of learning and switching between multiple advanced game mechanics does not appear to be getting the way of his math learning.

Thoughtful Design of Digital Toys

We recently came across some great “Tips for Choosing Digital Toys for Your Children” from the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media.  How does Next Generation Preschool Math measure up?  Find out below.

“Don’t insert technology when the real-world experience is better.”

The NGPM team believes in the power of play – both on-screen and off. NGPM integrates read-aloud books, board games, playground activities, and snack time mini-lessons to support children’s learning. Digital games supplement these activities and provide experiences that children can’t get so easily in their everyday world, like playing with clouds!

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“The best screen media—and by extension, toy-media hybrids—don’t use every amazing technology available, but choose only those that best suit their goals.”

There are so many ways to use technology to teach math to preschoolers. We started NGPM with devices that are intuitive to preschoolers: iPads. By prototyping over 50 games, we then identified specific game mechanics that would best allow children to explore the math topics and also engage various types of learners. Each game is designed for the unique learning goals.

“Well-designed tech toys—like high-quality screen media—leave room for the child’s active contribution.”

We couldn’t agree more.  NGPM offers traditional self-leveling games, with an objective, scaffolding, and advancement only upon mastering the learning goal presented; “sandbox” games, where children can freely explore; collaborative games for children to contribute to each other’s learning; and opportunities for children to contribute their own content, like creating their own characters with pictures they take of themselves.

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Play Testing Moments

An integral part of our development process is taking our games out to preschools to test with kids. The kids show us how they use the iPads, which inspires us to think about what’s still needed. Check out some of the highlights from the testing of our games!

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.)

WeetWoo! A Safe Video Player App for Preschool Kids

WeetWoo! is a great app for the preschool market. Basically, it’s YouTube for young children. The videos on the app have all been reviewed and handpicked by parents and are deemed safe and appropriate for the age group. The layout of the app is really easy to use and the video content ranges with clips from Sesame Street, Caillou, Blue’s Clues, and many others.

Reviews for this highly rated app can be found here and here.

PlayScience Lab Notes – A One Stop Source for Everything Children’s Media

As we all know, it’s often difficult to comb through the myriad of blogs, webpages, review sites, and research reports that reflect the current findings and trends in children’s media. PlayScience is a company that specializes in collecting field data as well as writing blogs about childhood technology, media, and play. However, my favorite offering from PlayScience is the Lab Notes; a weekly e-newsletter. Every week, the LabNotes bring together that week’s biggest articles, videos, and posts about anything dealing with childhood, technology, and media. Some of the topics from recent Lab Notes newsletters include:

PlayScience is a fantastic way to stay updated on recent findings in childhood play and education without having to spend a lot of time investigating.