Five Weeks to the Hackathon!

First things first: registration is now open for our hackathon, happening on November 18 and 19th! Get all the deets and sign up for a ticket:

How is it that a week has already gone by since our last update? Time is flying and the hackathon will be here before we know it. Here’s what’s on our minds this week:

Nailing Down a Clear Purpose

From the beginning, we knew that we wanted the hackathon to focus on creative problem solving for healthy childhood development. But that’s a rather broad topic, and the further we get in the planning process, the more we’re having to pinpoint exactly what our mission is. How do we frame the problem in a way that makes sense to our participants and provides them enough room to think creatively, without making it too broad that it’s unclear? What aspect of childhood development do we think would our participants be best suited to try to solve? These questions have been swimming around in our heads for a few weeks now, so we’ve decided to try to nail it down as best as we can.

So, without further ado, the mission of our hackathon—the problem we’re trying to solve—is:

Strengthening communication between parents and other adults to support each child’s holistic, healthy development

Let’s unpack that a little:

Parents and other adults: We know that so many different adults touch a child’s life. From parents and other family members, to teachers, babysitters, pediatricians, nurses, and so many more, raising a child takes a whole community of people.

Strengthen the communication: With stress and so many things competing for time, interactions between parents and other adults that care for the child can feel rushed, disconnected, or unbalanced. How can we support ways to not only share information but build stronger relationships that support each other and is centered around the child?

Holistic, healthy development: Health includes physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and mental health. So how can we approach a child’s development holistically and account for all dimensions of health?

Iterating on the Agenda

We’ve had a rough draft of the agenda for a few weeks now, but as we shop it around to different interested parties, we’re refining it further to ensure that participants have the best experience possible and that we use everyone’s time wisely. This week, we met with two lead designers who gave us the following suggestions:

  • Reserve time for participants to get to know each other. Our participants are going to be working in teams for two days, so we’ll want to make sure there’s time for introductions at the very least. Even better would be ice breaker-type activities to loosen everyone up and help them feel comfortable.
  • Show off examples of work that we do at WGBH. Showing participants examples of apps or sites we’ve developed at WGBH—such as the media we create for Peep and the Big Wide World, a preschool STEM property—could help inspire and build confidence in the expertise that our team brings to the hackathon.
  • Reserve time to get creative juices flowing. If you’re running a race, you probably want to warm up first. Same goes for the hackathon: to help our participants best tap into their wells of creativity, we’ll want to do some initial brainstorming exercises to get their mind warmed up.
  • Separate the proposed problems from the proposed solutions. Initially, we were planning to have the parents/teachers/healthcare professionals brainstorm problems and solutions, and then pitch those ideas to the designers/developers. Our design leads encouraged us to have the designers/developers be involved in generating those solutions. Not only are the designers and developers professional problem-solvers, they’re also likely to enjoy being part of the brainstorming process and be more invested in the solutions.

We’re planning to incorporate these great suggestions into our agenda, while continuing to seek more feedback from other team members.

Confirming Who’s Attending

We’re fortunate in that we have a full design and development team in house, so we have reserved hackathon time with a number of our team members. We’ve also begun reaching out to other designers and developers in our community and to parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals. Although the hackathon is still five weeks away, we’ve specified our numbers and are now in full recruitment phase!

We’re also thinking ahead to after the event; we want to make sure we schedule time now for post-hackathon reflection with the participants (through surveys) and our team (in person). So stay tuned!

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!