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.)

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.

Pre-K STEM Technology Curriculum (Featuring Denise)

Our own NGPM teacher partner, Denise Nelson, is taking the reigns on STEM learning in her classroom! Great work, Denise!

In the Boston.com article, “Looking ahead, preschools add tech to the curriculum,” preschools are focusing more on STEM learning as curriculum for Pre-K students is becoming more formalized.The government is taking action to place greater emphasis on STEM education and millions of dollars are being invested in priming children for careers–or at least knowledge in STEM fields.

The appropriate and most effective ratio of formal STEM curriculum and technology to traditional preschool play is still under debate and research, which makes the NGPM project perfectly timed to be a voice in the debate!


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

Meet the Team: The Designers

Name:  Dan Nolan
Role on the NGPM team:

Lead Designer… I’ll be making stuff, like buttons and arrows, and I’ll be making sure kids are having fun and learning about math when they play these games.

My favorite thing about preschool is…

Gluing things together! Especially things that don’t usually go together like crayons and blocks.

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say…

How many are there? No don’t count!

In addition to Next Generation Preschool Math, NGPM also stands for…

Next Generation PIONEERS of Math (and technology)


Name:  Frank LeClair
Role on the NGPM team:

My favorite thing about preschool is…

When I was in preschool, my favorite thing was totally nap time and the sand box. However, now that I’m all grown up, I see that the real beauty of preschool is in the students themselves. Because the preschool environment is less obligatory, the students really have the opportunity to discover and investigate at their own will. Of course they’re young so they do need guidance, but it’s in that moment of discovery when a student makes a new connection that the real significance of preschool is evident.

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say…

Hi Little buddy, Subitizing is when you see a group of objects and you can say how many objects there are without having to count each individual item.

In addition to Next Generation Preschool Math, NGPM also stands for…

Nice Goin’ Prehistoric Man


Name:  Chi-Yun Lau

Role on the NGPM team:
Does Art Monkey count? Barring that, how about gameplay and art asset designer.

My favorite thing about preschool is…
The anticipation of sending my child there next year 

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say…
It’s a necessary skill you need to learn in order to better sort your Pokemon (if kids still play Pokemon)

In addition to Next Generation Preschool Math, NGPM also stands for…
Um… No Gorillas Peeling Mangoes?

Meet the Team: The Developers

 Name: Jolin Yim (not to be confused with my name twin – J.O. (Jillian Orr))

Role on the NGPM team: Developer – the person who makes the awesome fun games.

My favorite thing about preschool is… Nap Time!!

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say… When I hold up two fingers and you immediately think of the number 2.
In addition to Next Generation Preschool Math, NGPM also stands for… The National Generous Persons Movement – where everyone is nice to everyone.
Any other comments? I love doing research (*ahem* playing games) for this project!

Name:  Kevin!

Role on the NGPM team: Developer

Meet the Team: The Producers

Name: Christine Zanchi 

Role on the NGPM team: Chief Possibility Officer

My favorite thing about preschool is… Play-doh, finger paints and nap time.

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say… Group it and scoop it!

In addition to Next Generation Preschool Math, NGPM also stands for...Nerdy Group Playing Monkey games


Jillian Orr

Role on the NGPM team: Project manager– Helping out the team in any way I’m able

My favorite thing about preschool is… The hilarious and adorable children!

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say… “subitizing” means “how many you can see right away”

In addition to Next Generation Preschool Math, NGPM also stands for... “Now, go play more!”

Any more comments? It’s a pleasure to be able to work so closely with the Education team here at WGBH as well as the researchers from SRI and EDC. Everyone working on this project is extremely talented and is working so hard to make sure that we produce the best — most educational and most fun — assets. The team is in it for all the right reasons, and that makes for a fantastic experience overall. The team rocks!


Anna Ho

Role on the NGPM team: As the team intern, I support various aspects of the project. I also provide my expertise on all things cute and silly.

My favorite thing about preschool is… playing pretend. Imagination is the superpower of all preschoolers.

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say… subitizing is when you look at something and know right away how many there are– without having to count! It’s another great preschool superpower.

In addition to Next Generation Preschool Math, NGPM also stands for... Nap? Gotta Play Math!

Meet the Team: Education Outreach

Sonja Latimore

Role on the NGPM team: help to conceptualize the overall project, with particular focus on the online teacher’s guide educational content and offline student materials

My favorite thing about preschool is… The kids are adorable, wide open, honest, and smart as a whip

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say… how many here, QUICK!

 Any other comments? I’m excited to be involved with this innovative educational tech project. Will learn a lot about integrating tech into preschool and develop new skills for the future


Name: Elly Schottman

Role on the NGPM team: To suggest off-line classroom activities (playground games, snack time and learning center activities, read-aloud books, etc. that support the math learning goals of the tablet games (subitizing and equipartionining). To create manuscript for the online TG, giving teachers the information and tools they need to use the online and offline activities we provide, to help kids get the most out of these resources, and to monitor the kids’ understanding and progress. And in general, to brainstorm and collaborate with the rest of the NGPM team.

My favorite thing about preschool is… There is good stuff to play with people who are interested in playing with you.

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say… It’s a big word that mean “Look quick and tell me how many things you see!” For example, when I hold up my fingers like this, how many fingers do you see?

 In addition to Next Generation Math, NGPM also stands for… Nearly Global Psychic Meltdown? No Good Parents mantra? No Growth Population Movement?


Name: Mary Haggerty

Role on the NGPM team: As the Manager for Educational Outreach, I selected our Massachusetts pilot sites in Lawrence and Worcester, and am responsible for maintaining communication with center directors, teacher trainers, and classroom teachers. I would also say that a second role for me on NGPM is that of student. This initiative is a real learning experience for me in terms of math concepts, and how digital media can accelerate children’s learning.

My favorite thing about preschool is… children’s positivity. They are so eager to learn and explore.

If I had to explain subitizing to a four-year old, I would say…

“Subitizing” was a new term for me, and the way it was explained to me was quite simple: it’s the ability to quickly look at a group of objects and know how many objects make up that group. So, I would explain it to a four-year-old in similar simple terms. I’d probably demonstrate subitizing with a four-year-old as a way to explain the term.

 In addition to Next Generation Math, NGPM also stands for…

Couldn’t think of anything clever, so I decided to do a Google search of “NGPM” to see how other groups are using the acronym. The search came up with 99,900 results in  0.43 seconds. One result: “Nested Grid Particle Mesh,” which I’m told is a cosmology algorithm used to study gravitational instability, sounds interesting.

iPad meets Preschooler

This week the team took our stack of iPad 2s out into the preschool world, and introduced the tablets to a lively group of children in Worcester, MA. We knew that the children would enjoy interacting with the tablets, but we did not expect them to adapt to the touch interface with such gusto. The multi-sensory experiences afforded by the tablets seemed to be right up their alley!

The NGPM team is still in the process of exploring how the interactive media experience will fit into the overall classroom experience, but one thing is clear, the power of the touch interface is that children can be the captains of their learning experience with little to no training. Can you imagine that feeling of dashing off onto the high seas, spurred only by your curiosity and a fearless spirit of adventure? Sure, it’s quite a risky maneuver, but imagine the payoff when you finally realize for yourself where it is you’re going!

Though it’s not recommended for daily use, here are some ways you can experience the iPad like a preschooler:

1) First things first, never worry about rules or instructions. If you don’t know what to do, try to figure it out. That’s the fun part!
2) Tap anything that catches your fancy.
3) If something cool happens, show your friends.
4) If nothing happens, just move on and find something else that catches your fancy.
5). Tap, swipe, or drag without fear of consequences. The worst that can happen is that you have to restart.
6) Still can’t figure out how to play a game? No problem. Make your own rules.
7) Clean hands are optional.
8) Last, but not least, take the time to marvel at all the exciting little things you’ve seen, learned, and done.


– Anna the NGPM Intern