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!

Early Math Ability Predicts Later Success

There’s other evidence that math matters early in life.”

New studies show that math ability in secondary school and beyond can be predicted in first grade or earlier. An article in USA Today summarizing recent research in the effects of early math instruction on later math success describes a study done out of the University of Missouri which found that seventh graders who performed poorly on a test of core math skills were those who had lagged behind in number sense and math fluency as first graders.

The profound effect that early math education can have on a child’s educational trajectory should therefore not be underestimated. Parents and caretakers are encouraged to build children’s number sense from “as soon as they’re born,” says Mann Koepke, of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How? Check out the article for tips on how to get your child on the path to developing math fluency!

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.

Preschool Math Programs Face Challenges

What are the challenges facing preschool math programs? EdSource names lack of math content and inadequate professional development as the two main reasons why early math education programs don’t succeed, with cost of professional development and math anxiety among teachers playing smaller but not insignificant roles.

By providing our teachers professional development for math content and pedagogy in our Teacher’s Guide, we’re taking these obstacles head on. Teachers will be able to watch videos, receive lesson plans, and read tips from other teachers, all of which will serve to prepare them for using the NGPM digital and nondigital materials. There is so much potential, and clearly so much work to do! Have you seen any awesome examples of preschool math programs that integrate technology? Let us know!

Read the full EdSource article here.

Can Preschools Save the World?

“It may be the solution… to everything wrong in the world.”

From this quote, you may guess that Alex Blumberg of Planet Money is talking about a whole host of things, preschool being pretty far down on your list. But in this episode of the podcast, Blumberg argues that preschool is critical not only for being ready to learn, but for being successful in one’s adult life. We couldn’t agree more – it’s why we do what we do!

Listen to the full podcast here.

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 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!

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.