The debate over technology being good or bad for kids is over for me. It was something that we as a family had to carefully consider given that we have two rather tech obsessed boys still in primary school!
Dick Hogg the artist and co-creator of Hohocum sums it up well in an interview
where he hopes that in a world where we put salt and sugar into all food his work is more like a plate of nice green vegetables. Having played Hohocum with my children I think he has the right idea. Playing the game with a teachers eye I could see exploitative play, problem solving and brilliant opportunities for collaborative play through gaming. Basically my boys had to work out what they had to do in the game and together they problem solved and even drew up maps to help them find the elusive Guano factory, (Bird poop to those who don't know!).
Minecraft Tuesday has become an institution at home and the boys plan in advance how to make the most of the supervised half hour each they get. Its incredibly social when played with friends or siblings and great social capital for shy children.
Monument Valley was a stunning family adventure that we explored together. Wondering around a serene work of art inspired by M C Escher is clearly a brilliant educational opportunity.
Technology comes in many flavours and is obviously best in moderation. Its something people feel strongly about as shown in kidcrafters talks on the subject. There is a world of difference between several hours on an adrenalin fuelled first person shoot-em-up and a 10 min healthy ed tech snack once or twice a day!
To me as an educator and a mother of a child with special educational needs the debate is over. Technology is going to be in our lives and in the classroom so lets just make sure our children learn to recognise the difference between the organic veg and the Mc D's.
What do teachers bring to app development?
Many games developers pour scorn over the word 'gamification', as it suggests imposing some artificial structure, rendering a game superficial and without true integrity. To some extent I agree, top games have compulsive game play at their core and everything else springs from that. Its something developers feel strongly about and is often hotly debated at Developer Meetups.
However, as an educator I'm not so adverse to gamification, it is actually what teachers do day in and day out. We play charades, supply matching tasks, crosswords, group competitions and many, many strategies which are attempting to 'gamify', sometimes rather dry content.
I would rather students learn 'experientially', and a student centred approach is core to deep learning. Teachers 'light the fire', that can foster the love of life long learning, but the long slog of revision can be vastly improve with some targeted guidance from tech. I'm not sure we can make it 'fun', but we can take the edge off the pain of revision by providing variety and efficiency through gamification.
Another reason for my pro-gamification stance it that even in its 'pointification', form it is in synch with the transformation of data use in schools. The world of education is getting 'smarter', data is driving interventions in school allowing resources to be targeted more effectively. Government initiatives are all pointing at personalised learning plans and games have a place here. 'Pointification', not only motivates, it also allows the student to identify their strengths and areas for development.
Students often over revise the material they feel most comfortable with and duck the less appealing stuff. A student being able to identify and fill the gaps in knowledge is essential to exam success, and to be able to do so in private and at their own pace is a real breakthrough.
The reality of exam study is that there is a point at which it is down to the kids at home hitting their books, consolidating what they have learnt in class. Some kids have no idea how to do this independently! Ed Tech can help them organise that independent study in a smart way. E.g 'smart', flashcards which remove themselves from the pile once mastered, allowing student to focus on weaker points or the harder material.
There is a time and a place for using traditional teaching methods in Ed Tech and our Revision Games Edition is an experiment in just that. It is educational gamification, at it's most traditional, but with a helping 'smart', hand from technology.
Since leaving the classroom this September to set up the MadeByEducators Project, I have missed the kids, so its been lovely to get mails from students who are enjoying our Study Apps. The thing is they are all saying the same thing, our friends are using your apps but we don't have iphones, could you make them available on android. Which we can't for many very good reasons! Developers are focusing on iOS and will do so for the foreseeable future, the cross platform issue is just too enormous on android.
You can take the teacher out of the school but you can't take the hard core social inclusion ethos out! Argggggg! Teachers are so careful to ensure resources and learning opportunities are available to all and I'm not doing that which is very uncomfortable.
I have previously blogged about the private v's state school divide in edtech, there is potential for 'smart', elements in our apps which could give some students an edge, how can we ensure all students get this learning opportunity?
Personalised learning is the watchword in education right now and teachers can't do it all. Technology is going to make learning really interesting, especially for our most vulnerable children so we need to make sure they have access to it.
Dinosaur LettersBy madebyeducators
(2.99) Dinosaur Letters is a wonderful learning to write app. It covers lowercase, uppercase, and cursive letters including the joiners for flow of writing letter to letter. The refreshing thing about this app, is that it is not necessarily about one system of letter formation, but looks at writing as a whole. Letters flow with one continuous movement. This makes learning letters easier for both dyslexic and dyspraxia kids by eliminating starts and stops. I am really grateful for developers like this who take a fresh approach and that chance for the one kid who may benefit by trying something outside the traditional box. Forgot to mention that this app is fun! Not only do you learn, but you get dinosaurs to boot. There are reinforcement mini games of dot to dot dinosaurs and sight word puzzlers. Recommended ~Jo Booth OT on 2013-12-04 18:58:05 ==> User rating: 5 Recommended: Yes
Update of Dinosaur Letters and Spooky Letters in the next month to follow up the release of Crazy Cursive.
It is a little counter intuitive to go to an app to develop social interaction, but for children on the autistic spectrum it can be a safe place to practice. A playground is a socially complex environment with loads of distractions. We started thinking about how to highlight other children in the playground as potential playmates, and then how to reinforce the interaction.
We wanted to ensure the children recognised that the interactions need to be positive so making playmates smile is reinforced with stars/ ice cream/ appearance of fun pets. The game itself is a fun toy that is motivating for all children, there are bonus silly hats, a trip into space, musical bubbles and lots more to keep children engaged.
The game is gradated in so far that initially only one child needed to be happy, then 2,3,4, the penguin makes his own fun! In order to progress the child needs to identify the child looking sad and help to make them happier by helping them on slides, roundabouts etc. We included emotional facial recognition as some children on the spectrum need to practice identifying the emotional states of others.
The characters in the game can be customised to represent the children's real friends to help children to generalise to their peers. Rewards are also personalisable because children have different interests. Parents can record their own positive comment for when the children have played well.
Concepts of reinforcement are loosely based on an ABA style approach to autism, and the ipad does seem to be many children's highest reinforcer. We hope that this toy could be used in schools to facilitate group play and having play tested it extensively in both individual and group settings we feel it has some promise. The London Knowledge Lab has it on its list of potential masters research projects.
For now its a fun Toy aimed at both the neuro-typical and neuro-diverse. With feedback form the ASD community we hope to refine it to be a really helpful toy for children on the spectrum, so if anyone would like to try it for free I'm always happy to send out promo codes. Its called developing for a reason and feedback is everything! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocket-playground/id720938347?mt=8
Educators often create whole lessons that are really aimed at just one or two kids in the class. A teacher knows that a child needs to 'crack', something before they can progress to higher knowledge and rather than single the few children out, a whole class exercise will do the job. And the reality is that the consolidation and sense of mastery for the rest of the class will be no bad thing, extension activities and giving out 'expert', roles will ensure that everyone gets something out of the activity.
We have been guilty of making apps with just those one or two members of the class in mind. Writing apps designed for dyslexia support but useful for all, and now pocket playground, a fun play toy designed for children with social communication difficulties.
Aiming for the 'edges', the non-typical, the neuro-diverse is not a sensible marketing strategy, but hopefully it is a good educational one.
One of the best bits of being a start up is developing skills in lots of different areas, however as an educator I have very limited knowledge of branding and marketing.
Jog took the time to look over our work before the meeting and in an hour and a half filled in some BIG gaps in our teams knowledge and expertise.
We had been thinking we would have to split into two projects, one for kids and one for the study apps, then there were the apps for teachers and the mix of SEN across the apps. It was all getting a bit messy!Splitting up the project would be a shame as there is significant value in having all of our apps under one roof. Happily Jog did not see this as necessary and likened MadeByEducators to the BBC (which was nice!). Robert suggested thinking of our ranges as channels under a broadcasting company, with one simple logo which could be adapted for the different channels.
Hetti had the business side covered and gave me some sound advice re pricing. I think as a startup we are still over the moon that our apps are selling and were not bold enough to match our competitors on price. Robert and Hetti were confidently united that this was detrimental to the projects success as it was important to build a reputation as making 'quality' resource early on.
There were many other suggestions that I would not have fully considered before; actually paying the teachers to make the apps rather than partnerships would really speed things up, creating an app to market our site as more effective than a site alone, potential sponsorship for our free SEN apps and ad's in traditional media just before mocks and the exams.
Getting expert input like this so early on (its only been 2 months since launch of the MadeByEducators project), will make a huge impact on where we grow from here and if we grow enough I hope to use Jog's expertise again in the future!
We may have taken Jog's advice about 'core', values rather literally!
Here are some of our ideas for new logo. The idea is that we could place the logo in each app with different ways to get into the core of the apple. Feels nice as lots of opportunities for problem solving and playful uses of the ipad's features.
Thank you to Jog Ltd for running their workshop on brand identity at Google Campus today. Robert Smith and Hetti Cheung kindly gave us their time and considerable expertise to get start ups thinking about unspoken branding.
Their work with several major brands highlighted the importance of identifying our core values and attempting to pinpoint a singular idea that reflects our project. I found the singular idea very easy, learning. MadeByEducators only came about as we saw a need to use the power of mobile / haptic devices to support self paced personalised learning, particularly for students with non typical learning styles.
Putting this singular idea into a non-verbal form was much, much harder, I previously posted on our logo dilemma which is still not settled. 'Proxemics', was also tricky as we are an app development company working out of my kitchen so no 'space',to style! Although we will take up the idea of a board or space which we can use to keep focused on why we are doing this in the first place.
Haptics were really my kind of challenge and got me thinking about how Pocket Playground reflects our core values better than any of our apps so far. You can 'play', with it making music, moving toys, tipping, building, you can even shout at it to make the sails on the windmill turn so its really tuning in to a variety of communication styles while attempting to be 'language', free.
We should really use elements of Pocket playground in our logo.
We also had group activities around considering the narrative of our companies, and incorporating our stories into our 'branding'. The story of MadeByEducators is largely one of necessity as traditional learning may well fail my child with special educational needs. Our story is also about a passion for allowing all children to access learning and embracing change,... not sure how to brand that.
The workshop also got me thinking about what a logo really is in this modern iOS7 sensory landscape. Could a logo be more haptic, more interactive, could it be embedded into our apps as an interactive feature?
Hummm... pocket playground is not released yet so still time!