Archive for the 'Age 16-18/Grade 11-12/Teens' Category

Game On with Katie Salen at Quest to Learn

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Katie Salen, visionary behind a new school in New York City called Quest to Learn

It seems wherever I travel, educational publishers, learning theorists, and teachers of all kinds bring up the concept of learning through interactive games. It’s an idea that’s been picking up steam over the last few years, and why not? Research from the PEW Internet and American Life Project last year found that 98% kids ages 12 – 17 play video games. Organizations like the MacArthur Foundation have been funding a small number of projects to test out new ideas for using interactive games with learning in mind. A few months ago I came across a great article in the Economist about a new public school opening in New York City that uses gaming principles to teach its students. At the recent Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age conference held at the Google headquarters, I had the opportunity to speak with Katie Salen, the visionary behind this initiative. You can view a short video of my interview with Katie on the Cooney Center YouTube channel or read the complete interview below. Portions of this interview were edited for clarity:


Tell us about your new school, Quest to Learn.

How did you recruit teachers for your school?

Was it hard to get teachers around the concept of teaching from a game design perspective?

How are the students working with the teachers who apply this teaching model?

How do you divide up the class day?

Is it your intent to open up more Quest to Learn schools?


Scott Traylor: Tell us about the work you’re involved in with the start of your new school, Quest to Learn.

Katie Salen: I run a nonprofit called Institute of Play. Two years ago we started work on a new school with an organization called New Visions for Public Schools. Our new school is called Quest to Learn. The MacArthur Foundation gave us a two year planning grant around the school. The work that we’ve been doing at the Institute of Play centers around the idea of games and learning. We’re really interested in the idea of how we can develop a school that doesn’t necessarily use games in the classroom, but does use game design principles in learning spaces. Our idea was to design a school from the ground up built on those ideas.

We opened Quest to Learn this past September. It will eventually be a 6 to 12th grade school but we started with just the sixth grade this year. Next year we will roll in another grade, continuing to add an additional grade each year for the next six years.

Today we have six teachers and 79 students. We’re located in New York City, in Manhattan. It’s a district two school so we could recruit kids from a specific geographic area in Manhattan. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: How did you go about recruiting teachers for your school?

Salen: We think the way we recruit teachers is actually very interesting. Our process is one in which anybody we bring into the school needs to be immersed in our model. We held a series of four-hour workshops on Sundays for teachers that were interested in our school. They come in, we put them through a learning problem that kids would have and then they do some work with us around assessment. From the list of interested teachers we narrowed it down to a smaller group and then took them through a series of interviews. We also do direct observation in our classrooms.

We had some really specific criteria for the teachers we were looking for. First, teachers had to be content experts, they had to really know their content. Next, the teachers we looked for have to be really good collaborators. Teachers didn’t necessarily have to be technology people, and a lot of them weren’t necessarily gaming people either, but they were able to work in teams or had come from schools where they worked in teams. They had to have a very good sense of how to enable kids to be innovators. This was very important to us. And finally, teachers had to have done project-based work before, our curriculum includes project-based work in it. Those were the three criteria that we looked for. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: Was it hard to get teachers around the concept of teaching from a game design perspective?

Salen: You know, when you begin to explain to a teacher how a game designer thinks about the design of the game, and we’re able to show them a one-to-one parallel with how they think about teaching students, they say “Oh, it’s the same thing.” Then they realize “Oh, maybe it’s the words that are different” and so it’s about helping them understand and translate between something like the term “core mechanic” in games, which talks about the primary activity of the player, and the learning design, because the curriculum is the basic activity of the lesson. It’s a learning curve for everybody. Game language, as with any other language, can feel very specialist, but the concepts aren’t so new. That’s our whole argument. Games actually model good learning and good teachers are immersed in good learning all the time. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: Quest to Learn has only been in operation for a short while now. Any observations this early about how the students are working with the teachers who apply this model?

Salen: Well the interesting thing is that the kids are so excited to come to school every day. We have parents saying this is the first time that their student has ever come home excited to tell them about what they’re doing in school. This is the first time that their child gets up out of bed and wants to go to school. So that’s great just from an engagement perspective. It’s a place where kids feel safe. It’s a place where they feel excited about coming which is no small feat for a new school where kids are coming from many different neighborhoods. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: How do you divide up the class day?

Salen: When you design a school from the ground up, you attend to every detail. One of the things we spent a lot of time thinking about was the daily schedule. A lot of schools use the Carnegie Unit, classes that are 45 to 50 minutes long. We don’t believe good learning can happen in 45 minutes. From the beginning we wanted to use block scheduling which are extended periods of time.

The main classes we offer, domain classes, last 88 minutes. In a typical day a student will take two domain classes. Since we have an integrated curriculum students will take a class that’s an integrated math/science class and an integrated math/English language arts class. They may be dealing with three or four subjects in a day, but only in two full classes.

There are shorter classes called annex classes, which are extended enrichment and literacy periods. There’s also a gym period for 50 minutes.

For elementary school kids it’s a bit of a shift to be in a class for 88 minutes because they’re used to changing topics with every 45-minute class period. Because our students are working in a problem-based way, the time goes by in a second. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: Looking to the future, is it your intent to open up more Quest to Learn schools?

Salen: Everyone always asks us about scale. To be honest, it’s not the first thing we’re thinking about. We’re still in a fact-finding stage to understand what’s working about our model. However, our curriculum is modular. We piloted it in schools before we opened Quest. Everything we produce is open source and online. Any teacher can take what we’ve created and use it right now. The professional development program we have is something that could be used by any school. Our vision is not to make a hundred or two hundred Quest to Learn schools. Over time maybe other organizations will be inspired by the ideas we developed and seek to build schools that share a similar model. (Return to Question Picker)

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May the Force be with you… Star Wars Force Trainer by Uncle Milton

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

NY Toy Fair 2009 – Cool Tech Find Number 2

Photo of the Star Wars Force Trainer by the toy company Uncle Milton Industries

Have you ever had something fall behind the couch, just out of reach, and you think to yourself “If I just could use my mental abilities to reach that item, I would have it by now.” Well, we’re a whole lot closer to successfully making this happen than ever before. Soon you’ll be able to channel that mental energy and grab that item by using your powers of the Force. That’s right! The Force.

At this year’s Toy Fair, the toy company called Uncle Milton announced their latest creation, the Force Trainer. It’s part of a collection of science products recently unveiled at the show called Star Wars Science.

The Star Wars Force Trainer comes with a headset that reads certain kinds of brain activity, and a base station that receives those brain signals. Inside the base station (the Training Station) is a ball (the Training Sphere) enclosed within a clear tube. As the headset captures focused thoughts from the user, it converts those signals into instructions to power a fan within the base station, which in turn lifts up the ball within the clear tube. The more the user concentrates, the higher the ball floats. The less concentration, the lower the ball floats. The voice of Yoda helps you attempt to master 15 different Force Training activities included within this technology toy.

The ability to capture brain activity and channel it towards some device may be something we see more of in the future. A number of video game companies as well as other business enterprises are exploring this brain wave capturing technology for commercial use. One company in the San Jose, CA area called NeuroSky appears to be the way out in front with developing the technology, and currently offers a licensing and training program to learn more about it.

The Star Wars Force Trainer will become available on July 23, 2009 and will sell for just under $120.

Now, if I could just use my newly acquired powers of the Force to find my car keys, I’d be on my way to saving the universe from powers of the dark side. Check out the video below to see how you too can master your feelings with the Force Trainer.

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Rubik’s TouchCube, A Digital Spin to a Classic Puzzle

Monday, February 16th, 2009

NY Toy Fair 2009 – Day 1 Cool Tech Find

Photo of the Digital Rubik's Cube by Techno Source

On opening day of the 2009 Toy Fair event in New York City, I began my search for new toy products that include unique application of technology for the benefit of enhancing play. While I only covered a small fraction of the show’s floor (7 hours of isle wandering), I came across a few products that caught my eye. One being a digital facelift to the classic Rubik’s cube, promoted by a company called Techno Source.

Let me start off by saying that I am not a Rubik’s cube fan. I never could figure out those darn things. But I thought a couple of tech features applied to this toy were really groundbreaking.

First, users interact with this non-twisting cube by touching the different surfaces with a finger. It immediately comes across as an iPhone touch interface. Slide a finger along a row of lighted tiles made the cube “rotate.”

Next, the cube has a built in accelerometer used to determine the active display face. Once the accelerometer has figured out which way is up, it only allows the upward face to be changed through touch. This way a users holding the cube with both hands from the side will not alter the puzzle’s surfaces in unexpected ways.

There’s a button to give you a hint if needed. Also included is multiple levels of undo so you can roll the surfaces back to a point where you think you may have made a mistake. When the TouchCube is rested in its docking bay to be recharged, the cube puts on a unique visual display. Think of this as your new digital lava lamp.

The Rubik’s TouchCube is available for purchase in the Fall and is being offered for a suggested retail price of $149.99. Check out video below to see the product in action.

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Winning Online: Age Distinctions Smooth Success in Social Media

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

[The following is an article I wrote for the October 2008 issue of Playthings Magazine. For those unfamiliar with Playthings, it is the oldest (over 105 years in circulation!) and most widely respected professional toy magazine in all of North America. Playthings reports on the business of play as well as trends that not only impact the toy industry but also children across the globe.]

Social networking, social media, virtual worlds; the Web 2.0 world is on fire, and sites that touch on some part of social media are rapidly growing. Sites that allow individuals to come together, form online communities, and share thoughts and different media types in a virtual way are feeding this ever-changing way to engage with others online.

Plain and simple, people are social creatures. It’s wired into our being. The concept of social networking is not new. It’s been part of our DNA since the dawn of time. Some researchers think that our desire as humans to socialize is an instinct that plays a part in our survival. Only recently has the term “social” been applied to interacting online, allowing individuals to become virtually engaged with others who share common interests across the street or around the globe. And social network destinations are not just for adults and business people, they’re of great interest to kids. Many adults may first have become aware of social networking sites through high profile business acquisitions with noteworthy online companies like MySpace or Club Penguin. Kids, on the other hand, often learn about child-friendly equivalents by word of mouth, from friends at school or the playground.

But just what are the current growth trends? What is the makeup of existing social networking sites today and how—and better yet, why—are kids interested in them? Where are the new opportunities yet to be explored by future businesses? How can a traditional toy business better integrate these new virtual play patterns into existing physical products?

Worlds worth watching

One way to begin chipping away at these questions is to take a look at the wealth of social network products available on the market today. There are literally dozens of sites that people young and old use.

In fact, once a list of social networking sites is identified, a clear demographic split can be seen, and two distinct user groups emerge. One group includes children ages 12 and under; the other includes teens between the ages of 13 and 18.

What is this age group distinction about? In part, the separation has to do with privacy laws that protect young children online. Another factor is that each group comes to these products with a different set of social interests. There are also differences in communication style across the age groups as well as access to and understanding of different technology types.

Before building our list of sites, it’s important to identify the critical social networking features these destinations have in common. The criteria used for this article includes features that allow its user base to communicate with one another in a real time or a delayed manner using open chat, filtered chat, or canned chat —the three main methods of communicating online through such sites. The ability to communicate with other members in these sites is usually, though not always, accomplished through interacting in a virtual world. First, let’s take a look at a list of destinations that appeal to children age 12 and under.

Popular Social Networking Destinations Used by Children Age 12 and Under
BarbieGirls 2007 MinyanLand 2008 SuperClubsPlus 2006
Beanie Babies 2.0 2008 Mokitown 2001 ToonTown 2003
Be-Bratz 2007 Moshi Monsters 2007 TyGirls 2007
Club Penguin 2005 MyEPets 2007 Webkinz 2005
Club Tuki 2007 MyNoggin 2007 Whyville 1999
Dizzywood 2007 Nicktropolis 2007 YoKidsYo 2006
Gold Star Café 2007 Panwapa 2007 Yomod 2007
Horseland Jr. 2006 Postopia 2001 ZooKazoo 2008
Imbee 2006 Shining Stars 2007
Kidscom 2001 Stardoll 2004
NOTE: The year listed next to the social networking site indicates the time that the site launched or the time the site first began offering social networking tools.

Next, a similar list can be created for popular social networking services that appeal to users between the ages of 13 and 18. The method of communication in these sites for older users tends to be more open-ended and less likely to be monitored or filtered when compared to sites for their younger counterparts.

Popular Social Networking Destinations Used by Children Age 13 – 18
Bebo 2005 Horseland 1998 Postopia 2001
CityPixel 2006 Millsberry 2004 PuzzlePirates 2002
Facebook 2004 MySpace 1999 Runescape 2001
Friendster 2002 MyYearbook 2005 Teen Second Life 2005
Gaia Online 2003 Neopets 1999 WeeWorld 2006
Habbo Hotel 2000 Orkut 2004 Xanga 2000
Hi5 2004 Piczo 2004 Zwinktopia 2007
NOTE: The year listed next to the social networking site indicates the time that the site launched or the time the site first began offering social networking tools.

When the above two sets of data are mapped out over time and placed on top of each other, adding up the number of new social network products launched within each year for both age groups, some interesting trends present themselves.

Line chart showing new social networking website starts by year.

[NOTE: This line chart above showing the two sets of historical data layered on top of one another did not make it into the magazine article. I am adding it here to the blog post only. -ST]

It’s impossible to ignore the recent growth in new social networking products launched each year that target children ages 12 and under. In 2007 alone there were at least 13 such products announced for this demographic. And 2008 is shaping up to be a banner year for new announcements. During this year’s Toy Fair, I counted 12 new social networking and virtual world announcements, products that have, for the most part, yet to go live. What’s surprising is that over the same time frame, social networking products that appeal to teens have remained somewhat steady in new business starts and consistent year over year. Yet, both demographics are experiencing significant activity in new membership growth and Web traffic month after month. So why is it that the younger demographic is experiencing a greater surge in business startups? Let’s explore a few theories that may answer this question.

Not all social networking products that are appealing to teens are developed specifically for teens. These destinations are often developed to appeal to audiences over the age of 18, but have found success with users between the ages of 13 and 18. Conversely, almost all sites for kids ages 12 and under are intentionally developed for these younger audiences.

It’s possible that older users of social networking products are more loyal to a specific social networking site, whereas the younger demographic is more transient in its social networking choices, preferring to use multiple sites over time instead of staying with just one.

The younger demographic may have greater turnover in users and shorter life cycles (churn) with social networking products that target them than their older counterparts. In the children’s magazine space, for example, it’s not uncommon to hear that an audience base and related subscriptions changes every 18 months. The same could be true for an online world created for younger audiences.

Many younger social networking services are tied to consumer products like plush toys or are affiliated with on-air television programming, whereas services targeted at older users are usually not. While an older demographic has more expendable income than the younger, it may also be a harder group to sell a specific consumer product to in a social networking manner based on ever changing consumer tastes.

Social network destinations that appeal to our older group may see significant growth in add-on services like widgets and other related micro businesses and technologies, whereas the younger social networking destinations do not have the ability to tie in other, similar business extensions.

While both age groups use avatars to represent themselves in an online world, the younger services rely more heavily on avatar use than services for older users. Representing oneself with an avatar online may have greater appeal with younger users.

Services targeting older users take advantage of additional forms of social engagement, like media exchange (photos, music and video). These are offered in addition to engagement through written communication. Few destinations for younger audiences offer the same opportunity to share different media types.

Social networking services for older users do not need to mask a user’s identity, though identities can be hidden, changed and altered at will. Younger services hide all possibility of making oneself identifiable online. The need to protect the identity of young users is a clear distinction that separates the two groups.

Revenue models differ as well. The services for older users rely heavily on ad-driven models. Some younger services also rely on “in world” advertisement but can also take advantage of tangible product sales and/or monthly subscription models.

A number of toy companies have taken steps into the online social networking world for kids, resulting in varying degrees of success. Some companies simply offer an online destination alone while others offer a tangible product (like a plush toy) together with a virtual product, each touching on a different play pattern or desire. Webkinz World and Club Penguin are often cited as exemplary successes in the kids’ space. Others, less so.

Almost, but not quite right

An offering like Mattel’s Barbie Girls is a high profile example of a site that hit kids’ engagement levels correctly but fell short with the related MP3 product that tied into it. It was a case of a strong online solution with a weak tangible product. Ty’s Beanie Babies 2.0 has the opposite problem. Ty’s plush toys are loved by many a child but its online offering falls short in ongoing engagement after its initial use.

It’s easier to correct an online shortcoming by continuing to evaluate, test, build and expand such sites than it is to correct a problem with a tangible consumer product once it’s in the marketplace, but getting both virtual and physical products correct from the first day of launch is vitally important. In the early days of Club Penguin, before the official launch of the site in October 2005, an earlier iteration of Club Penguin called Penguin Chat existed for a couple of years. It was extremely limited compared to other social networking products offered today. But the creators of Club Penguin continued to build and add to this first step with additional features and games. The same is very much true for Ganz’s Webkinz World. Both sites’ initial offerings were smaller than they are today, built largely on a shoestring budget, sweat equity and love, but both offered an acceptable level of quality content, quality experience and user engagement with kids right from the start.

Looking towards 2009, we will continue to see even more ways to engage in virtual worlds, resulting in unique and specialized methods of socializing and participating in communities online. Some technology products for holiday 2008 will connect to the Web via USB ports. Additional connectivity through cell phones or other mobile technologies could provide ongoing social opportunities when access to a computer is not available. Stay tuned for more innovation and opportunity in this ever-changing, ever-expanding online world for children, teens and adults alike.

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Sandbox Summit: The Importance of Play in Learning

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Last week I attended a conference called the Sandbox Summit in New York City. The Summit was a day long event with many noteworthy speakers who are software and content creators, child development experts, and reviewers of technology toys for children. The event’s main theme? The power of play and its ability to help facilitate learning.


During the opening keynote, speaker Andy Berndt, managing director of Google’s Creative Lab, described how almost everyone can remember a favorite toy when they were young (link to audio of presentation.) Andy shared his favorite play activity, that being a creative experience which involved the process of inventing new bicycles. When he was a child, what he did was take apart many different bicycles, and because bicycle parts for the most part are standardized in terms of their bolt sizes and screws used to make them, he was able to recombine different bicycle parts into unique, unusual, and exciting combinations. One could say that Andy’s open ended experimentation with bicycle parts was on par with play experiences found in Legos, K’Nex, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and the like. What is it about Andy’s creative experience that can lead to insights on how best to help facilitate a love of learning? Read on.

The Importance of Play and its Relationship to Learning

The next speaker who I thought did a fantastic job of providing an overview on the importance of play and the learning opportunities that come from play was Nancy Schulman, the director of the 92nd Street Y Nursery School in New York City (link to audio of presentation.) Nancy shared with the audience that one of the best things about her job for the last 18 years was the wonderful opportunity to watch young children play. With that experience she has learned a great deal about the benefits of play not just for preschoolers, but for all ages.

Nancy expressed that educators, psychologists, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics have great concerns today about the quality of children’s play, how children play, and the quantity of time children play. Parents on the other hand express a lot of concern around wanting their children prepared for success at a very early age. Through her work, Nancy speaks with many parents. One of the greatest anxieties she hears from parents is that they want to be sure their child has every advantage, making sure that before they’re five years old they’ve mastered a second language, mastered every sport they might possibly play, and excel at playing a musical instrument as well. While child professionals are encouraging more open ended play in a child’s life, sadly most parents aren’t paying much attention to these recommendations.

When Nancy was asked “What types of skills do kids learn through play? And why is that meaningful in terms of a child’s lifelong appreciation for learning or confidence in their ability to learn?” she responded first with a quote from child development expert David Elkind of Tufts University:

“Play is not a luxury, but rather a crucial dynamic of healthy, physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development at all ages.”

Nancy then discussed each of these developmental benefits and how child initiated play can lay the foundation for learning:

  • Social – “Through play, children learn to interact with others. Play prepares children for morale reasoning. They figure out how to resolve a problem with a friend independently.”

  • Intellectual – “They learn to recognize and solve problems. Children get that feeling of mastery that only comes from when they’re challenged but not frustrated at the same time. In academic areas, play is linked to creativity, imagination, and problem solving skills and it lays the groundwork for successful learning experiences in reading, writing, math, and science. If you think about what children do when they play, it’s very language rich. They are interacting with words and language all the time and learning communication skills.”

  • Physical – “In terms of physical development, they can develop through play fine motor skills, gross motor skills, overall strength and integration of their muscles, their brains, and their nerves. It sets apart a start in their lives for healthy living and fitness, which of course, can counter obesity as well.”

  • Emotional – “Play is Joyful. It is probably one of the greatest underpinnings for later adult happiness. It can’t be underestimated how much happiness and joy have in terms of learning as well.”

Survey of Kids Opinions about Play

The next speaker who offered some additional insight into what kids think about their favorite play objects was Peter Shafer, Vice President of Harris Interactive (link to audio of presentation.) Peter shared with the audience a recent online survey conducted in collaboration with the Sandbox Summit of 1,353 US children ages 8 to 18.

There was a wealth of data to digest in this presentation that spoke to tween and teen toy preferences as well as video games and digital toy products. In general I found this data interesting in that it backs up many gut assumptions about what different age groups prefer in their toy playing experiences.

One observation, it appears the definition of a “toy” was intentionally left undefined in this survey. Did survey respondents think a toy was a traditional toy, a technology toy, or maybe even a video game? Parts of the survey appeared to suggest what the differentiation of a toy was while other questions were not as clear.

Here are a few pieces of data I found interesting to pull out of the Harris Interactive Sandbox Summit survey press release:

“How much do you agree or disagree with the following?”
Summary of Strongly/Somewhat Agree


8-12 Year Olds

13-18 Year Olds









The most important part of a toy is that it is entertaining.





Toys that involve technology, like video and computer games and handheld games or toys, are more fun than other toys.





I enjoy toys or games that make me think.





I would rather have a toy or game that is fun to play even if it does not help me learn.





Toys are important in our lives to help us learn.





I call your attention to a couple of specific items from the survey (colored in light blue.) For the 8 to 12 age group the most popular response for a toy product was that it should be “entertaining” whereas with the 13 to 18 year old group there is a great appeal in products that “make me think”.

Best Practices for Developing Playful Products

After the Harris Interactive presentation, Carly Shuler, a Cooney Fellow from Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center and educational technologist Carla Engelbrecht Fisher delivered a presentation called “Fun Follows Function: Ten Tips for Developing Quality Toys”. Below I briefly outline each tip, but you can download an audio recording or download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation here.

  1. Bridge the gap between industry and academia – This first tip strongly suggests the benefit of bringing together multidisciplinary teams (child development experts, content experts, pedagogy experts, etc.) This first tip is one my company follows frequently. There’s a great paper by Brian Winn and Carrie Heeter, both from Michigan State University, about the important balance needed (and often the necessary heated debate) that comes from working collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams. A copy of this paper can be downloaded here.)

  2. Incorporate research and testing in your product development and discovery process – Any amount of testing, large or small, will have a beneficial impact on your product’s development. From informal focus and user testing groups to serious product research efforts there’s a research approach that can fit your budget.

  3. Track what users do in your product – There’s lots to be learned from watching how your target audience interacts with your product either informally or through data collection. Spend time analyzing what you find.

  4. Read some research – Become familiar with the basics of developmental psychology for the specific age group your developing for. Doing this will help avoid reinventing the wheel. A handout was shared at the conference with many great places to jump start your research reading list. A copy of this reading list can be downloaded here.

  5. Become an observer – Watch kids at play in the real world or even on YouTube (a cool suggestion offered by Carla). Watch how kids interact with products, visit playgrounds, schools, toy stores. Note what’s on the shelf and where it’s located. Also be aware of what’s on sale, it may provide a tip for what’s not selling.

  6. Break the traditional model of one child per screen – Think outside tradition single player models. Think multiple players, or better yet, how can you actively encourage inter-generational participation! Think outside the keyboard box, consider alternative input devices (dance pads, guitars, balance boards.) Consider how you could combine virtual and physical worlds in new ways (like the success Webkins achieved with dual play patterns online and offline.)

  7. Leverage consumer market trends for learning – Consider user generated content, online video, or casual game approaches. Be aware of these every changing trends and you just might find one that will greatly elevate the success of your product.

  8. Go beyond the “3 R’s” – Think 21st Century Skills: Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication. For more on 21st Century Learning Skills, download this presentation from the May, 2008 Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s first annual symposium.

  9. Become familiar with various game mechanics – There are many different game mechanics that could increase interest and engagement in your product. Some old mechanics can be made new again with the newest technologies.

  10. Tap into your own childhood – Everyone has childhood experiences that can help shape your product for the better. Tap into your own experiences as well as those around you.

Note about Virtual Worlds

Kids and virtual worlds was touched on a few times throughout the day but I thought the following statement was worth calling out in its own section. Peter Shafer of Harris Interactive indicated that we will see explosive growth in the area of virtual worlds specifically for kids. The numbers cited were that there are about 80 virtual world destinations for kids today and by the end of 2010 there will be more than 150 virtual worlds to choose from. For a current list of virtual worlds available, I have the following link to share.


So what’s the key take away for developers, innovators and creators of playful learning products for kids, whether traditional or technological? Here’s the secret sauce that was repeated over an over again through words and through examples:

  • Make the play experience as open ended as possible. Think about opportunities for vast exploration, not a limited path of play. Include opportunities to fail as well as ones to succeed. Let each child develop their own unique path to play, one that is customizable enough that it appeals to a single user and flexible enough that multiple users can find their own unique approach.
  • Bring together a variety of child experts.
  • Become familiar with research.
  • Watch your audience, get familiar with your audience, test with your audience.
  • Try something new! Break the habit of relying on the same old technology and user input solutions.
  • Think 21st Century Skills

Nancy Schulman also offered this sage advice:

“If your child can’t play with a toy in at least three different ways, leave it behind.”

And one last thought for making the next greatest learning toy, digital or otherwise… Think bicycle parts.

Referenced Products and Videos

Here’s a list of digital products and online YouTube videos that were referenced throughout the Summit.

Apple Ad Andy Berndt from Google reference this old Apple ad called “Industrial Revelation” that looked at computers and their power to significantly enhance learning empowerment

Dizzywood Scott Arpajian’s latest virtual world environment. In Scott’s presentation, he touches on how schools are using Dizzywood to promote student diversity
Huru Humi Mike Nakamura of Senario, demonstrates his company’s latest digital avatar toy that is designed to encourage self-discovery and social skills by using technology to spur real-life interaction among tweens and teens.
Kerpoof Kerpoof is an empowering online creative tool for kids.
Kidthing Kidthing CEO Larry Hitchcock presents his safe digital online environment which can be used for distributing entertainment and learning material
LeapFrog’s Learning Path Jim Gray, Director of Learning for LeapFrog, discusses LeapFrog’s Learning Path, and online component to LeapFrog’s consumer products that lets parents see and shape a child’s learning.
Backyard FX – How to make Movie Rain Erik Beck, who is a producer for NextNewNetworks develops an online low budget video show called Backyard FX. Erik’s work is wonderfully creative and the audience cheered his YouTube presentation on how to make “movie rain”. It was an excellent example of how best to combine a technology and creative vision. The example video is a must see!
Sabi Games Margaret Johnson, CEO and Cofounder of Sabi Games, discussed her upcoming learning games release that is worth keeping an eye on. Stay tuned for more from Sabi in October.
Scratch Mitchel Resnick’s online creativity and collaborative learning project called Scratch. For an interview with Mitchel about Scratch and his learning approach embedded throughout the product, click here.
Sesame Street Makeda Mays Green discusses the newly relaunched preschool learning website at
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