Archive for the 'Kids’ Related Research' Category

Spatial Learning and STEM: What are we missing?

Monday, March 5th, 2018

[The following is an article I wrote for the February 2018 issue of Children’s Technology Review.]

[The above image on the left is a 1971 cover of Science Magazine, which at the time published a seminal spatial research paper by Roger Shepard and Jacqueline Metzler called Mental rotation of three‐dimensional objects. The screen shot on the right is an homage to Shepard & Metzler’s paper, created in the virtual world Minecraft.]

Educators who want to help children get a leg up in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) have heard improving one’s spatial ability can be a key component to success. Research (see references at end of article) has shown students who have strong spatial skills often outperform their peers in STEM subjects, and have long‐term success in STEM related fields. But what exactly helps a student grow their spatial aptitude? Let’s take a closer look.

Young children who have access to building experiences and construction toys is a good first start. Wooden blocks, Lego, Mega Bloks, K’Nex, Meccano Erector Sets, TinkerToys all are helpful in exposing young children to spatial concepts that might carry into STEM studies and careers. No wires or batteries required.

Playing with apps and video games, flying drones and programming robots can provide additional opportunities to engage in spatial thinking. But it’s worth pointing out some differences in what spatial skills are learned in each medium.

In the world of video games, reading a map and navigating space as a player is a common game mechanic. It’s an element of spatial understanding most players have mastered. Minecraft and Roblox are popular examples. (Ironically, very little research has been done to understand the benefits of using these games from a spatial learning perspective.)

Other less known apps such as Blox 3D World by Appy Monkeys Software and Lightbot by LightBot Inc. also require navigating through and around a 3D space.

Programming robots is another method often used to navigate space. A student is asked to write few lines of code that will move a robot from point A to point B on a map. Two different skills are used to complete this task. First reading a flat two‐dimensional map, and second translating that information in one’s mind to navigate a three‐dimensional space with your robot. Such exercises can flex one’s spatial muscles. But reading maps and navigating space in the real world is just one part of spatial understanding. There are others as well.

A growing body of research demonstrates other spatial exercises could help improve a students spatial abilities further still. These examples look inward instead of outward. For example, the ability to mentally rotate an object in one’s mind has huge benefits to increasing one’s spatial abilities. Folding a two-dimensional object in one’s mind into a three-dimensional object is another.

Changing the perspective of an object, or even visualizing what an object would look like if cut in half, all great exercises that strengthen one’s spatial ability. It’s these latter approaches that are often overlooked in a classroom setting, and are exercises that provide great benefits in STEM‐focused classrooms and careers.

Spatial exercises like these were first seen with Nintendo’s Brain Age games and the Big Brain Academy titles for the Nintendo DS platform, but have rarely been seen since. Occasionally you can find a rather clinical implementation of these spatial exercises that are not designed for kids. However, there are a few hidden gems worth knowing about that explore this other spatial domain.

Relationshapes by VizuVizu is one of my favorite examples. Players young or old position, rotate, scale and match 2D shapes. It’s a great app for practicing 2D mental rotations.

klocki by Rainbow Train is another great 2D mental rotations game.

Cyberchase 3D Builder for PBSkids by Curious Media. Folding paper (like activities found in Nintendo Labo) is an under utilized exercise for building spatial abilities. Folding 2D nets into 3D objects provides a great opportunity to practice mental folding.

Foldify by Pixle. A fun craft like exercise that also helps users see the relationship of drawing on a 2D surface and how that 2D information is translated to a folded 3D object.

Crafty Cut by Touch Press is a rare gem, and a hard to find spatial experience known as mental cutting. Users try cutting a 3D object to a desired 2D shape.

Any student, or adult, who might be challenged by weak spatial abilities can strengthen their skills through practice of these games and activities.

Further reading:

Newcombe, N. (2010). Picture This: Increasing Math and Science Learning by Improving Spatial Thinking. American Educator, 86m 29-43. Retrieved from http://www.qwww.spatiallearning.org/publications_pdfs/Newcombe_000.pdf

Shepard, R. N., & Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three‐dimensional objects. Science, 171(3972), 701‐703. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.171.3972.701

Uttal, D. H., & Cohen, C. A. (2012). Spatial Thinking and STEM Education. When, Why, and How? Psychology of Learning and Motivation – Advances in Research and Theory, 57, 147-181. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-394293-7.00004-2

Uttal, D. H., Meadow, N. G., Tipton, E., Hand, L. L., Alden, A. R., Warren, C., & Newcombe, N. S. (2013). The malleability of spatial skills: A meta-analysis of training studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139(2), 352. DOI: 10.1037/a0028446

Wai, J., Lubinski, D. & Benbow, C. (2009). Spatial ability for STEM domains: Aligning over 50 years of cumulative psychological knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 817-835. DOI: 10.1037/a0016127

Scott Traylor is a former computer science teacher and the vice president of software design at Wonder Workshop. He’s also the founder of 360KID and a consultant to many children’s interactive businesses and products, none of which are mentioned in this article. Scott can be reached at Scott@360KID.com.

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Understanding the AAP’s updated screen guidelines

Friday, October 28th, 2016

[The following is a feature article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, October 21, 2016.]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a long history of providing recommendations to parents on how best to raise healthy children. Nearly two decades ago, the AAP began outlining stipulations regarding appropriate media usage for kids. In earlier days, that meant mostly television. Today, as we are well aware, kids’ media consumption extends to mobile devices—and oftentimes begins at the tender age of six months.

So, it’s safe to say change is in the air. Last fall, the AAP revised its media guidelines to be more in sync with family life, effectively letting go of the once-held belief that kids under the age of two should completely abstain from screens. Which brings us to today.

Of the three policy statements released at the AAP National Conference in San Francisco this morning, the association’s latest recommendations for parents with young children include:

  • No media use at all for children under 18 months. The only exception to this recommendation is if families use Skype or FaceTime to stay connected with one another, as long as parental support is included as part of this screen time activity.

  • Parent co-viewing and shared media use is vitally important among 1.5- to two-year-olds. Research has still yet to demonstrate the benefits of media use for children under the age of two, but there appears to be learning benefits, as long as a parent is actively engaged in the co-viewing experience.

  • Limit media use to no more than one hour per day for children ages two to five. During this time, parents should be encouraging high-quality educational and pro-social media content, and should continue to participate in the media experience with their child as they grow to help them understand what he or she is seeing.

  • Make sure media use does not replace non-media activities like outdoor play, social time with friends and family, and reading together. Parents are urged to take time away from screened media to do other things with their child.

  • No media use one hour before bedtime. Studies show children sleep better when they are not engaged in media before bedtime.

Given the rapid advancement of digital media businesses and services, the AAP has been challenged to offer timely research-based guidance to parents and pediatricians. In looking through the list of 191 referenced articles and research reports mentioned across the three AAP policy statements, you see a lot of new research, with almost 30% of referenced research released since 2015. For a list of all referenced research, and links to download free and paid research, click here.

As a developer, I’m inclined to call out some missing and important parts of kids’ digital media usage: Are interactive screens any better or worse for young children than passive screens? Is passive television viewing worse for a child than a mobile learning game, or connecting with a family member on a tablet using Skype? The answers, as of today, continue to be elusive.

The reality is that screens are everywhere, not all screens are created equal, and most people use them heavily throughout their day.

One 2015 study (Kabali et al) referenced in the AAP documents showed most two year olds in the US use a mobile device on a daily basis, and most one year olds (92%) have used a mobile device. Collectively, 96% of all children ages zero to four have used mobile devices. This data is striking, but especially noteworthy when compared to a 2013 Common Sense Media report (Rideout et al). During the two years between when these studies were conducted, television screen time dropped and mobile screen time quadrupled for this age group. Would you call this a media tipping point? And what recommendations does the AAP have for media creators?

To that end:

  • The AAP asks developers to avoid making any apps for children under 18 months of age.

  • When creating new products, work with a developmental psychologist and an educator to help advise age-appropriate content and digital engagement.

  • Design media products for a dual audience, so parents and children can enjoy a shared media experience together.

  • Provide appropriate, responsive and authentic feedback to the child through your product.

  • Do not include any advertisements. Children of this age group can’t tell the difference between content meant for them or an ad.

  • Formally test your product for educational value before promoting educational claims.

  • Consider adding parent dashboards or preference areas where a parent can find helpful feedback on their child’s use of the product and/or customize the experience to monitor and limit overall time being used.

The amount of research and information reviewed by the AAP and synthesized across the three policy documents is impressive, and a helpful benchmark for parents, pediatricians and media creators alike. As this ever-evolving conversation continues in the months and years ahead, there will always be a great need for more research that looks at content as well as the latest distribution methods.

Scott Traylor is the founder of 360KID and a consultant to many children’s interactive businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article). He’s also a former computer science teacher and currently lives in Silicon Valley, searching for the next big opportunity in the children’s industry. Scott can be reached at Scott@360KID.com.

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Links to full list of AAP referenced research

Friday, October 21st, 2016

On Friday October 21, 2016 the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) released three policy statements regarding health recommendations on media use by children. A review of these policy statements shows the AAP has referenced 190 different research papers and articles to support their position. Almost 30% of the papers were made available in 2015 and 2016, and generally reference a large body of helpful information regarding screen use by American youth. Over 75% of the referenced research can be downloaded for free. In an effort to help advance the interests of researchers, educators, and industry here is a collection of all of the AAP referenced research in an Excel spreadsheet with links to easily access and download all of the material.

A collection links to the AAP referenced research on children and screens

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Children’s Conferences for 2016

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Photo of a conference hall

Our great big list of kids conferences for 2016 is ready to be released! It’s a compilation of major events that touch on different areas of the children’s media world. Apps, toys, eBooks, education, television, video games, and more. A similar list was created last year at this time for 2015 conferences. The 2016 list is now available in two flavors. The first is a PDF doc that sorts events chronologically. The second PDF segments conferences by media type, or focus.

You may be asking yourself, “Is every children’s media event included on this list?” The answer is no. There are 68 events listed here and you could easily add hundreds more. However, the conferences included tend to be among the biggest or best known events in their specific area of focus.

A few notes about what’s new in our conference list since last year:

  • Conferences related to virtual reality and augmented reality were added as this business sector is heating up fast. These events are not specifically child focused, but is an area worth watching as it could offer new opportunities with children’s media down the road.

  • One digital video conference, VidCon, was added as more and more kids watch digital videos on mobile devices. Another event to look for is YouTube’s Brandcast, which at the time of writing has not publicly announced a date for 2016.

  • Two big children’s research conferences, Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and the Cognitive Development Society (CDS) are biennual events, and 2016 is an off year for each. See you in 2017!

  • The iKids event from Brunico has been folded into their annual Kidscreen conference.

  • Early Education & Technology for Children (EETC) has been folded into the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) annual conference.

  • Also not included at the time of posting, Common Sense Media and Vicky Rideout should have a Zero to Eight media use report out sometime in 2016. An event date has yet to be announced but I’m told to look for it later in the year.

If you know of other events not included on our list that could be of benefit to the children’s media community, please do share a comment below, complete with the event name, date(s), location, and URL. Thanks for your help, and I look forward to seeing you at a future event!

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A Year of Children’s Conferences

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Photo of a conference hall

Where do you go to stay smart in the kids interactive industry? What conferences keep you on top of your craft, while also helping you grow your network? What events are vital to attend to learn the latest trends? There are so many conferences these days which ones are right for you? Look no further, here’s a compiled conference list to get you started! It covers areas of the children’s interactive media business like toys, eBooks, video games, children’s television, apps, play, research, consumer products, and more. The list below covers most of the big US and international shows in 2015, and just a few important smaller events.

You can download a PDF copy of this list here. Let us know what you think. Which events do you attend? What speakers draw you to an event? If there’s an event that’s not on this list, and you think it’s important, please let us know in the comments below.


# Conference w link Location Date(s) Focus
1 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Las Vegas, NV 1/6-9/15 Hardware, tech
2 Kids@Play Las Vegas, NV 1/7/15 KidTech
3 Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair Hong Kong 1/12-15/15 Toys
4 Digital Book World New York, NY 1/13-15/15 eBooks
5 FETC Orlando, FL 1/20-23/15 Ed tech
6 PAXsouth San Antonio, TX 1/23-25/15 Gaming
7 Nuremburg Toy Fair Nuremburg 1/28-2/2/15 Toys
8 NY Toy Fair New York, NY 2/14-17/15 Toys
9 Digital Kids Conference New York, NY 2/15-17/15 KidTech
10 Kidscreen Summit Miami, FL 2/23-26/15 Broadcast, Children’s TV
11 iKids Miami, FL 2/26/15 KidTech
12 Game Developers Conference (GDC) San Fran, CA 3/2-6/15 Gaming
13 PAXeast Boston, MA 3/6-8/15 Gaming
14 SXSWedu Austin, TX 3/9-12 2015 Education
15 SXSW Gaming Expo Austin, TX 3/13-16/15 Gaming
16 SXSW Interactive Austin, TX 3/13-17/15 Interactive
17 SXSW Music Austin, TX 3/17-22/15 Music
18 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Philadelphia, PA 3/19-21/15 Research
19 Sandbox Summit Cambridge, MA 3/22-24/15 Play
20 Dust or Magic Masterclass Bologna 3/25/15 eBooks
21 Bologna Children’s Book Faire Bologna 3/30-4/2/15 Books
22 Early Education & Technology for Children (EETC) Salt Lake City, UT 3/15 Early ed, edtech
23 London Book Fair London, UK 4/14-16/15 Books
24 Games for Change New York, NY 4/21-23/15 Serious games
25 Dust or Magic eBook Retreat Honesdale, PA 4/15 eBooks
26 PlayCon Scottsdale, AZ 4/29-5/1/15 Toys
27 Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) San Fran, CA 5/3-5/15 Ed tech
28 Maker Faire Bay Area San Mateo, CA 5/16-17/15 Maker
29 Book Expo America (BEA) New York, NY 5/27-29/15 eBooks
30 AppCamp Pacific Grove, CA 5/30-6/2/15 Children’s Apps
31 “Content in Context (CIC, AAP) Wash DC 6/1-3/15 Ed publishing
32 NAEYC Professional Development conference New Orleans, LA 6/7-10/15 Early ed
33 Licensing Expo Las Vegas, NV 6/9-11/15 Licensing
34 Digital Media & Learning (DML) LA, CA 6/11-13/15 Ed tech
35 E3 LA, CA 6/16-18/15 Gaming
36 Interaction Design & Children (IDC) Medford, MA 6/21-24/15 Research
37 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Philadelphia, PA 6/28-7/1/15 Ed tech
38 Children’s Media Conference (Professional) Sheffield, UK 7/1-3/15 Broadcast
39 Playful Learning Summit Maddison, WI 7/7/15 Serious games
40 Games, Learning & Society (GLS) Maddison, WI 7/8-10/15 Serious games
41 ComicCom San Diego, CA 7/9-12/15 Entertainment
42 International Reading Association (IRA) St. Louis, MO 7/17-20/15 Education, reading
43 Serious Play LA, CA 7/15 Serious games
44 Casual Connect San Fran, CA 8/11-13/15 Gaming
45 Burning Man Black Rock Desert, NV 8/29-9/5/15 Art, mind
46 Digital Kids Summit San Fran, CA 9/15 KidTech
47 World Congress of Play San Fran, CA 9/15 Toys
48 Maker Faire New York New York, NY 9/26-27/15 Maker
49 MIP Jr. Cannes, France 10/2-4/15 Children’s television
50 MDR EdNet Atlanta, GA 10/4-6/15 Ed tech
51 MIPcom Cannes, France 10/5-8/15 Television
52 Fall Toy Preview Dallas, TX 10/6-8/15 Toys
53 Meaningful Play East Lansing, MI 10/15 Serious games
54 CineKid Amsterdam ~10/18-22/15 Interactive
55 Dust or Magic Lambertville, NJ 11/1-3/15 Kidtech, children’s apps
56 NAEYC Annual Conference TBA 11/15 Early ed
57 ChiTAG Chicago, IL 11/20-23/15 Toys
58 SIIA Education Business Forum New York, NY 12/15 Ed tech
59 Star Wars Episode VII release US 12/18/15 Entertainment

NOTE: Items highlighted in red indicate specifics about an event that have yet to be announced as of 11/10/2014.

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