Archive for the 'Video Links' Category

Tech Toy Magic at Toy Fair

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

For more than a decade I’ve been going to the annual NY Toy Fair, and I go primarily for one reason. To check out the latest technology toys. I’ve seen some amazing toys over the years, as well as hundreds, maybe thousands of other toys that just didn’t make the cut. This year a few new tech toy products caught my eye, and I’d like to share what excites me about them. I’m not highlighting these products because of their suggested retail price, and my praise has nothing to do with how well I think they might sell come next holiday season. My interest is in the idea, and the execution of that idea. With that as background, let’s dig in.

Barbie’s Makeup Mirror by Mattel

Mattel's new Barbie Makeover Mirror nicely integrates an iPad with pretend play.

Let me start by saying Barbie is not my thing. I’m not really drawn to Barbie, and I usually pass right by all things related to dolls, but not this year. In an iPad world filled with shovelware there are few tangible toy and app collaborations that rise to the level of noteworthy. There have been too many forced mergers of toys and apps together on the iPad that simply don’t work. The toy world has been carelessly forcing this merger, hoping to find an answer without actually understanding the question… and that’s where this Barbie product really shines. Finally, someone merged software and a child’s play pattern together seamlessly. This vanity toy reminds me of the vanity toy tables that were popular with young girls many years ago. Dress up and pretend play have always been a strong play pattern with young children. This app and toy combination hits the nail on the head, by using the iPad’s onboard camera to allow a user to play and try on different personalities through digital makeup, and then easily share those creations with a friend. Lots of fun and lots of strong play. Bravo Mattel! My hope is what you have created will shine as a beacon for the rest of the toy world (and app world as well) to learn from, that you just can’t throw an app and a toy together and call it fun. Find the play pattern first, and build from there. Plain and simple.

Flutterbyes by Spin Master

Spin Master's newest flying creation, the flying fairy.

This next tech toy product defines a real milestone in the toy industry. The Spin Master flying fairy product called Flutterbyes nearly knocked me over when I saw it. Why? The toy industry has been dreaming of bringing a small flying fairy to market long before I started attending Toy Fair. I’ve seen toy inventors talk about it, wonder, plan, scheme, invent, try, fail, try again, and yet there has never been any really great breakthrough. Ever. Until now. Spin Master did it, and it makes sense that they achieved this milestone since they have been sitting on some serious flying toy technology through their Air Hogs line. This milestone marks the beginning of light weight rechargeable batteries that can be a part of all kinds of future flying toys, as well as the flying stabilization technology included within. Just imagine where this will go. This flying fairy is one simple, and elegant toy. Well done Spin Master! (Video clip)

Cubelets by Modular Robotics

Cubelets by Modular Robotics

I grew up on electronics kits. Lot’s of pre-cut wires and metal spring connectors were part of my everyday electronic play. Spending say 30 minutes building a project with another 15 minutes to figure out where the mistake was in order for the whole thing to work. No more! Cubelets has success built-in from the moment you place one cube next to another. Cubelets are a series of electronic cubes where each cube has its own unique characteristic. Some cubes are power sources. Others have motors. Some have lights. Others include sensors and some even include modifiable logic through programming. There’s even a website where you can download sample programming code made by other Cubelet fans to try out on your own. What most electronic kits miss is the ability to experiment and this collection of cubes allows for never ending building and experimentation. Want to make your own motion detection robot? Easy. Want to make a lighthouse? Done. Have an idea for something totally unique and original? You can make it! This is an amazingly powerful toy with endless possibilities. I can’t wait to see how this company grows over the next year. (Video clip)

Romo the controllable, programmable robot by Romotive

These are the big ideas I thought were executed marvelously at this year’s Toy Fair. I do have additions to my list, but I have been following these products and companies long before Toy Fair. They include Romo the robot from Romotive (video clip), Sphero from Orbotix (video clip), and the brainwave sensing technology from the company NeuroSky. All strong contenders to keep an eye out for in the tech toy space this year.

Did you go to Toy Fair? Was there a toy or technology that caught your attention? Was there something you saw that was a step forward in this space? Or maybe a step backward? Please share in the comments below!

ISTE 2012: Sir Ken Through a Mirror Called Twitter

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

[The following is an article I wrote for the August 2012 issue of Children’s Technology Review.]

Sir Ken Robinson opening keynote remarks at the 2012 ISTE Conference

Last month, 18,000+ tech-loving educators gathered at the San Diego convention center for ISTE — an annual event that has become the Mecca of ed tech in the United States. Also known as the International Society for Technology in Education, the four day event always starts with an opening keynote address — this year the headliner was Sir Ken Robinson, the English futurist.

But I wasn’t going to be there.

Due to family commitments I needed to miss the first day, and Sir Ken’s talk. So, I did what any valid data cruncher would do. I started collecting and analyzing the tweets from the one hour event. What I discovered was fascinating. The “big ideas” aren’t necessarily what comes from the podium. If you don’t believe me, you can watch the presentation yourself, (jump to 32:27 to see the keynote). The best ideas are the ones that are heard by a massive audience — collectively chewed and digested, and then captured in a collective mass of about 2,500 tweets, under a single hashtag (#iste12). It’s as if Sir Ken were talking to a giant brain comprised of 750 busy tweeters, waiting to pounce on the next nugget.

Listening carefully to this brain at work taught me that trying to paraphrase Sir Ken based on Twitter information is a little like playing the telephone game, where you pass a secret phrase around a circle, only to end up with a different result at the end. Each spoken line from the original keynote was tweeted and re-tweeted at least 20 times, complete with some minor edits. I picked out, and in some cases merged together, some of the best tweets from the event. If you can forgive some editorial sanding, here’s what seemed to resonate:

“No Child Left Behind is proof that Americans get irony. No Child Left Behind should be renamed to be millions of children left behind.”

“If we know anything about children it is that they are not standardized. Yet we have a suffocating culture of standardization and we need just the opposite. Humanity is based on the principle of diversity, yet our education system is based on compliance and conformity. Our lives are not linear, they are organic, and school is based on linearity.”

“One-third of all students drop out of high school. If doctors lost 1/3rd of their patients it would be unacceptable. If 1/3rd of airplanes dropped out of the sky there would be an uproar. Yet this is the reality in education.”

“There are opportunities to personalize education. And while we may not be able to afford personalization, we can’t afford not to.”

“People on the planet today have more access to mobile devices than safe drinking water.”

“What will it take to truly engage students in their own education, and what role does technology play in this?”

These are inspiring and somewhat depressing words, but they were what this particular audience decided to capture. It seems that many educators view the US education system to be a flawed, broken process, and that the Department of Education doesn’t have much to add to the conversation. During the lengthy live and prerecorded statements made by DOE personalities Karen Cator and Arnie Duncan, a brief moment of Twitter praise came when Karen Cator’s comment “your work matters” was retweeted by many. However, the overall tone from the twittersphere during the DOE remarks was more snarky than pleased.

Was there any gold in the twitter stream? Sir Ken did challenge the audience to engage each student in a unique way, to empower the abilities of the individual, for the benefit of all mankind. The tweet read like this: “Great teachers don’t take students to a destination. They give them the tools to get there on their own.” Certainly this is a strong tweet from a smart crowd, and it is a good closing thought.

360KID Learning Game Trends at Casual Connect

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Casual Connect is an annual conference in the US that explores the business and development of casual games. This conference also travels to Europe and Singapore. This year’s US event recently held in Seattle, had a day long track focused on Children & Family Entertainment. 360KID CEO Scott Traylor was asked to deliver a presentation on trends and best practices for developing learning games. The video below is a recording of his talk called “Technology, Kids, & Learning: The Future and the Opportunities”.

Links to specific research cited in this presentation are listed below.

Do you need help developing a learning game for the classroom or just need some advice for creating a consumer-based learning game? Be it online, offline, electronic toy, iOS or Andriod, give us a call.

View from the Sandbox through the lens of Scott Traylor

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

[Wendy Smolen is a contributing writer to the KidScreen blog. She is also a friend and the co-founder of the annual children’s conference called Sandbox Summit. Wendy asked if I would share some thoughts with her regarding the latest Sandbox Summit event held at MIT. Originally published to the KidScreen blog on April 25, 2012.]

Scott Traylor, Chief Kid at 360KID, had the daunting job of taping the recent Sandbox Summit@MIT, Going Mobile, Going Global, Tracking the anywhere/everywhere state of play. While this gave him a front and center seat, it also meant he had to listen to every word (no bathroom breaks!) I asked him to comment on a few of his favorite presentations.

Generally I find conferences don’t provide a helpful starting point about how kids are changing. Not so here. Allison Arling’s presentation from The Intelligence Group covered uncounted aspects of generational preferences with Gen Y and Gen Z. I found myself nodding in agreement as she communicated subtle differences in media consumption, messaging that resonates with a generation, and triggers for engagement across generational divides that can make or break any media plan. Clear, crisp, exact. (Or whatever.)

Allison’s presentation provided the scaffolding used by many of the other speakers. On day two, Jane Gould of Nickelodeon delivered a resounding kids’ media data punch . Jane always has access to great info, and she’s willing to share! Ever wonder what apps are most popular with kids, and why? What kinds of media do kids consume on tablets? What barriers will prevent media consumption on a tablet but not on television? What is consumption like on non-Apple devices? The answers were startling and maybe the most detailed and in-depth I’ve seen in the mobile/tablet/apps space ever. Jane made understanding the drivers of mobile media consumption a no-brainer.

Gaming and learning was a common thread in conversations both inside and outside the auditorium. Eric Zimmerman, game designer and industry thought leader, challenged us to rethink long-standing assumptions about learning games. Eric delivered one media mind bomb after another, the biggest being why educators challenge the value and potential for learning in games at all. Why is this one tool for creative expression challenged more than others? Why is it so many in education, as well as in business, wish to “gamify” learning? Should we have similar concerns about books in learning? Should we “bookify” learning? That’s crazy talk, and so is the current conversation about the potential games have to teach. Books are just one element of learning, why aren’t games?

These are just three small samples of a larger conversation. There’s no way I can do justice to all the intriguing thoughts each presenter brought to the conversation over the two days. If you missed attending this event, watch one—or all—of the videos here. You’ll be as amazed as I was at what you‘ll learn.

Disclosure: Scott Traylor is the founder of 360KID, a children’s interactive media company. Scott is also on the Board of Advisors for the Sandbox Summit. He captured the video being shared in this article’s links.

Will Wright on Game Design, Play and Learning

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

[The following is an article I wrote for the January 2012 issue of Children’s Technology Review. A PDF reprint of the article can also be found here]

Will Wright, video game developer extraordinaire, takes questions from the audience while sitting on stage

If somebody asked you to name the masters of interactive design, chances are good that Will Wright would be on your list. He created SimCity which led to SimAnt, The Sims, and Spore, and he’s currently working on a new social game called HiveMind. Last year in New York, I heard him speak and was struck by his thoughts about the learning opportunities he brings to his players, and asked him about it. What does he think about when he makes a game? What are some key influences? (Note that this was a long interview, and edits have been made for clarity).

Scott Traylor: In your presentations you often refer to learning theory, including your own Montessori education. It seems you have a passion for the topic.

Will Wright: Learning theory is certainly one of the factors that shapes my talks and my work in general, but it’s only one element. For me, making a game or a talk is a process of continual self-discovery.

Scott: Can this be attributed to your Montessori background?

Will: Montessori is good for self-discovery and exploration, but Montessori didn’t invent it. Self-discovery and exploration have existed for millennia before Montessori. it’s the way the human brain works. The whole constructivist approach to education simply leverages hardware that’s already built in.

Scott: When you say “constructivist” is it fair to say that you are thinking of Piaget and perhaps Seymore Papert?

Will: Oh, yes, and Alan Kay as well. This formalized approach to learning has really only been around for maybe a 100 years. We can go back hundreds and hundreds of years before that and see people understood this as the primary mode of learning. Consider the Renaissance and Leonardo Da Vinci. At some point the pedagogy got wrapped around that inherent process. It’s something that has remained, almost becoming more relevant in terms of its implications with modern technology, or our imaginations, and our creativity. It’s almost more relevant now where people can approach a wider range of endeavors creatively, because of the tools we have, for gathering information, for creating things, for sharing things.

Scott: So you’re saying we’re at a point, technically speaking, where we are empowered as creators, as explorers, in anything that might interest us?

Will: Yes, especially in things like the social dimension. I can create something and put it up on the web and then by tomorrow 1,000 people might’ve seen it. Think back 100 years ago what it would have taken for that to happen. It just wasn’t a possibility then, but now it’s a possibility for anyone.

Scott: While these theories have become more formalized in the last century or so, good teachers and good facilitators of learning have been aware of these things for ages. Now there’s the opportunity for learning to be amped up through technology and through participation in a way we have never experience before, in such an immediate way.

Will: Yeah, Seymour Papert and Alan Kay were among the first people to realize the impact that modern technology was going to have. Nicholas Negroponte, as well.

Scott: When you talk about games, or video games, you often refer to these things as playful objects. Is that intentional?

Will: Let’s take a look at that. People like to call the things I make games, but I tend to think of them as toys. There really needs to be more open-ended play experiences and that’s a broader world than the formal definition of games. I think a game is really a subset of the world of play. In substance it’s really just semantics but it’s cultural as well. A lot of people think of games, video games, as this brand new thing that’s popped up. But of course games have been around forever. Most games are based on some fundamental play experience that at some point becomes formalized. There are different connotations to play, and with that formal rules. You might play with others, or by yourself, the play might be a zero sum game, or not. These are just a few specialized versions of play in my mind.

Graphic displaying Will Wright's learning model, comparing the universe of play and games.

Scott: Are there any play experts you follow?

Will: Not really. There have been a lot of attempts in the game design community to come up with more formal structures of frameworks to understand this. I think we’re just beginning to scratch the surface. They’re looking at the different perspectives on play coming from cognitive science or sociology or evolutionary psychology. I don’t think any one of these things is going to capture the subject completely. You have to triangulate from all these different perspectives.

Scott: Do you think the vocabulary around play and around games is evolving?

Will: In general, yes. A game is like the nucleus of the experience, but it’s not the whole experience. I spend a lot of time thinking about the meta-game, the experiences we’re having around the game, experiences that are the larger iceberg. For example, The Sims is a game on some level, where you can play with goal structures and rules. However, there’s a larger game where people make things and tell stories about the game. Then they try things with online communities. These are the things that people do outside the game. It is what I call the meta-game. To me, the more successful games are the ones that spark these larger meta-games.

Scott: You mean bringing the play or the game experience outside of the game, in some kind of social context, where people can talk about and interact around the game?

Will: Yes, in some sense the game in the player’s minds goes from being a specific entertainment experience to becoming a tool for self-expression. At first they were playing for the fun, just exploring. Then they start realizing they can be expressive with it. It’s almost like playing a musical instrument. At first, you experiment and press buttons. At some point you realize you can compose music. You might even start to perform. Eventually this toy becomes a tool to express one’s self.

Scott: Is it accurate to say that the opportunity for creative expression is also a central part of your games?

Will: it’s one of the more powerful benefits of technology. We can do things now that allow people to come in and craft more interesting experiences and share them with others. Somebody can take something from their imagination, create an external artifact, and then share it. They can even collaborate on larger imaginary structures. This is something that used to be confined to a small number of people that had very high skills in language. These individuals could write a book and describe some imaginary world, like Alice in Wonderland. But not many people had that skill set. Now average people are getting these tools that empower them, to create entire worlds, external to their imagination, to share with other people.

Scott: You have this amazing ability to translate complicated systems into successful play objects. What is your thought process?

Will: First, how much are these things representations of the real world? When I get started it’s usually with something that contains some aspect of the real world that fascinates me. I’ll start to imagine if I had a toy planet, what kind of things would I want to do with it? What kind of processes would I like to see? By connecting the toy to real world, it maintains a relevance. Later that toy becomes the scaffolding for building a more elaborate model. When people get to the point where they realize the toy’s limitations, they start discussing and debating what their more elaborate model is relative to that toy. When players first started playing SimCity they didn’t know what was going on. They started building things, they started exploring what caused land value to go up or down, they explored issues around crime, or pollution. Eventually they get to a point where they say, “I don’t think that’s the way traffic really works” or “I don’t think the land value model is very accurate because of this or that.” They could not have formalized these thoughts without the toy. When a player realizes the limitations of a toy, the user has created a better model for themselves internally that transcends the toy.

Scott: Once a certain of level of mastery is achieved with a game, that’s the point when a player will go out and look for additional information to improve upon those models, those systems that they have in their mind?

Will: Yes, that’s the real model we’re building, actually. The computer is really just a compiler for that model.

In a Montessori classroom you will see thousands of tangible manipulatives. This photo is an example of bead work

Scott: What you have described in a sense are games that are digital manipulatives. Tangible manipulatives are a big part of the Montessori world and early learning. Sometimes I hear educators debate the benefit of digital manipulatives over tangible ones. Even if a digital manipulative doesn’t perfectly represent a system, they lead a user in a direction that helps facilitate further learning and growth and discovery that is more accurate and representational of the actual model.

Photo above: The typical Montessori learning experience is based on time with tangible manipulatives, such as these base 10 beads. There’s 1 bead, 10 beads, 100 beads, and 1,000 beads, in the form of a block. These physical manipulatives help young learners understand small and large, base-10 counting, and maybe even geometry (point, line, plane, volume). Substitute beads with the elements of a city, where you can freely experiment with a different kind of units and rules. Get the idea?

Will: Think about it. That’s what we call the scientific method. Quantum mechanics does not describe, is not reality, but it’s our best model so far for describing what we observe to be reality. it’s not the first model we built to describe it and it’s not the last model we’re going to build either. Each model is making a more accurate understanding of reality. They’re all just models and none of them are accurate representations of actual reality.

Scott: Does the knowledge a user gains through game play transfer into the real world? Do you have an example of people playing games where the user transferred something they learned from a game into the real world?

Will: There are a lot of things people learn from games that can’t be measured on any test. On the surface games don’t necessarily feel like education. But when you look deeper into them they really represent a fundamentally deeper level of education. There’s a common story I hear from players of The Sims. Someone will be playing the game and they really get into it. They make sure to take care of the basic needs of their Sims, getting them fed and rested before they go to work the next day. These players can get totally obsessed over making their virtual lives perfect. In doing so, a Sim might get a promotion at work the next day. At some point many players experience an “a-ha” moment — that its 2:00 in the morning, and they have to go to work the next day. Then somehow the players understand that they were taking better care of their Sim than they were of themselves. They were making sure their Sim got to bed on time, was well rested for work the next day, while the players were staying up late playing this silly computer game. For these players this is where they started understanding the strategy within the Sims as a time management game. it’s a game where you juggle many factors. Sometimes a player will step back for the first time and see their real life as a strategy game. As a player, day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, they were making resource management decisions that would impact their Sim in the short term and long term. Then there’s the paradigm shift: What if your real life was a game, and you actually had these resources, and had to develop structures, how would you play it? This is one of those things you’re not going to measure on any standardized test. Through playing the player would walk away from the game thinking deeply about every aspect in their life. “Do I really need to do this now?” or “Should I really spend that money?” For the first time, the game caused them to clearly see the decisions they were making in every day life.

Scott: If the game is the model of a system, which happens to loosely or exactly parallel your own life, at some point, you might reach that a-ha moment.

Will: Right. People who think of themselves as really good strategy players, for some reason never think of their real life as a strategy game. If I were to treat my life as a strategy game how would I play it?

Scott: Will, thanks very much for sharing your thoughts on play, learning, and games. While we have talked about a variety of inspirations and influences across a number of professions, is there one person that has done more to shape your thinking than any other?

Will: My mother, Beverlye Edwards. She supported me with all my crazy ideas as a child. If there was something I was interested in trying or doing, she believed that I knew what I was doing, even if at the time certain ideas seemed slightly odd. Just her believing in me allowed me to keep on trying new things, made me believe in myself, made me confident that I could do something big, something special. I thank my mother, for everything I have, everything I achieved, for her wonderful spirit and the great support she gave during my childhood years and in the years thereafter. I credit all my success in life to her unconditional belief in me and support in my trying something new.

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