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FableFriday: Bill Tally, PhD, Senior Researcher and Designer, Education Development Center (EDC)

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For over 30 years, Bill Tally, Senior Researcher and Designer at the Education Development Center (EDC), has been using his expertise in education, interdisciplinary learning, and formative research to advance the role of digital tools in education. With a PhD in sociology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, as well as an extensive history of collaboration with institutions and esteemed educators such as the Library of Congress, National Geographic, The New York Times, MIT, and the Smithsonian, Bill is no stranger to the world of digital storytelling and has helped steer the merger of technology and academia on many projects. 

Bill is currently collaborating with Fablevision Studios and Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) to create a revolutionary literacy game that transcends former digital boundaries in its incorporation of Augmented Reality (AR). The Phase I project will investigate how an AR/gaming approach can combat the summer slide and impact engagement for low-income third and fourth graders, and serves as a testament to the innovative, forward-thinking team behind it. 

“At a time when kids casually carry the equivalent of a supercomputer around in their pocket and can do their homework in the Cloud, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to deepening learning for all kids,” shares Bill. “Deploying tech tools in ways that actually make a difference for learners and teachers still requires the collaborative work of great curriculum designers, creative storytellers, artists, programmers, and cognitive and developmental researchers.” 

Get a behind-the-scenes look at Bill, the extraordinary team he works with, and his passion for pairing education with technology! 

Tell us a little bit about your role at Education Development Center (EDC) / the Center for Children and Technology (CCT) and the work you do. 
EDC is a not-for-profit R&D firm dedicated to improving education and health across the country and the globe. I’m part of a group of researchers, educators, and media designers in our New York City office. The Center for Children and Technology works to understand how digital media can play positive roles in kids’ lives and learning, both within and outside of the classroom. 

 Seymour Papert with LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Kit Photo credit: MIT Media Lab

Seymour Papert with LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Kit
Photo credit: MIT Media Lab

You’ve spent your career studying how digital tools and media can improve learning experiences. What initially drew you to this field, and how has it changed over the years?
What drew me to educational media research — way back in 1983! — was the chance to join a remarkable group of developmental psychologists, teachers, and media designers who had assembled at Bank Street College, a progressive school of education in NYC and home to one of the first ever educational media R&D labs. This group not only focused on the computer’s potential to improve learning and schooling, but they were innovatively asking how education can change computing — how the developmental needs of children and the needs of educators can shape the new technologies being developed. It was an exciting place to land. In my first week, I was showing fifth graders rough cuts of a science adventure show to see how they grasped the storyline and concepts, and sitting in on game design sessions with scientists and programmers. 

What I’ve noticed is that in 1983, the Apple II’s blocky green pixel resolution was the cutting edge of educational innovation; yet at the same time, Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms was getting teachers across the country excited about teaching youngsters to program computers in an intuitive, playful way. Today, our games, simulations, and teaching tools have far greater verisimilitude, responsiveness, and power (hail VR and AR!), but the project of helping kids become computational thinkers hasn’t advanced very far; it’s still an exciting frontier. 

What makes game-based learning media unique, and why do you think it is so effective at engaging with young people?
There are many kinds of games, and they work as learning media in different ways, but there are some common elements across them. At their best, games are patient, generous teachers. You can try over and over and they will not get bored or frustrated with you. They put you and your actions at the center — things only happen based on choices you make. They give you feedback that you can use to get better. In addition, many of the most engaging games are narrative structures that invite you to imaginatively enter a world of “as if” and “what if," which our narratively-wired brains find deeply compelling. And of course, games are deeply social, so we love using them to relate to, and compare ourselves to, our peers and friends. 

What are your top tips for practical ways that media developers can incorporate research into their tools and products?
Many developers do the things that are most important — they playtest prototypes with kids to understand what is and isn’t working, and team up with teachers or parents to pilot test a game or product to see how it does or doesn’t fit in the classroom or home. But good research helps in other ways. In the planning phase, we often: 

 Photo credit:  Zoom In!,  EDC

Photo credit: Zoom In!, EDC

  • Help developers zero in on the most important content to aim at by interviewing kids and teachers and scanning assessment data. In this way, we can determine the concepts and skills that kids struggle most to learn and teachers struggle most to teach. 
  • Also useful is creating a logic model, a sketch that makes the team’s hypotheses about learning clear at the outset — for example, how this particular game mechanic should support the acquisition of this particular skill or concept, and why. 
  • During development, it’s important to test prototypes with a range of users — not just upper middle class kids who like school— and to look beyond appeal and usability to effectiveness: What are the cognitive moves users are making as they use the different parts of the prototype? Which features are helping them build a better understanding, and which are getting in the way? What tweaks are needed? 
  • Finally, it’s important for stakeholders to know if the tool or product actually works to “move the needle” of learning.
  Zoom In!  is a free educator resource provided by EDC

Zoom In! is a free educator resource provided by EDC

EDC has worked with the likes of Library of Congress, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The New York Times, National Geographic, and WNET, among many others. What are some universal truths you’ve observed while working with these big movers and shakers? 
An old story comes to mind: an educational guru touring a school asks each teacher she meets what he teaches, and the answer comes back, variously: “I teach history,” “I teach biology,” “I teach statistics.” “No, you don’t,” comes the reply, “You teach children.” 

While a little smug, this observation has an undeniable truth: it’s not all about the content. Each of the amazing organizations you mention began with an abundance of incredibly rich educational content — archives of primary source documents, decades of news stories and images, thousands of beautifully made television programs, games, and interactives — but has had to work hard to figure out how to configure this content for kids and teachers in ways that support effective teaching and learning. Often, this means investing in training and professional development for parents and teachers so they learn how to play, teach, and talk with kids differently through media. It turns out that digitizing and indexing rich content, streaming it to desktop and mobile devices, etc., is the easy part; helping adult teachers and caregivers use rich media to enhance kids’ learning and growth — that’s where the action is. 

After successfully completing Phase I and receiving the Phase II SBIR grant for Cyberchase Fractions Quest game, how has the prototype shown promise for improving student learning of fractions? 

Fractions Quest lets eight and nine-year-olds play with mathematical concepts in a game world populated by Cyberchase characters and storylines they like. Our early studies have shown that the game mechanics help them grasp concepts that kids and teachers find particularly challenging— like fractions on the number line. 

What excites you the most about working with Augmented Reality technology for the upcoming Mix Libris literacy game developed by FableVision and Reading Is Fundamental?
AR, like VR, is a largely unexplored medium when it comes to education. What’s exciting to me is the chance to build and test an educational application for struggling readers in the company of some of the most creative designers, artists, programmers, and child literacy advocates in the field. 

How can schools do more to incorporate digital tools into the classroom?
The most important thing schools can do is give teachers the time and support they need to try out new tools, practice weaving them into teaching, and evaluate the results. Lots of worthwhile learning tools never get much traction in schools because teachers are not supported in running meaningful classroom pilots to discover their potential. 


More About Bill: 

Favorite podcast: A Very Fatal Murder, Onion Public Radio
A good read: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Best digital learning tool: Zoom Ina free US history and writing platform for middle and high schoolers that we made! 
Nostalgic piece of children’s media: Alistair Sim’s “awakening” as Scrooge
Passion: Playing jazz piano and crooning tunes from the American Songbook
The best library to do work: Whatever local library I’m near. (Thank you, Andrew Carnegie!)

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Funny FableVision Fathers

Our dads always seem to know exactly what to say: they give us sage advice, tell great stories, and occasionally attempt to craft the perfect punchline. Dad jokes are a time-honored tradition and like a good plate of nachos, dad jokes are corny, cheesy, and sometimes just a little bit spicy. Lovers of bad puns, rejoice! In honor of Father’s Day, we’ve compiled the best of the best “dad jokes” heard floating around the studio. You may find some of these jokes silly and others groan-inducing, but all of them are distinctly Dad.

 
 

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FableVision's Summer Road Trip

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Summer brings with it the promise of picnics, pool parties, and the classic summer road trip. We’re putting a modern twist on this novel idea as we go across the country to visit partners, learn exciting new innovations, and connect the dots in our annual summer-wide FableVision road trip! Follow along with our itinerary below and join us for the ride! Notice you’ll be crossing paths with us? Let us know here.


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Edtech Extravaganza in Chicago
First stop, Chicago! Between slices of deep dish pizza and selfies at the Sears Tower, ISTE is the place to be. Hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education, the conference is the premier place to celebrate educational technologies. Join the Reynolds Center team in Cisco’s Global Problem Solver Makerspace (room W194) and in the Cisco Theater (Booth #1536) for hands-on sessions with Fab@School Maker Studio and opportunities to become Story Activators with Paul Reynolds. Be sure to catch FableVisionaries James Collins, Sarah Ditkoff, and Shelby Marshall as they walk the ground floor to get the latest on edtech!

Global Problem Solver Makerspace (room W194) presentations:
What: Paper Prototyping Bootcamp for STEAM-Powered Learning
When: Tuesday, June 26 at 10:00 a.m. 

What: Activated Storytelling for Transformational Learning
When: Tuesday, June 26, at 4 p.m.

Cisco Theater (Booth #1536) presentations:
What: Activated Storytelling for Transformational Learning
When: Tuesday, June 26, at 2 p.m.

What: Paper Prototyping Bootcamp for STEAM-Powered Learning
When: Tuesday, June 26, at 3 p.m.  


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Making Change in NYC
Next, FableVision will travel to New York City for the Games for Change Festival. Join a community of game experts, developers, technologists, funders, and social innovators to share groundbreaking ideas and interact with new impact games and immersive media. We’re excited to meet other developers passionate about using games to drive positive social change!

Games for Change Festival
When: June 28 - 30
Where: New York, New York


Get moving in Florida! 
Join FableVision Learning's Jane Reynolds and Dr. Denine Jimmerson at the Florida Association for Career and Technical Education (FACTE) conference for a session that introduces school districts to FableVision Learning's Creativity to Careers CTE program, a new model  providing unique scaffolding for both teachers and students allowing them to progress from Animation-ish to Toon Boom software and gaining experience and certification on the journey.

Creativity to Careers: Middle School Animation CTE as a Model
When: Tuesday, July 17
Where: Champions Gate Resort


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Hop on the Bus
Join Scholastic on the ultimate reading road trip, as they tour the country with our favorite authors, illustrators, and characters! This July Scholastic is partnering with bookstores and libraries in communities nationwide, hosting reading festivals for families with kids ages 0-12. On July 5, the bus will stop at the Blue Bunny Bookstore, owned by FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds! Bring your reader to this fun (and FREE!) family event, to meet authors, take photos with beloved costume characters, win prizes, and more.

Scholastic Summer Reading Road Trip
When: July 5, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Where: Blue Bunny Bookstore Dedham, MA


Getting Serious in Virginia
From the Big Apple we’ll head towards our nation’s capital for the Serious Play Conference at George Mason University. The Serious Play Conference is a leadership conference for professionals who embrace the idea that games can revolutionize learning. Speakers share their experience creating or using games in the corporation, classroom, healthcare institution, government, and military and offer tips on how to move game-based education programs ahead. Come listen to FableVisionary James Collins as he discusses the role of games in a museum setting with a panel of experts.

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Games in Museums
When:
Thursday, July 12 at 9:15 a.m.
Where: George Mason University, Manassas, VA


Building Community in Boston
After some time away from home, FableVision will host a reception for creative educators attending November Learning’s Building Learning Communities Conference. Join colleagues from around the world who care deeply about bringing the best innovative and practical learning resources to students. Paul Reynolds and Andrea Calvin of the Reynolds Center are excited to lead participants through the paper prototyping bootcamp. Come get hands-on with Fab@School Maker Studio and get ideas for your classroom!

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Paper Prototyping Bootcamp for STEAM-Powered Learning
When: Wednesday, July 26 at 10:20 a.m.
Where: BLC Conference in Boston, MA

BLC Reception
When: Wednesday, July 26 from 6 – 7:30 p.m.
Where: FableVision Studios


Connected Learning Summit
We’ll wrap up our road trip with a stop in our own backyard at the Connected Learning Summit! With a unique focus on cross-sector connections and progressive and catalytic innovation, this event brings together leading researchers, educators and developers. Together with our partners at EdGE and TERC, FableVision will moderate on a panel about the epic journey of the award-winning Zoombinis game. From genesis story, to game design mechanics, to an overview of the research involving students' learning of computational thinking, audience members will receive insight into how Zoombinis seeks to bridge formal and informal learning.

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The Logical Journey of Reimagining ZOOMBINIS: Adventure, Research, and Computational Thinking
When:
Wednesday, August 1, 2:30 p.m.- 3:00 p.m.
Where: Connected Learning Summit, Cambridge, MA

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June FableFriday: J Milligan and Cassandra Berger, Co-Founders of Lanky Co.

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J Milligan and Cassandra “Cass” Berger are…well…lanky. The dynamic co-founders of Lanky Co. met at the award-winning digital toy company Toca Boca. That collaboration has flourished into the launch of Lanky Co., a development studio for high-quality, kid-focused projects to delight and entertain audiences wherever they may be. With a cadence of colorful projects up their sleeve and vast experience working with high profile clients, Lanky is ready to take on any project.

Recently, J, Cass, and FableVision’s Tone Thyne teamed up to produce the quirky earworm that is the new Don’t Mix Us Up music videos. The series addresses the common catastrophe of mixing up things that are easily mistaken for each other but should never be confused. The result is a viral sensation, out now on Aardman studios’ new YouTube channel for teens and adults, AardBoiled.   

“We’re always delighted to hear that our work stands out in the landscape of kids media, because it’s not intentional, it’s just our personalities. We never want to talk down to our audience, and humor is number one,” shares Cass. “Visually, we’re both drawn to similar things so that results in having a cohesive output. We’re not afraid to put something different out there, as long as it’s true to us.”

 We sat down with the duo to talk shop, their preference for Cabbage or Lettuce, and what makes Lanky Co. so…lanky in this month’s FableFriday.

Congrats on the recent launch of Lanky Co.! Tell us more about your mission and the motivation for launching your own studio.
J: We launched Lanky because we both always wanted to have our own studio, and when our last gig came to an end we thought it was time to go for it. I’m really glad we did. Our mission is to make great stuff, add to the culture in a positive way, and focus on projects we care about.  

Cass: We were both at a time in our careers where it felt right to go for it. We wanted to be creatives who have a sense of ownership for whatever work we do, big or small. Whoever gets to the office first texts the other a trophy emoji, that’s how excited we are to get to work.

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Both Lanky’s live-action and animated projects have such a unique, creative style that stands out in the world of kids’ media! How do you describe Lanky’s personality? What unique perspective is your content adding to the landscape?
J:
We like to challenge the audience a bit—we try to get them engaged and invested in a way that we can leave things out and have them fill in the blanks. We do this with visuals and writing and for any age audience. It’s fun to watch something where part of the story happens in your head.    

You previously worked together in animation and production at the game development studio Toca Boca. We’d love to learn more about the history of your collaborative, creative partnership!
J: Cassandra came on to the Toca TV team as the Director of Animation. We’d sit in this half-finished interior room called The Barn with the content team and laugh hysterically for an hour or two coming up with ideas for mini-shows for the Toca TV platform. This was my favorite part of my job, which also involved running a subscription business and building a technology platform. We basically do the same thing now all day long in a much smaller office but with cleaner bathrooms and free kombucha. 

Cass: Back at Toca TV the Product Manager once told me that she was jealous of my meetings because she could hear my laughter coming from all of them. That’s the beauty of working on comedies, laughing means it’s working! We’ve carried that through to Lanky, where we know we’re on the right track when we’re cracking each other up.

Cass, before Toca Boca you spent some time as Art Director and Designer on several broadcast properties and published books. How have those experiences in visual development and show production influenced your work as Creative Director at Lanky Co. today? 
Cass: I’ve been lucky enough to work on a bunch of broadcast shows as well as a lot of show development. At Lanky we’ve taken on a few projects that are pure development, which is my favorite part! Because I’ve worked on shows before, I’m able to avoid complications down the road while we develop a project, as well as poking an idea enough to see if it has legs.

J, you’ve had some amazing experiences working with new technology as Creative Director of the Content Innovation Lab at Sesame Workshop! What technologies or content areas are you most excited about right now?
J: We’re doing a lot of bite-sized content for social media right now, and I love the challenge of packing a lot of story and information into a tiny thing. It’s like writing a sonnet or haiku, only with sound effects and speech bubbles and getting the timing exactly right. There is also a lot of interest in audio and speech recognition right now through podcasting and smart speakers which I find kind of cool and funny because it harkens back to radio theater, which gets the tech out of the way and puts the movie in your head, so to speak. 

Lanky may be young, but you’ve had a lot of collaborative experiences under your belt already, including the partnership with FableVision Studios to create the Don’t Mix Us Up videos. What was it like working with Tone Thyne on this wacky series of shorts?
Cass: Tone is one of my favorite people. He got me my first job out of college and has been a sort of mentor ever since. I was so excited to be able to work with him on an original project because I knew with him involved, it would be great.

J: Genius just wafts from Tone’s mind like that yeasty smell at Subway. Seriously, Tone is the best. When we gave him the note, “can you make the lyrics stupider?” he sharpened his pencil and molded the clever bits for a general audience and voila! Music video history was made.

You’ve also teamed up with Aardman animation studio to distribute the Don’t Mix Us Up series on their new YouTube channel AardBoiled. How is AardBoiled the perfect home for Don’t Mix Us Up?
J: We have always admired, no, worshipped Aardman’s comedy, craft, action sequences, attention to detail, and high, high bar for quality. It’s like everybody else was doing things one way and Aardman came along and thought, we’re just going to painstakingly make brilliant comedy for people of all ages and see what happens. We hope that Don’t Mix Us Up appeals to Aardman fans. We’re really happy to be working with them and to have the series on their channel.

We had so much fun working with you on Don’t Mix Us Up! Now that the series has launched, what’s next on Lanky’s horizon?
J: We have irons in fires all over the place. We’re creating new ideas for original shows and books as well as working with partners on edutainment, digital design, content marketing, and other kinds of storytelling. We love working on different kinds of projects, collaborating with folks, and are always looking for new challenges.

Finally, the Lanky mascot has an interesting (and creative!) presence on Instagram. Who is the mastermind behind-the-scenes?
Cass: When we had downtime early on we talked about creating some kind of Instagram comic, something that we could do just ourselves to get a presence out the world. We both come up with ideas and I draw them. The idea is to make quick bites that we can post to get a laugh. You can tell that we’re busy when there hasn’t been a post in a while but there are definitely Lanky fans out there eagerly waiting for the next piece in the series.


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More about J and Cass:

Favorite Muppet:
J:
Cookie Monster                     
Cass: Grover

Junk food of choice:
J: Shrimp Chips              
Cass: Fritos

Animated short that inspires you: 
J: Virgin Atlantic Safety Video
Cass: The Little Boy and the Beast

New technology you’re excited about: 
J: Cordless Vacuum Cleaners—total game-changer           
Cass: Virtual Reality drawing/digital painting

Kids’ show that makes you nostalgic: 
J: Magic Garden   
Cass: Pinky and the Brain

The best viral YouTube video:     
J: This should be viral.  Please everybody watch this!  
Cass: Don’t Mix Us Up: Cabbage & Lettuce (If I say it, will it make it viral?)   

Cabbage or Lettuce? 
J: Lettuce 100%   
Cass: Cabbage 100%

Favorite way to unwind?            
J: Chopping wood in my orange safety chaps
Cass: Watching The Real Housewives 

 

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Mother's Day Wisdom

Through thick and thin, our moms have been by our sides with words of love and encouragement. In honor of Mother’s Day, we’ve compiled a collection of the best wisdom we’ve gotten from our mothers throughout our lives. From friendship to food, moms really do give the greatest advice!


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