April FableFriday: Christopher Spivey, Director of Production at Classroom, Inc.

Game-based learning: for Classroom, Inc. it’s more than a buzzword or trending topic on Twitter—it’s a mission worth believing in. Based in New York but with national reach, Classroom, Inc. is a nonprofit that helps students in high-needs communities develop literacy and leadership skills. They’re gearing up for their 25th anniversary celebration, and for the past four and a half years Christopher Spivey has led Classroom, Inc.’s game development efforts as Director of Production. He works every day with a talented team dedicated to improving the lives of students.

FableVision and Classroom, Inc. have collaborated on award-winning literacy games for the classroom, After the Storm and Community in Crisis. From day one, it was a mission-match.

“The core pillars of Classroom, Inc.’s mission are literacy and leadership so that students have the opportunity to connect school to career, because when students make this connection they begin to understand how success in school sets them up for success in life,” shares Christopher. “We create digital learning games and curriculum set in the professional world that foster students’ literacy and leadership skills and connect what they do in school to life in the workplace.”

Spend some time with Christopher, and it’s clear he embodies the passion and mission resident in Classroom, Inc. both in and outside the company. Hear about his empowering approach to pedagogy, instilling life skills through game play and development, and his globetrotting adventures through Europe—from the fortresses of Granada to the rolling streets of Lisbon.

"It’s important to note that we don’t try to trick the students into learning by hiding the learning objectives. Rather, we give the student agency and autonomy to control their own learning experience and in doing so we see a profound increase in engagement."

How do Classroom, Inc.’s guiding principles stand out as distinctive? How is that reflected in how you approach your work?
Our learning environments are based on our commitment to an immersion-based pedagogical model. We have the belief that hands-on project-based learning enhances students’ skills and prepares them for the workplace. We also believe that when students are given meaningful tasks with realistic consequences they are proud to own their learning.

Those principles carry through all of our work, we immerse students in all aspects of management, decision-making, and office policies. We empower them to “Be The Boss,” and to think critically and make decisions that influence the story portions of the game.

Classroom, Inc.’s learning games are used in school, extended day, after school, and summer school environments. How do you think gaming improves the way that students are learning in classrooms and informal learning settings?  
Game-based learning addresses engagement in a really elegant way, as engagement is probably the most difficult challenge that young struggling readers face. When a book is placed in the hands of a struggling reader the response is very different than when they are presented with agency and choice within an interactive experience, something which games are particularly great at doing! Our games engage the student, and while we have their attention and focus we address literacy and career-awareness simultaneously.

FableVision's Gary Goldberger and Classroom, Inc.'s Anne Richards at the After the Storm launch party in New York City.

How did Classroom, Inc. come to cross paths with FableVision’s?
That credit goes to our former VP of Product Development, the incredible Anne Richards. Four years ago when we were looking for a developer to help us create the particular type of experience we needed we looked at a lot of studios. FableVision’s motto “stories that matter, stories that move” really hooked us, because at the core of our games are stories. FableVision’s focus on storytelling and their long history of crafting beautiful experiences for kids made them the perfect partner to help us bring our stories to life.

What has your experience been like working with FableVision on After the Storm and Community in Crisis?
It’s been an incredible experience! Honestly we could not have hoped to have a better partner than FableVision. Games are an art form, and they should be seen as such by the teams who make them. All you need to do is look at FableVision’s portfolio to see that they know that better than anyone.

But more than just having an incredible aesthetic, a learning game has the additional challenge of efficacy. The game needs be easy to use, technically stable, and easy to support and maintain, then on top of all that a learning game also has to reinforce the learning outcomes. Those are tough challenges to solve, and FableVision has been there to help us to successfully navigate them every step of the way.

After the Storm and Community in Crisis put students in a rare decision-making role. Why is this leadership role so important, and how is it seamlessly tied to the literacy content?
We want students to have a first-hand experience as leaders in a professional environment. To tie the literacy content to leadership, we tap into one of the oldest learning modalities—that human beings learn through story. We do that by creating a narrative that immerses the student in the role of “the boss” such as the editor-in-chief of an online news magazine or the executive director of a community organization. In each game the students see themselves as in control and as a leader responsible for negotiating real-world challenges, and because these activities are created in the format of interactive fiction they are applying literacy skills in a way that doesn’t feel like a normal reading lesson. It’s important to note that we don’t try to trick the students into learning by hiding the learning objectives. Rather, we give the student agency and autonomy to control their own learning experience and in doing so we see a profound increase in engagement.

"Our students live in the real world and they and their families face real world challenges every day that are reflected in our games, and kids really respond positively to that kind of authenticity."

Classroom, Inc. provides resources for educators to empower students to take charge of their learning. What changes or reactions have you seen from students and educators since using the Read to Lead suite of games?
Visiting a classroom that’s using one of our games is always a treat. Seeing the kids’ responses when they play our games is rewarding and inspiring. I’m encouraged each time I see these young struggling readers lean close to the computer screen, parsing out the words of a piece of dialogue between their character and a virtual co-worker in order to consider and choose a response that they feel will best move the story forward.

For most of these kids, reading is a challenging, a sometimes embarrassing activity but when you put reading in context of an activity that kids want to pursue that’s when magic can happen and you see non-readers get excited about reading.

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
This summer we’re going to launch our third game made in partnership with FableVision. It’s called Vital Signs and focuses on health care. The game places the player into the role of a Medical Director of a community health clinic. They’ll encounter challenges such as patient care decisions as well as operational questions about how to keep the clinic running smoothly.

"FableVision’s focus on storytelling and their long history of crafting beautiful experiences for kids made them the perfect partner to help us bring our stories to life."

For instance, in one situation a student might need to decide whether or not the clinic should accept patients who do not have health insurance but have urgent medical needs. This would require them to speak to a needy patient about possible choices for their care, consult with their administrative director on risks to treating the uninsured, review clinic budget guidelines, and then determine what the clinic’s policy should be.

Classroom, Inc. has never shied away from representing the real world in our games in an age-appropriate way. Our students live in the real world and they and their families face real world challenges every day that are reflected in our games, and kids really respond positively to that kind of authenticity.

You were a mentor for the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), helping expand the global community of game developers. Can you tell us a little about that work?
I’ve been a member of the IGDA for almost 10 years now. When I noticed a call for mentors I jumped at the chance to give back. I most recently participated at the IGDA Mentor Café at GaymerX last fall, which is an annual LGBTQ-focused gaming convention. I was able to sit down with aspiring artists, designers, programmers, and producers about their interests in joining the game industry.

I’ve been in the game industry for over a decade and as I listened to their questions I reflected upon my own experience to offer support, advice, and encouragement. I spoke about my career as a game developer, and I spoke about my experience of being gay in the game industry. I’ve been in the industry for so long at this point that it’s difficult to recall the trepidation and anxiety I had about how I might be accepted and received when I first started my career in games. I wanted to take the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with these aspiring young developers who are just starting their own journey into games.

We hear you take an international trip every New Year – what an adventure! Where would you recommend for someone who has three days to travel? How about seven days? How about ten?
There’s a running joke in our office that if there’s a long weekend coming up, I’m headed out of the country. For the past five years, a small group of friends and I choose a city in Europe to meet in for ringing in the New Year. This year it was Venice, and in previous years it’s included Berlin, Vienna, and Madrid. Here are my recommendations:

  • Three days: Lisbon – Walk up and down the rolling streets, ride the cable cars, and enjoy views of a red suspension bridge that stretches across the bay all while reminding yourself you didn’t take a wrong turn to end up in San Francisco. Also don’t miss the opportunity to visit a Fado café while the staff serenades you with their mournful tunes, and take a day trip out to Sintra to see the summer palace of the Royal Family.
  • Seven days: Madrid – Spend three days in Madrid exploring the city and eating your bodyweight worth of tapas, then take one day and a bullet train to see an ancient city set on a hill, Toledo. And for the remaining days travel south to Granada and wander the grounds of the grandest palace and fortress of the Moorish monarchs, the Alhambra.
  • Ten days: Rome – The Eternal City demands a week at a minimum. See masterworks of art and architecture in galleries and museums as well as in tiny churches tucked away down quiet streets. Eat every meal in this city like it’s your last meal. Walk the cobblestones of a city that the Romans thought would go on forever.

Christopher Spivey leads the development teams and game production efforts for Classroom, Inc.’s online products and services. He is a producer and designer for innovative and accessible games and services for the web and mobile. Prior to joining Classroom, Inc., Christopher led production efforts for Callaway Digital Arts, social games developer Zynga, as well as Area/Code Entertainment and Large Animal GamesLearn more about Classroom, Inc. and the work they do on their website.



Staff Voices: Our Favorite FableVision Memories

We’ve had some incredible voices in our chorus of 20th anniversary celebrations this year. There are a lot of factors that contribute to our mission of doing good in the world—unrelenting passion and curiosity, dedication to high-quality educational media, a never-ending love for storytelling, the best partners any studio could ask for. However, the secret ingredient driving our mission forward is first and foremost our staff.  We’re only 20 years into our 200-year mission, but we’ve already managed to collect loads of fond memories along the way. We  asked the staff for memories they hold near and dear to their hearts.

Want to hear more from our vibrant team? Check out the staff video we put together to celebrate 20 wonderful years. Hear what they have to say below and tell us, what's your favorite FableVision memory?

"When we gathered together to unveil our Secret Snowflake, FableVision's version of Secret Santa where we exchange thoughtful gifts for one another." 

" The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It was a really great spontaneous way that the team came together for a bigger cause—which is exactly what FableVision is all about: doing good things to move the world to a better place." 

"Our visit from former mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino to announce a gaming initiative for the city of Boston. He embodied everything about the Boston culture and it really gave us the opportunity to closely align with the city and its initiatives." 

"Our very first holiday party at Paul Reynolds’ house. It was an amazing gathering of everyone at FableVision. It was so homey and you really couldn’t believe that this was your company: people were as nice as you thought and as wonderful as they seemed." 

“I really enjoyed some of the FableVision parties before I came to work with the team but also throughout the years. It's always been a fun time full of interesting people.” 

“Every Friday, we have Curd Herd. One member of the team makes up a little cheese spread each week. It’s great, delicious, and a good way to end the week.” 

“Brian’s waffles, Extra Life, and the formation of Curd Herd!” 

“Our last days in the Watertown office. We were just awarded the Lure of the Labyrinth project which was exciting and in the end helped our company go in another direction in terms of larger learning games." 

“When I was working at Learning Games Network, we were developing Quandary and almost at the launch stage. There were some issues that needed resolving but I knew that the FableVision Quandary team was at a wedding because two of their team members were getting married that day. Even with the wedding, they did a quick impromptu meeting and we got the game fixed. It was such an awesome example of the team coming together.” 

hannah snow.jpg

“One winter, there was a lot of snow and not a lot of people could make it in. There were just four or five of us in the studio. For lunch, we went out on the roof and had a snowball fight.” 

"Character design, definitely. I remember working at my desk and realizing that I was drawing a dehydrated cell that was in complete misery and so gross and remember thinking I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this, I’m having so much fun!"

"Our 10th anniversary. We had just moved into the Boston Children’s Museum. Things weren’t even plugged in but it was cool to celebrate 10 years in the Boston Children’s Museum."

"During our FableFun Day, we paddled down the Charles River. It was a moment that was impromptu where we grabbed on to each other’s boat and were this little floatation device.  We ate snacks and we tried to tip each other over. It was so fun!"

"The FableVision Cape. When I was an intern here, they had me run around in the FableVision cape. It’s a real thing!"



FableVision Celebrates Women's History Month 2017

Over the past 20 years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to compelling story-enriched media for learners of all ages – and that includes highlighting diverse and powerful representations of female characters. In honor of  the 30th anniversary of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating female characters we’ve created and worked with over the years. From purple-haired rockstars to influential educators, we’re proud  to draw inspiration from trailblazing women.

Gathered here are just a few of our favorite FableVision feministas. Check out our portfolio for more inspiring characters!

Zebrafish, Children’s Hospital Trust

Vita marches, sings, and fundraises to the beat of her own drum. In Zebrafish, this earnest teenager is all about making a change in her community. It’s not just her purple hair and rockin’ voice that make her stand out, but her desire to make a difference in the world. When her friend Tanya gets sick, Vita uses the power of music to help move the world to a better place.

Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein
The Powder & the Glory, Powder and Glory Productions

Though they never met each other, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein built an industry that’s now worth over $150 billion dollars. These two women not only revolutionized how makeup was viewed but how women saw themselves. Together with Powder and Glory Productions, FableVision animated sequences for the PBS film, The Powder & the Glory, a documentary that channeled the energy of the Roaring Twenties and life in the 1930s.

Neshama Ryman
The Klumz, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York and Western New York

At 10 years old, Neshama Ryman has illustrated, written, narrated, and directed her own animated short film, The Klumz. Neshama took the innate clumsiness of her favorite imaginary creature, and turned it into something beautiful. FableVision helped the driven young artist turn her dream into a reality.

Alice Marriott
Hot Shoppe, Marriott International

Welcome to “The Hot Shoppe.” Opened in 1927 by Alice and JW Marriott, the little cafe grew into what is now Marriott International. Alice was Marriott’s first cook, and acted as co-founder with her husband. Resourceful and driven, she’s a role model for the entrepreneurial spirit. The animated series shares Marriott’s core values and for both hotel employees and the public alike: a fun reminder of their priorities from day one.

Savannah Harper
Georgia Race Through Time, Georgia Public Broadcasting

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see back in time? With her motorbike and trusty canine companion, Peaches, Savannah Harper does just that. This self-reliant young woman is the star of Georgia Race Through Time, a history game that takes players on an exciting journey across the state of Georgia. As an antiques collector with a special gift of seeing back in time, Savannah is a reminder to celebrate personal uniqueness and do what you love.

Isabella Reyes
Good Thinking! The Science of Teaching Science, Smithsonian Science Education Center

Isabella Reyes is a confident, funny educator who learns as much as she teaches. In the animated series, Good Thinking!, Ms. Reyes works to dispel common scientific misconceptions. An experienced teacher, Ms. Reyes is a self-proclaimed science nerd who understands the importance of education. With good humor and a bright personality, Ms. Reyes has educators learning and laughing alongside her as she demystifies the science of teaching science.



March FableFriday: Chad Dorsey, President and CEO of The Concord Consortium


FableVision Studios has been working with The Concord Consortium for several years now. The nonprofit research and development organization in Concord, MA and the San Francisco Bay Area in California focuses on transforming STEM education through technology. At its helm is Chad Dorsey: educator, scientist, explorer, maker, and long-time FableVision friend. Together with Chad and the team at The Concord Consortium, we’ve collaborated on innovative game-based learning solutions, including Geniverse and GeniConnect, which focus on genetics and biotechnology for middle and high school students.

“To The Concord Consortium’s delight, we find that our work brings out the inner scientist in everyone,” shares Chad. “To us, of course, that’s no surprise, because we see fascination lurking in the world around us every day. But it’s the biggest treat in the world to be able to bring amazing phenomena and concepts out for everyone to discover and appreciate.”

By identifying the best uses of educational technology, The Concord Consortium is working to produce a new generation of STEM-literate learners, workers, and citizens. And after chatting with Chad, we think you’ll agree that fascination is, indeed, lurking all around. 

Tell us a little bit about your role at The Concord Consortium and the work the organization does.
The Concord Consortium has been creating innovative educational technology for over twenty years—since the Web was a toddler!—and I've been here as President and CEO for the past eight of those years. I have the distinct honor of being able to work with a ton of fascinating projects and amazing people to forge new and better ways of teaching and learning science, math, and engineering. We provide our resources and technology available for free to learners, educators, and developers around the world and continuously conduct research to help better understand the learning they make possible.

What makes The Concord Consortium's worldview stand out as distinctive? How is that reflected in how you approach your work?
We have long recognized that technology has exceptional potential to facilitate teaching and learning in STEM areas. A great many STEM topics involve concepts that are difficult to convey or grasp through traditional teaching methods. With technology, we can open up huge opportunities for tackling ideas that might otherwise be inaccessible. We recognized this from our early years, as we pioneered the use of probes and sensors for collecting data (often using mobile devices, but long before any concept of a smartphone existed). We saw how the ability to collect hands-on data about the world in real time made phenomena come to life and enabled students to explore things we never would have imagined.

That same notion really carries through all of our work—whether we’re adapting algorithms from research chemistry to create a world of interactive molecular simulations or creating tools that make intriguing patterns jump out from within complex datasets, we employ technology in ways that make the invisible visible and explorable.


The Concord Consortium has programs for formal classroom settings and informal learning spaces, including afterschool programs, for grade levels ranging from elementary to higher ed. How does this affect your approach to building content and programs for so many audiences?
We try to think about the world as learners first and foremost, so holding tight to that notion of exploring concepts and phenomena helps keep our work centered on a core that can apply to all audiences and settings in different ways. We also mirror aspects of this approach in our technology development. For example, when creating new simulation technology, we tend to create general purpose engines for simulating whole aspects of a domain (e.g., molecular motion, ecosystem dynamics, motion of fluids, and thermal energy). Doing this means that we can create open-ended, accurate, virtual representations of phenomena deliberately geared toward exploring and learning STEM concepts.

Because these simulation engines are so flexible, we can easily use them in different ways depending upon the scenario—in one case, we may develop sequenced classroom lessons around a set of simulations, whereas in other cases, we may develop a game or even a museum exhibit powered by the same underlying simulation engine. Keeping the science at the center in this way ensures that all of these uses are meaningful ways of engaging with the topic. We’re even finding that this approach, together with today’s ubiquitously available technologies, permits us to explore how learning can bridge across settings. We’re creating experiences that allow learners to encounter the same concept in a museum exhibit, back at home and again at school, each time in a manner appropriate to each setting, so that each encounter extends and builds on the learning from the last.

How did The Concord Consortium’s path happen to cross with FableVision’s?
We have been lucky enough to have Penny Noyce on our board of directors through the years. As part of her work with the Noyce Foundation seven to eight years ago, she ran across FableVision and suggested that we might find some kindred spirits there with complementary talents. As usual, she was very right! Now, Penny is writing and publishing great science-related fiction stories for kids through her company Tumblehome Learning. I guess she has always had a nose for sniffing out the intersection between science learning and great storytelling.

What has your experience been like working with FableVision on Geniverse and GeniConnect? 
It’s been an absolute blast! These projects have been close to my heart, because they grew out of the work that brought me to Concord in the first place. And they’re just so much fun—who couldn’t love developing games and simulations in which students breed dragons to learn genetics? The work itself draws on a long heritage carrying across from Paul Horwitz’s early educational technology work decades ago, so it builds on a wealth of know-how and research. But the work with FableVision has brought it to an entirely new level, making it a beautiful, engaging world while retaining its scientific accuracy and kids-as-active-scientists ethos.

And as Penny suggested we would, we found ourselves striking common chords with FableVision’s people and approach from the very first moments. The working relationship has been excellent at all times—I think this is because both companies focus so much on having great people who deeply love what they do. We’ve also discovered lots of “inner geeks” around FableVision’s halls as we’ve worked together. I like to think we’ve been responsible for coaxing them out into the open! (I have it on good authority that more than one FableVision developer has clocked late hours at home unexpectedly hooked on trying to crack our dragon genetics puzzles!)

 What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
What am I not excited about? There’s just so much cool stuff we’re doing right now. We’re working on projects that will pass virtual thunderstorms straight through middle school classrooms, with students "taking data” and building meteorological computational models to issue forecasts and predict where the storms will go. We’re creating new modeling and simulation engines to allow students to explore plate tectonics and geophysical processes in a hands-on way. We’re applying intelligent tutoring and machine learning techniques to provide real-time feedback to students and teachers as they go through games and curricula or as they engineer 3D houses and design solar panel arrays. We’re using infrared cameras that “see” heat energy to transform the chemistry classroom experience. We’re giving students from all over their first maker experiences by allowing them to quickly design and construct moving mechanisms out of paper and cardboard and then control them electronically. And I probably just missed a dozen others… 

What has your own experience in the classroom and laboratory taught you about the importance of STEM education for the modern learner?
In my years as a middle school and high school physics teacher, I learned the importance of letting students grapple with ideas for themselves and engage in "productive struggle” to learn through inquiry. As a physicist by training, I have also personally seen the benefit of figuring out solutions through persistence. I’ve found that people with STEM backgrounds often have a worldview influenced by these types of experiences, and I’ve seen it show in the way they approach the world. Experiences that derive things from first principles, either mathematically or logically, convey a sort of secret power that transfers to many applications far beyond science. In today’s world, where problems are messy and complex and so many solutions need to be discovered for the first time, this perspective is crucial. For both work and basic citizenship, I believe the practices of STEM learning are more and more becoming the practices we need for modern life!

The Concord logo carved with Chad's  Shapeoko desktop computerized router.

Word around town is that you’re a big maker! What is the importance of the Maker movement for STEM education?
It’s clear that the Maker movement is mirroring huge changes in society. It’s amazing—new and affordable fabrication technologies, open software, idea exchanges on the Internet, and streamlined supply and manufacturing chains have come together to really change the entire game. The transformation from raw idea to actual sophisticated, working thing has never been more accessible to so many people. Though this is a very exciting change societally, finding the meaningful place for it in STEM education has been a bit more elusive. I view these days as analogous to the Heathkit days of computing—it was clear that something big was afoot as early computers began to arrive onto the scene, but the path from that point to future educational applications was still shrouded in the fog. Many of our early jumps reflect this unsurety today; there is a ton of positive energy around makerspaces, and the hobbyist tools I play with in my spare time and with my kids are incredible, and still I sometimes don’t know how to make the solid connection to STEM education.

I do think that some things are clear, though. I’ve definitely come to believe that today’s children need to grow up with the notion that anything you can imagine can be created. I know that they need to understand that computers and electronic devices should be thought of as modular building blocks that exist to be bent to their will, as a medium for their ideas. I believe that this notion will become an important aspect of what "computational thinking” means in the future. And I believe that engineering is in many ways redefining itself in real time in front of our eyes.

Listened to any good podcasts / read any good books lately?
Great question—how much space do we have?

There are always the true classics: Radiolab and 99% Invisible are absolute must-listens for anyone and everyone. Newcomers like Startup and Serial have really upped the game. The irreverence of entries such as Reply All, the first season of Surprisingly Awesome and the gem that was Mystery Show is really refreshing.

And then there has been the whole crop of political podcasts that have become essential listening for us as Americans: Slate’s classic Political Gabfest and the New York Times’ The Daily are as important as the newspaper, and Politico’s Nerdcast is a close companion. 

For dessert, all the fun ones: future tech views from Flash Forward and Futuropolis, new ideas from Tell Me Something I Don’t Know or TED Radio Hour, or erudite dives into language with Lexicon Valley are all great as well.

What are five places that you’ve traveled to that you’re most likely to recommend? 
Hmm… I guess the best way to characterize travel is through those unforgettable moments tied to places on the globe. A few everyone should have on their bucket list:

  • Traveling by dugout canoe up a river in rural Malaysia to view the secret colonies of synchronized blinking fireflies
  • Participating in an all-night new year’s ceremony by bonfire in a Lisu hill tribe village on the border of Thailand and Burma
  • Soaking in the view from the top of a mountain in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth range
  • Climbing Budapest’s hills at night to identify the buildings stringing along the banks of the Danube below
  • Wandering down pretty much any back street in Paris, stopping to gaze in a patisserie window on every corner

And I’ll hopefully have another one soon—in a few weeks I’m heading to Dubai to be part of the first-ever set of educational technology demos at GESF, the “Davos of Education.” I hear Dubai is more like visiting another planet than another country, so I’m excited to see what it’s like.


Chad Dorsey is President and CEO of The Concord Consortium. Chad's professional experience ranges across the fields of science, education, and technology. Prior to joining The Concord Consortium, Chad led teacher professional development workshops as a member of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance. There, he developed technology-embedded assessments, analyzed Web-based phenomena and representations for an online library, and co-authored an NSTA Press book of science formative assessment probes. Chad has also taught science in classrooms from middle schools through college and has guided educational reform efforts at the district-wide and whole-school levels. While earning his B.A. in physics at St. Olaf College and his M.A. in physics at the University of Oregon, Chad conducted experimental fluid mechanics research, built software models of Antarctic ice streams, and dragged a radar sled by hand across South Cascade Glacier. Learn more about The Concord Consortium and the work they do on their website.