Preview of 2017 Content in Context Conference!

One of the cool things about going to Content in Context (CIC) for several years is seeing how educational publishing changes over time—with new challenges, trends, tools, and best practices. Technology is a big factor, impacting everything from content development to assessment. Publishers are facing issues related to Open Educational Resources (OER), data interoperability, and more. And, of course, there are several trends that are important to FableVision, such as the increasing use of games, growing interest in AR and VR, tracking and reporting of learning data from interactives and games, and integrating media into student-centered resources.

FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds accepts the 2013 Visionary Award, part of AAP's Lamplighter Honors.

If you don’t know about CIC, it’s the annual conference of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) PreK-12 Learning Group. This year, I’m honored to be on the planning committee, working with a group of top professionals in the educational publishing field. The planning committee is working to make the conference a lively, valuable place to learn about edtech, product development, pedagogy, policy, and sales and marketing. And, of course, it’s a great place to network.

CIC includes pre-conference forums, the two-day conference, and a ceremony for the Golden Lamp Awards and the Lamplighter Honors. FableVision is thrilled that this year, as in several recent years, a product we developed is a finalist for a Golden Lamp Award. This year it’s the Good Thinking! free, animated professional development series, which we developed for the Smithsonian Science Education Center. The series supports K–12 science educators through targeted short-format videos that explore common student ideas and misconceptions about a range of science topics, such as energy, chemical reactions, and natural selection, as well as pedagogical subjects like student motivation and the myth of left- and right-brained people.

As part of the conference planning committee, I’ll be drawing from my experience in planning and developing educational media to moderate three sessions in different parts of the conference.

The first session I’ll present is Using Sales & Marketing Insights to Inform Technology Product Development. This conversation between Matt Keller, Chief Marketing Officer at Capstone, and me is part of the Content Forum. In working with FableVision clients, I’ve found that they don’t always understand the needs of administrators, teachers, and students in regard to technology products. Matt and I will explore these constituencies, and we’ll use case studies to identify ways in which developers can ensure their products meet the varying needs.

I’m most deeply involved in the EdTech Forum. After a series of presentations about the key technologies that support student-centered education, I will moderate a group discussion in which all of the panelists and attendees will generate 4–6 use-case scenarios. I’ll prompt and help shape the discussion with topics like variables like computer availability, the role of technology within the instructional design, needs for tracking and reporting, the mix of media to be used, and the degree to which the curriculum is student-driven vs. managed by the educator.

As the session progresses into the afternoon, participants will break out into groups and examine each use case in terms of the key technologies that were presented in the morning. The conference planners hope to turn the results of this entire forum into white papers for the industry.

The last session I’ll moderate is part of the conference itself. This session is called How to Make a Winning Play with Games. I’ve been fortunate to get several exceptional people to join my panel:

  • Steve Isaacs, a middle-school teacher in New Jersey, teaches a course in Game Design and Development. Steve is also one of the founding members of Games4Ed, an organization dedicated to increasing the use of games in the classroom. I recently joined the Board of Directors of Games4Ed.
  • Ryan Schaaf is a professor in the Technology for Educators Program at Johns Hopkins University. Ryan has written four books on educational gaming, and has a deep understanding of research into games.
  • Suzi Wilczynski, CEO of Dig-IT! Games, is one of the nation’s leading experts in game-based learning. Dig-IT! Games produces fun, engaging, research-based cross-curricular games, and FableVision has had the good fortune of developing their games Mayan Mysteries, which has won numerous awards, including a Parents’ Choice Award, and Can U Dig It!, a fun puzzle-based app.

During this session, we’re going to answer questions such as, What’s the difference between game-based learning and gamification? What are games good for? How can you make the best use of gaming’s strengths, and design games that are engaging and effective? How can you gather useful data from game play? And What can we expect in educational games in the next few years?

This year’s CIC conference promises to offer practical value and usable information to participants, along with an opportunity to exchange ideas with professionals across the educational publishing industry. Hope to see you there—find me and say hello!


About Shelby

Shelby Marshall is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Product Solutions. Shelby works with clients and partners to explore potential partnership opportunities and to map out the strategy and “ecosystem” for complex projects. He has a bachelor's in Biology from Cornell University, an MAT-Museum Education from George Washington University, and more than 35 years of experience designing and producing educational materials and experiences — including countless software products, websites, animated films, and books. Shelby is a Director of Games4Ed, an active member of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and a member of the Museum Computer Network (MCN). Learn more about Shelby



From the Classroom to the Studio: A Thank You to Our Teachers

As an educational media studio, we’re aware of the impact that teachers can have in our lives. True "Keepers of the Flame," they help shape our minds and empower us to reach our potential. Many of us at FableVision are here today because teachers in our lives helped us seek out and find our North Star. In honor of Thank A Teacher Day, we went around the studio to ask FableVisionaries who their special teacher(s) were.

Margaret Riel

Paul Reynolds, CEO and Co-Founder
Margaret Riel, Graduate School
Margaret is a late entry into my Creative Educator Hall of Fame—but I sensed an ancient wisdom about her right from that first day I met her in my graduate studies program at Pepperdine University. Her gentle, caring nature, and her encouragement that we would rise to the occasion made a deep impression at a time when I wasn't sure I wanted to continue in the program. She said one thing that has echoed within me ever since, "I want you to become more powerful versions of yourselves." It hit my heart and my mind—and has been my fuel as I journey along.  Isn't it interesting that even one phrase can change a life?

Didi with Ms. Norton 

Didi with Ms. Norton 

Didi Hatcher, Lead Animator
Ms. Melanie Norton, 9th Grade

Ms. Norton was my physical geography teacher in high school, and one of the teachers to leave the biggest impression on me. She was fresh out of college; she had come to a new country (Bulgaria), and had signed up to teach a subject different from what she was ultimately assigned. So she had a lot to learn on all fronts, but she taught herself the material, found her way around the country, and grew as a teacher in front of our eyes. She had incredibly high standards and expectations, both of herself and of us, and pushed us farther than we thought we could go. It was an English immersion high school, and I started off not speaking any English, so the cultural/linguistic element was part of my struggle too. But her example and her perseverance motivated me to keep pushing myself. Being able to identify with your teacher, and to share in a similar struggle, helped immensely. And she always believed I could do just a little better than last time, even if last time was perfect. She had bonus questions, bonus points, and bonus assignments for the students who wanted to go above and beyond. She taught me that there is no top. There's always room to grow better and reach higher.

Christina Kelly, Production Artist
Merry Beninato, 5-9th Grade

Merry was my introduction into private and focused art education. In her garage studio, she had lots of interesting items and trinkets that she encouraged her students to pull from to make unique compositions. She inspired me to decide how to challenge myself and where to look for art in the real world. If you were lucky enough to be her friend and long-term student, she had fun camping trips and retreats to the MSPCA to draw animals. I am so incredibly thankful to have had the doorway to the art world opened by her.

Ellen Hart, 11-12th Grade
Ellen Hart unlocked the treasure chest of opportunity for me when I felt like I was at my lowest. As the new kid who recently moved to a new town and knew no one, independent study art class was the retreat I didn't know I could have and needed so much. Ellen Hart and my other teacher, Ms. Nadeau-Tanner, gave me my own private half hour of the school day to use the photo-developing, art, and art supply storage rooms. Did I want to make a 5x5 foot painting? I was shown how to stretch the canvas. Did I want to take life-drawing classes? The name of a nearby place offering them was enthusiastically given to me. Ellen Hart made me feel like I was being invested in well before I was thinking about art professionally, and it has left a huge impact on me throughout my adult life.

Ric Allendorf, Sophomore/Junior Year of College
I feel very lucky to have had Ric Allendorf as a teacher at MassArt. Ric taught practical professional tips, as well as thoughtful poetic thoughts about how to look at shadows when the seasons change. Never a pushover either, he pointed out some stereotypes I had ingrained in my method of illustrating. I fondly remember him making homemade bread with everyone and that time when he made black walnut ink for everyone in my class. Every time his class was over, I’d realize that I didn't want to leave. His classes made me realize that learning was a lifelong passion.

Brian's family with Mr. and Mrs. Murray

Brian Grossman, Technical Director
Mr. Murray, 9th Grade

As a lover of math and science, I had always ranked my math and science classes above my language arts, social studies, and foreign language classes. That was until 9th grade English with Mr. Murray. His class was somehow more fun and interesting than any of my others. After doing a fair amount of teaching myself, I now appreciate that Mr. Murray never taught class “by the book.” As I look back at his class, I am amazed at the amount of time he must have put into crafting his lessons. In his class, I learned everything about the Greek gods, explored the fundamental archetypes of literature, and mastered how to “show” rather than “tell” in my writing. And if that weren't enough, I met Marci Levine (now Marci Grossman) my wife of nearly 20 years in his class.

Since our time together, Mr. Murray has become Mike. We get together regularly for dinners and drinks, catching up on our latest adventures and reminiscing about our time together in 9th grade English class.

Leigh (pictured on the right) in high school

Leigh (pictured on the right) in high school

Leigh Hallisey, Creative Director
Dr. Edward Sokolowski "Socks," 11th Grade English

We were studying poetry in AP English (I still can recite "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening!”). Dr. Sokolowski taught us how to analyze a poem; every word, every punctuation mark, the historical context, every rhyme or lack thereof, for meaning and a window into the author's intent. One day, Dr. Sokolowski played us a song, "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones, and said, "You can study song lyrics just like a poem," and had us focus on analyzing the instruments, rhythm, and vocalizations as well as words. My mind was blown. Later that week, he played us a music video he recorded on MTV, I think it was Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream," and added analyzing the visuals, editing, and camera movements into the mix. I would stay after class and after school to talk to him about music and film.

This class opened up a whole new world to me and I went on to study English, film, and television in college and then popular culture in graduate school. I really credit "Socks"—who was so kind, so smart, so encouraging, so engaging, so professorial in his cardigan with elbow patches—with helping put me on the path of being a media analyst and creator.

Bob in elementary school

Bob Flynn, Director of Art and Animation
Ms. Carter, 4th Grade

My 4th grade teacher Miss Carter encouraged me to draw. So much that she laminated four of my Ninja Turtle drawings and put them on the wall in the classroom. Right up front near the chalkboard! This was one of the first times I clearly remember a teacher valuing me for my passion, just as much as academic grades. I was a straight-A student, so I was used to being praised for the latter and appreciated the attention to my craft.

Jordan Bach, Developer
Mrs. Russell, 12th Grade

I lucked out with having so many inspiring, great teachers. To pick just one, Mrs. Russell taught me how to think critically and how to write. I learned to form my ideas into something with mass. In classroom discussions, she played devil's advocate, helping us to look more deeply. She challenged me, and I felt both frustrated and exhilarated. In the final weeks of senior year, with the trees budding and commencement nearing, she assigned a paper on Heart of Darkness. Who does that? She taught me I could expect more of myself.

Yvonne Bernardo

Mitul Daiyan, Marketing Coordinator
Yvonne Bernardo, College

I entered undergrad not fully prepared to take on college coursework; I couldn’t even write a proper essay! It was Professor Bernardo who took it upon herself to use her office hours to not just turn my writing into beautiful, thoughtful pieces but to show me the ins and outs of academia, listen to my stories, make me laugh, and be a mentor and friend. She invited me into her home and cheered me on when I needed the extra support. I owe a lot of my development to her and will never forget how much love and learning she has brought to my life.

Thomas Head

Thomas Head, College
Professor Thomas Head was an intimidating professor. I was terrified of both him and the rest of my classmates in the honors seminar that would change my life. I will forever be grateful to him for seeing through my shyness, for pushing me to apply to graduate school, for believing that I'd get in, for taking my parents out to dinner to convince them to let their Muslim daughter leave home to learn, for helping me scrounge up money so I could attend school, for all the empowering conversations that helped me feel less like an imposter. He passed away a few months before I graduated from Harvard so commencement day felt empty without him. There’s a sea of supportive people in my life but Tom will always stand out. I hope that I can do my best to honor his memory.

Mikaela with Mr. Barr

Mikaela Johnson, Production Assistant
Mr. Barr, 7th Grade

Mr. Barr was my 7th grade English teacher. He was one of the funniest teachers I’ve ever had. He’d send his classes into eruptions of laugher with his unparalleled jokes, wacky stories, and his famous “terminator walk” where he’d trot back and forth through the classroom in his favorite pair of clogs. He always made me feel comfortable in class, which was especially important give how shy a student I was. I will always be grateful for his warmth, humor, and patience.



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!"