Closer by the Mile: A FableVisionary’s Pan-Mass Challenge Adventure

FableVision's Mikaela Johnson (right) and her friend and PMC riding teammate Rebecca Epstein (left).

FableVision's Mikaela Johnson (right) and her friend and PMC riding teammate Rebecca Epstein (left).

Two weekends ago, I participated in my first-ever Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). Alongside the incredibly inspiring, resilient group of riders on Team Freeman-Clayton, I rode from Wellesley, MA to Bourne, MA. After hearing amazing stories about the PMC experience from many folks—including FableVision’s Adam Landry (a Pan-Mass veteran of nine years!)—and watching my dad ride with this team for nine years, I decided to join Team Freeman-Clayton in its charge to find a cure.

For 38 years now, the Pan-Mass Challenge has drawn in thousands of cyclists from all over the U.S. and beyond to raise money for The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It is a massive fundraising event that, according to its site, “raises more money for charity than any other athletic fundraising event in the country.”

The Pan-Mass Organization prides itself on being more than a cause—it’s a catalyst. I found these words to be true, even before the race had started. At the starting line, all of the cancer survivors riding were asked to raise their hands. An astonishing amount of riders raised their hands high and proud. They were amongst the hundreds of riders who were all working together to make “cancer-free” a reality for everyone, and help survivors maintain their good health. For me, those individuals were my catalyst; this was the humbling moment of realization that this was the reason why I was riding. This was the story that I would hold on to every mile of the way.

Every rider, volunteer, and sideline supporter brings a different story, a different reason for making the trek. Every mile of the ride was fueled by these stories and by kind words of encouragement by the spectators and volunteers. While each story is unique, they’re all based around one common goal—finding a cure. People told their stories through posters, drawings, signs, costumes, and displays of photographs of victims and survivors. Parents and friends of parents of cancer survivors or victims told their child’s story through their helmet decorations. Characters that offered comfort during those difficult times whizzed past me all weekend—Kermit the Frog, toy trucks, origami animals, Thomas the Tank Engine.

My experience reaffirmed the power that storytelling has to connect us and bring us down to earth, to teach and to inspire. I’m fortunate to be a part of a mission-driven community at FableVision, where the work I do revolves around a commitment to making the world a better place through media and storytelling. We’re constantly looking for ways to inspire creativity, foster learning, and most importantly, to motivate positive change in our world.

Though we pride ourselves on the contributions we make in the world of educational media, we also seek out ways to help our community more generally, whether that be running the Cambridge 5K Yulefest for Cambridge Family and Children's Services, partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, busting out the board games for Extra Life, the 24-hour gaming fundraiser for Boston Children’s Hospital (more broadly for the Children’s Miracle Network), or collecting toys and presents as part of the Adopt-A-Family program with The Home For Little Wanderers.

I am so proud to have been able to participate in an event that helps get us so much closer to a cure. It was inspiring how much support and encouragement there was each step of the way, from volunteers passing out food at each stop to the little kids holding up signs and cheering on their front lawns as hundreds of riders zoomed past their houses.

The ride was full of inspiring stories, laughter, gratitude, and memories. Most importantly, the ride was full of life and full of hope. Hope took form in posters, fliers, decorated t-shirts, photographs, the faces of cancer warriors.

I learned about the power of optimism, support, community, and resilience. I learned that every ounce of support makes a difference.


More about Mikaela Johnson, Production Assistant
Born and raised in Needham, MA, Mikaela earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Colby College. At Colby, Mikaela was a member of the women’s squash team and worked as a research assistant in the Child Development Lab. While at the Lab, she spent hours in preschool classrooms collecting data for studies pertaining to children’s cognition. Prior to FableVision, Mikaela developed her passion for educational media during her two summers interning at WGBH, first as a radio intern for On Campus and then as a production assistant for High School Quiz Show. Read more about Mikaela



Postcards from Georgia

When my best friend Emily moved to Georgia to pursue a PhD in school psychology, I was excited for her and a little apprehensive—she was moving to a new state that I had never visited and didn’t know much about. So when FableVision Studios forged a partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) to create Georgia Race Through Time, a phenomenal new game-based learning tool that teaches 8th graders about Georgia history, I was beyond thrilled. Through Savannah, the talented antiques dealer and Georgia Race Through Time’s protagonist, and her trusty dog Peaches, I was able to learn more about my best friend’s new home and feel connected to a state I had never been to.

When GPB and FableVision launched Georgia Race Through Time, I immediately shared the game with Emily. Being both an educator and student, she instantly fell in love with it. Inspired by the game and whisked away by the charming postcards FableVision designed to show specific historic locations, Emily and I devised a plan to explore a portion of the Peach State with a road trip from Atlanta to Savannah. On June 23, Emily and I hit the road as we set off for the very same cities explored by Savannah and Peaches. With postcards from the game, allow me to give you a glimpse of our own Race-Through-Time-inspired trip!

Atlanta is Emily’s new home and the first stop on our trip. With Emily as tour guide, I was able to see the bustling city that emerged from the ashes of the Civil War. I visited Georgia State University where Emily works and goes to school, the massive Georgia Aquarium, and ate delicious southern BBQ. In the evening, I got a rooftop view of the State Capitol Building’s golden dome glistening against the night sky.


Nestled in the heart of Georgia, not too far from the mountains or ocean, is the second stop on our trip. Macon is a city rich with history, landmarks, and incredible music. We spent an hour soaking up the place “where soul lives.” In Macon, there’s always an event or festival. To blend in with the locals, we explored a farmer’s market where we picked up Cajun boiled peanuts (an absolute road trip must!) and, of course, Georgia peaches


You can’t visit the Georgia coast without visiting one of the Barrier Islands! With our sunglasses and picnic basket in tow, we set off for the beach on Tybee Island. From being a hot spot for pirates looking to hide their loot, to playing an important military role during the American Civil War, to being a popular beach town getaway for nearby residents, Tybee is the place to be if you want to escape the Georgia heat and humidity with cooling saltwater breezes.

The namesake of Georgia Race Through Time’s main character and the final destination of our trip, this coastal city is bursting with southern charm! A strategic port city during the American Revolution and American Civil War, Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city. We lunched at the famous Gryphon Tea Room, a converted apothecary across the street from the prestigious Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD). Part of what gives Savannah its charm is the oak trees branches draped in Spanish moss that line the streets and public squares. We came across a series of these on Jones Street, voted one of the most beautiful streets in all of North America!

Emily and Mitul in Macon, Georgia

Emily and Mitul in Macon, Georgia

Georgia is a picturesque state dotted with vibrant cities that have rich stories to tell. There’s still much of the Peach State I have yet to explore and so much history I have yet to learn. With my pals Emily, Savannah, and Peaches continuing to foster my love for the state and all that it has to offer, I’m looking forward to having Georgia on my mind again soon.

Play the free game here and discover for yourself the history behind the glorious state of Georgia!

The adventure isn’t over! GPB and FableVision are hoping to bring our team of playful experts to SXSWedu 2018 to share how media developers, public broadcasters, and educators came together to pioneer Georgia Race Through Time and increase student engagement. We're hoping to bring our team of playful experts to SXSWedu 2018 in our session “Immersive Learning: Teaching History Through GBL.” But we need your help to get there—yes, you!

Session attendees will learn how to:

  • Reach the notoriously hard-to-engage adolescent audience and extend that engagement from the classroom to home and back again;
  • Receive tips or insights on how to successfully merge primary documents with modern technology for a unique game experience;
  • Leverage collaboration across disciplines to produce a game-based learning approach to improving students' learning performance.

Get the insider info to rock the power of your PanelPicker vote and help us get to Austin. Click here to read more about our session and vote! 




August FableFriday: Lori Cooney, Project Coordinator and Universal Instructional Design Specialist at UMass Boston's Institute for Community Inclusion

Lori Cooney is no stranger to the phrase “follow your dreams.” As project coordinator and universal instructional design specialist at University of Massachusetts Boston’s Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), she understands that in order to plan for a career trajectory that you can be proud of, it’s helpful to take some time to learn more about yourself as a person by determining what your goals and interests are. That’s why, together with FableVision Studios, she heads up the development of Future Quest Island, an online adventure game that prepares students for college and career readiness. For over four years, ICI and FableVision have worked together to create a game that stays true to the mission of supporting students of all ages and abilities to follow their dreams.

“I want all students to discover and learn about the many career options available to them in this world, and would like to see them apply their individual skills and interests to planning for high school and life after high school to develop an Individualized Learning Plan that they can monitor throughout their educational career,” shares Lori. “I want students (with and without disabilities) to dream big about their future careers, become self-determined and recognize their postsecondary options so they can start planning early and do the best they can to reach their goals.”

Dive in for a deeper look at the core values that drive all of ICI’s efforts, the game that’s getting kids excited about planning for their future, and learn about Lori’s professional background in teaching and communications—as well as her stint with stardom on the big screen!                                                                           

How did you decide on your career trajectory when you were younger?
When I was a child I wanted to be two things: a famous actress and a teacher. I started babysitting and working with kids in middle school, throughout high school and in college. As a high school student, I volunteered in an afterschool program with students with special needs and was a Respite care provider in college for my cousin with Down syndrome and autism. Ironically, I went to college to be a teacher, but transferred and received my degree in marketing and communications from Emerson College. I spent some time working in advertising and sales, while pursuing my acting career. Right after college, I was signed by an agency in New York and was in some commercials, on MTV, and was an extra in a movie. After that, I jumped into sales so I could travel Europe.

Eventually, I settled down, got married, and went back to school to be a teacher. I had my daughter and received my Masters in Technology Education from Lesley University all at the same time in 2002. I have been working in education ever since. Acting and teaching are very much alike. I never in my wildest dreams would have guessed I’d be here today designing and implementing a research-based college and career-readiness game for all students, funded by the Federal Office of Special Education Programs. I am very proud and extremely grateful for this opportunity and am looking forward to seeing where the wind takes me as I continue with my adventurous career.

How have you noticed the education technology industry changing since you first entered it?
It’s interesting to me how quickly things change in technology education and how inexpensive it is today to get a device in the hands of a student with mobile devices and Chromebooks. The most valuable change in technology education is the ease of using mobile devices for assistive technology. The built-in features on iOS and Android devices provide individuals with access that is cost-effective, readily available and extremely powerful. This levels the playing field for all individuals with all kinds of disabilities.


ICI strives to create a world where all people with disabilities are welcome and fully included in valued roles wherever they go. Tell us more about how ICI seeks to accomplish this goal.
All of our efforts stem from one core value: that people with disabilities are more of an expert than anyone else. For over 40 years, Institute for Community Inclusion has worked on both a national and international capacity to create a more inclusive world for people with disabilities. Our core mission is to ensure that people with disabilities are given the same opportunities to dream big and make their dreams a fully included, integrated, and welcomed reality whether it’s at a school, workplace, volunteer group, home, or any other part of the community.

You wear many hats at ICI! What is a universal instructional design specialist?
A universal instructional design specialist is a unique position that combines Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and instructional design strategies (i.e. online learning, blended learning, varied assessments) to ensure that a tailored curriculum is delivered and accessed through multiple formats and methods so that all students can demonstrate knowledge.


How did you come to cross paths with FableVision?
Prior to joining the ICI, I worked as a technology coordinator for Bishop Stang High School where I served on a MassCUE special interest group. One of my technology colleagues, Gaby, arranged for my chronically ill daughter to receive a copy of Animation-ish back in 2008 from Paul Reynolds at FableVision. Ever since then, I have been a big fan of the company and their philosophy of helping all children be the best they can be. When Future Quest Island was being considered for a large technology grant in 2011, I was attending an open house at FableVision and discussed a potential collaboration in moving forward. The rest, as they say, is history.

Together, we’re preparing students for 21st century skills and college and career readiness with Future Quest Island. As the lead person on the project, can you tell us more about the game?
Future Quest Island is an online adventure designed around national and state college and career readiness standards to assist all middle school students in preparing for high school and life beyond with online activities that promote student self-discovery, advocacy, exploration, organization, and technology literacy skills.

In this game, students create college and career, self-determination, social and online safety goals and perform a series of activities that are automatically saved in the online portfolio, also known as an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP). The ILP contains each student’s personalized learning goals, writing activities, and thought collages and organizes them by theme and a “Transition Passport.” A Transition Passport contains all transition-related activities to be used in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings and/or in other meaningful ways. Every activity has a coin reward that students earn from the teacher to purchase new items for customizing their hut, which is a huge motivation on the island.

There is also a Future Quest Island Teaching Toolkit (TT), designed to provide teachers with information on how to successfully implement Future Quest Island. In the toolkit, teachers can access the recommended scope and sequence of teaching units, including lesson plans and supplemental lesson plans that promote college and career readiness among middle school students.

How do you tailor the content of Future Quest Island to be inclusive and accessible to all students?
The entire island is built with accessibility in mind and we tailored the content to be universally designed and inclusive in multiple ways. All of the avatars are designed to be inclusive of the student population with a variety of abilities, colors, genders, shapes, and sizes. The game is accessible with built-in voice over animation, text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and closed captioning. Every activity on the island has an image response system built in, which is a graphic representation that helps students generate words and sentence starters so that all students regardless of disability can complete the activity.

Students with print disabilities can use a screen reader or utilize the built-in voice over animation, while students with hearing impairments can turn on closed-captioning on videos. Future Quest Island was designed to work on all computers and mobile devices with internet access, eliminating the need for apps and software installation which can be a huge barrier for students.

Future Quest Island is among one of FableVision’s long-term projects. What has your experience been like working with us for four years?
Working with FableVision has been a fabulous experience. The team of individuals we worked with since the beginning of this project in 2012 all the way to 2017 has been essential to the success of the program. From concept to design to installation (and sometimes revision), the entire team—Brian, Loren, Keith, Michael, Polly, Karen, Paul, Chris, Adam, and Sarah—has been nothing short of amazing. I wholeheartedly believe the FableVision team wants this program to succeed as much as we do.

Setting personal, professional, and academic goals is a big component of Future Quest Island. What are some of your long-term and short-term goals for Future Quest Island?
For a short-term goal, we would like to continue the work and get it in the hands of students in grades 3-8. My long-term goal for Future Quest Island is to continue building the program so it can be a career planning tool from elementary to middle to high school and the portfolio will be their Individualized Learning Plan that transitions with students as they advance their education so that their teachers, guidance counselors, IEP team, future schools, families, and potential employers can see their career goals.

If you could pass on a piece of wisdom to adolescents thinking about their own career path, what would it be?  
I would say keep an open mind, listen, observe, ask questions and most importantly, never say never. There are so many careers that haven’t even been created yet and it’s amazing to learn about ourselves as the world around us continues to evolve.

Work is no fun without music to keep you grooving. What’s your favorite album to listen to while working? What’s your favorite album to listen to when you have friends over?
My favorite album of all time is Tigerlily by Natalie Merchant. It has the most inspiring song on it, Wonder, which is about a child who has a disability but is gifted in her way.  The song has a special meaning for me with my own daughter and son who have both had a lot of health challenges. When friends come over, my favorite album to listen to is anything by Train or Rob Thomas. I just love them both. Sometimes, depending on the level of friendship, I’m known to take out my guitar and play some music for my friends.



July FableFriday: Nick Maynard, Senior Vice President at Commonwealth

Right from the start it was a direct mission match. FableVision Studios and Commonwealth have been working together since 2010 to provide people with the financial tools they need for the security and peace of mind they deserve. Commonwealth (formerly known as the Doorways to Dreams Fund) hopes to create a stronger and more prosperous society where everyone has financial opportunity. Together with Nick and our partners at Commonwealth, we’ve created the award-winning financial literacy games Bite Club, Con ‘Em if You Can, Farm Blitz, and Refund Rush. At the helm of innovation is Senior Vice President Nick Maynard, who’s part of the team responsible for making this mission a reality through playful learning.

“At Commonwealth, we believe that tools that use fun to increase people's motivation to engage with financial topics reduce stress and anxiety surrounding financial decision making and lead to real-world action taking,” Nick explains. “These tools can improve the financial opportunity and security of financially vulnerable people.”

Through games that teach financial literacy, Commonwealth is improving the lives of Americans by educating users and making financial literacy, security, and opportunity attainable for all. Read up on the new tricks up Nick’s sleeve as he moves Commonwealth towards new heights, chats about utilizing gamification to improve financial education, and his gem of a find on Pokémon Go.

Tell us a little bit about your role at Commonwealth and how you approach your work.
I am a Senior Vice President at Commonwealth and recently celebrated 10 years with the organization. Since joining, I’ve been involved in leading initiatives to improve savings outreach for low to moderate income families, piloting and scaling prize-based savings in the financial services industry, and promoting national civic savings through 21st retail securities. Currently, I focus a great deal on scaling our work around gamification/games (“Financial Entertainment”) and Prize-Linked Savings.

Infographic: Using Games to Build Financial Capability 

Infographic: Using Games to Build Financial Capability 

Making people financially secure is the core of Commonwealth’s mission. How does the organization’s perspective and work stand out as distinctive?
User engagement and insights are at the core of our innovation process to create solutions that promote financial capability. For the games, we work on the designs alongside low- and moderate-income consumers. They join us at three key milestones during the development of each game to give feedback on the gameplay experience. We also conduct preliminary efficacy testing with these and additional users.

Our suite of “Financial Entertainment" (please have Flash enabled on your browser to view the site) video games currently includes six titles that cover topics ranging from budgeting and debt management to saving for retirement and avoiding financial fraud. Since the games launched in 2010, we’ve seen some exciting results! The FE website has had 975K visits by 750K users, and 53K app downloads.

How did Commonwealth come to cross paths with FableVision?
We had heard of FableVision from a number of folks in our network due to their outstanding track record and reputation. Our friends at the MIT Education Arcade brokered a formal introduction. Gary Goldberger and I sat down to meet, discuss our first two games, and the work we had envisioned for the future. The partnership has been going strong ever since.

You’ve worked with FableVision to create a suite of award-winning financial literacy games including Bite Club, Con ‘Em if You Can, Farm Blitz, and Refund Rush. What has your experience been like working with FableVision?
Collaborating with FableVision has been a fantastic journey. Across all facets of the FableVision team—production, art, content, tech, design—folks dug deeply into our mission of financial security innovation. The success we have achieved together is a reflection of that approach.


The Con ‘Em if You Can game (avoiding financial fraud) is played through the eyes of an antagonist. How did you decide to have the end user play as a con artist?
The original design was developed with our partners at the MIT Education Arcade, Caitlin Feeley and Scot Osterweil. We had always wanted to leverage this approach as a pedagogical strategy, learning by being an actor who might exploit financially vulnerable consumers. Caitlin and Scot were able to package that “being the bad guy” idea in a palatable way for us.

Why and how do you think games improve financial opportunity and literacy?
With hundreds of millions of users, casual video games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush are hugely popular among a wide variety of demographics and offer an opportunity to engage financially vulnerable people. These games are easy to learn, addictive, available on demand, and allow for short periods of play. Thanks to widely used digital technologies like smartphones, video games can be made available at scale more cost-effectively than traditional financial-education workshop models.

How does Commonwealth measure the effectiveness of its games? What impact have you seen?
We measured how well the games work in prompting positive financial behaviors and action taking through two initial studies. First, we conducted a randomized comparison trial of the debt-management game Farm Blitz, a match-three puzzle game in which players need to match like vegetables in a row quickly so they can earn money to pay down debt, manage cash on hand, and invest in their future as they advance to higher levels. The Farm Blitz study measured the impact of gameplay—as compared to reading traditional financial-education materials—on gains in knowledge and uptake of a savings opportunity. Both groups achieved statistically significant gains from the baseline on measures of confidence and knowledge, but savings action-taking was slightly higher for the video game group. Thinking about magnifying impact, a video game is more appealing than reading a pamphlet, and thus video games are better able to attract a larger target population to engage with financial-education content.

In another study, we partnered with office-supply company Staples to customize and test a version of our Bite Club retirement-planning game. As owners of a vampire "day club," Bite Club players have to keep their customers happy by clicking and moving them around to give them what they want. Between rounds, players must pay down debt and save for retirement. During the test, the customized game connected to Staples' 401(k) and benefit platform and allowed players to take action in their accounts during play. During one test using a single direct-mail piece promoting the video game to newly eligible participants, Staples observed an 11 percent rate of positive action taking in those recipients' 401(k) accounts.

These studies provided early evidence that games really can foster learning and prime individuals to take active roles in their own financial planning, and have fun while doing it. The results in turn led Commonwealth to think about how we might further integrate fun financial tools into contexts in which they could create sustained behavior change and lead to improved longer-term financial outcomes.


How have you seen the conversation around financial literacy evolve?
The approach to financial literacy is changing and user engagement is becoming more significant than ever to build financial capability. Traditional financial workshops, while informative, don't always meet the needs of users. Such workshops can lack excitement and are typically offered at times and in contexts removed from those in which people make financial decisions.

Widely-used digital technologies like smartphones are a game changer! Video game technology can be leveraged to address some of the shortcomings of traditional financial education by acting as appealing, low-stress entryways that motivate users to engage with educational experiences. The possibility to embed opportunities for playing the game (gameplay) on the computers and mobile devices that players already use to manage their financial lives and easily connect to platforms for taking action is very powerful. We encourage the financial industry, community partners, and policy makers to explore solutions that leverage games and gamification to increase engagement and improve financial security and opportunity.

So—what’s next for Commonwealth? Have anything cool in the works?
Motivated by the findings of our initial research and inspired by the success of gamified digital health and fitness tools like Fitbit and the Zombies, Run! app, we developed a “game” that would create a self-contained system for motivating and rewarding consumers for ongoing real-world savings actions.

SavingsQuest is a tool that uses challenges, badges (digital awards offered for completing certain actions, like saving $5 at a time), and messaging to motivate savings transfers connected to live financial products, such as between a checking and savings account. Unlike traditional savings activity, SavingsQuest offers a fun and dynamic interface that delivers instant gratification for every save with an animated dancing pig. These elements combine to encourage small and first-time savers to start saving—even if only a penny at a time—toward the goal of having $250 (or any other chosen amount of savings) set aside for an emergency.

Beyond emergency saving, we also sought to bring the principles of gamification to bear on the challenge of improving college financial readiness. With the support of the Treasury Department's Financial Empowerment Innovation Fund, we developed a gamified application called Ramp It Up to do just that. Ramp It Up is a game in which players tap their screen to enable their character to fly through the air and avoid obstacles while collecting as many coins as possible. Players use the coins to unlock new abilities and levels. Between rounds, the game requires players to navigate and interact with college- and career-readiness tools—creating a Free Application for Federal Student Aid account, for instance, or searching for scholarships—in order to advance and unlock certain features within the game. As they engage in these activities, students gain both financial knowledge and confidence in their ability to attend and pay for higher education. With so many resources competing for the attention of young people, tools like Ramp It Up can help break through the noise to spur meaningful action using a format familiar to and popular with students.

What was your favorite video game growing up?
It was absolutely Galaga! I remember spending lots of quarters and hours at the arcade on rainy days trying to get the spacecraft captured so I could double up my fire power, and then trying to get perfect scores on the “Challenging State.” The feedback in this game was excellent with the hit/miss ratio being something to try to improve. During the height of its popularity, it was a huge accomplishment to make the leaderboard and a worthy challenge to get the overall high score on a Galaga machine.

A Tyranitar

I hear you play a lot of Pokémon Go. What's the best Pokémon you've caught or evolved?
I play lots of Pokémon Go with my 7-year-old son. With the release of the new gym design, we were able to battle and catch a 20133 CP Tyranitar, which was pretty cool. We have a good system worked out in the new design where he battles and I catch in the new gyms. This game has definitely had a long tail with us.

Nick Maynard is a Senior Vice President for Commonwealth. Since joining, Nick has led initiatives improving marketing to LMI families, piloting prize-based savings in the credit union industry, and offering US Savings Bonds at tax time.  Currently, he concentrates on scaling work around Prize-Linked Savings and gamification/games (“Financial Entertainment”). Prior to joining Commonwealth, Nick spent almost a decade providing customer, market, and operational strategy consulting to Fortune 1000 executives while at Deloitte Consulting and Braxton Associates. Nick holds both a Masters in Business Administration and a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. He also holds a Bachelors of Engineering and Operations Research from Princeton University.






FableVision Resources for a Summer of STEAM


Get ready for a STEAM-infused summer! The integration of the Arts into STEM adds a dash of creativity into summer learning. Here are just a few of our favorite STEAM projects for you to play with. This list is perfect for parents looking to keep their kids engaged over the summer months—and have fun while doing it!

Looking for something more hands-on? Check out our kite-making activity below, created by FableVision’s Christina Kelly!

Geniverse, Concord Consortium
Geniverse is a free virtual lab environment that allows students to learn about biology through interaction and experimentation. In Geniverse, students are able to investigate dragon phenotypes and genotypes, run breeding experiments, and solve genetic problems. Geniverse encourages students to have fun while learning biological concepts through interaction with mythical beasts but each concept is rooted in science and can be directly applied to both the classroom and the real world.

Good Thinking! The Science of Teaching Science, Smithsonian Science Education Center
Good Thinking! is an engaging and entertaining free web series designed to enhance K-8 science education, and deepen understanding of STEM topics for teachers and students alike through exploration of pedagogical ideas across a range of subject-matter topics like energy, natural selection, and gravity, as well as cognitive research findings on topics such as student motivation, or the myth of left- and right-brained people. Each episode has been vetted by experts and adheres to next generation science standards.

Weather Lab, Smithsonian Science Education Center
Weather Lab is a free online game that allows players to select different ocean currents and air masses that visualize the result of the combination. As a tool used in classrooms, care was taken to ensure the correct symbols and movement of air masses correspond with the weather pattern and land at the exact point on the map. Teachers use the Weather Lab to encourage students to think critically and make predictions. The overall goal is to teach students about the relationship between climate and how it affects them on a personal level. 

Zoombinis, TERC
In Zoombinis, players test their logical reasoning, data analysis, pattern finding, and problem-solving skills as they help Zoombinis complete unique challenges. Through Zoombinis, players learn important life skills including algebraic thinking, data analysis, and theory formulation in a fun and engaging setting. With 12 puzzles and four levels of increasing difficulty in each, players are constantly challenged, improving their problem-solving skills as they advance through the game. Hip, hip, Zoombinis!

Sid the Science Kid, Jim Henson Company/KCET/Los Angeles for PBS Kids
The website created for Sid the Science Kid allows 3-5 year olds to explore and practice scientific methodology through several games that integrate progressive learning and open-ended play. The site encourages collaborative learning between adults and children by providing interactive teachable moments that extend the learning within each game. The Parent/Teacher sections contain free extensive information about the show and the website, and they provide resources to aid adults as they explore science and help answer their children’s questions.

Renegade Buggies, National Center for Families Learning
With retail wrapping, Renegade Buggies encourages free financial and mathematical literacy for the whole family. By combining gaming with money management skills, Renegade Buggies is a fun way for both children and parents to learn basic budgeting skills. The game has four levels: unit prices, buying in bulk, coupons, and promos. The entertaining gameplay meets the educational goals seamlessly, and customizations up the fun factor: visit the virtual body shop with your earned coins for a stunt suit, bunny ears, and more!

Fab@School Maker Studio, FableVision Learning
Fab@School Maker Studio is an easy-to-use web-based digital design and fabrication tool that invites students in grades 3-8 to experience STEM and STEAM learning in a more engaging, personally meaningful way. Fab@School Maker Studio offers a unique on-ramp to engineering with cross-curricular activities ranging from simple to sophisticated. The program supports a variety of materials and a large set of tools from scissors, rulers, and pens to 2D cutters, laser cutters, 3D printers, and more!

Get Crafty with Christina Kelly, FableVision's Production Designer!

Meet Christina, the mastermind behind our new summer banner full of cats and kites. She’s taking inspiration from her summerscape to show you how to make (and fly!) your own handmade kite this summer. Let your imagination soar with her step-by-step instructions.





Collect your supplies. You will need:

  • Tissue paper
  • Tape
  • 2 wooden dowels
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Markers
  • Ribbon for the tail
  • String

1. Sketch and cut your kite sail
Fold the paper in half and taking a pencil, trace a half diamond the length of your dowel. Carefully cut out the shape and unfold your paper.

2. Build your kite structure
Take your wooden dowel and lay it down the center of your sail, from the top of the diamond to the bottom. Tape at the ends to secure the dowel to the sail. Take the second dowel and lay it down to form a “t” with the first piece. Tape the ends together.

3. Make a tail
Using your ribbon, add a few tails to your kite. For a fun look, you can curl the ribbon with your scissors. See directions here to learn how.

4. Attach your line
Take the string and tie it to the right and left hand sides of the horizontal stick. Then tie the string to the center of that string for your flying line.

5. Decorate your kite
Add a dash of personality to your kite! I really like cats so I’m making my kite a purr-fect blend of kittens and pizzazz.


6. Go out there and fly your kite!
You’re ready! Just find a strong breeze and watch your kite soar!