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Toy Fair & Digital Kids Conference 

After a quick once over of the digital tech section of the floor to make sure we hadn’t missed anything from the day before, we made our way to the Digital Kids Conference.

imagesTonda Bundge Sellers, President of Digital Kids Media kicked off the conference with a quick intro and handed the mic over to the emcee, David Grandison Jr., the executive producer of BrainPOP. David introduced the keynote: Dan White, of Filament Games. He gave a thorough overview of  declarative vs procedural knowledge. What really resonated with me was the statement that what we should be teaching kids is: “Anything that matters in the 21st century century outside of school”.

One new and surprising thing that Dan shared was that James Paul Gee was regarded as “the grandfather of games-for-learning” or educational games. This was a new name for me and I learned he is the author of 20+ books. I found his quote in an awesome article in Fast Track 2010,”The problem is that our schools are focused on relating facts and how well students retain this info,” says Gee. “Teachers are teaching to the test”. This indepth article titled: HOW VIDEO GAMES ARE INFILTRATING—AND IMPROVING—EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES, is well worth taking the time to check out! When Gee started playing video games, he was struck by the fact that games are often long and demanding — not nearly as dumb or as stereotyped — yet designed to be so intuitive that no manual is ever needed. You learn by playing. Doesn’t this all sound too familiar?

images-1Next up was Emily Kirkpatrick and Paul Reynolds, Emily is vice president of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). She is the guiding spirit of the organization’s focus on the learning needs of the 21st century family. Paul Reynolds is Peter Reynolds twin brother and CEO of the renowned FableVision, the transmedia development studio based in Boston. We got a quick overview of Renegade Buggies – a timely NEW APP from NCFL.

The third panel included Jordana Drell, VP of preschool games from Nickelodeon, her advice to all the app dev’s in the audience was to start with watching and learning about the play patterns of kids. Great advice! Brittany Sommer Katzin,  curriculum specialist at the Sesame Workshop was asked what was her take on the secret sauce to making a great app; she succinctly explained that the secret sauce is never the same from app to app, she suggested scaffolding the structure of levels and helping students realize why they got a wrong answer. She also pointed out that the mechanism for engagement, is paramount. Erin Wilkey O., senior editor of education reviews at Common Sense Media and Graphite reinforced how procedural learning is more engaging, and the need to keep kid-centric design at the forefront of the end product. She spoke of the different developmental stages kids go through, the building of knowledge, and the importance of investigative or deeper learning when designing an app.

GoldieBlox still from one of their videos.

GoldieBlox pic from one of their videos.

The next panel discussed the pink aisle and the distinct differences between it and the blue aisle. My big take away was the importance of appropriate ROLE MODELS in children’s lives and this was conveyed throughout the panel discussion. From Hopscotch, the coding app, Jocelyn Leavitt shared a story of her awakening one Christmas at a large family gathering when she saw that the gift giving was distinctly defined by the child’s gender, and this is what inspired the Hopscotch app to be developed. Jocelyn discussed the concept that something as superficial as skinning can really make a difference in a products appeal. Alice Brooks co-founder of Roominate, an app designed to spark creativity through design challenges, shared her start into the world of STEM. She attributed it to the day her dad said no to Barbie, and instead bought her a saw. She emphasized the importance of UX testing and her own observation that independent play was the norm in most children’s after school free time, most working parents do not have time to play with or alongside their child.

Raul Gutierrez from Tinybop described how his app company provides kids with big ideas and helps them make connections with their own world. Raul spoke specifically and had slides displaying a study of app icons and their gender appeal solely based on the color palette, of course anything pinkish or purple was girl, blue boy and the primary colors  were engendered. Jeremy Scheinberg one of the co-founders of Trobo, the storytelling robot, has developed plush robots that interact with an iPad app and help to promote STEM, as well as social and emotional learning through storytelling. He told a darling story of how his daughter asked what makes lightning after getting booted out of a swimming pool, her reaction to the explanation prompted her response, “Daddy this would be a good story for the robots to teach children”.

The overall premise that, all too often, students hear is how learning is not FUN from parents and society in general has tainted their perception and made teaching STEM challenging. The message:  disrupt the gender divide and make sure our girls are getting their fair share of stimulating ungendered toys, especially in the area of STEM.

dkc2015-expo18mast-430x140-v1The Digital Kids Conference ended for me after this last panel and, unfortunately, I was unable to attend the next two days of events featuring some of the best experts in the digital education space. My apologies, I flew to visit my daughter on Monday morning, who is studying in Costa Rica, and missed the rest of the conference. I was sorry that I did not get the opportunity to see Jesse Schell, the CEO of Schell Games, Warren Buckleitner, the Editor of Children’s Technology Review, and Azi Jamalian, the Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at Tiggly present. Just know, don’t take a fast and steady internet connection for granted. It has taken me a week to get this post up, due to the lack of reliable service. The scenery has been magnificent, the weather sunny and warm and, of course, spending time with my daughter well worth the inconvenience! Stay tuned: a review of Moff, the incredible virtual toy by Co-founder Akinori Takahagi, another speaker I was sorry to have missed!

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