The following is a live blog covering the events of the d.bootcamp class on Friday, November 21.
This is it. The d.school's d.bootcamp class is in final presentations. The class was assigned with tackling the 30 million word gap -- the difference in the number of words children of disadvantaged children learn relative to their peers from higher-income families.
The students have applied design thinking to the challenge, bringing the process to bear in interviews and prototypes.
The class started with presentations of students' two-minute videos depicting their underlying insights and prototypes, resulting from their work inside and outside of the classroom. I'll be covering it live from here at the d.school. Things kicked off quickly, with an introductory video from the teaching team, followed by a series of the student videos.
Team #1: "Imagine if you knew more than you parents by age 3."
The first team presented their prototype with the insight that, it was about parents learning about children's struggle, presenting "Life Map," -- a board game to help parents and their children bridge the gap of culture.
Team #2: "This is about an identity gap."
The team presented the prototype called The Praise Shield, a wristband that would allow a student in class to know whether they were performing well according to their teacher's standard, giving them access to new ways to frame their identity.
Team #3: "It's a social skills gap."
The team presented a mobile app called "Muppet Me," virtually bringing a young user to Sesame Street, letting a child apply tools "to see themselves develop social skills so they can be prepared for future learning."
Team #4: A nightlight for parent storytelling...
How might parents be able to communicate with their children when they are apart. Enter, "Twinkle Tales" a mechanism by which parents can read to their children from on the road -- think of it as a night light, except for stories.
Team #5: "No matter what, it's a fabulous experience for your child."
The team developed "Story Button", which would let children press a large, red button to proceed through the basic building blocks of a story, presenting parents with guideposts to develop unique stories for their children.
Team #6: "Helping non-native parents learn together..."
What if parents who were not fluent in English had a canvas to place elements of a story for their child in a story context, and what if those elements were identified in both English and their native language? The team developed Convas, a storytelling guide that allowed non-native English speakers to craft composite images and stories with elements that are listed in both English and their native language.
Whew! It's time for a break.
The audience gave each other "high-tens" and grabbed some popcorn before sitting down for the second series of video presentations.
Team #7: VoxBox
Instead of telling you about this one, here's the video:
Team #8: "Confidence to create and connect"
The team developed a tool called StoryU, which allows parents to use cards to build a story associated with a photograph, giving parents a chance to grow their children's vocabulary through guided story creation.
Team #9: "A simple, fun and educational toy"
What if toddlers had a toy that they could enjoy on their own? This team developed a magnetized blocks set that would allow children to put together the alphabet, colors and create new words.
Here, we have another chance to show rather than tell:
Team #11: "Apply new parenting techniques as you learn"
The team created a series of tools -- texts, books and apps -- to help parents not only aid their children in learning, but acquire better parenting skills in the process. "Learning," as the team's catchphrase laid out, "is not just for kids anymore."
It's time for the expo, where students are presenting the artifacts around their prototypes, giving the partners and guests an opportunity to ask questions about their process, insights and outcomes.
[Insert elevator music as we head upstairs!]
The Praise Shield: How do we go beyond the game, and what's the value of digital.
I spent a bit of time with Praise Shield -- a wristband that would allow teachers to provide a signal of praise to students when they performed well. The band would also allow peers to provide praise to one another. "What percentage of kids need non-verbal praise," asked a member of the Sesame team upon encountering the prototype and meeting with the team.
The team prototyped initially with a "Praise Circle," placing children in a circle and allowing them to toss a ball and offer praise to another child. Only a few children, the team noticed, actually participated in that prototype.
The prototype as presented gave children only a few opportunities to offer praise, creating scarcity and placing a real value on the notifications of praise they received. The value of the digital interface over the analog, meanwhile (another question from a Sesame team member), was in the analytics the platform would offer. That's right, the bracelet was part of a platform that tracked a student's activity. The team also cited that a digital platform was more convenient for teachers.
In terms of feedback, the Sesame team offered that perhaps the prototype may not be better than an analog offering of praise, but that the product was definitely interesting.
"The biggest turning point..."
I took a second to chat with the team behind Convas -- a canvas for story creation that allowed children whose parents did not speak English as their native language to learn vocabulary alongside their parents. "I think the biggest turning point for out team was visiting a pre-school in East Palo Alto," said one team member. The team had assumed that children had a vocabulary and could create stories for themselves. They discovered that many of the children struggled with words in English. My interview was cut short, however, by a visit from the Sesame Workshop team. The team dove into outlining their prototype right away:
"If we could figure out that next piece," said a member of the Sesame Workshop team, "that would make it killer."
In recapping their work, the team digested the realization the need for, perhaps, more detailed prompts within the prototype to help parents have a more structured experience. "For this kind of product where you have to encourage spontaneous interaction, the problem with the way we do tests if you show up with a camera ... that's enough of a prompt to get them to perform," said one team member.
"We did nail in terms of having a good creative solution that has a lot of potential, but," said another team member, "how do you motivate people to use [it]."
The team eventually came around to explore whether getting parents accustomed to the "yes and" mentality -- a method of allowing for generative feedback frequently used at the d.school and used during brainstorming -- might help parents get accustomed to using the Convas.
Okay, it's time to move on....
"These two worlds can work together. They are together, and they don't have to be separate."
- Erease the Divide Team Member behind the LifeMap prototype, describing how both the language and culture of an immigrant parent can coincide with the culture of their child raised and living in the United States.
"We made too many assumptions," said a member of the Leland Sesame Junior University team -- the team behind SesaWe. The team developed a three-part prototype, bringing text messages, books and class experiences together to help parents not only aid their children in learning, but improve their parenting skills as well. In the midst of their process, the team determined that if they had a better definition of what they were trying to solve, they would have a better vision of what their prototype might look like, so they bounced back from prototyping into deeper empathy work, followed by stronger definition work and more brainstorming.
There were long-night debates among the team members, including addressing the question of whether parents lacked the skills to help their children learn more words or that they were not confident about teaching their children.
The team would make bold and personal statements, feeling bad about it in the moment, but moving over that emotional hurdle to try and understand the problem they were trying to solve for. They realized that all three elements of the prototype -- the texts, books and class -- matter in different ways. For texts it is easy and cheap to speak with a real-life person regarding reinforcement of good parenting technique with additional information for them to use in interaction with their child.
All three of the elements, books, classes and texts, would be connected in teaching the child through a transmedia learning experience, with the texts being built on by the content in the books and finally by the classroom experience. When the team received feedback from the Sesame team, a new question formulated: how might we deliver the class, given that this is the most resource-intensive and costly aspect of the experience?
"They've been around for hundreds of thousands of years..."
When was the last time you tried to buy blocks? Perhaps you've noticed they are rather expensive and offer limited amounts of information on each unit. Younger children can also struggle to balance the blocks on their own. So, team Strong Feelings developed play blocks, called MyCubes. The blocks contain magnets that allow the children to "defy gravity" as the blocks click together, which the team discovered fascinated the children. They also found that children, while using the blocks -- geared at 1-2 year old children -- would experiment to try and get the blocks to fit together, navigating around the opposing force of magnets with the same pole. The blocks also have garbanzo beans inside, giving them a rattle sound. In terms of feedback, the team from Sesame cautioned that getting toys with magnets through safety inspection was difficult. The team was comprised of a PhD student in education, a mechanical engineering student focusing on design and a music science and technology master's student.
The Sesame team, in offering feedback, communicated to the students that they wanted to continue keeping the channels of communication open, growing the collaboration beyond the class. The problem the students were presented with were challenging, but, "by applying this kind of thinking you can really do something about it. ... Just great, great work. Thank you."
And, with that, class is out!