How might we teach computational thinking to kids aged 3-6?
A children’s tablet app that introduces the foundations of computational thinking through a playful and “wonderfulogical” gaming universe.
How do you teach computational thinking to children aged 3-6?
It sounds like a big ask. But it’s exactly what Centennial College’s kidsmediacentre and Loopy Media, Inc. did as they explored various ways to teach computational thinking to preschool kids and set them up on the path to problem-solving.
Here’s a story of how I helped Loopy Media, Inc. build a computational thinking app for preschool children as a User Experience Project Manager.
Loopy Logical had four phases: Research, Design, Develop, and Present.
I was brought in at Phase 2, the Design phase, where the goal was to deliver Loopy’s UX, UI, animation, and sound assets for Phase 3 (prototype development).
Here were some of my tasks during my term:
- Establish timelines, weekly priorities, and communication protocols
- Generate the asset list for production
- Conduct regular check-ins with team members (through email, phone, or in-person)
- Resolve issues if and when they arise (e.g. unblocking teams running into challenges, resolving questions on scope and deliverables, etc.)
My job, then, was to plan to work and work the plan.
“Computational thinking (CT) is a problem solving process that includes a number of characteristics, such as logically ordering and analyzing data and creating solutions using a series of ordered steps (or algorithms), and dispositions, such as the ability to confidently deal with complexity and open-ended problems.”
– Google for Education
Here are some of my highlights building Loopy Logical.
Playtesting (with the UX team)
It was very important to test the game interactions very early on. We teamed up with a Centennial faculty member who is an expert in children’s games to guide us through this process.
We tested the game concept for ease of use, intuitiveness, and the length of each turn on a whiteboard. I played the computer, our industry partner the player, and the faculty member the timer and evaluator.
Playtesting Findings: Time on task ~1 min. Could pan out to ~2 minutes for an actual user.
TAKEAWAY: UX for game design is a fine balance between simplicity and delight. You want moves that are easy to do, progressively challenging, and capable of “Whoa!” moments during the game.
Whiteboard testing benchmarked how operable the game is and which interactions were worth keeping or foregoing. It is a good first pass on how a game may feel as it is used, and what overdelights or needs refinement.
I’d also learn that delighting your users too much, too often could dull the game’s climax. So you have to be strategic about doling out the wow factor.
We had an amazing team of Centennial College design and animation students who created the game’s visual and animation assets. Led by their Program Director, these students created the character sketches, power-up badges, and the animation shots needed to bring Loopy Logical to life.
I never thought it was possible to see these assets created iteratively and it was fascinating to see their iterative design process in full view.
Their responsiveness to feedback also put us at ease when I triggered scope discussions midway through the project. It made the difference between harried work versus work that is on time and on point.
TAKEAWAY: Allow for the possibility of a “micro pivot” (i.e. small changes in the project’s scope or direction to keep your project on track) even in a Waterfall project.
Design is notorious for its Big Design Up Front philosophy and how it struggles to adopt an iterative workflow. This is possible, though, when design leaders create a work environment that rewards communication, feedback, and transparency with colleagues.
This ensures that the team is abreast with a project’s daily workings and equipped to course correct if necessary.
A project getting derailed would have normally gotten a Project Manager fired. In Loopy’s case, UX went longer than I have planned for (i.e. two months instead of one).
As a UX designer myself, I don’t believe that UX is ever ‘done’. But this project needed that time boxed dependence. The good news, though, was that the extra time spent on wireframes and interaction design forced a focused discussion on scope and strategy (e.g. Does it make sense for this move to trigger this reward?), making every UX meeting a feedback + next steps meeting.
Meanwhile, I had to ensure that work still gets done. The visual design team, for instance, shouldn’t have to wait for all finished wireframes to start designing. By identifying items the design team could get a head start with (e.g. wireframes that won’t change anymore), I was able to ensure that time was spent producing rather than waiting.
It also gave the UX team more reasons to resolve their strategies sooner rather than later.
TAKEAWAY: See which resources or tasks could be shuffled should a deadline get missed. Work with team leads to identify low-hanging fruits and continue to push lagging teams back on track (e.g. through clear deadlines, frequent updates, etc.).
Remind everyone that this is a team effort.
As my first major project management stint as a UX practitioner, Loopy Logical got me punching above my weight.
Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way:
- Creative visions should be visible and flexible; ready to be scaled back when necessary (due to test findings, scope and timeline concerns, etc.)
- Document meetings so there is a common reference of what was discussed and next steps.
- Playtesting helps benchmark and prioritize game interactions.
- Being there for your team builds trust, which helps avert potential project problems.
- Agility and flexibility beats a rigid project management process.
There are a lot more. But these are the standouts!
This project is COMPLETE. We’ve got a Unity 3D prototype that samples the core game experience, a landing page MVP to gauge consumer interest, and speaking engagements that take Loopy and his sidekick, Ramona, on the road.
We also presented Loopy Logical at Digifest Toronto 2017, where we highlighted the benefits of school and industry partnerships to deliver innovative digital solutions.
Feedback from Loopy Media, Inc. has been very positive across the board (i.e. from kidsmediacentre partnerships to asset production and management).
I am truly honoured to support this team in bringing computational thinking to life!
Industry Partners: Christine McGlade and Steve Diguer (Loopy Media, Inc.)
Role: UX Project Manager, the kidsmediacentre at Centennial College
YouTube videos produced by Loopy Media, Inc.