Beyond Tech Toys: Pico=A Playful Invention Company (Part Four)

picocricketFeb. 6, 2009 Today I had the pleasure of speaking with global fellowship recipients in Stanford’s Innovation Journalism Program (here’s VentureBeat’s audio of Director David Nordfors explaining the concept of innovation journalism). I tried to explain Shaping Youth’s version of innovation learning and thankfully, had asked Scott Arpajian, co-founder of virtual world Dizzywood to join me as a ‘case study’ (btw, they just surpassed one million registered users, congrats gang!).

I wanted to show how we’re pairing with various media  channels to embed positive behavioral cues and test outcomes of informal learning, explaining that Elf is next on our hit list. (check out their new Shark Preservation Good Quest with WildAid that just premiered!) After all, to me, the digital sphere is simply a conduit and distribution method to ‘scale’ our vision and reach kids globally with impact.

Unfortunately, I relied on my little 3 minute Animotos to ‘show-n-tell’ an intro of what we do, so I could cut to the chase and jump to the next level, but with a malfunction (er, human error!) I found myself blathering on aimlessly trying to cram ‘all the things we do’ into a soundbite. See how ‘dependent’ one can become on using a fast-paced ‘MTV-style’ clip of our work in action to ‘seed the story’? This was an ‘aha’ moment for me in multiple ways (besides the pragmatics) it seems like a slice of student life served to me on a platter…

logo-on-tvAs my ‘Jumpstart Your Startup’ professor, Naeem Zafar from Haas Business School at UC Berkeley and sage advisor to entrepreneurs) reminds,  “admire the beauty of failure” (a bit of a twist on the “mistakes are all forms of learning” adage, as he relates it to the paradox of venture capitalists often rewarding CEOS of startups that have failed with an even bigger chunk of change, since they’ve ‘been there done that’).

What does this mean with regard to innovation and education?

injofellowsWell…When I didn’t have an overview Animoto music-visual-multimedia clip to lay the groundwork of ‘who we are, what we do’ in one little 3-minute blip that condensed a 30 minute powerpoint presentation into a finger snap, I was left to ‘explain it fast’ under a time clock that was already shortened.

This made me think about media savvy kids in classrooms today…

Teachers are forced to cram TONS of data and ‘must do’ standards into a limited time period for testing and such…For many kids, the lesson becomes ‘clear as mud,’ as they ‘tune out’ when teachers drone on trying to ‘cram everything in’…

Less is more…yes. But schools don’t have that luxury.

ijThe more I thought about it, I realized that little ‘tech toy’ innovation (Animoto) enabled me to compile massive amounts of data into a digestible format that kids (and adults) find to be fun, cogent and palatable…

In ‘real time,’ however, my tongue simply couldn’t catch up with my brain to impart the vast quantities of data!

This is why we’ve had such success working with child-created media that engages kids to be part of the lesson itself...Kids experientially learn, but they also can leverage innovative tools to bring order and visual context into creating a cohesive storyline.

Human connectivity and live interaction can be much more impactful when kids get the big picture overview upfront. I relied on a quick clip compressed snapshot, but without it, the lens was surely blurred.

What other innovative learning methods engage kids using media and marketing tactics?

picoboardWell, I absolutely LOVE how PicoCricket integrates fresh, playful inventions into a ‘kit’ to take the ‘bored’ out of the programming board so to speak.

Kids learn about the guts of the gizmos, like the PicoBoard itself  (reviewed here upon release and deployed with enthusiasm via the Wildcat Robotics’ after school team!) and also land some solid ‘inside out’ learning skills that draw from MIT’s Media Lab of Lifelong Kindergarten enabling the mixing of crafts, art, and motors to create anything from musical sculptures to interactive jewelry…

Gender equity gets a boost here too, with appeal for girls in tech beyond boy toy machinations of robotics…From making a cat ‘purr’ via programming to blowing out the candles on a virtual birthday cake, (kids can be rewarded with a song, or applause, or whatever—) they’re fully engaged with open-ended discovery as things spin, light up, whir and enlighten.

zoeys-roomMind you, I’m a tactile gal, so I’m a fan of online to offline innovation where girls, particularly, can vett ideas in social networks and peer environs (like Zoey’s Room on our sidebar!) and then explore bringing them to life in the physical world.

I can’t tell you how many times my dog has chased a hand-built solar-powered car-gizmo my daughter built from a kit! So this PICOCricket kit concept really works for me…

legomindstormsMIT Media Lab’s PICO crew also integrates some of their mindshare into commercial ventures that plays out in media and marketing environs…(e.g. Lego MindStorms, and other innovation/education building platforms)

Again, this adds a layer of real world  ‘how to’ that folds in bringing a product to market, and opening the imaginative child’s parameters of ‘what if…?’ for even more relevance. 

(fyi: Barry Joseph of Global Kids and has started a LegoUniverse forum about this type of spatial learning within virtual worlds too. Here’s more about the people behind PICO too…

More in our series on tech and innovation to make learning relevant soon…

ttgTomorrow I’m off to ‘Teens Turning Green’ the national summit where kids DO something about chemicals in cosmetics

And this year, their own startup line of organic products makes a debut at Whole Food Markets!

Stay tuned…Meanwhile, do check out:

PicoCricket! (PICO= Playful Invention Company)




  1. Such rich entries. Each entry is worth hours reading and thinking about. Thanks.

  2. Is that friend code for ‘hush up, Amy, no one has time to read all this?’ 😉 heehe…

    Truth be told, it’s one of my ‘resolutions’ to pull back a bit and not ‘deep dive’ so much, as everyone’s time crunched. But as you can see, I’m losing that one.

  3. p.s. I should add that Mei Lin Fung of MIT & Stanford’s INJO program just sent this email

    “Thank you for giving a brilliant talk yesterday – you demonstrated the new world we live in…” etc.

    So the next question becomes, ‘why am I so self-critical and hold myself to such a high standard of seamlessness?’ But then, that’s another question and blog post…

    …Most likely one that 19 yr. old/teen author Liz Funk of ‘SuperGirls Speak Out” could answer for me, eh? (Book review coming soon) I know, ‘get thee to a therapist’ eh? 😉

  4. Ah, speaking of 19 year old teen Liz Funk and SuperGirls Speak Out…I just got this ping from her, so heads up!!!

    “Dear friends, As many of you may know, I’ve been at work for the past two years on a non-fiction book about the pressure on young women to be perfect and the lives of overachieving “Supergirls.”

    Said book has finally come to fruition, and “Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls” is being published by Simon and Schuster on March3rd.

    “I will be on NBC’s TODAY Show Tuesday morning (2/10) during the 8am hour to discuss “Supergirls” and the limiting female ideal in Gen Y, alongside a UC-Berkeley psychologist who also writes about perfectionist teenage girls. I invite you to tune in!”

    Also, although my book’s official publication date is still March 3rd, in light of this early media exposure, Simon and Schuster has rushed “Supergirls Speak Out” to stores and the book may be available for purchase anywhere books are sold as early as Wednesday. Naturally, “Supergirls” is also available for pre-order at…Thank you so much for your support and I wish you all the best!xoxo,Liz”

  5. These are some great educative toys. In Romania such great toys are not available yet but maybe in the future who knows.

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