The methods of educating our youth has been outdated for quite some time and has not been able to accomodate our children's varied learning experiences, most of whom are visual learners. In this technological landscape, middle schoolers are not only overwhelmed by the typical challenges of being a teenager, constantly changing academic standards, but the added demands of a fast pace information era as well managing distractions from social media.
In a classroom, alot of responsibility falls on the teacher to ensure an engaging lesson: students can walk away from a class feeling like they've either gained knowledge or wasted their time. For the most part, students have very little agency in the classroom.
From a teacher's perspective, running a classroom full of energetic 25-35 students is a stressful experience. Teachers are often busy and exhausted from the day to day classroom management and ensuring that their students meet academic standards set locally and federally. They have limited prep time outside of school hours due to afterschool obligations, correcting exams and homework, holding second jobs, and simply juggling family life. Often, there is very little time left to dedicate towards preparing any extra curriculum.
Due to the low salary of the profession, rock star teachers are often rare in many school districts. The spectrum of teachers ranges from: a small number of whom go through great lengths to ensure every student understands the curriculum with personalized learning methods to many who are simply burnt out and are less passionate about their work, sticking to the old school lecture model.
Fin Lit was an interactive collaborative learning platform broken into six math lessons. Through an animated narrative, students learn mathematical schemas followed by relevant applications about investing, savings, interest and debt where they are able to directly model and explore their thinking.
The web based software merged algebraic curriculum and real world financial applications with visual storytelling to engage student learning through a mix of collaborative, individual work and short polls to guide classroom discussions.
19 classrooms across California help formulated a representation of unique scenarios and personas. Understanding the day-to-day challenges teachers had, the different types of learning environments and distinct teaching styles coupled with hearing from students in the K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 grades, help evaluated the existing product lines and set the foundation for a new learning model appropriate for each age group.
Through these classroom visits, it was evident that middle schoolers wanted something more mature, with vivid storytelling combined with beautiful visualizations where feedback was directly tied to how they navigated the math problems.
After a teacher creates an account, the onboarding experience for the application consists of a summary of a lesson plan outlining the math topics and activities consistent with Common Core standards. The teacher can quickly launch the lesson to experience it in real time and view the activities students will be working on through a simulated demo experience.
The different activities within the curriculum was consolidated into 5 categories with a consistent flow so that teachers know what to expect:
1. Video: each lesson starts out with an animated plot to capture students attention.
2. Collaborative activity: often each lesson has an ice breaker packed in beginning or middle where students work as a class to solve a piece of the puzzle together.
3. Individual work: One to one work where students focus on core elements of each lesson
4. Quick polls: students apply what they've learned to a real application. This provides teachers with an overview of whether the class understands the math concept and whether to emphasize a particular topic.
5. Class discussions: students discuss and justify why they might've made certain conclusions and teachers can further build on top of this lesson.
Teacher's Notes is a feature that is present by default along the side bar, designed so that teachers can still present without preparing. It provides a brief summary of what students are working on, how long each activity will take, and the ability to try out the activity or ask students to demonstrate their work up front.
In between each activity are transition slides that outlines what is coming up next, so that teachers can confidently present without surprises.
There is a small group of teachers who prefer to instruct from the classroom and not necessarily bound themselves to their desk. The responsive application allows teachers to manage the presentation from across the room through logging into a secondary device.
One of the biggest challenge was to design across multiple devices where students interacted with each other's devices as well as the teacher's projector during collaborative problem solving activities. Wireframes and motion studies were vital in the communication of the complex interaction models while working closely with engineers in the development of the games and illustrators for the storytelling components.