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September 25, 2013

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The Story Behind Sesame Street’s Family Play App

By J Milligan


J Milligan is the Creative Director of Sesame Workshop’s Innovation Lab.

A couple of years ago I heard a woman named Margaret Robertson give an amazing talk at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. She worked for a design studio called Hide & Seek with offices in London and New York that was chiefly interested in the concept play. They seemed really cool and I started following them, thinking that someday we might find a way to work with them on something.

This past spring, Hide & Seek launched a Kickstarter campaign for a project called Tiny Games. It was for: “An app that gets you playing the perfect game with your friends: wherever you are, whoever you’re with, whatever you’re doing.” The games took place in the real world, the iPhone just told you how to play. Get some cutlery and play a form of rock/paper/scissors with the forks, spoons and knives. That sort of thing. I loved how they used the phone to generate games that you played with friends and things wherever you were, not on the screen. I thought we could do something like that for parents to play with their kids. And when Hide & Seek posted that they were considering a “Kids” section of the app, I knew I had to act quickly. Read More

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Teaching Science by Telling Stories

By Jessie Renee Hopkins


Jessie Renee Hopkins is a Senior Writer and Game Designer in Sesame Workshop’s Department of Content Production. Dave Glauber is a Writer and Interactive Designer in Sesame Workshop’s Content Innovation Lab.

When my colleague, Dave Glauber, and I were asked to co-lead a workshop on Narrative Design at this year’s Interaction Design and Children (IDC) conference, we had no idea it would culminate with a giant cat face. As it turned out, we couldn’t have been happier that it did.

The IDC conference’s mission is to bring together designers, researchers, and educators to explore ways of creating better interactive learning experiences for children. Our goal for the workshop was to guide conference participants through adding a story to exhibits at the New York Hall of Science. We wanted find out if narrative elements would influence visitors, kids especially, to spend more time with the exhibits. The hope was, if we could do a better job of drawing kids in, we could do a better job of helping kids learn.  Read More

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February 22, 2013

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2005 Doesn’t Seem Like That Long Ago…

By Jason Milligan


Jason Milligan is the Creative Director of Sesame Workshop’s Innovation Lab.

“Kids won’t know what that is!”

It wasn’t the first time I heard Sesame Workshop Curriculum Specialist Sue Scheiner say that, but this time it threw me a bit. We were reviewing Elmo’s World episodes to include in Season 2 of Kinect Sesame Street TV. Sue was referring to a camera. The camera was an old fashioned black box with a huge flashbulb attached. And one old fashioned camera in Mr. Noodle’s hands wouldn’t have mattered so much if any of the cameras in the piece looked and worked like current cameras do. But they didn’t. They were clunky film cameras and video cameras with tapes. There was a scene in which a kid takes film to a store to have it “developed.”

Not one person in the entire episode took a picture with a phone, or was able to immediately show Elmo his image on the back. The way today’s kids experience digital photography (often on smart phones) is completely, utterly, totally different than it was only a few years ago, apparently when this episode of Elmo’s World was made in 2005. Seriously. I checked the air date. It freaked me out a little. The same way it freaked me out when my niece pointed to a phone booth in a video and asked my sister what it was. Or when I explained to my kids how television used to show programs at certain times of day and you couldn’t pause or rewind or even decide which show you wanted to watch right now. Sue is right. Kids don’t know what those things are. Some Sesame content will always be relevant. Ernie will always be able to sing about the joys of bathing with his Duckie. C will always be for Cookie. But not this.

We couldn’t use Elmo’s World: Cameras. It was simply out of date.

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January 23, 2012

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Augmented Reality Technology Brings Sesame Street Characters to Life

By Graydon Gordian


Having been around for over 40 years, here at Sesame Workshop we understand that there are some time-tested ways children learn and play – there’s no need to reinvent the playset. But we believe that, as new technologies emerge, there are ways to enhance and support the tried and true ways children use their imagination to make sense of the world.

That’s why we have partnered with Qualcomm to explore how augmented reality technology can encourage learning and emotional growth in young children. Our CEO Mel Ming, Innovation Lab team member David Glauber and Grover demonstrated the Vuforia augmented reality platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 10th. By merely holding up a tablet to a traditional playset, children can interact with their favorite Sesame Street characters while developing socially, emotionally and cognitively.

Quite simply, when a child points a tablet or smart phone at these toys, the camera recognizes the objects and they come to life on screen. The camera on the tablet recognizes 3-D objects – in this instance specially designed versions of Bert and Ernie as well as a television, a bathtub, a racecar and other toys for Bert and Ernie to play with. (The characters are designed with special code-infused clothing so the camera can identify them. But developers at Sesame Street’s Innovation Lab are confident that, someday soon, the camera will be able to recognize any of the plush Sesame Street characters children own.) T-shirts, books and countless other items also have the potential to “come to life” when viewed through the app.

When Ernie is placed onto the playset, the camera recognizes the floor and triggers a response on screen, creating “walls” around him.  In the prototypical version of the technology presented at CES – the app is not yet available for purchase – Ernie says hello to the user and asks for another Sesame Street character to play with. But in future, more developed versions of the technology, Ernie and the other Sesame Street characters will have a wide range of reactions to any given scenario. This will allow for both a more guided form of pretend play, as well as child-directed experiences.

 

Both kinds of play – guided and child-directed – are important for fostering social confidence and a children’s ability to manage their own behavior and emotions. As children move toys in and out of the playset, they choose what kinds of social situations they would like to experiment with. Meanwhile, the app provides the structure necessary for them to learn more advanced forms of narrative construction, such as telling stories with a beginning, middle and end.

It was important to our Innovation Lab team that, in the words of team member Jason Milligan, the use of the augmented reality technology not be “gimmicky.” Milligan and the rest of the team wanted it to genuinely support and enhance the well-established ways children already play with their toys. So they reimagined the ways information can be input into a digital tool like a tablet.

For instance, when children play, they physically move their toys in and out of the playset. That’s why, instead of using a mouse or touch screen as an input device, the toys themselves are the input device. It’s also why all it takes to “activate” the toy’s digital rendering is to point the tablet at it. Directing the camera at the jukebox causes music to play; directing it at the TV turns it on, and causes whatever Sesame Street scene is playing to fill the tablet screen.

Because it comes in the form of an app, the technology is very malleable. As new characters are created and new storylines for them imagined, the software can be automatically updated like any other app. This is just the first generation of a new technology that has almost limitless possibilities.

The future is a fun place to play.

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