The 2010 NBA Championship was not the only prize on the line at the Los Angeles Staples Center, on June 16, as four finalists competed in a quick pitch competition to win the first-ever Cooney Center Prizes for Innovation in Children’s Learning. Hosted by the Entertainment Software Association at its annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the Cooney Center Prizes mobile learning category culminated in a quick pitch competition where each finalist presented their concept and engaged in a Q&A session with panel of distinguished judges.
This year’s Cooney Center Prize finalists in the mobile learning category were:
· Motion Math: Mobile, Embodied Learning – a math skills game utilizing a mobile device’s tilt function, where players aim a bouncing ball containing a fraction to its correct position on a number line. Creators: Gabriel Adauto, Jacob Klein, and Amrita Thakur, graduate students of the Learning, Design, and Technology program at Stanford University’s School of Education.
· Mobile Technology as a Sustainable Literacy Education Option for the Underserved – a global network that uses mobile devices to provide literacy exposure to children in developing countries by encouraging story sharing. Creators: Dr. Paul Kim, Neha Taleja, Melanee Grondahl, and Vallabhi Parikh of Seeds of Empowerment, the non-profit arm of XRI, a spin-off of the Stanford University School of Education.
· Project NOAH (Networked Organisms and Habitats) – a mobile application that enables users to explore and document local wildlife and share it with other scientists and researchers. Creators: Yasser Ansari, Martin Ceperley and Bruno Kruse of Networked Organisms, LLC.
· Toontastic: A Global Storytelling Network for Kids, by Kids, a platform that enables children to learn about the world around them through the eyes of their peers through storytelling. Creators: Andy Russell, Thushan Amarasiriwardena, and Alex Fajkowski of Launchpad Toys.
The four teams showcased their concepts with polished presentations. The judging panel, which included Laird Malamed, SVP Production at Guitar Hero, Activision Blizzard, Gary Knell, President & CEO of Sesame Workshop, Liz Perle, Editor-In-Chief, Common Sense Media, Alan Gershenfeld, Founder E-Line Media and Chairman of Games for Change, and Warren Buckleitner, Founder, Children’s Technology Review (and New York Times contributor,) probed finalists about various product success factors, including each product’s educational impact, potential to scale and sustainability.
White House Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, delivered remarks at the awards ceremony and spoke about the importance of innovation drivers such as the Cooney Center Prizes to address national educational challenges. He then awarded the mobile learning prize to Project NOAH (Networked Organisms and Habitats), developed by Networked Organisms, LLC, and the literacy learning prize to Electric Company Heroes, developed by Jay Schiffman at Thinkativity. Project NOAH will receive a $50,000 cash prize and Electric Company Heroes will receive $10,000, and both winners will receive mentoring and networking opportunities from the Cooney Center. The awards ceremony video can be viewed here.
When awarding the mobile prize to Project NOAH founder Yasser Ansari, Chopra described hearing about the project a week earlier when meeting the makers of the iPhone app Oil Reporter, which allows citizens to document the impact of the Gulf Oil Spill on wildlife. The creators of Oil Reporter told Chopra their app was inspired by Project NOAH. It was exciting to see that the prize winners were already making an impact on the field.
Beyond the grand prize winners, the Prizes helped the Cooney Center identify a significant number of talented innovators that are enthusiastic about developing high-quality media for children. The finalists constituted only a small proportion of the many excellent and diverse ideas the Center reviewed during this prize cycle. The mobile learning category revealed many teams with a deep passion for science learning around nature and the environment, as well as many submissions built for the iPhone platform. Innovators came from a variety of fields and levels of experience developing digital media for children, the pool of applicants included academics and commercial digital media producers, as well as first-time developers and experienced veterans in the space. The impressive prize pool was encouraging and bodes well for the next cycle of the Cooney Center Prizes, the STEM National Video Game Challenge, which the Center will launch this fall under President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign. Supported by the Entertainment Software Association and Microsoft, in collaboration with E-Line Media, the competition will call upon game developers to create games that educate and delight young children about science, technology, engineering and math concepts.
Congrats to the first-ever Cooney Center Prize winners: we look forward to hearing from innovators of all stripes for our next cycle!