From Innovative Ideas to Igniting Implementation

by Jerry Wayne Newson
January 24, 2018

The Mind Meets Music app

Necessity is the mother of invention. When Mind Meets Music was awarded an Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) grant through the United States Department of Education in 2014, one of the grant requirements was to utilize technology as a vehicle to support learning. This mandate sparked an idea, sending the organization down the previously unexplored path of app development.

Though this venture into the technological realm was uncharted waters for our team, we’re no strangers to innovation. Mind Meets Music is an academic achievement program utilizing music to improve literacy skills and enhance brain development. Serving 5,000 students annually in the West Michigan area, we are committed to creating a quality learning experience and bolstering the success of underserved preschool through second grade students. Students at partnering schools receive direct instruction from our Master Teaching Artists with a music-based curriculum delivered in their classrooms for 30 minutes twice a week. The Mind Meets Music program is evidence-based, with independent evaluation showing a significant increase in math and English language arts proficiencies on state assessments for participating students. Building on these encouraging results, we recognized the potential for an app to cultivate the approach of music-based learning to expand our reach beyond the classroom and around the world.

On December 8, 2015, while researching app development, I stumbled upon a publication from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center titled Getting a read on the app stores: A market scan and analysis of children’s literacy apps. This overview of popular educational apps currently on the market included factors and features frequently present in highly-rated apps, and discussed beneficial components that were largely absent.

Through the Cooney Center’s publication, we learned that “Most apps do not mention various ‘benchmarks’ of educational quality, including education or child development expertise on the development team, underlying curricula, or research testing.” This inspired us to fill the gap by prioritizing research-based educational content, expert consultation, and beta testing in our app planning and design. The app was created with four different games of increasing difficulty, following the natural progression of phonemic awareness and reading fluency. Words were chosen carefully to maximize educational impact by exposing students to the words they would most frequently encounter while reading, utilizing Wylie and Durrell’s most common word families (rhyming words) and the Dolch Sight Words (most commonly used English sight words) Pre-Primer (Pre-Kindergarten) through Third Grade Lists.

Consultation regarding relevant research and appropriate grade-level progression of the Mind Meets Music App content was provided by Linda Pickett Ph.D., and Brian G. Johnson Ph.D., J.D., professors at Grand Valley State University’s College of Education. Candyce Peterson MA, CCC-SLP, speech and language pathologist, advised on the grammatical and linguistic elements of the content within the app’s games. The Mind Meets Music app was coded by David Prindle of Snow Monsters Studios.

Dr. Linda Pickett states, “This app is an excellent platform for diagnostic purposes. While playing with children, adults can easily recognize what children understand and are confused about. Those understandings allow for strategic scaffolding to support children’s learning.”

The app was released in April 2017, and community outreach has been essential, putting this free tool into the hands of the children, parents, and others who would most benefit from the app. Through our dissemination efforts we have had the privilege of partnering with The Cook Library Center, The Grand Rapids Public Library, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services of Kent County (MDHHS), and our local education agency partners.

As we serve vulnerable children in schools where high percentages of students fall below the poverty line, our collaboration with MDHHS has allowed us to connect with families in a space where they go for their basic necessities. I was welcomed warmly by Colene Johnson, the Community Resource Coordinator of MDHHS of Kent County and was allowed to disseminate the app in the lobby of the DHHS Benefits Room and the Children’s Reading Corner. In addition, Mind Meets Music was also granted the opportunity to partner in their Kent County Resource Fair. In a 12-week span we were able to reach 214 preschool and elementary students. Ms. Johnson states, “The app was useful in not only allowing students to learn while their parents or guardians are in line waiting to talk to a social worker, but a unique way to engage the youth in practicing reading outside of school.”

To date, the Mind Meets Music App has been download thousands of times in every continent except Antarctica, with over 1,000 downloads in China alone. We are excited to continue expand our reach, and to see the benefits as the Mind Meets Music App reaches a global audience.

The term ignite is defined as “to catch fire or cause to catch fire.” It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what your current skill set may be. You just might be the necessary spark to ignite the next idea, or create the next piece of technology which will become a pillar of today’s society. If you have an idea or an innovative solution for the organization you serve, foster it, cultivate it, develop it—don’t be afraid to share these ideas with others and to stand on the shoulders of giants.

The free publications disseminated by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center will forever be linked to the Mind Meets Music App, as they provided much needed kindling during the conceptualization and development process, ultimately helping to launch an arts integration app aiding in the development of early-education students worldwide.


Jerry Wayne NewsonJerry Wayne Newson holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management from Ferris State University. He has 10 years of experience in the music industry operating his own audio production company, which was invited to the Grammy Awards and selected as the RIAA Give the Gift of Music winner. Jerry Wayne has 6 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, and has been employed by Mind Meets Music, Inc. since 2014. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Grand Rapids Community Media Center.

  • Stephenie Williams

    What a great idea for an app, I look forward to downloading it and trying it out on my third grader, he has had a bit of trouble in school and I’m always looking for tools like this to help his reading improve. When my baby daughter get older I will like to try it with her. Makes me wish we had today’s technology when I was growing up.