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Triple Play: Propel Schools, Sima Products and CMU collaborate on math learning device

September 21, 2009

Here's a bit of news that involves education, nonprofit grant-giving, technological innovation and the importance of family. It's such a perfect illustration of modern Pittsburgh: Propel Schools, a successful charter school program here in the Pittsburgh region, has received a grant from Spark (a new initiative of the Sprout Fund) to collaborate with consumer electronics company Sima Products and the innovation whizzes at Carnegie Mellon University. They're seeking to create a prototype for a low-cost, handheld electronic device that parents and kids would use together to promote math literacy. The participants took inspiration for this high-tech project from a surprising and decidedly low-tech place: books. Consider the way that parents sit with children to read books, and how that shared reading experience leads to conversations that connect family members, foster learning and promote literacy. This project seeks to create that same dynamic around math. Playing with the device, says Propel Schools' executive director and founder, Jeremy Resnick, is something that "parent and child would do together at home that would be fun and would lead to conversation, and the conversation would be the kind that develops math concept understanding." The math games and programs that currently exist, says Resnick, are "usually things kids do alone." This device is being designed to be shared, and will hopefully lead to "very rich conversation." The project has just begun, but it's already been enriching for the participants. "It's really fun for us to be able to collaborate with partners like Sima and CMU. They have a completely different way of thinking about things than we do," Resnick says. "Their kind of questions are so different from ours." By January or February, he says, "we will have tried out the object with families at Propel and have a sense of whether we've succeeded. Then we'll think about what next step is." The grant covers the cost of creating the prototype, but participants at all three organizations are devoting time to the project free of charge. The Spark initiative supports small projects to engage kids through technology and media. This grant came from their second round of funding, which took place this past summer. Writer: Melissa Rayworth Source: Jeremy Resnick/Anne D'Appolonia, Propel Schools Image courtesy of Propel Schools