In February, the ALSC Children and Technology Committee blog post presented the criteria for the newest Youth Media Award, the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award [EELDM]. It also featured the 2019 winner, PBS’s Play & Learn Science and the first of two award honorees, Tinypbop’s Coral Reef. Today I want to take you through the second honoree, Pop Pop Pop’s Lexi’s World, to highlight some of the features that stood out to the committee particularly related to the award selection criteria.
The Skills Required to Navigate and Explore the Media Should Be Developmentally Appropriate and Suitably Challenging for the Intended Audience
In order for an application to receive the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award, the media must make the navigation and exploration developmentally appropriate and suitably challenging for the intended audience. Lexi’s World offers the child a simple provocation—a keyboard, a girl named Lexi, and a world. The idea is that the user will fill Lexi’s world. No matter the letter the child begins with, the app suggests the next letter in the word that, when fully spelled out, functions as a command. If the word is an animal or object, down it drops from the sky! If the word is a verb, such as “rain,” it happens. If it is a human action that Lexi can do, such as “sneak,” “run,” or “stop,” she’ll do it.
The animals move around the world upon which Lexi is perched and the user can spin it, as you would a globe, to follow the animals and objects as they wander Lexi’s world. What’s more, is that the animals provide hints about words the children can type to cull up something they interact with—a horse thinks of an apple because then the horse will eat the apple; bunnies and rabbits think of carrots; leaf cutter ants think of leaves. Children can repeat their favorite words if they simply recall the first letters of the words they are looking to replicate. In this sense, the application offers children a good balance of support, structure, and challenge.
Respects the Audience’s Intelligence and Imagination by Offering a Rich and Diverse Experience
The award selection committee was particularly pleased with the ways in which Lexi’s World offered a rich and diverse experience to the audience. At first, we figured that there was one object, animal, or action for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, but then we discovered more! We enjoyed the range of real animals mixed with a few fantastical ones–our test users particularly fancied the “unicorn” that dropped from the sky after they pressed all the computer-prompted letters that need to be pressed to spell “unicorn.” The best part about this is that the unicorns (and most animals) come in different colors so the child is surprised to see what drops from the sky. We believe that there is no pattern here in the order in which the colors appear and that the code in the app programming utilizes a “RANDOM” command for each animal’s color/pattern, which keeps children coming back to try to figure the pattern and get their favorite. The rainbow unicorn is the favorite in my research context, as is the spotted dog.
The coolest thing is that the animals and objects interact with one another, but the children have to understand a bit about conditional programming first. If there is an “elephant” and you type “water” the elephant will drink the water and spray it up into the air. No other animals will do this. If you try to add “water” before the “elephant, “you only get the option for the other word beginning with “w,” “worm.”
Kids will learn to spell as they are trying to figure out how to get Lexi and the animals and objects to do specific things that give them joy. I have a five-year-old who is writing “balloon” on EVERY piece of paper she gets her hands onto. I watched her play balloons with Lexi for quite some time so I’m sure she learned to spell “balloon” from this game. After Lexi had too many balloons, she lifted up off the ground like Mary Poppins and we tried to type “pop” (to pop the balloons) and Lexi came back down. I was so pleased to see new word learning transfer from inside the game to outside in the real world as part of my child’s emergent writing!
Guest blogger, Katie Paciga, PhD Associate Professor of Education Columbia College Chicago