Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

What’s your problem?

November 9th, 2010 by Katie & Carmen | No Comments | Filed in Sketching, Teaching

In last week’s class we focused on future thinking and the dissection of big ideas. We wanted to encourage the students to think bigger than themselves and tackle tough problems that at first appear too big to solve.

As usual, we started the class by asking them to share their sketchbooks. We had a few excellent drawings this week!

Samarra's sketchbook

Jackie's sketchbook

Class Activity: Problems & Solutions

We jumped into the lesson talking about transportation. There are many issues and complex systems involved in running a citywide transportation system that could seem daunting to a group of high school students. On the other hand, we decided that this would be an interesting area to look at as we all are customers of the MTA. Like most New Yorkers, our students had no problem coming up with issues that they experienced during their daily commutes. Asking students about the problems they noticed or experienced, they shouted out everything from not knowing when train service was disrupted or changed, to crowded buses, to the boredom that comes with waiting for the subway or bus to arrive.

chalkboard

Since class is so short, we decided we would all focus on one problem – creating solutions to tackle boredom while waiting. As a class, we worked together to create a problem statement that would be a catalyst for designing solutions to solve it.

New Yorkers don’t have anything do it, and there’s not enough seating while they’re waiting for the train or bus.

After we defined our problem as a group we asked them to spend 2 minutes sketching a lot of ideas on post-it notes. Some of their solutions were simple: just add more chairs to solve the seating problem. Some of them were more complex, like introducing a pop-up chair that would hover around the platform until someone needs it, when it would pop into action as a full-sized support.

Evaluation

We held a quick critique of the ideas they came up with. We asked them to each talk about an idea that wasn’t their own. They had a hard time with that task, and wanted to mostly describe their own work. With a little nudging they did just fine at talking about each others’ work.

As a group we chose 7 ideas to work on. In small groups the students were assigned an idea created by one of their peers and were asked to make a poster about it. They were a little confused by this direction, asking if we were telling them to make an ad. We responded a concrete example:

If a teacher walked into the room right now and asked you to tell her about the idea you’re thinking about, how would you describe it? What do you need to communicate through your poster so she will ‘get’ your idea without you having to explain it?
They came up with a ton of great artifacts!

At the end of class we asked them to stand up in front and present their posters and concepts to us. We told them to pretend like they were presenting it to someone they’d never met before, instead of just their after-school teachers and classmates. They did an excellent job of refining their thoughts and presenting the ideas in a clear, concise way.

No Buttons for the Rowdy…

Despite the great ideas that came out at the end of class, this week’s class was pretty hard to teach. It was practically impossible to get the girls to quiet down, and most of our lectures and discussions were overrun by side conversations and gossip. It was totally out of the ordinary for our students, who are usually so well behaved. We left class feeling ever so slightly defeated.

After talking to some other teachers last week we discovered that all students everywhere are notoriously misbehaved during the week following Halloween. In one teacher’s theory, they’re all hopped up on sugar. Another teacher told me, “I don’t know what it is about the 7th or 8th week of school… but high school students seem to forget every single thing you’ve taught them. They regress through about 4 years of maturity overnight.”

Thanks for the support from our fellow teachers. We’re feeling much better about not being able to control the class last week, though we will be starting this week’s lesson by reviewing our behavior expectations. Hopefully they’ll be better and earn their reward button this week!

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On the Move

November 1st, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Programming, Teaching

We started our class by recapping last week’s field trip for the girls who couldn’t join us. Overall, they were all super excited about R/GA and its work. Thanks again to Chloe, Chris, Bertha and the others who hosted us and made the day really special for the girls.

Jumping right into our lesson, Carmen led a discussion about the concept of “mobile.” What does it mean if something is mobile? What are some things we use mobile devices for, other than texting or making calls? There were all kinds of ideas that came up, including watching videos, listening to music, using the internet, and also going to a museum or exhibit and using a mobile device there.

In preparation for our class activity we discussed the most basic elements of a story: establishing context, conflict, and resolution. The girls knew a lot already from English class, and they were quickly able to pick apart the key elements of any story.

Carmen talking about design

Bodystorming!

We divided the girls into groups and had them work together to act out a few scenarios. The catch? They had to randomly choose a year in which to act it out.

  • PAST 1990: No cell phone, no personal computer, no text messaging. (You can use: Phone booths, which cost 25 cents per call, the people around you, paper maps, cable television, a walkman, landlines, etc.)
  • PRESENT 2010: Cell phone, GPS, personal computer, internet, texting, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.
  • FUTURE 2030: Assume you will have everything you have today, and whatever you can imagine. What will you have? What would you like to be able to do?
The scenarios we used:
  • You’re meeting a friend at the movies tonight. You’ve already made plans. How will you find each other once you get there?
  • You’re late for school. How will you let your parent or guardian and the school know you won’t get there on time?
  • You’re at Foot Locker checking out a new pair of sneakers. You want to compare the cost of the Nikes to the Sauconys you saw at the Sports Authority. How will you find the prices?
  • You get to your neighborhood subway stop and see that the train isn’t running. How will you find an alternate route?
  • You just left your friend’s house after hanging out all afternoon and you can’t find your way back to the subway. Assuming you can’t go back to your friend’s house, how will you find your way home?
  • You are a design intern and you are delivering a package for your boss. When you get to the office, the receptionist tells you that the name of the person that you are suppose to deliver the package to does not work there. How do you get the package to the right person?
  • You are going to take the train to Philadelphia. You need to purchase your ticket for the train, but the line is really long and the train leaves in 15 min! How can you purchase a ticket for the train?
  • Your friend is coming over for dinner and you know they love deviled eggs. Unfortunately, you don’t know how to boil egg! How can you find out how to boil eggs?

We encouraged them to incorporate emotions and a variety of characters into their skits, posing the challenge to add richness to the story by making up details that enhance the plot. For example, what does the phrase “You’re late to school” really mean? How can you communicate the anxiety you feel in that scenario in a way that is compelling for the audience?

Girls planning

It was really interesting from our side of things to see which girls took the lead in their groups. Just like in our classes, and it collaborative groups anywhere, each group had one person who led the sketch. In most cases we weren’t surprised to see who it was.

They had some really funny ideas for the past, like in one sketch where the main character had only a paper map to find her way home, but it was the wrong borough’s map. It was great to see what the girls came up with for the future, too. At first they wanted to just make everything a hologram, but when pressed to come up with alternate ideas they were able to dream up some more creative solutions, like beaming in a professional chef to your kitchen to teach you how to make eggs.
Future of egg making

Dominique (middle) is figuring out how to make eggs in 2030. D'Leslie invented a futuristic vehicle using the lid of our supplies box as a door.

train to philly

Tessa (left) is taking a train to Philly. In their story, Tessa missed the train because she got distracted talking with her friends.

The bodystorming activity also led us into some interesting discussion about communication. For many of the present time period groups we talked about why texting may or may not be useful as a method of communication, bringing up the point that there’s little to no feedback from the system. In essence, you can text your friend all day long without knowing whether she got your messages, or whether she cares to respond to them. In some cases it might be better to call.
They even made us do our own sketch, using the scenario of needing to find our local polling location in 1990.

In the end they could clearly see the value in acting something out. They were pleased with the ability to describe their ideas over time, and to communicate about technology and new ideas in a way that actively holds the audience’s attention.

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“I Never Knew I Could Get A Job Doing Design”

October 22nd, 2010 by Carmen Dukes | No Comments | Filed in Curriculum, Inspirations, Sketching, Teaching

On week 4, we left the classroom and entered the design studio. 13 students from Project: Interaction visited R/GA to learn about what it’s like to work as a designer from five amazing and inspiring Interaction Designers, Copywriters and Visual Designers.

When we arrived, we were eagerly greeted by Bertha Deshon, a recruiter for R/GA who along with VP, ECD Interaction Design and Friend of SVA IXD, Chloe Gottlieb, helped organized our visit. As we shuttled through the hallways, the girls remarked on everything – from the awards on the walls, to the decorations inside offices, to the well stocked coffee bar.

Waiting for our students when we arrived at the conference room was a table of snacks (Whew!), so as the girls enjoyed pretzels, chips and soda, the panel discussion begin with a few videos showcasing R/GA’s award winning work.

The panel included five talented women from a variety of design backgrounds. They talked about how they discovered design and what their jobs at R/GA. The discussions also touched on the different types of jobs at the agency and what goes into a successful project. I probed the panel on how they valued sketching in the design process, so the girls could understand why it’s so important to sketch.

When the floor was open for questions, the girls had plenty. Many wanted to know where everyone went to college, some were interested in how photography fit in at a digital agency, others had questions about R/GA’s work. One of our students really wanted to know what an algorithm was. I love the curiosity!

Because of the distance between R/GA and UAI, we were only able to stay an hour, but it was an hour of inspiring moments – for Katie, myself and the girls. It was awesome to see the girls hanging on to the words of everyone who spoke about their experiences. We remarked later how we could see sparks coming off of some of the girls in attendance. I think we opened up their eyes with this trip to all the exciting opportunities that come with a career in design.

Katie and I were up for the task of chaperoning our students from school to Times Square and thank goodness it was uneventful. Of course, we had occasional moments of ‘was this a good idea?’ The first was as the subway door started to close on Katie and one of the students at the Borough Hall station prompting us to do exactly what the MTA says not to: hold the closing doors. The other, maybe not surprisingly, also involved the MTA. The MTA pass that I was given allowed us to travel on the subway for free, but what I didn’t realize is that during rush hour the pass is invalid. The MTA official, not so kindly, told me this fact and I guess the concerned look on my face as I was thinking ‘how do I get all of us back to school?’, prompted a change of heart and she let us through. (Whew! x2)

For next week, we’re talking about mobile and bodystorming! Yay!

“It smells like Coney Island!”

October 15th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Curriculum, Sketching, Teaching

Wednesday was our third class at the UA Institute. We saw last week how excited the girls were when we asked them to show off their sketches. This week we were really impressed; almost all of them had drawn something they wanted to share!

The focus of Week 3 was Observation. We wanted to teach our students the difference between their memory of a place and how it actually exists. We started a conversation about the street outside the school, asking them what kinds of things they see there each day. They shouted out the answers we expected: Trees! Buildings! Crazy people!

Then we led them downstairs to the street, armed with a set of open ended questions to guide their observations. We asked them to write each observation on a Post-It note, and most importantly, not to talk while they’re observing.

One of our students, Olivia, was lucky enough to talk to one of the people she had been observing. A woman approached her and asked what the Post-Its were all about. When our student told her she was observing the plaza, the woman (an architect) launched into a tirade about the failure of the space as a public venue. Olivia was totally fascinated by everything the woman said to her, and got a great lesson in why user research can be an exciting and inspiring way to learn about a problem.

When we got back to the room we talked about everything the students observed. This time they were able to give me specific examples of the things they’d seen, including tiny architectural details, sounds and smells. They discovered that a certain part of the plaza smells like steaks and another part smells “like Coney Island.” Yuck!

We talked about ways that we might group our observations and came up with a few significant clusters: Sounds, smells, behavior, nature, outside objects and architecture. Each student placed her Post-Its in the appropriate category, and when we were finished we had a whole board full of observations about the plaza. For each category the students were able to tell a specific story about what they saw. For example, Nia told us about a behavior she saw, a guy illegally riding his bike through the plaza wearing headphones. When we probed, she was able to tell us more and more details, including that they song was an “old school” one. Like from the 90s.

Another student had an exciting observation in the plaza. She bumped into one of the benches and discovered that the pointed corners can be quite painful! She suggested the bench’s design could be improved by rounding the corners to avoid a dangerous interaction in the future.

At the end, we asked them why observation skills might be important for designers. Quickly they could identify that it’s important for designers to know a lot about the things they make, and it’s important for them to really see the details they’re addressing.

We wrapped up class by introducing our expectations for our field trip next week. We’re heading to R/GA for a tour and introduction to the jobs designers perform in a large organization. We can’t wait!

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Graphic Jammin’

October 8th, 2010 by Carmen Dukes | 3 Comments | Filed in Sketching, Teaching

How many ways could you describe “social” or “community” if we only gave you a pen, sticky notes, and 2 minutes? Or what about “happy” or observe”? Would you be stumped or run out of sticky notes?

Wednesday’s class was all about brainstorming. Our students are familiar with the concept of brainstorming through class assignments and projects, so Katie and I wanted to give them a unique experience that would get them sketching like crazy and out of their seats.

Looking for a fun way to brainstorm, we decided to adapt a game called Graphic Jam, from the book, Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. The game challenges participants to visualize words that often seem too abstract to imagine in a tangible way. Participants are given two minutes to sketch as many ideas as they can to represent the chosen word.

We thought this would be a great assignment for our class for a few reasons. Many of our girls keep saying to us that they’re not any good at drawing, and we are determined to break that mindset and get them comfortable with thinking visually. And, we want them to know that having lots of ideas is critical to finding the right idea. We also wanted them to know that brainstorming can be more alive than just writing words on paper.

The Graphic Jam was a huge success! Each word generated tons of tiny sketches. When time was up and the alarm rang, the girls rushed out of their seats to post their sketches to the chalkboard, with over half the group eagerly volunteering to explain their sketches in front of the class.
Running to the board
Presenting

At the end of class, we had a chalkboard full of of colorful post-it note sketches. Students who volunteered to share their sketches got the “Stand Up, Say Yeah” button for Volunteerism. Yeah! What was the consensus from the students? “That was fun!”
Our classroom
Social

Show Me Your Moleskine Notebook!
We handed out “Sketchtastic” buttons to a few girls who shared their sketches, poetry and pictures from last week. We’re hoping to see more next week and share a few on the blog.

Week 2 Lessons: To Stick or Not to Stick?

  • Standard post-it notes don’t stick well to dusty chalkboards.
  • We need to be more aware of the moment when conversations go from relevant to not. Our students are awesome, but in the end they are still 14 and 15 year old girls.
  • It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in the fun of our activities, but as teachers we need to remember to ask the “hard questions” and challenge students to think more critically about their ideas when they present them.

More Supplies, Please?
Students are asking us if they can take home some of our materials, and others have requested pencils for sketching. After our class is through we’d like for our students to be able to continue sketching, collecting, and creating on their own, but many of them don’t have access to the materials that we take for granted in our work. We’d love to be able to give them a small grab bag of designer goodies to continue their explorations.

The Final Days of Kickstarter…
There are only 5 days left in our Kickstarter campaign and we’d love to see your support. We need less than $2500 to make our goal! Please support our program with a donation or spread the news to your friends!

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Wow, That Went Fast

September 30th, 2010 by Katie Koch | 1 Comment | Filed in Curriculum, Teaching

Getting Started, Calming Nerves

We arrived at the UA Institute yesterday at 2:30pm, just moments before we would meet our first group of students. We were mostly prepared, but had spent some of the day texting and emailing each other to coordinate logistics. I was a little nervous heading there, until I ran into the school’s development director, Mara. She was reassuring and helped us get set up in the room before we headed down to the cafeteria to meet the girls.

The students have a scheduled snack time for about 20 minutes between the end of their day and the beginning of after school activities. It was a really great opportunity for us to meet them in an informal setting and get to find out some things about them while they’re still candid and one-on-one. One of our students told me about her old high school, from which she had just transferred, and how one of the best parts about UAI is that the bathrooms are cleaner and there are no boys to stink everything up. I guess it’s the little things!

Warming Up

When we got to class our first challenge was taking attendance. I’ve spent my whole life correcting teachers during this activity (my name shows up on rosters as Kathryn Koch, usually mispronounced as “kotch” instead of “coke”). As I tried to read the first few names on my list I had a fleeting moment of those memories and suddenly empathized with every substitute teacher I’ve ever had.

iPod video

We started our class by talking about a familiar object – an iPod – and the qualities of it that help us know what it’s used for. These girls are sharp!! Right away they were able to identify the two ports as a clue that it has power and connectivity, and could identify the play, pause and headphone icons as indicators of the media associated with the iPod. Many of them pointed to the screen as evidence that we might be able to see a moving image, and the forward and back arrows as indicators that there is more than one thing that the device does, possibly in sequence. They called out the back of the iPod being a mirror for checking their hair and makeup, a function probably not intended by Jonathan Ive.

We then handed out images of objects for them to write about, including scissors, a chess set, a hammer and a digital alarm clock. We gave them some time to write their ideas down and then moved on to introductions, telling them about us, the program and our expectations.

We were so excited to give out notebooks to the girls! For being part of the program each girl has her own Moleskine Folio notebook to sketch, doodle and write in. We encouraged them to use the sketch books as much as possible and for any purpose they see fit. We expect they’ll find ways to capture their thoughts that are beyond our hopes for them.

Lecture: What is design? What is interaction?

For the rest of class we led a group discussion centered around defining the concepts of “design” and “interaction.” I volunteered to lead the lecture, and it was thoroughly exhilarating! The girls started by naming anything they could think of that represents design to them: fashion, clothes, sneakers, art, colors, ideas, computers, creativity, drawing, community, style, entertainment. Then we named the things designers do: sketch, brainstorm, simplify, observe, imagine, research, identify needs, test, record, think, listen. We encouraged them to practice all of these skills during our class and in their other classes.

Defining the idea of “interaction” was surprisingly easy with this group. We first introduced the idea of a feedback loop by demonstrating an action and reaction. I asked them what happens when they swipe their MetroCard. Every girl in the room could shout out a different piece of feedback that comes out of the turn style: a beep, a green light, the word Go, a message telling you how much money is left on the card, and the sound of the turn style unlocking. Through this example they instantly understood what feedback is, and how this experience is defined as an interaction with a machine. It was pretty amazing.

Suddenly class time was almost over! Mara gave us the five minute warning so quickly put the girls in their groups to come up with a team name and logo. They had a lot of fun coming up with a creative name and getting draw and color in their logos. It was a great, familiar way to end class. We gave them all their own INVENT DESIGN CHANGE buttons and sent them home!

Our students working on describing an object

Success!

The things that worked really well were having the girls start the class with a quiet, individual activity. It was a great way to reduce the chaos of the first day of class and get them comfortable with talking about some of the stuff we’re teaching. The lecture portion was great, too! We were a little worried about making them sit still for so long, but they seemed entirely engaged in coming up with a definition for interaction design.

Challenges: Questions for Next Week

We quickly discovered that high school girls are more interested in talking about television and music than about the designed characteristics of a chess board. Next week we will be better at keeping side conversation to a minimum.

As with any class, there are a few students who aren’t interested in participating in every activity. It’s okay if those students aren’t shouting out every answer, but we want to make sure they’re still paying attention. How can we engage each and every student on a level that’s appropriate for them, knowing that not every person in our class is enthusiastic and outgoing?

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A Little Inspiration at Orientation

September 24th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Inspirations, Teaching

It’s been quite a long time since Carmen and I were in high school, so when we received an invitation to attend the UA Institute’s parent-student orientation last night of course we said yes! We got to step out of our busy grad student lives and take a glimpse into what it’s like to be the parent of a high school student in Brooklyn in 2010.

Everything we saw at the orientation affirmed our enthusiasm for working with the UA Institute. During 9th and 10th grade the school is already offering PSAT prep and speaking to the girls in very real terms about what life will be like after high school. The school offers resources for preparing for tests and college applications, and students can go on a school-sponsored trip to stay on campus at out-of-state colleges. By the time they’re ready to make a decision about their future they’ll have been exposed to a ton of options, including what it’s like to stay in a dorm. I had no idea about these things when I was 15!

Pics from UA Institute activity at Habana Outpost

During the presentation, one of the principals mentioned the college application essay that many students fear having to write. I remember my days as an admissions representative interviewing high school students and looking for their passion for something they do. I realized that many of our students may not have found theirs yet.

We introduced ourselves and the program to the crowd at orientation and were excited to see a few students shuffling their papers, looking to see if there were any open spots left. Afterward, several girls even came up to the after school director wanting to switch into our class!

We are so excited that the girls are eager to join our class. We would love to come to the first day and find a class full of motivated students, ready to learn about something new. We met two of them last night already, and the mother of a third who wants to be an architect. For the first time I saw that these girls are real. Just like me when I was 15, they’re starting to understand who they are and how they fit in. I’m so happy we can play a part in helping them find their passion and go for it.

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The Future of Teaching

September 23rd, 2010 by Carmen Dukes | No Comments | Filed in Inspirations, Research, Schools, Teaching

Katie and I attended Teaching + 30: The Future of Teaching, a Y + 30 Meetup event. The panel discussion included some of the brightest minds in the field of education including David Levin, co-founder of Kipp Schools and Joel Rose, Founder of School of One. All of the panelist were very opinionated about what’s wrong with education today, some saw the system as not broken but just in need of a slight redesign, while several of the panelists talked about the need to bring more respect to the teaching profession.

When it came to talking about the future, many of the ideas for change centered around technology. Jose Ferreira, Founder and CEO of Knewton, an adaptive technology learning program, spoke of the need for more data in education – data to assess the progress of students to help identify learning styles and difficulties and to also evaluate the effectiveness and capabilities of teachers. Joel Rose concurred as he talked about the success of School of One and their use of technology to provide lessons based on student performance. Alex Grodd, founder of Better Lesson, a curriculum sharing platform, and a Teach For America Alum, was the biggest advocate for teachers. Grodd talked about the need to give teachers more resources to connect with each other and build their community.

However, despite the call for technology to help augment classroom lessons, curriculum planning and student development, all the panelists agreed that no amount of technology could replace the intimacy of teaching. The personal relationships that teachers build with their students through mentoring, tutoring, and one-on-one instruction is truly irreplaceable. So as we go on a path of deciding how teaching will change in the next 10, 20 or 30 years we must remember that the human connection is still very relevant and critical to the teaching and learning experience.

Photo from Flickr: BenLego

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Don’t Share!

September 20th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Research, Teaching

Last week Carmen and I had our after school teacher orientation meeting with Girls Inc. and the UA Institute. We went over a lot of the important things we’ll need to know to be successful teachers in the program: how the girls are selected to be there, when snack time is, and what kinds of technology we’ll have access to at the school. In dicussing classroom behavior one of the other teachers said, “Oh, and don’t share anything about your personal lives. Just don’t answer. And, don’t accept their friendship on Facebook.”

Say what?! A flash ran through my brain, a composite image of what a Google search might look like for my name. As a designer who works primarily on the web, and a young person who grew up with internet during my college days, there is plenty of juicy information to be found about me in the data-driven internet world.

Then I started wondering what other challenges we will face that we hadn’t thought about yet. As part-time teachers we’ll have a number of typical challenges already: not knowing how the school system works when we’re not there, not knowing the kids very well, and not knowing the norms for behavior outside of our class.

As outsiders coming into the structured world of education, we are likely to find other parts of the system we’re unfamiliar with. Of course we’ve done our research, but research will only take us so far. The minute we step into the classroom and experience what it’s like to stand up in front of a group of teenagers and lead them to learn something new, we will face myriad other challenges that we never thought we’d be tackling.

We plan to embrace our differences. We have the privilege of interacting with the education system without carrying a history of experience to discourage us from trying new methods and potentially failing. We possess knowledge that we’ve gained through research and can come into the system to disrupt it exactly where we believe it needs to change. We may not teach like experienced teachers, but perhaps that’s a good thing when teaching innovation and creativity to our students.

Our first class is next Wednesday. What’s your advice to us as new teachers? What will we be most surprised about?

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We have buttons!

September 13th, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Curriculum, Teaching

In preparing for our first class this fall we’ve been thinking of creative ways to reward the small things that our students will inevitably accomplish in the course of their interaction design practice. We want to encourage them to incorporate some core ideas into their thinking, and we wanted to give them something that they can physically take away from class and show to their friends.

We decided to create a set of buttons that we can hand out to remind our students about good interaction design practices. They’ll be rewarded for small successes while working individually and in groups.

More good news!

Kickstarter-logo
You can score a set of these buttons for yourself! Donate $25 or more to our Kickstarter campaign and we’ll send you your very own set of buttons.

Project: Interaction buttons
(Each button is 1-inch by 1-inch.)

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