Brainstorming Techniques for Game and Lesson Development

Smart Tutor – The Back Story

Reading GameMost big publishers don’t like to talk about how they do what they do. But we’re not from big publishing, and we love to hear a good “back story.” So today we thought we would give you a quick peek into the animated and interactive world of Learning Today!

When our production team conducts play testing with children, we often hear educators say, “Here are the folks from Smart Tutor — the ones that make the games you play with.” Children usually have one of two reactions: They either look at us like rock stars or eagerly tell us what they didn’t like about a lesson or activity! But that’s okay. We’ve long since learned to adopt a Zen-like attitude when it comes to feedback about our products, especially from our toughest clients — the children.

Creating interactive animated movies is a fun but complex undertaking, and we don’t always get it right the first time. Take for instance the lesson we just completed on problem solving. After testing it with children, we realized it needed some tweaking before it could be released, so back to the drawing board it (and we) went!

We probably spend about 60-70% of our development time researching and planning. You’ll often find us around a large table with a variety of materials on hand: huge documents on national and state standards, numerous textbooks and worksheets and an assortment of manipulatives, such as pattern blocks.

Educational Software Development

We usually begin with a brainstorming session using various techniques to stimulate creative thinking and generate new ideas. Then, after a great deal of discussion, we pick the idea that we think will work the best. Since most of us are visual thinkers, whiteboards and graphic organizers come in handy to storyboard the idea. Stick figures, circles and squares stand in for our host of characters, done buttons and virtual blocks.

Next we think about the actual interactivity. This is where it can get complicated. For example, a heated debate might arise over whether we should have a character just click to pick up a shape and have it automatically appear in a basket or click and drag the shape to a basket. In the end though, we always go with what we think will be best for the children. And if we’re not sure? Off we go to visit more children, where we know we’ll get the honest and valuable feedback we need!

Look out for Part 2 of “The Back Story” from the Smart Tutor team.

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