I first met Peter and Paul in the early 2000s when they invited me over for tea just outside Boston. I was the editor of a new magazine looking for a fascinating interview and they were a pair of new media artists just settling into their cozy new creative digs along the Charles. As I sat comfortably on their plush, big red couch and leaned in to take a sip with a steady hand, the surface of my tea trembled enough for me to pause and scan the room, searching: Ten feet away there lie a table plastered with gorgeous, soon-to-be-published illustrations with someone closely studying each one; in another corner, a pair at a computer screen immersed in a lively conversation suddenly shared a surprised look and then a hearty laugh; further away a person came out of the woodwork with papers in hand and on a mission—everywhere around me, the air was abuzz with purposeful creativity. Just then Peter, followed by Paul, appeared out of my peripheral view and each extended a friendly hand. I felt relaxed, extremely welcome and never forgot the meaning and care that they imbued into the moments in that day. More than a decade later, the creative buzz hasn’t stopped. Even before they aligned forces, each of them, through their own careers (Peter with educational software publisher Tom Snyder Productions and Paul with his corporate eLearning company Cosmic Blender) came to realize that authentic learning for people of all ages emerges through engaging, relevant and personally meaningful experiences. With that in mind, they joined forces on what they call a “200-year mission” to develop and advocate for more creative ways to reach all learners. Peter and Paul launched FableVision to fulfill their lifelong dream of working together to move the world to a better place through the creation and distribution of no-tech, low-tech and high-tech positive media and storytelling. Here, they team up to again share their love of learning and invite you to pull up a chair, hold on to your tea and hear their story—all these years later.
Victor: Why 200 years?
Peter and Paul: Because we know that the quest for education reform will take time and here at FableVision, we are committed to gathering a talented team of people who understand the challenge and the urgency but who also understand that marshalling large scale, systemic change requires dedication and patience. As we prepare to celebrate FableVision’s 15th anniversary this fall, we can happily say that it is possible to follow one’s dreams … and to do well by doing good.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Peter and Paul: We firmly believe that storytelling can be a transformational tool for learning. Fables, of course, are stories with a message, and that’s what we’re committed to: telling meaningful stories. The “vision” in FableVision is about imagining what does not yet exist, and that’s what excites us: innovating and inspiring innovation.
Victor: How would you describe FableVision—what is it?
Peter and Paul: FableVision is an award winning family of education media development and publishing companies founded in 1996 by twin brothers Peter H. and Paul A. Reynolds. FableVision Studios is a multimedia/transmedia design and development firm located atop the Boston Children’s Museum. FableVision Studios creates original animation, websites, software, games, and mobile applications for educational institutions, broadcasters, publishers and museums and educational. FableVision Learning, located in Dedham, Mass., is a publisher of educational software, books and films as well as a provider of professional development. At FableVision Learning, we focus on providing tools and strategies for children and adults that enhance learning through communication, collaboration, creativity and original thinking.
Peter and Paul: FableVision’s mission is to use story, media, and technology to reach, support, and inspire all learners. We believe that everybody can and must learn and that the goal cannot be short-term retention of facts or good scores on standardized tests. Instead, we believe the goal must be leverage intrinsic motivation and individual talents and interests to instill a love of learning that will last a lifetime.
Our original stories, interactive media and educational software are designed to engage and motivate students of all ages and to provide a means for every learner to experience “the “wow!”—the joy—that comes with learning. We provide constructivist tools that allow learners find personally relevant connections, discover and share their voices, and “show what they know” in truly creative ways.
In our view, technology can be as simple as a hold-in-your-hand storybook or as complex as a Web-based, interactive learning game paired with a highly granular learning management system, such as the Lure of Labyrinth online math game. Whether it’s through engaging, intrinsically motivating tools such as our animation Animation-ish software or a transformational story like The Dot, Ish or The North Star, our goal is to provide the tools to open doors to enduring, meaningful, self-directed learning for every student.
We also partner with broadcasters, publishers, federal agencies, state education departments, school districts and museums to develop educational products, projects and initiatives. Our partners include organizations such as PBS KIDS, Jim Henson Productions, Carnegie Hall, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Boston Public Schools. We create animated films, interactive whiteboard software, mobile applications, online courses for teachers and students, and learning games. We especially love helping organizations tell their stories in simple, engaging and accessible ways. A short animated “mission” film can do a lot more emotional heavy lifting that a series of academic whitepapers, text-heavy brochures, dry policy papers, and three-ring binder reports.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?
Peter and Paul: What makes FableVision unique is our steadfast commitment to making the world a better place. FableVision is a business, but it’s a business with an unwavering social mission. Every project we undertake—and every product or service we develop—must contribute to the positive development of the people it is intended to serve. Our goal in everything we do is to lift people—to strengthen individuals, communities and the world. FableVision is not really a technology company or a design firm. We are in the business of fostering human potential in creative ways.
In terms of competition, there are plenty of multimedia design studios and educational technology developments companies and publishing companies out there. We believe we are different because of our commitment to lifting all learners through research-based solutions that allow individuals to unleash their own creativity as a key to learning. We are proud to be a small, family-owned and operated business that considers its primary mission to serve rather than sell. FableVision is further distinguished from the average development firm by our commitment to partnering with like-minded organizations. For example, we are working with a dynamic group of partners—the University of Virginia, Hofstra University, Cornell, SITE, Canon and Silhouette and others—to create a revolutionary elementary engineering program called Fab@School. Most development groups would run screaming with so many partners but for FableVision, the creativity and innovation that emerges when you bring so many knowledgeable partners to the table can’t be beat.
Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Peter and Paul: FableVision’s first home was in a historic mill building along the banks of the Charles River in Watertown, Mass., which is about 15 minutes from downtown Boston. After spending ten years there, FableVision was presented with a very exciting opportunity to re-locate to Boston—to a space on the top floor of the Boston Children’s Museum. We couldn’t imagine a more fitting location for a firm focused on multimedia design and development for children. We were blessed to be chosen for this juried space and now find ourselves not only in the Children’s Museum, but sharing “creative learning campus” with fellow education innovators Citizen Schools and JumpStart.
And in the surrounding Fort Point neighborhood (the oldest artist community in the nation), we count as neighbors the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, United Way of Mass Bay and the State Department of Children, Youth and Families—all along what has been officially named Children’s Wharf. And even more recently, the City of Boston declared the area Boston’s Innovation District. Learning, children, community development, innovation? This is a dream-come-true location for doing what we do.
Victor: Where did it originate? “It” being either FableVision, FableVision Learning, or any particular product or service that you offer—and where can you get it now?
Peter and Paul: One of the products we cherish most is FableVision’s animation software program Animation-Ish. For years Peter would animate his keynote presentations using Flash and a Wacom tablet with a digital stylus. Teachers would rush out to buy that combination of software and hardware so they could create a similarly engaging learning environment in their classroom. Flash is terrific but it’s pretty complex to learn easily let
alone introduce into the classroom. So FableVision designed a software package that lowers the on-ramp to the animation experience in a way that can have anyone animating in minutes. Considering it was Peter’s math teacher in 7th grade who inspired him to create his first animated film to teach math, Animation-Ish is the perfect tool to give learners a creative way to “show what they know” across the curriculum.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
We Peter and Paul: We have a variety of licensing options to meet the needs of all educators. We start with a single copy, priced at $59.95 and range up to an unlimited building license. Our team works closely with schools and districts worldwide and will provide a customized quote to meet the specific needs of customers. You can see all our options here.
Victor: What are some examples of Animation-Ish in action?
Peter and Paul: Because Animation-Ish is content agnostic, students and teachers in virtually all subjects have used it to tap into their own creativity to create lessons and to demonstrate content mastery. Some examples of how students and teachers have used Animation-Ish can be found here: http://fablevisionlearning.com/blog/?p=1557
At the Barnstable, MA Intermediate School, students have used Animation-Ish for both the multimedia and digital storytelling units of Information Literacy and Technology classes.
Known for their innovate approach to education, the Punahou School in Hawaii has adopted Animation-ish throughout the school enliven lessons and learning.
In Palm Beach elementary schools, students work cooperatively in groups to animate words and create a student-made animated dictionary.
In Boston, Animation-ish is part of the Live Wire Learning Community Initiative which facilitates collaborative learning across schools, libraries and community centers. Teachers note the freedom it gave students to create stories and to bring their stories to life with animation. You can also see a great testimonial of the live wire program here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLLbYX-5QYc
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Peter and Paul: Animation-ish is for everyone—even the “creatively challenged” adult who swears up and down they can’t draw. By design, it is a safe harbor for anyone willing to “make their mark and see where it takes them.”
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Peter and Paul: In so many ways, education is more important these days than at any other time in history. First, we know from research that learning begins at birth and that the earliest years have a profound and lasting lifelong impact. We also know that a high school diploma is no longer the ticket to a family-sustaining wage. Higher education is increasingly a must for every student—not some subset of students. Taken together, that’s a pretty tall order, and one that we think can only be filled if we have the collective courage to be creative and innovate.
But over the last decade, we’ve seen the nation so driven for standardized content mastery, students have not been given ample opportunities to hone critical learning and innovation skills including communication, collaboration, critical thinking and—most importantly we believe—creativity. These essentials for innovation and invention are being lost at a time the nation—and every industry—needs them most.
We believe that collectively, we need to think about education—about learning in entirely new ways. We have to collectively acknowledge that students need to learn content and skills not only in school but after-school, on weekends, during the summer and at community centers, libraries and at home. And we need to act so that everywhere students are, learning is an option.
Education has always been about preparing our children to succeed in higher education, work and life. The mission hasn’t changed but today, in our highly networked world, we can finally “connect the dots”, allowing students unprecedented opportunities to engage in intrinsically motivating, purposed-based learning projects, anytime, anywhere.
We believe that education “climate change” is here. The confluence of nearly ubiquitous networked technologies, social networking, more affordable UGC digital acquisition, creation and distribution tools, along with a collective realization that holding the NCLB club over the heads of teachers, students, schools and districts is not the most effective way to inspire change guarantees that creative ideas and innovative practices are spreading. We can’t and shouldn’t try to contain them anymore but rather, see where they lead.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating FableVision?
Peter and Paul: We were so fortunate to grow up in a family that treasured—and still does—curiosity, creativity and learning. We were also fortunate to have some incredible teachers along the way. We often tell the story of Peter’s experience with his 7th grade math teacher Mr. Matson all the time because it is emblematic, we think, of the enduring gift a creative teacher can be. Mr. Mattson noticed that Peter was more interested in drawing and doodling than he was in math class so he issued a challenge to Peter.
So Peter did.
And for the first time—he experienced math visually—a major breakthrough for a visual learner. Peter illustrated a comic book to teach a math concept, but Mr. Matson didn’t stop there. He encouraged Peter to transform his drawings—which were in effect a storyboard—into a movie.
And so he connected Peter to another teacher at the high school who helped Peter to make his first animated film to teach math—at age twelve. It was that simple—recognizing how a student’s individual interest and talent could be used to help that student connect to the academic content in a more meaningful way. This story’s theme is at the core of Peter’s message books The Dot, Ish, The North Star. And it’s a theme that continues to inform everything we do today.
Victor: How does FableVision address some of your concerns about education?
Peter and Paul: FableVision is all about creating products and services that help inspire and nurture four critical factors that we believe universally strengthen learning: self-navigation, creativity, critical thinking and self-expression. These key skills allow a person to have what we call a “thinking journey.” A thinking journey enables a learner to discern one’s gifts, talents and strengths, and to find one’s voice and to share it with others. In this way, one is able advocate for oneself as a positive, proactive citizen who creatively solves problems to develop their local, national and global communities.
But we can’t expect this kind of transformational outcome if kids are tuning out of school because they’re bored or being punitively labeled by shallow assessments. FableVision offers ways to tackle both of these pain points by inviting students and teachers to express themselves creatively – to “show what they know” in more creative ways. By doing so, FableVision enables almost automatic engagement and provides one of the most meaningful assessments available in the learning cycle.
Our hugely popular animation software—Animation-Ish™—is emblematic of FableVision’s pedagogical mission put into practice. By offering constructivist tools that foster student engagement and enable creative assessment. Designed to lower the on-ramp to the animation process, Animation-Ish can get teachers and students animating within minutes. And because Animation-Ish is content agnostic, the tool can be integrated into any subject.
For example, Animation-Ish can bring vocabulary to life as animated metaphoric mnemonics or can animate the water cycle or periodic table. Schools around the globe are finding that animation is an especially useful tool for illustrating concepts in traditionally challenging subjects such as science and math. As students work with Animation-Ish to visually represent what they are studying, teachers and students note that a couple of things happen. First, more students find a way to access and understand information they usually can’t or don’t reach. In addition, more students experience a deeper and lasting understanding of the material. Check out www.fablevisionlearning.com/blog to see examples of how animation and Animation-Ish are being used across the curriculum—including science, math, history, English, and art.
Another example of how FableVision’s work is helping to transform education is Lure of the Labyrinth, a story-based online game to teach math, which we co-created with Maryland Public TV and MIT Learning Arcade. The online game and interactive graphic novel were designed as part of a five-year, multimillion dollar US DOE-funded research project to evaluate the efficacy of using online gaming to teach pre-algebra middle-school math and critical thinking skills. The good news is that the independent research firm Macro ICF reported, “Use of Lure of the Labyrinth resulted in improved MSA scores at the sixth and seventh grade levels … overall, findings from this study suggest that the Lure of the Labyrinth has the potential to positively influence student learning outcomes in math.”
While the research report was very helpful, what we really love is hearing that students are begging to “play Labyrinth”—learning math without even realizing it. The robust Learning Management System we created allows teachers to easily track and report out at a very granular level the specific state and national standards the students are meeting with www.thinkport.labyrinth.org.
FableVision knows that accelerating education reform requires us to move beyond the walls of the classroom via creative partnerships that deliver learning anytime, anywhere. FableVision is, for example, currently working with Mayor Menino, the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Public Library and the Boston Centers for Youth and Families to connect traditional silos of learning in Boston neighborhoods through the Live Wire Learning Community Project (www.livewirelearningcommunity.org)
The project allows learning to continue well beyond the school day across myriad community venues—using a common portfolio of tools and technology (books and educational software), a shared project, and cross-sector professional development . Equally important, Live Wire was developed to demonstrate that effective learning can be student-driven, relevant, inquiry-based, and creative.
While the Live Wire Learning Community project puts school students at the center of its efforts, the project reaches and impacts a broader range of citizens, calling on all members of a community to work together to improve student learning wherever it occurs. Today, the Live Wire Learning Community project is active in two of Boston’s most challenging neighborhoods and is slated to become active in six additional neighborhoods by the end of the 2013 academic year.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Peter and Paul: We are very excited by the revolutionary changes afoot in education—as we like to say, “this is our decade.” In a highly connected world, innovative ideas are now sweeping across the network—upending the centralized “command and control” factory model in education and giving more and more power to creative educators and their students. After a decade plus of an obsessive and punishing focus on content and standardized tests, we are seeing a collective realization that there must be a better, more creative way to reach the kids we’re leaving behind.
Whether we’ve just exhausted all the really bad ideas by policy makers who think they can force change through relentless compliance—or that we are, as a nation, moving to a more enlightened understanding of authentic learning—the FableVision team is delighted to see dramatic and positive changes sweeping the nation.
More specifically, we’re witnessing a confluence of factors accelerating that positive change—cheaper, more powerful tech tools, nearly ubiquitous connectivity, increasing numbers of digital-native teachers, virtual learning communities, and the explosion of smart mobile devices that allow unprecedented options for creation, collaboration and distribution of learning.
We’ve spent the last two decades hanging out with the early adopter set—the tech-savvy educators who would crawl through mud to introduce innovation into their classrooms. It’s exciting now to see us moving into a new era where high tech & more progressive, learner-centric approaches are shifting into the mainstream—creating a receptive climate ripe for widespread and rapid change.
We’re also encouraged by inventive school leaders across the nation who are committed to designing true learning communities—as well as a growing corps of advocacy groups and citizens who understand that each and every one of us shares responsibility for providing every student with the best possible odds for lifelong success.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of FableVision?
Peter and Paul: FableVision loves partnering. We love connecting with like-minded people who are truly committed to creativity and innovation to make learning more engaging accessible and effective/transformational. That openness to new opportunities and relationship across the country and around the world is key to our creative “dot connecting”—collaboration that has generated a body of innovative work and resources that we’re proud to see inspiring people of all ages, and changing lives in the process.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com