Gamification and Education: the Core Principles

I always like to say the gaming industry has done in 30 years what the educational industry hasn’t been able to do in 300, namely make self-sustaining learning.  The reason games are fun is that games are learning tools, and people inherently like learning (or more specifically we have an intrinsic motivation towards competence).  I like to think of the gaming industry as a hotbed of educational innovation– games only sell if they are good at letting people learn, so the game industry has gotten extraordinarily good at creating learning.

Thus we come to gamification, a term spawned from the idea that if only we could put these game elements into other situations, we could make those situations so much more fun and engaging.  But as described above, if games are learning tools, “gamifying” an experience simply means improving the learning that occurs in an experience. In this light, education seems to paint itself a ready target for gamification efforts.  But, what exactly does it mean to gamify education?

On this issue, I fully agree with James Gee and Karl Kapp, in that gamification is really just another way of saying “implementing best teaching practices.”  The same things that make games good teaching tools are the same things that make them really motivating, which are also the same things we wish to incorporate when trying to gamify education. So in this highly circular sense, “gamifying education” really just means incorporating the best teaching practices discovered by the gaming industry over the past 30 years.  Many of these gamification techniques aren’t new– they’ve been discovered by, but not fully incorporated into, the education world for some time now.  But the gaming industry has rediscovered and implemented them at a speed that puts the education industry to shame.

What are these gamified best practices?  

I’d love to say I came up with these best practices, but I didn’t: James Gee elaborated the best practices quite well in his 16 principles of good games. But I would like to classify Gee’s items somewhat to make them more insightful.

Salen and Zimmerman created a landmark book called Rules of Play, which is really the go-to manual for game designers.  They distinguished between Rules, or formal structure, of a game, and Play, or the experience of a game caused by the tangible implementation of those rules. I see a similar analogy for education– on one hand we have lesson plans, which are the rule sets for the educational experience.  On the other hand, we have the implementation of those rule sets by teachers in an actual lesson or activity.  

A game is a unique experience each time it is played, even though it may be following the same set of rules. One lesson plan almost never creates an exactly similar education experience because the experience depends on so many other factors besides the rules- the teacher’s style of instruction, how well they delivered the instruction that day, the physical layout of the classroom, the personalities of that group of students, etc. I’d argue the only way to get a consistent, standardized educational experience is to use the rules of a standardized test to create an experience of dullness and boredom. A good educational (or gaming) experience is in part a good experience because it’s not “standardized” or consistent– no one plays a game that always turns out the exact same way. Yet that’s the game we are currently asking kids to play in education.

So, under this framework, I wanted to group James Gee’s principles into two categories: Rules (how you design the lesson), and Play (how you implement the lesson).  I will further group some of his items together when it seems appropriate.  All of his principles are in bold.


  • Learning by doing.  For games, learning is an active process, involving interaction between the player and the game and engaging players in production, not just consumption.
  • Safe environment for failure (called Risk-taking by Gee): Games are sandboxes, or open environments to be explored and manipulated. Failure is always made to be “low-stakes” by the design of a sandbox-themed activity, encouraging risk-taking. This principle also needs to exist not just in the rules, but in the implementation.
  • Open-ended challenges: To create the agency that results from letting students customize their progress through the game requires open-ended activities that allow for multiple solutions.
  • Goal- and task-oriented. The learning should be structured around goals and tasks, rather than instructions.  Players are told: “get here somehow,” not, “follow these steps exactly.” A seemingly minor difference with profound psychological implications. This can create well-ordered problems that build off of each other.  Tasks are usually achieved in a “cycle of expertise,” created by activities that promote an alternation of challenge and consolidation.


  • Agency: Students should feel like they are in control of what is going on. Games let students create their own identity, be it as simple as an avatar sometimes, which can be customized in aesthetics.
  • Safe environment for failure: Players are not judged or punished for failure, but failure is treated as a natural component of learning. Feedback given to players during implementation should reflect this, putting this as an experience component as well as a rules component.
  • Performance before competence: This simply means you let kids play with things before they prove that they are experts.  You don’t give them a lecture or make them pass a test to prove that they can do stuff, you let them do stuff from the start.  The result is kids don’t know everything when they start an activity, which is why you provide the information “just in time” and “on demand.” Basically, instead of a “Learn first, do later” philosophy, we need a “Do first, learn all the time” philosophy.
  • Situated Meaning: Put learning in context and give it real world value.  This about is all about where, when, and how you implement a lesson.
  • Distribute the knowledge required to complete the activity among various participant, and you end up with everyone becoming a local expert.  This make cross-functional teams and collaborative effort happen naturally over the course of doing the activity. Games allow players to choose a role, giving them agency and identity, but allow making them a specialized effort that contains knowledge others must use to succeed.

There are also three items from Gee that I don’t think fit into either of the Rules or Play categories.  These are more the sort of outcomes you should expect to see in students if you got the Rules and Play right:

An open-ended challenge that is task- and goal-oriented often allows students to explore, think laterally, and rethink goals, and to exhibit systems thinking as accomplishing open-ended tasks usually involves understanding how the system operates as a whole.  Additionally, giving students agency over choosing their tasks, allowing for risk-taking, and creating a cycle of well-ordered problems that allow for challenge and consolidation all lead to a task that is pleasantly frustrating.

I’d also add one item to the list of Play, not specifically noted by Gee but implicit to many of his concepts and in other’s writing on the subject: timely and informative feedback.  The faster someone gets feedback on their progress, and the more specific and informative it is to their task, the better the experience.

So, we’ve got 17 principles, grouped in 10 categories, and an answer to our question: “what does it mean to gamify education?” It means designing goal-oriented, open-ended lessons that encourage learning by doing and risk-taking.  It also means implementing the lesson in an environment that allows for student agency, risk-taking, performance before competency, and distributed knowledge.  In this environment, lessons are grounded in situated meaning, and feedback is provided often and informatively.  As a results, your students will engage in collaboration, think laterally about problems, understand the workings of systems, and most importantly be pleasantly frustrated.  And voila, you have fun and engagement.

Look for follow-up posts that compare a gamified education to our current system, and to Iridescent’s activities.  Until then, I’d love to hear from you on whether these ideas make sense, and how they might be used in our current school system.

Conceptualize, Protype, Remix, and Test Small!

It’s a great time to learn coding! Everyone from to Chris Bosh to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook are stating the facts: software is now part of all we do, but very few people know how to code. (Check out for more on this).

App Inventor is a great way to start because it lets you program by plugging puzzle pieces together and you get to learn by building cool apps for your phone! Many beginners start by building the apps from the App Inventor book, which are online for free at, along with video of a professor (me!) walking through the creation of the apps. The screencasts are popular with my students at USF and recently reached a million hits.


You’ll probably start by stepping through some tutorials rather mechanically, only partially understanding what you’re doing. It’s very important to slow yourself down as you step through and take the time to really understand the language and logic behind what you’re doing. Talk to your teammates about the apps and walk through the blocks on a whiteboard, tracing the blocks and showing how the app’s internal memory (properties and variables) change. Try some of the conceptual questions at (e.g., these about the MoleMash game), or ask your teacher/advisor to ask you some questions. The key is that with programming (or Math) you can’t just memorize, you have to understand!

Once you’ve done some conceptual work, challenge yourself to build something for which you don’t have detailed instructions. The customization exercises at the end of each chapter are good for this, and the video screencasts are setup to encourage trying each part before watching the lesson. The most successful learning strategy I’ve seen is a build-conceptualize-customize-create process.

“The key is that with programming (or Math) you can’t just memorize, you have to understand!”


A prototype is an incomplete, unrefined and perhaps buggy version of the app you’re planning to build. Now your grade school teachers would have never allowed such a thing, but in programming, such an unrefined entity has great value. I’d encourage you to create prototypes of your app as you go, even while you’re still thinking of ideas. It is really hard to describe interactive software with text or words, and even a lousy prototype gives you a tangible (okay, virtual) piece of software, something that can help you formulate your ideas. Perhaps most importantly, the prototype allows you to express your idea to others, whether they be potential clients, users, or angel investors. Software engineers way too commonly build solutions where there are no problems— early prototyping and user/client discussions can make sure you don’t fall into this trap.

“I’d encourage you to create prototypes of your app as you go, even while you’re still thinking of ideas.”


Another important engineering skill is to steal, whoops, I mean remix. With App Inventor, you can make use of the App Inventor Gallery. Here you’ll find hundreds of apps built with App Inventor, and all the apps are open source, meaning you can download the source code (blocks) and remix them for you own app. This is not “cheating”, as long as you provide proper attribution (e.g. in the about page for your app, specify the apps from which you borrowed). As they say, there is no reason to recreate the wheel, so search for apps similar to yours and for programming samples that can help in your own project. You’ll learn a lot by reading the code of others, and heavy reuse of code is how things work in the real world. Rarely, if ever, do programmers begin a project from scratch.

Code a little, test a little

Perhaps the best advice I can give you is this: test as you go, after every few blocks of code. Great software engineers can shift between the big picture design and minute details, a skill that is much harder than it seems. When you are designing, think big and creatively. But when you code the blocks, assign yourself tiny sub-goals, then code and test each part to completion. SaveAs every few minutes, and always have your phone or an emulator running as you code. Failing to do this will ruin your project and/or give you gray hair!

“…when you code the blocks, assign yourself tiny sub-goals, then code and test each part to completion.”

User-Generated and Persistent Data

A major conceptual leap for beginners is when you start to build apps with user-generated data, e.g., apps like Facebook in which the user enters information and expects it to be saved persistently. Suddenly your app becomes more abstract, and you also need to deal with a database. “Persistent” means information that lives on even after an app is closed, and it requires some type of database to save the information. In App Inventor, you can use the TinyDB component to save and retrieve database data. Check out the MakeQuiz/TakeQuiz sample. For an example using Fusion tables, check out the Pizza Party sample.

Have Fun!

Most of all, have fun! Software is changing the world and you can be a leader in this seismic shift! The great thing about App Inventor and programming is that you get to learn by creating, which is the best way. Just follow your instincts, choose a great project that you are passionate about, and always keep in mind that the goal of engineering software is to make someone’s life easier or better. I think you’ll find that you learn a ton and think harder and better than you ever have!


David Wolber is a professor of Computer Science at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of App Inventor: Create your own Android Apps and the site


The problem with MOOCs, you see, is that…

…I don’t like them very much. It was Thursday morning, and the Mozilla Teachtheweb MOOC was about to kick off. I was languishing in a simple decision: should I try out yet another MOOC or give up on them altogether?

This would be my third MOOC, the first two being pretty big failures. In both previous MOOCs (one on Coursera and one on Skillshare) I was part of the 80% that dropped the MOOC in the first few weeks after registering. Why couldn’t these MOOCs keep my attention? It certainly wasn’t the topic or the instructor, as both previous attempts were highly interesting topics taught by great instructors. The format was the problem, I decided.  As the noon kickoff time for Teachtheweb, approached, I listed off the reasons I didn’t like MOOCs:

  • Videos can’t keep my attention. MOOCs have taught me that I really, really don’t like learning through online videos. Videos are just such a passive learning tool, having to wait for someone to progress through topics at their pace rather than my pace is just infuriatingly frustrating to me.
  • It’s hard to use the platforms. Particularly for the Coursera course, it was really difficult for me to figure out where all the resources were, where I connected with classmates, where I did assignments, etc.
  • There was no personalized attention.  It basically took the large lecture format of universities, and amplified it.  The courses were advertised as “learning from XX big shot” when really you were learning with the the 5 other participants you got paired up with, who were usually inactive and just as much noobs as you.
  • It felt like school. This was the big realization for me- a MOOC basically took the classroom structure of a big-lecture university class and attempted to scale it up, as unchanged as possible from that format. Ummm, of all the things we can do on the internet, is the big university lecture really the format we want to replicate?  

Once I hit this last realization, MOOCs suddenly deflated for me from new and revolutionary to old-school and boring.  They fell into the same category as textbook companies that made PDFs of their paper-textbooks in an attempt to “go digital” and embrace e-learning. In the age of interconnectedness and interactivity, are MOOCs and PDFs really the best we can expect from digital learning?

I also reflected on the learning power of internet forums.  This was where MOOCs really fell short to me.  If the information of the MOOC was just put on a forum with experts available to answer questions on the topic, then that would give me everything I needed from the MOOC.  I mean, the Skillshare course I took had a forum, and it was very useful. But I wondered why anything beyond the forum was needed.

The forum offered sortable, searchable information, provided on-demand when I needed it.  Compare this to the office hours in which the instructor of the course fielded question for 30 minutes. First, I was unable to attend the office hours because I was not free at the time it was offered. Second, I had to wade through a variety of questions I was uninterested in, to hear the few I wanted to hear more about.  Third, many of the questions were already asked and answered on the forum in a more detailed form, so it was unclear why I should listen to a one minute explanation in the office hours, when I could read through a more comprehensive explanation in 30 seconds on the forums. Again, the problem was not the quality of the content, but the format it was offered in.

More generally though, I had engaged with the online gaming forums.  These were amazing learning communities, described in length by Kurt Squire.  Basically, everyone was learning together by playing the game and dissecting the strategy of the game with each other. Everyone was learning with each other, as they went along. There was no structured plan or agenda to this learning- and yet the learning was highly effective. There was one feature of this experience that really stuck out and distinguished this from MOOCs- everyone was learning together regardless of skill level, in what I’d like to term an authority-less learning environment.

Ok, let’s go back to Thursday morning. It was an hour until the Teachtheweb kickoff, and here’s where I was at: I really wanted to engage in MOOCs, and I generally found their content interesting, but it was their format that bothered me. The primary problem with the format was that it resembled a large-lecture university setting in which information trickled from an authority to learners. I wanted to learn online, but I wanted something new and original from a MOOC.  The signs said I should forget about Teachtheweb, but against my own judgment I decided to give it a shot.

Wow! What a good choice I made. I quickly realized this was no ordinary MOOC, but was really something different. It completely addressed my four concerns with other MOOCs,:

  • Their model: less yack, more hack.  They did have a video, but they made it clear that this course was not about the instructors lecturing, but about the learners learning. I mean, it was really unclear who the instructors were anyways, the video featured several speakers and the course content was developed by a community of mentors.
  • Use whatever platform you want. Their short kickoff webinar was accompanied by chat on twitter, G+, and their IRC channel. At some point there was a question by someone on where to go to be a part of the course, and I loved Chris Lawrence’s answer. He said that normal MOOCs offered a platform that said where and how learning should take place, but Teachtheweb didn’t like that attitude. For Teachtheweb, learning occurred wherever and whenever you were most comfortable engaging.
  • The course was what you made of it. Since there was no central instructor (but rather a community of mentors), you were encouraged to join groups under such mentors.  Each mentor and community would hack and adjust the general curriculum as they saw fit for their group’s interest. This course was not about what the instructor wanted to teach, but what the learner wanted to learn. We repeatedly heard the phrase, “This course is what you make of it.”
  • Authority-less learning. It was clear from the start that no one was in charge here, and that would be a good, productive thing.

As you might guess, I’ve decided to give the MOOC a shot. I’m still deciding how I want to engage with the material and what I want to make of the course, but I greatly appreciated having that choice.

Maybe there is hope for online learning yet?

How to Live a Technovation Life

You might be thinking, “What is a Technovation life and why would I want to live one?” For the last 3 months, I have been a mentor in the Technovation Challenge, a program to encourage young women to become high tech entrepreneurs. This is my fourth Technovation Challenge. For the participants and the mentors, going through the challenge can be thrilling, exhausting, inspiring, exasperating, and amazing. Now that it is over, as a participant, you should reflect on what you’ve learned and consider how you can continue these learnings even after the challenge is over. That’s what I mean when I say “live a Technovation life.”

For all the Technovation participants reading this, think about why you joined the program this year. What did you want to get out of it? And, what did you get out of it? What do you want to learn next? These are important questions because that will frame what you can do to reap continual benefits.

Do you want to learn more about technology?

  • Take a Computer Science class at your school or go to a camp this summer where you can learn more about computers.
  • Contact startups or small organizations in your community and see if you can help them with different technology needs. Maybe there’s a small business that could use a website; offer to them build one. You can use free tools, such as WebMatrix from Microsoft, to build a simple website.
  • Join DreamSpark,, a program offered by Microsoft that gives free tools to students to encourage them to learn and grow.
  • Do you want to finish your Technovation app?

    Continue to work on your app. Use App Inventor to develop your app to a point where you can share it with your peers. App Inventor has many resources available to help you add features. Even though App Inventor has limits, you can accomplish many useful things.

    Do you want to continue working with your team?

    Meet with your team and decide what project you want to take on next. You can participate in the Technovation Challenge again next year! Encourage your team to work together to further your knowledge so you can build a better app next year.

    Do you want to learn more about entrepreneurship?

    Finding summer intern opportunities is difficult for young people, but with determination and flexibility, you can find them. Contact a startup and offer your services for the summer. Look for companies that make products for you; contact the company and offer your services to test or give feedback for future products. You will learn more about entrepreneurship by working with entrepreneurs.

    Although I have many reasons for getting involved with the Technovation Challenge, a key reason I participate in the Technovation Challenge is because I want to increase the number of women who pursue computer science as a career. I encourage you to continue in technology and to encourage your peers to do the same. Technology has changed the world in many ways. Pursuing a technical career means you help determine the future.

    Get involved in something about which you feel passionately. You will benefit and so will others. Go make a difference!


    Margaret is the founder and CEO of Innovaspire, a startup revolutionizing how people study. Prior to founding Innovaspire, she accumulated 25 years of experience in the high-tech industry including working at industry leaders such as Apple, Microsoft, and Sun. Margaret has managed small and large engineering organizations as well as led business partnerships. Margaret taught high school for four years and she created the curriculum and taught the first Technovation Challenge. Each summer, Margaret offers internships to Technovation participants, mentoring them and encouraging them to continue their pursuit of technology-related careers.



    What is my child learning?

    As a parent you have the unique privilege of seeing your child learn over many years. If your child is very young, it is very hard to pinpoint what exactly she is learning. For instance, many times a child may not have the vocabulary to express any idea and even if she does, she may not have the cognitive ability to assess her learning and frame an opinion. It gets very hard to immediately assess what your child has learned.
    The key is patience.
    Here are some things to keep in mind while exploring and learning with your child (if you have a very young one!):

    Materials are very interesting to a young child. It may take a few sessions before the novelty of the materials wears off and the child is able to look beyond the materials and to the experiment itself. Don’t be afraid of doing the same experiments many times. Little children have much more focus and greater attention spans than most adults.

    If the project or experiment has many steps, the child may seem to lose interest and wander off or wander around you. Don’t stop what you are doing. She is watching you even if you don’t think so. This is a great chance for you to model persistence.
    Don’t worry about doing things perfectly. Your child may not cut in straight lines, but her

    participation is more important than a perfect model. However, you need to make the decision whether its more important for your child to see a working model quickly before being invested enough to build one with you. Either way, you do need to let your child experience failure and help her learn strategies to overcome it.
    Do not be afraid of saying, “I don’t know. Let’s go find out” or “I don’t know. Lets go ask”. That is a very good thing to model. Similarly, if something is not working, your first response should be, “Lets see what could have gone wrong. Lets try again. We have to try many times before the model will work.”
    Make sure you take on projects you enjoy doing yourself as very often you will be left completing them on your own. Children are sensitive to authenticity!
      Do other things that connect to the experiment or project. For instance, if you design a flying
      bird model, you could follow up (at some point) with a movie on birds (Winged Migration or the Flight series by David Attenborough). This will help you reinforce that experience and it will help you gain a window into your child’s world. Ask what she remembers of the experiment. Keep coming back to the experiment over time and you will see that your child’s articulation of what she learned becomes more sophisticated.
      The key learning objective for these exploration sessions is not the content, but the emphasis on the process, the act of creating something new – something that the child imagined and developing persistence. The bird wont fly the first time. It needs to be tweaked many times before it will fly. That is the biggest lesson to reinforce.  
        Immediately after the session is not the time to ask your child, “Did you have fun?”. She will most probably say, “No!”. Social interactions are very important to your child and if there was some minor conflict with another child over materials, then that will completely overshadow your child’s learning experience. And it is not wise to reinforce the negative feeling by asking if she had fun. A few days after the session you could draw attention to the model your child created and ask what she was most proud of doing or learning or if she had any questions or thoughts about how the model could be improved.
        Patience. It takes time. I started playing with a digital microscope with my little girl when she was two years old. A pre-school teacher told me that it was a waste of time as she probably couldn’t understand the concept of looking through a device to see closer. I pressed on figuring that I had nothing to lose. One day my little girl and I were talking about invisible germs in water and she said, “Mama.. we should look at the germs under a microscope”. This was roughly 4 months after we had played with it.
          Patience. You have nothing to lose by being patient, observing and learning with your child 🙂
            Have fun. Loosen up. It is all about exploration, building, playing with materials, having no fear, being a child again 🙂

            Tips for Submitting Your App

            Congratulations, Technovation teams, you are entering the last week of the Challenge. Below is my general advice for getting the maximum score on each part of the rubric. Our judges are a mix of Technovation mentors (previous and current), previous judges and guest speakers, and industry experts. To make things fair, all judges will only review submissions from outside of their region (e.g. a San Francisco mentor will not judge any San Francisco teams). Reach out to me me with your questions or any help editing/refining.

            Is your app a good solution to a problem in your local community?

            A good problem is specific and relatable to a set of users. It can also be explained in one or two sentences. For example, the GasBuddy app helps drivers solve the problem of finding the least expensive fuel in their area. With gas prices rising, drivers need to be able to find fast ways to save money. You probably know someone who has shared how expensive gas is — what a problem! Well, here is a solution.

            “Finding local volunteering opportunities” is not a specific or relatable problem. When was the last time you heard someone say, “I wish I could find more volunteering opportunities”? More likely you have heard. “I’m bored this weekend… I wish I had ideas about what to do,” or, “Wow, Hurricane Sandy was devastating, I wish there was something I could do,” or, “I was completing my college application essays and realized I have nothing to say for an essay that asks about my community service.” Each of these are separate problems for separate potential users. Instead of trying to create an app that solves a hypothetical problem for everyone, think about how you would solve a real problem for a specific set of users.

            Do you understand the size of your app market?

            Who is the market for GasBuddy? Drivers with smart phones. If you wanted to know the size of your target market, you could try finding out from driver societies such as AAA in the United States or maybe even from websites or publications for no-text-while-driving groups.

            If I wanted to focus on a market for the problems

            I outlined above, I may focus on teenagers with smart phones and add to that information about how many teenagers use apps or websites to find activities or volunteer opportunities.

            Do you understand your competition and how your app is different?

            If you have not done so already, go to Google Play or the Apple store and type all of the keywords that could relate to your app. As you are doing this research, think about how your potential users will find you. As you look at the apps that come up, check the number of downloads, their price, stars, and feedback. For example, you may see that an app similar to yours has comments such as “too expensive,” and, “the button for ___________ is hard to read.” Think about what feedback you can apply to making your app a better version of what those users want.

            Do you convey your understanding of computer programming?

            When you explain your app’s features and functionality, feel free to explain how you made the screen and/or workflow on App Inventor. These short comments will also demonstrate that your process and decisions have been deliberate.

            Does your Pitch explain your business plan? and Is your Pitch clear and concise?

            The business plan explains how you would make your app happen. Eliminate filler words such as “very,” “important,” etc. Educate and explain through information. Not great: “We looked at other apps and we think our app is very competitive and better, and a lot of people will buy it. We plan to share it on Facebook.” Better: “From the 10 similar apps on the market, ours is the only to have the ___________ feature, which allows users to ___________ For this reason, we are pricing our app at $3.99 at the higher end of the range for other apps on the market ($_ – _). We believe that our target user is someone who ___________. For this reason, we believe we can best reach them [at these special interest websites/places/etc.].” Review Week 2: Market Research for ideas on how to investigate your market.

            You may want to write a script before you film your video. Try to make your point first and then explain the logic for that point. Sometimes explaining before you make your point makes the listener impatient. When you make your point first they are more likely to understand and appreciate the logic of what you say after.

            Do you leverage the capabilities of the platform you are using?

            An app is a product meant to be used on a smartphone. In general, stick to ideas that make sense for people to use on their phone. For example, you would not probably make an app to use on an airplane, since most of the flight the phone needs to be turned off.

            Leveraging a platform can also be realizing that you can do something on App Inventor and using that knowledge to improve the app.

            Is your app a good representation of your vision?

            As mentioned earlier, make your app specific. For example, ElementQuest, the finalist app for New York City last year, showed how their app taught chemistry by focusing on one element. In their pitch, they explained how a user would learn all about the element helium and showed the screens that the user would see. This specific example helped the judges understand two things 1) what the app looked like and 2) how a user would interact with the app. They were then in a better position to assess whether the app was actually helping students learn chemistry.

            Do you have a practical vision for extending the capabilities of their apps beyond the prototype?

            Going back to ElementQuest, the team shared how they envisioned creating a screen for each element and having the users purchase a portion of the Periodic Table of Elements.

            Does your app have adequate functionality?

            Teams will be at different stages in their app development, and that is completely fine. What you have created as far as screens, particularly if they link to each other, please share in your pitch.

            Is your app visually appealing? and Is the app user-interface intuitive and easy to use?

            When you pitch, explain any key features that have gone through observation and testing.

            Review Week 3: User-Centered Design to make sure your app makes sense to users. Have other non-Technovation people (preferably your target users) use the app. For example, if I made an app for an older age group, I might assume that they use their index finger to type (instead of their thumbs), so that may influence where I position the buttons on my screen. I may observe a few people in that age group typing on their phones. Then I would have them try the screen or app I have created to make sure I got the design right.

            I hope my advice has been helpful. Wherever you are in your process, please make sure to submit your deliverables by April 13. It is a huge accomplishment to have a product ready to pitch. Give it everything you’ve got and who knows? Maybe I will see you in San Francisco on May 2nd.

            Good luck!

            Angélica Torres

            E-Mail: Angelica (at) IridescentLearning (dot) org

            Senior Director, Technovation Challenge









            How to hire great people

            Its been seven years since I started Iridescent and I have learned a lot about hiring! Here are the  

            various stages I have gone through starting from when I had no clue.

            Stage 0. No Money.
            We ran programs on the power of volunteers and visionaries who saw the great things we could do if we kept trying. So the decision was easy as soon as there was funding. I hired them as team members.  
            Stage 1. Growth.
            As we got more funding, we needed to run more programs and we actually needed to go through the job-posting-interviewing-hiring process. I had no experience doing this and naively thought that one get-to-know-you-interview would suffice and many times I didn’t even do that. I let other team members who would work directly with the hire conduct the interviews. I had other things to do. BIG MISTAKE.  

            Stage 2. Pain of firing.
            And this led me to experience the first growth pains – having to make the decision that a certain match was not working out. This happened very often. And I went into a frenzy of reading a bunch of books on hiring, interviewing and organization theory. The best turned out to be the “Who: The A method of hiring” by Geoff Smart. It was so good that I went through and made a condensed version for my team. It basically said, there is no easy way. Button down. Plan carefully what the job outcomes should be. Spell out the deliverables, but don’t spell out the how. Put this all down in a scorecard. It also said to do 7 reference checks. I had not done reference checks till now! Another valuable lesson learned.  

            Stage 3. Screening Task
            I dont really remember how I started doing these. But after many false starts and fires, I wanted a more efficient method of learning more about a person. Interviews just didn’t provide that deep look inside. And so I started using screening tasks and now I feel I do it pretty well! I do admit that I am really sneaky and so I dont feel bad sharing all the traps I lay. It eases my conscience 🙂

            • create a task that is representative of the first major project the person will face once they are hired. So for instance for a development position, I asked candidates to suggest improvements for an existing proposal. 
            • identify characteristics that are important to your organization. For us, it is the ability to learn, to be courageous, to question and to pay attention to detail. So very often I ask for a list of their favorite books. 
            • finally, put some pieces in the task that help the candidate learn more about your organization. Hiring a person is very much like getting married. The love has to be on both sides. So the candidate should really want to work in your team. 
            • I usually post the screening task as a url on the bottom of the job posting. 99% of folks email me their resume and omit to do the task. They think its a mistake or that they can get away with not submitting or (most likely) they dont notice it! So the 1% that do submit the task without being asked to automatically get on my favorite list. 
            • I sometimes do something very sneaky. I purposely make mistakes or omissions to see if people are paying attention  to detail 🙂
            • The next step is to email all interested candidates who sent me standard cover letters and resumes, the link to the screening task. 
            • I never give a deadline as the speed with which they reply is indicative of their interest. Some get so intrigued by the task, that they get very absorbed and finish it right away. Others keep emailing me with many excuses as to how they will get to in on such and such date and they just wanted to update me. 
            • I also like to send everyone the screening task so that more people get to know about Iridescent in the process 🙂 Why not!   

            Stage 4: Maturity
            Ben Horowitz says it much better than me..
            “Valuing lack of weakness rather than strength—The more experience you have, the more you realize that there is something seriously wrong with every employee in your company (including you). Literally, nobody is perfect. As a result, it is imperative that you hire for strength rather than lack of weakness. Everybody has weaknesses; they are just easier to find in some people. Hiring for lack of weakness just means that you’ll optimize for pleasantness. Rather, you must figure out the strengths you require and find someone who is world class in those areas despite their weaknesses in other, less important domains.”

            We now have an amazing team of 16 members in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Chicago.

            Castilleja School Innogators

            We meet the Innogators, two Technovation teams from the Castilleja School, as they work on their apps and pitch videos.