Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Launchpad.
I’m Hannah, the Community Coordinator at Launchpad Toys. We’re a 7-person company, so my job encompasses a lot – things like working with teachers using the app, creating educational resources like (#LaunchpadEDU), being active on social media, finding great cartoons on ToonTube, reaching out to our kid-creators, answering interview questions ;) At heart, I’m a constructivist educator - my background is in educational technology, specifically early childhood/elementary-aged kids and iPads.
What has been the main goal of the company since it's inception?
Launchpad Toys is creating digital toys and tools that empower kids to create, learn & share their ideas through play. As opposed to linear games, we create open-ended toys that inspire kids to play and create. Our approach is “Constructionist” learning – we build tools that scaffold learning through the processes of creation, feedback, and iteration. Our goal is to create digital toys that foster imagination, storytelling, and cultural literacy by bridging the gap between play and formal learning.
How long was the development period for Toontastic?
The first version of the app – Toontastic 1.0 – was released in January 2011 and took a year to develop. Since then, we’ve been working on it continuously to release new content and features every couple of months. The latest update (Toontastic 2.5) was just released a few weeks ago (November 2013). The initial challenge of developing Toontastic was to make cartoon creation as simple as playing with dolls or action figures. The second major challenge was to help kids to create structured stories - and not just run-on sentences. The Story Arc and the recording engine are the two central components of the app. The third challenge was creating and framing ToonTube as a Global Storytelling Network for kids – we’re still actively working to make ToonTube even better for kid-animators, and we’re excited to see it continue growing.
How important was the inclusion of the step-by-step story arc format?
A big part of that “Constructionist” learning philosophy I mentioned earlier is drawing out kids’ implicit understanding and making it visible and explicit. Toontastic’s built-in Story Arc does just that – it takes kids implicit understanding of telling an engaging story through play and empowers them to map it out using a traditional story structure, bridging the gap between their natural, imaginative play and formal writing conventions.
Have you been pleased with the reception for Toontastic?
We’ve been overjoyed with Toontastic’s reception by kids, parents, and teachers. It’s absolutely awesome to start work every morning by watching cartoons made by kids around the world the previous day. And it’s not just us – kids are watching a half-million cartoons on ToonTube every month, and creating just as many. We’re really excited about upcoming features that will expand the reach of awesome kids’ cartoons on ToonTube. Another huge surprise for us with Toontastic has been the absolutely inspired work teachers are doing with Toontastic in the classroom. When it was first launched, we thought Toontastic would be used primarily by 5 – 8 year-olds at home with their families. But much to our surprise, Toontastic has really grown with it’s users over the last three years and now, our primary users are 8- to 12-year-olds using the app as a content creation tool, which has led us to focus more on features and playsets for a slightly older audience.
What are the main differences between Toontastic and the Toontastic Jr. apps?
Watching kids play with Toontastic over the last three years, we noticed that a blank canvas like the Toontastic Story Arc can be intimidating to younger kids (especially 3- to 6-year-olds). Our Toontastic Jr. apps are designed to inspire children who are just starting to learn about story structure. It provides a clear, simple ‘Beginning, middle, end’ story structure, and uses animated Story Starters and ‘What happens next?’ prompts to spark kids’ imaginations. Toontastic Jr. apps empower kids to explore storytelling through characters and stories they already know and love – like Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey.
Aside from digital storytelling, are there other curricular areas that you feel can be enhanced by the use of Toontastic?
Because of its open-endedness, Toontastic is a great tool to use across many curricular areas. Seeing and hearing how educators are using Toontastic has been one of the most exciting parts of my job at Launchpad Toys. From first grade fairy tales to sixth grade science reports to high school history reports – we’re seeing educators around the world using Toontastic as an animated content creation tool throughout their curricula. Educators were coming to us with these amazing ToonTube cartoons and incredible stories of kids using the app, and we wanted to be able to share their stories with other Toontastic users. That’s why we built #LaunchpadEDU – to share those users’ incredible work with other educators.
Tell us a little more about #LaunchpadEDU and it's purpose.
#LaunchpadEDU is a collaborative space for educators to share their experiences with and best practices for integrating digital storytelling into their curricula. We’re not teachers – we’re developers. Our intention for #LaunchpadEDU is to create a platform for educators to share their work with each other and surface all of the amazing work being done by teachers around the world with Toontastic. It’s a great place for teachers to get started with the app as well as find out how they can do more with it. The site has over a dozen lesson plans, delineates standards alignment, and has free classroom resources for Toontastic.
Do you have any new projects lined up that you can tell us about?
We’re always working on new characters, backgrounds, and features for Toontastic, and we have a really exciting update lined up for the coming holiday season. That’s about as much as I can say for now – but Stay Tooned for some cool things coming soon from Launchpad Toys Galactic Headquarters.
Hannah thank you so much for taking this time out to speak with us. We look forward to hearing from you again as Toontastic goes from stregth to strength!
For more information about Toontastic, check out the video below then visit their official site.