November 18, 2017  

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Kellogg Foundation Grant to USM Will Help Mobile County Children Learn Math in New Ways

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Dr. Julie Cwikla

A $900,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation has been awarded to the University of Southern Mississippi’s Dr. Julie Cwikla, Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM.  Funds will be used to help school children along the Gulf Coast learn math in new and exciting ways. 

As part of a three year project, Cwikla will work with Speakaboos, the New York City- based media company behind the award-winning literacy app for children ages 2 to 6. Together, Cwikla and Speakaboos will develop interactive digital math stories that motivate children to read and expose them early on to important math concepts. By partnering with the Mobile County Public School System, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, and the Mobile Public Library, these stories and others in Speakaboos’ library will be made available to thousands of children in Mobile, Alabama.

“The introduction of the innovative Interdisciplinary digital stories for Young Children initiative is being met with great excitement in the Mobile County Public Schools (MCPSS),” said Martha L. Peek, Superintendent of MCPSS. “We look forward to our PreK and Kindergarten students acquiring the skills to use technology as a learning tool, with the interactive Speakaboos learning platform being used to develop their understanding of mathematics and literacy concepts. We appreciate Dr. Julie Cwikla including our schools in this initiative and providing this engaging learning opportunity for our students.” 

With prior support from the National Science Foundation, Cwikla and her Southern Miss team investigated early understanding of fractional concepts with children ages 3 to 6. Results demonstrated young learners’ ability to partition and fair-share in the context of story based word problems. Mathematics and fractions are areas children struggle once they reach upper elementary school. These findings will inform the design of the new interactive digital stories

“I am honored by this generous award from the Kellogg Foundation and excited to serve our youngest learners across the region. Hopefully this initiative will help catapult them in both reading and mathematics, and set them on an early path of success,” Cwikla shared. 

Cwikla has partnered with the Mobile County Public School System on several projects and notes that she looks forward to working with Peek and her team again.

“We are excited to be supporting this innovative program to help children better learn,” said Carla D. Thompson, vice president for program strategy at the Kellogg Foundation. “Creating a high-quality and creative learning environment for young children is critical to their success in school and beyond. We look forward to seeing how this technology can help all kids excel in the classroom.”

Dr. Alice Wilder, Chief Content Officer of Speakaboos, will co-design and develop the mathematics stories, adding to the company’s growing library of more than 200 stories and songs. Dr. Alice Wilder is an educational psychologist and one of the world's leading experts on learning through media and formative research. She has developed educational content for children through Nick Jr. (Blue’s Clues), PBS Kids, and Amazon Studios

Dr. Wilder said of the opportunity to work with Cwikla on the project, “all of us at Speakaboos are thrilled to partner with Dr. Cwikla and her team on developing new math stories and to share our growing interactive digital library with the children of Mobile County through the generosity of the Kellogg Foundation. Children are born explorers and natural learners, and digital technology offers educators and researchers a unique opportunity to use children’s natural curiosity about the world to spark and accelerate their learning.”  

In addition to serving children in the public schools, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and all ten locations of the Mobile Public Library system will also provide Speakaboos for young learners.

Director R. Scott Kinney said, “The Mobile Public Library is excited to be a part of such an important project with wonderful community partners.  We are glad to do our part in preparing children for their futures.”

Speakaboos will be incorporated into their summer reading program enrolling 14,000 young readers and other library programs, which serve more than 26,000 children from birth to six annually.

Support from the Kellogg Foundation brings together leading researchers with seasoned children’s media experts and mobile engineers to build new interactive digital mathematics stories based on Cwikla’s seminal fraction research. The grant also provides thousands of children across the Gulf Coast region access to the entire Speakaboos digital library.