Thursday, October 18, 2012

Toontastic: a pilot study examining creative play with an iPad app

My kids have loved playing with Toontastic, an iPad app that kids use to create their own animated stories. We only played with it in the early days of the app, and it's grown by leaps and bounds. I was very interested to read a new pilot study by Launchpad Learning, the company behind Toontastic. Andy Russell, one of the co-founders of Launchpad, and Alicia Chang, a Cognitive and Developmental Psychologist working with Launchpad Toys to research how kids are learning through cartoon creation, wrote about their study on the Joan Gantz Cooney Center Blog.

It's interesting to see the nonprofit Cooney Research Center is writing about a company's research, but I think it shows how seriously Launchpad Learning takes its focus on educational creative play in the digital age. Launchpad Learning developed a two-pronged study, both examining over two million cartoon created on Toontastic by over 600,000 kids, and examining semi-structured play sessions in a fourth grade classroom.

In the semi-structured play session, the fourth graders were divided into small groups of two or three students and asked to create a story about peer relationships over the course of one week. The study resulted in several observations, notably:

  • Students used recurring characters more as the week progressed, suggesting that they developed a sense of cohesive story arcs and character development over time.
  • As the students spent more time on their stories, they explored more emotional highs and lows, adding more depth and color to their stories.
  • Students used more descriptive language and distinct character voices as time progressed.

All of these results reflect what I've observed with this app. It is not a quick and dirty app, but one that works best if kids have more time to develop their stories. If kids just have 30 or 40 minutes to work with it, they'll certainly have fun manipulating the puppets and recording their voices. But it's hard work making a cohesive story! It takes time, experimenting, and creative thinking.

Russell and Chang conclude by connecting the key components they've studied to the standards set out in the Common Core State Standards Initiative. I completely agree with that. I'd love to figure out a way to have our students be able to use this app. But a huge barrier in my experience is having the time for students to plan their stories, experiment with the app, and then craft their final products. Time is precious in a classroom, and there is never enough of it.

Russell, A. and Chang, A. (October 4, 2012). "Pilot study: Creative play with Toontastic." The Joan Gantz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, Blog. Retrieved from

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